Japan, gastronomic adventures

You need to know that one of the joys of life in Singapore is eating, the other being shopping. As a tiny island, we appear to have little in the way of other activities (not true) aside from these.

So, it should not come as a surprise that Singaporeans seek out culinary experiences while they are abroad. Sometimes they make comparisons back home. This explains partly why food blogs are so common on our little red dot.

This journalog focuses on the culinary aspects of our recent trip in February 2016.

We had started in Tokyo, parallel to shopping while poring over where to eat. It’s sometimes hard to teach an old dog new tricks – or in this case be adventurous and try something else. So we gravitated to our usual haunt for the first evening’s meal. You can say we are frequent diners there.

So the culinary adventure begins.

5th February
The flight was delayed and we had to adjust the timings for transport. But we made it, and got to the hotel in time for dinner at a decent time.
Ton Chin Kan1It was about 7pm when we got to the hotel. So, just about right for dinner. This is really like a ritual and we simply headed to our usual dining place – Ton Chin Kan.Ton Chin Kan2 It was so natural! It is still very busy and the flow of customers was fast. We ordered a tonkatsu set and a crochet set each (¥1080 and ¥980 respectively). So, this cannot count as an expensive eat. This was downed with many bowls of their daikon laced soup. We were not the only ones! Locals did it too!
Ton Chin Kan3 Ton Chin Kan4 Ton Chin Kan8
Verdict – the food remains pretty good. Soup was fantastic to drink bowl after bowl…however the rice was not as good as before – either they started using a lower grade of rice OR due to the fast turnaround of customers, the rice was not as well cooked. This place remains the top place for good food and value for money.

You know there are numerous places to eat in the small streets and alleys that you might actually be confused and be unsure where to begin! Time and again we have walked the streets telling ourselves to try one of the so many restaurants. But we have never failed to be back at this tiny restaurant. You might want to try this place too!

6th February
After such a long day we finally manage to take some lunch. It was a short drive from the hotel and it was snowing as we drove along!
Tavola lunch4Finally Suan gave up. We have been walking the whole day in the premium outlet, from the time it opened (10am) till almost 6pm. Tavola lunch3We had taken a quick lunch at the outlet, which was pricey (¥3700) for a starter set and stonefish with linguine. Does not rank high in our recommendation of places. Next time (if there ever was one), we’ll do the pizzas instead.
Fuji dinner1For dinner, we drove over to 藍屋 for our dinner. We an oyster set and duck soba. Seasonal fare is the flavor here and for winter, Oysters seem to be in many of the dishes.. The fish ball served contains fish paste of a bygone era in Singapore, where we could once taste the same. Now we could taste it here! After a long day, it was time to head back for a nice hot bath at the hotel. Our hotel has a real mineral bath and it is always busy!Fuji dinner7
Duck soba ¥1242Fuji dinner6 Fuji dinner8Oyster set ¥1933 Fuji dinner9

There in ends part one of the culinary adventure we had for this journey.

Our road trip continues on to the five lakes of Fuji where the road trip took us to fantastic views of Mount Fuji (we call him Mr Fuji) along with savory cuisine to match. Click here to read more on our road trip!

Coming back to Tokyo after the road trip we were greeted to a warm welcome by the retail outlets.

It’s close to Valentine’s day and in the following segments you will be possible enthralled with to the extent that this is taken as a serious festival, probably more so than any religious one. We dare say that this demonstration of consumerism had taken on the aura of a formal religion! Yes we know that buying confectionery doesn’t count as a culinary experience. But it’s our blog right?

In Singapore, we’d buy them and eat them, though you will have to agree with us in the following pages (I mean as you scroll down) that it will be a hard decision to eat those works of art. Let’s dive in!

10th February
Finally back in Tokyo, it’s time for the shopping and culinary experience. And we started off with a meal at Ootoya, a chain restaurant! Sigh, but Suan swears by it and it did not disappoint.
We happen to be here on the eve of a public holiday and also being close to Valentine’s day. There is some real serious celebration that takes place for this in the form of gifting. Intricate confectionery, such as those in the photos are in hot demand.Isetan Valentine confectionery shopping4 Isetan Valentine confectionery shopping3 Isetan Valentine confectionery shopping2
See the long crowd of (mostly women) queuing to buy ↓Isetan Valentine confectionery shopping1 Isetan Valentine confectionery shopping5Kinotoya cheese tart1 Ended the day buying Kinotoya cheese tarts flown in from Hokkaido. It costs ¥200 each and most buy the box of six.Kinotoya cheese tart2

We noted that the trend in Japan is for experiential living. This means that most Tokyoites savor the latest trends/fads. An example of this is the phenomena of themed cafes. We observed numerous such outlets where the queue can take hours.

