Akaoni, Sangenjaya (also HAPPY WORLD SAKE DAY!)

Happy World Sake Day!

Akaoni has a wicked name! It literally means “red demon” in Japanese. And it’s located in the wickedly fun area of Sangenjaya!

I didn’t turn into a red demon when I visited, but I got immediately schooled by the waitress when I asked if they had any autumn sake such as akiagari or hiyaoroshi.

“This is a namazake speciality store,” she replied smoothly with a well-practised smile.

Akaoni specialises in unpasteurised sake. This is definitely NOT autumn sake, which is pasteurised once or twice in order to mature it over the summer.

Oh the shame 🤦🏽‍♀️ I had no idea they were namazake specialists but fortunately… I love namazake 😈

I wasted no time in ordering some of their house specials (it seems they have direct contracts with some breweries) and I very much liked the Black Moon muroka-namagenshu. Later on, I also enjoyed Fukucho from Hiroshima brewed by a very talented female toji, Miho Imada. 🍶💪

As for the food… Well, all hungry stomach demons will be really satisfied. Even the otoshi (small dish served at the beginning) made an impression – one was topped with some kind of creamy mushroom paste that I didn’t quite catch the explanation for, but want to eat it again!

We then tucked into three dishes from the seasonal specials menu:

Ginger shoots wrapped in pork…with a gentle amount of gingery kick.

Lotus root, tomato and anago (conger eel) agedashi – deep-fried and lightly stewed. Unami levels were sky-high.

Clay pot cooked rice 💕

And I was extremely hungry so I was being an extreme lightweight and needed to eat a salmon onigiri too 😂 (I then got takeout ramen, gyoza and takoyaki and… Yes, I really should be enormously fat! 😂😂😂)

Akaoni
Mon – Fri 17:00 – 23:30; Sat 17:00 – 23:30; Sun 17:00 – 23:00

Spice Lab Tokyo, Ginza

The Spice Trail was laid out before us; our duty was simply to follow…

So began our journey through eight courses at Spice Lab Tokyo. The premise was slightly outrageous – “the perfect union of new India and Japanese sensibilities” – but definitely intriguing and, from the first mouthful – a beautiful tomato jelly presented as an “Offering” to the “Temple” – it promised to deliver.

We moved on through tamarind-spiked pineapple to a plate of street food “classics” with a twist – chaat as ooba (perilla leaf) tempura with tamarind, mint and yoghurt; the bao with tamarind chicken; the samosa with five-spiced lamb.

Heading toward the Coastline, we encountered mustard ayu, followed by a plum and cumin palate cleanser, and succeeded by the”Emperor”. This was a dish that truly deserved to rule –  pillow soft chicken breast cooked at low temperature, morels, broad beans, cashew nuts, fenugreek and saikyo miso (sweet white miso).

Then arrived the biryani cooked in bamboo and filled with summer vegetables and begging for seconds in its own right, and then thirds and fourths when smothered with its accompanying dishes of a fresh avocado and aubergine raita, a peanut and tamarind curry, and a rich and creamy mung bean dal,

If this sounds like a lot of food, you should be aware that all this comes with four kinds of kulcha (Indian leavened flatbread): butter, hojicha (roasted green tea), edamame and blue cheese, and sundried tomato and basil (the ultimate Indian pizza). Whatever combination of rice, sauce, or kulcha, the variety and depths of flavours took me down avenues of adventures, and led my Indian companions down memory lane.

By the time we got to the chocolate chickpea laddu with mango sorbet and passion fruit, I knew I needed to study – fill my ignorance of Indian cuisines. I also knew that the Spice Trail was actually a pilgrimage.

Fortunately, at the end of our meal. we were able to directly pay homage to Chef Tejas Sovani, who worked at Noma among others. He immediately returned our praise with a question: “Were you sceptical before you came?” When pressed on why he would ask, he explains that many do not believe delicate Japanese and robust Indian flavours could ever be married successfully. Indeed, it took hours of experimenting to perfect but Sovani has carved out an exciting new culinary path, and you would be foolish not to embark on the journey. 

Spice Lab Tokyo
Daily: Lunch 11:30 – 15:00 (14:00 LO); Dinner 18:00 – 22:30 (21:00 LO)

Kakyoubeisen, Akihabara – Yunnan Food in Tokyo

There was a distinct sense of irony about the circumstances which brought four of us to dinner. We were meeting to discuss our ideas for various series introducing Japanese food to a wider audience. But it was agreed we all liked spicy, exotic and unusual foods so the natural option was to search for something not Japanese.

