Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tokyo - Mimiu

When traveling with matured folks who aren't used to eating too much Japanese food (especially the raw stuff), shabu shabu (Japanese hot pot) is not a bad meal to have especially when these folks are craving "soup".. Ok, so you don't slurp up the stock you cook in, but on a cold winter's day, it is still a heartwarmer.

We end up at Mimiu in Shibuya's Mark City Mall after yet another day of shopping. When we get there, we were a little apprehensive since the window display suggested that shabu shabu was only just one of the many things they do, aside from the bento sets, tempura meals, etc. Plus, we had to wait to be seated, notwithstanding our reservation! So we start exploring the neighbouring restaurants but since everyone was indecisive, we stuck with our choice.

Fortunately, everyone in the restaurant, despite the other offerings, were having shabu shabu. I heaved a sigh of relief since the limited internet research I did said that Mimiu has been serving up shabu shabu since 1958!
The 5 of us all decided to have BEEF! After all, if you are going to do beef, what better place than Japan, where marbling is an art form! (I might have exaggerated there but not by much). And no chewing is necessary!

Each set also comes with a variety of vegetables and the specialty of the house, udon! Yes, indeed. Mimiu's udonsuki is also laying claim to having started the udon craze in Japan. And it is good! But if I had to choose, I prefer the udon texture at Mentsudan, which has perhaps a 0.5 degree more bite! Pedantic you might think, but this is Japanese precision at its finest!

The starters of yuba (bean curd top sheet) and sashimi were also very good, and of course, to end, the in-season persimmons from Niigata and Kyoho grapes were fabulously sweet and juicy.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Tokyo - Eataly

Daikanyama is one of the trendiest places to see and be seen at in Tokyo, lined with cafes, restaurants and unique/high-end retail stores (where I managed to buy a pair of "Japan only" silver and gold Onitsuka Tiger sneakers!).

It was therefore not unusual to find Eataly - a large complex dedicated to food and beverage (largely wines). As it name suggests, it has some of the best produce from Italy. Eataly boasts a comprehensive Italian food mart, comprehensive wine cellar, a cafe, deli, and high end 40-cover restaurant. Of course, where it all starts, a cooking school to boot!

We found ourselves drawn to the deli for lunch before we started our Daikanyama foray, and was very impressed to find quality which one might only find in Italy. The limited pasta and pizza menu didn't have to be expanded. It was great as it was!

The linguini pesto was fragrant from the fresh basil it was ground from and a suitable amount of freshly grated parmesan added to the flavour of the firm-bite of the pasta. The addition of potato cubes was also excellent, since the tuber absorbed the taste of the pesto well.

The veal ravioli was also very good, with generous shredded veal in the pasta pockets. Lightly tossed in a truffle oil, it was simplicity at its best.

Given the comprehensive selection of cured meats and cheeses in the store, it was no wonder that the pizza with parma ham, arugula, and parmesan was one of the best we've had. And the thin but slightly chewy pizza base was perfect.

An enjoyable meal and great atmosphere seated within the wine section to enjoy a wet trendy Tokyo afternoon.
150-0034Tokyo-to, Shibuya-ku, Daikanyamachiyou 20-23
Tokyo, Japan
Tel. +81 (0)3-5784-2736

Monday, November 17, 2008

Tokyo - Tokyo Mentsudan

Outside of Japan, I tend to avoid udon (of the fat variety) unless it is Inaniwa udon. However, udon in Japan is a pleasure to eat for its smooth and chewy texture. On this trip, I had occasion to visit Tokyo Mentsudan. According to a pretty reliable website, Tokyo Mentsudan is originally from the Kagawa prefecture and started the Sanuki udon boom in Tokyo.

If you want service, this is NOT the place. This is a self serve assembly line where you place your order, wait to pick up, then walk past the never ending condiments including rows and rows of tempura of anything you can find, onigiri, sweet bean curd skins, etc. Then you make payment. If you ordered an udon which has soup, don't panic if you dot your without. Turn on the tap after the cashier, and voila, soup!

