Archive | January, 2015

Tickets | Barcelona | Jun ’14

31 Jan
  • Rating: 16/20

My meal at Tickets was chaos of seemingly endless variety, as dish after dish was served when I ordered almost the full menu at Tickets. With each of the dishes at modest price points, none of the dishes were extremely-labor intensive in terms of cooking (many of the ingredients had been prepared earlier) – for the dishes had to be quickly assembled. It seemed like popularized modernist cuisine – you do not expect fireworks since the dishes come fast and furious, and really cooking-labor-intensive dishes don’t make their appearance – but the modernist tapas was robustly flavorful. As a fine-dining place, this does not really translate. A rating of 16/20 is justified for the efficient assembly of cheerful, well-composed dishes – within the constraint of cooking very fast, a similar philosophy to L’Atelier Robuchon.

Once a chef sets himself down an unknown path and creates according to his own perception, free as far as possible from predefined rules and breaking through the limitations of stereotypical tastes, however sincere such a chef might consider himself to be, there is always a risk that the result may be extremely personal and subjective, with each individual dish somewhat incomplete, a piece of the larger puzzle of his menu, with less emphasis on the “realism” of ingredients, employing rather a dualistic punning forms (infusions, textures, concentrated tastes detached from their hosts’ bodies, etc.). That is to say that conventional criteria may not be applicable to the “abstractionism” of Adria, whose work seems to be more concerned with how it is carried out as a whole meal than what it is about as an individual dish, contrary to Pacaud, whose classicism still so much revolves around individual ingredients and the aspect of taste in individual dishes. It seems that these two cuisines serve different purposes the same way as comparing Picasso to Velazquez will not yield a meaningful verdict.

What concerns me, however, after reading vmilor’s thoughts, is whether Adria manages to establish some degree of formalism in his cuisine, which is essential for codifying a new trend in any artistic movement (e.g. realistic flesh and blood in the works of Titian or Rubens; the degree of formalism was high in Egyptian paintings with the same superimposition of full and profile views echoed in the duality of Braque and Picasso later in time, or in the conversion of intangible light into solid paint in Impressionism, etc.). The same academic, formal, synthetic and even abstract (deconstructionism) approaches apply to haute cuisine as well. The question is whether Adria puts in enough effort to formalize his cuisine, therefore creating a definitive style perhaps not out of individual dishes, as he did earlier in his career with hot and cold pea soup, tagliatelle a la carbonara etc., but perhaps with entire meals (which seems more characteristic of his current strategy), or flees a subject matter before exploring its potential, creating a brand-new sand-castle every year, washed out with each tide, which, may still be advantageous from the technical perspective for other chefs, but irrelevant for the ultimate judges: his diners. In that case, the next question would be whether Adria’s future lies in the laboratory, not in the dining room. Otherwise, he may be creating a new form in which the entity is not a dish or even a meal, but a sequence of meals.

Thus, as vmilor said, I won’t be able to answer these questions with only one meal, and following this chef’s progression may not be practical, but I’ll keep an open mind. – lxt

I won’t resist one el Bulli comparison: A meal at Tickets preserves a similar spirit in that the entire meal was an unstructured, sprawling octopus of flavor combinations – several good, some excellent. None of the dishes felt really complete, instead it seemed each dish was showcasing an effect (the hollow airbaguette) or a particularly harmonious combination (asparagus with almond milk). And so there were no true masterpieces in the meal – part of it is down to the lack of really labor intensive cooking, but part of it is also down to the style of a meal – Tickets, as it seems with el Bulli, prefers to dazzle with a long series of one-effect dishes as opposed to a few really composed ones.

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  • Cacahuete mimético [false peanuts] (4/5)

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  • La pizza de Tickets [Ticket’s pizza] (4/5)

2014-06-19 18.12.11

  • Cóctel sólido de sandia impregnado en sangria [Solid cocktail with watermelon infused in sangria]
    • Watermelon infused with sangria, similar to how 41 degrees infused theirs with beetroot
    • Bitter liqueur taste – reminiscent of oyster

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  • Tempura de pistachios [tempura pistachios]

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  • Oil texture, anchovies, potato obulato (4.25/5)

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  • Liquid olive + other aromatic herb (4.5/5)
    • More full-bodied, meatier

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  • Rubia gallega airbaguette (5/5)
    • Umami itself, savory and glistening fat. Full-bodied.

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  • Queso manxego; espumosos dentro de mini airbags con caviar de aceite de avellana (4.25/5)

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  • Iberico Joselito airbaguette (4.75/5)
    • More marbling than Iberico bellota
    • It had a darker salty sweet taste than Rubia gallega

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  • White asparagus, cold almond milk, pumpkin seed oil caviar (4.75/5)
    • Surprisingly good. Smooth almond milk worked with white asparagus – sweetness synergistic. Pumpkin seed sweetness harmonized with almond milk

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  • Macaroni made from basil water [no flour]; parmesan reggiano sauce, pinenuts (4.75/5)

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  • Nori cone, tuna, grannysmith apple cubes, flying fish roe, shichimi togarashi  (4/5)
    • Reminiscent of salmon cornets at The French Laundry/Per Se

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  • Razor clam, tomato + red bean sauce, anchovies + basil (4/5)

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  • (1)Oyster + red wine vinegar + tarragon + olive oil “caviar”; (2) Mojito oyster
    • Oyster + Mojito: Fizzing and cold (4.75/5)
    • Other was cold and delicious (4.75/5)

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  • Octopus + kimchi (4/5)
    • Kimchi had the soft texture of canned pineapple
    • Complimentary

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  • Baby squid with its ink + picada (Catalan sauce: almond, garlic, parsley, saffron)

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  • Black rice; with calamari and beansprouts as the rice (3.75/5)
    • Creamy

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  • Coffee powder on prawn, sauce of (black tea, soy sauce) (4/5)
    • Around here, Albert Adria made his daily rounds and I caught a glimpse of him

