From its humble beginning at Meguro back in 1968, Makochan is now entering its Golden Jubilee year, with 6 branches all over the Shinbashi area and certainly a local favorite among salarymen and women. While it may sound a bit over the top for some westerners, pig offals shouldn’t be any strangers to us Cantonese, only that they char-broil them here while we tend to lightly poach them with congees or soups. As usual they ‘over-salted’ them to sell drinks and it seemed only appropriate for LG to go for Hoppy here, with the Takara as ‘naka’ of course. One major revelation during this visit is that the much avoided ‘uterus’ by most when explained, is in fact what has been known as ‘raw intestine’ and well loved among us Cantonese. The must go for dish apparently!
First overseas venture for this ‘mecca’ of ‘Sino-Japanese’ cuisine with a Sichuan focus. Started by the legendary Chen Ken-min (陳 建民) (father of ‘iron chef’ Chen Kenichi (陳 建一)) back in 1958, their third generation Chen Kentaro (陳 建太郎) somehow surprised the world by snatching two stars with this Singapore outpost in no time. Riding on the infrastructure and hospitality standard of the Mandarin Orchard Hotel, it certain helped to check some boxes if nothing else. Coming clearly just to try out the two classic dishes (dandan noodles and mapo tofu) over lunch, LG was nevertheless still being served with impeccable attention and care, and thorough feedback being seeked after each dish. Frankly the bowl of dandan noodles was a bit on the ‘blended’ side comparing with the few ‘tabelog favorites’ recently tried in Tokyo, yet still a quality bowl no less especially when it comes to the soup base. The highlight, however, was the mapo tofu. It was probably the ‘tastiest’ Sichuan dish LG has ever tried, with the spiciness and numbness at perfect unison with the taste. Served in a classic clay pot and came with a bowl of premium Japanese rice, this is probably the dish that will ever take me back there. A quality choice at reasonable price if one ever travels to the Lion City.
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.
(Note: The shop is now closed – September 2017)
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.