Torafugu Tei (Puffer fish) – So good, not expensive!

Torafugu Tei

2-14-15 Nishi-Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo

Finally, I found the drive to write for the Tokyo restaurants that I have been to in December 2016; it should be the 8th time in Japan but Tokyo seems to be the most exciting city to be in (though most might disagree and opt for the more scenic Hokkaido or historically richer Kyoto), as it definitely is still the top city in Japan when it comes to FOOD (stamped and chopped). A major throwback but this puffer fish restaurant or Torafugu Tei is one that I felt compelled to give a review on. Not any Michelin starred, not even an old restaurant with any history to brag about, but just really a chain that perhaps most Singaporeans would shun away from as they are usually perceived as less authentic. And as we kept passing by the live puffer fish tank as we take the same metro station daily, we googled, a decent puffer fish kaiseki dinner for just about $70?, we just need to give this a try! IT IS A STEAL!

img_1533And so there our kaiseki started with the chopped fish skin; bouncy, springy – the kind of consistency that we love as you dip into the cold refreshing yuzu shoyu. Delicious!img_1534The sashimi was the one I was greatly looking forward to as this caught my palates when we had our first experience in the only fugu restaurant in Singapore. A thicker and tougher texture it has, the sashimi is a test of the chef’s knifing skills as only the translucent ones would be palatable. Indeed, this was of the right thickness, thin enough for the blue to be seen and with the zesty lime and refreshing greens, it was just perfect.

img_1543I am just so amazed by the huge variety of delicacies that a huge puffer fish could be turned into. KFC? no it isn’t though it has the consistency of chicken with a super fragrant fried batter tightly wrapped around it! img_1546A wefie needed here as we have enjoyed everything thoroughly so far.

img_1538img_1541And the main dish – that vibrant hotpot we had. So simple, yet made so delish easily by the freshest greens and I have to say, I was a little taken aback and saddened by the twitching fins as I guess they were freshly butchered in the kitchen. Then again, this hotpot felt very comforting on a cold wintry night.

img_1542Waiting patiently for it to boil!

img_1551img_1553And at the end of the meal, it will be turned into an egg porridge. Simple, comforting and light tasting yet still maintaining that delicate balance.

img_1556A simple ice cream dessert to round off the wholesome meal!

Its price point, the quality, they both are just incredulously perfect that you can’t reject!

Verdict: An excellent restaurant. 4.2/5.

Saryo Suisen 茶寮 翠泉 烏丸御池店 – Have you ever had a Matcha gloop?!

Saryo Suisen 茶寮 翠泉 烏丸御池店

461 Kinpukicho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan

DSC_1031An intriguing tea place, though located far from central Kyoto, was operating on a full house even at 5pm when we arrived (just an hour before it closes). And if you think google map might have gotten it wrong as you walked through the quieter residential streets, Saryo Suisen 茶寮 翠泉 could indeed be aptly described as a “hidden” gem. Focusing mainly on the more popular matcha and hojicha flavours, every dessert is as impeccable as you could have imagined for the other tea houses around Japan, but Saryo came across as unique with its creative take on some desserts! Behold the gloop!

DSC_1023DSC_1027Apart from the common parfaits, what caught the foreigners’ (we were actually the only gaijin there) as well as the locals attention was this blob of Matcha Gloop. Its texture – a hybrid of mochi and jelly; with the stretchiness of mochi skin but could be separated more easily. Lashed with the adequately sweet brown sugar sauce and eating it with the partially mashed red beans and lightly salted yellow bean powder, this dessert tasted familiarly unfamiliar. pretty delicious! ¥630.

DSC_1025c3This Suisen parfait, as luscious as it looks, does indeed taste satisfyingly good! A melting soft serve that is intense in its matcha flavour, with a light bitter taste that cuts through the other sweeter elements, topped with some fluffy Matcha pancake, and a crispy quality Matcha waffle roll. Very well executed indeed.

DSC_1021Saryo Cake Set served with the fluffy Matcha swiss roll that has been piped beautifully with the strong tasting matcha cream. ¥800.

DSC_1020And ending the whole afternoon tea with the decadently rich classic Hojicha and vanilla ice cream. ¥780.

c1Looking more local than my apparently gaijin friend, he was the one who placed all the orders fluently! Definitely a fun tea place for all of us, especially so when that gloop was served to us.

Verdict: A good tea place. 3.6/5

Gion Namba なん波 – Aesthetically so strong the sets are!

Gion Namba なん波

Shijo Hanamikoji Higashi iru, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto

DSC_0944Quite a difficult find again this single starred restaurant is; hiding away along a super narrow alley perpendicular to the bustling main street, it is really easy to miss it if you forgot to make that sharp turn. Though not exactly coming across as an exhilarating, bold restaurant, its stellar and spot on presentation at Gion Namba なん波 did invite some exclamation from us. 3 lunch sets given and the cheapest one at around 5000円 was chosen.

DSC_0946The first course – Creamy Shirako Fish milt with tofu and kombu looking gorgeously vibrant already, was cut through by the lightly tart chilled tomato puree and yuzu zest. Very beautiful bowl, appetite perfectly whetted.

DSC_0952Clear soup with hints of yuzu, as again, commonly expected in almost any Kaiseki restaurant in the Kansai region, Michelin or not. Still delicious and refreshing in its own right but the largely similar taste is starting to turn monotonous. The squid paste ball with shrimp and ginko nut encapsulated within though, was beautifully textured.

