Tokyo

Kondo, Tokyo (**)

When I mention the concept of a fine dining tempura experience to friends, I seem to keep getting the same skeptic response, something along the lines of- How good can tempura be, really? I feel inclined to defend Tempura and everything it stands for- the batter makes a difference, the quality of produce makes a great difference, the temperature and kind of oil used makes a difference; but I couldn’t, at least not until I had tried it, and besides, asking how good tempura can taste is not that far off from asking, how good can raw fish on rice taste?

The fact is, sushi, and tempura both involve very minimal amounts of cooking(at least in comparison to a french degustation menu), and therefore the quality of ingredients is absolutely paramount to the final dish, whatever minute mistakes are not masked by heavy sauces or side condiments, it is raw cooking at its rawest form.

With that, just 4 hours before my only 3-star mealduring the entire leg of my Tokyo trip, I found myself getting ready to have lunch at Kondo, a 2 starred tempura restaurant. I had spent a good 15 minutes looking for the restaurant in the hot sun, and already started to doubt if this meal was a good idea at all. After taking a tiny elevator up a nondescript building, it seemed as though everyone that stepped into the building was having lunch at the restaurant, in fact, there was a small waiting area cramped with about 8-10 people waiting to be seated, at least the place was showing promise…


Prawn heads

Two shattering-ly crisp prawn heads exploding with the intense taste of prawn head juice/brains, the tempura batter helped to balance out and tone down the offal taste of the head, even people squeamish about eating prawn heads could get down with this. Perfect way to start the meal. Very good


Prawn

The first real foray into traditional tempura items, what struck me immediately was that the batter was nowhere near as crisp as the ones I’m used to, it was crisp, but without the crunch that some restaurants achieve when cooking their tempura ebi; on the other hand, the batter was not as dense as my previous tempura experiences, this light batter allowed the natural sweetness of the prawn to shine. The prawn was nicely cooked, retained a nice bounciness to the bite, which contrasted the batter well. Okay-good


Asparagus

This was eye opening, the asparagus was very thick, and it was cooked to the point where it took on a meat-like texture, and released a lot of natural juices when you bit into it. The batter was very light, you get the immediate crunch when you first bite into it, then the natural earthy flavors of the asparagus take over, best asparagus I’ve eaten. Very good


Eggplant

This once again had a meaty, almost stewed eggplant kind of texture, but it was sliced thin enough so that it wouldn’t get too heavy and cloying on the palate. I also realised at this point that the batter used was quite fluid, it didn’t stick as much as a traditional batter, and a lot of it actually drips off before it is fried. Okay-Good


Kisu 

The fish was unbelievably well cooked, moist and full of flavor. The soft texture of the fish meant that it was one of the few tempura dishes that actually had a textural contrast to the not-so-crisp batter, I actually hoped as I was eating this that the batter was slightly crisper, although this was still a great dish. Good-Very good

 

Lotus Root

Very crunchy, really nice bite, flavors were subtle, and it wasn’t stringy or sticky like some of the lotus roots I’ve eaten in Singapore. Okay

Shiitake mushrooom

Kind of tired of saying this, but this once again had a meaty texture, my notes say ‘smooth’ as well, pretty sure I was talking about the texture, it was not sponge-y at all. Very deep earthiness, surprising amount of flavor in a small bite, bursting with juices. Very good

Shiraumo

Minced fish wrapped in shiso leaf, the fish was again, perfectly cooked. Strong flavor from the fish, and shiso provided some freshness that helped to cut the oil a little bit. I’m not sure if it was because the fish was minced, which gave it the perception of being ‘softer’, but I felt that the batter was a little more crisp, and gave the dish a perfect contrast in texture, best protein of the meal. Very good


Anago

The final of the meat tempuras, this was perfectly cooked, as always, the best cooked fish course I had. Unfortunately, it was quite lacking in flavor compared to the two previous dishes. There was a little bit of a residual stickiness on the tongue from the fish, which was quite unpleasant, but it was balanced out by the fried batter. Okay


Onion

This had a nice caramelized smell to it, but it tasted surprisingly raw(but without the biting sensation on the tongue) when you ate a big chunk of it. The onion was very sweet, but I’m not particularly crazy about the taste of onion in general. The batter did not stick to the onion at all. Okay


Sweet potato

Supposedly Kondo’s speciality, this was an extra order that was not included in the set menu. I clearly did not realise how gigantic this was, let’s just say that I was literally struggling to finish one piece of this sweet potato. Im actually not sure if this was done tempura style, it actually seemed baked to me. The crust was the crispest of all the dishes I had, and the potato was sweet, but not mind-blowingly so, it was very very dry. Was this really their speciality? I honestly don’t get the hype. I had to leave the 2nd piece behind. Okay

Aoyagi(Round Clam) pancake on rice

Right when I thought I had hit my eating capacity, this was placed in front of me. I had forgotten that there would be a rice component in the lunch. My intention was to just nibble a little to get a taste, but this didn’t pan out as I had planned. The taste of this pancake was complex, there were a lot of different flavors, all residing at different parts of the pancake, every bite gave you a different sort of flavor, and it was delicious whichever way they melded together. Some parts were sweet, others savory, I even got some citrus/sour notes as well(ponzu?), the pancake wasn’t crisp, but it didn’t need to be. I ended up having to finish this. Very good

The miso soup smelled a lot stronger than it tasted, plus I was close to bursting at this point so I think the soup was a little lost on me. Okay

Although I did not put in much time researching my meal at Kondo, it actually turned out to be one of the best meals I had in Tokyo. When you talk about some of the 3 star french masters like L’Arpege, where the focus is primarily about bringing out the natural taste of ingredients in their raw state, and then cooking it minimally to elevate it(especially vegetables); cooking ingredients tempura style is not that different from this vision that restaurants like L’Arpege has set for its food.

