KAISEKI | 京都 吉兆 (Kitcho)

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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!

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TEMPURA | 玄海 (Genkai)

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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.

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RAMEN | はしご (橋悟) (Hashigo)

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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.

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RAMEN | 四川担担麺 阿吽 (Aun)

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First read about this joint some years back at Japanese blogger R’s page, surprised to see that it is now ranked the #2 dandan-men joint in Tokyo according to Tabelog, even ahead of the newly-starred Nakiryu. Went for level 4 in terms of both ‘ma’ (numbness) and ‘la’ (spiciness) (one can choose seperately for the amount of sichuan peppercorns (ma) and chili (la) to put in) ahead of the standard level 3 suggested and opted for the soup version rather than the popular `maze’ one here, which certainly would taste wonderful as well with the featured good old ‘Mikawaya’ noodles, the immediate surprise for LG was the level of ‘ma’ the Japanese can take. The bowl certainly would have been qualified as an authentic bowl even in Chengdu or Chongqing, to the extend that the ‘numbness’ did overwhelm the taste a bit here. As in ‘spiciness’ from the chili, a level 4 was just right for LG and would recommend anyone to probably go for just a notch down for its peppercorn vs chili (x-1 vs x) mix to extract the true taste. Probably the dandan joint LG will most likely return in the future with the company of a few serious dandan-men lovers. Certainly an eye opener showing the sophistication of Tokyonites nowadays with classic Chinese tastes. It is indeed the first dandan joint one should visit as a true reflection of modern Sino-Japanese cuisine.

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TEMPURA | 天海 (Tenkai)

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It was a bit like picking up mispriced stocks on a slow day taking advantage of short term supply and demand imbalance. Got lucky and read their Facebook message around noon saying that they are opened today and figured that it might have been an indicator of slow business. And indeed, Bingo! as I ended up having nearly the entire counter just for myself. They only serve sets for lunch except Sunday thus will have to do a part 2 about their Omakase one day. Was always full when I walked by during lunch and given that it is walk-in only, never had the chance to try out Nagasawa-san’s skill, who used to run an Izakaya in Shizuoka (which is where he sourced most of his ingredients), until today.
Started off with an amazingly priced tempura-mori of 7 pieces for only 150 hkd. Though not served piece by piece, this I can say is not too far off from the Ginza elites and probably the best ‘CP ratio’ one can get in town. Highlight of the day, however, was this ‘Handa-men’. Basically a made to order sakura-ebi kakiage on top of a bed of Handa soumen from Tokushima, seeing the preparation of it from scratch was an enjoyment itself, not to mention the harmony it brought along from the texture to the taste. Certainly one for the Summer! Can’t guarantee one can have the same experience on a busy day but enjoying this entire meal at the counter all by oneself and in complete silence from start to finish is truly priceless.

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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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