Rollicking Good Food @Ginza Okuda, Tokyo

Date of Visit: February 23 2013

While the other runners opted for carbo-loading with pasta for their pre-race meal.  This runner threw all caution to the wind and had a full-course omakase set lunch at Ginza Okuda instead!  Why, she reckoned, there’s a rice course in Japanese kaiseki and that’s carbo-loading, ain’t it?!  Continue reading

‘Foraging’ @Aronia de Takazawa, Tokyo

Date of Visit: February 22 2013

Aronia de Takazawa or the re-branded Takagawa was voted the #1 Restaurant on Tripadvisor before I left for Tokyo. It also came #31 in S.Pellegrino Asia 5o Best Restaurant 2013.  From the reviews and blogs I have read, also famously difficult to book because it is a tiny restaurant with only 4 tables! So reservation was made 3 months ahead through emails with Takazawa’s wife, Akiko.  Continue reading

Eating ‘Dirt’ at Asia’s #1 Resto! @ Narisawa

Date of Visit: February 25 2013

A spot of experimental French-Japanese dining à la Narisawa-style. Reservations was too easy – hop online, fill in your details, pick your date and remember to reconfirm a week before.

The resto is in a up-market suburb of Aoyama, very easy to find. Since we were early, we checked out the hood. Walking around the suburban vernacular of precast concrete, we spotted design firms and GA Japan masterpieces. Continue reading

Just An Average Nick @RyuGin Tokyo

Date of Visit: February 26 2013 (Early Spring Menu)

In stark contrast to its offshoot’s glamorous location in Hong Kong (my review here), Nihonryori RyuGin‘s location in Tokyo is more subdued, in a residential back street off Roppongi. Roppongi was a sleezy area frequented by American GIs in the 60s before Mr Mori took the punt to redevelop the area and almost went under during the Japanese Asset Bubble. Lucky for him, his gamble paid off and now Roppongi is a thriving metropolis in Tokyo.

With an impressive string of accolades, namely 3 Michelin stars and being in S. Pellegrino’s List of World’s Top 50 Restaurants (determined by the water the restaurant sells, methinks), booking for a degustation dinner at RyuGin is very strict – starting at 11:30am on the 1st of the preceding month. However, if you are a late diner, you may be able to book in for their à la carte after 9:30pm. Continue reading

A Barbie Doll’s Lunch @Miyoshian in Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa

Date of Visit: March 1 2013 (on my birthday!)

Kenrokuen in Kanazawa (entrance fee ¥300, free for Seniors over 60) is one of the 3 Great Gardens in Japan’ (the other 2 being in Kyoto and Okayama). Unfortunately, our timing wasn’t great as we arrived on an early spring morning with a heaving sky which later drizzled. The garden is smaller than I had imagined with a couple of souvenir shops, but neither served hot coffee, except from the vending machine! The garden is pristine with pine trees and very meticulously landscaped. I saw the gardeners busy combing the ice off the lawn. I was wondering about the ropes in the trees. Apparently, they were to prevent the trees from snow damage, but now they are mostly decorative and even the tiny bonsai plant that I saw is roped. This is Kanazawa’s trademark I was informed!

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Kenrokuen Garden, Kanazawa: One of the 3 great gardens in Japan

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2-legged stone lantern. ‘Kotoji’

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Ropes in trees – trademark of Kanazawa!

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Gardeners busy sweeping the snow off the lawns to prevent ice damage

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Water, trees, stone paths, wooden shack

Our lunch today is at Miyoshian located right in the middle of the Kenrokuen Garden. Our lovely concierge from our hotel had booked for us a table by the window, so we can enjoy the serenity of the pond at the same time listening to the soothing trickling of the Midoritake waterfall.

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Miyoshian: Sitting over the Hasuike Pond inside a rustic timber shack

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There are 2 Miyoshian restaurants in the garden. We chose the tatami room(reservation recommended), the other restaurant opposite has tables and chairs for seatings, but no views.

Interior of the restaurant. Traditional tatami floors, dim lights, low tables set the tone for a rustic experience.  However, best of all, the heater which saved us from the chill (the smell from the gas took a bit of using to…nonetheless…)

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Unfortunately, since we are not used to sitting kneeling on the floor, our legs started to get numb soon after

The Lunch:  Set meals starts at ¥1500, but since we had made a reservation for the tatami room, we had to take the ¥2000 lunch set. Service was spotty, with only 2 forgetful waitresses who had to scurry from the other restaurant, but otherwise very amiable.

After ordering our pre-ordered set lunch, we were served a sweet, thick, gooey fermented rice beverage, which we all enjoyed.  We assumed it to be a non-alcoholic sake.

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Ama-zake: Traditional drink of Hina Matsuri. Made from ‘kome koji’, the same rice used for sake

When our set lunch arrived, we were taken aback but humoured with the childishness of the lunch-set assortment – green, white, peach-pink, yellow – is this a lunch for Barbie?

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Lunch fit for Barbie

The funny thing about Japanese hospitality is that they will speak to you in Japanese even though they know that you can’t understand a word of what they were saying – they will still very patiently introduce each dish presented.

