Tokyo Best Eats 2016

Fine eats discovered at Florilege, Ranjatai, Kagari Ramen, Butagumi, Imafuku, Zen Wagyu and more (10 - 14 Sep 2016)
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In part 2 of my late summer Japan vacation, Y and I adjourned to Tokyo to meet R after our girlie trip with LY ended in Fukuoka. I managed to eat at some good ol’ regular favourite spots such as Mikawa Zezankyo (my favourite tempura in Japan), and also tried up some new exciting eats in Tokyo, ranging from a modern French restaurant, to delicious yakitori, succulent Tonkatsu, to beef centric meals – sukiyaki, burger and beef tasting course, to even the casual good ol’ Ramen. Read it all here!

Florilege – Creative Mod French cuisine (2 Chome-5-4 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0001, Japan, Tel: 03‐6440‐0878. Reservations a must. Online booking here)

This 1-star Michelin restaurant helmed by Chef Iwate is definitely one of my highly recommended go to restaurants in this September trip, and it’s just a bonus it is located near my favourite shopping neighbourhood of Omotesando which makes it quite a perfect lunch spot. This restaurant is definitely still very much under the radar and deserves a special mention for the price value (6500 yen for 6 course lunch, 12000 yen for 12 course dinner, which I hope he won’t increase too soon when more people find out of this gem of a restaurant. The restaurant located in the basement, has a wide spacious layout where diners sit around a U-shaped counter overlooking the open concept kitchen. I love this layout as it gives me and other diners a full view of the going ons in the kitchen – we can see and smell all the action behind the great food that’s being prepared. All the produce is sourced within Japan with great support for the local Japanese farmers, using the best that Japan has to offer in terms of ingredients, with a creative modern cooking approach and technique. Florilege also focuses a lot on minimizing food waste and a card was placed in front of us to remind us of the amount of food wasted a year in just Japan alone. As they said “Our passion is to know who made the ingredients and how it was made. We believe in sustainability and minimizing food waste.”

The menu and open kitchen counter space. 

Some of the highlights was the frozen soufflé of bitter gourd with carpaccio flatfish, considering that Y and I pretty much strongly dislikes bittergourd, this was a totally unexpectedly delicious and refreshing. Given it was end of summer, Ayu fish was used in one of the courses – served with foie gras over a risotto, this had a more centric Japanese approach but was a way to ease into the middle of the meal. One of the stars and my favourite had to be the oyster served with dehydrated lemon melon and coated with okahijiki which is like a land seaweed . It was crusty and crispy on the outside yet cold on the inside. The flavours in the mouth as we put in the oyster was just full of umami amazing flavours. The final course of Okinawa pork – slow cooked for 4 hours with onion, carbon onion and concentrated jus, was also excellent as well. Their desserts are as strong as their savoury courses, and my favourite was the pineapple themed dessert – pineapple served with pineapple cream, pineapple powder and homemade mozzarella ball, just yums! I just can’t wait to return to Florilege next time for dinner to try the 11 course menu. This is one star to watch out for!

Yes some retail therapy at my favourite United Arrows with R and Y not far from Florilege.

Ranjatai 2 Chome-12-3 Kanda Jinbocho, 千代田区 Tokyo 101-0051, Tel: +81 3-3263-0596 (Reservations a must)