Japan has some of the best produce in the world, and tempura is an incredible vessel to carry those strong flavors to the diner without imposing or drastically altering those flavors. All the food was perfectly cooked to the right doneness, my only criticism would be that some of the tougher, or foods with more ‘bite’, overpowered the batter slightly and you couldn’t get the crisp sensation when you bit into the fried batter, the contrast was a little lost here. On a more positive note, the fried batter didn’t seem that oily, but I did start to feel myself slowing down quite a bit towards the end.

The set lunch menu is incredible value, and you will leave the restaurant feeling stuffed, I’d highly recommend making a trip to Kondo, and I’d also recommend skipping the sweet potato

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Tokyo, Uncategorized

Tapas Molecular Bar, Tokyo (*)

If  you are looking for a true molecular gastronomy experience in Tokyo, chances are, you will end up reading a blog post about Tapas Molecular Bar. While Tokyo has no shortage of modern takes on numerous kinds of cuisine, TMB is probably the only restaurant where you will get a true Molecular Gastronomy experience. Located on the 38th floor of mandarin oriental Tokyo, the restaurant has an amazing view of the Tokyo skyline, be sure to show up early for your reservation and have a seat at the lounge. They serve two sittings during dinner an I would recommend getting a reservation during a timeslot with no other guests, you’ll get a much more personal, and overall better experience.

View from the top


Cherry bonbon- Sake, cherry liquor

It was sake jelly surrounded with a cherry liquor, I think it was spherified. Very aromatic and the sake went well with the Sakura. Good


Onion puff with bacon cream, beef puff with horseradish sour cream

The texture of the puff was quite interesting, it was completely dry and crumbled in the mouth, but it lacked that explosive flavor which would’ve really made the dish really pop. Okay


Potato stone

This was very similar in concept to the potato appetizer served in Mugaritz. I think this was actually a better replica than the Mugaritz version. Unfortunately, both this, and the Mugaritz one, tasted terrible. The Mugaritz shell was very crisp and powdery, this version had a chewy exterior, both were equally unpleasant for different reasons. Main difference is that the Mugaritz version was served with aioli, which made it much more palatable. Bad


Exquixada: deconstructed Spanish salad

A deconstructed salad, plated in a test tube, meant to be sucked in one mouthful. Very strong taste of tomato gelee and bacalao, I have no reference to the original salad, but this tasted surprisingly good to me, had nuances of a ceviche, acidity and sweetness of the tomato balanced out the salty bacalao nicely. Good


Mountain, cheese, butterfly

This was a orgy of many different flavors and components, what impressed me the most was the taste of the cheese, on top of wheat bread with walnut raisin, the combination of that bite was delicious. The butterflies made of beet and apple puree were visually stunning(look at the details), but didn’t do much taste wise. The foam was absolutely useless, completely tasteless. The salad didn’t work for me either. Okay


Smoked semi boiled egg with Spanish ham

An appearance for the smoking gun, which is to be found in every molecular gastrogeeks toolkit. This seemed to be a dish right up my alley, I love a soft poached egg, and jamon is one of my top ingredients of all time. Unfortunately, the dish seem to be lacking a balance of flavors, the egg was severely under seasoned and tasted bland when eaten alone, then it tasted completely overpowered when eaten with the Spanish ham. Bad


Spring landscape 1: fried spring vegetables fried in an eggless batter

This was one of the better dishes of the night. The batter was amazing, it had a  ethereally thin crisp shell that gave way to perfectly cooked vegetables, didn’t feel heavy or soaked in oil at all. The soil was made of fried onion and spring onion, it gave the dish a sweet caramelized flavor. Good


Drunken shrimp

An homage to Chinese drunken shrimp, done in a Japanese style- cooked in sake, kombu and yuzu, served with a seaweed and nut brittle. The shrimp was perfectly cooked, sake was a little strong but the seasoning and umami from the kombu helped to tone down it’s harshness. The brittle had very little flavor but the taste you got from sucking on the prawn head was enough for me to look past this. Very good



Sole and watercress

Fried lotus root chips added a nice crunch to the dish, and watercress sauce was the best component on the plate. The sole was nicely cooked but flavors didn’t stand out at all. Actually, nothing in the dish really stood out, and a reappearance of that foam sums the dish up for me. Bad


