Taka Goryokaku, Hakodate


There are times when you have a meal so perfect that you’re almost afraid to eat again because you know that your next meal could never match it. Dining at Taka Goryokaku was one of those experiences. This was where my friend held her wedding dinner last year and it had left an impression – another opportunity to dine there was not to be passed up.

We had a reservation for 7.30pm, and arrived to find ourselves the only party there. We shed our shoes and stepped up into a hallway as if into someone’s house. Guided into a private  room, a menu detailing our courses was laid out before us, but the dining experience was already well underway.

Taka Goryokoku – taking the latter half of its name from the nearby star-shaped fortress – is run by chef-owner Takatoshi Fukui, who spent a year and half training in both France and Switzerland, returning to Japan to hone his Japanese-style French cuisine. This harmonious approach to two of the world’s finest cuisines is immediately apparent from the openers.

While sipping on our beverages of choices, we were presented with the amuse-bouches. The “s” isn’t a typo – for unlike some stupidly pretentious experiences (Joël Robuchon, I am looking at you), we were presented with a vast selection: ebi-bouzushi – prawn sushi, wrapped in pink turnip and pickled chrysanthemum, the vibrant colours sparking as sharply as the vinegar in the rice; turnip mousse topped with consommé jelly and tomato – a feat of umami; rum raisin cream cheese encased in a light pastry; potato salad enhanced with tuna and onion, topped with tantalisingly soft-boiled egg; quiche loirraine so well-balanced it would be sure to win a competition.


These were followed by a second amuse-bouche – for the selection was classed as one – with a burdock cappuccino, lightly frothed and effortlessly moreish.


Next up, Taka’s pastry skills were in show once again. A puff pastry pie appeared, the crisp topping flaking satisfyingly as it gave way to the spoon to reveal juicy prawns awaiting below.


Succulent trout with expertly crisped skin bathed in a cream beetroot sauce and mildly sweet bamboo shoots. This triumph was hotly contested by a fillet of beef that yielded to the knife like butter; fried asparagus, matsutake mushrooms and a simple potato gratin all played competent supporting roles.


Finally, we had to face that it was time for this gastronomic adventure to come to a close. Representing Japan, a sakura tiramisu, with red beans and matcha, nestled alongside a cheesecake-style stick of crema catalana that successfully held the sugar at arm’s length, and was complemented by a strawberry compote. Yet our stomachs were to compete a little longer – black sesame biscuits and meringues accompanied our coffees.

My father asked me to translate “I’m in heaven and you’re an angel” to Taka as we showered him with our appreciation. He grinned from ear to ear and said he’d never been complimented so much. Guess we’ll have to go annually to make sure he gets used to it. This is an essential dining experience in Hakodate and one I certainly intend to repeat.
Taka 五稜郭 (Taka Goryokaku)
25-12 Goryōkakuchō, Hakodate, Hokkaido 040-0001

Review: Sanpotei Tokyo Lab, Nakameguro


Sanpotei Tokyo Lab / 三宝亭東京ラボ

Japanese food has boomed in the West over the past few years. Not just ramen, but all kinds of stylish “Japanese” places are popping up, with polished wooden surfaces and all fanfare of fusion dishes.

Although I’m all for experimentation, I’m naturally a little sceptical  when self-professed Japanese food lovers claim that going to one of these trendy joints is evidence!

“Places like this don’t actually exist in Japan,” I say, trying my hardest to tiptoe round being overtly sanctimonious. “And, no, Hirata buns, are a Western take on Taiwanese street food, and no, they have nothing to do with Japan.”

But having visited Sanpotei Tokyo Lab, I can now offer up a different response. There is at least one trendy place doing experimental food in Japan. And, naturally, it does it better! Continue reading “Review: Sanpotei Tokyo Lab, Nakameguro”

Review: Inamo, Soho


Inamo is not a place to go if you need to catch up with an old friend. I made that mistake. I hadn’t seen said friend in three years. I looked at him, ready to engage in an update of everything that had happened in our recent pasts. But then my gaze drifted down towards the table and I was a moth to a flame: all I could do was to stare in fascination at the interactive menu.

Each table has a projector above it, which beams down the menu and all kind of gimmicks that are guaranteed to entertain for hours. We set mood lighting. Purple, then blue. We turned our table into a cake display. We turned it into beautiful mountain scenery. We even discovered games!



The screens are addictive, and really, really fun. They may kill your conversation, but you may still communicate through squeals of excitement at the pretty images appearing before you.

A rumbling stomach, however, is a good reminder of why you’re there in the first place: to eat. The food is Asian-fusion with Thai, Japansese, Korean, Malaysian and Chinese dishes, and although beautifully presented, the prices would make anyone who has been to Asia cry. Fortunately, the two-courses for £15 (before 19:15) menu represents good value, even if the choices are limited.

Spicy aubergine
Spicy aubergine

We started with some Spicy Aubergine (£5.25) which are fried with pinyin (“cloud ear” similar to a black mushroom). Fairly simple but aubergines can seem like the king of delicacies if cooked well. These were very pleasing indeed.

Chicken satay
Chicken satay

We also sampled the Chicken Satay (£6.50), which were moist and served with a surprisingly light peanut satay sauce.

Pork neck
Pork neck

For mains, I took Berkshire Pork Neck (£14.75) described as ‘Slow braised tender pork neck served with confit of apple, spicy chocolate sauce, red wine reduction & crushed wasabi peas.’ There were a lot of interesting flavours going on here but it might have been a little too ambitious – they didn’t quite all fit together and the apple didn’t appear to be more than simply chopped apple. Overall, it was enjoyable but in need of a slight re-think, especially as the chocolate flavour was not detectable.

