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The Michelin Guide has consistently awarded more stars to Tokyo dining establishments than any other city in the world. I created this blog as my personal Tokyo restaurant guide, but I hope you will also enjoy reading it. If you have been to any of the same places feel free to leave some comments about your own experiences.

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Monday, 29 December 2008

Alto, Canberra, Australia

I'm at large again and my latest jaunt is to the city of my birth, Canberra, Australia. Despite all the embassies and the fact it is the federal capital of Australia, Canberra is not exactly the most cosmopolitan or exciting city. Nevertheless if you ever visit Australia, it's worth staying a couple of nights as there are usually good exhibitions at the National Gallery (this time it was Degas) and there is actually quite a lot to see and do.

Dining in Canberra has come a long way since what I remember when visiting as a teenager and young adult. The latest "it" establishment for Canberrans, Alto, is to be found in the Black Mountain Tower. The views from the revolving restaurant are superb and the decor is in a trendy, white retro 70s minimalist style. If you can imagine what a restaurant in Canberra that's trying very hard would be like then this is it. But I tell you, it's still good old Canberra. It's not that they know what to do and don't do it, it's that they really don't know in the first place.

I was taking my parents and little brother out for dinner and when we all arrived, nobody greeted us. Our waitress for the evening just looked straight through us and carried on her way. About two minutes later after some perfunctory name checking she sort of motioned to us and headed off and so we assumed this meant we were being led to the table. Our table, like everyone else's had a great view and we enjoyed the mist and clearing rain at twilight looking over Lake Burley Griffin, Civic and the suburbs as we whirled slowly around.

The menu was not particularly large and the prices were expensive. About $20-30 for an entree, $30-45 for the mains and $18 for dessert. You know you're in for a classy night when the waiters tell you this and that is "complimentary". Our first complimentary course was the little soups given as the "amuse". It kind of tasted like garlic bread - not unpleasant but not all that interesting either. For my entree I had the twice cooked cheese souffle. This was burned and, I'm sorry to say, had the consistency and taste of a failed year 8 home economics experiment. Bread was served, but while we were waiting the more than one hour it took to get our main course we were told that as it was "complimentary" all the tables had been given their allocation for the evening. We managed to eventually get two rolls out of them but my brother and I got nothing. What a class act! Anyway, the mains eventually came. I had ordered the whiting which came with beans and lardons, and this was passable - I mean in a good coffee lounge sort of way. Not really what you'd expect for 40 bucks though. My brother's lamb looked ok - don't you just hate it when you order the wrong dish! Dessert was a pretty damn narrow slice of grapefruit tart served with vanilla ice cream. It didn't really taste like grapefruit but it was passable in a coffee lounge sort of way.

The wines were also pretty ordinary. I started off with a glass of their house sparkling which had a musty sort of character about it (I couldn't be bothered with the debate over whether it was corked) and the NZ sauvignon blanc I ordered by the glass was nothing to write home about. It was the kind of wine you'd have at an Aussie barbeque I suppose.

To sum it up, like every single revolving restaurant I have ever been to the food is disappointing. The problem always occurs when we don't know if we're coming for the food or the view. Any restaurant that looks like it lives off a tourist trade is going to disappoint - it's one of the immutable laws of dining out. Definitely don't come for the food, and absolutely don't come for the service which is pathetic - ignorant and arrogant (which is the worst of both worlds). The view however is great, so if you can look past the profound mediocrity of the food and service, you'll still enjoy your evening.
Tel: 61 2 6247 5518

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

La Bisboccia, Hiroo ラ・ビスボッチャ 広尾

It was only going to be a matter of time before I came to review La Bisboccia. This mainstay of the expat circuit has been recommended to me on numerous occasions. However more than once when I've suggested it, the other party groans and says - oh not there! Well finally I made it and I have to say it was nothing like what I expected. I was expecting a kind of faded luxury - a place that's been around for so long it's just going through the motions.

Actually the place does not even offer faded luxury. It's done out in theme-park Italian style with wooden tables and chairs. The crowd is loud and largely foreign - lots of parties and groups. Certainly not the place for a date or important business discussion. It's pretty fun actually and you have to admire the practical approach of a place that, when asked for wine by the glass, has no list but allows you to choose your wine "full bodied" or "light bodied" (which I supposed is a bit like offering art by the square inch - but I'm not classy enough to mind).

