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.

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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

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.