One of the most hyped Kappos in Osaka these days, LG got lucky and managed to squeeze in for some late night bites at this starred ten-seater one evening and then it was showtime for Noguchi-san. Attending high school in England since he was 15, then went on to work as a salaryman for a foreign enterprise in Tokyo before turning himself to be a chef, his ability to communicate well with international customers was certainly a crowd-pleaser. From the legendary ‘world’s best wing’ which was air-dried to seal off the juice inside, to the ’signature’ curry that looks ordinary yet gave your truly the best kick ever, all served on art pieces by Kyoto ceramic artist Jun Kawajiri (川尻潤), what started off as causal late night snacking took an interesting twist to become quite a culinary treat. A nice bottle of Leflaive from a generous friend to down it all certainly didn’t hurt too. Ensuring us that it is indeed his real name, Noguchi-san also cracked the news that he will be soon in town to open his first foreign outlet. Yours truly is certainly all prepared for some curry and wings again!
Guess not that often one can get the old man out to serve even at the honten, let alone a piece of uni sushi directly from his hand at one’s table, it was indeed a once in a blue moon experience. Just like visiting ‘Jiro-san’, paying respect to a real ‘Takumi’ who has devoted his life to uphold the name of this traditional edomae dish called sushi is really all this is about. Calling it Chef’s table, it was basically limited seatings in a private room with sushi being served in batches on one’s table rather than the usual piece by piece hand to mouth counter experience. That said, one can see the Master, now in his 70s, still giving his very best, upholding the ‘ichigo ichie’ spirit no less. It was basically a 12-hour non stop standing day for him here while he’s in town, with time-pressured preparation of the goodies jet freshed from Japan in between meal times. Needless to say, he had already brought along all the ingredients he needed besides the fish, down to having his own water and condiments, all straight from Japan. Yet, he actually had to give an urgent call to ask for reinforcement after the first day as he underestimated the workload doing all these abroad in an unfamiliar kitchen, despite bringing along a sous chef and a head waitress already. The next morning, voila, he found one of his top chefs from Japan already waiting for him in the kitchen! For frequent goers, one could see that it was the signature routine of Kyubey all along. While I still prefer one of his top protégés Kotaka-san’s work back at the Keio Plaza branch, it was no doubt the spirit that counts for this encounter. Gochisousamadeshita!
So the first permanent store that offers Kitakata style ramen (喜多方ラーメン) has arrived, and surprise surprise, it is also on the now world famous Tang Lung ‘Ramen’ St. yet inside the V Point complex. Said to be the recipe from Anzaki-san (安蒜浩史) having a shop with the same name back in Chiba, the clear yet tasty pork broth and flat noodles are indeed classic of its style. The resident chef Takahashi-san (高橋恒則), on the otherhand, has been an apprentice of his father, a Utsunomiya gyoza specialist, since he was 16 and had some clear influence by Sino-Japanese cuisine as one can see from the menu. Nice and comfy ambience for a ramen drinking place and last but not least, it opens till 3 AM everyday except Sunday!!! Certainly not too shabby as a replacement of the mysteriously disappeared Ippudo-backed hakata black shoyu ramen joint.
Always found ramen queues much more manageable once outside of Tokyo, and here we are at one of the top Tabelog joints in the heart of Osaka, all it took was 20 minutes. Niboshi has always been of great attraction to LG and yet there are just a handful of household names out there. Call me traditional but applying it in a soup rather than the dipping sauce for Tsukemen is still the way to go in my humble opinion. Yamamoto-san (山本昌司)’s joint, in this regard, certainly lived up to its reputation, being one of the fastest rising ramen joints in Osaka in the recent years, and is in fact the most memorable Niboshi yours truly have tried so far. Much have been raved about its ‘vintage’ niboshi-infused oil, which certainly sets it apart from the others, and yet the ‘mariage’ with the famed ‘Nishiyama’ ramen utilised and even the stewed pork-like ‘charsiu’ were all well thought out as well. Probably the #1 must visit ramen joint in Osaka city right now provided a palate similar to LG’s.
One of the most anticipated encounters no doubt as LG probably failed 3 times over the last 6 years to secure a seat here and finally have to resolve to a ‘dawn raid’ walk-in strategy in order to manage a 1030 pm same night squeeze.
Reputed for its variety yet attractively priced selection of wagyu, it was its equally amazing wine list, mostly Shiraz-based to go with the Yakiniku, together with the proper glasses and accessories, that caught the eye of yours truly. The friendly yet knowledgable tencho Hisaki-san, with a good command of English, further alleviated the likeability factor to yet another level and one can clearly see how it can justify the close to ‘4-point’ rating on tabelog being just a neighbourhood Yakiniku joint at heart really. Call well in advance and have the flexibility to start very early or very late the tips to secure a spot.
Supposed to be one of the must DOs yet LG still managed to miss this pair of old guards of Kyoto ramen (the other one being Shinpuku Saikan (新福菜館), established in 1938 first as a Yatai) everytime in town until now. Established as a shokudou (旭食堂) by Taguchi-san (田口有司) back in 1947, this is now the Honten of the evolved ramen joint with branches and spin-outs to be found all over Japan. Hit this shop as they were the one opening on this early Monday morning but it was never a doubt that the two are very similar in style and fittingly choose to have their rest day always on a different day as well. Without the famed fried rice being offered at the neighbours, the focus was clearly on the ramen for this visit. As in all other classics, there is no guarantee that what is being offered fits all tastes, and yet one can be assured that it is indeed the same taste being offered day in and day out. Technically a shoyu tonkotsu ramen with a slightly darker colour yet sweeter soup, it is old fashioned taste no doubt if not slightly forgettable. The embedded ‘umami’ taste is also dubious as found in all other similar ‘classic shoyu’ ramens yet one can certainly taste the history. With a queue even during the wee hours on a Monday morning (pictured), (we went there at one in the morning with the shop only closing everyday from 2 to 5am for cleaning) this has certainly become part of the Kyoto-nites’ daily lives. Yet another must try in Kyoto, even if just as a tourist spot.
Probably another touristy stop though quality Sukiyaki outside of Japan are indeed hard to come by, let alone one with history, established in 1873 going into its 5th generation to be exact. In an era that one can source the best wagyu anywhere in the world when money is no object, it is certainly way beyond the beef when one visits a Sukiyaki joint. Though quality of the table top cooking are arguably at times down to luck these days, given the limited new attendants devoted to the space, the century old Kansai style sukiyaki recipe, said to be the original being less watery and more robust than its Kanto counterparts, as well as the quality ingredients (choice Kyoto seasonal vegetables no less) all the way down to the ‘secret’ sauce are still the drawcards. While certainly clear signs of tear and wear noticed at this 140-year old joint, it is indeed these historic ambience that helps to deliver the total package. Yet another one of those that probably should be enjoyed in complete silence to savour the essence.