In an interview for the Embassy webmagazine, Kunihiko Inoue, personal chef to Ambassador Hayashi, explained that, with Japanese cuisine, creating a sense of season and the practice of mitate, using one thing to resemble another, are two important features. Tim agrees - to an extent. 'That's really important with high-end kaiseki (Japanese haute cuisine). You see some really beautiful things. Even with things like ramen, I think it's important to remember the seasonal aspect, too. One thing I like about ramen, actually, is that it's quite rough and ugly, it is what it is. But it can be attractive in its own way, although not quite as poetic as the kaiseki stuff.'
According to Tim, the most important things to have in your cupboard when cooking Japanese food are konbu (edible kelp) and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes). 'You have to learn to make dashi (stock). If you don't make dashi, you're not making Japanese food. And it's so easy to make. Most stocks take hours to get the flavour, but with katsuobushi, or shiitake mushrooms as a vegetarian option, you get an amazing flavour from it in minutes. It's a really quick stock that gives a really great flavour.'
But the all-important katsuobushi is not always easy to find in the UK. 'There are a lot of regulations on the importing of fish products in the UK so it can be hard to get.' Other problems include the price of certain Japanese ingredients. 'Everything's expensive which is annoying. Especially gobo (burdock), and other things which are really cheap in Japan. You can get similar things in Chinese supermarkets, but they're not quite the same.'
In the future, Tim hopes to help widen the popularity of some lesser-known Japanese dishes in the UK by opening an izakaya (Japanese-style pub). 'I'd like to open an izakaya that focuses on Kyushu-style ramen such as Hakata ramen, Kumamoto's garlic ramen, Nagasaki champon noodles, things like that. Also, the little eccentric dishes you get in Kyushu like mentaiko (pollock roe) pasta, which I really love, and karashi renkon (lotus root with spices), chicken namban from Miyazaki and all the really good pork dishes you get in Kagoshima. No one thinks of pork as being a Japanese food but the Japanese pork is brilliant.'
Tim's suggestion for a quick Japanese meal is mentaiko pasta-
Mentaiko pasta for 2:
Melt 50g butter into 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Finely slice the white part of two spring onions and saute until soft but not brown; reserve the green parts. Cook 200g stringy pasta such as spaghetti or tagliatelle until just al dente and drain. Toss the pasta in the warm butter and onions along with 1 tbsp yuzu juice, a dash of Tabasco sauce, 2 lobes of mentaiko (removed from their sacs), freshly ground black pepper and sea salt, and 2 torn shiso (Japanese basil) leaves or a small handful of shiso cress. Turn off the heat and stir in 2 egg yolks. Serve topped with the sliced green parts of the spring onions, more black pepper, and grated parmesan cheese.