The food is actually rather good, if a bit pricey. My dining partner and I ordered deep fried zucchini flowers stuffed with fresh mozzarella and baked scarmoza to start. The zucchini flowers were so-so. I didn't really think they were much to write home about and the cheese filling tasted kind of fishy (maybe it was meant to!). My dining partner thought they were pretty good though, so I'll give it a "pass conceded". The scarmoza was pretty nice, but I felt could have been left in the oven a bit longer, but then again I tend to like baked things a bit overdone. This was followed by a very tasty taglierini with mushroom, prosciutto and pungent truffle oil. My main was a veal scallopini with mozzarella, tomato and white wine sauce. I'm sorry that veal is cruel, but this was delicious. Dessert was a "Boscaiola" prune and almond tart, which was served with out cream or ice cream and was probably better for it. I finished off with a rather nice glass of grappa.

I'd recommend La Bisboccia if you've got a work group or family to entertain. It's not the best value for money for what is really high quality comfort food but the staff are very willing, and after you'll be able to say, like me now, you've been!
Tel: 03-3449-1470

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Jin Din Rou, Ebisu 京鼎楼(ジンディンロウ)恵比寿

Yay! I've found another place to feed my tantanmen (sesame, chilli and pork ramen) and shorompo (soup dumplings) addiction - this time in Ebisu, quite near the east exit of the station. I've failed to write about most of my tantanmen and shorompo adventures as they are so dreadfully quotidian, but these are two of my favourite lunchtime dishes in Tokyo - and although they're Chinese in origin and I've always loved Chinese food, I had never tasted them before I lived in Japan.

For 1,700 yen your set includes a noodle soup of your choice, four shorompo, annin dofu (chilled almond jelly) and tea. Believe me you won't need any more that that!
The broth of the tantanmen was much thicker and creamier than those I have eaten elsewhere and had a great aroma. The shorompo were lightly flavoured with oolong tea, had lots of juice and were delicious - actually the best I've had for a while.

The staff are pleasant and efficient and you can watch the cooks beaver on the dumplings through a window into the preparation area, which makes for a nice atmosphere. I'll definitely be back here again to try out the rest of the menu!
Tel: 03-5795-2255

Petit Point, Hiroo プティポワン 広尾

I had been meaning for some time to go again to Petit Point, and an end of year dinner with a good friend seemed like the perfect excuse. It's a small French restaurant located next door to a graveyard in Hiroo, not far from Tengenjibashi. I'm happy to report that, graveyards notwithstanding, the food is very much alive and kicking. So it's really with some sadness that I relate that we were the only people in the restaurant - on a Saturday night coming up to the end of the year! I don't know if it's that the places that got a Michelin star are drawing all the punters now, if it's the dodgy economy or a combination - but it was worrying to me. With regard to the Michelin craze, you know I have to say that I feel rather less positive about it if, for Tokyoites, the lack of a star somehow comes to mean the place is not worthy. Frankly I would say Petit Point, and others like it such as Alladin (but many more come to mind) would easily rate with some of the places in the guide. So by all means I would encourage you to explore the Michelin Guide but please don't go all fundamentalist about it...

Enough ranting. Well a couple of things I didn't like so much, so let's get them out of the way. This is going to sound hyper-critical but I found the service pleasant but lacking warmth. We were the only people in the place but our server really didn't at all attempt to make a connection further than making an announcement about each dish. Hmmm - perhaps I'm too critical but I didn't really feel that welcome. The other thing that irritated a little was that there were no prices shown (at all). We were presented two alternative set courses and told to both order either the same option. We opted for the larger set of the two (what else?), but it wasn't until we got the bill that I found out how much it would cost. As I was taking my friend out, I didn't want to be so gauche as to ask the price as if I was in a negotiation as the souk but... Further, the lovely half-bottle of Vincent Dauvissat 2002 Chablis was not offered with a price. So watch out! Just FYI, including two coupes de champagne, half bottle and the course menu, the bill came to just under 45,000 yen. I don't think that's overpriced but the idea of hiding the price strikes as rather pretentious and belongs to another era. OK sorry Terry - enough vulgar discussion of the price of things!!!