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  • “King oyster mushrooms” spaghetti with porcini pil pil sauce (3.75/5)
    • Parmesan

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  • “el manteca” jowl, sandwich bread (4.25/5)
    • Pork chin, mozzarella, munster

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  • Pork ribs in Canary islands typical sauce (4/5)

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  • Green beans with potatoes and fermented red bean sauce

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  • Tickets’ cone, lime ice cream, lemon cream and meringue (4.5/5)

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  • Juniper strawberry with juniper cream (3.75/5)

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  • Sweet maki, lime marshmallow, mango and nori gelatin (4.25/5)

2014-06-19 21.01.53

Corner House | Singapore | Jan ’15 | “kiam siap”

24 Jan
  • Rating: 12/20
  • Address: E J H Corner House, Singapore Botanic Gardens, 1 Cluny Road, Singapore 259569
  • Phone: +65 6469 1000
  • Price: SGD140 (USD112 at 1 SGD = 0.8 USD)
  • Value: 1/5
  • Chef: Jason Tan


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The first word that comes to mind for Chef Jason Tan’s cooking at Corner House is miserly (or in Singlish, kiam siap). For the privilege of paying a $18 upcharge for a starter on top of SGD98 for a 4-course tasting menu, you may have the pleasure of dining on half a cabarinero prawn, topped with two grains of caviar. You may also have the pleasure of dining on 3 small slices of foie for your second course.

Now, assuming this isn’t all cynical cost-cutting, and some of it is rooted in kitchen philosophy – I deplore this style of micro-cooking. Since Restaurant Andre is the tua tow (in many ways) in Singapore fine-dining, chefs are copying his style of micro-cooking – putting about 3 cubic inches of food on a plate and smearing it around to create a dish that’s literally and figuratively a mile wide and an inch deep.

I am starting to feel deeply that micro-cooking is a cop-out by chefs. Any ingredient, in small enough doses, can be found pleasant. In putting a hundred different dish components, on the dish, one gets with a fork a matchstick of fish, and it is decent enough… a sprinkling of black garlic soil… which is decent enough… some foam… which is decent enough, and the diner, who is left unsatisfied in his stomach, is tricked in his mind to think that the whole is a good dish, because rationally, a bunch of decent preparations must add up to a good dish. Unfortunately, the synthesis is not done on the plate (which is the job of a chef), but rather in the mind of the diner.

I want to highlight that this is not an untalented chef. Far from it. A NZ cod with vin jaune and fresh vegetables had a perfectly crisp skin. It was one of two times when the portion sizes in the meal were generous, and the crisped skin was a delicious counterpoint to the fatty cod, perfectly done. It was a great example of technique and composition, worthy of a Singapore Bocuse d’Or winner and someone with experience at Macau’s 3* Robuchon a Galera (now Robuchon au Dome). But Chef Jason Tan is going down the wrong path with Andre-style micro-cooking.

Micro-cooking is the chef’s expression at the expense of the diner’s satisfaction, who yearns for a substantial taste. The majority of customers who come to visit a micro-cooking restaurant are hit-and-run tourists, or perhaps people who will try it once. Does the chef want to cook for these hit-and-run gastro-tourists, or a more regular clientele? I speak for myself: the restaurants I like to frequent cook a limited set of dishes, and do them well. As well, if you are going to charge big-ticket prices, then your portion sizes must be equal to your prices. Either serve a lot of a little, or a little of a lot. Corner House follows the minimalist philosophy – a little of a little. The amount of Carabineros prawn  I was served (for a SGD18 surcharge) was cynically minute. It would be called an amuse-bouche at other restaurants.

Ingredients here are questionable in quality. The carabinero prawn, expensively imported from “Western Spain”, was sous-vide to the texture of mushy cardboard. It was not very flavorful as well, only possessing an anemic general prawny savoriness. (It reminded me of prawn salad I had on Singapore Airlines) The foie was also not very good. Tough and not fatty, the addition of black sesame tuile and mango sauce didn’t elevate the composition.

Why then, does Andre succeed? Two possible reasons: One, he has managed to win the publicity game, getting his restaurant highly ranked on the Worlds 50 Best and Asia’s 50 Best – this is due to him being equal parts personality and chef. Two, Andre only serves the full tasting menu, and serves 15-20 little courses. My 4 course option was culled from a full tasting menu. I would suggest that the restaurant either cooks a larger portion for the 4 courses, or eliminates the option altogether. It is a bit like Apple offering a 16GB iPhone 6. A 16GB iPhone 6 doesn’t have enough space for the full ecosystem of Apple apps, and the buyer, having paid a reasonably large sum of money, leaves dissatisfied. No one wins, Apple and 16GB iPhone owner, Jason Tan’s Corner House and his 4-course diner.

One cannot fault the service here. Gracious and complementary, the manager took my criticisms in good spirit. It was nice to be driven around in a buggy to our taxi. And the pistachio financiers at the end of the meal were good. The baguettes here were also quite good. Crusty, which is 80% of the baguette battle.

I believe Chef Jason Tan would be better off focusing his energies on creating more dishes like the cod, and not miserly “avant-garde micro-cooking. “Eh, don’t kiam siap can or not?” [1]

[1] kiam siap = (Singlish/Hokkien) stingy.

Other review:


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  • Gruyere cheese sponge, macadamia-honey biscuit.
    • Okay. 3/5

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  • Norwegian salmon sous-vide, yellow pepper coulis
    • Okay. 3.25/5

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  • Carabinero prawn, variation of best season tomato, vintage sherry
    • Alright. 3.5/5
    • Prawn, sous-vide.Texture mushy.
    • Flavor. Anemic. The general savory mild saline available to any prawn was the dominant note.
    • Tomatoes in 3 ways, but didn’t affect the dish – (freshly sliced, basil honey lemon juice, plum juice)
    • What was on the plate was not even one whole prawn. Rather miserly.

