23.4.17

Ginza Mitsukoshi, Tokyo

You know how in Singapore, we have those food halls in the basements of most shopping malls? There's usually a mix of casual affordable eateries and takeaway counters selling small bites? So, Tokyo has the same thing, except that they do it So. Much. Better. Like the food sold in these depachikas, or 'department store underground mall', is so awesome, and array so extensive and varied, you can actually have a thoroughly satisfying and totally delicious dinner here. 

It may be sardine-jammed crowded, but trust me, trawling Tokyo's depachikas for food is worth it. Besides, you're on holiday! So take the time to smell the roses! Or in this case, have a good long look-see. And have fun! Besides, the Japanese are so polite and so, it's not like people are jostling for space anyway.

The only trouble we had was that just about everything was written in Japanese, which then begs the question, how on earth were we to know what to buy, right? But, we quickly observed a couple of quirks, which I'd recommend any non-Japanese speaking tourists as "guiding principles" to follow. One: look out for the "No. 1" sticker tagged to whichever food set out at each counter - it denotes the best-selling food in each counter, and even if you don't know what you're eating, it's a pretty safe bet it'll be delicious. Two: and Singaporeans should be intimately familiar with this "proverb" - 'Where there's a queue, there's good food'. And it turns out that the Japanese love to queue for good food as well. So, we followed suit and joined in long snaking lines wherever we saw them, that's how we discovered Giotto. 

So now that you've gotten your food, you wanna eat it right? But then you look around, and there's "no eating" signs at seated rest lounges, and nowhere else to even stand to eat. You can either go back to the hotel to eat, or at Ginza Mitsukoshi, there's a designated open-aired patio on the 9th floor to enjoy the sunshine, breeze, and slow savour your depachika food.

An absolute must-buy, and the best thing at Ginza Mitsukoshi's depachika, was the Pork Katsu (JPY778), juicy mince patted into a rectangular form, breadcrumbed and fried to a golden crisp. This was incredibly luscious.

Their Ebi Katsu (JPY559) was just scrumptious. A plump sweet prawn that stays moist and bouncy on the inside through the deep-frying, while achieving that crunchy texture on the outside.

The counter for reference.

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Aother food we loved was this innocuous-looking nori-strapped Onigiri (JPY270), which wonderful flavour belied how its boring appearance. Like a kinder bueno egg, there was a soy-and-sake-marinated ajitsuke tamago swaddled within, perfectly oozy and umami.

The counter for reference.

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These popcorn chicken-esque Deep Fried Shrimp-Stuffed Shitake (JPY389 for 100gm) were the most addictive things ever. The salty notes of the shrimp seafood paste was balanced by the earthy accents of the mushrooms.

The counter for reference. There's a lovely selection of salads here as well, which were excellent.

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The Japanese are amazing bakers and their baked goods have this gossamer-light quality to it that sets them apart from their French counterparts. Like this Mini Baguette (JPY168) from Johan, which was rich and buttery, yet delicate in its flakiness. We returned the day we were due to return to Singapore, and bought 3 more packets of this to bring home.

There's a Johan in Singapore too (at Isetan Shaw Lido), but it pales in comparison to its Tokyo sister. 

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So, we saw this ridiculous line outside this patisserie, and at first the Hubs baulked, but then saw how unbelieavbly beautiful their cakes were, and decided to join the queue. Free wifi in Ginza Mitsukoshi helped pass the 40-minute wait for our turn. So we got 2 cakes, the top selling Mont Blanc (JPY648), which was heaven in a bite. A confection of fresh whipped cream and candied chestnut puree layered upon a vanilla sponge base, then blanketed in chestnut buttercream. Exquisite and remarkable, and this alone made the wait worthwhile.

The second bestseller was the Strawberry Shortcake (JPY540), ubiquitous to Japan's patisseries. Giotto's rendition was a hit-and-miss. The subtly lemony sponge, whipped cream and strawberry marmalade were stellar, but were let down by the overbearingly sour fresh strawberries. 