Thanks to Chef Fabian from Public Izakaya in Singapore, I wouldn’t have known or discovered this yakitori place. Having had pretty underwhelmed experience last year at Birdland Tokyo, I wondered how this place measured up, given I heard Chef Hideyuki Wadahama had previously honed his skills at Birdland. The total experience here for me, definitely surpassed Birdland. We noticed we were the only foreigners in this place – which was always promising to me. The yakitori here is purely chicken and dinner omakase starts from 6000 yen per person. There was a slight almost modern french influence in some of the dishes presentation, beginning with the signature starter – torched chicken foie gras served with slices of cheese and a miniature French baguette. I already sensed I was off to a good start. The memorable ones for me were the chicken breast – which was shockingly juicy and flavourful, the quail egg with a perfectly molten centre. The most interesting presentation was the gizzard with chicken thigh served on top of a burnt orange, the texture of the gizzard was so soft and crunchy with an amazing texture. Even I have to give top points to his grilled mixed vegetables – I mean this plate of vegetable wasn’t ordinary, each of them looked like so much attention had gone out to cook each and every piece and they tasted as good as they looked. The presentation of the tsukune with little cute dollops of solidified egg yolk provided us with a fun time at trying to poke and stick our tsukune into the gooey egg yolk. Dessert wasn’t just some boring sorbet or ice cream, but was a homemade duo of dark chocolate ganache truffle with a peanut-shaped peanut chocolate all homemade by chef himself.  I think the only thing to fault was ironically the chicken wing which wasn’t as juicy or fragrant as the rest of the dishes which was pretty much faultless. For the amount of money I paid, this was definitely a fantastic dining spot, and I will definitely be back here in a heartbeat!

Ranjatai shop front.

Butagumi for Tonkatsu (2 Chome-24-9 Nishiazabu, Minato-ku, Tōkyō-to 106-0031, Tel:  +81 3-5466-6775, Come to this branch as it’s the original branch and takes reservations)

Located in a residential area, just a stone’s throw away from Roppongi, this tonkatsu shop is located in a cute traditional looking brown house. As we entered, we saw a lot of cute little decorative ornaments of pigs and the chef and team greeted us as we entered and was ushered up to our table on the second floor. The portions are not huge, and so I decided to share with R and Y – 3 types of tonkatsu – the bacon cut, deluxe sirloin and tenderloin. My favourite was definitely the bacon cut, it’s crispy on the outside, soft and juicy on the inside. It would have been 100% points if their rice was more spot on, the rice that came was rather dry and hard, but luckily for us we don’t eat much carbs. Other than that, this is top quality tonkatsu at its best.

Just arrived, tummy rumbling.

Can’t wait to dig into some Tonkatsu!

Cute piggy ornaments.

Chef greets us (top), and ready to attack the tonkatsu (below).

My trip to Tokyo wouldn’t be complete without checking out some new beef places – from a modern beef omakase to Sukiyaki and burger.

Zen Wagyu 〒103-0024 Tokyo, Chuo, Nihonbashikobunacho, 11-11, K1ビル1F, Tel: +81 3-3249-7776. Reservations a must, open only for dinner

This small beef shop appears to look more like a sushi-bar, with only around 4 tables and a large counter bar with a refrigerated beef showcase looking almost like fish in a sushi bar restaurant. Opened only for dinner at night, they offer only two menus consisting of several small dishes between 8000-8800 yen per person. We decided to try this for a change over our usual yakiniku spots and this one-star restaurant is famed for showcasing various techniques in presenting its beef dishes. Some of the interesting dishes included the starting course which was a surprisingly rich beef cube stew- which was just delicious. Chef’s beef sushi course was served up with – beef sushi, beef with uni and beef shabu style cooked over fig. I loved especially the beef shoulder from Kagoshima braised with eggplant and don’t get me started on the beef tongue which was so very tender. We were pretty stuffed by the time the chateaubriand came and this chef really knows how to get his way to our stomach, finishing off with a curry beef rice – which is such comfort food. The meal ended off with Kuzu Kiri, a type of starch noodles, made from the root of the kudzo plant, and was a perfect ending to the meal. This restaurant was a nice pleasant discovery in a way for me, and takes on a different approach to showcasing the best of Japanese beef in a degustation course. If like me, you are looking for something different, this is worth a visit. We spent about 15,000 yen per person (including a bottle of red wine).

Outside of restaurant – located on ground floor of building.

Beautiful beef on display at the counter seating.

