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 Three


Snow and Lion at Kamakura Temple
Our morning routine was me crawl out of bed and boil water for our wake up instant Cafe 21 coffee in the room while abluting and off to breakfast then back for wash closet duties before on the bus. There were no traditional style mugs so we had to make our coffee in the Japanese Tea Cups provided. Not sure what the Cleaning People made of these dirty cups. Tried the Japanese buffet breakfast which was okay, though not something that would be first choice for starting every day. Fish and egg and tea and pickles and soy sauce. Western palates are not quite geared for so much salt and protein and lack of carbo. Well, this one isn't. Either fruits or cereal settle the system and fill the craw but grilled dry fish somehow doesn't cut it. We are what we have eaten as kids.

Wonderful harmony with nature everywhere
Today would be an away to Kamakura for lunch at a legendary beef restaurant sandwiched by temple visits. First stop was a temple with a showcase 13 meter statue of the Buddha's head which for 20 yen one could go inside. The snow was more in evidence here, making for some lovely photo shots. The air was crisp and clean and frosty and we needed our gloves today. First stop was the toilet, then a group photo in front of the Buddha and then the trip inside the statue. How to pass up the chance to get inside the Buddha's head? Paid the man in his hut and down we went only to have to ascend some stairs. And then, there we all were, inside the Buddha's head. Wow….  And you know what? It was empty. No brain, just air. Clearly there was something very profound going on here - Buddha has no thoughts in his head save those that other people bring and attach to him. So true transcendence becomes having no thoughts to which one attaches. Got it. This is enlightenment. Detach yourself from your thoughts and trip on out to the Fifth Bardo. Om……   indeed.  Bought some Buddhas for Dragon Lady and joss sticks for Buddha. Prayed for good health and protection against misfortune for self and Lenglui. And gave thanks for the blessings of a life without imperfections. Om. Better to be stoic and grateful for what have rather than get bitter and angry and twisted for what we have not and envious of those who have more. We have life and our senses and our wits and our capacity for love and affection - give where and when we can to those who have less and need more. THIS is enlightenment. Om.

All Together Now... OMMMMMMMM
Found a store on the way back selling lovely samurai swords. I figured it might be a shade difficult to bring one back to Malaysia and trying to explain such a weapon to people at the customs, though someone said it was not impossible. Well and maybe, though it left me remaining not entirely convinced that a Samurai sword would improve my life so much to warrant a run in with the customs. Gaijin with a Samurai in KLIA - sounds like deportation to me. As it was, we bought fridge magnets and a letter opener in the shape of an eight inch samurai sword. We would brave customs with this one.

Entrance to the Kamakurayama
Back on the bus to what would prove to be a magnificent lunch at the Roast Beef Kamakurayama. Getting there involved an uphill trek along a snow covered back door pathway until it hit the main road. Presumably quite pleasant in spring and summertime, the recent blizzard had rendered it decidedly risky. We all gingerly picked our way along, not wishing to break anything and wreck the entire trip. Some were like mountain goats, hopping along like it was a walk in the park. Sometimes you just WISH something would happen to people like this, just to teach them some humility. Nothing did. They must have prayed to the Buddha for the same things.

Kamakurayama Restaurant
Arrival at the restaurant was signalled by a signboard and an arch. It was hugely pretty in the snow, and the recent warm snap had fooled some of the Apple Blossom trees to bloom early. So Lenglui got her wish for blossom. The restaurant was a wooden cabin affair with a wall of double glazed glass looking out onto the garden. Very photogenic place. 

Interior of the Restaurant
Sitting down to a glass of chilled Chablis was most pleasant and hugely welcome after two days of Sake. This one was sleek and slaking on the throat though somewhat on the oaky side but not enough to want to spit it out. It went fabulous with the Halibut Sashimi and the River Prawn. The Wasabi was a bit special, being made from locally grown horesradish and blended with the river water. It gave a lively fire on the sides and the tip of the tongue, naturally necessitating repeat dousings with the Chablis (which would prove to stay well in the glass through the lunch).