The 3 of us were obviously the greenest and greediest, and got quizzed by the udon chef on our orders. 2 orders of udon with beef, 2 orders of curry udon, and for good measure, udon with sesame sauce.
Of course the udon was all good! Soft but not mashy, tender yet chewy with a nice bite. Perfect!
The beef while not the best cut, was nevertheless tasty. The curry had a nice touch of a raw egg cracked into it and added to the the robustness of the sauce. The sesame sauce was the most ordinary of the lot, although still good and had a slightly nice tartness to it which cut through the ordinarily cloying taste of the sesame.
Definitely worth the search if you love your noodles!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tokyo - Sushi Kanesaka

People marvel at the fact that Tokyo has the most Michelin stars combined, of any city in the world. I don't. For the simple reason that I think Japanese cuisine is the hallmark of global cuisines today, primarily for its simple use and remarkable combination of top quality produce and natural flavours. And for this reason alone, I think that Tokyo will, in time to come, also surpass Paris in the number of 3 Michelin starred restaurants - it currently lags Paris by 2.

I was therefore honoured to have the opportunity to lunch at Sushi Kanesaka (2 stars), owned by Shinji Kanesaka, possibly the youngest sushi chef in the prestigious Ginza district in Tokyo. Kanesaka san was not at the helm but his learned colleague Sanpei san was. Sanpei san was loads of fun, helped by his good command of English. He was interactive and participated by slow-mo-ing his knife wielding to the beat of our oohs and ahs, as he whipped out quality catches of the day from his magic fridge, especially the one under the counter.
Sanpei san's omakase was an excellent ensemble of sashimi and sushi of the finest quality that I've ever had.
Flounder - choice of sea salt, ponzu or traditional soya sauce and freshly grated wasabi
Baby Ebi - quite a few of them, de-shelled for easy savouring
Otoro - melt-in-your-mouth goodness
Lightly grilled Anago - cushiony softness with just a hint of charcoaled crisp skin
Fresh Uni - sweet sweet urchin from Hokkaido.. sigh..
Steamed Abalone - just enough to retain its natural sweetness and not chewy at all
Ika Sushi - hint of the sea and tender enough to even take a bite without losing your lipstick with the squid, soya sauce and grains of rice.
Speaking of the rice, the grains were so well defined and had its own fragrance. Sanpei san explained that it is the season's fresh harvest from Yamagata. Wow!

Lightly grilled Aji served with grated radish and soya sauce was next. Aji, typically cottony in texture, tasted like silk in this case. The excellent quality of the fish, with the perfected grilling techniques were of course the culprits.
Back to our sushi course...
Lightly cooked Botan Ebi - the sweetness of the shrimp from both the meat and a little of the entrails from the head made for a delightful out-of-this-world flavour
Aji or Spanish mackeral
Salmon roe -the sweetest and none of that usual over salted brininess.. our smiles brought out and extra scoop for each of us from good ole Sanpei san. Also, he thought it probably made a better looking photo (but because I had too many to choose from, it didn't make the blog given limitations of the blog).
Uni rice - this spectacular dish of more top quality Hokkaido uni, generous blob of freshly grated wasabi and a drizzle of soya sauce, mixed tenderly together to produce whole rice grains of the brightest orange, each perfectly wrapped in the the uni gravy was heaven with every teaspoon in the mouth.
A small recess with tamago custard - almost like dessert..
Then our sushi finale - perfectly grilled anago with a sweet marinade on top of rice. The plump anago withstood the grilling well and unlike our first course of shio-grilled anago, this was definitely dessert.
We finished off with a good bowl of miso soup cooked with many baby clams and it was definitely heartwarming before battling the cold again for another aggressive shopping day!
What an experience - definitely a must-do-again.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Tokyo Coffee Culture

When one thinks of good coffee, one rarely thinks of Japan.. but it certainly has its very own coffee culture, and by culture, I do not mean a guhzillion Starbucks littering the streets although they are not uncommon. Japanese take their coffee very seriously and I am still impressed by the many independent cafes which have been in existence for a long time. The quaint one I went to in Harajuku - 溜屋咖啡店 has been around since 1850!

Japanese cafes pride themselves on the blends or roasts on offer. It's not about how much syrup or whipped cream you can slather the coffee with. It's not about how you can have your coffee "skinny".
If you have a Blue Mountain, and don't like taking it neat, you should use cream and not milk. If you want your coffee cold and sweet, you don't add sugar crystals since they don't melt. You add sugar syrup! It's how to bring out the best in the coffee. The Japanese really have their coffee down pat and some cafes even import their beans direct from South America.

And these cafes have great cakes (likely home made) on offer. The chiffon seems to be a popular offering and both 溜屋 in Harajuku and 壹真咖啡店 in Ginza had their own to offer. 溜屋's chiffon is by far superior although the coffee at 壹真was outstanding both in roast and brew.