2015-01-22 20.49.17

  • Beetroot Collection, smoked eel, 24-month Comté, horseradish, walnut and black garlic
    • The perfect expression of micro-cooking. A dish a mile wide and an inch deep
    • From what I tried, the ingredients were barely genial on their own, and any synthesis of deliciousness was not on the plate but in the mind’s eye of the diner

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  • Foie Gras à la Chinoise, mango duo preparation with ginger flower
    • 2.75/5
    • A disaster. Poor-quality, tough foie, discordant with mango and sesame tuile

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  • 62 degree Farm Egg, variation of oignon doux des Cevennes, noisette Crouton
    • Decent. Foam was a bit too sweet

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  • New Zealand Cod “Crispy Scales” petit vegetables, smoked vin jaune sabayon
    • 4.75/5
    • As we excoriate the disasters, we should celebrate the excellent. A sheet of crisped scales, perfectly done, atop a generous slab of fatty cod, moist inside. This was truly delicious
    • Below, a bed of peas, carrots, cabbages, potato, and the vin jaune sabayon
    • A sprig of shiso flowers (or hanaho) gave it a refreshing taste, though it wasn’t strictly needed
    • This was similar to the crisped Amadai I had in October at JAAN, down to the composition with the sprig of hanaho. Pressed, I would say that Chef Jason Tan’s version was even better than what I had at JAAN in October, though he has the benefit of the fattier fish (cod vs amadai)

2015-01-22 21.23.07

  • Hungarian mangalitsa pork, peach, wasonbon, ginger, endives, apple gel, natural jus
    • From what I had: The crust was a bit soggy, and the elements didn’t come together,. the virtues of the meat were not improved much by cooking.

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  • Palate cleanser: Passionfruit jelly, pineapple braised in star anise, sago with cardamom, riesling, sweet basil sorbet

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  • My Interpretation of Kaya Toast: pandan ,coconut, gula melaka, muscovado sablé, and yuzu
    • Buckwheat tuile, Malibu rum, Normandy shortbread, hazelnut snow (yuzu meringue)
    • Not bad. The kaya was in the peripheral dots. I presume the Malibu rum was supposed to provide the kaya (coconut jam) flavor, but the chilled cream between the discs did not taste much of coconut – so the “kaya toast” effect was lost.  (4/5)

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  • Chocolat:: Manjari, framboise, Malabar black pepper
    • The tart, rich with chocolate cream, was heavy on the digestion. Raspberry

2015-01-22 23.05.08

  • Pistachio financiers

Water Library Chamchuri | Bangkok | Oct ’14

23 Jan
  • Rating: 17.5/20
  • Address : 317 ชั้น 2 อาคาร จามจุรีสแควร์ Phayathai Road, Pathum Wan, Bangkok 10330, Thailand (Chamchuri Square Mall)
  • Phone: +66 2160 5188
  • Price: THB3000 (USD92 at 1 USD = 32.6THB)
  • Value: 4/5
  • Chef: Mirco Keller (ex. Tim Raue [2*, Berlin])

2014-10-16 20.18.13

Quite a lot has happened on the Bangkok French dining scene since October – the new Atelier Robuchon opened at the Cube at MahaNakhon, J’aime by Jean-Michel Lorain (of 3-star La Cote Saint Jacques fame) opened on Sathon [Chef Amerigo Sesti is in charge], Chef Eric Pras from 3-star Maison Lameloise guested for 6 days at Le Normandie, and Henk Savelberg (1-star Restaurant Savelberg in The Hague, which closed in late 2014) has also opened up on Wireless Road. Oh, and Chef Ryuki Kawasaki of Pierre Gagnaire’s Twist in Las Vegas is planning to head down sometime soon as well.

With such a whirligig of French restaurant activity, some of the less hyped French restaurants risk falling through the cracks. The Water Library was a puzzling omission from Bangkok’s 7 restaurants on the 2014 Asia’s 50 Best List, the judges instead choosing more mediocre restaurants such as Issaya Siamese Club and Bo.lan.

I went to the Water Library thrice, and each time had a memorable meal. This is cooking at the high one-star level. In addition, their buttery croissants are justly popular, and can be taken away from the restaurants – these are serious croissants – the best I tasted anywhere in 2014. Unfortunately, the ravages of time (I write this in early 2015) mean that I’ve lost my paper notes, so the following is a reconstruction from memory.

Chef Mirco Keller also clearly enjoys his truffles – in my second meal, truffle butter, perigord foie gras, truffle honey with cheese, summer truffle with crab – all made their appearance. His training with the German Michelins (ex. 2-star Tim Raue [Berlin]) shines through – his sauces are rich, luxurious, and precise. I was captivated by the precision of a pickled onion that functioned as a sauceboat in the beef Chateaubriand – three “petals”, small bursts of sweet vinegar, in a rich sauce. He sources his very good cheese from Phillipe Olivier in Boulogne.

He is unfailingly precise with flavors. Even when a dish does not fully succeed in being delicious – it is always thought-provoking and memorable – a wasabi granite with salmon stung the tongue, and then soothed it with the fat of flesh and salmon roe.

The desserts are generally a bit weaker here: The apple tart is not as crispy as one would like, the pineapple marshmallow on the seasonal menu has an unappetizing jellied hunk of white chocolate, which for me is a wrong texture for chocolate. But the main dishes which Chef Mirco Keller conjures stick vividly in memory.

I lost my tasting notes, so apologies – the following is a reconstruction from the remaining stucco on my gastronomic memory.

A la carte

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Fantastic croissant (5/5) and truffle butter; truffle brioche

You only get one free, and you’ve to pay for the rest. The best croissant that I tasted last year. Flaky, buttery, crisp.

