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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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Sunday, 20 December 2009

Masa's Kitchen 47, Ebisu

OK I'll get right down to it - the lunch I had at Masa's Kitchen 47 was simply the best I've had in ages. This fairly new restaurant situated in trendy Ebisu is chef Masa's interpretation of modern Chinese - one which if you sit at the counter you will see him and his team of young apprentices working their guts out to deliver to absolute perfection.

For 3,500 yen you will receive a beautifully cooked, beautifully presented Chinese meal, one which is absolutely unrivalled for the money, or even not just for the money. The Michelin star that Masa was recently awarded is well worth it.

The set, which my dining partner and I watched chef masa cook and personally supervise, started with four different appetisers: some marinated celery, daikon and chicken, marinated scallop and a piece of bbq pork with a thin slice of wagyu sashimi! Wow! This was followed by a delicious shorompo and a yummy plate of steamed cabbage with oyster sauce. After this a fried spring roll containing crab, prawn, scallop with a hint of truffle oil lightly seasoned with salt was served. YUM!

Following this the main dish of sweet and sour chicken with soft dumpling bread was presented. This was basically the best sweet and sour anything I ever tasted. As if this wasn't enough, a super-rich tantanmen was served to top off the savoury courses. An anin dofu with home-made strawberry ice cream topped off the feast. If you can believe it, with there being a 5,500 yen course available, this was the lighter (but not lesser) menu.

Unlike a lot of Chinese food made by Japanese this was heavy-hitting, take-no-prisoners on the flavour front, so just the way I love Chinese food. Contrary to Japanese tastes I just don't see Chinese food as being a gentle or subtle cuisine (although I know I have a lot to learn about it) and, whilst this is still a Japanese interpretation, it's a gutsy and creative effort - as well as being beautifully served and presented. I loved it and will be back for sure.


Sunday, 13 December 2009

Le Bouillon, Okusawa ル・ブイヨン 奥沢

It's a scarily long time ago now, but I used to live near Okusawa/ Jiyugaoka which I still find a nice little part of the world. One of my regulars whilst I was living there was Le Bouillon. I've taken friends, family and clients there and have never been disappointed by its conscientious French food and friendly service. When I went there recently for Sunday lunch it had been more than five years since my last visit, but the waitress still recognised me. Big snaps for her, as she now has my loyalty for
life ;-)

Here are some pics from lunch - I highly recommend you try it out if you're in the area. There's another really nice French restaurant in Okusawa called La Coupe which I'd really like to get back to if I can find a good enough excuse.


Saturday, 28 November 2009

Tankuma, Korakuen たん熊 後楽園

Tankuma is an excellent Kyoto style restaurant in the Tokyo Dome Hotel serving tempura and teppanyaki in separate, dedicated rooms. On a recent visit for lunch, when I was lucky enough to be taken by both my Japanese teachers (yes, I am so incompetent that I need two teachers) I came away very impressed by the subtlety and quality of the cooking and service.

Each course that comes is explained by the staff as to what it is and how to season it. The tempura is light as can be, and the oil is changed well before one might even begin to consider it necessary. If these people could make me actually enjoy eel, then from the crunchy prawn legs to the tempura ice cream (which required another oil change!) I'm sure you will be impressed also.

Tel: 03-5805-2111

C'est La Vie Nagano, Shinjuku セラヴィナガノ 新宿

Sorry if there's any confusion around the name - this French restaurant is in Shinjuku, not Nagano. I may even get round to asking the owner some time about the name, as this tiny, ageing, basement level hot-bed of cream and foie-gras worship in Shinjuku, not far from Shinjuku Gyoen could become a little regular of mine.

I've been twice for dinner, and on the second visit, I also took some work colleagues who ended up more than happy. The menu is actually quite large for such a small place but on both occasions I ordered the lamb with foie gras and cassis as my main. On my more recent visit this was washed down with a bottle of Alsatian Pinot which was exceptionally pleasant. Perhaps it's easy to impress a bunch of hungry blokes with food that is off the dial in terms of its hedonic/calorie index. We're talking "pre-nouvelle" cuisine here, but that's where I find the charm.

