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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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Sunday, 29 March 2009

Fumotoya, Aoyama 麓屋 青山

In the backstreets of Aoyama you will find the certified bloke-free zone of Fumotoya. This little find is marked on the outside by its fabric draped stairs leading down to a modern basement restaurant, of quite generous proportions, that leads out to a covered basement terrace.

Being a bloke-free zone, the service (even from the blokes) is very fussy and attentive. Once the nerves of talking to a couple of gaijin guys wore off there was even the odd glimmer of friendliness. Of course, I didn't go there to make friends, but to eat. Their particular shtick is a fusion of French food and...soba. It sounds a bit odd but actually what they have pulled off is as close to a genuine fusion as you'll find for lunch in Tokyo. For around 2,600 yen you can order their lunch set which is exceptionally good value considering the quality and the quantity.

The first dish was an amuse of a slice of pork with soy balsamic, a crouton with mascarpone and nut and some baby scallop. A dash of apricot and strawberry coulis was splashed on the side to liven up the flavour. The entrée was a plate of tuna steak chunks and some bamboo shoots served with and pumpkin purée and a piquant mizuna oil. The main course was a duck confit topped with deep fried soba and accompanied by little bread rolls made from soba flour. Then came the soba, for which there are three hot and three cold choices. I ordered mine cold with zuwari crab and jelly and my dining partner ordered his hot with yuba. As if that wasn't enough the dessert cart was next and I had a nice caramel pound cake, a chocolate cheesecake and a fluffy, plain cheesecake which was served with a big dollop of cream.

Yes! (or do i mean yes, yes YES!) It was sinful for a Saturday lunch but uniformly yummy. I also ordered a couple of glasses of their Israeli house white which comes from the occupied Golan Heights. Hmmm - politically charged wine with my lunch, and not bad at all. Anyway, even if you're a bloke you should give this one a go. The servings definitely are enough to satisfy and the experience is definitely one step above the mundane.
Tel: 03-5469-2220

Friday, 27 March 2009

Gentil H, Shirokane ジョンティ アッシュ 白金

I have to admit to not having had very high expectations when one of my dining partners in crime suggested we try it out, primarily due to the proximity to his house. I had visited the same venue a few years ago when it was called Creor and remembered a rather standard "Tokyo posh" French meal that was pretty dear. I never felt the need to go back and was not entirely surprised when Creor eventually disappeared.

Gentil H is the successor and although it doesn't look any different inside, the chef looks like he may be. The menu and wine list is entirely in Japanese and the waiters don't seem to make much of an effort even if they do know some English or French (thank god I've kept up with those Japanese lessons!). After asking the waiter not to whisk away the wine list having only ordered an apéritif, we noticed an interesting and surprisingly reasonably priced French Pinot on the menu, which led me to joke we were about to encounter a bait and switch. Well as it turned out, to our great amusement, that's exactly what happened when we were told they didn't have any of that bottle but there was an even nicer one for double the price! Hmmm.

Anyway, in a forgiving mood I ordered their 5,000 yen menu which included an amuse, entrée, salad, main and dessert. The amuse was a pea soup, which was livened up with a dash of paprika oil (great combo). My mixed entrée was nice enough but the real star was my dining partner's black sesame gnocchi with salami. This was a fantastic and unusual marriage of flavours that worked really nicely. This was followed by a nicely presented salad served with a slightly odd dressing that tasted a bit like a black sesame and tapenade blend. Unfortunately I didn't think to ask what I was eating as the conversation was more scintillating at that point. My fish was decent enough, but perhaps more memorable was the dessert of an ice cream filled strawberry macaron. This was chewy, crunchy, sweet with the slightest acidity - perfect.

Notwithstanding the odd faux pas and the lack of accommodation to international diners I would be happy to recommend Gentil H for an informal dinner. I like the odd pleasant surprise with the food, and I would like to encourage chef to keep going with the experiments.