These cafes are also a great place to soak in the afternoon, whether with friends or just alone watching life go by. Time stands still at these places, largely untouched although well maintained and retaining its original feel. 壹真咖啡店 in Ginza has a wonderful collection of art on the walls, old European furniture, accompanied by the finest china used to serve its coffee with.

So the next time you just want to escape from the bustle of the Tokyo subway, malls and crowded streets, steal into a cafe and enjoy a step back in time, while enjoying the perfect cuppa...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tokyo - Rakushokushu Maru

Japan Times labels the cuisine served as Modern Kaiseki. I have to agree. It is extremely good fine dining but accessible even to those who do not speak Japanese and is relaxed to the point that some may call it an Izakaya. But the food is just too fine. It is Kaiseki dining of our time.

We did not ask for a set course when we made the reservation but asked our friendly waiter who spoke American to put something together for us for about JPY5000 per person when we got there. He gladly obliged.

What resulted was an excellent 10 course dinner which used the finest ingredients of the season.

- spinach and chicken in sesame sauce

- bonito, sea bream and squid

- Chinese cabbage salad and ground peanuts in a soya sauce dressing.
The use of honey roasted ground nuts balanced against the salty dressing and the crunch of the peanuts combined with that of the cool crisp cabbage made for a refreshing but zesty taste.

Kyoto Taste (a reflection of owner-chef's Keiji Mori's roots):
- A Kyoto traditional bun (made from yam) and stuffed with wild duck and lily bulbs in a dashi stock. Clean tasting despite the fried bun and wild duck confit but warming to the soul from the great dashi.

- grilled special free range chicken with salt and yuzu pepper. A clear winner.

- japanese omelet including soup stock. Juiciest omelet I've ever had and a clear sign of the high standards in culinary skills.

- grilled mackeral preserved in rice bran. So lightly grilled we could have mistaken it for a broiled dish. And the sweet potato was an excellent contrast.

- assorted autumn vegetable tempura. The maitake mushroom and sweet potato were my favourites.

Special rice (cooked for 30 minutes) - served with dried sardines and green peppercorns, salmon roe and braised mushrooms and konbu. The rice is specially cooked in a Japanese claypot and is served fully and soft but not mushy. Perfect use of the season's harvest. Since we did not manage to finish it all, they kindly made the remainder into rice balls and put it in the prettiest doggy bag with white sakuras monogrammed on an orange background.

- cheese cake with dark cherry sauce
- steamed custard pudding with a Japanese black sugar syrup
Both were great in their own right and a perfect sweet ending to the night, accompanied by their fragrant genmai ocha.

Immense quality for the price - impossible value!

For directions and other contact information, go to

Aoyama KT Building B1F
5-50-8 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
Tokyo, Japan
(03) 6418 5572

Monday, November 10, 2008

Tokyo - Tempura Tsunahachi

Most travelers to Tokyo would eat at Tempura Tsunahachi down at Shinjuku, just a stone's throw away from Isetan and Mitsukoshi department stores. Of course, the fact that it has been around for about 80 years helps. Also, the fact that locals still faithfully queue, and that prices are reasonable for the quality are probably the real reasons.

Of course, one only eats tempura at Tsunahachi - deep fried in its own secret house blend of oils - available for sale also! There are a variety of sets which have different items (some standard and available all year round while others are seasonal) tempura-ed to Tsunahachi perfection, to be eaten with their 2 types of grated radish (one plain and one infused with umeboshi) which you can drown with the tempura dipping sauce, a bowl of steamed rice, pickles and of course, miso soup with tiny clams.

Today, I had the Y2770 set which had 2 shrimps, cuttlefish, eggplant, a tempura pancake topped with many shrimp, and the seasonal clam with julienned ginger/mushrooms as well as a pond smelt and conger eel.

Great value and of course, great quality!

Caution: do not wear clothes you intend to wear again - reason: YOU CAN'T (unless you want to smell like tempura)!

Shinjuku Honten*
3-31-8 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-kuTokyo, Japan
(03) 3352-1012
* Many locations around Japan, with 8 in Tokyo alone

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Seasonal offerings..

It is that time of year when my favourite monk fish liver is in season.. and the better it is the oranger it is! Creamy goodness - no wonder it is the foie gras of Japanese cuisine.