I wouldn't call this a friendly place, but the chef and his assistant are diligent and professional. For the occasional old-fashioned indulgence, if you're in the area and feeling like a big feed of comfort food with a bit of panache, then I'd give them a try.

Tel: 03-3350-7610

Sunday, 22 November 2009

L'ami du vin Eno, Jingumae ラミデュヴァン”エノ” 神宮前

L'ami du vin Eno, is in the breed of small, owner operated restaurants where the chef has apprenticed in France and come home to create his own little corner of France in Tokyo. I really love these kinds of places, even though occasionally it freaks me out just how lovingly authentic they are. To see the attention to detail and, some might argue, to illusion is often worth a visit in itself.

I've walked past this restaurant on many an occasion and never really gave it much thought until I recently, on a whim, made a booking for Sunday lunch. I'm so glad I did because everything is excellent. The somber looking chef, who has a feather in his cap (literally) is clearly a self-styled master of game, and this is further attested to by the bird wings nailed to the door post. Yes, I know it's a bit gross, but clearly that's what they do in France. Just hold the cheese with maggots!

Nevertheless, this time, I didn't partake of anything gamey, just opting for the basic lunch set which comes with a nice rillette to start, an amuse of kidney shaped olives and scrape of fishy, garlicky potato (I think it's called a brandade), delicious bread with beurre echire and an entree, main and dessert as well as coffee and nibbles. Great value for 3,150 yen although my aperitif of a glass of champers added 1,680 to the bill.

In a word, the food was great. My lobster bisque seemed small at first, but was actually just the right size and well balanced between fishiness and creaminess. The tidbits of lobster in the soup actually tasted reasonably fresh as well. I'm not a huge fan of pate de campagne but my dining partner was very complimentary of his. For the main, I ordered the wagyu which was accompanied by plenty of braised daikon. My dining partner had the fish of the day - a suzuki which came on a bed of cabbage. The suzuki looked fleshy and tasty. My wagyu was absolutely superb, nicely balanced by the blander, but not bland daikon. Our mains were followed by a warm apple tart and ice cream, which was nice, but I suspect the desserts are not the speciality of the house.
I'll definitely be back. Perhaps next time, hopefully at dinner, I'll opt for something more gamey. I'm sure that chef knows just how to play it!


Thursday, 19 November 2009

Aquavit, Kita Aoyama アクアヴィット 北青山 

I have had dinner twice at Aquavit, first about a year ago and then much more recently. This slick Kita Aoyama restaurant located under the Oracle building and in the concourse behind the Lexus dealer recently celebrated its first anniversary. It bills itself as "modern Scandinavian" (great if you like salmon), and a franchise of a restaurant of the same name in New York City.

My impression of the restaurant after the first visit was a good one, with great interior design, a very personable European sommelier, good food, and efficient service. On my more recent visit I have to admit to having been slightly underwhelmed, and thinking that standards have slipped. Upon arrival my party of three was offered a table in the bar area to have some drinks. This was nice enough, but we were left alone long enough for me to begin to wonder if we were ever going to be sat at the table (this is a common risk I've found in Tokyo when you agree to a drink at the bar). Incidentally, at one point later in the evening we were all served what I think was some chilled vodkas, only to have them whisked away when the waitress realised she had served the wrong table. I suspect there is a better way to recover from such a faux pas! Later the main meals were served to the wrong people, a situation that we rectified ourselves. Not what you'd expect from a restaurant of such pretensions as this.

Eventually we were led to our table and menus were handed out, but only one menu showing the tasting menus was given, which meant that after handing the menus around I didn't really get to see what was on there properly until they arrived to take the order. Nevertheless I decided to order the chef's tasting menu and the bottomless glass of Mumm (now that's a good idea!).

