Lunch @ Tempura Kondo てんぷら 近藤 (Tokyo, Japan)

June 28, 2020 in Japanese by thywhaleliciousfay

When I did my first (ever) research for tempura restaurants in Tokyo, Michelin-starred Tempura Kondo was one of the few names that came up top in my Google search. But… It took me almost 4 years to eventually dine here. My bad. And for my restaurant reservation, my hotel concierge assisted me with it. I was given the second seating at 1.30pm, and was also informed that Tempura Kondo provided 2 menus (¥6500 and ¥8500) which I was to choose at the restaurant.

And on the day of my lunch, I was really nervous as I made my way to the restaurant. I didn’t realise there were 2 counters at Tempura Kondo, and was praying hard I would be assigned to chef-owner Kondo Fumio’s.

Located on level 9, I stepped out of the lift at 1.25pm to see a group of people had already gathered outside the restaurant. But because we belonged to the second seating, we had to wait for the first seating to finish their meals before we could be seated. As we waited patiently, a staff would regularly step out to check who (else) had arrived. Although I guess if one was anxious, one could also head into the restaurant to inform the staff of one’s arrival. I ain’t sure if seating arrangement was first-come-first-serve, but I noticed the staff indicated a ’5′ beside my name on her reservation list.

Words couldn’t express my relief and excitement when I was led to the main counter. The pair who entered before me was somehow led to the other counter which was located at the back.

And for our bags, there were baskets placed beneath every chair. However, I had trouble putting mine. I was lazy and was trying to place my handbag into the basket by bending over while seated. Haha. I was so focused that I didn’t realise head chef Fumio san noticed my struggle. He got his waiting staff to help me, and only resumed what he was doing after making sure I had settled down comfortably. How did I know? After the staff helped me out, I looked back to the front and locked eyes with head chef Fumio san. He gave me a gentle smile, and that’s when I realised. And honestly… That gesture touched me a lot.

And from the menu (pages 1, 2), I ordered:-

1) Tsubaki course (¥‎8500) comprised of:-

(A) Tempura #1 (above) – Prawn heads.


(B) Tempura #2 (above) – Prawn. Ever since I was taught a perfectly fried prawn tempura is one with a slightly raw centre, I since developed a habit to bite into my prawn tempura and check the centre. Keke. And yes! Perfectly fried prawn tempura by head chef Fumion san. :)


(C) Tempura #3 (above) – Prawn.

(D) Tempura #4 (above) – Asparagus. These didn’t look like it but they were so hot within!

(E) Tempura #5 (above) – Lotus root.

(F) Tempura #6 (above) – Japanese whiting/sillago (kisu) fish.

(G) Tempura #7 (above) – Eggplant.

(H) Tempura #8 (above) – Ice fish wrapped with shisho leaf. This was really interesting. Although it was made with many (fishes), the texture was like that of a thick fish fillet.


(I) Tempura #9 (above) – Sea urchin. And it’s becoming a habit that I would pay extra attention to the preparation of sea urchin tempura. And I noticed head chef Fumio san would ensemble his and dip it entirely into the wet batter before frying.

(J) Tempura #10 (above) – Lily bulb.

(K) Dish #11 (above) – Onion.


(L) Tempura #12 (above) – Sea eel (anago).

  
  

(M) Rice dish (above) – We were given 3 options to choose from; Tendon-sauce dipped, tencha or scallop-prawn tempura served separately from the rice. And I went with tencha.

(N) Roasted tea (above)

(O) Dessert (above) – Strawberry.

2) Sweet potato, ¥2400 (above) – When the staff went round taking our order at the start of our meal, it was specifically mentioned that the course menu do not include sweet potato. And the sweet potato was an item which many highly recommended. So I ordered it as an additional a-la carte item. And I must say, I wasn’t expecting it to be so big! As I was trying to finish it, the waiting staff came up to me and said I could pack the untouched half. Thank goodness! But to be honest… I didn’t really enjoy my sweet potato. It was a little dry in the centre.