We have joined queues for egg tarts and chocolate confectionery. Incredibly the level of creativity here not only keeps up but leads the masses. A truly consumerist society.

11th February
While the shopping in Shibuya did not disappoint, the eating bit was great too!
Isetan confectionery 2Yesterday was a real “nightmare” to try buying something from the department stores with the throng of people. It is a public holiday yesterday and that explains the crowds to some extent.

The ‘frenzy’ we witnessed yesterday was probably due to the gift exchange that happens between friends and possibly colleagues tomorrow.Isetan confectionery 1

But lest you think that this is only for Valentine’s, you should know that even on ‘normal’ days the product offerings are as diverse and creative as you can see in an art gallery…A morning trip to Isetan to buy the chocolates that were so hard to obtain last night…

There was less of a queue today.

Isetan confectionery 6  A short train ride away and we arrived at Shibuya where we took lunch at Suju (酢重) restaurant. This restaurant is the same in a chain across Japan, with a branch in Singapore’s Mandarin gallery. Isetan confectionery 3The emphasis being on healthy eating, the menu is not that different between its outlets in Japan and Singapore. We would rate this a 4 out of 5. Price-wise, it was ¥1990 for the set of savory sauce chicken with vegetable. While the fresh fish set was ¥1940.
Suju lunch1 Suju lunch2 Suju lunch3
 We ended our day with dinner at Midori Sohonten. Midori Sohonten dinner 1 This is one of those restaurants that is well known enough that tourists from all over join the locals in taking an electronic queue. Look at the queue!The tactic is to get the queue number and ask the attendant the estimated timing to come back. Time yourself to shop elsewhere and be back on time! Midori Sohonten dinner 2Anyway, we had our usual sets, the large one costs ¥2800 while the set (on white plate) cost ¥2500.

The waiters were probably stressed as they served us the wrong sets and had to “recall” them! Luckily we had not commenced to dip into the food…Nonetheless, we enjoyed our meal tremendously before heading back (after walking ~14km today).

Midori Sohonten dinner 5Midori Sohonten dinner 4 Midori Sohonten dinner 3 Midori Sohonten dinner 6

Sigh…the sushi and sashimi tasted so good. We liked the tuna belly very much! We found out that the grade is not necessarily an indication of quality, but one referring to the amount of fat lined in the flesh. And as you will no doubt agree, good taste depends on the palette of the beholder. So, perhaps some may say “this grade is the best” and sells it as such for high price, it may not be that top grade to you!

Recommendation: try the different grades and don’t think about the price first, it’s the only way you know which you like best.

12th February
A full day at Shibuya again. Never cease to amaze us each time to enjoy the sight of how the Japanese prepare their food.
Tokyu foodshow1 Tokyu foodshow2 Tokyu foodshow3 Tokyu foodshow4
Started the day with a walk at Tokyu’s Foodshow department where we bought some sea kelp. We have seen gourmet stores and specialist shops in Europe, Australia and the US. But in our humble opinion, nothing beats the Japanese when it comes to the way food is presented. And this just what you find in a supermarket!

Today we are heading for lunch at Ichiran (一蘭) – one of those outlets that attract a long queue in the evenings. The concept is simple; pick our own meals, side dishes and pay.

Tokyu foodshow5 Ichiran Ramen3 Ichiran Ramen1 Go to one of the compartments and fill in a form stating your preference for soup, noodle taste and texture. Then press the buzzer to give these to the attendant.
Ichiran Ramen2No tea, just hot water so serve yourself. Have as much as you like. For us this meal was rather high on salt. Yes we needed the water. For this meal we both took the ¥910 ramen. Soft texture, stronger tasting broth and lots of garlic. You can try it but don’t think you will be blown away. Urizn Okinawa dinner 1Finalizing our day with some drug store shopping along the side streets of Shibuya,Urizn Okinawa dinner 2 we went to the Hikarie mall to have Okinawa noodles and Pork rice (泡盛と).
The portion is very small compared to how we recalled it was on Okinawa. The layered pork was very tasteful and well prepare, so that’s the only consolation. Guess we cannot have too much of a good thing! Okinawa dinner The bittergourd stir fried with egg was very good! Along with the Okinawa soba (with a pork slice) and they both came up to ¥1800. Not too bad.Toshi Yoroizuka confectionery3 Toshi Yoroizuka confectionery1

Ended the day enjoying dessert in our room. The chef had signed our purchase! One more souvenir to keep…while not cheap (¥2140), it was good!