The tasting menu consisted of an amuse of something foie gras-ish on a spoon, a sampler of tidbits including some smoked salmon and fish eggy and creamy things, a quite good foie gras ganache, some fairly average scampi and scallop served in a bowl with saffron cream soup, a main of a fairly bland, small piece of rare grilled beef with creamed spinach, what tasted like re-heated potato and some onion "marmalade" (except the onion was whole), then a sampler of desserts followed by some petit fours and coffee. I think there was one dish I can't remember but, to be brutally honest, either the food wasn't that memorable or the company was way more stimulating.

Even though they just scrape into my three star level, I'm sorry to say that I won't be rushing back to Aquavit anytime soon unless there is a proper revamp. The staff are pleasant enough, but they do not quite offer a level of food and service equal to the image and the price.

Tel: 03-5413-3300

Monday, 19 October 2009

Ninja, Akasaka ニンジャ 赤坂

What's a serious blog like mine (tongue firmly in cheek) doing reviewing a shameless tourist trap like Ninja? I mean, this restaurant even appears in the Qantas in-flight video on what to do in Tokyo! Expectations would therefore have to be very low in the food department, even if the ninjas are guaranteed to delight anyone under the age of 12. After a recent dinner at Ninja with a 4 and 6 year old I can confirm that they are indeed delighted by the place - my 6 year old nephew gushing it's the "coolest place in the whole world!". But it's pretty entertaining for adults too. I don't want to ruin the experience by telling you too much about how you get to the table, suffice it to say that the ninjas are surprising, friendly and just a bit tricky!!

Although the ninjas give you some thrills and spills, the food is the biggest surprise of all. Contrary to my expectation, even though we may not be seeing Ninja in the Michelin guide any day soon, the food is quite creative and, overall, very good. We ordered the least expensive set which (for some numerological reason?) is priced at 7,777 yen. After having sampled it I can't imagine how anyone could eat more than that, but there are more lavish set menus on offer.

The first event of the evening was pastry ninja stars served on some twigs with a foie gras spread - now that took some thinking! This was followed by a lobster pudding topped with dried-fried yuzu shreds. Next tempura vegetables served with a soy sauce foam were served. After this "exploding" sea snails were served, which the waitress helpfully set fire to. This was followed by a shot of eggplant with foam, then a tartare of tuna topped with avocado. Following this our waitress took some fresh vegetables in a wooden bucket and added some hot stones as the first stage in preparing a delicious tom yung soup for us (yes I know-Thai?). This was followed by a fish or beef main. I ordered the beef and this came with foie gras in a little covered dish and was not bad. As a final savoury dish we were served some sushi of tempura prawn and some maki rolls of purple rice, which was a hit. Dessert was a sorbet topped with a cream mousse on a bed of stewed fruits. This was topped off by coffee.

The kids had their own plate of yummy things that kids like - such as croquette, hamburger etc and a great little dessert which is pictured here. Our group found Ninja to be thoroughly entertaining, and the food to be of a level that would stand up well even without the theme. I can't recommend the combination of food and entertainment enough which, as a package, is something pretty rare - so I give it 4 stars. The Ninja concept screams cheesy, but it's not - and I'd be happy to take any visitor to Tokyo there!

Tel: 03-5157-3936

Friday, 16 October 2009

Dazzle, Ginza ダズル 銀座

I can't imagine how a place with a name as outrageous as "Dazzle" escaped my attention for so long. I'm not such a frequent diner in glittering Ginza, but last month when I wanted to find somewhere suitably dazzling to take some clients I stumbled across it on a last-minute web search, hoping that the name was a promise. 

I don't know about dazzling, but it's actually not too bad; and as I've been back since I can report on the balance of two experiences. The restaurant is at the top of the Mikimoto building in Ginza, adjacent to Printemps. The Mikimoto building is one of the more interesting in Ginza, featuring an asymmetrical/ naturalistic (I wish I knew the right architectural term) window treatment up and down the length of the building.