3) Oolong tea, ¥400

I was thankful to sit at the length of the L-shaped counter where head chef Fumio san faced. I always appreciate being able to watch chefs in action. And although he had 2 sous chefs, I noticed head chef Fumio san preferred to do almost everything. He would personally fry all the pieces as his sous chefs prepared the various ingredients. And when he was done with the frying, he would put the cooked ingredients onto a common metal tray where his sous chefs would then take over and distribute the various tempura pieces to us. I guess that’s head chef Fumio san’s way of managing the quality of food at Tempura Kondo. Everything at the frying section was personally handled by him. Although he was visibly aged and with a hunchback, the arduous task of changing the oil was also done by him. The only time the sous chef came near to his frying station was to help him top up the dry flour in the bowl.

My lunch came up to ¥12,204 (including tax and service charge). And I liked that it was a very straight-forward dining affair. Head chef Fumio san was very focused with his cooking. The only times he interacted with customers (including his regulars) were before he started cooking and after he finished cooking. I guess it’s also because of that, that Tempura Kondo don’t receive much attention on social media. But head chef Fumio san definitely left an impression on me. I could feel his sincerity through his food, and from our brief interactions; Ready to leave, I bent down to pull my handbag from beneath my chair. And when I looked up, he had positioned himself in front of me behind his counter. He smiled and bowed to me. I bowed and smiled back, and thanked him for the enjoyable lunch.

Will I recommend Tempura Kondo? Yes. But again, one should manage one’s expectation. If one’s after an interactive experience with the chef or to be swept off by fancier food presentation, Tempura Kondo isn’t a place for that. And having said that, one should also order the carrot tempura as an additional item! Head chef Fumio san does his differently where the carrot were shredded before deep fried. And it looked so delicious!

TEMPURA KONDO てんぷら 近藤
9F, Sakaguchi Building, 5-5-13 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo, Japan (東京都 中央区 銀座 5-5-13 坂口ビル 9F)
+81 3 5568 0923, Tablelog
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Mon – Sat : 12:00 – 15:00 (Lunch)
Ambience: 7
Mon – Sat : 17:00 – 20:30 (Dinner)
Value: 8
Service: 8
* Closed on Sun

Dinner @ Torioka 鳥おか (Tokyo, Japan)

June 23, 2020 in Japanese by thywhaleliciousfay

I got to know about Torioka through a friend. “Sister branch of Torishiki,” he texted. And that message got me so excited! You see… Ever since I began my annual trips to Japan in 2016, I always tried to make reservation at 1 Michelin star Torishiki. But of course, I haven’t been lucky yet. I reckon I need a miracle to get through Torishiki’s busy phone line. But I digress…

So when my friend told me chef-owner Yoshiteru Ikegawa of Torishiki had opened an offshoot in September 2018, I knew I had to make my reservation because Torioka could be the closest I ever get to Torishiki. And honestly, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect too. Just in time for my 2019 trip to Japan! I also liked that chef Ikegawa san appointed Noriyuki Kurosaki, his long time assistant at Torishiki, to be in charge of Torioka. It meant I was definitely in good hands!

And surprisingly, reservation at Torioka turned out to be more straight forward than I thought. One didn’t even need to call. Everything could be done with a few clicks on the reservation website. So different from Torishiki’s reservation system!

My dinner booking was at 8.45pm. But what I didn’t know was that the restaurant was located inside the mixed-use development Roppongi Hills. And Roppongi Hills was huge! I reached the compound at 8.35pm and ended up being late for my dinner because I had much difficulty locating the shop. And it was uncomfortable stepping through the entrance and directly into the main space because everyone turned to stare at me.

A U-shaped counter took the main stage of the space. And hidden out of sight by the black noren (Japanese fabric divider) was the kitchen. Upon seated, I was given the drinks menu. And after placing my order for beer, I commenced my omakase dinner with:-

1) 11 skewers course (¥7300) comprised of:

(A) Assorted pickles (above)

(B) Skewer #1 (above) – Chicken thigh.

(C) Skewer #2 (above) – Chicken gizzard.


(D) Skewer #3 (above) – Chicken skin.

(E) Skewer #4 (above) – Mushroom.

(F) Skewer #5 (above) – Quail egg.

(G) Skewer #6 (above) – Tofu.

(H) Skewer #7 (above) – Liver. Didn’t quite enjoy this though. It was too thick and soft. But not to be confused as raw.

(I) Skewer #8 (above) – Gingko nut.

(J) Skewer #9 (above) – Chicken heart.