Quail, morel, cacao

This was a really confusing dish for me, the components were: fried noodle basket, baby artichoke, carrot puree, quail and quail jus with cacao, vanilla potato espuma with vanilla oil. Trust me, this is as confusing for you to read as it was for me to eat. The fact that I was told this should taste like apple pie when all the components were eaten together did not help at all. It was tough enough to eat all the components together for a deconstructed dish, and it certainly didn’t taste like apple pie to me. The vanilla potato espuma just did not belong on the plate, very very strange. Bad


Xiaolongbao

A molecular take on xiao long bao, this was actually one of the most intelligent dishes I’ve had in recent times. Xiaolongbao is basically jellied stock covered with ‘pastry’, then steamed, so that the stock melts down into liquid state for that burst in your mouth feel. This dish takes the same concept, except using minced lamb to cover the jellied stock, it is held together using transglutaminase, or meat glue. Unfortunately, I think the dish failed in it’s execution, there was not enough stock and that ‘burst in the mouth’ texture was  lost in the meaty texture of the lamb. If you look past that, it is actually quite an interesting and fun way to serve meat + sauce in a neat package. Okay-good



Warm sizzling beef

A4 grade wagyu beef that’s cooked sous vide(I think), the sizzling portion of the beef comes from it being put into a whipping cream canister, and charged with carbon dioxide. This adds absolutely nothing to it’s flavor, but it carbonates the surface of the beef, so that when the beef is finished with sauce, the sauce ‘sizzles’  on the surface and bubbles slightly. It’s an whimsical and playful effect. The beef itself was very nicely cooked, very tender. Don’t expect to get as many pieces as I did though. Good

Can’t see much happening? Thats because not much is


Osuimono

A piece of fish is placed info clam stock and spherified(so that the fish is encapsulated by the stock), and it is later injected with a herbed oil, the process itself is quite cool for those who have never seen spherification before, unfortunately, it tastes terrible. Osuimono should be a light clam broth, but this had the ‘gummiest’ texture of all the spherified liquids I’ve had, thus making it taste really heavy, moreover, it just didn’t taste good, the clam broth just tasted too strong. Worst dish of the night. Very bad


Liquid nitrogen passionfruit puff

A passionfruit puff, similar to the puff used in the second dish, placed in liquid nitrogen. It was fun, I was sharing puffs with all the chefs, getting high on nitrogen, actually almost burnt my tongue as well. It’s tough to taste much when something is so cold, but the choice of passionfruit was a solid one, this actually had more taste than the puffs in the second dish, I didn’t get a shot of the puff itself because I do not particularly enjoy getting my fingers burnt by liquid nitrogen. Okay


Spring landscape 2: burdock root chocolate gateau, ginger ice cream

Interesting pairing of flavors, but the texture of the gateau was not great, kind of hard for the dish to come back from that. Okay


Petits:

Washi- dried edible flower covered cotton candy. Okay
Piña colada marshmallow, very strong flavors. Good
Strawberry candy with the scent of milk. This was supposed to taste like a strawberry latte. Okay
Freeze dried white chocolate banana, nice crisp texture. Good
Sakura cake- moist, very aromatic. Good


Fruits

A tasting platter for miracle berry. The basic premise is you try one piece of each fruit, then you suck on the miracle berry, the berry coats your tongue with a protein that alters your perception of taste. It makes sour foods taste sweet, among other things. You can still sense acidity from certain fruits(like the lemon especially) biting your tongue, but it tastes sweet. The strawberry tasted out of this world. It’s a little hard to describe without actually trying it. Very interesting but not really a dish per se.

I really thought I would like tapas molecular bar, I am a self confessed fan of molecular gastronomy, I love me a modern take on food, but the overall meal at tapas molecular bar felt a lot like a 101 class to molecular gastronomy, all the key techniques are there- spherification, liquid nitrogen, dehydration, foams, but none of them are particularly good examples of the techniques being used in an intelligent manner- to elevate a dish and make it more delicious, in fact,  a lot of the techniques used seemed to compromise the overall taste of the dish. And it’s a pity, it really is, I had a nice time meeting two of the most friendly chefs during my trip to Tokyo here, and the restaurant is set in in an amazing location, but the food put out just didn’t quite match up. I’d probably only recommend it as a crash course for anyone who hasn’t had any interaction with molecular gastronomy, and if you do end up going, make sure you visit the toilets on the same floor.

Your chance to pee on the world

Tokyo

L’Effervescence, Tokyo (*)

L’Effervescence wasn’t on my list of places to go in Japan, it just so happened that I was meeting a friend for dinner and he choose the place, while I honestly didn’t know that much about the place, the cuisine served falls into a category that I was very interested in. The chef helming L’effervescence has worked at reknowned restaurants like Michel Bras and the Fat Duck, and returned to Tokyo to do an interpretation of a new kind of cuisine that is prominent in Tokyo right now, a melding of French techniques with Japanese centric ingredients/flavors, a direction that I wish more Singaporean restaurants would take.

