Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Monday, March 31, 2014

IWFS Tokyo February 2014 Day Four

Sashimi at the Sushizanmai Honten
Morning was a 6.30 wake up for a 7.30am away to the Tsukiji Fish market for sashimi and sushi breakfast with sake and green tea. It was a blazingly brilliant sunny morning, just the absolute perfect one for a hangover, and definitely getting warmer. Quite fuzzy on the bus. Had to break out the sunglasses for the ride to breakfast. The bus got parked in a temple style area with masses of space. We staggered across a road and were suddenly in the market and in the Sushizanmai Honten restaurant for our breakfast. A very unassuming place from the outside, the restaurant is legend for its fresh Sashimi. If you see the occasional news reports, it is traditionally the one that pays the record amounts for the big fish. It was on two levels, we were shuttled upstairs presumably because of our numbers. The locals were swallowing their sashimi at the downstairs bar. I was clearly too fuzzy to make notes about the breakfast, but the photos reminded that the Sashimi was indeed amazing - fresh, lean, clean and wonderful. Having sake first thing in the morning was a new experience but it did help drive some of the cobwebs away. Beer was also ordered by some but the wheat tea refills did wonders for me. 
Waking up with Tea and Sake

Breakfast : Sushizanmai Honten 朝食:寿司ざんまい 本店 
Date: 21st, February 2014

特選寿司ざんまい 刺身 / にぎりセット(おまかせ 6
Tokusen Sushizanmai Sashimi / Nigiri Set
(6 kinds of Nigiri)

Yorokobi *Original Sake of Sushizanmai

Buying Chopsticks and Scallops
Then off for a wander around the market, where we bought some raw horseradish and large chopsticks for Sifu and Duchess back home. The market is a warren of food and kitchenware stalls, and every now and then guys on motorcarts with styrofoam boxes full of fresh fish would barge their way through the narrow tracks. We got some scallops and dried shrimp and more chopsticks, figuring they would find homes back in Malaysia and they were way less expensive than the crazy prices available at the Taka. Saw Jan and Barry drinking coffee in a coffee stall which looked a fantastic idea so we joined them. He repaid us the coffee we got for him on first morning at Rainbow Bridge when he had little cash. Very nice, especially being able to use the WC in the cafe at the back. Bumped into John Dixon looking for the actual fish market where all the auctioning and buying of the fish went on. We figured it was further behind in the market and a bit more than we were prepared to walk (he did eventually find it). Had we been more awake, we could have followed the little motorcarts that were bringing fish to the stalls back to where they coming from. But fuzzy is as fuzzy does and we stayed with the coffee and chopsticks. Good visit, enjoyed this. 

Buying the Beef
Next up was more shopping in an area called Ameyoko. This is located in the North side and near the Ueno Tube station. This was where our guide suggested we buy our beef. The big stuff of legend was at a department store called the Matsuzukaya and retailing at Y4800 per 100g (about RM180) and Y2000 (RM70) per 100g whereas the Food Street market around the corner was Y1000 (about RM40). Nakamura-san kindly took us to the Matzusukaya to look at the good stuff. And it did indeed look good. The marbling was magnificent. In the end, we decided to opt for the open air market. We are not that expert in Wagyu and perhaps there was too much marble in the good stuff for our taste. So we trooped off to the market where Nakamura-san took us to his favourite beef place. He helped tremendously in the negotiations and sale and we bought up some frozen Wagyu rump steaks, some beef cubes for stew and Karubi cuts for the fridge back home. It all got packed in polystyrene and Nakamura took it back to the hotel for storage in their freezer. We would later unpack it and wrap in all in newspaper and in the suitcase before we took the Airport Limousine bus for the flight home. Polystyrene boxes attract attention which is better avoided. 

Whilst buying the beef, I found a nearby stall selling some Yow Char Kwai on special and bought some for sharing with Nakamura and Jaya and Geeta who had joined us at the butcher. They also bought steaks and lamb. 

