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The Michelin Guide has consistently awarded more stars to Tokyo dining establishments than any other city in the world. I created this blog as my personal Tokyo restaurant guide, but I hope you will also enjoy reading it. If you have been to any of the same places feel free to leave some comments about your own experiences.

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Monday, 29 December 2008

Alto, Canberra, Australia

I'm at large again and my latest jaunt is to the city of my birth, Canberra, Australia. Despite all the embassies and the fact it is the federal capital of Australia, Canberra is not exactly the most cosmopolitan or exciting city. Nevertheless if you ever visit Australia, it's worth staying a couple of nights as there are usually good exhibitions at the National Gallery (this time it was Degas) and there is actually quite a lot to see and do.

Dining in Canberra has come a long way since what I remember when visiting as a teenager and young adult. The latest "it" establishment for Canberrans, Alto, is to be found in the Black Mountain Tower. The views from the revolving restaurant are superb and the decor is in a trendy, white retro 70s minimalist style. If you can imagine what a restaurant in Canberra that's trying very hard would be like then this is it. But I tell you, it's still good old Canberra. It's not that they know what to do and don't do it, it's that they really don't know in the first place.

I was taking my parents and little brother out for dinner and when we all arrived, nobody greeted us. Our waitress for the evening just looked straight through us and carried on her way. About two minutes later after some perfunctory name checking she sort of motioned to us and headed off and so we assumed this meant we were being led to the table. Our table, like everyone else's had a great view and we enjoyed the mist and clearing rain at twilight looking over Lake Burley Griffin, Civic and the suburbs as we whirled slowly around.

The menu was not particularly large and the prices were expensive. About $20-30 for an entree, $30-45 for the mains and $18 for dessert. You know you're in for a classy night when the waiters tell you this and that is "complimentary". Our first complimentary course was the little soups given as the "amuse". It kind of tasted like garlic bread - not unpleasant but not all that interesting either. For my entree I had the twice cooked cheese souffle. This was burned and, I'm sorry to say, had the consistency and taste of a failed year 8 home economics experiment. Bread was served, but while we were waiting the more than one hour it took to get our main course we were told that as it was "complimentary" all the tables had been given their allocation for the evening. We managed to eventually get two rolls out of them but my brother and I got nothing. What a class act! Anyway, the mains eventually came. I had ordered the whiting which came with beans and lardons, and this was passable - I mean in a good coffee lounge sort of way. Not really what you'd expect for 40 bucks though. My brother's lamb looked ok - don't you just hate it when you order the wrong dish! Dessert was a pretty damn narrow slice of grapefruit tart served with vanilla ice cream. It didn't really taste like grapefruit but it was passable in a coffee lounge sort of way.

The wines were also pretty ordinary. I started off with a glass of their house sparkling which had a musty sort of character about it (I couldn't be bothered with the debate over whether it was corked) and the NZ sauvignon blanc I ordered by the glass was nothing to write home about. It was the kind of wine you'd have at an Aussie barbeque I suppose.

To sum it up, like every single revolving restaurant I have ever been to the food is disappointing. The problem always occurs when we don't know if we're coming for the food or the view. Any restaurant that looks like it lives off a tourist trade is going to disappoint - it's one of the immutable laws of dining out. Definitely don't come for the food, and absolutely don't come for the service which is pathetic - ignorant and arrogant (which is the worst of both worlds). The view however is great, so if you can look past the profound mediocrity of the food and service, you'll still enjoy your evening.
Tel: 61 2 6247 5518

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

La Bisboccia, Hiroo ラ・ビスボッチャ 広尾

It was only going to be a matter of time before I came to review La Bisboccia. This mainstay of the expat circuit has been recommended to me on numerous occasions. However more than once when I've suggested it, the other party groans and says - oh not there! Well finally I made it and I have to say it was nothing like what I expected. I was expecting a kind of faded luxury - a place that's been around for so long it's just going through the motions.

Actually the place does not even offer faded luxury. It's done out in theme-park Italian style with wooden tables and chairs. The crowd is loud and largely foreign - lots of parties and groups. Certainly not the place for a date or important business discussion. It's pretty fun actually and you have to admire the practical approach of a place that, when asked for wine by the glass, has no list but allows you to choose your wine "full bodied" or "light bodied" (which I supposed is a bit like offering art by the square inch - but I'm not classy enough to mind).

The food is actually rather good, if a bit pricey. My dining partner and I ordered deep fried zucchini flowers stuffed with fresh mozzarella and baked scarmoza to start. The zucchini flowers were so-so. I didn't really think they were much to write home about and the cheese filling tasted kind of fishy (maybe it was meant to!). My dining partner thought they were pretty good though, so I'll give it a "pass conceded". The scarmoza was pretty nice, but I felt could have been left in the oven a bit longer, but then again I tend to like baked things a bit overdone. This was followed by a very tasty taglierini with mushroom, prosciutto and pungent truffle oil. My main was a veal scallopini with mozzarella, tomato and white wine sauce. I'm sorry that veal is cruel, but this was delicious. Dessert was a "Boscaiola" prune and almond tart, which was served with out cream or ice cream and was probably better for it. I finished off with a rather nice glass of grappa.

I'd recommend La Bisboccia if you've got a work group or family to entertain. It's not the best value for money for what is really high quality comfort food but the staff are very willing, and after you'll be able to say, like me now, you've been!
Tel: 03-3449-1470

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Jin Din Rou, Ebisu 京鼎楼(ジンディンロウ)恵比寿

Yay! I've found another place to feed my tantanmen (sesame, chilli and pork ramen) and shorompo (soup dumplings) addiction - this time in Ebisu, quite near the east exit of the station. I've failed to write about most of my tantanmen and shorompo adventures as they are so dreadfully quotidian, but these are two of my favourite lunchtime dishes in Tokyo - and although they're Chinese in origin and I've always loved Chinese food, I had never tasted them before I lived in Japan.