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Diced vegetable and prawn gazpacho

Deconstructed: Sour and tangy, mango, prawn, with a spicy foam (4/5)

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“Tuna Nicoise” – Japanese blue fin tuna with olives, egg, tomato iceand avocado

“Onsen duck egg” (read: sous-vide), in croquette. (4/5)

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Wild caught Scottish salmon with hazelnut, apple and mustard cress

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Pan seared Perigord foie gras with miso sauce, mango and balsamico caviar (4.75/5)

Fantastic foie gras here. Heavy

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Lobster bisque with garlic and piment d’Espelette

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Blood orange sorbet with buttermilk snow

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Roasted rack of lamb from Yarra Valley with fig and beans

[Yarra Valley = 90km east of Melbourne]

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Seared Chilean seabass accompanied by a mushroom-bacon ragout, Japanese yuzu and truffle

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Confit of black cod fish with a light herb vinaigrette and jerusalem artichoke

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Chateaubriand of Wagyu beef tenderloin with mashed potatoes, onion in three ways, and jus de boeuf (4.75/5)

Precise sauces, perfect dose of pickling in 3 onion “petals”

2014-10-07 22.05.55

Apple Tarte Tatin with Madagascar Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Some parts crisp, others soggy (3.5/5)

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Vegetables, prawn, spicy foam

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Wild caught Scottish salmon with hazelnut, apple and mustard cress (4.25/5)

A memorable dish. The sting of wasabi granite was alleviated by the alternating fats of salmon roe and the salmon flesh. Not sensuously delicious, but thought-provoking, like a kaiseki Hassun seasonal course. I grew to respect this dish.

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Pan fried Canadian scallop and Japanese king crab with truffle (4/5)

Summer truffle; sunchoke chips; a truffle sauce made of summer truffle.

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Seared Perigord foie gras with prune de Vars and BBQ sauce, Broccoli

Fantastic. A perfect sear. Miso was added to intensify the taste on crust of fat. (5/5)

2014-10-16 21.14.47

Blood orange sorbet; buttermilk snow

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Breast of Mieral pigeon with caramelized onion, cassis, jus

The same magnificent combination of pickled onion cradling a dollop of cassis (blackcurrant liqueur) as the beef chateaubriand was present. Classic. Memory fails me, but I remembered preferring the wagyu chateaubriand slightly over the pigeon. (4.5/5)

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Cheese from Philippe Olivier (4.5/5)

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Pineapple and white chocolate, marshmallow with cinnamon crumble

Unfortunately desserts here aren’t great. The white chocolate disc tasted like a hunk of oversweetened jelly, with little help from any of its friends. End off a meal here with coffee after your main and you shall leave very satisfied (2.75/5)

Sushi Mitsuya | Singapore | Jan ’15

17 Jan
  • Rating: 16/20
  • Address :#01-01 60 Tras Street
  • Phone: +65 64382608
  • Price: SGD440 (USD350 at 1 SGD = .8 USD)
    • (with 720ml of Jikon Tokubetsu Junmai @ SGD150, Shoju menu at SGD300)
  • Value: 1/5
  • Chef: Ryosuke Harada


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The good and the bad are intimately co-mingled at Sushi Mitsuya. Here, Chef Harada makes a sincere effort to educate the Singapore sushi diner – while the usual trappings of luxury are present (otoro and chutoro resplendent), unfamiliar varieties such as tsubugai (sea whelk) and kamasu (barracuda) are also available. The seafood here tends towards esoterica, and the otsumami (appetizers and sashimi) were noticeably better than the sushi.

The highlights from this dinner were two:  a keiji maguro (infant tuna) that balanced meat and fat; and a sawara (Spanish mackerel) that bridged the seared and raw.

While dining with my friend (someone who has been to Sushi Mitsuya more than 10 times), I gathered that Chef Harada’s cuisine travels in 3 directions. The first is the aforementioned consumer education, a dedication to bringing unfamiliar varieties to the Singapore sushi market. The second, evident in this meal, was a focus on rich, unctuous flavors – from the starting bite of seafood (a kawahagi wrapped around its liver), to the aged buri, to a delicious onslaught of tuna, we were served at least 6-7 dishes of rich fish, which ended with the piece-de-resistance, a bowl of rice topped with chopped otoro and ikura.

The third, less evident in this meal, is a love of shellfish. We were only served the tsubugai on this visit, but according to this report by Brandon Chew of Chubby Hubby, larger varieties of shellfish are available on request.

If it ended at where my chopstick-pushing and sushi-picking fingertips ended, Sushi Mitsuya would be a very good restaurant. Not one, perhaps, worth $400, but certainly $150-$250 would seem reasonable and commensurate with Tokyo prices. Unfortunately, the entire package of Sushi Mitsuya is compromised in at least three ways.

First, there is the clientele. What a clientele! From two middle-aged men who took out their Macbooks after the meal, and played videos of their golfing trips at a high volume right next to us, to the plumply amorphous Singaporean/Malaysian woman, who, bespeckled with rings and earrings glittering in a most Dolores Umbridge kind of way, proclaimed in a voice loud enough for the entire bar to hear that she is a “regular”, and then painstakingly accounted for her visit frequency. No doubt she repeats the same charade for every visit.

I would not wish these boorish “regulars” upon my worst enemies.

Faced with this carnival of more money than sense, Mr Harada must play the disciplinarian at his sushi bar without alienating his moneyed customers. He is largely ineffectual, but he does possess a fallback – an impressive Buddha-like patience, perhaps honed at Sushi Sora at the Mandarin Oriental in Tokyo, where he was last.

The second and third compromising factors I question about a self-styled edomae place. The second factor – Mr Harada doesn’t serve everybody. We did not get any sushi made from Mr Harada’s hand, instead coming from his assistants. I was expecting at least some sushi made by the head chef. We came in at 830pm on a Friday, and were the last seating, but already Mr Harada had closed up shop for the night, and was sharing a glass of red wine with his regulars at the corner of his bar.