But you ain't tasted creamy till you've had shirako - or translated male fish sperm sacs... I had the pleasure of savouring some from a cod fish.. (more expensive versions are from snapper or blowfish)
Ok, so it doesn't sound too pleasant nor look too hot as someone's brains, but get past that and you have a delightful texture and depending on the way it is served, adopts the taste of the accompanying sauce. Served with ponzu, chillied radish and soya sauce, it is a refreshing appetiser...

Served as tempura, it is akin to eating deep fried milk! I prefer the latter because the Shirako is even creamier from the heat.

Ah... the beauties of autumn.. all courtesy of Hana Sakazuki in Hong Kong (see my posts in April and August). Can you tell it is one of my favourite restaurants in HK!

2/F Ming An Plaza Phrase II8 Sunning RoadCauseway Bay, Hong Kong
(852) 2577-9799

Friday, November 7, 2008

Singapore - GOTO


Nothing short of that adequately describes my experience at Goto, on Ann Siang Hill. Helmed by the chef who used to cook for the Japanese ambassador, I certainly felt privileged to have had the opportunity to taste his culinary creations. And his pretty wife, who hosts us honoured diners, introduces each course with pride and love in her eyes.

There is almost no need to describe the quality of each course; the sheer Kaiseki menu is description enough of the extraordinary experience, which I have to say has only been equalled by my travels in Japan.


1. The assorted starter tray was hint enough of the things to come (clockwise from top left) - soft silken tofu from Japan with some yuba (the prized top sheet mixed into it); autumn vegetables topped with mushroom; broiled Maitake mushroom and Ika tossed wtih mentaiko; a yam puff; and Kyoto tofu infused with some chilli. All seasonal and fresh.
2. Clear soup with generous pieces of crab and a sweet river fish - such an infusion of the tastes of the waters they were fished from.

3. Our sashimi platter has got to be one of the best we've had (clockwise from the top) - otoro, tai; amaebi; bonito and a succulent scallop right in the middle.
4. A tempura moriawase of fresh prawn, white fish and sweet capsicum.

5. A lightly grilled sweet river fish accompanied by the finest grilled ginko nuts, and a sweet chestnut tempura (right in season now).
6. steamed mashed yam topped with uni.
7. steamed glutinous rice with sweet chestnuts and topped with salmon roe
8. first dessert was a trio of steamed custard with stewed apple, musk melon, persimmons from Niigata, and positively one of the best green tea ice creams I've ever had where the focus is on the quality of the tea and not the cream.
9. second dessert was a steamed rice cake topped with red bean, served in a black sugar syrup.

All too soon, the meal ended but not without a freshly made bowl of Matcha. A pity we did nto know, or else it would have been great to watch our perfect host in action. Such perfect endings to a meal which was decadent yet healthy.
We will certainly be back to try the more expensive menu - which I believe would be even more out of this world (outside of Japan that is)!

#01-01 14 Ann Siang Road
6438 1553

Singapore - White Rabbit

With all the rave reviews of the White Rabbit, I have to say I was disappointed when I showed up for lunch, as were my 3 other girlfriends who joined me. Beautifully set in an old church with high ceilings and stained glass windows at Harding Road (the Dempsey area), with a very well-written menu to boot, there was unfortunately something missing from the food. While the food wasn't bad, it was definitely NOT wow! by any stretch of the imagination.

The Mac and Cheese which sounded like old world goodness called out to me - carbo queen! But it was not served as it should have been - in a hot casserole. Instead, it arrived on a white plate with gravy and greens.. also, it was too tall and there wasn't enough gratinated cheese to go round! And because it wasn't served hot, the cheese was a little cool and chewy.

Thinking we would make it up with desserts, we ordered an assortment:

Blackforest cake - totally deconstructed that it tasted nothing like the grand old dame I used to know. NOT ENOUGH SPONGE!!

The Baked Alaska and Banana Split were decent enough and managed to win the dessert quest despite their ordinary looks and tastes.

Unless someone tells me the chef at dinner is different, I am hardly likely to venture there again unless I just wanted to sit in a pretty place and have a cuppa.

39C Harding Road
6473 9965

Singapore - Nirai Kanai

Okinawa is about a mid way between Taiwan and Japan and Okinawan cuisine displays the influences from the 2 countries. Light touches with pockets of heartiness seems to be the order of the day, and poring through the menu at Nirai Kanai and the Tanglin Shopping Centre, there is an excellent balance you can strike for yourself depending on whether you feel like stuffing yourself, or just ordering snacks to down your shochu or sake with.