Unfortunately, it was not until I got back home in Sydney and did some googling on what we ate that the symbolic significance of the food served to us were understood.  Nevertheless, better late than never, here is my deduction of our Barbie’s lunch.

Our Barbie’s lunch was actually a Hina Masturi lunch set featuring the all-important Hina Matsuri color palette of green, white, peach-pink and yellow. Their dainty presentation originates from the refined foods of which ladies of the imperial court had in the Edo Era.

  • Green: Signifies spring and new life;
  • Whilte: Signifies long life and fertility;
  • Peachy pink or red:  Signifies health and to ward off bad karma;
  • Yellow (in some regions):  Refers to the yellow flowers of the nanohana plant, a vegetable related to broccoli that is a major harbinger of spring.
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‘Fruits from the sea’ (prawn, snail, fish, jellied crabs), bamboo shoot and mochi

The three small stickyballs in pink, white and green on a stick are called dango, similar to mochi, except with no fillings.

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Delights of Kaga Cuisine on the tray

Clockwise from top left.

  • Jibuni is a local duck stew which we were looking forward to sampling, was an acquried taste.  It is rather a rather odd piece of sweet cold piece of meat in batter
  • Sashimi wrapped in a tough thick kombu with a piece of shiso leaf for taste
  • Chirashi-zushi, or “scattered” sushi, a bed of sushi rice with various colorful toppings was very edible
  • Ushiojiru is a clear soup made from hamaguri clams, which I believe to be in season.  The shells symbolise a joined pair, signifying the wish for a happy union in marriage.
  • Hasumushi is grated Kaga lotus root with shrimps and gingko nuts that is steamed, and covered with a thickened broth. It has a glutinous texture.

To conclude our meal, we were served a sweet and savory puff rice, called Hina arare.  As far as the lunch went, we were not impressed at all, but still…

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Hina arare puff rice mix

… I would still recommend the experience of having tea instead and enjoy the peace and tranquility of the garden setting. (It is a marvellous thing that the Japanese do not talk loud and use mobile phones.)

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View out to the pond

…Perhaps a more ‘authentic’ and better tasting Jibuni can be found at the shops outside the garden at  ¥550. There are also plenty of modern cafes outside serving pasta.

I also visited Seison Kaku Villa (entance fee ¥1000) which I highly recommend.  This 2-storied building had the Buke-Shoin (Samurai) style rooms on the ground floor and a  Sukiya-Shoin (combination of Samurai and Tea-ceremony) style rooms upstairs.  Walking on the squeeky patio was interesting as it still emitted the sounds of nightingales when weight was pressured on.  The upstairs were coloured in bright blues, reds, purple and black – very innovative for its time.  Choice glass imports from the Netherlands were also preserved showing the wealth of its owner Maeda Nariyasu.

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Seison Kaku (a national treasure)

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Antique Hina Masturi Dolls on display inside the museum (photo I took from the JR magazine)

Hina Matsuri Doll Festival

Hina Matsuri is a big festival in Japan and falls on March 3rd. It literally means the Doll Festival, a day when the families with girls display a very special set of dolls, hina-ningyō, thus praying for their girl’s good health and happiness.

Hina Matsuri is a new tradition which only became popular in the Edo Period (1600-1867) whereby it became customary for maternal grandparents to present a set of dolls upon the birth of their first granddaughter. A full set requires a seven-tiered staircase-like deck on which to display the Emperor and Empress, ministers, attendants, musicians and the procession of dowry goods and is very costly (up to and over one million yen!)

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Lladro Hina Matsuri Porcelain Dolls @ Palace Hotel Tokyo

Here is a link to Llandro’s Hina Matsuri Dolls, which I saw on display in Palace Hotel Tokyo, with the starting price of A$3500 and I am rather keen to get the pair.

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The traditional sets of Hina Matsuri dolls are true works of art with 7 tiers (from Hotel Nikko Kansai, Osaka)

The Emperor (Odairi-sama) and the Empress (Ohime-sama) wearing Heian Period clothing are placed in front of a gold folding screen (byōbu) with two paper lanterns (bonbori) and two flower vases

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The Emperor is holding a shaku (a ritual baton)

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The Empress is holding a fan

Notice the diamond shaped rice cakes placed on the stand with Hina dolls? These are the Hishi-mochi. They are colored in pink (implying peach flowers), white (implying snow), and green (implying new growth).

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Ministers and dowries

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Court attendants, muscians and dowry

The probable origin of Hina Matsuri might be Nagashi-bina (floating paper dolls down a river). Originally, the paper dolls were made to represent each person and all the ill-fortunes that might visit that person in the coming year were wished onto the doll. Then the doll was sent away on the river, taking the bad luck with it.

A taboo to remember is to take the pair of Hina Dolls down after March 3rd – however, if the family is too busy to dismantle the set, the dolls must be turned around, otherwise, misfortune might fall on the daugher and she would not be able to find a good husband!