For 1,700 yen your set includes a noodle soup of your choice, four shorompo, annin dofu (chilled almond jelly) and tea. Believe me you won't need any more that that!
The broth of the tantanmen was much thicker and creamier than those I have eaten elsewhere and had a great aroma. The shorompo were lightly flavoured with oolong tea, had lots of juice and were delicious - actually the best I've had for a while.

The staff are pleasant and efficient and you can watch the cooks beaver on the dumplings through a window into the preparation area, which makes for a nice atmosphere. I'll definitely be back here again to try out the rest of the menu!
Tel: 03-5795-2255

Petit Point, Hiroo プティポワン 広尾

I had been meaning for some time to go again to Petit Point, and an end of year dinner with a good friend seemed like the perfect excuse. It's a small French restaurant located next door to a graveyard in Hiroo, not far from Tengenjibashi. I'm happy to report that, graveyards notwithstanding, the food is very much alive and kicking. So it's really with some sadness that I relate that we were the only people in the restaurant - on a Saturday night coming up to the end of the year! I don't know if it's that the places that got a Michelin star are drawing all the punters now, if it's the dodgy economy or a combination - but it was worrying to me. With regard to the Michelin craze, you know I have to say that I feel rather less positive about it if, for Tokyoites, the lack of a star somehow comes to mean the place is not worthy. Frankly I would say Petit Point, and others like it such as Alladin (but many more come to mind) would easily rate with some of the places in the guide. So by all means I would encourage you to explore the Michelin Guide but please don't go all fundamentalist about it...

Enough ranting. Well a couple of things I didn't like so much, so let's get them out of the way. This is going to sound hyper-critical but I found the service pleasant but lacking warmth. We were the only people in the place but our server really didn't at all attempt to make a connection further than making an announcement about each dish. Hmmm - perhaps I'm too critical but I didn't really feel that welcome. The other thing that irritated a little was that there were no prices shown (at all). We were presented two alternative set courses and told to both order either the same option. We opted for the larger set of the two (what else?), but it wasn't until we got the bill that I found out how much it would cost. As I was taking my friend out, I didn't want to be so gauche as to ask the price as if I was in a negotiation as the souk but... Further, the lovely half-bottle of Vincent Dauvissat 2002 Chablis was not offered with a price. So watch out! Just FYI, including two coupes de champagne, half bottle and the course menu, the bill came to just under 45,000 yen. I don't think that's overpriced but the idea of hiding the price strikes as rather pretentious and belongs to another era. OK sorry Terry - enough vulgar discussion of the price of things!!!

When we arrived, on the table there was a dish with an intriguing Indian-style spice mix on it which was an accompaniment to bread and olive oil. Dinner opened with a foie gras served with fig jam. The foie gras had hints of an aromatic herb that I couldn't pin point and was delicious. This was followed by a clear, buttery soup of small but plump mussels and crunchy, chopped vegetables. In a soup you usually expect the veges to be cooked till they're soft and mushy, but the texture of the veges here was a surprise and doubled my interest in the dish. To follow was a croquette of hamaguri, a kind of clam, which was covered in a deep fried bird's nest of cornflour and a foam flavoured with scallop. This dish combined a very interesting taste and texture. Honestly speaking I found the hamaguri itself to be not much more than a chewy piece of rubber, but I suppose this is how it's meant to be! Hmm. Following this was a divine piece of wagyu beef served with tiny potato cubes cooked in the meat's lard. With the spurt of balsamic on the plate and the horseradish, this dish was a hit. Next to come was the cheese which was a suitably soft Mont d'Or which is a Swiss cheese often used in fondue. The dessert was a pleasant caramel pudding served with yummy ice cream, nuts, dried fruit and a cute little "moon man" made of sugar. This was followed by a delicious coffee and petit fours.

Petit Point is somewhere I would put on my circuit of above average restaurants for business or pleasure. I thought it would have been nice if the chef came out to say hello, and I have to admit that I found this to be a hint of arrogance along with the the no price policy but I guess I can overlook it...this time at least.
Tel: 03-3449-3975

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Petillant, Naka Meguro ペティアン 中目黒

"Petillant" can be loosely translated as fizzy or sparkling. Sounds like my type of place! Well actually the reality of this little bistro down the end of the Naka Meguro shopping street is a bit more down to earth, but pleasant nonetheless. On a recent visit for lunch I sampled their lunch set which is quite keenly priced. You can select a 1,000 yen set with an entree and main, or an 1,890 set with fancier ingredients. Of course I chose the latter, ordering a scallop terrine for the entree and the choucroute with pork and sausage. Being a Sunday, I also treated myself to a couple of glasses of their house white, and topped off the lunch with a chocolate terrine for dessert with a scoop of raspberry sorbet.

The scallop terrine was more like a mouse and, as you can see in the picture, looked just like a fresh mozzarella and had a very similar consistency. Drizzled with a basil oil, it tasted fresh, not too fishy and went well with the crusty baguette it was served with. Unfortunately they did not replenish the bread...The choucroute was quite nice, especially the sausage which tasted great with the mustard. The piece of boiled potato hiding underneath the cabbage was ever so slightly undercooked (I like my potato pretty soft I must admit). The wine tasted pretty cheap and not really worth commenting on other than that. The dessert was another matter though - the chocolate terrine was rich and dense (none of the obvious retorts please!) and went terrifically well with the raspberry sorbet.

Overall, I found the food to be pretty good, the wine pretty ordinary and the service to be quite pleasant. If you're on a budget you could do a lot worse than coming here.
Tel: 03-3792-3567