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 Five

Feeling a need for carbo, and seeing the other restaurant had its usual long queue, we had a Western breakfast before checking out of the Keio Plaza and leaving the bags at the left luggage. We had some shoes and clothes and a stolen blanket that we we originally going to bin, but I suggested that maybe we give it to the homeless people outside the Shinjuku station. There were a number of people there, but two old pitiful guys stood out. One was dazed, the other was asleep. We gave one bag to each. The dazed one just grabbed onto it and pulled it to his chest; the one who was sleeping, we left it behind him. When we walked back about five hours later I noticed the bag was still there. Guess he didn't know it was meant for him. At the same time, no one else had taken it. Pride? Or some sense of honesty among the homeless? Not sure.

Katsukura Tonkatsu Restaurant
Before we checked out, we had snagged a map from Paul as to where lunch would be. He had scored it from Reiko. It was the Katsukura, a Tonkatsu place on the 14th floor of the Takashimaya. Reiko had written on it as to what it was (which was just as well since it was all in Japanese and pretty useless to us Gaijin otherwise). Same with a map with directions to a ramen noodle place, which we never got around to visiting. But there you go. Another piece of paper to save as a memory. 

Paul and Ria at the Katsukura
We decided to go straight and first have lunch at Katsukura (as did friends Paul and Ria) and then spend our remaining Yen in the food section. Which we did. We also had coffee and cake at a sit up and beg style bar in the Taka food store, which was a good rest spot. We then proceeded to buy up a hunk of Wagyu beef offered at special discount and some parma ham and salami at the Peck outlet. Peck is a Milan legend for fine food of a pork persuasion and we always buy if we are there. We could not pass up the chance to stock up. There is so much ceremony in the transaction process here. Buying the beef was a bit of an arduous three act play requiring the service of a translator (who incidentally was from Pahang Malaysia doing a Masters in Japan and doing part time work to learn the language and who said he had earlier been helpful with friends Ria and Paul). The Japanese seem to like to make an occasion about what we would consider simple procedures. My feeling is that they are very scared of making a mistake and don't want to be called up about it. Fair enough. Buying the ham was more of a bowing match, littered with pronouncements (in Japanese) of presumably what we wanted, confirmation of what we had bought, how much it was, how much we were giving Mr Peck, how much change we were getting back and thank you very much. Bit arduous for guys who are used to fast action buying but cute nonetheless. 

Lengjai and Lenglui. And Tonkatsu. Yum.
View from the Sky Bar
Headed back to hotel with an hour to spare so went to the Sky Bar for a final drink. Lenglui had sparkling wine with cake and I had a Guinness. Very pleasant overlooking the Tokyo skyline. We had the shadow side, the other side of the Bar had the sunset which was a bit fierce on the eyes. 

Throughout our time in Tokyo, Lenglui had loved the heated toilet seats everywhere and the automatic raising and flushing. Seems you open the door and the seat raises, but we couldn't check if the seat lowered when the door closed on exit. Lenglui tried to fool the seat in the Taka toilet by closing while she was still in there, but the toilet wouldn't have it. Smart toilet seats. Yes.

Back down to retrieve the bags and pack the meat. Bit of a wait and watching some SIA flight crew getting herded onto their bus. Their luggage was large and expensive - nice top of the range suitcases. Our Bus limo to Narita airport took nearly two hours, the first of which was just getting out of Tokyo city. A more direct link via high speed train would be a winner. Apparently, it can be done on the transit which involves a change of train, and is hugely cheaper - the airport bus limo is Y3,000 whereas Transit is Y1,100. But with multiple bags the bus becomes necessary - humping bags from one platform to another is no joke. Presumably there is a reason why there is no direct link from Shinjuku, but it would be a tremendous improvement compared to the two hours on the bus. 

Another view from the Sky Bar
Got stopped by security before entering the airport to check passports and then straight to check in. Paul and Ria thoughtfully blagged the assistant and got us checked us in through their business class counter. As a result, we forgot to check where our seats were and ended up in the middle of the centre aisle. We normally prefer the aisle seat so we can pee without disturbing. But MAS now charge to reserve seats. We forgot to check at check in. Nyaaaaahhhhhhh. 