The third factor, which follows from the second, is the lack of attention to detail. Some of the sushi lacked refinement – the anago for instance felt undersauced. The apprentice cutting up the ika double-scored the squid in such a hasty way that you could see the tentacle fibres being pulled up by the knife. (we did not have the squid so I can’t comment on what impact the rough knife skills had culinarily). It was a huge contrast with Kojyu last month, where Okuda made measured, rhythmic cuts into the ika. I was surprised that such haste would be displayed in full view of the patrons, but then again perhaps I was the only one who cared.

Why the haste? An earlier plate of romanesco broccoli served with ankimo was hastily served to our positions by the apprentice – the romanesco broccoli fell down, and had to be re-righted.

Another point, which may seem minor, but is unbecoming of a top-class restaurant. Even though the wasabi was grated by a sharkskin grater, our otsumami was served with wasabi that had been pre-grated sometime earlier, and which had noticeably browned (you can see it in my pictures). If you are serious about serving wasabi, it seems weird that you would go through all the effort to procure fresh wasabi, grate it with sharkskin, but then serve your clients wasabi that had been pre-grated some time earlier.

I found the lack of attention to detail surprising, especially in a restaurant charging prices the envy of any 3 Michelin star restaurant.  I felt it strange that Mr Harada doesn’t make any sushi himself. I do not mean to single out his assistants/apprentices (who are after all learning), but why does the head chef have such a hands-off attitude towards the preparation of his food?

Mr Harada is a young chef, and clearly talented in preparing his carefully sourced food. But he should take a more hands-on approach to preparing his food, and ensure that his fish is cut with care, his wasabi freshly grated, and his food carefully presented. These mistakes detract from the experience at Sushi Mitsuya.

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  • A simple dish of rapeseed (you cai/nanohana) with mustard
    • Palate cleansing. Bitter with mustard. Common reference vegetable in Singapore
    • No rating [functional dish]

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  • Mixed capsicum with sesame-peanut sauce
    • No rating [functional dish]

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  • Kawahagi (filefish), wrapped around its liver, spring onion
    • The filefish sashimi is very similar to fugu, both are sashimi with little taste, with a springy texture that can only be conquered by biting with the molar teeth.
    • Its liver is a quavery semisolid, which the first verdant sharpness of spring onion contrasted with.
    • Interesting. (3.75/5)

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  • Buri (adult yellowtail, top right)
    • Aged. The inner taste of the piece was fairly mild, though you could taste by the rich sourness that hits the tongue first that the aging was meant to be the statement
    • I would have preferred it to be more tasty (without saucing), which would mean more exposed surface area
    • The trade-off, as far as I can tell, is between surface area (aging) and volume (texture). I found the texture genial, but the point of this buri was the aging
    • (4/5)
  • Sawara (Spanish mackerel, bottom left)
    • A perfect balance between the slight cooked (seared?) and the raw
    • The cooked edges melted on the tongue with the feathery neutral fat-taste of cod, transitioning to the assertive oils of raw mackerel. A masterpiece
    • (5/5)

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  • Tsubugai (sea whelk, bottom left)
    • Tough, crunchy, very earthy flavor. From the texture I would guess it had been sliced lengthwise (which apparently leads to harder texture) Needed soy.
    • (3.5/5)

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  • Saba (mackerel) rolled with ginger, sesame, and purple shiso, cucumber
    • Well-calibrated bite. It was a perfect mix of sweetness from the ginger, nuttiness from sesame, the fresh taste of shiso and oily mackerel
    • (4.5/5)

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  • Ankimo, romanesco, ponzu
    • Cooked in a leaf. The puck of ankimo was a rich bite.
    • Romanesco broccoli was slightly pickled, seemed mostly for show
    • (4.25/5)

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  • Tarabagani  (red king crab) from Hokkaido, served with sudachi to squeeze
    • I thought the way the team grilled the crab legs was very good. There was an appetizing grilled smell from the crab meat
    • It was my first time encountering this preparation, which I have seen in photos elsewhere (e.g., at Matsukawa – photo credit tomostyle)
    • I believe the crab had been previously frozen, the meat had lost some of its springiness and elasticity, and was a bit mushy. A good preparation, within the limits of frozen produce. (4/5)

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  • Keiji maguro (infant tuna)
    • Magnificent. Tender, fat, and yet different from otoro. Otoro is a clearly a catchment of fat, but here the fat was suffused through the meat. A rare delicacy
    • (5/5)

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  • Otoro, with miso marinated egg yolk
    • First, the otoro (a repository of fat held together by a few filaments) touches your tongue, and then a creamy explosion comes from the miso-marinated egg yolks. The bite brings to mind an “unending creaminess”.
    • It was served with the keiji maguro. The contrast between the two was instructive. The keiji maguro had a sophisticated blend of fat and meat, the otoro-and-yolk maximized the onslaught of fat, a simpler taste.
    • This was a pure luxury.
    • (4.5/5)

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  • Grilled kinki (idiot fish/ red dragonfish) with edible scales; fig and kombu (kelp) pickles
    • Tasted like amadai (tilefish), a clean salty whitefish taste, well done crispy scales.
    • The fig and kombu pickles were delicious
    • (4.25/5)

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  • Hotate (scallop) nigiri. black salt; lemon
    • Not too appetizing, there was a strange smell of curdled egg white for the hotate, perhaps an interaction with the grated lemon.
    • (3.25/5)

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  • Himeko[?] tai nigiri (baby snapper)
    • Very soft. Rice, which is on the al dente side, contrasted heavily with soft texture of fish.
    • Served hikarimono style
    • (3.75/5)

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  • Kamasu nigiri (Japanese barracuda); chilli and lime juice
    • Tasty. Again, tasted like amadai. (4.5/5)

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  • Chutoro nigiri
    • You could taste the filaments. The vinegared rice paired perfectly with the tuna. (4.75/5)

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  • Shiro-uni nigiri (white sea urchin, larger)
    • Shiro uni tasted a bit “muddier” than the canonical sweet Bafun uni. Looser, more liquid. (3.75/5)

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  • Chopped otoro with ikura, rice
    • Another blast of luxury (4/5)

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  • Tofu and fish ball
    • Nice sweet fish taste

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  • Anago nigiri (sea eel)
    • Tough, a bit undersauced (3.5/5)

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  • Tamago
    • Cakelike, (but in the rough, all-purpose flour kind of way), this had to be bitten into. (3.5/5)

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  • Tofu Ice Cream; Ganzuki (brown sugar cake); Melon
    • Tofu ice cream had a lot of ice crystals. Ganzuki was a fairly standard cake. Melon was nice.

