RAMEN | 希須林 (Kisurin)

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This marks the start of our ‘Sino-Japanese’ Dandan noodles series. Said to be invented back in 1841 by a street vendor Chan Bao Bao (陳包包) in Tzekung Sichuan, China, and named after his way of carrying two baskets of ingredients with a pole (Dan) over his shoulder, it was the ‘father of Sichuan food’ in Japan, the legendary Chen Ken-min (陳 建民 ) (father of ‘iron chef’ Chen Kenichi (陳 建一)) of the Akasaka Shisen Hanten that brought along this sensational bowl to the Japanese in 1958 and pretty much made it his own subsequently by working on a soup version catering to the local palate, seeing that the original Chengdu mixed noodle version didn’t sink in too well. The rest is, of course, history.
LG made this visit to second generation Ozawa-san (小澤 孝太)’s Kisurin his first priority for the recent Tokyo trip once landed, and yet was surprised to miss it on a Saturday evening at only around 5 pm when the official close was supposed to be 9 pm, while stock lasts indeed. So yours truly made the same trip rise and early to reach there at 1055 am on a Monday morning and was surprised (yet still uncertain) to find oneself first in the queue. Thankfully the shop diligently opened at 11 am sharp as LG luckily occupied the closest counter seat to the stoves and guiltlessly ordered a Suntory Premium draft in front of all the salarymen in anticipation of the experience. Afterall, this is THE reigning ‘pure-play’ dandan noodle king in Tokyo according to Tabelog, even ranked ahead of the newly starred Nakiryu while situated in the competitive Akasaka neighbourhood. Given its background of being a 30-year history Chinese restaurant’s dedicated ramen joint, the wok-fried vegis made-to-order as toppings, very similar to the Sapporo style, is indeed the distinctive feature here. Standalone no doubt a very balanced bowl, it did trail Anh’s when it comes to spiciness and its soup base just a touch less tasty than Narikuya’s. What it lacks, however, it certainly compensated well with its ‘Chinese chef’s table’-like experience offered. Hitting it early on a day is certainly the best hedge against any disappointment.

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RAMEN | 銀座 篝 (かがり) (Kagari)

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Ever thought of having quality ramen inside a metro station? Here we have it, the hottest toripaitan ramen in Tokyo these days at the heart of Ginza, in fact, INSIDE the Ginza metro station next to exit C2. Always being spotted as having one of the longest queues in Ginza at their 4-chome honten since opening in 2013, they went one step further to go UNDERGROUND for their Echika fit branch yet the queue doesn’t seem to get any shorter. If anything, it should be even more popular as die-hard queuing fans will be protected from the hot summer as well as the cold winter from now on, not to mention on a rainy day. One of the few popular ramen joints in Japan that doesn’t give you any pressure in finishing your bowl quick, frequent goers and tourists alike are certainly taking their time here and thus recommended only for those with patience. While I didn’t expect anything less from the soup, as already well documented and the owner said to have horned his skills at respectable Mizutaki joints, it was actually the topping veggies that made an impression. From bamboo shoots, gobou to spring cabbage and of course asparagus, spring is certainly in the air. LG actually didn’t recall any other occasion when the veggies were the standouts during a ramen fix. Also worth mentioning is the noodles. Supplied by the renowned Mikawaya Seimen they were certainly cooked ‘Al dente’ and went really well with the rich and creamy soup. Get ready for more ramen joints mushrooming at metro stations soon.

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TEMPURA | てんぷらと和食 山の上 (Hilltop Hotel)

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Paid pilgrimage to one of the most renowned breeding grounds of top Tempura chefs in Tokyo, as the name suggests it did really involve some walking up a hill, which they share with Meiji University as well as a famous cram school. Established in 1954 being converted from one of Tokyo’s earliest art museums subsequently occupied by the GHQ, the place was said to be well frequented by famous Japanese authors the likes of Yukio Mishima (三島 由紀夫), as Kanda was the area where most publishers were based. Stretched it to the limit to attempt a walk-in lunch on a Tuesday without any reservation, and somehow still managed to have them miraculously find me a corner counter seat in front of the stove after a nice relaxing beer at the historic hotel lobby thanks to their amazing hospitality, it was LG’s lucky day. Everything just came with an air of history here and it was certainly the most enjoyable ‘queuing’ experience LG ever had in Japan. The matre’d actually came personally to fetch me at the lobby lounge on the dot at the promised time while I was still sipping my beer and everything’s well in line with a perfect script from there. Having frequented their modern outfit with a view at Roppongi Midtown for countless times, this visit to their roots was certainly a much belated encounter. Far from all the posh, and at times pretentious, outfits in Ginza nowadays, this supposedly ‘basic’ looking Japanese restaurant at a historic western-style hotel in Tokyo still delivers seasonal yet very solid classic Edomae Tempura fare as good as any of the top guns. Will endorse this anytime above it all in Tokyo though reservation is still a must to avoid any disappointment given also the slight detour off centre. Don’t expect a mass market price tag either.