When we arrived, on the table there was a dish with an intriguing Indian-style spice mix on it which was an accompaniment to bread and olive oil. Dinner opened with a foie gras served with fig jam. The foie gras had hints of an aromatic herb that I couldn't pin point and was delicious. This was followed by a clear, buttery soup of small but plump mussels and crunchy, chopped vegetables. In a soup you usually expect the veges to be cooked till they're soft and mushy, but the texture of the veges here was a surprise and doubled my interest in the dish. To follow was a croquette of hamaguri, a kind of clam, which was covered in a deep fried bird's nest of cornflour and a foam flavoured with scallop. This dish combined a very interesting taste and texture. Honestly speaking I found the hamaguri itself to be not much more than a chewy piece of rubber, but I suppose this is how it's meant to be! Hmm. Following this was a divine piece of wagyu beef served with tiny potato cubes cooked in the meat's lard. With the spurt of balsamic on the plate and the horseradish, this dish was a hit. Next to come was the cheese which was a suitably soft Mont d'Or which is a Swiss cheese often used in fondue. The dessert was a pleasant caramel pudding served with yummy ice cream, nuts, dried fruit and a cute little "moon man" made of sugar. This was followed by a delicious coffee and petit fours.

Petit Point is somewhere I would put on my circuit of above average restaurants for business or pleasure. I thought it would have been nice if the chef came out to say hello, and I have to admit that I found this to be a hint of arrogance along with the the no price policy but I guess I can overlook it...this time at least.
Tel: 03-3449-3975

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Petillant, Naka Meguro ペティアン 中目黒

"Petillant" can be loosely translated as fizzy or sparkling. Sounds like my type of place! Well actually the reality of this little bistro down the end of the Naka Meguro shopping street is a bit more down to earth, but pleasant nonetheless. On a recent visit for lunch I sampled their lunch set which is quite keenly priced. You can select a 1,000 yen set with an entree and main, or an 1,890 set with fancier ingredients. Of course I chose the latter, ordering a scallop terrine for the entree and the choucroute with pork and sausage. Being a Sunday, I also treated myself to a couple of glasses of their house white, and topped off the lunch with a chocolate terrine for dessert with a scoop of raspberry sorbet.

The scallop terrine was more like a mouse and, as you can see in the picture, looked just like a fresh mozzarella and had a very similar consistency. Drizzled with a basil oil, it tasted fresh, not too fishy and went well with the crusty baguette it was served with. Unfortunately they did not replenish the bread...The choucroute was quite nice, especially the sausage which tasted great with the mustard. The piece of boiled potato hiding underneath the cabbage was ever so slightly undercooked (I like my potato pretty soft I must admit). The wine tasted pretty cheap and not really worth commenting on other than that. The dessert was another matter though - the chocolate terrine was rich and dense (none of the obvious retorts please!) and went terrifically well with the raspberry sorbet.

Overall, I found the food to be pretty good, the wine pretty ordinary and the service to be quite pleasant. If you're on a budget you could do a lot worse than coming here.
Tel: 03-3792-3567

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Bernache, Kita Senzoku ベルナーシュ 北千束

Bernache is a little French restaurant in a side street off the Kita Senzoku mall, not too far from Ookayama station. The chef studied for two years in Paris and worked at several French restaurants in Tokyo before opening his own place last year. The ambiance is very casual and more like a café than a restaurant. The main feature in the dining room is the huge stainless steel kitchen, which focuses one's thoughts on the cooking.

On a recent visit for Sunday lunch, my dining partner and I were the only people in the restaurant. That's a great pity as the food is very good. Starting at 2,500 yen you can order a lunch set that includes an entrée, main, dessert and coffee. After sampling a delightful glass of Crémant de Bourgogne, I started lunch with a smoked goose salad topped with poached egg.
The goose meat was nice and smoky and went well with the runny egg. For my main I had the lamb which came with spinach, mash and ratatouille. The meat itself was well done but absolutely tender (excellent!) and the accompaniments first class. Dessert, which was selected at the discretion of the chef, was a crème brûlée, which went down very easily.

If you're in the area I'd really encourage you to support this young chef and his helper who worked hard and modestly to make our lunch a happy one, and I'm sure would do the same for you.

Tel: 03-5731-8451

Higashiyama, Naka Meguro 東山 中目黒

Higashiyama is a beautifully minimalist modern izakaya located in Naka Meguro, a bit of a hike from the station not far from Yamate Dori. The food is modern Japanese and consists of little creations which in the set menu I ordered on a recent visit included sashimi, daikon and crab, a salad with animal organs of unknown origin, gingko nuts, beef (among some others which I can't remember now!). In a burst of excess I also ordered some pork belly which was grilled to perfection and served with wasabi. This was washed down very pleasantly by my dining partner and I with a bottle of Californian Chardonnay and a glass of Zifandel.