And for the more academically inclined, here is an interesting critical analysis on Hina Matsuri and the Japanese Female, which inquired on the females as ‘controlled victims of Japanese patriarchy‘ from its sombre and not-so-happy significance.

Today, March 8th is also the International Women’s Day which I found out from the morning show talking heads. Seriously, why do they equate women’s power through style and dressing? Don’t they know that the stars before and after are so totally different? Most stars are from the ghettos anyway. The world’s most powerful woman, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Australia’s richest woman, mining magnate Gina Rinehart are powerful, but they are not stylish!

Anyway, before I tangent off, here is a link to the virtual Girl Museum online – ‘Celebrating Girlhood Worldwide’!

Liberty Private Works

(A scheduled post from the Chica currently on a month-long luncheon in Japan)

Date of Visit: February 18 2013

I booked Liberty Private Works (LPW) a month before I arrived Hong Kong. Booking was super-easy as it’s all done via online booking and the restaurant will email you with confirmation, followed up by 2 more phone confirmations – the week before and on the day. Getting a seating on your prefered date is a different matter. I did a Google search and found that this is the Top Restaurant in Hong Kong. The seats are very coverted since the establishment is operated in the ‘private kitchen style’, i.e. limited seating of around 26 persons per night organised in 2 seatings – 7:30pm and 8:30pm.

The menu is a set degustation menu costing $HK800+10%. Wine pairing will set you back further for HK$680+10%. We opted for a bottle of Spanish red instead. The wine list is very well curated with New World wines as well as the Old Worlds, I would suggest you to peruse the wine list online before you go for dinner – if you prefer reds, choose a lighter style wines (my 2-cents)

Chefs at work...Plating up with precision... and utmost concentration

Chefs at work…Plating up with precision… and utmost concentration

Munching on the lavash with guacalmole dips while waiting for the 8:30pm start

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Lavash with Guacamole

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The highly prized truffle in the glass cake-stand

AMUSE BOUCHE: Octopus terrine, balsamic (black dots) & pepper (red dots) reductions, cute circular cabbage leaf, cheese croquette, triangular pepper. Very delectable…

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Amuse Bouche of Octpus Terrine

ONE (Seafood): The chef suggested that we start from the left with the frozen grape and finish on the right. The espelette gave a spicy kick that lingers. After eating the last frozen grapes, I can really feel the espelette kicking in, warming my belly

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Tuna, Sea urchin, Espelette, Rice

Close up of the sea urchin and tuna. Can you see the caviar and gold leaf? The puff rice was very crunchy and tasted slightly vanillin… some childhood memories perhaps – munching on puff-rice crackers, anyone?

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TWO (Seafood): This course came on a very hot stone-slate plate. Because I’m allegic to shellfish, I got 2 pieces of the pumpkin ravioli instead of the lobster. (The lobster was apparently quite chewy and tough). The foam is coconut reduction. There was a suprise in store – I found a piece of seaweed under all the trappings. I love the green endame and yellow sago beads

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Lobster, Chorizo, Pumpkin, Coconut

THREE (Seafood): What beautiful presentation! Ponzu jelly in cubes, dots of yogurt, fennel, tiny nectarine bits, sous vide salmon and sweet oyster

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Salmon, Oyster, Nectarine, Fennel Yogurt

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Mine – but without the oyster

FOUR: This is a rather difficult dish to make, since the egg is poached inside the ravioli. Boy-O-Boy, delicious! I stuck the warm baguette to break the egg and wipe down the plate to soak up all the yolk and sauces – let’s spare the dishwasher boy the trouble, I say…

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Egg, Truffle, Parmesan, Caviar

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Spear the egg with the baguette

FIVE: The foam is from the essense of ham and fowl. There’s chargrilled brussel sprout leaves, daikon, thick ‘vegemitey’ truffles sauce

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Guinea Hen, Winter Black Truffle, Iberico Ham, Pear

Pulled fowl under the ham

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What’s under the Ham?

SIX: This is a fun dish. It kind of reminds me of my breakfast muesli with coco nibs. Venison is cooked in 2 ways: Venison steak cooked medium-rare and venison sausage. There’s a mint inside the sausage – another suprise? Cute! The pickled onion compliments the cherries, one whets the appetite, the other sweetens it.
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Venison, Cherry, Cocoa, Muesli

SEVEN (Dessert): THIS IS THE HIGHLIGHT!!

Each dessert plate is done very artistically and not one looked the same!

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Korean Strawberry, Tomato, Mascarpone, Rosemary

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Tomato with a suprise stuffing inside (not telling) and basil seeds

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Closer look

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Ice-cream, mochi with condensed milk filling

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The final product – crackling of liquid nitrogen

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EIGHT: Taking the Cantonese spin with fried milk – and healthful bee pollen and honey to soothe the body… interesting. The fried milk was very ceamy and milky which I absolutely loved

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Fried Milk, Saffron, Manuka Honey, Bee Pollen

PETIT FOURS: The clock is striking midnight and I have to catch the last MTR back to the dark-side… All-in-all, a very fun, interesting and tasty experience. Yes, I will be back! Most defo!

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Petit Fours: Mini Madelaines