Ate a ham and cheese roll and shared some beers with Lenglui bought at the airport store for final Yen clearout before boarding. It was a very full flight. Got seated and settled in. It would prove to be probably one of the worst flights I have experienced.  Context - the flight is a seven hour trip, taking off at 9.40pm and scheduled to land at 4am in Kuala Lumpur. We have a supper at 10.40pm. Those who are able to, sleep. Sleep is necessary, since our biorhythms are out of whack to begin with. Yet Cabin crew insist on waking everyone up to feed us at 2am in the morning, two hours ahead of landing. In this, they equally insist on getting people to upright their seats so that those behind can eat in comfort. The food in question was a manky egg sandwich with a cup of cold tea. No utensils were involved. Now, where cutlery and hot food or drink is involved then I can see a point in uprighting seats. But to wake people up at 2am to feed them on a seven hour flight when most people would prefer to sleep (assuming they can sleep on an airplane) AND to upright their seats when no cutlery and no hot drinks appeared to be involved was ludicrous and inane in the extreme. It showed a stunning lack of judgement on the part of MAS Cabin crew (or presumably MAS Management - cabin crew will only do what they are told by senior management and are probably left little discretion to think for themselves). Putting food above a decent sleep and insisting seats be upright just to eat a sandwich I feel is dumb and made for a truly bad customer experience. Very angry at the stewardess for waking up the Lenglui. I will look not fly short haul MAS again. Bad food and service like this with no option not to eat is something I find unacceptable. 

Arrrived at KLIA at 4.15am, easy get through Immigration and baggage. Got whacked by the midnight surcharge for the Airport limo, paying RM175 to get home. Upside was it only took forty minutes on the early morning roads. Got home, unloaded the meat into the fridge and slept the morning off. A wonderful trip but as always, so nice to get back home in your own bed and in front of a TV that speaks your language. A hearty Three Cheers to Tony-san for organising a brilliant trip and our grateful thanks for letting us see and taste Tokyo in such excellent company and in such amazing eateries. Arigato Gozaimas IWFS and Tokyo!!

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

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

Sunday, March 30, 2014

IWFS Tokyo February 2014 Day Two


The Hotel gave us a choice of breakfasts at three different restaurants on Level Two in the tower. For our first Tokyo breakfast we opted for Western, not feeling quite ready for a full on Japanese style early morning shock. It wasn't bad. Fruits and bread with jam and coffee were good starts to the day, though the egg looked a bit suspect. Back to the room to perform ablutions and meet at lobby for a brisk and chilly morning walk to Takashimaya Department store. This was located past the Shinjuku station and under the main road. We passed a few homeless on the route that took us past the  underground and under the main road who had built makeshift rooms there from cardboard. They looked very weather beaten and hardened and resigned, but tough as hob nailed boots. And not in search of handouts, though neither refusing any that might go their way. Didn't see any of the Tokyo-ites giving anything to them. 

Lenglui with decoration at Keio Plaza

Our entrance to the Taka was by the Balenciaga which proved a useful landmark meeting point and we all wandered the store for an hour or so. I lost Lenglui quite early in the store and just went for a floor by floor wander. The food floor is amazing. One half has nothing but cakes and sugar based sweet things with chocolate and fruit, all looking like works of art. Diabetic nightmare. Mid section is a Fouchon Patisserie and a Peck Deli and lots of Japanese fresh food for takeaway whilst the final one is fresh meats and veg and condiments. Lots of people and lots of noise. Bought some dessert vinegar in the food section after a full taste and it being on special offer. The Yuzu dessert vinegar was like Limoncello with less sugar and an acetic zing. Maybe better for us diabetics - get the taste and a vinegar kick to settle the stomach. Saw what looked like a homeless lady snacking on some of the cooked meat and dessert vinegar freebies on display. Survivors, and quite enterprising in this regard. We all need to keep out the cold. 

Lenglui with new friend at Soba Daian
The stores seem to like to give out vouchers that entitle the holder to something or other. As foreigners, Taka gave us each a booklet with coupons giving 5% off purchass of 3,000 Yen. Couldn't use it for the food, but at least it was in English. Others I received with much ceremony in Japanese from the giver were not so translated. I sometimes wonder what these store assistants explaining in fluent Japanese the benefits of the voucher to someone who clearly hasn't got a clue what they are saying must be thinking. This is what their bosses tell them to do, and presumably the only thing they are thinking is that they must be seen to be obedient and perfect in their execution of the instruction because nothing less than obedience and perfect compliance can be tolerated. It is just totally useless and wasted on us gaijin. I left my collection in the excellent Taka toilet, one of the cleanest I have ever come across. Maybe someone else can benefit from the freebies.

Taka also gives tax back for the tourists. Quite painless and in cash. In various languages. Faaaan tastic. Lenglui was very happy. 