Entrance to Imahan
We wandered up and down the food streets before returning to the Matzusukaya department store for a looksee and a pee before heading back to the bus. The store is quite pleasant, though was undergoing some renovation which made navigation a bit awkward. Without our guide we would easily have got lost. On the way back we stopped for a coffee at one of the ubiquitous Lawson shops which seem to dot every other street across Tokyo. The coffee was terrible. Thin and watery. It was supposed to be Gourmet; more like Gourblimey. 

Back on the bus and off to lunch which was to be at the Imahan in Asakusa and would prove lovely. The entrance was through a cobble stone pathway and we were invited up a few steps (after kicking off the shoes) to a large room with two tables and frosted windows. Total isolation. Service was from Geisha clad mature ladies and was unobtrusive and excellent throughout lunch. Lovely setting and ambience, though the choice of music was a bit strange - Toto's "Africa" followed by Louis Armstrong with "Wonderful World".  Most pleasant though not exactly what one might expect in a Japanese restaurant.  

Getting served by Imahan Geisha
The beef was cooked in Soy Sauce sukiyaki style in a clay pot on a burner and dipped in raw egg before being chewed through. Total delight, with the excellent beef getting a coat of the whipped up eggy gunk. Choice of beer or sake to accompany, we chose beer starter with sake and green tea to follow. The sake was light and fine, almost wine like. Easy and fruity with good body.

Accompanying the beef were leek, glass noodles, enoki mushrooms and some green leaves which looked like dandelion. All got cooked in the Soy sauce which gave the salt yet still let the great tastes and textures of the ingredients come through. The pot got refilled throughout lunch with Soy Soup and the bits got added as and when needed. Rice and Miso soup with chives and cabbage also came out, though the soup was a bit thin and watery. Someone quipped that the soup was like "kissing your sister." 

Bachan gets his first lesson in being Geisha
Lunch : Ningyo-cho Imahan 昼食:人形町 今半 
Tel 03 3841 2690
Date: 21st, February 2014

Suki Yaki


Miso Soup

Japanese Pickles


竹鶴 純米
Taketsuru Sake

IWFS Kuala Lumpur at the Senso-ji Shrine
The Nakamise
The Imahan is in the Asakusa Kannon area which contains the Senso-ji, an ancient Buddhist temple and once a great pilgrimage location. The site is an entire complex of shrines and temples though perhaps its main attraction is now a shopping strip along the temple's main thoroughfare called the Nakamise. The Nakamise was totally charming with its fake apple blossom strung along the stalls and their tinkling strips of bells. We had been blessed with an afternoon of brilliant sunshine and the shopwalk was bustling with tourists and locals alike. The stall offerings seemed a bit expensive and Lenglui, though on the look for bits for her Japanese Dance Classes back in KL, declined to buy. We found the WC, did our necessaries, and I went off to take a few more photos. The complex is bustling and the main temple like a rugby scrum with people jockeying to get close to the gold gods. I lit a candle for my mum and dad and a photo op of the smoky fire grate offerings delayed me by five minutes. They appeared frantic in looking for me, already in the process of sending out search parties. My ear got well bent. Needlessly as it would turn out since our bus was ten minutes away and required a brisk stroll to meet it. 

View from the Shrine
Back on the bus for our last touristy trip which would be to the Sky Tree. This was a telecom tower with observation deck about 400m in the air. It was impressively well organised, with the history of the building and its erection being graphically illustrated via wall exhibitions. There are about six elevators taking people up and down in well ordered groups. We did the trip in about 50 seconds at 600m a minute. No ear pop. On a clear day you could apparently see Mount Fuji. It would have to be a very VERY clear day to see much beyond the city smog and haze, and one would best go at midday or in the morning since the setting sun was blinding in its intensity. Indeed, the original schedule showed that we were supposed to have done the Sky Tree in the morning. Perhaps our need for beef and shopping caused this changeover. 