Upon arrival at Dazzle the elevator opens onto the kitchen and you are greeted by several staff with suitably dazzling smiles. There is a bar off to the side, where you may be parked for a while as we were on our second visit, or taken to another elevator which delivers you to the impressive high-concept, high-ceilinged dining room. A two-storey, part-funnel shaped glass wine cellar forms a very interesting feature in one corner.

My first impression was of a rather shallow, image-driven place somewhat like XEX Daikanyama; but unlike XEX the food actually tastes as good as it looks. On both visits as a pre-starter I partook of the oysters, which come in various creative dressings such as limoncello and mandarin, and I would say are about the best thing on the menu. Both times I ordered the crab cakes for entree and chef's special pasta for the main (I wish I could remember what it was on the first visit - on the second it was a pleasant blue-cheese ravioli). On my more recent visit I almost died with jealousy when my dining partner's wagyu arrived. She was kind enough to give me a decent piece off her wagyu mountain (very generous serving) which was impossibly rich and decadent - as wagyu should be. For dessert I highly recommend the fondant chocolat, which might just be the nicest I've eaten in recent memory.

Overall, even though the menu is too short for my liking, I'd rate the food above average - surprisingly good for a "concept" restaurant. The service is willing, but doesn't quite come together as it should in some niggly ways such as forgetting to take the wine order. I like the Aussie maitre d', but my French dining partner on the second visit found him slightly intrusive and insincere (la belle dame sans merci!). I think he's trying to do his job well, but can see how he would have created that impression. A bit more experience will round him out a bit. I think a bit more rounding is the order of the day for Dazzle - just a bit of a push on the execution and this could be a really great place.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

The Hump, Marunouchi ザハンプ 丸の内

Why would you call a sushi bar The Hump? Why would you call anything other than a pole dancing bar something like that? Actually according to Wikipedia "The Hump" was the name given by Allied pilots in the Second World War to the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountains over which they flew from India to China to resupply the Flying Tigers and the Chinese Government of Chiang Kai-shek. So NOW I realise why this place whose alma mater is located at Santa Monica airport in LA is so named.

I recently humped on over for lunch at their branch in Marunouchi and scored a table facing the imperial palace moat. Hands down I can't think of anywhere more appropriate to eat what I guess for most people seems like Japan's national dish facing the seat of the chrysanthemum throne. Priceless, as they say on telly.

The concept of The Hump is modern Californian sushi. Having experienced what they whip up in California and call "sushi", I find the selection more Japanese than Californian, though one can definitely see the influence in the spicy "LA" rolls. Rainbow Roll Sushi at Azabu is, to my mind, more Californian and daring in deviating from the local sushi formula, but this does not detract in any way from The Hump.

I ordered a 2,500 yen bento which included some salad, tempura, braised chicken, sashimi, sushi and LA rolls, and was followed by a litte scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. My dining partner ordered the 1,600 yen California maki plate. Not being able to help myself I washed mine down with a glass of Roederer which set me back another 1,500 - but was so right.

I'd encourage you to check The Hump out. The staff are really sweet, the food is of very good quality and the setting is just about the best you could ask for - especially if you're entertaining foreigners in need of some humping good sushi.
Tel: 03-5293-4813

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Les Creations de Narisawa, Minami Aoyama レ・クレアシヨン・ド・ナリサワ 南青山

Yoshihiro Narisawa at Creations de Narisawa apprenticed with both Bocuse and Robuchon, so it's hard to imagine a better pedigree in French cooking that this still-young chef could have had. His restaurant, which is located under the Sony building in Minami Aoyama, opened in 2003 and since then has received a string of accolades, including a Michelin star and being named by San Pellegrino water as one of the top 20 restaurants in the world (on my blog you can read about one of the others - Tetsuyas).