The Giotto counter for reference. Note that even after you've placed your orders, it'll take another 15-20 minutes for your cakes to be ready: the staff need time to meticulously box up your cakes in a pretty little bow.

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We also bought a box of wafer-like millefeuille (JPY1620 for 15 pieces) as souvenirs to bring home. These were only so-so, the cream between the layers lacking in oommph and volume, and the matcha ones at the airport were notably nicer.

The counter for reference.

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We also had Gyoza (JPY421), pork methinks, coz no English notes, and I can't be sure. Flecked with leek, these were flavourful and yummy.

The counter for reference.

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The only dud of our haul, the Tempura Moriawase (JPY568) was soggy, and batter less than light and crisp. I suspect this may be a lot better freshly cooked.

The counter for reference.

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A view of the mall from the street.


Ginza Mitsukoshi
4-6-16 Ginza
Chuo-ku
Tokyo
Open daily from 10.30am to 8pm
Website

22.4.17

Harrods Cafe, Tokyo

Another thing we noticed while in Tokyo, was that the Japanese love high tea. We were in Ginza Mitsukoshi, one of Tokyo's oldest and most preeminent department stores, and which houses a slew of cafes, when we popped by Harrods Tea Room for a breather from all that shopping.

We walked in to a near-empty cafe, but within 5 minutes of tea-time, it'd packed a full crowd. And attracted a snaking queue outside. And it was the same for every other cafe in Ginza Mitsukoshi. 

I only wanted a nibble, so I got the Cheese Plate (JPY900). To be frank, I wasn't expecting anything exotic like a shropshire blue even if it's an English cheese, because, you know, we're in Japan and the Japanese don't strike me as cheese aficionados. So it was with little surprise that the most crowd-friendly, "non-controversial", and "likeable" cheeses were featured here, like cheddar, brie, and swiss. Nice, but a little trite.

The Hubs wanted something more substantive so he ordered the English Cottage Pie (JPY1800) which was wonderfully comforting. Minced beef redolent of a robust red wine and rich stock, blanketed with soft potato mash and baked till bubbling and golden with cheese. Rustic, hearty, unpretentious, I loved this.


Harrods the Plantation Room
Mitsukoshi Ginza Store
4 Chome-6-16 Ginza
Chuo
Tokyo 104-8212
Japan
Tel: +81 3 3561 5350
Open daily from 10.30am to 8pm

21.4.17

Margarita's, Dempsey Hill

Mexican cuisine doesn't feature regularly in my diet because, cilantro (urghh pukes), BUT I've recently developed a taste for all things taco, tortilla, and guacamole. (This current hankering is, in no small part, due to those awesomesauce fish tacos at El Mero Mero.)

So we were recently in the Dempsey Hill enclave and in need of sustenance, late late late at night, when we noticed Margarita's. Most of the restaurants in its immediate vicinity were either shuttered by then, or had already taken last orders. Notwithstanding the default option, I was quite happy to have dinner at Margarita's. I wanted tacos and as this is one of Singapore's oldest Mexican restaurants, it has to be up to snuff to have survived decades in the brutal local F&B landscape, right?

Service was mostly gracious but the kitchen was, at best, inept. My instructions to hold off all cilantro or to put whatever is cilantro-laced to the side, was all but forgotten. I sent back the fajitas because there was no way to scrape the cilantro off on my own, but it returned still laced with cilantro, but to a lesser extent. It was quickly evident that the kitchen had simply attempted to scrape off whatever cilantro they could see, reheated the damn dish, and sent it back to my table. That was just plain lazy. And smacked of a piss-poor attitude. I get that the kitchen wanted to close up and go home, but it's your screw-up, so you jolly-well fix it, even if it means clearing up a little later. It wasn't as though it was already closing time. In fact, there was still half an hour to closing time when we were served our dishes, so the kitchen had no excuse that they couldn't whip up another fajita sans cilantro. That said, our server was profusely apologetic, which was quite the appeasement.