         

Udo? (Japanese Vegetable) with firefly squid Lemon thyme granita

The Udo was very forgettable, but the granita had a very interesting texture, it wasn’t a slush, it resembled tiny granulated pebbles, very unexpected. Okay

           

Bread course

I have no notes on this but it was pedestrian

               

Angel prawn saute, green peas puree and yoghurt, fava bean, salted lemon scented mousse, flower of chrysanthemum

The prawn was very nicely cooked, it retained a bouncy texture and its natural sweetness really came through, the flavor of the prawn complimented the pea puree well. The one component of the dish that really didn’t work for me was the fava bean, it felt like an off note in an otherwise harmonious dish. Okay

               

Whole cooked turnip and parsley oil emulsion, iberico ham and brioche

This was touted as an L’Effervescene signature dish, the turnip is cooked for 4 hours, I asked the chef if it was cooked sous vide, although he didn’t want to confirm this, I do believe that it was. I cut off a slice of turnip and ate it alone, it was very juicy, retained a good bite, but it was incredibly bland, I was actually very disappointed, but once I started eating it with the other components, the dish came to life. The flavor of the turnip paired perfectly with the parsley, and the iberico ham brioche croutons served as ‘seasoning’ for the turnips. The flavors were still somewhat subtle but there was a perfect balance of aromatics and taste. Very Good

Weapon of choice

Spring returns-

Shinsyu-Wagyu leg roast and its juice, azuki bean puree, germinating beans, sugarsnap peas, water cress, malaga raisin

The meat again was very nicely cooked, I didn’t think the fat in this particular cut of beef was particularly flavorful but I liked the side components. The azuki bean puree was interesting but it wasn’t a mind blowing combination with the beef, it was also a little dry and needed to be mixed in with the juices on the plate. The presence of the raisins added a delightful sweet burst of flavor, it cut through the richness of the meat well without being cloying on the tongue. Good

They are waiting to fall. – 

Chocolate and biscuit sandwiches of pumpkin mousse, curry sauce and apple

These little triangle ‘sandwiches’ were presented in a domino type effect, hence the name of the dish. Unfortunately, the biscuits didn’t exactly topple over very well. This may be just a pet peeve but if you say that a dish has a domino effect, shouldn’t it fall over properly? Seems a little like false advertising. Regardless, the flavors of the dish worked well, I’ve had the combination of pumpkin and curry and it works very well in my opinion. Unfortunately, the curry flavor wasn’t intelligently incorporated into the dish, the curry sauce was very mild, but there was a tiny ‘triangle’ of pure curry powder on the plate that livened the intensity of curry flavor, my main gripe was that it was a little annoying to incorporate into each bite of the sandwiches. The apple was thinly sliced and placed on the side of the plate, both these components felt like they were condiments as opposed to being part of the dish. The saving grace was that the mousse had a good texture, it was dense but had a good melt in your mouth mouthfeel, the chocolate and biscuit added sweetness and texture to the dish, and surprisingly the sweetness of the chocolate didn’t drown out the flavor of the pumpkin. Good

Nibbles for Chat

There were too many components that I’m too lazy to list out individually. The highlight was a lollipop with a hollow chocolate shell filled with popping candy, not a particularly inspiring dish but I am a sucker for popping candy, and its always an amusing way to end a meal.

I came to the restaurant without much expectations, and I left surprised and happy. I’m not taking anything away from L’Effervescence, I am all too aware that it is not easy to apply foreign techniques to Asian ingredients in a way that works well and isn’t forced; and while L’Effervescence isn’t very strongly influenced by Japanese flavors, there is an innate sense of Japan in each dish served. However, some dishes felt like they were incomplete, that they were headed along a certain path, in the right direction, but they had not reached that end goal yet- to achieve perfection in every bite, no matter how you choose to eat each dish.

The space that the restaurant has is lovely, there are booths for groups of 4, and even if you are sitting out in the main dining area, it feels very comfortable, elegant but not overly posh.  In summary, the restaurant has a lot of potential but some fine tuning needs to be done, it isn’t at a 2 michelin star level yet, but it would be interesting to see what they are able to achieve in 2-3 years.

Tokyo

Great burger, Tokyo

Two hours after my meal at Akasaka Kikunoi, I found myself wandering around Harajuku. I was supposed to meet two friends and I ended up being half an hour early. Coincidentally, I was only about a 5 minute walk away from Great burger.

Over the past few months, I’ve managed to push out a lot of the ‘junk/fast foods’ that I used to consume, but a great burger(get it?) is still an achilles heel of mine, you know what they say, sometimes you choose your meals, and sometimes your meals choose you, or maybe noone really says that, I don’t know.

               

Egg burger with salad

I love Japanese eggs, if you’ve ever had the traditional Japanese breakfast of raw egg over rice, you’ll know that there are no eggs in the world quite like Japanese eggs. I’d even go as far as to say that they are superior to French eggs, which are already pretty damn good. There are a lot of people out there who do not get down with a fried egg in a burger, I am not one of those people, there is no sandwich or burger that a fried egg cannot elevate.