Tel: 03-5447-8889

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Yung Kee, Hong Kong ヨンキー 香港

Yung Kee's specialty is a succulent roast goose that tastes divine! Here are some photos from the "Awarded Lunch Set" featuring those items on their menu that have received awards. You will have to book though as this place is far from a secret and has been honoured with one Michelin star. Apart from the goose, the amuse of the 1000 year old egg served with fresh ginger stood out as the most memorable part of the lunch set. Also pictured is the deep fried prawn with mini crab roe.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Lei Garden, Central, Hong Kong 香港

Lei Garden is a modern Cantonese restaurant on the 3rd level of the swish IFC centre in Central (in the same building as the city check-in for Chep Lap Kok Airport). The waiter was PUSHY and they were out of a few things we wanted to order. I'm not sure it deserves the Michelin star, but I'd encourage you to try it out after a hard days shopping or whatever you're doing in Hong Kong. Here are some photos of the fare on offer:

From top down: fried taro (delicious), Chinese broccoli (overdone), friend noodles (pretty good), eggplant with fried pastry (pretty good), scallop with mushroom (the mushroom looked like meat it was so chunky and was delish!)

Friday, 20 March 2009

Bo Innovation, Wan Chai Hong Kong 灣仔區 香港

I'm at large again, this time eating my way through Hong Kong. The latest exploit is a little place I found in the new Michelin guide to Hong Kong that has earned itself two stars in recognition of its innovation and flirtation with molecular gastronomy. I call it merely a flirtation because whilst there are some very interesting ways of presenting the food, there's not really the confusion of sight and flavour that I would associate with that genre (cue bacon ice cream etc). Then again, what would I know - except to say I distinctly remember as a nine year old putting some purple food colouring in my mother's tea, genuinely impressed by the dissonance this created and eager to see what reaction I would get. It wasn't good, and there ended the superstar career I could have had in the field. I wish I hadn't been such a sensitive child.
Anyway, back to the food. There was a choice of two set menus and my dining partners and I opted for the larger "Chef's Menu". First course was a 1,000 year old egg wrapped in a cone of toffee. I'm glad they don't preserve these in horse urine any more these days (well I think they don't anymore...). This was followed by oyster with ginger and shallot ice and a quail's egg topped with beluga and bottomed with birds nest style pastry. Next was a uni, roe and tan tan noodle cup. This was followed by a strip of fatty tuna belly (toro) topped with little chunks of freeze dried raspberry and foie gras.

Next was a little shot of pea soup and a piece of toast with a very strong fishy taste (har mi) which you were supposed to bite and sip, bite and sip. After that we were served a piece of solid Chinese vinegar and a conceptual shorompo (how did they know to give me that!), as well as a scoop of rice ice cream with just a sprinkle of some very strong powdered Chinese sausage. Next was a little crab soufflé served with little bit of citrus pods (is that what you call the little filaments?). After that we were served a piece of slow cooked, honeyed fish with ginger and pickled bok choy.

Then the first main arrived - a juicy piece of foie gras with topped with duck tartare and paired with bitter plum and citrus reduction. Then the main event of the evening came in two stages. On the top of the bowl there was a cooked wagyu and some vermicelli, which when having been eaten revealed another uncooked layer of wagyu which was then to be paired and cooked in the steaming hot beef stock broth served on the side. Amazing! Dessert was then a medley of sesame mochi ball filled with chocolate, a little shot of foamy, piquant black sesame liquid and a yummy little cone filled with kumquat ice cream. Lastly we were served an apple crumble with what I think was mochi in place of the apple - delicious and a certainly a play on the normal texture of an apple crumble.

