Dinner @ Aubergine (Canberra, Australia)

October 14, 2019 in Australian

When I was holidaying in Sydney back in 2017, I didn’t think I would return to Sydney. Don’t get me wrong… It’s just that I would visit the other states when I do return to Australia for travels. But I guess the statement ‘You never know what your future holds’ is true. I certainly didn’t expect myself to be out-stationed. *Sheepish grin*

After I settled my accommodation, etc, I began making my plans to travel within Australia. And my first trip out of Sydney was to Canberra! I mean, Canberra was really accessible. Just a 4-hours rail journey. And October couldn’t be a better time to visit because of Floriade! But of course, no trip would be complete without satisfying my craving for good food. Keke. And for my Canberra trip, I made reservation at Aubergine and Courgette. =)

For Aubergine, I was re-directed to a third party online booking system The Fork where I made my reservation 1.5 weeks ahead.

Aubergine wasn’t located in the city centre. The suburb which it was located in was actually nearer to Canberra Railway Station. And from the city, I took bus R6 to reach the restaurant at 6.25pm.

For dinner, Aubergine served a 4-courses meal (AUD105) where one had up to 4 options to choose from for 3 of the 4 courses. And from the dinner menu, I ordered:-


  

1) Snack #1, Complimentary (above) – Beetroot tart, and puff with smoked ocean trout cream. The beetroot tart was a delight to eat; It had various textures which included beetroot puree, beet-vinegar jelly, etc.

2) Snack #2, Complimentary (above) – And I was told the sugar pea was meant to be a refreshing dish. Hmm… Interesting.

  

3) Bread, Complimentary (above)


4) Dish #1 (above) – Hiramasa kingfish, celeriac, creme fraiche & mustard oil. I really enjoyed this refreshing dish. It was brilliant! I especially liked how they played with the textures; The crunchy celariac strips and buckwheat against the kingfish’s chewiness. Glad there’s no option offered for the first course so that every diner would get to enjoy this.

5) Dish #2 (above) – Duck breast, grilled celtuce, lovage, wakame & buttermilk dressing.

6) Dish #3 with options of:-

(A) Potato tart, roasted yeast, black garlic puree & creamed swiss chard. (above) – This potato tart tasted like pizza to me. What sorcery is this! The potato was cooked perfectly through, and was so soft to the bite. I never had a potato tart before cause it’s like carbohydrates on carbohydrates. But I was so glad I decided to be more adventurous care less about putting on weight from eating too much carbohydrates. Keke.

(B) Fillet of hapuka, baby octopus, caramelised cauliflower & sudachi. (above) – And I was told that the fish was cooked skin down and then cooked through in the oven. Now, I am not one to order fish for my main but I was attracted to this dish because of the baby octopus. Ha. But I am glad I ordered this fish dish (because of the baby octopus). Pretty good!

7) Dish #4 with options of:-

(A) Baked cheesecake, lemonade fruit, passionfruit & coconut sorbet (above)


(B) Coffee & caramel delice, frozen chocolate milk, brown butter (above) – The waiting staff went on to explain egg white and cocoa powder were put into a piper and hardened with nitrogen. Thus, creating the melt-in-mouth melt-upon-contact texture of the frozen chocolate milk.

Everything about my dinner at Aubergine was great! I really enjoyed the dishes. To be honest, I didn’t think much of the dining scene in Canberra. But this meal changed my mind. Good food could also be found in Canberra! Not just Sydney and Melbourne! Hee. During my dinner, I even heard the table of diners seated near me exclaim “this is really good” at least twice. Looked like I wasn’t the only one enjoying my meal!

Will I recommend Aubergine? Definitely.

So while it was a 4 courses menu, I ordered additional. Thus explaining the 6 dishes instead of 4. Yes, I finished everything as a solo diner even though the serving were regular portion. Keke. And for my additional main and dessert, I was charged AUD25 and AUD16 respectively. Really reasonable, I say!

And I thought I should share… So while Michelin Guide hasn’t come to Australia, Australia has their Good Food Guide Award where restaurants are awarded hats. The more hats, the better. And for the latest Good Food Guide Award (2019), Aubergine has 2 hats under their belt. I certainly agree with their verdict!

