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

Out Restaurant, Shibuya

August 12th. It had been a very strange day – a day worth remembering, not least because it was my 32nd birthday. It began with alcohol shopping at 7.30am, resulting in a bizarre encounter with the police, followed by organising and filming a sake cocktail competition at a sake brewery, followed by a crazy lightning storm stopping all the trains home. I didn’t think I’d bother going out for dinner by this point, but a little voice said to me that it’d be quite sad if I didn’t. 32 years old and sitting home alone would be tragic and, exhausted though I was, I just didn’t have the energy to carry my self-pity that far.

Fortunately, I have excellent friends and one had anticipated, more than myself, that I might actually want to do something. He quickly booked us dinner at Out, a restaurant he’d suggested taking me to ages ago.

The concept of Out is quirky to say the least. It’s something that perhaps could only work in Tokyo, so I was told on the night, and so I very much believe. The menu – priced at 4000 yen – consists of 150g of fresh pasta with 5g of truffle, and a glass of red wine. Guests around the counter are bathed in purple light while a record player spins Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin only.

The concept apparently came about from a dinner party involving – you guessed it – a lot of truffle pasta and a lot of wine. There was a moment when Led Zeppelin was played, and a perfect moment was born… a moment that three friends aimed to encapsulate and serve to others: Melbourne restaurateur David Mackintosh, entrepreneur Tom Crago and Tokyo based gastronomic consultant Sarah Crago,. The website describes it as ” the coming together of a shared affinity for fine food, wine and ambience. All in one mouthful” and that image truly does deserve a bit of savouring.

Once seated, I quickly realised I knew nothing about Led Zeppelin’s music – save for Whole Lotta Love and Stairway To Heaven, neither of which deigned to put in an appearance . But I didn’t care because I quickly found a glass of champagne and some cheese-stuffed shiitake in front of me. Appetite whetted, I sneakily eyed up a couple tucking into a mountain of fresh pasta. An actual mountain. It was as big as their heads – or bigger.

A few queries, and I confirmed that yes, they had upped the portion to 300g and I realised I must fo the same. Sarah, the chef, warned us that 300g of fresh pasta is equivalent to about 600g when cooked. But I was determined and before long, I was ogling my own carb mountain, shimmering with melted butter. I began my hike and immediately realised this was more than a flavour stroll but a texture adventure: with just fresh fettuccine, truffle, butter and a dusting of parmesan, the dish is simply, relying on the slatiness, the gentle eaty umami of the truffle and the springy and tongue-teasing smoothness of the pasta. Admittedly, 150g was probably enough, not just because of the portion-size but because it did get a teeny bit repetitive. Fortunately, we took it slowly alongside our glass of red.

For the maximum experience, we ordered “Truffle Truffles” – yes, those are truffle chocolate truffles – with truffle ice-cream and a roasted almond flavour, which was like pure almond butter in ice-cream form. I would like to tell you more details but I believe much wine was consumed. I’ve just referred to my notes on my phone to merely find some incomplete garbled sentences and the very helpful line: “A slot machine of adjectives spinning by.” I am sort of proud of that, and also face-palming at the same time. I best leave you to make your own conclusions.

I left with a full belly and a full smile, and promptly passed out on my friend’s sofa. I am 32 and I clearly don’t do late nights anymore.

OUT
Opening hours: Wed – Sat 18:00 – 22:00, brunch on Sundays (as of Sep. 6th, please check)

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) 

COFFEE: Bondi Coffee Sandwiches, Komababa

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I’ve cycled past this place probably at least once a week for nearly 3 years. And I hardly ever make enough time to stop – which is a shame because it’s worth it.

Bondi Coffee Sandwiches is one of five stores in Tokyo, offering a similar menu focussed around coffee, smoothies and light meals. Continue reading “COFFEE: Bondi Coffee Sandwiches, Komababa”

Review: Shibasakitei (ramen!) at Tsutsujigaoka

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Shibasakitei / 柴崎亭

If you can walk away from a ramen place and not feel heavy and bloated, you’ve possibly found a good thing. Even more so if you’ve eaten tonkatsu and tempura only 2 hours beforehand. Not that I did *cough* *splutter* Let’s move on…

Shibasakitei is a small joint to the west of Tokyo, not far from Chofu. Squeezed in alongside the Keio line tracks, this store is a couple of minutes’ walk from Tsutsujigaoka station. However, it takes its name from Shibaskitei, the next stop west where it was originally located, but moved for slightly more spacious premises.  Continue reading “Review: Shibasakitei (ramen!) at Tsutsujigaoka”

Review: Szechuan Aun, Yushima – Tantanmen

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“It’s like hanging out with a junkie. You’re already planning your next hit.”

My friend was surveying me with disbelief. I wasn’t paying him much attention though because I was bouncing on and off the pavement, and doing mini star jumps.

The cause of my happiness? Some really good noodles. What else?

As a matter of fact, I had eaten at Aun more than a year ago and had been itching to go back ever since. The anticipation – combined with the fact that I generally adore tantanmen – had elevated my mood to levels probably beyond that of normal human beings. I was also deliriously babbling about trying to go back the next day to eat more. Hence the druggie comparisons. I needed my next hit. Continue reading “Review: Szechuan Aun, Yushima – Tantanmen”

Review: Tsuta – Michelin star ramen

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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

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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

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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: Daidarabou, Takasaki / 大大坊、高崎市

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Daidarabou / 大大坊

I love adventures but sometimes I feel that I am a stranger in my flat, because I am home so infrequently. This weekend, I would’ve maybe tried to take it easy (I can hear my friends’ laughter echo as I write this….) but I had to catch a train to somewhere. Yes, had to. Let me explain… Continue reading “Review: Daidarabou, Takasaki / 大大坊、高崎市”

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

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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.

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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?”