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Conductor, violinist and now restaurateur extraordinaire: how Joji Hattori is wowing Vienna with his new rendering of Japanese fusion cuisine.

Text:
Severin Corti
Photos:
Peter Rigaud c/o Shotview Syndication (portrait), Gerhard Wasserbauer
I

“It’s simply that I thoroughly enjoy eating.”

The new dining hot spot in the cosmopolitan city of music is a mere stone’s throw from the Vienna State Opera. Which is excellent news for post-performance guests wanting to treat themselves to sushi at the bar of the Shiki or to sit down to the full menu in its velvet-draped dining room. When they do so, they can’t help but walk past the chef’s table with its display window revealing the culinary bustle in the kitchen, where Kamchatka crab and Kobe beef filet, oysters and Chilean sea bass, fresh wasabi roots and other delicacies are arranged on dishes and plates in artistic compositions. The man sitting here quietly with his glass of Burgundy is easy to miss despite the fact that his finely chiselled features give him the attractive looks of a samurai warrior from one of Kurosawa’s great films. Only a few years ago, Joji Hattori could not have envisaged becoming the owner of a restaur­ant. After all, he is a celebrated violinist and con­ductor who at the tender age of seven was feted on Japanese television as a violin wunderkind. “It’s simply that I thoroughly enjoy eating,” admits Hattori when asked how this career change came about.

It tastes at least as good as it looks: the de-luxe sukiyaki made from Japanese wagyu beef with tofu, Chinese cabbage, pak choi and poached egg.

SCION OF THE SEIKO WATCH FAMILY

But let’s look at events in chronological order. Joji Hattori’s great-grandfather was the founder of the Seiko watchmaking company. In the seventies, the family moved to Vienna, where Hattori’s mother – a violinist herself – had studied and where she wanted her sons to grow up in a “climate of music”. Joji was an extremely talented child. At the age of 20, he won the violin competition established by Yehudi Menuhin. Today, a good 25 years later, Hattori has long been conducting at the State Opera. At present, he is co-artistic director and principal guest con­ductor of the Balearic Symphony Orchestra in Palma de Mallorca and associate guest conductor of the Vienna Chamber Orchestra. Together with his Spanish co-director Pablo Mielgo, Joji Hattori has discovered a further passion in spreading a love of classical music in Mallorca. The Balearic Symphony Orchestra performs more than 30 concerts each year and also plays at the opera house in the island’s capital of Palma. With the Shiki, Hattori has given his home city a very contempor­ary-style Japanese restaurant. “Gastronomy is embedded deep in my DNA,” he says. “My great-grandfather was Grand Master of the Kitchen to the imperial household and his final duty before retiring was to organise the coronation banquet for Emperor Hirohito.” This influence lay buried in Joji’s family, at least as far as cooking was concerned; instead, as Hattori explains, as a child he would be taken to dine at the finest restaurants in Vienna, with the family going so far as to eat lunch in the café of the venerable Hotel Imperial three times every week.

Vigilant eye: Joji Hattori 
is a perfectionist both in 
the concert hall and the restaurant.
The maestro with mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey at a guest performance by the Balearic Symphony Orchestra in Zurich.
The doorway to culinary paradise: Joji Hattori’s elegant Japanese restaurant is located at the historic heart of Vienna and is divided into a fine-dining section and a brasserie area.

WAGYU CARPACCIO WITH TRUFFLES 

“The Shiki is no traditional Japanese restaurant,” explains Hattori, “if only because top restaurants in Japan are always devoted to just one style of cuisine.” At the Shiki, however, you will find – as is common in fashionable Japanese restaurants in the West like Nobu and Zuma – sushi alongside tempura and, of course, grilled dishes, modified to meet contemporary tastes and combined with European elements. Carpaccio of Japanese Wagyu beef in sesame cream sauce with Tuscan truffles, for instance, has long been one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, while the “Shiki Style” tempura with Kamchatka crab enjoys a reputation as the best battered dish served in the capital – which, remember, was the birthplace of the Wiener schnitzel! The word “shiki” has several meanings in Japanese: on the one hand, it can be translated as “four seasons”, but it also means “to conduct”. Needless to say, for Hattori – a conductor who has become a restaurateur – this is a more than fortunate coincidence: “My aim was nothing less than to create what I regard as the ideal restaurant: with Japanese food, European standard of service, intimate atmosphere – and with really good Burgundies.”

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