The amazing Scallop in Jus and the equally amazing Shrimp
Carving the Roast
The Scallop in jus was firm and fresh, and the crusty bread proved the perfect sop for the scallop jus. We had seconds of the jus just to suck it up with the bread. The bread had come with olive oil and in the interests of fusing tastes we tried some of the wasabi with the oil and bread. Didn't really work. 

The slice of roast wagyu beef was superb. Rare, tender, supple, and just disappearing like a breath in the mouth. Having the wasabi in the butter on the paired potato was a spritzy pleasant surprise blitz on the tongue. It was being matched with a 2008 Chateau De Sales Pomerol which was a nicely balanced easy drinker with good fruit and smooth even tannins. A great match and, as said, hugely welcomed by all after two days of Sake and Sashimi. The selection of desserts looked tasty, with the cheesecake proving the favourite. I liked the dark chocolate infused with some booze. The Green Tea cake was somewhat bitter though with good texture. 

O Beautiful...
It was a cracker of a lunch. Some had been rendered speechless by the food and some said it was the best meal of the entire trip for them. Well and hmmm….  whilst part of me does find it difficult to argue against them, I think one should remember that there is always a context. It was indeed a brilliant meal with very well matched and tasty wines in a magnificent setting with great people and excellent service. In this, though, we all remain products of our raising and most of us on the table would have a default soul food requiring texture, protein and wine. So perhaps naturally we would think that this meal would be a standout amongst all the sashimi and miso because partly we would instinctively want it to be so and our hunger for meat and wine was reinforcing that view. Personal default bias in a contrasted food perspective can sometimes heighten the senses, perhaps to the level of over compensation for tolerance of the inidigenous cuisine. In contrast, it might have been as simple as some people just needing to vent a reaction against the avalanche of sashimi and sake. So it goes. For me, you'd need to compare the lunch to Roast Wagyu Beef you'd get back home, but even here comparisons would pale. The ambience, the beef quality, the EVERYTHING is different. Notwithstanding, on this level and against Wagyu Beef experienced at home, the Kamakurayama was superb, and it was indeed a wonderful change not to have sake with a meal. Definitely recommended if Kamakura is on a travel schedule. Whether it was the best of the trip to date, I could not say. It would be trying to compare proverbial apples with oranges. The Tan Etsu the previous evening was a stunner. Also, the dinner for this night was yet to come. And what a Brahma THAT would turn out to be.

Vanessa and Tony-san
Lunch : Kamakurayama 昼食:鎌倉山 
Tel 0467 31 5454


Roast Beef of Wagyu (Japanese beef)

Green Salad


デザート & コーヒー 
Dessert & Coffee

Wine (White) 
シャブリ  750ml 
Chablis (Louis Latour) 750ml

Wine (Red) シャサーニュ・モンラッシェ 750ml 
Chassagne Montrachet (Louis Latour) 750ml

Reiko-san telling us about something
We had to either walk back along the rickety snow covered path or take a more roadside route back to pick up the bus. We all chose the roadside which took us about thirty minutes. Back on the bus and on for a brief stop in Kamakura town and the main Shinto shrine. I had to leap off the bus early due to a dire need to pee since the bus was taking an absolute age to get where it needed to. This was due to an insane number of pedestrian traffic lights along the main road. We forget that the cold weather impacts the bladder. Reiko rushed me toward the bathroom. There is no bliss quite like the release of pee after a period of holding it in. The bliss of a long contained piss. And there seemed to be a lot of it. I guess the combo of cold and amount of liquid consumed at lunch. And I did take a pee just before we left the restaurant! Annoying and embarrassing. Not going to get caught like that again. 