Sometimes you have to take the advice of others with a pinch of salt. We overheard some countrymen who happened to be eating in the same store gush raving review of the noodles. We think that’s overblown. It was literally a little too salty for us!

Remember that this is a culinary adventure. No try no experience. As we blog here, you cannot imagine memories of eating something. You actually have to try it. So disappoints are part and parcel of the experience. It helps us grow.

13th February
A gourmet experience at the Bvlgari restaurant is highly recommend. Pricey? Yes. But after a 2½ hour dining experience, we are sure you will came away impressed just as we were.
Bvlgari restaurant 1

The main highlight today was the lunch at the café on the 7th floor – Il Ristorante. Like many other branded boutiques in Tokyo (and Osaka too), this café restaurant offers fine dining.So this one’s an Italian. Bvlgari restaurant 2But like many instances of creative genius, the chef here picks out elements from his host country to present works that fuse traditional Italian with Japanese character.There are only two courses, 4 or 5. No ala carte ordering. But then why bother? Like the critic in Ratatouille, surprise us!Advanced reservations (up to one month ahead) can be made online, you can also walk in, which we saw quite a few customers did.

↑ High ceiling for the restaurant. There were two small complimentary dishes – one truffle scented crackers and the other fish roe on a bed of Italian bread, novel fusion! There was also a small dish of cheese and jelly, with small bread as a side. Also very delicious!
Bvlgari meal - special starters2 Bvlgari meal - special starters1 Bvlgari meal - special starters3 Bvlgari meal - special starters4
The first main course is Scallop with celery. Now the celery is prepared in two manners – one in the form of strips and the other in the form of scooped ‘balls’. These are obtained not from the stalk, but from the root of the plant. First time we have seen this and never experienced using this for food!
Bvlgari meal - Scallap and Celery1 Bvlgari meal - Scallap and Celery2 Bvlgari meal - Pasta Bvlgari meal - Pork cutlet
Second course is pasta, prepared with an exquisite combination of cheese and rocket salad. What we thought was the most delightful is the 3rd course – Kagoshima pork served with 4 different sauces: herb, horse-radish, chocolate and lemon. There was also a side dish of turnip (photo below).
Bvlgari meal - Pork cutlet2 Bvlgari meal - Pork cutlet6 Bvlgari 4-course meal menu Bvlgari meal - salts used for bread
Bvlgari meal - Apple tart dessert1Bvlgari meal - Apple tart dessert There was also 4 kinds of salts – Himalayan (one standard and the other with charcoal), salt from Emilia-Romagna and one from Bolivia! For our breads, it was served with two olive oil servings – one Japanese one which tasted light and aromatic.
To top things off, we had an apple tart served with handmade crispy puff and ice-cream. It came upside down. Bvlgari Restaurant logoYou flip it over for the puff and diced apples to fall onto the ice-cream.  That way, the puff is not soggy when it is served to us. While it seems extravagant, this 4-course meal set us back ¥11,000 per person. Add in a glass of wine, it totaled ¥28,900.  Not a bad price considering the location, standard of service and ambience. Not to mention the Michelin standard serving.
For dinner, it was a train journey back to Shinjuku browsing the selection of eateries at Lumine Est. Never having dined here, we selected Hirugao Ramen, as we did not feel too hungry after the lunch today. Pretty decent ramen and certainly better than Ichiran. Dinner at Hirugao Lumine1The set with pork sautéed in sauce/broth was fantastic. Dinner at Hirugao Lumine3Only cost us ¥1080.
Another great day has passed and it was time to return to the hotel to pack. Dinner at Hirugao Lumine2

The seeming luxurious and fine dining we had belie the fact that it was really an affordable experience. These kind of meals would cost an arm or a leg (or both) in Singapore! Would have been nicer to had been able to book this on Valentine’s day.

14th February
Lunch was at Takashimaya, and a little pricey. Our Valentine’s dinner was really nice. Something really to recommend. Yes! If we can do it again, we will.
The morning’s drizzling had given way to sunny skies by midday. Today will be spent almost exclusively here in Takashimaya. Komatsuan Soba lunch2

Here we are on the 13th floor of the shopping mall, which offers rooftop dining experience. So many choices here that it took us long to decide. Komatsuan Soba lunch1

Eventually we settled on soba from Komatsuan restaurant (小松庵). It did not have the typical thinness we expected from soba and was closer to the ‘houtou’ noodle we had in the Fuji area. I had a curry broth with mine while Suan took hers with soy sauce. As with all the other restaurants here, it’s rather pricey. The curry soba cost me ¥1750 while the tempura and wild vegetable set came to ¥1850.