View from the Sky Tree
The view in the tower's shadow was quite impressive in the sunshine of the afternoon, but frankly quite missable. Just a mosaic of building and brick with a motorway in the distance. Not really worth the bother for me and time might be better spent elsewhere, though its popularity was clear with families and kids. It was impressively well organised, with museum and history of the building and its erection being graphically illustrated via wall exhibitions. A roaring trade was being done with photographs of couples and groups against the backdrop. And there were hundreds more coming up and down non stop in the lifts. At Y600 a pop, it will pay for itself quite quickly. Great for families, a bit meh for us foodies. 

IWFS Council Chair Yvonne Wallis and 
IWFS Roppongi PresidentTanaka-San
Back on the bus to the hotel to get togged up for the official launch dinner of the IWFS Roppongi. It was to be a suit and tie and medallions affair at a place called the No Bird, a swish looking jazz bar and restaurant in Ginza. A long thin room with a stage at one end and a bar at the other with tables spread in between. Dark wood and glass gave a chic New York ambience on the place. Cool and laid back. Most folks were already there when we arrived at about 6.45pm with some familiar IWFS faces from around the world. Expecting a Japanese cuisine style dinner we were pleasantly shocked when the menu suggested Italian. Another surprise was that we would be having wine made from Japanese vines grown on the islands. Never knew it existed. And very pleasant it would turn out to be. 

Dr Rajan of IWFS KL presents Pewter plate to
The IWFS Roppongi launch dinner at the No Bird Jazz Cafe started off with some good crispy bubbles courtesy of Louis Roederer. I guess we were the last to arrive since we got quickly seated and dinner got called to order, with IWFS Roppongi President Tanaka-san giving his welcome address before inviting IWFS Council of Management Chair Yvonne Wallis to also say a few words. The No Bird manager was also called to speak and we got the story of why it was No Bird - it was something to do with not having Charlie Parker around any more. I think. The manager was speaking in Japanese and getting translated so maybe it lost something on the way through. Or more probably I was a bit tired. 

IWFS Kuala Lumpur President Rajan was invited to speak and presented IWFS Roppongi President Tanaka-san with a Royal Selangor pewter plate to commemorate the launch of the new chapter. Past President Tony Narisawa was to be the sponsor of the Roppongi branch and so ties between the two chapters were sought to be tied in a somewhat more tighter bind than might exist between other branches. 

IWFS Kuala Lumpur with the Heritage 2011. Yum.
As said, we were told we would be having wines made in Japan from Japanese grapes. Quite a revelation to learn that there is grape wine in Japan whilst later research found that there has been for quite some time. First out was a Special Reserve Chardonnay from the Grace Winery in Katsunuma in the Yamamachi Prefecture. This is a family owned winery established in 1923 and now being run by fourth and fifth generation successors. The name "Grace" comes from the Three Graces and seeks to produce wines that are "eco-friendly, with a natural, gallant and quietly elegant taste." The grapes came from the Misawa Estate Vineyards in Aekno-cho with parcels being fermented separately before blending in oak. 

Ian Weston, Yvonne Wallis and Tony Narisawa
"On the nose, freshness, citrus fruit of lemon, and pear, soft oak nuances reminiscent of green tea rolls.On swirling, fruit aromas of freshly grated green and golden delicious apples, refreshing herbs of mint and lemon grass and at the back, chili spiciness, with a hint of saltiness. Balanced acidity was definitely leading on the palate. Transparent and clean mid-palate, no-frill, with a yellow fruit core. From mid to finish, oak nuances wrapping around the body, showing softness.Finish is soft, and on the overall, fresh and gentle." (Tasting note according to Naohisa Itou, Nov 16, 2012)

We got a wonderful burgundy feel, possibly a shade oaky but a good full mouth and crunchy finish. Crispy apples, firm and robust on the palate. I have no notes on the ham, though I recall it all got finished. Rarely is ham left on a plate.

James Lin from IWFS Taiwan with Mr and Mrs Tatsuji Echle from IWFS Tokyo Bay
The antipasto came across like a blended and repacked sashimi with a resulting texture that was as light as a white crane feather in the mouth and set off by the lemon zing. On one level, one might have preferred to have had the tuna raw and untouched. As it was, the processing gave it air and made for a total revelation. Toro belly tartare - outstanding.