2015-01-16 23.44.00

Related links:


A sunday night in Tokyo (Dec ’14)

10 Jan

1. Honmura An

  • Address: 7 Chome-14-18 Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo 106-0032, Japan
  • Telephone: +81 3-5772-6657


While reading Ruth Reichl’s memoir of her days as the NYT food critic, Garlic and SapphiresI was intrigued in particular by two reviews. One was her famous 1993 take-down of Le Cirque, written as two personas – the food critic who was fawned over and led to the best seat in the house, and the dowdy Molly who was banished to the nether regions of the restaurant. The other was her 1993 NYT 3-star review of Honmura An. It was unconventional to award a soba house 3 stars 20 years ago, and that review captured some of her determination to be on the side of the consumer, and a bit of her California laissez-faire-ism

While the New York branch has closed, Honmura An remains open in Tokyo, and served us excellent cold soba – with a meditative flavor, drawing on simplicity.

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Yuzu soba

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Karami Oroshi soba: cold soba with Karami Daikon radish topping

It was advertised as a seasonal soba, Karami daikon being a very spicy variant available in winter. But the daikon was not really spicy; it possessed the earthiness of longan fruit, with al dente soba noodles. This was eye-opening.

2014-12-21 19.50.10Curry flavored oysters from hiroshima, in a curry tempura.

Alright. Curry flavored, but unsalted otherwise (the oysters were not a bit salty) (3.25/5)

2014-12-21 20.40.15

Uni soba


2. The Peak at Park Hyatt

At the Park Hyatt, a little lower than the New York bar (setting of Lost in Translation), we sampled the Juyondai Honmaru Gohyakumangoku. I had no idea that Juyondai was such a cult brand. But I can see why. It was fruity and very smooth, reminding me of my late lamented Glenturret 16 distiller’s edition – seeming to float down your throat – it was so light and smooth.

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Tonkatsu double-date in Tokyo (Dec ’14)

4 Jan

1. Butagumi in Nishiazabu

  • Address: 2-24-9 Nishiazabu, Minato, Tokyo 106-0031, Japan
  • Telephone: +81 3-5466-6775
  • Chef: Satoshi Oishi

Butagumi is probably the most written-about Tokyo tonkatsu restaurant by the gaijin bloggerati, so I will not belabor the belabored. For background on Butagumi, the best is Tomostyle’s write-up, linked below:

  • Tomostyle write-up – “Chef Oishi is a man with a particular kodawari for fine pork, and he has dedicated his life tokiwameru the quintessential Japanese pork dish- tonkatsu. Tonkatsu, or deep fried breaded pork cutlet, is the ultimate comfort food.   Hearty cuts of juicy pork meat with a crispy panko crust, drizzled with tonkatsu sauce, are loved by kids, housewives and businessmen alike.  Chef Oishi got his first start in the culinary world in a tonkatsu restaurant, after which he went on to pursue French cuisine.  However, in 2005, he came back to his roots.  After traveling around the world in pursuit of the finest pork and the equally fine ingredients with which to make tonkatsu, he opened a tonkatsu restaurant called Butagumi (which means ‘pig clan’).  In his restaurant, he proudly serves what he calls the 究極のトンカツ, or the ‘ultimate tonkatsu’.”
  • A history of tonkatsu from WSJ’s Mark Robinson, dating back to 2009

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Tomatoes (smoky, sour, intensely flavorful)


It brought to mind the great roasted tomato sauce at Canim Cigerim in Istanbul, another ostensibly one-dish restaurant that does multiple things well.

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[sirloin] Himuro-Buta from Gunma, 2 month aged, deluxe


Such a guilty pleasure. 50-60% fat, with a distinct savory pork note, The dark fat bits were bursting with an almost bacon-y unctuousness.

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[tenderloin] Meishan-ton from Ibaraki prefecture

I could not resist a second helping. God help my arteries. This had no fat, and the unctuous deliciousness of the Himuro-Buta sirloin was not present. It had a clean, swinish taste. I greatly preferred my tonkatsu with fat. At Butagumi, that means sirloin.


2. Tonkatsu Taihou in Meguro

  • Address: 1 Chome-6-15 Meguro, Tokyo 153-0063, Japan
  • Telephone: +81 3-3491-9470

I visited Tonkatsu Taihou on the strength of this review by eataku. I must say that I am especially impressed by the panko (breading of the cutlet), which is crispier than Butagumi’s. The quality of the pork cutlet itself was very good, and my palate was not able to discern a difference in taste between Butagumi’s Himuro-Buta tonkatsu and Taihou’s toku rosu tonkatsu.

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Toku rosu (5/5)

Extremely crisp breading, delicious melty fat. Crispier than Butagumi’s breading, if that floats your boat.

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Menchi (hamburger patty)

I didn’t like this one as much, due to the existence of patty-interlopers – onion. (3.25/5)

Gen Yamamoto | Tokyo | Dec ’14 | “a cocktail conductor”

4 Jan
  • Rating: 4.75/5
  • Address: Japan, 〒106-0045 東京都港区 麻布十番1-6-4 アニバーサリービル 1F

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Bar Gen Yamamoto is a one man show – the eponymous Gen Yamamoto, who spent a decade in New Jersey and New York (most recently at NYC kaiseki place Brushstroke), before moving back to Tokyo.