(K) Rice (above)

(L) Skewer #10 (above) – Head chef Kurosaki san tried to explain what the skewer was (in Japanese), but I unfortunately couldn’t understand him. But it tasted a lot like skin to me. On the fattier side though.

(M) Skewer #11 (above) – Meat ball.

(N) Chicken soup (above)

(O) Roasted tea (above)

2) Beer

When I was onto my meat ball skewer, I realised it was the last of my 11-skewers course. It then dawned on me that I wasn’t getting any chicken wing. Sad. And because I arrived to the restaurant when everyone (who had reached earlier than me) was already in the midst of their dinner, I rationalised head chef Kurosaki san must have run out of chicken wings.

And when head chef Kurosaki san doused the ember charcoal of his grill (which was also the main grill), I wondered why the others were still grilling at the secondary grill. Especially since I was served the last skewer for the night. I watched on curiously and got to witness a beautiful scene…

  

Chef Yoshiteru Maekawa, another of chef Ikegawa san’s trusted assistant, was also stationed at Torioka. He’s helping out at Torioka before he leaves for Torshiki’s overseas branch in New York in June 2020. And it was very heartwarming as I witnessed him patiently training the assistant. Chef Mawkawa san never left sight of his assistant even when he stepped aside to give the assistant his space to grill on his own. Loved it!

My meal came up to ¥9590 (including tax and service charge). Will I recommend Torioki? A definite yes from me. Not just because I was touched by what I saw, but also because food was good! Every skewer was beautifully grilled.

I would also recommend one to dress up a little. The customers on a Sunday night were mainly young adults who looked pretty well-to-do. I was put to shame sitting alongside dolled-up female customers who had really thick lashes. I only had concealer to cover my eye bags. Oops!

Torioka 鳥おか
5F, Roppongi Hills West Walk, 6-10-1 Roppongi, Minato City, Tokyo, Japan (東京都 港区 六本木 6-10-1 六本木ヒルズ ウエストウォーク 5F)
+81 3 6447 2933, Tablelog
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Mon – Sun : 16:00 – 22:00
Ambience: 8
Value: 8
Service: 7

Lunch @ Tenzushi Kyomachi 天寿し 京町店 (Fukuoka, Japan)

May 26, 2020 in Japanese by thywhaleliciousfay

There are a few masters in the Japanese culinary world that I really want to meet. And chef-owner Isao Amano of Tenzushi Kyomachi is one of them.

So while planning my itinerary to travel South for my (2 early) 2019 trips, I thought I should at least try securing myself a seat at head chef Amano san’s sushi counter even though I heard it will be super difficult. And I guess one can say it was with much faith when I decided to use Tableall for the onerous task. Keke. If one has been following my blog long enough, one would know I always relied on Tableall with my harder restaurant reservation.

And so… I sent my request to Tableall in mid October ’18. After exchanging a few emails, Tableall managed to snag a seat for me in early April ’19. Woohoo! And I must be really lucky to book with only 6 months notice because when I was dining at the restaurant (in April), I learnt that they were fully booked for the remaining (8 months) of 2019.

One should also know that while Tenzushi is in Fukuoka Prefecture, the shop isn’t in Fukouka (the capital city of Fukouka Prefecture). Well… Am sharing that cause I didn’t know prior. Sheepish grin.

Now… I used Tableall a few times now, but it was a first when Tableall specifically asked me to be 15 minutes early for my appointment. I would normally reach the restaurant before my reservation time, but that message got me reaching a little way too early. For my 12pm reservation, I reached at 11.20am. Ha. And no surprise that the entrance door was closed and I had nowhere to wander about.

But I was really excited when I finally set foot in the restaurant. To finally be able to dine at Tenzushi, and to be welcomed by head chef Amano san who was smiling so brightly behind the counter. And being the first to arrive, I was given the option to sit in the middle or by the side. Normally, I would be too shy to go for the best seat. But that day… Of the 5 counter seats, I bravely requested for the middle seat. Big grin.

And after everyone arrived and settled down, we commenced our ¥38,000 lunch with:-

1) Dish #1 (above) – Lean tuna (akami).

2) Dish #2 (above) – Premium fatty tuna (otoro) with salt.

3) Dish #3 (above) – Red squid (aka ika), flying fish roe (tobiko) and multi-coloured sesame seeds (nishiki goma).