The standouts of the burger were the vegetables, the lettuce was one of the freshest I’ve ever had, with a very good crunch, tomatoes had a subtle sweetness, and that unbelievable fruit like texture that Japanese tomatoes seem to have, I’m not even a fan of tomatoes in general, but I love Japanese tomatoes. The bun itself stood out as well, it had good volume, and nicely crusted on the outside with a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds, this gave the bun a nice complex nutty flavor, and a fluffy interior. The salad was surprisingly good as well, definitely not an afterthought kind of salad that many burger houses throw together for customers that refuse to eat fries. The salad was not overdressed, every leaf was nicely coated and the acidity of the vinaigrette cut through the rich bun nicely.

Unfortunately, the letdown was the patty itself, not that it was bad, but the freshness of the other ingredients outshone the beef, and that beefy flavor was somewhat lost  in the middle of everything, the thinness of the patty didn’t help either. Good

If you can look past the slightly underwhelming patty, great burger serves up a really nice burger(you could always get an extra patty). I don’t think its worth travelling out to Harajuku/Omotesando for, especially if you are far away, since there are many amazing burger joints in Tokyo; but if you are in the area, I’d really suggest stopping by.

Tokyo

Akasaka Kikunoi, Tokyo (**)

How this meal came about is a somewhat amusing story. I was trying to get a lunch reservation at Les Creations de Narisawa, unfortunately, they refused to take solo diners, and because I did not have a dining partner, I decided to try my luck on the Chowhound forums. I didn’t have particularly high hopes, but I did get some amusing replies as you will see below. Eventually, I did manage to link up with Asomaniac, but he didn’t have very kind things to say about Les Creations, and so after bouncing a few ideas around, we landed on Akasaka Kikunoi.

The original Kikunoi is a 3 michelin starred restaurant in Kyoto, Akasaka is their only branch in Tokyo, but it stays true to its Kyoto roots, serving up Kyoto cuisine in a Kaiseiki style. I am only familiar with their food from the food blog: www.sfreelife.com, seeing as to how they seem to know their food in Japan, as well as their rating as Akasaka Kikunoi as their favourite restaurant in the world, I had high hopes for the restaurant.

Nothing suspicious going on here

Starting platter

A simple platter of fresh vegetables and seafood, cooked simply(steamed?). The ebi was the only thing that stood out for me. Some of the vegetables had a rather unpleasant mushy texture. Bad

               

Tai(sea bream) and flounder(hirame)

The flounder was served with a gelee of ponzu, it was an absolute delight to eat. The gelee negated the need for any kind of soya sauce or wasabi, it was an intelligent and elegant way to serve the sashimi. Ponzu gelee had an incredible aroma, the yuzu helped to tone down the ‘saltiness’ of the soya, it gave the dish a very fresh mouthfeel. The letdown was the tai, it was chewy to the point where it simply did not want to break down in the mouth, plus it was way too stringy, bad enough to pull the overall dish down drastically. Okay-Good

               

Chutoro with mustard, egg yolk-soya dipping sauce

The egg yolk was soaked in soya sauce for two days and took on a very viscous, rich texture. The Chutoro with the mustard itself wasn’t spectacular, the heat of the mustard gave the sashimi a similar taste to wasabi, but with a different kind of smell, the dipping sauce helped to elevate the richness of the fish to new levels. Okay

             

Sakura leaves, Sakura flowers, Amadei

This was served in a thick, starchy, stock. The amadei was nicely cooked, sitting on a bed of glutinous rice, the Sakura added another element of aromatics to the dish, but I didn’t enjoy the consistency of the stock. It tasted too.. subtle to have that kind of thick consistency, think of eating a stew with very muted down flavors. Okay

                   

Grilled tofu with miso, grilled bamboo with pureed Japanese aromatics

The miso had a perfect tiny crust, but the the crux of the dish was it’s unbelievably complex flavor, it was surprisingly sweet, yet it retained that inherent salty bean flavor that you get in all miso, it complimented the soft, moist tofu perfectly. The bamboo didn’t do to shabbily either, it was very juicy, literally having to pull away because it was leaking so much juices after biting into it. The Japanese herb perfumed the dish nicely but left a slight tinge on the tongue, the only way I can describe it is a hybrid between mint and pepper. This was one of the best dishes I’ve had in recent memory. Superb

                         

Japanese mountain yam with seaweed

This was a dish grounded in one texture, a very slimy one. The mountain yam, or nagaimo, had a very crunchy texture covered in a sticky slime. The seaweed had a tinge of acidity(vinegar?) that gave it a wonderful refreshing quality, it also had a somewhat slimy consistency, the crunch from the yam gave the dish a nice textural contrast. Okay

 

Icefish, Kombu

You are basically served raw icefish, meant to be dipped into a kombu stock to cook. The fish had a very subtle flavor, with a nice soft texture that made it quite addictive, especially after being dipped into the accompanying ponzu sauce. There was a gelatinous block made of miso and sesame, simmering in the kombu, it didnt taste of much but had a strong aroma of sesame. Light flavors and not very substantial. Okay

Bamboo steamed rice

The rice took on the juices of the bamboo and gave it a subtle, earthy sweetness. The bamboo was cooked to a point where it still retained a nice bite, which contrasted the soft rice beautifully. It was good enough that I had a second bowl, and I was pretty full at this point. The edamame soup puree could’ve been better executed, it was blended with dashi stock; which made for an interesting combination, but I felt that the flavors seemed to clash, I would’ve preferred a stronger edamame taste, and slightly more viscosity. Good

Almond tofu, basil puree, tadpole eggs(?)