Located in Azabu-Juban near Roppongi, Gen Yamamoto offered a bespoke six minicocktail tasting session (6500 Yen) which showcased his abilities. His cocktails are quite unique, in that he has a masterful command of “tempo”. If we may draw a music analogy, most cocktails are like a chord – they contain several notes, usually pleasing – but they either never develop profoundly different tastes after the first sip, or perhaps the transition between taste and aftertaste is driven by one ingredient – which either fades away allowing you to focus on a second ingredient, or changes in taste profile by itself. But Gen Yamamoto’s cocktails are like compositions for two or more instruments, which play different notes in time but always in concert with each other.

I had two cocktails which showcased Mr Yamamoto’s unique ability to compose cocktails with a temporal dimension. The first was a quince and rice shochu combination, and the second was a persimmon Yamazaki concoction. I was especially impressed by the Yamazaki cocktail (notes below), because it is a whisky with which I am especially familiar. It is a labor intensive process – Mr Yamamoto generally took 5-10 minutes to prepare each cocktail.

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  • Quince, rice shochu.
    • Taste: Upward attack of shochu on palate, brought out the fruitiness of quince at exact same moment.
    • Aftertaste: Expansive
    • (4.75/5)

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  • Vodka, red kiwi fruit from Shizuoka, matcha
    • Fruity. Matcha added a bit of tea structure, but not very much.
    • (sic?) “Kosen”
    • (3.75/5)

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  • Persimmon-Yamazaki cocktail, with hints of mandarin
    • Peat is not obvious in the Yamazaki no-age whisky, it is usually floral. But here the smokiness and peat really came out, I would guess because the floral flavors were in my mind attributed to the smooth persimmon puree. The third flavor was a tinge of sourness from the mandarin.
    • Then, it was as if two instruments started on a new passage together, the persimmon became a genial sweetness, and Yamazaki became more floral again. It was amazing how in-sync the tempo of flavor evolution in both the Yamazaki and the persimmon were – as if they were kept in time by a conductor
    • Masterpiece. (5/5)

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  • Ginger from Kochi, cloves, bayleaf, lime from Iwagi, rye vodka from Lithuania
    • (4/5)

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  • Yaki Imo (sweet potato), with potato shochu and chocolate
    • A bit heavygoing, with the heavy-powder texture of grated chocolate competing with the sweet starchiness of this cocktail. The idea was perhaps a visual one – with chocolate mimicking the color of sweet potato skin. (3.5/5)

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  • Shochu of sweet potato, from an ancient and more flavorful potato (Yasuda potato, from Tsuruhachi, which is difficult to cultivate); akane apple from Hokkaido
    • Warm cocktail. Sweet, mild, apple flavor.
    • (4.5/5)

Shigeyoshi | Tokyo | Dec ’14 | “supon”

3 Jan
  • Meal Rating: 17/20
  • Address: 6-35-3 Corp Olympia 1st floor, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku Tokyo
  • Telephone: 03-3400-4044
  • Dining Time: 100 minutes
  • Chef: Kenzo Sato
  • Style: Kappo (counter) Kaiseki
  • Michelin Stars: 2

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Shigeyoshi. Chef Kenzo Sato has been working at this restaurant for 40 years, and named the restaurant after his own mentor. He procures the best ingredients, and presents them very simply. One is invited to savor the pristine qualities of the ingredients. The most memorable dishes were a clam soup that was a meditation on the marine, a whole female snow crab served with eggs and guts, and the silky sweetness of his wonderful supon (snapping turtle soup).

Other Notable Links:

  • tomostyle has two write-ups on Shigeyoshi, on the strength of which I visited the restaurant – you can see them here: ONE, TWO

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  • Persimmon sauce, savory cream of a root vegetable (pressed to identify it, I’d say taro/yam)

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  • Hamaguri clam soup (Hamaguri “the common orient clam”, or Meretrix lusoria from the Tokyo bay)
    • A very clean, sweet taste of the sea (4.75/5)

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  • Matoya oyster from Mie
    • Matoya oysters are purified with UV rays. Chef Sato believes these are the best oysters in Japan
    • The oyster was primarily textural, not sweet and not cucumber (in the way Kumamoto oysters from Washington state are). It was also not salty. The texture was crunchy, with a gossamer outer sheet – the oyster mantle. It was a mild cornucopia of texture, bringing out heat and sourness of its condiments (4.25/5).

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  • Gingko nuts
    • Pleasingly bitter, in a contained way. Lightly salted. These were end of season nuts

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  • Matsuba Gani (snow crab, female)
    • Served with its meat in its own shell – a luxury of nose-to-tail dining (or is that carapace-to-shell dining?). Its own eggs and guts on top. But the magical moment was when I tasted the sour soy sauce poured into the shell (4.75/5)

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  • Supon (snapping turtle soup)
    • A Shigeyoshi signature, and the first of two times I was served supon on this trip. (the other time, at Den). A sweet beguiling taste which stretches out like a lazy cat across your tongue, coating it with the silky texture and mild taste of the soup. (5/5) Turtle, from Yoshinogawa, Tokushima preferecture
    • Note to self: The fragrance reminded me of the kuehs that were dipped into orange coconut sugar. I can’t recall their names though, and a Google search turns up nothing.

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  • Sashimi (otoro, yari-ika, white fish)
    • The white fish was firm, not chewy – clear and muscular.
    • I found the most intriguing the yari-ika (spear squid) – it was prepared from the inner tentacles deep inside the squid head, once it has been de-membraned. A bite seemed to release starchy sweetness. It was only bettered on this trip by the ika at Ginza Kojyu (4.75/5)

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  • Amadai and gobo
    • Amadai, taken from the area just behind the gills.
    • Salted skin. (4/5) Pickled gobo.

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  • Wild radish from near Kyoto
    • Mild tasting dashi
    • (sic) “jibiye?”