4) Dish #4 (above) – Tiger prawn (kuruma ebi). And one’s eyes should never leave this sushi as head chef Amano san place it on the plate because it moves! I wasn’t expecting that because it was not as though he deshelled the prawns when they were still alive. I mean… The prawns were slightly cooked!!! I have no idea how he did it, but it was definitely a first for me. And certainly hoping to have more of these in future! Keke.

5) Dish #5 (above) – Vinegared mackerel (shime saba) with spring onion and kelp.

6) Dish #6 (above) – Penn shell and sea urchin. And for this, it was interesting to watch head chef Amano san cut a slit such that the penn shell opened up like a flap which he put the sushi rice (shari) within.

7) Dish #7 (above)

8) Dish #8 (above) – Flounder (hirame).

9) Dish #9 (above) – Belt fish (tachiuo) with pickled plum sauce (ume).

10) Dish #10 (above) – Tiger prawn (kuruma ebi) head.

11) Dish #11 (above) – Marinated medium fatty tuna (zuke chutoro). And by sheer luck, I was seated beside a famous influential instagrammer. Through him, I got to learn that the fish was marinated in dashi made from tuna flakes instead of the usual bonito stock for enhanced sweetness. And this was so good.

12) Dish #12 (above) – Sillago/Japanese whiting (kisu). And for this, the aftertaste of yuzu pepper continued to linger in my mouth…

13) Dish #13 (above) – Horse mackerel (aji) with powdered soya sauce, ginger and sesame seeds. And for this, I was told the intention of the powdered soya was to allow us to taste the ginger and fish before the soya sauce. Totally brilliant.

14) Dish #14 (above) – Red snapper with its liver.

15) Dish #15 (above) – Whelk and ladyfinger. Now… When head chef Amano san introduced this sushi (as “sazae”), I must have looked really confused. Because honestly, I didn’t quite get it. And he got his staff to bring a book to show me the picture of the ingredient. And I was totally thankful for it because I definitely enjoyed it better when I knew what I was eating. Keke.


16) Dish #16 (above) – Sea urchin from Kyushu.


  

17) Dish #17 (above) – Sea eel (anago). And it’s totally crazy but only females got to enjoy this in 2 different ways. Woohoo!

  

18) Dish #18 (above) – Minced tuna and spring onion (negitoro) with sea grapes. Another highlight piece of my meal. I loved how the sea grapes introduced a acidic fresh crisp kick and a crunch many crunches to the hand roll.

19) Dish #19 (above) – Egg omelette (tamago).

20) Green tea (above)

21) Dish #20 (above) – Musk melon.

Lunch at Tenzushi was simply amazing! Head chef Amano san was very friendly. He could speak pretty good English, and had a good sense of humour too! But what I really liked was how he was always smiling, and how his eyes sparkled as he gazed gently at us. It’s undoubtedly because of him that Tenzushi is a happy sushi place to be at. And I honestly rather be nowhere else.

Head chef Amano san’s sushi was also very different from the Edomae style that I was so accustomed to. Known as Kyushumae sushi (Kyushu style), I noticed he used orange juice instead of the usual soya sauce on quite a number of his sushi pieces. And it’s through blogger eatyourkimchi‘s interview with head chef Amano san that I learnt Kyushu style was about adding more to create new flavours. As opposed to Edomae style which was subtraction. Ie, stripping back to its simplest essence. Did head chef Amano san made his more delicious than the original? One could say his sushi was almost like… A palate cleanser? A very refreshing change. And I liked that.

And I was stoked when he gave us a CD of his recent appearance on NHK (Japan television channel). When my neighbour asked for his signature, I couldn’t help but ask head chef Amano san to autograph mine too. Keke. Such a precious souvenir!

Would I return to Tenzushi? Hell yeah!

TENZUSHI KYOMACHI 天寿し 京町店
3-11-9 Kyomachi, Kokurakita, Kitakyushu, Fukuoka, Japan (福岡県 北九州市小倉北区 京町 3-11-9)
+81 93 521 5540, Tablelog
Overall: 9
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 10
Wed – Sun : 12:00 – 15:30 (Lunch)
Ambience: 8
Wed – Sun : 17:30 – 21:00 (Dinner)
Value: 9
Service: 10
* Closed on Mon & Tues