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.
Originally an encounter merely to pay pilgrimage to this old guard of Kaiseki established since the 30s, the short trip to Arashiyama on a beautiful early summer evening still deserved all the praises it could get. In a classic old-fashioned tea house setting private room, with a little back garden and much tranquillity to come with it, the cool breeze let in by opening the sliding door injected much energy as the night fall. The dinner started off with a bang, as a nicely decorated plate of ise-ebi that could rival some of the top haute cuisine tables out there, let alone its amazing taste and texture, showed the true colours of third-generation executive chef Tokuoka-san (徳岡邦夫) right from the start, a combination of top ingredients and decoration as preached indeed. The evening went on with all the best in class seasonal dishes one would have expected from the most celebrated name in Kyoto, and the detailed explanations given by the attentive staff, even without a written menu at all, had kept us all very well informed to enjoy each of the dishes to their fullest. With the exception of a little ‘lighting’ play in the middle of the 9-course meal, one might say that surprises were the only element that went missing a bit on the night. That being said, isn’t it the same with all these historic gourmet monuments everywhere else in the world? Without a doubt a well-worth once in a life-time experience!
A seasoned and rather unique husband and wife team delivering quality tempura fare yet in a Yatai setting. Haven’t tried it all but probably the best Yatai tempura out there in a rather ‘Showa’ style setting with that mini TV at the back and still serving classic bottled Kirins. Ideally situated in Fukuoka where access to quality fish from the Genkai seaboard is a given, hence the namesake, Yatai stuff like bacon and chicken fillet were also on offer. Not to be missed is of course the said to be ‘off-menu-frequent-customers-only-while-stock-last’ mentaiko tempura. Asking for merely 140-220 yen per piece, this is certainly one of the best value for money quality tempura joints one can find, and I can guarantee you it is not that shabby at all even if compared head to head with those upscale ‘Edomae’ ones in Tokyo. One can even say that this is indeed back to the basics as tempura did come from ‘yatais’ in the first place. One of the must tries in Fukuoka.
Back to my first found dandan joint conveniently located in the heart of Ginza which opens till 5 am on weekdays! Our late night ramen in Tokyo award certainly would have gone to them if there was any ever in contest. Afterall, the shop has been serving Ginza salarymen since 1964 from its humble beginning at the basement of the Toshiba building. Caught them passed midnight on a Monday this time around and what a scene! For my fellow Hongkies, picture LKF Tsui Wah at 3 am and you won’t be that far off. The gentlemen next to me at the counter seat was actually asleep right after he finally managed to order while a bunch of young salarymen was getting rowdy at the far end and drew some angry comments from the master. With such an entertaining backdrop on the night, however, the bowl turned out to be rather disappointing. Granted it probably wasn’t fair from me just coming out from sampling the top 3 dandan-men in Tokyo but this was actually very far off from what I can remember it used to taste (or maybe just this time around I hadn’t drink enough beforehand!) The servers were also not in their best mood to please as well, can kind of understand it given the chaotic yet busy scene. In short, the soup was watery and the noodles to the point of soggy. Having said that, if one managed to stay till the wee hours in the neighbourhood and still managed to drag oneself into the shop, anything with carbs and a hot and spicy soup probably tastes heavenly. Still searching for that soul saving bowl in Ginza past midnight but for now this is the best shot.