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  • Shrimp kakiage
    • Tasted good, but the batter was a bit soggy. (3.75/5)

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  • Grapefruit jelly
    • Bitter/refreshing

Jimbocho Den | Tokyo | Dec ’14

2 Jan
  • Meal Rating: 16.5/20
  • Address: 2 Chome-2-32 Kanda Jinbocho, Chiyoda, Tokyo 101-0051, Japan
  • Telephone: +81 3-3222-3978
  • Price (all-in including alcohol pairing): 19,500 Yen ($163 at 100 yen = 0.83USD)
  • Value: 5/5
  • Dining Time: 180 minutes
  • Chef: Zaiyu Hasegawa
  • Style: Creative Kaiseki
  • Michelin Stars: 1

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Jimbocho Den is a great experience. From the moment you step foot inside the restaurant, it feels like you are in the home of Chef Zaiyu Hasegawa and team. There is a relative youth to the restaurant, and I felt at home as a non-Japanese speaking foreigner. I would return without hesitation. I was served a great menu, but I also noticed that the regulars (and they were many) were served a different menu. Apparently, diners here rarely ever receive the same dish- which speaks to the creativity of the chef and the kitchen.

Chef Zaiyu-san is good friends with many chefs from overseas, and it shows in both his cooking (the signature DEN salad came with an ant from Nagano) and his ingredients (top-class porcini mushrooms, in the most memorable rice course of this trip).

It would be remiss not to mention that the DEN team work extremely hard. Apparently, 3am-4am nights are de rigueur.

I look forward to returning at the next available opportunity.


Other Notable Links:

  • Skinny Bib – “The magic of “Den Kaiseki” is, by no means, limited to what’s edible. Rather, it represents formless inventiveness behind Hasegawa’s mind. The chef combines – subconsciously but with great executional fluidity – the “traditional” face of Japanese gastronomic art and cultural identities with his own “contemporary” face, which is fun-filled and personable.”
  • Luxeat


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  • Japanese waffles: Foie gras marinated with white miso, chestnuts and pickled cucumber (4.25/5)

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  • Supon. (Snapping Turtle Soup). Turnip. Strong tastes of scallion. Sweet, very umami (3.75/5)

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  • With Asahi beer, DENtucky fried chicken. Glutinous rice, pinenuts, gooseberry. (4.25/5) It was a pleasant surprise to find the Singapore flag inside

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  • Buri, 4 day aged. Cooked outside like shabu shabu, sour nori sauce [comprised of tobiko, nori, vinegar, dashi]. Buri is the name of fully-grown yellowtail (only applied when they reach 5kg, hamachi is a lower weight standard at 3kg]. I enjoyed the enchanting tobiko (flying fish roe) sauce with nori – sour and cut with wasabi, a good bite with unctuous buri. (4.5/5)

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  • Takenoko, bamboo from Okinawa (Amami Oshima island). A young bamboo that tasted like sweet corn. Ebimo (a kind of taro) was soaked in dashi for 10 days, deep fried, and then grilled. Black cabbage, made by chips. Very good (4.25/5)

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  • The signature DEN salad, significantly upgraded by the presence of ants from Nagano (boiled and frozen to kill). The acidity was rather subtle, and only in its hindparts. (The “ant acid” is a trend that started with Noma not using lemons due to their philosophy of getting ingredients from around Copenhagen, and thus choosing ants with formic acid in their bellies to provide sourness) Served on plum jelly on rice paper. Vegetables from Chef Zaiyu’s sisters and friends. Gobo was purple with dashi and pepper. Tomato was bewitchingly cooked with vinegar and vanilla, a true winner. Rocket, tomato, turnip, beetroot and sharp tastes of begonia (4/5)

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  • Duck meat, kuzu, shimonitanegi (shimonita leeks, also see Kojyu 2014) from Gunma preferecture. (4.5/5) I thought the duck was soft and had a nice texture for highly-cooked duck – it was a good palate cleanser for the decadence to follow…

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That’s right, two kinds of rice!

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  • Porcini, both grilled and dried. Half fresh (grilled), and half dried. A profound mushroom smell and taste to rival any truffle. (5/5) I could not help myself, I asked for seconds of this.

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  • Sakura ebi in December. Sakura ebi has two seasons, and Zaiyu-san believes it has more umami in December. This was also fantastic (4.5/5).
  • In my future fried rice experiments I will combine both these prawns and mushrooms to recapture the fragrant aromas

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Pickles: Turnip, myoga, ginger

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Lime jelly, coconut soup, strawberries, rice pops and rum (4.25/5)

We ended it off with some very sweet strawberries, in an fragrant coconut soup enhanced with rum and lime jelly.



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  • Pairing: Berlucchi 61 Brut. Creamy, barely any acidity. Light fruit. (4.5/5) Lovely.

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  • Sanjurokuninshu (literally, 36 old people)
  • Very smooth and dry sake (4.5/5). Junio glass.

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  • Water from Niigata

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  • Asahi beer

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  • Haneya sake from Toyama in Niigata prefecture.

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  • A very fresh unfiltered sparkling sake called Jikon Tokubetsu Junmai (5/5)

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Rakuichi | Niseko | Dec ’14

1 Jan
  • Address: 431 Niseko, Abuta District, Hokkaido Prefecture 048-1511, Japan
  • Rating: 5/5

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A great bowl of cold duck soba.

2014-12-20 10.23.21First, you put the mountain yam in the duck soup.

And then, you slowly dip your soba noodles mouthful by mouthful into the broth, all the while sipping buckwheat tea.

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At the end, when there are no more noodles to dunk, put the soba water into the duck soup from the soba-yu, and drink it up.

(The buckwheat is from the nearby town of Lankoshi, everything is local here.)

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The sweet scallions, caramelized, and then tempura-ed, were irresistible. This convinced me to order a plate of tempura vegetables. It did not disappoint – I thought the tempura technique at least as good as Michelin-starred tempura restaurant Asagi in Tokyo…

Great hospitality:

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Tatsuru Rai (he opened noma’s conference MAD)

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Midori Rai (our gracious hostess)