Higashiyama is definitely a place worth experiencing, especially with out-of-towners who will be sure to appreciate the unique modern Japanese izakaya experience.
Tel: 03-5720-1350

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Miravile Impact, Ginza ミラヴィルインパクト 銀座

In the interests of full disclosure I have to admit that when I made the booking at Miravile Impact, I thought that I was booking at Miravile - the Michelin One Star restaurant located near Yoyogi. After realising my mistake at the last moment, I hurriedly changed my plans, informed my dining partner of the new destination and headed off for the Marronier complex near Printemps at Ginza. Even though I had booked days ahead the only table available to us was at the counter, which I found kind of annoying but it also gave a chance to see everyone else's lunch being prepared.

Miravile Impact is basically a little cake and dessert shop, although there is a 1,400 yen set offering a meat of the day or a fish of the day. We opted for the meat of the day which was a fried chicken with coconut Thai curry sauce, frites, an intriguingly presented salad in a glass and a small daikon soup and roll. The set also includes a dessert, which the house chooses for you.

The main meal was disappointing. It took a long time to be served, and the french fries were cold! No guys - you can't trade off your 1 star rating at your other location and serve fries up cold. Further, whilst the salad looked interesting its taste was rather less so with a stodgy potato and tarako whip at the bottom of the glass. The chicken was actually quite small, consisting of a tiny chunk of meat and a single chicken wing.

At one point I have to admit to being almost uncontrollably disappointed. However, after a really, really long wait dessert was served. This was an amazing combination of flavours in a martini glass. The first layer was black beans, followed by a layer of fresh yuzu, soy sauce (!) ice cream and a molasses crisp. This combination of sour, salt, sweet, chewy, crunchy and smooth was quite amazing. It was enough to restore my interest in the establishment. But please, don't eat lunch there - just turn up around 4pm for a lovely dessert.
Tel: 03-5524-0417

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Shin-a-hanten (New Asia), Daimon 新亜飯店 大門

If you're not careful you'll miss this well-worn Chinese restaurant in one of the main streets of Daimon (not far from the gate which is large enough for cars to drive through, where Daimon gets its name).

On a recent weekend lunch, the Shanghai-style yakisoba that came out first was generous and delicious, as was the wonton soup. But I was drawn here in the search for the perfect "shorompo" which, to the uninitiated, are steamed pork dumplings where the skin of the dumpling forms a bag containing a hot, oily pork broth (mind your tongue!). These are served with strips of fresh ginger, soy sauce and vinegar - which balance the fattiness of the dumpling superbly. The shorompo on offer here for 1,400 yen for eight pieces are the meatiest I've tried so far in Tokyo.

Almost every other diner in the place had ordered a serve of these, and they're obviously the speciality of the house.

I'd recommend giving these guys a go one Saturday or Sunday for lunch - you will not go hungry I assure you!
Tel: 03-3434-0005

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Restaurant Hashimoto, Ogikubo レストラン ハシモト 荻窪

Restaurant Hashimoto is a delightful little French restaurant in a backstreet of Ogikubo, not far from the American Express building and the train station. The chef used to work at L'ecrin in Ginza, and the refinement in food and service he learned there is evident.

Hashimoto features in Livedoor's list of best inexpensive French restaurants so I thought it may be worth trying out. For 2,500 yen you can order a lunch set featuring an entree, main and dessert. A number of dishes such as the foie gras or the duck require some supplement so you could end up paying more than that.

After starting with a very dry glass of the house sparkling white, I ordered a bolognaise risotto for my entree (sounded intriguing), while my dining partner ordered a meat terrine plate. My risotto was very tasty and was garnished with some very nice powdered parmesan and olive oil. I'm not that into charcuterie but I had to try my dining partner's ham mousse, which is one of the specialities of the house. It was an interesting, smokey, creamy concoction and went very nicely with the hot little bread rolls we were served.

The main for both of us was duck, topped with fresh fig, a viscous, sweet and slightly spicy fig sauce and a baby gruyère gallette. The dish was simply superb, with just the right balance of sweet and savoury flavours - I could have easily reached over and stolen the lady's one at the next table for a second helping!