DSC_0958Sashimi – Tai Sea Bream, squid and yellow tail with kikuhana (yellow flower). You know the yellow tail has been aged really well when the broken down proteins (into amino acids) melt sweetly in your mouth.

DSC_0965DSC_0966Fried fish, Shredded kani crab meat, Mackerel sushi, shellfish with mentaiko, topped with the huge yellow ginko leaf symbolic of the autumn season. Precision, accuracy, and balance, all three attributes found in the multi-faceted flavours, yet not confusing at all.

DSC_0967DSC_0968Chawanmushi as a course? It definitely has got to take some guts to present a seemingly insignificant dish that is ordered usually as side dishes from chain Japanese restaurants as a course. And boy we understood why. Uniquely prepared as a semi-broth with a less starchy consistency, the ingredients used were meticulously prepared as the grilled Mackerel fish hidden within tells it all, while sweet potato was added to give it the adequate sweetness.

DSC_0974Steamed rice with small fish, perfumed lightly throughout by the kikuhana yellow flower.

DSC_0975Smooth, refreshing yuzu sorbet made special with a faint bitterness that complemented beautifully the mushy sweet persimmon.

DSC_0977DSC_0978Red bean manju with the super bitter, anti-oxidant packed matcha to end the meal beautifully.

As you would have agreed, presentation was stunning and you could feel the thoughts and effort put in every course. Delicious in its own right still, there were however certain courses that were little more conservative and lacking in boldness, such as the clear soup and rice course (that I have gotten accustomed to and have my anticipation naturally written off for those courses when they’re on the menu). Having said that, all the other qualities you would have looked out for in a Michelin restaurant are still well executed.

Verdict: A good restaurant. 

Tempura Tsunahachi てんぷらつな八 – Lip smacking Tendon served here!

Tempura Tsunahachi てんぷらつな八

52 Shincho, Shijo Kawaramachi-dori Nishi-iru, Simogyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture , Inside Takashimaya Departmental Store

DSC_1008Hailing from Tokyo Shinjuku area, Tempura Tsunahachi てんぷらつな八 has made its way across 450km and landed itself in this ancient city Kyoto. No long crazy queues but just a short wait as it was operating on a full house even at 1.30pm, this was indeed a good stumble. Located at the top of Kyoto Takashimaya, it makes navigating so much easier as compared to the very hidden restaurants out on the streets. To find out more about this place, you could click here for the English site!

DSC_1009DSC_1015This tendon easily forms a satisfying bowl for hungry men like us as atop the perfectly cooked Japanese pearl rice, boasts a generous load of tempura seafood. Fried to an addictive crisp, the batter used here was a winner as it is thicker than the usual lighter tempura, rendering it a heavier taste. And as for the tantalising toppings: a huge slab of moist anago, chewy block of squid, and of course fresh succulent prawns. So beautifully fried without undermining the freshness of the ingredients, these sets were definitely worthy at ¥2400.

You could also opt for the lighter tempura set which utilises a lighter batter, still as crispy but less heavy tasting. This, just like what we normally have, goes perfectly well with the soy sauce by the side. ¥2400.

DSC_1014I’m not too sure about this as my tempura felt perfectly balanced and wholesome already but for those who wish to intensify the taste, then some interestingly flavoured salts are available by the side. Reading off from the tag of those I know, you have wasabi salt, kombu salt etc etc.

DSC_1017Yeah, a thoughtful glass of tomato palate cleanser at the end of the meal to wash the grease off!

tendon1And that’s me and the satisfied buddy! Great meeting you after half a year!

Verdict: An excellent restaurant. 5/5.

Afterthought: Comparing the tendon specialty store in Singapore, Ginza Itsuki, with this, I say the Sg restaurant is actually quite on par with the standard over here.

Fujiya 1935 – The outstanding meal that Christmas reminded me of!

Fujiya 1935 

Japan, 〒540-0026 Osaka Prefecture, Osaka, 中央区鑓屋町2-4-14

DSC_1203As my previous michelin kaiseki experience seems to suggest that the flavours in Tokyo are much bolder and electrifying than the Kansai region, we took a gamble and decided to break away from tradition. Paid a visit to a Spanish-Japanese fusion Michelin restaurant this time round, and it was the best Michelin experience during this entire trip, partially due to our familiarity with the Kansai palates that made those meals, good in their own right but slightly less exciting. Fujiya 1935***, one of the four restaurants in Osaka with the highly coveted three stars, was where the memories were made. With only one menu that changes seasonally, this Autumn one ¥15000 took us through an exhilarating ride that lasted for 2.5h, after which we could only crave for more.

DSC_1202Longtooth Grouper from Nagasaki and Shimonita Leek – Simmered together with tomatoes and a little bit of olive, this broth, perfumed thoroughly by the sweetness of the grouper, tasted light yet extremely refreshing.

DSC_1206Soft Cod Roe and burdock with Autumn truffle – With a little bit of chilli spice cutting through the heavier burdock soup, the flavours of the fried burdock and flamed cod roe has been lifted beautifully.

DSC_1215Spaghetti, Tanba wild boar and carrot sauce – It was only a small tasting portion but the porky umami-ness exuding from the light creamy spaghetti was unforgettable.

Sandwich of Shitake Mushrooms – Slotted in between these wheat biscuits lies a creamy slather of heavy-tasting mushroom fillings.
Fried Lotus root, Ginko nuts, mukago – It might be a fried dish, but definitely not one-dimensional with its multiple textures within it. Continue reading