AUBERGINE
18 Barker Street, Griffith, Canberra ACT, Australia
+61 2 6260 8666, Website
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Mon – Sat : 18:00 – 22:00
Ambience: 8
Value: 8
Service: 8
* Closed on Sun

Dinner @ Tempura Niitome にい留 (Nagoya, Japan)

October 3, 2019 in Japanese

I had been fortunate to eat my way through Japan the past few years. Visiting some very famous and reputable restaurants. A quick recap… For tempura, I gone to Mikawa Zezankyo and Tempura Fukamachi in 2016, Tempura Motoyoshi in 2017, and Takiya and Nihombashi Sonoji in 2018. And for my trips in 2019, I was extremely fortunate and blessed to secure reservations at Tempura Niitome, Tempura Kondo and Kusunoki.

When I was planning my 2019 trips, I realised the restaurants I dined in my earlier trips was just a scratch of the surface. There were so many other good tempura restaurants. Names which unfortunately didn’t come up on the first few pages of Google’s search results. So yes, I created a new list of tempura-restaurants-to-try. Keke:
  - Kusunoki: Also known as the most expensive tempura restaurant
  - Mikasa
  - Tempura Kondo
  - Tempura Naruse
  - Tempura Niitome: Best tempura restaurant in Japan. Yes, it held the no. 1 spot on Tabelog’s tempura restaurant ratings.

Being the typically paranoid me (since 2019 also marked the year I finally ventured out of Tokyo), I decided to use Tableall’s service instead of trying to make the call on my own since I had a specific date for my meal in Nagoya (before I proceeded on to Kyoto); I didn’t want to risk not securing a seat at Tempura Niitome cause I also read it’s super hard to get through once the line opens for reservation. So I sent my reservation request in December 2018, but was informed by Tableall that Tempura Niitome take reservation for April on 1 February 2019. And so, the wait began. It was nerve-wrecking cause I read that it’s really hard to get through their line. But thankfully on 1 February, I got my confirmation from Tableall. Yeah!

Confirmed for 6pm, I was informed that dinner would last for 3 hours minimum. I was asked if I had to catch the last bullet train (shinkansen) at 10.12pm. Cause if I had to, chef-owner Shuji Niitome would then (try to) quicken the pace of dinner. But thankfully, I didn’t have to.

  

So one could say I only traveled to Nagoya because of Tempura Niitome. And it was honestly with much excitement as I counted down to dinner. And for my 6pm dinner, I entered the restaurant at 5.55pm. I actually reached earlier but chose to linger outside the building. Till I saw a couple making their way up to Level 2 where Tempura Niitome was located at.

And once everyone settled down, I commenced my ¥‎28,000 omakase dinner with:-

1) Dish #1 (above) – An English-speaking staff came round and helped to translate head chef Niitome san’s introduction of the dish. But I wasn’t sure if I heard her right. Pine nut? Scallop? Bamboo shoot? But this was seriously good. The (green) sauce was superb.

2) Dish #2 (above) – 3 slices of snapper (tai) sashimi.

3) Dish #3 (above) – Marinated bonito.

While we were waiting for our fourth dish, the English-speaking staff came up to me and asked if I was fine with dinner lasting till 10pm. Since I was not rushing for the last bullet train, I confirmed with her that I was good.

4) Dish #4 (above) – Squid stuffed with roe. This was my first time having it so huge, and it was a bit too much for me. I didn’t quite enjoy the roe which was of a mushy texture. But I finished it nonetheless.


5) Dish #5 (above) – Clam soup.

6) Dish #6 (above) – Tomato served with vinegar jelly.


7) Dish #7 (above) – Prawn heads tempura. It’s interesting and really unique that head chef Niitome san removed the shell head before deep frying. And these were crispy and flavourful, especially with all the high cholesterol (prawn head) insides still intact. Yum!

8) Dish #8 (above) – For the prawn tempura, I noticed head chef Niitome san would flex the prawn tail before frying it. And before my first prawn was served, I noticed him calling his staff over. And although he was whispering to her, I overheard a “Tan san”. Haha. So I figured it had to be something for/about me. And true enough, she came round to me and said I should have the prawn tempura without any sauce.