After dining there I can confirm that all the accolades are well deserved. Indeed, I really need to question why this restaurant has only one Michelin star when you compare it to other places in Tokyo which are supposedly on the same level. Creations is clearly aiming for a class above. The first thing that sets it apart is its ultra-modern "waiting room" where you are asked to sit before the electric doors slide open and your waiter leads you to your seat.

There is a studied, deliberate coldness both about the room and the serving staff who do quite a good impression of expressionless androids; which is quite disconcerting at first. However I set out to see if I could subtly melt this down a bit, and as the evening wore on I'm happy to say that both our waiters became steadily more human and even Mr Narisawa himself came out to say hi - and couldn't have been more friendly. Hmm - I know they're trying to focus all attention on the food with the minimalism, but I think people, at the end of the day, want a human experience too when they dine out. I think one shouldn't really attempt to separate this from the food.

I'm going to show a pic of each dish that was served on the “o-makase” menu (the only choice available) with a little description. I opted for the paired wines which took all the work out of deciding how to wash it all down. Just one final point - if you need to ask how much this meal was then you won't be able to afford it. I’ll be paying this one off in installments ;-0

Amuse of Sea Urchin with Kyoto onion.

Fresh as can be - delicious!

Aji (a white fish), mozzarella and beans.

The sauce was kind of savoury - great!

This is not a pot-plant. It's actually butter and the "dirt" is like a tapenade. This went down well with the bread, which was divine - especially the black bread.

Finger lickin' good fried frog, served with poached egg, frog foam and summer truffles. It tasted as good as it looked.

Abalone, served with dry ice/"ashes"and a capsicum sauce. Entertaining.

Kyoto eggplant topped with mushroom, petals, pine nuts and a curtain of tomato jelly. Fresh and playful!

This little critter is an "Ayu" - a freshwater fish. It's billed as a sweet fish but was actualy rather bitter. More interesting than enjoyable to eat.

Eel, foie gras and mango. Served under a dome containing fragrant incense - wow. Stupidly, I opted out of this one.

Instead I got a rather nice little monkfish and clam dish.

The main event - Matsuzaka beef slow cooked in charcoal or "sumi" with a side of slimy girolle mushies. It tasted every bit as good as you'd expect.

"Pina Colada". Good little mouth freshener.

Ice cream with chamomile foam, strawberry and rhubarb. The glass dish it was served on was cool as!

This is not pictured but there was a huge cart of petit fours, savarins, choc pudding that was served with coffee. Yum!!

Tel: 03-5785-0799

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Beige, Ginza ベージュ銀座

Once in a while one needs something a little more glamorous than the average lunch set; something to make the statement that although today may be an ordinary day, I am no ordinary person - and nor for that matter are my friends!

On a day like that you should find yourself somewhere like Alain Ducasse's "Beige" - the icing on the modern, austere cake of the Chanel building in Ginza.

It was on such a day that I found myself sampling the delights of Beige. The service and surroundings are all that you would expect - impeccable, stylish; kind of a tweedy-sober-glam feel. I suspect Coco would approve; something I feel confident in saying as I recently saw the movie about her early life "Coco Avant Chanel", which gave a great insight into the foundations of her amazing, revolutionary (for the time) sartorial art. That was one heck of a lady!

My dining partner and I kicked things off with a couple of glasses of Louis Roederer, which was just what the doctor ordered on a hot summer day. For 8,000 yen you can order three dishes from the menu. My dining partner and I had the scallop with orange to start. Then I ordered the "three crustaceans" and the free range chicken with peas. My dining partner ordered the sea urchin soup and the fish. All dishes were beautifully presented and tasted excellent. For mine I think the best dish was the pea and chicken. It's such a mundane combination, but this was like taking the everyday and making it divine.

The desserts are charged on top of the menu but were amazing, and I will just let the pictures tell the story. Perhaps the tastiest morsels of the lunch were the pre-coffee macaroons. But this is not where the feast ended. As we were having our coffee some scrummy, fresh madeleines were offered just out of the oven. Oohh - I wish I hadn't been so full at that point. Last but not least, some chocolates with the Chanel insignia were served.