I got back to the meeting point early and went off in search of a 7-11 to buy some batteries for the camera. There was a Handy Mart or Family Store or something round the corner which did the trick. I picked up a couple of two packs, figuring this would do for the remaining time. It would, but only just. The store was pretty much a 7-11 competitor and full of the snacky things and handy bits that they are perfect for. Seemed to be a predominance of electrickery and techy style bits which was fun. Lots of data storage chips and fast food. 
Ramen Noodles at the Soba Daian

Peter, Jagjit and Bachan
Lunch was Ramen noodles at a small eatery called the Soba Daian located a ten minute walk from the Takashimaya on the other side of the station. Look for the Starbucks and head upstairs. Cute and cosy, we were sat six, seven and four respectively and looked forward to more beer and sake. Which we got. Daian is apparently legend when it comes to Ramen. The Daian noodles come from 100% domestically grown soba which is coarsely ground with a millstone and then hand-kneaded and handmade. Daian places great emphasis on preserving the soba’s original fresh flavor and so added ingredients are kept to a minimum. I think we all had the Chef's Special Course for lunch, which included Assorted Appetizers, Assorted Raw Fish "SASHIMI", Charcoal Grilled Dishes, Hot Dishes, Salad, Deep-Fried Dishes, choice of Favorite Handmade Soba Noodle, and Dessert. The barley tea was interesting - wholesome and warming with a slightly woody taste. The noodles were very wheatey and almost bran like, wholesome and firm. We got our first taste of fresh wasabi too - we had to grate it and then add it to the soy sauce. Good soul warming stuff, perfect for the weather and not too heavy. Food was fresh and everyone seemed happy. Me especially - I was now able to take photos again!

John, Geeta and Tony-san
Soba Daian
Tel 03 3352 5113

Back on the bus and across Tokyo to the Edo Tokyo museum which was very instructive on the city's development. On the way we passed the controversial Yasukuni Shrine. It is here where some Japanese convicted as WW2 war criminals have been enshrined and when all the Japanese VVIPs go to pay homage to the "honoured" dead, those nations who suffered at the hands of these people get naturally upset. The upset seems to be caused by present leaders paying homage and not appearing apologetic for past actions. Whether a formal apology would work now is far from clear, though some sources (ie Wikipedia) seems to suggest that the mindset is set against since it is not absolutely proven that the individuals were in fact criminals. Hmmmm….  Whatever, Yasukuni remains a sore that continues to fester and a rod with which China, South Korea and Taiwan can rail at its offshore neighbour. Seems there really is something that Mainland China and Taiwan can agree upon. 

Guardian at the Gate of the Edo Bridge
The Edo-Tokyo Museum is a brilliant exhibition of life and artefacts during the growth of Tokyo, replete with town models and replicas of bridges and kabuki theaters. It is the museum where visitors come to learn more about Tokyo’s history and culture. Established in 1993 as a facility to preserve the historical heritage of Edo-Tokyo, the exhibition is divided into three zones - the Edo Zone, the Tokyo Zone and the Second Event Exhibition. Its main features are the life-size replica of the Nihonbashi Bridge leading into Edo; the Nakamuraza theatre; and scale models of towns and buildings from the Edo, Meiji and Shōwa periods.

The museum is located in Ryōgoku adjacent to the Ryōgoku Kokugikan. Open 9.30 to 5.30pm (7.30pm Saturdays, closed on Mondays), admission fee gets you free audio guides, wheelchairs, and baby carriages as necessary. It was a bit of a walk to see everything, so some took the free wheelchair to stop the knees getting too stiff.

I'm Si---inging in the Rain...
At the beginning of the Edo Zone on the 6th floor is a startling replica of the Nihonbashi Bridge which you have to cross to begin the tour.  Once across the bridge, you get an introduction to the politics of the Edo Era through brilliantly detailed scale models of the growing city. As you descend to the 5th floor, you then get displays and models and reconstructions portraying the lifestyles, economic activities, and the culture of the Edo Era. There are some superb exhibits of business papers and craftsmen tools that have been collected and preserved. The Kabuki Theatre reconstruction and the models and costumes were stunning.

The Tokyo Zone starts at the conversion from the Edo Era to the Tokyo Era, and European and American influences that first started in the Meiji Era can be seen. This is followed by the reconstruction periods that occurred after the earthquake and WWII, again depicted through detailed models and excellently preserved treasures of the times. Downside was that it was a bit too dark for good photos with my Sony point and shoot, but it was fascinating to see how people lived through the years. Very good museum shop. 

Kabuki Theatre reconstruction
Back to the hotel for a quick rest and relax and a meet for on the bus at 6pm to drive to dinner. This was to be at the Tan Etsu Japanese Restaurant in what is known locally as the Midi Complex located in Roppongi. Arriving at the roadside, the Midi entrance looked like Christmas with trees festooned with fairy lights along the building inset. We ascended what seemed to be about six escalators before arriving at the restaurant door. Coats got divested and we were quickly seated on a long table and served with wheat beer to start the night. Another long room with seats along one wall and tables and chairs squeezed into the remaining space. 