9) Dish #9 (above) – And with my second prawn tempura, I realised it was intentional for the batter to be consistently gathered at where the (prawn) legs were.

10) Dish #10 (above) – Cuttlefish (ika) tempura.

11) Dish #11 (above) – Broad beans tempura.

12) Dish #12 (above) – Baby white anchovy (shirauo) tempura.

13) Dish #13 (above) – Mountain herb tempura.

14) Dish #14 (above) – Sillago (kisu) tempura.

15) Dish #15 (above) – Dandelion flower tempura. And with this piece, I really noticed even though the batter was just a teeny weeny oily, the batter was really light and airy. In fact, the batter wrapping the various ingredients was like cloud; Biting into a light mass of tempura batter. Really crispy. Really nice.

16) Dish #16 (above) – Bamboo shoot tempura. And I really enjoyed watching how the various ingredients were prepared differently. For the bamboo shoot, head chef Niitome san had an additional step of dusting (dry) flour with a sieve onto the bamboo the ingredient with dry flour with a sieve, before proceeding with his next few steps of deep frying.


17) Dish #17 (above) – Sweet fish (ayu) from Nagano prefecture. Before head chef Niitome san started working on this dish, he went round the table for us to snap pictures. Although I had my turn, I decided I wanted more (photographs) while watching others take picture and raised my mobile. And it was really nice of head chef Niitome san that he noticed and brought the pot towards me (again). And after our photo-taking session, I watched him pour some of the water out, put ice in and shake the pot (with the plastic lid over the pot mouth) really, really hard. He must have seen the question marks on my face, because he used body language to explain that the shaking was to put the fishes to sleep. Ohhh… The ‘sleeping’ fishes were then transferred to a straw tray where head chef Niitome san dried every one of them with a cloth before coating them in a wet batter for frying.

18) Dish #18 (above) – Clam tempura.

19) Dish #19 (above) – Asparagus (middle portion) tempura.

20) Dish #20 (above) – Asparagus (bottom portion) tempura.

21) Dish #21 (above) – Scampi prawn tempura.

22) Dish #22 (above) – Asparagus (top portion) tempura.

  

23) Dish #23 (above) – Sea urchin tempura. And I was told April (the month which I was dining at Tempura Niitome) was the best month for sea urchin. The female customer sitting beside me shared that the one box of sea urchin cost ¥50,000. Gasp!

24) Dish #24 (above) – Shiitake mushroom tempura.

25) Dish #25 (above) – Sea eel (anago) tempura.

  

26) Dish #26 (above)

27) Dish #27 (above) – Pickled vegetables.

28) Dish #28 (above) – And there was 3 options for the rice bowl; Tendon, tenbara and tencha. I asked head chef Niitome san for recommendation and he said “Tendon”. So I went with that. But it was only later that I realised some customers actually ordered all three. Sad! Greedy me want all 3 too. But then again, I was glad I went with just tendon because my stomach was seriously bursting by then. And the portion for the rice bowls (don) were regular portion. Though if I knew I could order all, I probably would request for smaller portion. Ha! But one should definitely order the tendon and tencha. The tencha looked so good. After putting a scoop of rice into the bowl, he added a spoonful of thick green paste (think it may be the same tasty sauce used in Dish #1) which he diluted with tea. And the tencha was complete after he topped it with his sakura-shrimp-cake tempura.

29) Dish #29 (above) – Clam soup.

By the time I was served green tea (after the clam soup), it was midnight! Yes. I was shocked to realise it was that late when I checked the time. So it’s a must to spend the night at Nagoya in order to fully enjoy the meal at Tempura Niitome. I honestly couldn’t imagine how madly rushed dinner would be had anyone needed to catch the last bullet train out.

  

It was an ‘one man show’ at Tempura Niitome. He did everything with no sous chef to assist him. The other staff were present but to assist with the logistics like removing our plates, topping up our beverages, etc. And head chef Niitome san was really, really friendly. It helped that I got acquainted with the (Japanese) couple seated beside me; The lady acted as our translator. But head chef Niitome san was really friendly and smile-ly. It was amazingly coincidental that I mentioned I was at Hatsunezushi earlier in the week and head chef Niitome san said he was at Hatsunezushi just yesterday. And 10 minutes later, chef-owner Katsu Nakaji of Hatsunezushi posted the group picture of him and head chef Niitome san on instagram. It cracked us up so badly.