Imafuku for Sukiyaki (1 Chome-12-19 Shirokane, 港区 Tokyo 108-0072, Japan, Tel: +81 50-2018-0982. Reservations a must)

This sukiyaki restaurant is opened by well-known Yazawa – a meat supplier which also own Blacows Burger in Ebisu and also my favourite Yazawa Yakiniku and Masa Hamburg Steak in Singapore! I thought it be interesting to make a trip to their sukiyaki restaurant given their restaurants in Singapore are like my top go to places for Japanese beef. One thing to caution you, if you are looking for a traditional sukiyaki experience with ladies clad in kimonos cooking for you, this is not the place. Tables in the main section of the dining area are arranged in a comfortable booth seating, and the manager that attended to us, was a Japanese male with an American accent, he told us he had worked in USA for the last 8 years but decided to return home. We had a choice of Shabu or Sukiyaki. I noticed the selection for Shabu was a lot more exciting – similar almost to choosing different cuts in a Yakiniku restaurant, but we were all more in the mood for Sukiyaki. We could choose from the 120 g top sirloin at 9000 yen per person, and 180 g at 11500 yen per person, and this set included, appetizers, vegetable platters, rice, miso soup, pickles and dessert. We were told the Sukiyaki beef served came from Sendai – it had a perfect marbling and didn’t feel too oily and fatty. I loved how they froth the egg yolk in the bowl for us to dip the beef into, and with the cooked Sukiyaki beef in that – the taste was just fantastic!

Before and during cooking.

Delicious sukiyaki beef from Sendai !

Blacows 2 Chome-11-9 Ebisunishi, 渋谷区 Tokyo 150-0021, Japan

As mentioned earlier, Blacows is a American style beef burger joint owned by the Yazawa folks. Heralded by some as the beef shrine that is worth a pilgrimage to, it helps that its location is in Ebisu, a 5-8 mins car ride from hipster Daikanyama area. I have friends that swear that they have to come here everytime they are in Tokyo, so it was only befitting we came here to dine out for our last meal in Tokyo before leaving for the airport. Blacows uses 100% kuroge wagyu beef in its burgers. The meat is freshly grinded by hand, and also carved in-house. Y and I opted for the Bacon and Egg burger while R had the cheese burger. Overall, the burgers are pretty awesome but they don’t feel like typical American burgers. The taste has a somewhat Japanese feel to it, maybe because of the yakiniku sauce that’s used to coat the beef patties, but still worth a visit down if you are beef or hamburger lover.

The shop front and me feeling hungry.

Kagari Ramen Japan, 〒104-0061 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, 中央区Ginza, 4 Chome−4−1, 銀座Aビル, Tel: +81 3-3535-7565 (No reservations, start queuing by latest 10.30 am to get a seat. Closed on Sundays.)

I had the chance to try 2 new ramen places – the first was Kagari Ramen, located in an alley amongst the Ginza buildings, and not far from the lovely Ginza shops that we like to go to. Their noodles are much thinner which I so very much prefer, compared to the classic fat ramen noodles from the likes of Ichiran, and they are best known for the tori-paitan soba which is thin ramen noodles served in a rich creamy chicken stock, topped with beautiful thin slices of chicken meat, and bamboo shoots. They even have nice side condiments like fried garlic, butter that you can add on for more flavour if you wish. Don’t get confused by the “Soba” sign hanging outside the shop. I sometimes suspect is it an intentional decoy perhaps? Anyhow, all locals and tourists know about this shop, so it pays to come early for lunch and no later than 10.30 am, if you want to be the one of the first groups of 8 to enter the door at 11 am when it opens for lunch, yes as this shop only sits 8 people in their cramped counter seats. And what I love about this ramen shop is it plays cool bossa nova tunes, which makes it all the more enjoyable while slurping down that rich creamy chicken soup.

Waiting patiently for my turn.

Remember this alley!