Setting at the Tan Etsu
Dinner would prove to be a belter. After the starter beer, each table of four got presented with a bigass 1.6liter bottle of Sake with instruction that it had to be finished before we could leave. We would also get some very good Sake later from Tony-san. Om.

First out was an amazing layered and light Bean Curd. Not normally a fan of this bland rubbery stuff, this one totally worked. As said, it was layered and lighter than the Malaysian stuff we are used to. The layering gave it a firmness which helped make for a brilliant textural squeeze and bite. And when dipped in a paired milky kind of sauce with a dash of soy and wasabi to give a little kick, the result was brilliant. 

The Egg Custard that followed had a firmly sweet scallop planted within the sweet broth that had been splashed with a spritz of Yuzu. It was light, sweet, delicate and totally wonderful. If the Scallop had been day fresh instead of chewy (read: suspect frozen) the dish would have been awesome. 

Eggplant with Sweet Spice Dark Sauce - incredible
Skating Rink from the Verandah
Next out was was an Eggplant / aubergine style vegetable coated with some dark sweet sauce and a bowl of miso. It looked a bit odd but it totally worked. The sweet umami of the rich sauce and the miso with the blandish taste and melting texture of the vegetable somehow brought it together in the mouth. We had this with what the staff called Japanese Pepper (Sansho, also called Japanese Pricklyash made from the berries of a spiny bush) and Japanese Parsley (Kinome, which are the tree shoots off the berries). Together they stayed in the mouth with a clean long spritzy and tingling finish and helped set off the vegetable mush. Very tasty, squishy texture, clean spritz in the mouth. Cold sake washed it down a treat.

It was getting a bit humid in the place. Thankfully, the restaurant had a door at the back which became necessary to open to let some much needed cool air in to combat the stuffiness resulting from the heating and the bodies. Outside was quite pleasant, with a verandah from which we could see people skating on what we were told was a public ice rink. Very charming. The smokers were very happy. 

Tempura with Lime. And Beer. And Sake.
Back inside, we got a chunk of lime to squeeze on the Tempura which was new, though it didn't seem to make much of a difference. The batter was already a bit squidgy and the lime just made it more so. Though the prawn was wonderfully fresh. Verdict - okay only.

The Sashimi out next was firm and tasty though somehow not entirely magnificent. The Sailfish was nice, the Toro was good, but the Squid was a chunk of rubber. Gosh, we get fussy when we have tasted excellence, don't we? Need to remember that good is still good and we could be eating stale bread in another universe. Maintain attitudes of gratitude, always. 

Grilled Salmon
The grilled Salmon we got had a lovely burnt crispy crunch on the skin but remained a bit overcooked and dried for texture. The second less cooked piece was so much better, with nice oil softening the flesh. Good seasalt flakes of tasty fish. Yum. 

Bamboo. Shoots. And Leaves.
Next out was Bamboo Shoots with Seaweed Leaves and Stock. This was a textural thing, combining the firm crunch of the Bamboo with the slime of the seaweed. I guess it was okay. The notes say the leaves of the sea were very flavourful. Not much else.

The Fried Rice. Needed zip.
The Fried Rice looked magnificent in the kettle, all full of lobster and seafood and vegetable bits. Sadly, the taste was a bit snuzz and bland and lacking punch. Again, maybe a cultural thing and the chef thought that the rice would be appreciated. It was, but it was just that it wasn't brilliant. No one does Fried Rice like the Chinese. Should have put the Lenglui in the kitchen to fry it up - the Mei Fun she cooks up is Brahma.

Throughout the evening the service was excellent. Ali from Algeria was a brilliant host. He was half Barbar but with a USA accent. He wrote out the menu, explained the food and even got a photocopy of the menu for me (which at this time seems to have got lost). 

Sake wise, we had polished off the megabottle each table of four had been required to consume and were now on the good stuff courtesy of Tony-san. Don't have the name of it but the third one out was excellent, tasting of fire and ice. Perfect for the outdoor verandah taking in the public ice skating rink with a breath of the frosty evening air.  

Interior of Tan Etsu
In sum, excellent food, though the rice disappointed. Everything else was stellar. Recommended for food, ambience and service. Back on the bus for an uneventful and in restrospect anticlimactic return to the hotel. Would definitely return to Tan Etsu. 

Tan Etsu Japanese Restaurant
Tel 03 5413 8668

No menu at this time.

Peter and Pinky
Rajan. Stephanie and Prakash. With the Blue Bottle. Duly drunk. Yes.