And as we made our way out of the restaurant after the meal, he presented us with a bag of tempura bits. A real treat because what set Tempura Niitome apart from the rest had to be his tempura batter and the way he fried the ingredients. The batter was light and airy. I would even use the word ‘fluffy’ to describe. His unique way of frying was very evident with his prawn tempura where one could see the fluff of batter gathered at the prawns’ legs. Really good. It was also after my dinner that I read his batter was made with flour that had been chilled to around -10 degree. Thus, the melt-in-your-mouth texture.

Would I recommend Tempura Niitome. FOR SURE! It’s a pity he’s in Nagoya. But hey! I guess it’s a good thing that he’s not located in Tokyo. It’s already so difficult to make reservation when he’s in Nagoya. I couldn’t imagine how worst the reservation would be if he shift to Tokyo. And because I made reservation through Tableall, I pre-paid ¥35,000 (including tax, etc) for my ¥28,000 (excluding 8% VAT). Which I felt was reasonable. Do the mathematics please!

Certainly hope I would get to return to Nagoya for Tempura Niitome. =)

Now… At the point of my dinner in April 2019, there was no Michelin Guide for Nagoya. I actually thought to myself then that if there’s one published, Tempura Niitome was worthy of at least 2 Michelin stars. And! In the first edition published in May 2019 (just 1 month after my meal at Tempura Niitome), Tempura Niitome was awarded 2 Michelin stars. Woohoo!

NIITOME にい留
Cast Building Izumi, 2-19-11 Izumi, Higashi, Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan (愛知県 名古屋市東区 泉 2-19-11 キャストビル泉 2F)
+81 52 936 2077, Website, Tablelog
Overall: 9
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 10
Irregular : 18:00 – 00:00
Ambience: 8
Value: 9
Service: 9

Lunch @ Komatsu Yasuke 小松弥助 (Kanazawa, Japan)

June 2, 2019 in Japanese

My friend was trying to book Komatsu Yasuke for his December 2018 trip to Japan in September 2018 but was told they only had table seats to offer. Since counter seats are the best for sushi-yas, he was advised to call back in November 2018 for February 2019 reservation. So when my friend shared his update with me, I was like “I also want (to go Komatsu Yasuke)!” Yes, we were coinciding our trips to Japan in February 2019. So thanks to my friend, a weekday lunch reservation for 2 was secured successfully at Komatsu Yasuke. There are 3 seatings; 11.30am, 1pm and 2.30pm. My friend booked us for 1pm.

Komatsu Yasuke was previously a by-introduction-only sushi restaurant. But in 2015, head chef Kazuo Morita (suddenly) announced that he will be taking a break. And at that point, many took it that he was retiring because he was already 84 years old. So imagined everyone’s surprise relief when head chef Morita san returned in 2017. And of course, I was delighted to know upon his return, Komatsu Yasuke started accepting reservations directly from non-locals too. Yes! In English.

It’s a 10 to 12 minutes walk to Komatsu Yasuke from Kanazawa (Railway) Station. And for our 1pm seating, we reached the restaurant by 12.40pm. However, we didn’t get seated till 1.25pm because the first seating overran by a little. Likewise, we only managed to vacate the restaurant around 2.40pm for the third seating.

Upon seated, we noted the everyone was very busy preparing the ingredients for our seating. It was like watching an orchestra performance. There was so many things going on at the same time, but everyone knew what their roles were. They were very much in tuned with one another. But of course, my eyes were fixed mostly on head chef Morita san. Keke. We were lucky to be seated early; As the other customers slowly settled down, I watched head chef Morita san intently as he personally sliced the various ingredients.

A female staff went round to take our orders. Between sushi course and sashimi and sushi course, we went with the latter. We also stated our preference to have appetiser followed by sushi. And with that, we commenced our lunch with:-

1) Sashimi & sushi menu comprised of:

(A) Dish #1 (above) – Steamed awabi (abalone) served with dashi.

(B) Dish #2 (above) – Sashimi assortment of hirame (flat fish), chutoro, amaebi, aka uni and akami topped with konowata (sea cucumber innards).