Food-wise, Margarita's isn't the best or the most authentic (it purports to serve Mexican fare, but it's really more Tex-Mex), but it was more than decent, and generally passed muster.

The highlight of the Nachos ($18), a towering confection of crunchy chips, shredded lettuce, sour cream, pickled jalapeno, melty cheese, cilantro-laced salsa, and cilantro-laced guacamole, was the refried black beans, which was, thankfully, clear of cilantro. But unfortunately the black beans were right underneath that pile. Good thing I'm really skilled at Jenga, so it wasn't too much trouble to pick out the cilantro-free nachos and beans at the bottom.

The Mexicana Soft Taco with Shrimp ($26), was delicioso in its simplicity. Grilled sweet shrimp flecked with julienned carrots and caramelised onions, enveloped in a lightly toasted taco, sided by fresh vegetables, a spicy chipotle cream, sour cream, and just sweep away the cilantro-ruined salsa. One of the more memorable dishes here.

Save for the robust tomato sauce that was equal parts piquant and sweet, the Rolled Flour Vegetable Taco ($22) topped with salsa rojas, guacomole, and sour cream was middling and forgettable.

The Beef Chimichanga ($20), a massive fried tortilla roll stuffed with pulled beef and cheese, was rich and sumptuous. A definite must-try.

The Beef & Chicken Fajitas ($36) was a mixed bag. The chicken was punchy and breast-cut luscious and tender, but the beef, while tender, was gamey. That said, we loved the aromatics, beautiful caramelization of the garlic and onions. We polished those off, and left half of the beef uneaten.


Margarita's Restaurante @ Dempsey
Blk 11 Dempsey Road #01-19
Tel: 6471 3228
Open Sundays to Thursdays from 11.30am to 11pm;
Fridays & Saturdays from 11.30am to 12midnight
Website: www.margaritasrestaurante.com

20.4.17

Sushiko Honten, Tokyo

Because our trip into Tokyo city was decided at the last minute, we had hardly any time to properly research where to eat. So we relied heavily on the concierge's recommendations, which all turned out fantastic. I suppose it's also coz it's near-impossible to find bad food in Tokyo, the chefs taking so much pride in their work.

We were told that the Ginza district, where we stayed, boasts the highest concentration of Michelin-starred sushi-yas. Like throw a stone from anywhere in Ginza and you'll hit a Michelin-starred sushi-ya degree of density. Out of the 3 sushi-yas closest to the hotel (we wanted something close by enough to be able to walk there, and walk off the meal thereafter), Sushiko Honten was the closest (and also, they had availability). The 130-year old restaurant was purportedly "very traditional", i.e. "no salmon", which we were perfectly ok with. I mean, if it withstood the time-weathered test of a century, it has to be impressive, right?

The Hubs says Sushiko Honten was the best sushi he's ever had in his life. It's apparently so transformative, so life-changing, the Hubs refuses to eat sushi in SG anymore....and yes, we haven't had sushi since then.

Stripped down to the fundamentals of sushi gastronomy, Sushiko Honten was pure, simple, and basic. There was nothing new-fangled, nothing modern, nothing unconventional, but WOWza, was it mindblowing. Every dish was sublime, and a masterpiece in its unembellished "plainness".

For a sensory omakase experience like no other, we forked out (JPY55620 for 2).

We were served by Sasaki-san (also known as "Joe"), a jovial fellow with twinkly eyes and a cheeky chattiness. His likeability distracted from a group of crass, over-compensating foreigners who were only too eager to inform their attending chef how much their car cost, how much their entry-level room at the Aman cost, and how tiny their appendages were.

First up was a duo of sweet shrimp, steeped in soy, patted dry, and then finished with a gobbet of fresh wasabi.

Next was Bonito (Katsuo) or skipjack tuna, the umami notes of its rich meatiness enhanced by the soy marinade.