Dessert was a dense marron cake topped with a scoop of homemade pear and caramel ice cream. Although there was no choice as to what to order for dessert, the dish was far from the afterthought you get in a lot of places. As much effort was put into creating this as was given to the rest of the meal.

If I was you I'd find some excuse, such as losing your Amex card, to make it out to Ogikubo to try this place out.

Tel: 03-3398-5552

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Tuk Tuk, Meguro トゥクトゥク 目黒

Tuk Tuk is a hybrid Thai/Italian (weird, I know) restaurant near Meguro. Adding to the eclecticism is a Danish touch with the Carlsberg sponsorship of the glasses and menu blackboards. Luckily they don't mix Thai and Italian in the same dishes! Actually the specialty for lunch is a rich soup based on a red curry base that you can order selecting one of 5 different levels of spiciness. It's really delicious, featuring minced meat, tofu, egg and lots of interesting herbs and spices. The staff are also absolutely delightful.

Tel: 03-3444-5150

Monday, 3 November 2008

Dhaba India, Yaesu ダバインディア 八重洲

I don't pretend to have the foggiest as to what constitutes genuine Indian cuisine but when I see Indians cooking in the kitchen and dotted throughout the dining room, I think we must be pretty close to the genuine article. Dhaba is an Indian restaurant located not too far away from Tokyo station and the PCCW Building in Yaesu near Marunouchi.

The dining room is done out in an interesting stucco painted blue theme - which I imagine is a simulation of a real South Indian dining room. For a recent lunch on a holiday Monday I selected a 2,000 yen "holiday" menu which features a masala dosa (a chick pea pancake surrounding spiced potato and onion) and the curry of your choice served with nan and rice. The curry I chose was a tasty coconut and prawn curry that featured soft and fragrant curry leaves (which I have never had before). My dining partner ordered a dark, creamy mutton curry with fenugreek leaves. This was even richer and more delicious than my prawn curry!

Overall the service was a little bit slow and I was unpleasantly surprised to be charged 720 yen for two extra nan breads (very mingy, guys!). I think also for 2,000 yen a small dessert should be included, not just masala tea, lassi or madras coffee. However if you are looking for a real Indian curry, this is one of the more interesting places I have tried in Tokyo. I am sure the spiciness is toned way down for Japanese taste buds, but I would not say the flavours themselves have been dumbed down.

Tel: 03-3272-7160

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Le Bonheur, Tomigaya ル・ボヌール 富ヶ谷

Once in a while you come across a restaurant where the passion the chef has for his cooking just shines through. Le Bonheur, located in Tomigaya not far from Yoyogi Park and the NHK Centre is one such example.

On a recent visit for Sunday lunch I decided to try the "Menu Bonheur" which for 3,800 yen includes an amuse, entree, chef's surprise, main, dessert and coffee. Before doing so, I was offered a glass of sparkling Japanese wine from Yamanashi. This was light red and came with plenty of grape skin dregs - intentionally. Well the wine didn't really work, being way too young and with persistent bitter overtones (and 1,200 yen!), but I rated the daringness of it and this seemed to bode well for the rest of the meal.

My dining partner and I started off with an amuse of a boudin noir tart, which we were told was specially made as we had reserved our table in advance. This creation just kind of pleasantly vaporised in the mouth! This was followed by a "millefeuille" of avocado and zuwari crab served with a flake of cooked parmigiano cheese and roasted chestnuts. This was superb and was followed by the chef's surprise of an excellent, flavourful little risotto with celery and clams.

The main dish (of which we were told we had been given an extra large portion??) was a delightful beef cheek served with potato puree, seasonals mushrooms and jus. This dish was rich as can be and melted in the mouth the way a good beef cheek should.

Dessert for me was a fondant chocolat covered with a crunchy lattice biscuit and caramel ice cream. My dining partner's dessert was a gallette covered with nuts and ice cream and looked even better than mine!

All in all this was a great lunch and I can't wait to go back for dinner. The tiny, hot little bread rolls that kept coming throughout the meal deserve special mention. The waiter was a little bit intrusive but I put this down to his natural enthusiasm and desire to connect with his customers. There's very little to criticise about that! The chef was also very personable and came out to explain the menu himself at the start at said goodbye at the end of the meal - very good manners and much appreciated.
Tel: 03-3467-6161