I particularly liked the Peanut Tofu in Soya Sauce, which was fragrant but light and smooth to down. A twist to the usual sesame tofu I've had in other places, but different in a good way.

The other dish I liked to the bone was the deep fried pork knuckle. Ok, so it's not the healthiest option but it was YUMMY!!! I love the melting collagen behind the crispy skin and the lemon wedge lifted the greasiness from the wondrous knuckles!

The other dishes we had were less memorable - the dressing on the pig ears with bean sprout salad was a little too tart for me. And the rice balls were kinda like your Chinese flavoured rice but patted prettily into a Japanese onigiri.

The other not-so-good-looking dish but which would be excellent to down with a bowl of white rice would be the silk gourd stir fried with tofu and luncheon meat. Hearteh!!!
A no frills joint if you want to mingle with the Japanese work folk in Singapore.

177 River Valley Road
#B1-01/02 Liang Court Shopping Centre

6339 4811

Monday, November 3, 2008

Singapore - Dozo

With the gloom and doom of the current "Depression", perhaps one of the simple pleasures is to eat but can one eat well for less in this climate?

Dozo at Valley Point on River Valley Road attempts to do this. Don't expect top-notch ingredients at this "Modern Japanesque" restaurant but instead, be content with sitting through a fairly competent 7-course dinner at the giveaway price of S$58.80! Yup, you heard right.

When you walk into Dozo, it's a little like walking through an upscale KTV joint with dim lights, dark/black wood with splashes of colour in the chairs and lampshades. With private rooms available, it is not a also bad place for mid-range corporate entertainment.

The mango shooter accompanying the menus were excellent refreshers save for the size and shape of the ice which did not allow the mango juice any where near the lips.. sigh .. if only they were slushie texture.

I liked the choice given to the diner at each course. With the trained-to-smile-at-will waiters, the specialties of the house were also helpfully communicated. Since there were 2 of us, we decided to share and order slightly different, save where we might fight over the food!

1. Starter of the Chef's seasonal assorted platter of smoked salmon with sweet whipped cream, seared scallop with lemon cream sauce on asparagus, and a small wedge of pan-fried foie gras on bread was not a bad start although the sweet whipped cream was a little funky for my liking.

2.1 Cold dish - the succulent king crab claw drizzled with sesame vinaigrette would have been a refreshing dish except that the crab claw was the salt frozen kind and was just too salty for my liking.

2.2 Cold dish - the beef carpaccio with shave parmesan and Japanese curry mayo mosaic was pretty tasty and the use of a crispy pastry rolled up to hold up the cone tower added an odd but pleasant crunch to the dish.

3.1 In my opinion, the Side dishes ruled. The first one of gratinated escargots topped with garlic and yuzu butter were tasty from the cheese although I did not get a hint of any yuzu in the dish, which was a little disappointing given that was what sealed the order for me.

3.2 The other Side Dish of steamed egg custard with scallop and foie gras topped with caviar won hands down even though there was hardly any caviar. The foie gras was mashed into the eggs before steaming and made the custard that much more robust from the combination and flavourful.

4. Soups were mediocre - the seafood bisque had all the taste of a stock which had shrimp and crab shells steeping but little else to add a 3rd dimension. The infusion of cepes mushroom and truffle was the same although it was the better soup because of the strong mushroom flavours and not too creamy.

5.1 Mains - the beef tenderloin on "pu ye" and granite hot stone was good. Despite a lack of marbling, it was very tender and served very pink. The garnish of deep fried shallots and too much ground pepper were not so good since they detracted from the natural taste of the beef.

5.2 the other Main Dish of oven baked Hamachi Kama on a bed of risotto was too fushiony for me. The risotto was quite tasteless and did little by way of contrast to the simply seasoned Hamachi cheek and again, had a tad too much pepper for me and little else to bring out the flavour of the fish. Rather disappointing.

6. Our iced fruity refresher was as the name suggests. A pleasant fruity drink with plenty of fruit slushing around in the pot made for a nice break after a lot of pepper to wade through.

7. Dessert was the freshly baked warm chocolate cake served with ice cream. While competent, it was not as the waiter suggested, "one of the best in Singapore". But it definitely wasn't too bad.

Dozo's concept is a commendable one in bringing simple happiness in difficult times, it is also great in bringing a variety of Japanese and European offerings to the masses.. it will surely gain its own following if it hasn't already.

#02-02 Valley Point Shopping Centre
491 River Valley Road
6838 6966