My Chinese companion, who hails from Xian, hit upon Kakyoubeisen (過橋米線), an unassuming 2nd floor restaurant in Akihabara/Suehirocho, which specialises in food from Yunnan province. I couldn’t even put Yunnan on a map but it has just leapt onto my internal food map that lives mainly in my stomach.

Yunnan is known for its rice noodles, which are lighter than wheat noodles and so delightfully silky smooth to slurp. We ordered Cross-Bridge Rice Noodles (过桥米线), where all the ingredients come separately and are added last minute! Legend has is that a scholar was working on an island, where his wife would bring him lunch every day. But the journey would leave the noodles soggy and the soup cold. So the wife separated the ingredients and then put a layer of boiling oil on top of the soup to trap the heat and …tadah!

In all honesty, I looked at the thin soup and thought it would be so boring and bland. How wrong I was! It was light but so delicious and quite refreshing.

Again, I had a similar experience when I tried Steam Pot Chicken (汽锅鸡), a broth near translucent but it had so much depth of flavour from the herbs! There are only a limited number of portions a day so it might be worth reserving in advance if you want to try it (hint, hint).

On the side, we opted for seafood: some stir fried turban shell (sazae) and deep-fried white fish in cumin.

The lady serving us was more than happy to advise. And basically, I can’t wait to go back and try the rest of their menu. Deceptively delicious and healthy!

Kakyoubeisen Akihabaraten

Opening hours:
Daily 11:30~14:30; 17:00~24:00(L.O.23:30) 

Arossa Shibuya

I normally just update my Instagram & Facebook, but I am reviving my blog. Expect records of my absolute favourite eats that you absolutely should go to – because you wouldn’t doubt me, right? And watch this space for travel destinations too. The hospitality industry needs a lot of love right now.

As a starting point, it’s only fitting that I write about Arossa Shibuya, a small restaurant serving up Australian / Australian-inspired fare (yes, they have kangaroo). I can’t actually count the number of times I’ve been there. I would probably be embarrassed to know the number.

My previous office wasn’t too far away and if I timed it write, because Arossa is rightfully a very popular lunch destination, I could arrive, mildly out of breath, and squeeze onto a table just before midday.

Then, they stopped lunch service and I was very sad.

But now they’re back, and with a brand new menu offering to boot. 1600 yen gets you a starter, a choice of main (two pastas, one chicken, one pork and one steak dish) and a dessert, with your choice of tea or coffee.

This is a starter. Yes really.

The most important thing you need to know: everything that passes your lips will be brilliant. The staff are also warm, welcoming and accommodating.

For starters, starter looks like a dessert: an organic vegetable parfait comprised of carrot mouse that hides lentils, topped with consommé jelly and more veggies.

Last week, for main course, I chose their weekly tomato pasta – a delectable ragu topped with grana pedano. This week, ichibo (hipbone cut) steak from Australian beef with alshings of garlic butter and potatoes crisped to perfection.

Dessert was also smooth and well-balanced coffee blancmange topped with coffee jelly. Also sampled almond babaroa (Bavarian cream).

Dinner is around 6000 – 8000 yen, although that’s entirely dependent on how many of their Australian wines you decide to sample. I’m looking for an excuse to go, so by all means, invite me! In the meantime, I shall be a faithful regular lunchtime visitor.

Arossa Shibuya

Opening hours:
Currently subject to change. Please check their Facebook or call the store (some staff speak English): 03-3469-0125

Taka Goryokaku, Hakodate

IMG_20190425_205708.jpg

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.

IMG_20190427_145027_994.jpg

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

IMG_20190427_145027_991.jpgIMG_20190427_145027_996.jpg

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.

IMG_20190427_145027_999.jpgIMG_20190427_145028_003.jpg

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.

IMG_20190427_145028_014.jpg

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
0138-83-5777

Review: Tsuta – Michelin star ramen

img_7096

You’ve probably heard a lot about ramen – to be honest, it’s almost old news. Whereas sushi was the first morsel to whet the appetite for the fetishisation of Japanese food, ramen was surely the next.