Thai red curry
Thai red curry

My co-diner tucked into the Thai Red Curry (£13.75), a standard creamy coconut curry with butternut squash, mangetout and mushrooms. The sauce was rich and nuanced – pleasing but not revolutionary.

Inamo is fun and chic. If you have a higher budget, its menu sounds tantalising – who could refuse Soft Shell Crab Maki Rolls and Hot Stone Rib-Eye? Or if you want to feel like a god and project landscapes across the table, then it’s also worth a visit.

Inamo Soho 3/5 – Fun and stylish Asian-fusion food but be prepared to pay for the novelty of interactive menus.

Food 3/5 – Imaginative but in need of refining.
Value 2/5 – Good quality, but definitely pricey.
Atmosphere 3/5 – Maybe lunch isn’t a big thing, but there wasn’t anyone there! But when you have mood lighting, who needs people?!
Service 3/5 – A little slow at the beginning – they hadn’t switched our screens on, and therefore we had no way of ‘calling’ the waiters!

Website: http://www.inamo-restaurant.com/
Where: Wardour Street, Soho
When: Mon – Wed 5pm-11.30pm; Thur 12pm-3pm / 5pm-11.30p; Fri – Sat 12pm-12am; Sun 12pm-10.30pm

Review: Cinnamon Soho


Having been impressed by the cooking demonstration given by Vivek Singh at Taste of Christmas 2012, I needed to investigate his restaurants. I was particularly interested in his third venture, Cinnamon Soho, which in Singh’s words is “the younger, trendier sibling” of Cinnamon Club and Cinnamon Kitchen. It strives for a casual atmosphere and serves up some interesting fusion cooking. In other words, it sounded pretty exciting!

Outside Cinnamon Soho
Outside Cinnamon Soho

We arrived at just before 1pm to find the restaurant alarmingly empty, with only a couple of parties dining. The inside is modern and swish – dark wood and plain furniture. It didn’t exactly exude homeliness but its simplicity gave it some charm – it hovered on just the right side of minimalism.

A waiter approached us and I asked him the question that had been gnawing away at me.

“Excuse me, could tell me what exactly are your balls?”

Yes, really. These were promoted by Time Out as one of London’s 100 best dishes of 2012. But what are balls? How are the various fillings – ranging from crab to potatoes – put into balls?

I don’t think I fully understood the response, but my friend and I were determined to have them anyway. The options are 4 of the same kind, or 10 of 5 different kinds. We took the latter (£9.00) and were presented with this beautiful tray of…well…balls. Our answer appeared to be light breadcrumbs!

Wild game is in the middle (order this or be miserable)
Wild game is in the middle (order this or be miserable)

We began with the Crab Cake, which was surprisingly unfishy. Moving on, we tackled the rather spicy Potato Bondas, which went well with the coriander chutney. We found that the Vegetable Shikampur was deliciously gooey in the centre.

The quail egg has gone pink!
The quail egg has gone pink!

The Bangla Scotch Egg was a disappointment, which was a shame because the British/Indian fusion concept is really interesting. The breadcrumbs were fantastically crunchy but the flavours didn’t work together and the aniseed overpowered everything.

However, the  wild game – rabbit and pigeon – with pumpkin chutney was out of this world! I admit I did wrinkle my nose at the sound of this, convinced that wild game wouldn’t be for me. But the meat was perfectly seasoned with cumin and other spices, it wasn’t too dry or too chewy, and the sweetness of the pumpkin gave a vibrancy to every mouthful.

Our waiter was aware of our fondness for food and was keen to hear our impressions, agreeing that the wild game ball was particularly good. We weren’t sure whether to feel sorry for him – given the emptiness of the restaurant, our discussion of dating disasters must have been floating through the air. But then again, maybe he appreciated the entertainment. (Our conversation was very sophisticated and went along the lines of: as there are no guys on our course, maybe we should try to become attracted to Asian females?)

Bhangra Burgers
Bhangra Burgers
Bhangra burgers
Bhangra Burgers

For the mains, we took advantage of the Lunch Express Menu. We tried the Bhangra Burgers (£6.75)  – described as a “trio of spiced lamb sliders served with…tomato chutney, green coriander and smoked chilli & garlic chutney”. These were a lot of fun to eat. The buns were soft and not too heavy, the lamb tasty, and the chutneys were great – although the flavours could have been a little bolder.

Kingly Seekh Kebab
Kingly Seekh Kebab Roll

We also devoured the Kingly Seekh Kebab Roll (£6.50). Again the lamb was beautifully spiced and tender, and the naan roll  was soft and not at all dry, despite appearances.

Chocolate cumin cake with pistachio ice-cream
Chocolate cumin cake with pistachio ice-cream

The food was so good that our gluttony did not stop there. We shared a Chocolate and Cumin Cake with Pistachio Ice-Cream (£5.50). The chocolate cake was like a very gooey brownie, and its richness was nicely offset by the pistachio ice-cream. I had been worried that the cumin and/or pistachio would have been overpowering, but the flavours blended seamlessly together. Dare I say that they were perhaps a little too subtle? Possibly, but it was a fantastic dessert and I would order it again.

All in all, our bill came to £31.22 (including service), which meant that we enjoyed a top-quality three-course meal for just £15.61 each. Wow.

Also, on their lunch menu is a £7.50 Rapid Lunch, which includes: curry of the day, vegetable fritter, chutney, raita, salad, pilau rice, garlic naan, lentils and stir-fried vegetables. How much of a bargain is that?

Cinnamon Soho – 4.5/5
Interesting and delicious modern Indian cuisine at reasonable prices. What more could you want?

Food 4/5
Service 5/5
Ambience 2.5/5
Value 5/5

Cinnamon Soho 
5 Kingly street | London W1B 5PF