All in all, Beige is just about perfect for a special lunch with a special person. The attention to detail, and the small touches such as the seaweed butter are superb. I'd go there happily for business or pleasure, but if your purpose was business you'd come over as a pretty shrewd guy or girl choosing such a place.

Bistrot D'Artemis, Sendagaya ビストロ・ダルテミス 千駄ヶ谷

Bistrot D'Artemis is another one of those French-style bistros that, with its meticulous fit-out and waiters, really could be in France. All those lucky ladies who lunch don't need to travel half-way round the world, as France comes to them! It's located diagonally across the intersection from the GSK building in Sendagaya- not an area I've really thought much about for eating, but scratch the surface a bit and just look what turns up!

On the weekend for 2,500 yen you can get yourself a set lunch with includes and entree, main, dessert and coffee. I think given the high quality of the food this represents excellent value. For my entree I chose the salmon with cream which was fresh, light and delightful. My dining partner had the usual of terrine, which bores the pants off me - but was reported to be delicious. For the main I had chicken with mustard sauce and lentils which was very pleasant, but my dining partner went for the cassoulet. I saw lots of the cassoulet going out of the kitchen, so it appears to be a popular dish - and rightly so. It looked great and was reported to taste great also, but I'm not sure whether it's the type of dish I would eat in summer!

Dessert was a nougat ice cream with an espresso shot on the side. Like everything else this tasted great and had a great creamy, chewy consistency also. I also ordered a "vin mousseux" which was nice and dry and only 630 yen. This place offers food which is a definite cut above but also screams value for money. I'll be back for sure.
Tel: 03-5770-7155

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Chez Tomo, Shirokane レストラン シェ・トモ 白金

I recently bought an hypnosis CD to try to help me lose weight. Under a spacey trance it very sensibly tells me to stop eating when I am pleasantly full. However I don't think it was designed for when a) you are dining at your local Michelin starred French restaurant and b) your company is a mini foodies' summit comprising none other than myself, Jon and Terry - of Eating Out In Tokyo with (insert name) fame!

I'd been trying to get a booking at Chez Tomo for a long time, but somehow managed to lock them in for our little gathering. Terry warned me to bring a jacket, so I did. It never touched my back either inside or outside the restaurant but armed with this fabric talisman I had evidently met the requirement for respectability and was allowed entry upon arrival.

I think Jon has pretty much comprehensively summed up the experience and I endorse most of his comments and observations. The basic menu at around 6,000 yen is surprisingly reasonable, but it's uphill from there if you want something as luxurious as oysters or pork or herb tea. So while not a total bait and switch it's not really indicative of how much you could end up paying.

The quality of the food is good. The most interesting dish for me was actually the amuse of sea urchin and cheese bisque served in its little spiny exoskeleton. After that I ordered the oyster, cabbage and morel mushroom soup which was best described as creamy - I didn't really catch the character of the morels under all that cream. The next course was a beautifully presented plate of all sorts of vegetables - raw, cooked, sauced, plain etc. Following this was a carrot soup which I thought was rather bland although Terry, with his more sensitive palate, thought it quite praiseworthy.

My main was a duck roll which I found a little bit on the bland side - kind of a classy meatloaf. This was followed by some delicious cheeses and, for dessert, a flaming lime souffle which was, again, a little on the bland side. Dinner was capped off with a herb tea and some very soft caramels.

We had a couple of very nice wines but I shall leave it to Terry's post to detail what we actually drank as I don't remember!

The service is polished and attentive so I give credit where it's due. The food is good but to be brutally frank, apart from the sea urchin, I feel it lacks character. Jon beat me to questioning the Michelin Star, but I agree with him. Nonetheless Chez Tomo is well worth checking out and I would be happy to return at some point in the future to see how they have developed.