V-day at Takashimaya1 V-day at Takashimaya4 V-day at Takashimaya8
↑ Since today is Valentine’s day, it is full swing for the retailers to sell their wares of chocolates and pastries. Look at the chocolate that is made into the shape of a pig with its associated cuts. There are very intricate and beautifully made products on display! What a pity that these will be eaten!
Dining at 53 - Central Bldg1 It’s Valentine’s day!

Located in the Central building, Dining out @ 53 is an ala carte buffet only establishment. This applies to lunch as well.Dining at 53 - Central Bldg3

We arrived just before 7:30pm for our 2-hour session, joining numerous other Valentine day couples.

There is a large menu selection from which you can choose from – from appetizers to mains through to dessert. Drinks are not included though. We thoroughly enjoyed the 2-hours, ordering many dishes…and started to order and reorder. Must have ordered more than 15 times!

Dining at 53 - Central Bldg4 Dining at 53 - Central Bldg5 Dining at 53 - Central Bldg6
At the same time as we were dining, tonight’s view was just fantastic. No clouds and the city lights were in full view.Dining at 53 - Central Bldg7 Dining at 53 - Central Bldg8I especially liked the tuna and avocado tartar. The avocado’s texture was just right and combined with the fresh fish sashimi, tasted heavenly! It was vaguely familiar and reminds of the Cerviche that we had in Chile (Easter Island that is).

We also sampled the mussels, shrimp, scallops, all the good stuff even as the young couples around us ordered pizzas and pastas!

Although the courses looked small, they do add up and soon Suan was running full! So it was off to desserts. All manner of confectionery is available on the menu, so take your pick!

Surprisingly this did not burn a hole in the pocket. It cost us ¥4000 per person inclusive of tax.Dining at 53 - Central Bldg9  Tag in the drinks and it came up to ¥10,962 for the two of us. Considering the view and the quality of the food served, we really had a good deal – and in consideration yet again that it is Valentine’s day…

We stayed through to the last minute of our allotted time and the attendants were kind enough to help us take photos of the city with Tokyo tower in the background. Good food and ravishing night views, all for a reasonable price. What more can one ask for?

Dining at 53 - Central Bldg29Time to head back! Sleep well and we will be on the way home first class soon!

Today was an easier day, in the sense that most of the shopping had been completed (luggage would not fit more anyway). But then for our flight home on first class we each had 50kg of luggage allowance. Think about it, who could use all that weight allowance? Truth be, if we had another additional luggage (you can check in two) it would probably had been filled as well. Might even exceed the combined 100kg that we are entitled to!

Thence, it was a beautiful evening to enjoy a meal in this beaming metropolis. Tokyo can be a romantic city like Paris!

15th February
An easy day before we fly home. Made a lunch discovery! Meals at the lounge and onboard the flight (first class) was fantastic!
Torafuku Lunch1 Torafuku Lunch2 Torafuku Lunch4
We started the day with a walk at the Lumine shopping center, aimlessly trying to while time away. We chanced upon this restaurant Torafuku (寅福) which serves up free flow of dishes. Then it was off to the Keio and Odakyu shopping malls before heading to back to the hotel. Took a taxi to the Keio Plaza and off we went to the airport for our first class experience!
Got to the airport and swiftly made our way past check-in, customs and to the first class lounge. ANA First class lounge6 SQ Suits meal2Similar in layout to the business class lounge, the only difference is that less people access it and it is quieter. Then it is off to the A380 to board as “priority” passengers to our private cabin suites.  SQ Suits meal3In a separate journalog, we had shared how the suites look like. Of course the cuisine onboard also matches the suite. Certainly can expect more about our Suites experience in a separate log!
We booked the cook for our respective meals – me having lamb chops while Suan took Japanese style simmered fish topped with grated yam and rice. She had the Ginseng chicken soup as well. Actually caviar was also on the menu, but we did not take it this time. Along the way, lots of wine, champagne etc… As our flight was only 7 hours and through the night, we did not fully utilize the facilities and services of the Suites.
SQ Suits meal1 SQ Suits meal14 But now we have learned to take full day flights if redeeming again!However, the experience of using the suite itself was already brand new such that it will be in our memories for a long time.

So quickly the time passed. And the next trip is probably 12 months away. Until then, we will be salivating..

Of course being in Tokyo cannot be solely about eating (well some might disagree!). And there was a lot of shopping too. Amazing stuff can be seen and bought. You don’t know what shopping heaven looks like till you are here in Tokyo. Click here to read more about what new fads and revelations we discovered while pounding the streets of Tokyo.

February 2016

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