The almond tofu had a less brittle consistency than I’m used to, it was soft but had a more ‘meaty’ texture, similar to a custard. The almond paired nicely with the basil and it was a very refreshing end to the meal. The ‘tadpole eggs’, a component that features in a lot of Singaporean desserts, were more crunchy and had a better bite than those I’ve eaten in Singapore. Good-Very Good

My lunch at Akasaka Kikunoi was a little underwhelming. Its hard to fault most of the dishes, but save the grilled tofu dish, everything was forgettable. The restaurant serves predominantly  traditional kaiseki type food, but there are some updated ideas that I felt were pretty innovative, like the ponzu gelee. There is a strong emphasis on seasonal ingredients, like the bamboo, usually cooked simply to retain the natural flavors, but a little more needs to be done to elevate some of it.

Service was impeccable, not much English is spoken, but they do have a large recipe book that they bring out where you get an accurate description of each dish.  Sitting at the bar, you get the full view of a team of 4-5 chefs plating dishes for the entire restaurant. There is an air of serenity about the restaurant, to the garden leading up to the restaurant, the wooden furniture, the impeccably laid out cutlery; while that in itself is quite an experience, don’t go to the restaurant with too high hopes for the food.

Tokyo, Uncategorized

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon Tokyo (**)

Dinner on my first day in Tokyo was up in the air. I really wanted to try Sushi Saito but I didn’t have a reservation, the plan was to walk in and try my luck. Unfortunately, I was (politely) turned away by chef Saito himself, it is the smallest 3 star restaurant I have seen to date, a 6 seater restaurant with barely enough room for the customer to walk in. Feeling slightly disappointed, I called Joel Robuchon to try my luck with a reservation, I was surprised that I managed to get a seat without much difficulty.

I have been meaning to go to a Robuchon for a long long time, I almost picked a Robuchon restaurant over Guy Savoy when I was last in France, but people have often said the same thing to me, that most Robuchons over the world are consistent enough that you will not encounter bad food, but at the same time, the there isn’t much distinction between the different branches all over the world. I have a friend that calls Robuchon the “Mcdonalds of French Michelin food”, not that he means any disrespect, it is an nod to the consistency of food served at all Robuchon restaurants. I had been putting it off for so long, it was probably a good time to break the Robuchon virginity.

The Tokyo branch of L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon is located at Roppongi hills, which is a beautiful dome shaped shopping center, a Robuchon bakery faces the interior of the mall, while the Atelier’s entrance faces an outdoor sitting area.

       

Green Pea, mint gelee, parmesan cheese puff

A smooth, cold green pea puree over a refreshing mint gelee, served in a shot glass; this was a great way to start the meal. The green pea was unbelievably sweet and you could almost taste the freshness in it, mint gelee could have been slightly stronger, although that cooling sensation on the tongue is not something you would want to carry forward into the next course. Kind of an amusing side note, it was probably a coincidence, but there were two halves of a pea suspended in the pea puree, and I managed to get 1 of each half in the two scoops I needed to finish the dish, it seems kind of dumb on hindsight, but I was amused enough to write it down in my notes at the time, so I will honor the words of my notebook. The parmesan cheese puff was very thinly rolled and hollow in the center, it just crumbled and disappeared, but the taste of cheese was prominent. Okay-Good

           

Escargot bread

This was the only piece of bread I took from the bread basket, there were 2 others if I recall correctly. The bread was crisp on the outside, very soft and assertive taste and aroma of butter. I’m usually impartial to bread courses, but this, along with the soft roll I had in Per Se, really stood out to me. Good

             

Dublin Bay prawns, carrot, blood orange sauce

This doesn’t look like much, but the combination of the briny sweet prawns, the earthy sweetness from the carrots, and the complex acidity and citrus-y notes from the blood orange sauce was an absolute revelation. The flavors just complimented each other on levels that I can’t even explain coherently in words. The bounciness from the prawns and the crunch from the julienned carrots were a brilliant contrast in texture as well. The mascarpone quenelle added a creaminess to the dish. I would have given this a superb if not for the asparagus components, I felt that the woody taste didn’t really go well with the rest of the dish, the whole asparagus components did absolutely nothing for me. Very Good

               

Pan Fried foie with 3 kinds of onions (Roasted, pickled, onion leaf)

The dish smelled very citrusy for some reason. Unfortunately, there was a connective vein that’s present in all foie gras that wasn’t removed properly. It made cutting the foie quite annoying. The onion leaf and pickled onion worked well to balance out the richness of the foie, the roasted onion was too heavy and took things a little too far. Okay

             