As if to demonstrate they’re down with the cool kids that like to serve triple-cooked chips with a side of truffle oil to highlight that finer ingredients can indeed be used to exoticise the more mundane comfort foods we crave, the Michelin Star judges awarded Japanese Soba Noodles Tsuta, a tiny ramen joint in Tokyo, a Michelin star in December 2015.

As a matter of fact, Tsuta’s ramen actually does come with truffle sauce. And so it probably wins the Michelin Star Epitome Award. Continue reading “Review: Tsuta – Michelin star ramen”

Review: Blacows, Ebisu

img_20150421_135107

I got into a heated discussion this evening about burgers in Tokyo. I have yet to have one that can live up to Honest Burgers glory (see praise here, here and maybe here). Meanwhile, see Tokyo horror stories from Village Vanguard Diner and JS Burgers here.

So the challenge is on! First of all, time to clear my burger review backlog…

Blacows, Ebisu

img_20150421_134924

img_20150421_134933

This is one of the highly recommended burger places in Tokyo, always making top cut lists. Their website is full of alluring rhetoric of how much care they’ve put into everything in the burger. They don’t just put bacon in their burgers, they put bacon from “enzyme-fed Chiba Nadeshiko Pork, abundant in oelic acid which has been shown to have positive effects on beauty and health.”

Yes, they actually imply that eating their bacon will make you beautiful. I have rarely enjoyed a burger webpage so much… for the wrong reasons. This webpage didn’t invoke immediate salivation but more like grins of disbelief… Continue reading “Review: Blacows, Ebisu”

Review: Cafe 8, Roppongi – So many penises

img_6444

Have you been to the dick restaurant? is a totally legitimate question you might get asked if you’re living in Tokyo.

Cafe 8, in Roppongi, notorious foreigner playground territory, is somewhat infamous for its phallus paraphernalia, the centrepiece being an extremely large golden member. Move over, Jason, your fleece impresses me not.

The restaurant is part of a chain of  seven stores in Tokyo, serving up Chinese cuisine. It is particularly famous for the Peking duck. Which meant, when organising in a group an outing to this place, there was some confusion as to whether we were going to a “dick restaurant” or a “duck restaurant”. In this case, you can fully have your cake and it.

At least, that’s what we thought. Little did we know, the staff were going to try to take us for a ride – and not an enjoyable one at that. Continue reading “Review: Cafe 8, Roppongi – So many penises”

Review: Kaccharu Baccharu, Shin-Otsuka – the best Indian in Tokyo?

IMG_3713

I have had a lot of rubbish Indian food. Let’s not remember Moti in Roppongi.

There are a lot of places highly rated that I have found utterly underwhelming: Rasoi in Meguro and Dhaba in Kyobashi to name but two. SITAARA Aoyama was so bland and boring it was absolute joke, although they served possibly the nicest mango lassi I’ve ever had. Be thankful for small mercies.

IMG_3686

However, a friend insisted I tried Kaccharu Baccharu (カッチャルバッチャル).

“I also look at the rankings on Tabelog,” she told me. “Forget about a score of over 3.5, I always try the restaurants ranked number 1.” Continue reading “Review: Kaccharu Baccharu, Shin-Otsuka – the best Indian in Tokyo?”

Review: Brunch at Eggs ‘n Things, Ginza

20160626_114201

Before I left for Tokyo, brunching was a big thing in London. The most popular places would book out in advance – a personal favourite was the Turkish Eggs from Kopapa at Seven Dials, although they now seem to have sadly closed! Or sometimes I would sit outside the Pavillion Cafe enjoying a Full English whilst admiring the lake.

I’m pretty sure that brunching will still continue to be a big thing in London and that the UK hasn’t completely screwed itself over,  despite making possibly one of the biggest cock-ups in modern political history AKA Brexit (although do see here for concerns over food security and what the decision will mean for modern diet and health).

But through all the drama – including some epic political maneuvering and backstabbing – there is one thing that us  Brits do retain: an eccentric sense of humour.

So when faced with the imminent destruction of the political, economic and social order of our country, we can still have a good laugh.

Firstly, we can view it all as one big farce and read this excellent Buzzfeed summary of events so far (as of Monday, July 4).

Secondly, we can opt for the “oh f*ck that” attitude.

So I did.

13549110_10153723942717532_408882706_o

“Oh f*ck that,  Brexit shit, darling! I am going to brunch on a balcony in Tokyo like I’m absolutely fabulous. Darling.”

Continue reading “Review: Brunch at Eggs ‘n Things, Ginza”