This was followed by a very normal coffee! The meal was washed down with a glass of dry champagne to start and then a very ordinary (I'm sorry to say) bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé. All in all, I think you'll have a really good time if you pay these guys a visit for dinner. The prices are pretty steep with it ending up at around US$200 per head. Not all the dishes are what I would call pure pleasure, but there is plenty that is memorable (eg. the "sorbet" of ginger foam cooked in front of you in liquid nitrogen!) and it all adds up to an unforgettable Hong Kong experience.
Tel: 852 2850 8371

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Nagara, Akasaka  ながら 赤坂

For some reason, I recently just had to have some duck soba. So with this in mind I Googled "duck soba" and out popped this little place in the back streets of Akasaka called Nagara. It's in a little dead end lane, not far from the Azuma supermarket right at the Aoyama cemetery end of Akasaka.

It's located on the basement floor or what appears to be a fairly recently built private residence. This gives the place a nice homely ambiance, and it's clear that the owner is quite a music buff with there having being some chilled out jazz playing through numerous speakers stategically arranged for maximum acoustic effect on the ceiling. Completing the musical theme, the table I sat at was jammed up next to a piano. There's a lot more than the 1,600 yen duck soba on the menu but that's all I had on my mind. The best way I could describe the meal is as elegant, comprising tender pieces of duck served in a broth with yuzu undertones that is not too oily and is subtle enough not to completely overpower the noodles. I'm in no way a connoisseur of soba, but they seemed pretty fresh and well made to me.

This simple yet elegant meal, served with humble efficiency in a homely yet stylish environment made for a very pleasant experience. I'd recommend Nagara as a good place to take people who are visiting Tokyo, as you'll definitely be able to show you're in the know to know of such a cute and out of the way establishment. Don't expect to feel too full after though as the portions are modest, and in order to read the menu you'll probably want to be able to read a little bit of Japanese, or go with someone who can.
Tel: 03-3583-7500

Friday, 13 March 2009

Ruth's Chris Steak House, Kasumigaseki ルースクリス・ステーキハウス 霞ヶ関

UPDATE: (March 2009):
I've now tried Ruth's for dinner - uncrumbed, chunky, sizzling crab cakes for starter, petit filet with shrimp for main and a luscious (and huge) whisky pudding for dessert; supplemented with sides of mushroom and broccoli, washed down with an Aussie D'Arenberg Cab Sav - full bodied and perfect for steak. It was exactly as I expected - delicious, over the top, expensive...and totally satisfying!

November 2008
Ruth's Chris Steak House is a bizarre name, but it turns out that there was a lady named Ruth in New Orleans who after divorcing her husband in the 60's bought a steakhouse from a man called Chris. Although Ruth has now gone to that great steakhouse in the sky, her enterprise lives on and now extends to Tokyo.

You'll find their Tokyo branch not far from the American embassy on the ground floor of one of the many faceless office blocks that comprise modern Kasumigaseki. The fit out is trying for something classy and clubby like what you'd find in a high end steakhouse in the US, but the effect is fairly superficial, and one visit to the bathroom will quickly remind you that you are in the land of Toto.

After living in Japan as long as I have it's rare that you can shock me with the price of anything but I have to admit to some serious sticker shock when I read the menu. The steaks start at 5,500 yen for a 23o gram petite filet and go to 23,000 for a Porterhouse for two (you can have one all by yourself for 13,000). Now I would be the first person in the world to pay up for great food, but these kinds of prices that don't even include sides for a piece of meat thrown on a grill are just downright silly. You'd have to be mad or, more realistically, on an expense account to even contemplate it. When you consider the quality of food and artful preparation you can buy in this town for under 5,000 yen for a full meal and a wine or two it seems hard to justify.

So, feeling like a peasant, I settled for lobster bisque for starter and a wagyu burger (which came to around 4,000 yen) for my main with a glass of house Cabernet (2,000 yen). Putting aside all this vulgar discussion on prices, I have to tell you the food was really quite good. The bisque was delightfully earthy and had little bits of lobster meat in it. My only criticism was that there was too much heavy cream in it, but expected I suppose given American tastes. The burger which was covered in Swiss cheese, onion and bacon, encased in a delicious toasted bun and served with a pickle, lettuce, thick tomato and fries hit the spot in a big way. Even the ketchup tasted especially good for some reason.