The first red wine was the Heritage 2011. This had a Pinot ish feel to it with very light pepper and cherry on the tongue. A light and fragrant texture with great balance and power. Nice and lean with good structure, bordering on austere yet retaining enough suppleness to remain friendly. Ranks with some of the decent burgundies I have tasted, though whether it competes with the Premier Crus must be left to those with wider tasting experience. Can't seem to find any detail on the web about this one. Write to Roppongi friends and get the name.

Matched with the spaghetti was… okay. Dusted with a very light grated cheddar it was light and crunchy with fresh tomato and a hint of pepper, which when compounded by the pepper zip in the wine resulted in the tongue getting a bit, er, peppered. We hear that there are some tremendous Italian restaurants in Tokyo. This was fine enough, simple and light. None remained on the plates around me. 

Next wine was the Chateau Mercian Special Reserve, a Merlot from the Nagano Prefecture and apparently Japan's finest Merlot since 1971. Chateau Mercian boasts a host of awards at various competitions around the world and claims to be the first Japanese wine to be featured in Wine Spectator. Well, and okay. I think maybe I missed something with the Merlot on offer. I found it tending toward the bitter and quite stalky and not a lot of fruit. Stiff and a bit grim, with a lot of firm grip and a shade too close to committing infanticide as the Kiwi would say. Not a wine that felt as friendly as its predecessors. Also didn't get a sense that this would be a keeper, since the fruit tannin balance felt way in favour of tannin already and not much fruit to support it through the years.  

The Duck
The duck was excellent. Firm and full in the mouth with a good firm bite. Our Sifu might have found it a bit "ducky" since it did have a slight tinge of too long on the chopping board but the Balsamic took the edge right off. Those of us who had saved some of the first red were well rewarded since it made for a brilliant match. 

The Dolce was a bit on the firm side, like a sweet iced milk lolly we used to get as kids but more creamy and with a lighter bite that didn't freeze your eyes when you bit into it. The strawberry sauce went nicely, giving a good cold zing on the back teeth. The sprinkle of sugar sweetened the tongue to give a not too sweet cold milky cream finish with the coffee and tea. 

Megumi Yamazaki and Saya Takahashi from IWFS Roppongi
A Jazz Band was keeping us a shade too loudly entertained through the night and Takagi-san suggested I give a song. And so it was that Mack The IWFS Knife got sung by a short fat middle aged Welshman before the gathered clans of the IWFS. Changing the words to call out the personalities of the IWFS Board and characters clearly went down well. Very kindly, everyone applauded, and I think I got a return gig at the upcoming beanos in Taiwan and Melbourne. It was great to meet with new foodie and wino friends from across the globe. This IWFS is a whole lot of fun. 

Paul and Ria Thomas with Tanaka-san
Things closed up and dinner was over by 10.30 since many needed to get back and pack for a 5.30am wake up for 6.30am off to the airport for their 10am flight. We had booked the night flight so had an extra day to relax and shop. Into bed for a decent sleep. Less booze is always good for sleeping.  

Jagjit and Bachan with Tanaka-san

Grissini Torinese e Culatello di zibello con mostarda di mele della casa
Traditional Grissini (breadsticks) from Torino and Ham from Zibello served with homemade Apple Chutney

Bresaola di tonno alle erbe aromatiche
Bresaola (air-dried salted) of Tuna in Favigna style, serve with herb, botargo and lemon

Spaghettini alla Campidanese
Spaghettini with homemade Sausage and Tomato sauce in Campidano style

Anatra cotta a 50 gradi per 12 ore con salsa all'aceto balsamico ristretto
Breast of Duck roasted for 12 hours at 50 degrees served with condensed Balsamic acid

Crema catalane con salsa di fragola
Catalan Cream with a hint of Orange, served with Strawberry sauce

Tanaka-san, Taiwan Eddie and Mack the Knife

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