(C) Dish #3 (above) – Akami zuke topped with konowata.

(D) Dish #4 (above) – Aka ika topped with salt and sesame. And to prepare this, head chef Morita san unrolled the ika which was wrapped with serviette and commenced slicing. The ika sheet was sliced into thinner sheets before they were passed on to his sous chef to slice the sheets into thin strips. Amazing teamwork and amazing knife skill. And of course, this was amazing. It just melted in my mouth.

(E) Dish #5 (above) – Head chef Morita san’s signature otoro. And we were told specifically “no sauce”.

(F) Dish #6 (above) – Amaebi. And we were told to put some soya sauce before consuming.

  

(G) Dish #7 (above) – Appetiser of (yamaimo) grated yam, akami zuke, uni and shari (sushi rice).

(H) Dish #8 (above) – Hirame with its fin, and topped with ume (plum) sauce. Again, we were told to have it with no sauce.

(I) Dish #9 (above) – Hamaguri.

  

(J) Dish #10 (above) – Unagi roll with sliced cucumber within. The unagi was charcoal-grilled by one of his sous chefs, before it was passed to head chef Morita san to make the roll. And it was simply amazing. I loved the bits of charred bits inside. So good. I was really touched and gratful that head chef Morita san taught his disciple well.

(K) Dish #11 (above) – Soup with egg, tofu and gani (crab).

And as we were almost reaching the end of our course, the (same) female staff went round to take additional orders. My friend did his homework prior and said we had to order the anago and negitoro handroll. So yes, it’s a must to order additional! Keke.

  

2) Additional dish #1 (above) – Bafun uni with a touch of salt. And this was ordered upon the staff’s recommendation. And seated at the counter, we watched the sous chef passed head chef Morita san an almost empty uni box. And instead of using the remaining uni (like how a business man would), head chef Morita san told his sous chef to get him a new box of uni! Deeply touched. It’s the little actions that showed head chef Morita san’s passion in only serving the best to his customers.

3) Additional dish #2 (above) – Anago. I would call this “double decker” because head chef Morita san folded the long strip of anago into two before using it as a neta. A real treat.

  

4) Additional dish #3 (above) – Negitoro hand roll. And this was fully done by (another) sous chef. But one should belittle it just because it was prepared by the sous chef. This was really good. I read that this could be prepared by his sous chef because head chef Morita san acknowledged his skill.

It was an amazing experience. One of the best meals I ever had in all my trips to Japan. I loved everything about it that even I, one who is pretty awkward posing for pictures, requested to take photograph with head chef Morita san. The food, the atmosphere… And yes, the Komatsu Yasuke team!!!

In fact, dining at Komatsu Yasuke was like dining in head chef Morita san’s house. I felt like a grandchild waiting to be fed really well by grandfather. Now… I wouldn’t say the food was refined. It was slightly rough, but made with lots of love. Head chef Morita san always had a wide endearing smile, and was very inclusive. He made sure he gave his attention to every customer (at the counter). Even the customer seated at the furthest end. Very lovely. And although head chef Morita san couldn’t speak any English, that didn’t stop him from interacting with us. It was really those moments I wished I know Japanese so that I could reply his questions. In fact, it kinda reminded me of how I am with my grandmother. She would speak to me in Hokkien but I don’t understand dialect and couldn’t reply her. Yeps. But both (head chef Morita san and my grandma) spoke with the same ‘loving and caring’ tone. I was really in awe.

And one really should get counter seats because I noticed only counter customers had all their dishes prepared by head chef Morita san personally. For exmaple, the unagi roll was prepared by his sous chef for customers seated at the tables.

With the 3 additional dishes and hot green tea, my meal came up to ¥20,000 (including tax, etc). Komatsu Yasuke? A must try!

KOMATSU YASUKE 小松 弥助
Kanazawa Chaya Annex, 2-17-21 Honmachi, Kanazawa, Japan (石川県 金沢市 本町 2-17-21 金沢茶屋別館 1F)
+81 76 231 1001, Tablelog
Overall: 8.5
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Fri – Tues : 11:30 – 16:00
Ambience: 8
Value: 9
Service: 9
* Closed on Wed, Thur