There was no room for dessert after that and I have to admit to feeling kind of OK about the whole experience...until the bill came with a 10% service charge. The service was very pleasant, but not really any better than anywhere else in Tokyo. Although I think the food is of a very good standard I would only recommend this place if you are using an expense account, and I suspect this is where the majority of their custom originates. When I win the lottery or have something serious to celebrate with one of my American friends I may return for one of their steaks!

Tel: 03-3501-0822

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

La Rochelle, Shibuya ラ・ロシェル 渋谷

I feel a little ignorant that I'd never heard of La Rochelle until a few days ago, as this French restaurant has been around for many years at the edge of Shibuya, on the 32nd floor of the Cross Tower. I recently had the opportunity to try it out for one my periodic "blow out" dinners.

As you could imagine the views of Tokyo are terrific but I have to admit to worrying a little bit about how the food would turn out given my recent experiences concerning food with a view. I needn't have worried. The chef at La Rochelle is of the "iron" variety, a Mr Sakai - and a well respected maître Japonais de la cuisine Française!

My dining partner and I opted for the "Image" menu which features an amuse, two entrées ("starters" to my American friends), two main courses, dessert and coffee. A pungent selection of cheeses is also offered. The amuse was really more like an entrée in scale and featured a shot glass of creamy nice stuff with a truffle surprise on the bottom, a crumbed, deep fried cherry tomato, cream filled pastry cigarillo and a tiny dish of simmered mushroom with hints of tomato and bacon - great start! This was followed by a plate of marinated vegetables with raw tuna and shreds of truffle that looked just like nori - interesting combination of flavours. The next entrée was a foie gras served on a slice of mushroom with kaki and pineapple jam. To be honest I'm not sure how well the mushroom complemented the foie gras, but that didn't stop me eating it to the last bit.

This was followed by a snapper served with a light broth and then a lovely morsel of wagyu served with a classy little hash brown. This was followed by the cheese cart, which was not to be denied, and then a delicious dessert of chocolate mousse, chocolate shells with cream and a mandarin ice cream. After coffee and petit fours we had enjoyed an elegant sufficiency, to put it mildly. All this delicious food was washed down with a bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé to start, a lovely Eyrins Bordeaux that our very attentive and obliging waiter recommended around wagyu time, and some muscat with the dessert.

What a feast! All in all, the experience was extremely satisfying and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend La Rochelle. The food is not what I would call innovative but if you are happy with a more traditional-modern French style (by that I mean a cuisine I imagine the chef learned and perfected in the 70s) you will not be disappointed.
Tel: 03-3400-8220

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Gokyo, Nishi Azabu 五行 西麻布

Gokyo is a pleasant, designer-style ramen joint located in Nishi Azabu not far from the cemetery. You'll find it opposite the drab American Army building that, incidentally, houses the Tokyo offices of the magazine, "Stars and Stripes".
I seem to go against the local grain whenever I eat ramen as I am definitely not a slurper and I never leave the soup in the bowl -- why on earth would you leave something so yummy just sitting in the bowl to be poured down the drain I wonder? Maybe that's why they gave me a bib!

Their speciality is "burned" ramen, which initially attracted me as I am a big fan of black tan tan men. On a recent visit I sampled their burned sweet miso ramen, which I believe is the house specialty, but not the only thing on the menu. For around 1,000 yen each bowl of noodles is served with a surprisingly fresh and tasty side salad and a bowl of rice, either with bbq pork (which I chose) or the "gomoku" (basically bits of veges and other yummy stuff).

I found the soup a touch on the oily side and a little bit cloying, but tasty enough to drink almost to the last greasy remnants. The pork itself was a modest chunk of fatty belly, but tender and quite delicious.

I'd recommend you try them out, and I will be back myself to sample their other varieties soon. Just be warned that, even though the store is kind of in the middle of nowhere, it gets very crowded during the week so you may be best advised to visit on the weekend.

Tel: 03-5775-5566