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YAKINIKU | 立喰い焼肉 治郎丸 (Jiroumaru)

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Probably the most anticipated visit to a Yakiniku joint LG can recall. Made their name rapidly after their 2014 opening at Kabukicho and have been a darling of the media ever since. Caught their relatively new branch managed by the Mugen group under the highway after the best Hanami experience ever at Nakameguro on a Sunday afternoon, all the stars were aligned. Probably the first ever ‘Standing Yakiniku’ place that went popular enough to become a chain, one can indeed order different cuts ‘piece by piece’ here at a price as low as 30 Yen or a moriwase for just less than 1000 Yen. While the norm in Japan, all parts featured being quality local beef is still a big drawcard for overseas visitors. Certainly the most amazing hitori-yakiniku experience for LG ever, all in the setting of a modern standing sushi bar with proper displays and all the works. The ambience was indeed another high point as people tend to mingle with each other and after a few drinks it was just one big party. An experience not to be missed.

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KAPPOU | 賛否両論 (Sanpi Ryoron)

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Went straight to try out this proclaimed to be ‘extremely difficult to book’ joint from Japan on its first pre-opening day in town, got lucky over a cold call to secure one of the limited counter seats (only) in the premises. The place got its fame back home pretty much thanks to its Kitcho-trained ‘celebrity’ owner-chef Kasahara-san (笠原将弘), as well as a rather provocative name basically meaning ‘mixed reviews’. Sent into town to spearhead its first overseas venture is Koyama-san (小山雄史) who horned his skills at the Shinjuku Isetan ‘Kitchen Stage’ and got the privilege to have a seat right in front of him to witness it all. Strategically labelling the place a ‘Kappou’ rather than ‘Kaiseki’, and in fact renowned for its value for money back home, it is actually more like a fancy izakaya that reminded LG of a similar joint in Osaka. Overall was a FAIR if yours truly have to be direct, as it was probably ‘too traditional to be creative yet too creative to be traditional’, if this is making sense at all. Will give it the benefits of the doubt for now as it just went into operation in town so probably time will tell if they can repeat the success here as in back home. The dish that stood out, and hopefully a representation of their potential, was a sweet potato croquette with a mashed ‘Kakinotane’ (柿の種) coating. Truly creative and yet stylishly Japanese, but most importantly, tasty. A good signature dish and concept to ride on for their ideal menu eventually.

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RAMEN | つけ麺 五ノ神製作所 (Tsuekemen Gonokami Seisakusho)

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Much raved about joint of Ito-san’s (伊藤真啓) made their name with ebi tsukemen from 2010 onwards, while its roots could be dated back to 2007 under the name ‘いつ樹’ in Ome where it all started, offering mainly tai ramen. The group has since then ventured into a much broader space with branches now all over Tokyo. Though technically in Shinjuku, the location fits the image of a hidden joint, situated in the midst of a back alley neighbourhood of office/residential complexes facing a sports ground. Can still spot from afar though once made the right turns as the queue is always there. Not a prohibitive period of waiting eventually and the ambience inside is surprisingly spacey. With a trendy crew that can easily be mistaken as hair stylists if not pop band members, the ‘stagey’ setting of the kitchen with comfy counter seats surrounding it certainly set the ‘stage’ for a much anticipated encounter with the main feature, that is, the much acclaimed bowl itself. Be it the high expectation or the limitation of Tsukemen itself, it was just an okay experience notwithstanding the indeed robust dipping soup as good as a finesse lobster bisque one can find at a decent brasserie. Granted, one probably has to try its full range of offerings around town before labelling it and that’s what LG is going to do. For Ebi ramen lovers, still a must try to check the box if nothing else.

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SUSHI | 大蔵 (Okura)

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A long overdue write up on Chef Lum’s (formerly at Naha-Taikoo Shing) lunch sushi offerings. Have always find him a rare breed in town being a local chef and yet sticking truly to the seasonality of goodies on offer, with some daring offbeat surprises thrown in at times. At this Winter/Spring interchange, we savoured timely pieces from Kue, Ishigarei all the way to Sakuratai Shirako and the amazing ‘instant’ Maguro Tsuke in the end, which is by far the most memorable one tried outside of Japan for LG. All these come at a fraction of the price tag commanded by its fancy counterparts mushrooming in town these days, let alone the cosy interaction iconic of a local chef that we miss every now and then. My best price-quality pick for a relaxing sushi lunch in town.

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