Japanese Bride. And wannabee. 
Headed back to find Lenglui and guided her to the toilet. I took the opportunity to go again, just to make sure I was empty. After this, we climbed the steps to the Tsurugaoka Hachiman Shrine to offer prayers and take photos and then head on back to the bus. Great photo ops here. Traditional kimono clad ladies in abundance and the view from the Shrine is pretty. Saw a Japanese bride in a cart being pulled by a man, possibly the groom. On one level it offered a symbol of their lives to come - for her, a life of being served, for him a married life of servitude. Reiko-san had handed out maps of the town and shops but there didn't seem enough time to do any serious shopping so we just waited and chit chatted, which was pleasant enough. We were required to walk back through the park to get to where the bus was parked which was also pleasant. It was good to walk in cool chill air through trees and greenery and park. We don't get the chance to do it here in Malaysia - too darn hot and sweaty unpleasant. 

View from the Hachiman Shrine
The Tuna Head
Back to the hotel to freshen and change and off to Roppongi again for what would be an amazing dinner with the members of the IWFS Roppongi. I think the name of the place is RISENAN. At least this is what our Roppongi hosts wrote down for me, though I would have no idea how to return. It is a small eaterie in yet another backstreet off the main drag, and it seemed that our host pays a visit here at least twice a week to eat.  We had got off the bus and trooped around a corner to a place which looked like a Hawker shack from the outside. Inside was pretty spartan and rustic with little more than two long tables and chairs with a separate table on which was parked the booze. But it was what was on the tables which took the breath away - in the middle of each table was this massive Tuna head. At first we thought it was a decoration, similar to the plastic plates one often sees in the Sushi bars. But our hosts quickly reassured us that we would be eating it! I think some of the group were a bit put off at the thought, but the rest of us were pretty much licking our chops. We later found out that Tony-san had never before eaten the Tuna head, so that this was a first for him. Kitchen wise, we think it had been braised in an oven and drenched with soy sauce. Whatever, none of us had ever seen anything like this one. 

IWFS Roppongi President Tanaka-san. And Head.
There were also some Hairy Crabs on plates on the tables. We were all chugging on the beers whilst the speeches of welcome and friendship were made and then it was chow down and get cracking on the crabs. Which were delightful, all cold white sweet and salt meat. During this crabfest the Chef came out from the kitchen to break down the Tuna heads, ripping its mouth apart like some hero scene from a horror movie. Chef himself looked like a Ronin warrior with scaggy beard and white towel around his head but, boy, he could cook. The tuna heads got demolished with the malty wheat beer and the sake and potato hooch came out for the rest. The Sashimi was some of the best I have ever had. The Sailfish and the Tuna were wonderful but the scallop was out of this world. Fresh, lean, melted on contact leaving texture and taste all over the mouth and tongue. Never had this type of experience with scallop before. Complete and total enlightenment in a shellfish. Om. 

Chef cooking the Abalone
Next out were the Abalone. Normally we see these swimming in some gunky sauce in a Chinese restaurant where all the friends around the table are slobbering with expectant delight. This continues to bypass me and Abalone is something I thankfully pass on to those who seem to appreciate it better. But tonight's offerings were straight out of the shell and on to the charcoal grill before being sliced and served. Again, enlightenment. Now I understand a bit better the texture of the thing - firm, good bite and crunchy chew, with a kind of sea oil that zaps the teeth and tongue tip. Though my notes say it smelt like poop. There you go. Crunchy seafood - new experience. Lenglui asked for the shells to take home. She got them but eventually passed them to friend Ria who was too scared to ask for some. Fair play to Lenglui, she is fearless like that.

Riseman Sashimi
The wagyu beef was stellar brilliant - thinly sliced and grilled over charcoal pots on the tables, chef would smear them with salt and butter and add a dab of wasabe before serving. Absolutely stunning taste, unbelievably tender and sweet with its hint of wood from the fire. Wow Wow Wow Wow Wow. 

IWFS KL meets IWFS Roppongi. And eats. And drinks.
The rest of the night is lost to haze and sake (my final note of which says it was crisp with a lovely clean bite). There was a big sing song on the bus back to the hotel, at which PR offered nightcaps in his room. Always difficult to say no when others have said yes so there we trooped. I brought out the laptop with karaoke songs. He broke out the sake and whiskey. Yes. Not a good sleep that night.

Jagjit, Paul, John and Geeta, all well merry

No menu

Lenglui with Apple Blossom

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