In a quiet back ally of the old stone-paved streets of Kagurazaka, you will find a small Chinese restaurant, Engine. Contrary to the facade of the restaurant that looks like a French Bistro, it is a Chinese restaurant opened in 2015. Since then, it has become a true local favorite, and at lunch time you will find the restaurant packed with women enjoying a leisurely lunch at this comfortable and cozy nouvelle Chinese.
The chef, Mr. Kazumasa Matsushita looks young but actually has a lot of experience in Chinese cuisine. Ever since graduating from culinary school, he has polished his skills in making a wide variety of Chinese dishes, and was appointed head Chef at the award-winning Chinese in Akasaka at the age of 29. After building its reputation with his marvelous cooking for 7 years, he started his own restaurant in Kagurazaka. He chose Kagurazaka because he felt his style of cooking resonated with the vibe of the town. Kagurazaka, once a geisha and entertainment district in the Edo period (17-19C), has a very Japanese feel but also has a significant French presence because of the two French schools that are close to Kagurazaka. Many famous French restaurants and cafes coexist with the traditional Japanese ryotei restaurants, giving Kagurazaka a unique, sophisticated character.
Likewise, Chef Matsushita’s Chinese has a Japanese feel as well as the esprit of French. He makes sure he does not over do the taste- never too sweet, too salty, too sour or too hot – just right for the Japanese palette. Chef Matsushita also uses ingredients that are unique to Japanese cuisine and applies it to his Chinese dishes. He goes to the Tsukiji market in search for fresh vegetables from all over Japan, and also has organic vegetables sent to him from a farm in Hiroshima (western Japan). In addition to the basic vegetables, he has a “surprise” vegetable box sent to him which are Japanese vegetables the farm recommends each season. He says he loves to think about how to cook these “surprise” vegetables and turning them into Chinese cuisine.
There is a big blackboard at the corner of the restaurant where people gaze to see the enticing menu, talking with the chef and the server about the details of each menu. You will find the menu full of attractive dishes that merge Japanese ingredients with authentic Chinese dishes. For example, during the cherry blossom season you can enjoy the traditional Chinese almond tofu pudding with a beautiful cherry blossom sauce. Because he has solid knowledge and skills in Chinese cuisine, he can go beyond the borders of Chinese cuisine and create something totally new and out of the box.
The popular 1,800 yen lunch course starts off with appetizers -tender chicken breasts with myoga (Japanese ginger) sauce, and a Japanese ingredient, Yuba, tofu skin, with an authentic Chinese ingredient, pitan, century egg.
Next comes the Subuta, sweet and sour pork. The pork is crispy on the outside and very tender in the inside and goes beautifully with the delicate dark sauce. The Subuta also uses Japanese vegetables in season.
For the main dish you have a choice of fried rice or the Szechuan dan-dan noodles. The fried rice is fluffy and flavorful, and the dan-dan noodles come in a deep sesame soup with a hint of sansho, a spicy Japanese herb.
Finally comes the dessert I mentioned earlier, and at 1,800 yen, this lunch is extremely satisfying.
Chef Matsushita named this restaurant Engine with hopes to evolve his own version of Nouvelle Chinois, actively using Japanese ingredients. The phonetic sound, “En” in Engine also means “encounters.” He hopes to cherish each encounter with his customers at the restaurant, so he has designed his kitchen so that it is open and facing the customers. Engaging in live conversations and observing the reaction to his dishes, he continues to improve and evolve his work.
At lunch time, you will see the restaurant packed with ladies. His detailed and meticulous work bring back customers over and over again. It is a must-try if you are in the Kagurazaka neighborhood.