Amadei with colza coulis and a ginger flavored butter sauce

They were using a large Amadei(tilefish) to push the degustation menu at the restaurant, it didn’t disappoint. This was seared with its scales still on, the the scales sort of curled outward and crisped up, it wasn’t just crispy, it sort of shattered. The scales, contrasted by the perfectly cooked fish meat which fell apart with ease, was amazing. I didn’t really care for the green Japanese flower sauce, it was a little too pungent, but when mixed with the ginger butter sauce, it was a lot more palatable. I was also surprised by how well the cabbage paired with the fish, it seemed to bring out its natural flavors nicely.Good

             

Spicy roasted lamb with ras el hanout, accompanied with gratinated cannelloni, and bamboo shoot

The lamb was perfectly cooked, absolutely perfectly. I don’t know if Robuchon utilizes sous vide cooking, but if this wasn’t cooked sous vide, or roasted at very low temperature for a long time, I’d be pretty surprised. The meat was cooked perfectly end to end with almost no ‘doneness rings’ around the edge, very tender and had good flavor. I didn’t like the bamboo with the rest of the dish, but the tempura style ‘kogomi’ had a nice sticky texture that I thought played well the with the meat. The spice had a robust spiciness that made the dish smell a lot like curry, but it also carried a sour tang that balanced the richness of the meat. The cannelloni didnt do much for me although the addition of pig ear was a nice contrast with the soft pasta. The lamb was enough to carry the dish for me. Very good

           

Pre-dessert: Lime basil sherbet with raspberry, blueberry

It wasn’t particularly inspiring, the lime-basil sherbet had a nice aroma and strong sourness. Served its purpose and cleared the palate. Okay

         

Strawberry panna cotta with a condensed milk sherbet and a froth of pistachio

The texture of the panna cotta was a little lost in the dessert, but the dish had an addition of meringue ‘rice’ (broken up baked meringue) that was absolutely genius, it added an interesting crisp contrast that you would not expect to find in a dessert like this. The taste of the pistachio wasn’t very strong and the foam made it look like I had made a mess at the end, well I did make a mess, but it made it look like I had made a bigger mess. Good

I was blown away by Robuchon, the Atelier is a brilliant concept- you’re seated at a tall table overlooking the kitchen, watching chefs warm up proteins at the back, passing it to chefs meticulously plating at the pass, attentive wait staff right in front of you, making sure the meal goes smoothly. Its casual, its relaxed, but the setting is classy, the service is professional, and the food is of incredible quality. At one point of the meal, all the staff in the restaurant stopped to sing Happy birthday to a birthday girl, it was beautiful, warm and so personal, a touch that many fine dining restaurants fail to achieve.

After this meal, I was seriously considering returning to the Atelier again during one of my remaining few days in Japan, that’s how good it was. The degustation menu had a lot of Japanese influences, and it was surprisingly cheap as well, one of the wait staff confirmed that the menu was specially built around the produce available in Japan, and why not? Japan has some of the best produce. There may be Robuchons all over the world, but if you’re holding off on it for that reason, I suggest you buckle down and have a meal there, you will not be disappointed.

Menu for the night

Tokyo, Uncategorized

Sushi Kanesaka, Japan (**)

My food journey in Tokyo began at Sushi Kanesaka. One of the first things I did when I was planning for my trip was to look for a sushi restaurant, the buzz surrounding the release of “Jiro dreams of sushi” only reminded me how badly I wanted to try sushi of tip top quality. After doing much research, and (surprisingly) discovering that Jiro himself isn’t very highly regarded in Japan, I narrowed down my shortlist to Sushi Saito and Sushi Mizutani. Saito was booked out when I called, but I managed to get a place at Mizutani; finally, I would get a chance to try 3 starred sushi. I held onto the reservation for a good month, before people started to tell me that I might not enjoy my experience at Mizutani-No photos are allowed, very little english is spoken, the air of the place is like a graveyard, very intimidating and somewhat stern. I have never had a fine dining meal at a bar in front of a chef prior to this Japan trip, and all these stories only exacerbated my worries about the meal.

I eventually cancelled my reservation at Sushi Mizutani and went with Kanesaka instead. Perhaps it was a reactionary knee jerk response- I read many accounts talking about the friendly chefs, who speak a decent amount of English, and there is an atmosphere about the place that sets everyone at ease, a stark contrast from what I had been told about Mizutani. Despite knowing that Chef Kanesaka has a branch in Singapore- Shinji by Kanesaka, I still managed to convince myself that it would make a decent replacement for Mizutani, and for half the price as well, surely I could reinvest the money saved in other meals.

Kanesaka is not easy to find. I had the address keyed in to google maps on my phone and I still spent a good 15 minutes trying to locate it. Its in the basement of an unmarked building, there are other blogs offering photos of what the building looks like, there is one that has actually drawn out a map of where it is located. I’ll offer you a photo of what the street opposite Kanesaka looks like, meaning if you were standing at the building where Kanesaka is located, this is what you’ll see.