This was quickly followed up with fat hunks of the best abalone I've ever had, bar none: the one from Chiba having bathed in sake for 8 hours (left), and the other from Hokkaido infused with soy for 2 hours, both dabbed dry before plating, and served with a blob of wasabi.

The sashimi course comprised a couple of thick slices of Striped Jack (shima aji) and Tuna Belly (otoro), brimming with a seafresh sweetness, and sided by an impossibly sweet creamed crabmeat.

Soft and fatty and melty like foie gras, the Aburi (seared) Swordfish and Tuna (toro) Steaks were sided by horseradish for a subtle kick.

This was followed by a gazillion sushi courses, beginning with the tuna (maguro). Something must be said about the rice here, a perfect balance of the firm, sticky, chewy and soft, and vinegared piquancy exquisitely subtle to counter the fish.

Medium fatty tuna (chu-toro)

Flounder (hirame) with touch of lime

Prawn (ebi) seasoned with salt and lime

This was the most nuanced Miso Soup ever, salty but just perfectly so, and loaded with mushroom.

I've always ever had uni sushi swaddled in a nori sheet, but the Sea Urchin (uni) was so expertly finessed at Sushiko Honten, it actually didn't require a seaweed wrap to hold it together.

Salmon Roe (ikura)

Tuna Belly (otoro)

Yellowtail (hamachi)

Simplicity at its most exceptional, a slab of Shitake Mushroom, grilled to imbue a smoky char to highlight its earthy flavour.

I'm not usually a fan of Squid (ika), but this had a delightfully clean and clear flavour with the slightest hint of creaminess, and given a citrusy lift with yuzu.

The candied caramelisation gave the Sea Eel (anago) a sweet counterpoint to its meaty savouriness.

Seared Tuna roll stuffed with julienned cucumber and sesame seeds - I loved loved loved this.

The Egg (tamago) walked the tightrope of a fluffy souffle on the one side and an omelette on the other. Amazing stuff.

At the end of the meal, the chef held up the sushi menu, and asked if we wanted seconds of anything. Our hearts wanted it all, but our bursting pants said otherwise, so we each limited ourselves to one extra piece. I got the Shitake, and the Hubs got the uni, while wiping a tear of happiness off his chipmunk cheek.

The unassuming restaurant front which belies the greatness of the sushi within.


Sushi Ko Honten
6-3-8 Ginza
Chuo-ku
Tokyo 104-0061
Tel: 03-3571-1968
Open daily from 11.30am to 10.30pm

19.4.17

Jumbo Yakitori Nenohi Izakaya, Tokyo

Nenohi Izakaya was a recommendation of the hotel's concierge, who told us that it was her favourite spot to unwind after work. It's a little easier to find than Onegi, as it's located right in the middle of Yakitori Alley. But being where the action is also means that the space is a lot more squeezy, and let's just say that there's never been a better time to be petite and skinny than in an izakaya like this.

Cramped tables aside, service is faster, because each skewer is served individually, and not all at one go like in Onegi.

As with Onegi before, also order the tomato beer, its refreshing lift is a perfect counterpoint to the smoky char of the grilled sumiyaki.

The Edamame (JPY400) here was boiled more thoroughly so it was less raw, and served warm instead of chilled like in Onegi. I prefer this rendition.

The Quails Egg (JPY170) was cooked perfectly, soft and lightly salted. Dip it in the spicy bean sauce for extra oomph.

Dripping with luscious juices, the Pork Sausage (JPY170) was lipsmackingly good.

Succulent Chicken (JPY170) that was well-marinated.

The Shitake Mushroom (JPY310) was earthy and juicy.

The Tsukune (JPY270) a pork ball skewer of minced meat and herbs, was fantastic, but we liked Onegi's version better for its balance.

The restaurant front for reference.


Jumbo Yakitori Nenohi Izakaya
2-3-3 Yurakucho
Ginza
Chiyoda-ku
Tokyo
Tel: 03 3571 9132
Open daily from 6pm to 1am

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