Delicious Tori Paitan

Tomo Ramen 2-13-13 Akasaka Minato Tokyo, Tel: +81-3-6426-5120 (Walk in only)

Tomo Ramen is the second ramen I was lucky to have tried this trip as a late night supper place after drinks at my favourite Bar Code Mixology in Akasaka (〒107-0052 Tokyo, Minato, 赤坂3丁目14−3 渡林赤坂ビル2F, Tel: +81 3-6459-1129). After chatting with the cocktail mixologist – Hitoshi Fukiwara on where he goes after he knocks off work, he recommended Tomo Ramen just down a street away. In his opinion, it’s one of the best ramen in Tokyo, and better than Ichiran, and he recommended us to go for the Shio Ramen.

Off we went, and barely 5 minutes on foot, we turned left and saw the ramen shop. As we entered, we saw a vending machine, and asked the staff on which button to press for Shio Ramen. In no time, a hot piping Shio Ramen was served up. I liked the taste as it wasn’t too salty as compared to places like Jangara and Ichiran, and it strangely had a nice chicken stock flavour to the soup, topped with not just pork slices but also juicy pork balls.

Read my blog post from my visit in 2015 on Cocktail Bars in Tokyo, which included Bar Code Mixology.

Waiting for my “Pork Bone Sling” cocktail by Hitoshi Fujiwara.

Exterior of Tomo Ramen

Ramen vending machine

Use a single landscape photo

Japan is also a haven for sweets, and I was happy to have discovered some new sweets including an interesting take on chocolate cakes and late night Kakigori!

Ken’s Cafe 1 Chome-23-3 Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan, Tel:+81 3-3354-6206

Ken’s Cafe is very famous for their chocolate gateau cake, which uses a top grade grand cru chocolate, and with other ingredients like chocolate, eggs, milk, unsalted butter and granulated sugar – so yes it’s flourless! Hence, the taste of the chocolate cake is closer to a rich chocolate ganache when served chilled, and a raw terrine chocolate cake when served at room temperature. I would have loved to try it in its warm state but that requires a microwave oven which I don’t own. It is definitely a must to pre-order if you are looking at buying this as gifts for people, as the chocolate cakes sell out really quickly.

Outside of shop and me devouring the cake in Singapore.

Yelo 〒106-0032 Tokyo, Minato, 六本木5-2-11, Tel +81 3 3421 2121. Open daily from 10 am – 5 am, except Sundays where it closes at 11 pm.

Where Korea has their Bingsu, Japan has their Kakigori, and maybe it was the summer season, but Y and I was always craving for kakigori, which is like a much more refined version of Singapore’s ice kachang. We were recommended Yelo by the manager at Imafuku for late night after dinner dessert. This kakigori bar is located in Roppongi, and what’s great about it is at night, they even have alcoholic selections. If you are wondering what’s kakigori, it’s a Japanese shaved ice dessert and comes with all kinds of toppings, the traditional type is always green tea with red bean, but has since evolved to many other flavours by the various Kakigori creators. We decided to try the rum and raisin flavour, and the tiramisu flavour, which was pretty satisfying!

Yelo – a Kakigori bar 

Tiramisu Kakigori

Rum and Raisin Kakigori

Kuriya Kashi Kurogi 7 Chome-3-1 Hongō, 文京区 Bunkyō-ku, Tōkyō-to 113-0033, Japan, Tel: +81 3-5802-5577, Open 9 am – 6 pm daily.

Another notable place for traditional kakigori and other wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) is this quaint hidden location in one end of the University of Tokyo. It’s worth a visit as the architecture is beautiful, it sits on the ground floor of a building, overlayed with many layers of wooden slats, giving it quite a dynamic presence – this is the work of well-known Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. It’s a pity it was closed on this particular Sunday we went as it was some public festival holiday, otherwise I would have been able to try some of their well-known wagashi prepared by Chef Jun Kurogi, well known for his kaiseki restaurant – Kurogi which is well known for its hard to book tables. I definitely want to come back in future to try their sweets, and I will call ahead to avoid disappointment again!

Outside the iconic wood-slat building – Kengo Kuma’s masterpiece

I hope you’ve had as much fun reading this as I had eating the meals in Tokyo. Remember to refer to this list the next time you are planning a trip to Tokyo!

Repeated visit always at my favourite HARBS in Tokyo.

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