The walkway to Kanesaka, it is located at in a basement

My chef for lunch. Awesome that I had the whole place to myself

   

Seaweed Salad

Lunch started off with a light seaweed salad. The seaweed used was thin and very smooth, the sesame seeds used to garnish the dish had a surprisingly strong fragrance to it, considering there wasn’t a lot used. The portioning of the daikon to the seaweed was a little off, there was a significant amount of seaweed left when I had already finished the daikon, and the dressing used in the salad was a little too acidic. Okay

   

Tai (Snapper)

The snapper didn’t pack much flavor, which made the sauce stand out quite a bit. Rice was well seasoned and slightly warm, Okay

   

Shimaji (Stripe Jack)

Flavor of the fish was subtle once again, but the texture of the fish was beautiful, very smooth, slippery, almost silky. Good

   

Meguro (Lean Tuna)

Cut from a 220kg tuna, the rice seemed to detract from the taste of the tuna. Okay

   

Chutoro (Medium fat tuna)

This was my favorite of all the 3 tuna cuts that were served, which seemed to surprise the chef that I picked it over the Ootoro. The oil in the fish made it taste almost creamy, but it still had a good bite to it. Good

   

Ootoro (High fat tuna)

Very creamy, lacked any kind of bite at all, it just melted in your mouth, literally. Chef must have been cursing this gaijin sushi newbie, picking chutoro over premium ootoro. Okay-good

   

Ika (Squid)

Very sweet and creamy once again, soft enough that it didn’t need much chewing to break down, scoring the ika lengthwise helps with this as well, if I understand the chef correctly. Good

   

Kohada (Herring)

This is a very traditional fish selection for sushi. It was too delicate in flavor and was brushed with too much sauce in my opinion, all I could taste was the soy. Bad

   

Kuruma Ebi(Japanese Imperial prawn)

Easily the sweetest and most fragrant ebi sushi Ive ever had. The tail section was good, but the head section, where they pull off the shell but leave some of the prawn head innards hanging, was out of this world. That extra burst of flavor just complimented the sour vinegar notes in the rice perfectly. Very good

   

Aji(Horse mackerel)

This was served with mashed leek and finely sliced shiso leaves. This gave the sushi a wonderful aromatic note that didnt detract from the flavor of the fish at all. The Aji itself had an incredibly smooth consistency. The best fish sushi of the meal. Very Good

     

Katsuo(Bonito)

The texture of katsuo was quite similar to that of tuna(similar family of fish), albeit slightly softer and with a more melt in your mouth texture, but with a more subtle and delicate flavor. Okay

         

Shako(Mantis Shrimp)

This was my first time eating mantis shrimp in sushi form. This is the season when prized pregnant shako is served at sushi restaurants, unfortunately, it had a very dry, powdery and unpleasant texture. This was the only sushi that I truly struggled with during the meal. Very bad

Hamaguri(Clam)

Easily the sweetest clam I’ve ever had. As you chewed it, it just kept releasing wave after wave of this complex sweet, briny taste, slightly similar to uni sans the creaminess. Very good

         

Shimiji soup

Very intense briny taste. Flavors were clear and crisp, similar to a consomme. Okay

             

Kohashira(Baby clam)

I may have gotten the name wrong for this, but it was a letdown after the hamaguri. Flavor was really subdued, but clams had a nice bouncy texture. Okay

         

Uni(Sea urchin)

Uni is probably my favorite sushi of all time, so its not hard to understand why this was my favorite piece of the meal. But Im not doing the uni justice, this was exceptional- the most complex sweet briny taste(again, similar to the clam), but with an added dimension of creaminess, the crisp toasted nori added a little contrast of texture but it was all about the uni. It was also served cold, which gave it a very refreshing and clean taste. I truly madly deeply regret not getting another one of this. Superb

         

Anago(salt water eel)

I don’t get to eat a lot of this in Singapore, its usually unagi that we get, but the two could not be more different in texture. This was grilled with a beautiful char, brushed with sauce before serving. It was unbelievably soft and sort of disappeared on the tongue. Good

         

Tamago (Egg)

You probably already know that tamago is a true test of a sushi masters skill, and if you’ve watched videos of how it is made, it is quite a complex task trying to make sure the center portion of the tamago doesn’t overcook. There were no discernable curds or layers in this tamago, it was like a cake. Im not a very big fan of sweet egg, but the technique here was quite astounding. Good

               

Kampio maki (sweet pumpkin)

Not a pickle per se, the pumpkin had a soft texture that made it quite a long way off from the traditional pickled maki’s that Im used to(Im starting to believe sushi outside of Japan is nothing like Sushi in Japan). The sweetness from the pumpkin made it almost like a dessert. Good

Kanesaka made for a very enjoyable meal, the service is very professional, yet I was never uncomfortable throughout. The chefs are friendly and very respectful, exactly as other blogs have described. One criticism I have of Kanesaka is that I felt their rice is too heavily seasoned with vinegar, which basically means that it is very prominent on the palate. As I understand, the philosophy of sushi is to bring out the best and natural flavors of the fish, the strong rice worked for some of the sushi that I had, but at times, clashed with the more subtle tasting fish. Regardless, the quality of fish cannot be put it question, and prices are very reasonable for lunch, I would happily recommend Kanesaka to anyone that wants a quality sushi restaurant that is English speaking friendly.