Lunch @ Acá 1° (Kyoto, Japan)

June 14, 2020 in Spanish by thywhaleliciousfay

One could say it was love at first sight with Aca’s crab paella when pictures of the dish started surfacing on my instagram feed. I made a mental note to self that I had to dine at Michelin-starred Aca although I wasn’t too sure how to go about it (when I needed to) because there wasn’t much information of Aca’s reservation system on the internet. And that’s back in 2017. To me, it seemed like those who dined at Aca were mostly all regulars.

But I got my small glimpse of hope when Aca joined the reservation website Omakase in second half of 2018. Yeah! And to make my reservation, I set reminders on my calendar to make sure I was on Omakase website when seats were released for Aca. Very important because having used Omakase a few times, I noticed some restaurants only put up a handful of seats. And because of that, the seats could be fully snapped up within minutes. Or seconds for the more popular restaurants.

I was unsuccessful in my first attempt at securing a seat at Aca for my February/March 2019 trip. But was super thankful that I got lucky for my March/April 2019 trip. I was going to be in Kyoto for 2 days, and Omakase only offered seat for 1 of the 2 dates I was after. And yes, I was glad my internet speed didn’t disappoint me too. Keke.

  

Located at second level, a couple was already waiting when I arrived at the restaurant. We waited quietly on the narrow flight of stairs before the staff unlocked the entrance door at 12pm sharp and welcomed us in. And in terms of seating arrangement, it was pre-assigned; The couple turned out to be friends with chef-owner Tetsuo Azuma and were led to the furthest end which had the best view as the seats were directly in front of the grill where head chef Azuma san spent most of his time at. I realised seats were not first-come-first-service first-arrive-first-sit when the staff pointed me to the counter seat nearest to the entrance instead of directing me to sit beside the couple.

And based on my overheard snippets of the long conversation between the couple and head chef Azuma san, I realised head chef Azuma san speak really good English!

Before we commenced our lunch, head chef Azuma san personally came up to the various groups to say “thank you for coming” and to check on our allergy. I mentioned my dietary restriction of ‘no beef’ and he said he could replace the beef dish with horse. Sounds good!!! And with that, I commenced my omakase lunch with:-

1) Dish #1 (above) – Charcoal grilled arctic surf clam (hokkigai), sea urchin and foam of seaweed and Spanish ham. I thought the sea urchin would just be the ones at the top, but no! Sea urchin was layered in between too. And the foam was really good. It contained a strong smokey taste of the ham. Yum!

2) Dish #2 (above) – Baby sweet fish (ayu) coated with a shimmery powder which the staff mentioned was used in pasta, and topped with goat milk cheese. And I really liked this. The two main ingredients of baby sweet fish and cheese paired well as the cheese toned down the bitterness of the fish.

At this point, head chef Azuma san took out 3 slabs of beef and went around to ask for the customers’ pick. One asked if they could choose 2 but he recommended not to as it will be too heavy.


3) Dish #3 (above) – Charcoal grilled big-eye snapper (kinmedai) and Jerusalem artichoke puree.

4) Dish #4 (above) – Sugar snap pea with bead-like rice grains which reminded me of what’s used for risotto. But I got to learn (while putting together this review) that this dish was a Spanish dish known as arroz caldoso, which meant brothy rice since the dish consisted of broth (bouillon) and rice. And simple it may look, but this was so good!


5) Dish #5 (above) – Served in a pot of sizzling hot sauce made with garlic and olive oil were Japanese tiger prawn and zanthoxylum piperitum. I was appreciative when staff took out his phone to google the vegetable for me when he saw my confused look. Thus, the very long and specific zanthoxylum piperitum. Or Japanese pepper, in short. Hee.

  

6) Bread (above) – And for us to enjoy the sauce, we were given bread. Yum!

7) Bread (above) – Was given a different bread when I nodded my head to additional bread. Keke.

8) Dish #6 (above) – Made with fruit tomato, this was like a refreshing palette cleanser.


  

9) Dish #7 (above) – Herbs and spring vegetables salad, and white anchovy (shirauo), paired with a hot soup dressing made with garlic and almond. And as head chef Azuma san poured the dressing over the greens, he mentioned the vegetables were done in 3 ways; Charcoal grilled, steamed and fried.

  

10) Dish #8 (above) – So while the rest had their beef, I had my horse tartare. I was really thrilled when this was presented to me because beside the crab paella, this to me was the other signature dish at Aca. And noticing my look of confusion, the staff offered to assist me with the dish which I was more than glad. And what happened next was like a theatrical performance. He removed the sesame leaves to reveal the slightly charcoal-grilled horse meatball beneath. He went on to slice it open to expose the pinkness within, and continued by placing the smoked egg yolk, bread crumbs (seasoned with garlic and jamon iberico) and black sauce (made from squid ink) onto it. With everything on the split meatball, he started to fold everything for a good 3 minutes at least. And for this dish, I had the tartare on its own first before enjoying it with the sesame leaves, and then with the toast. And I definitely liked the dish! Although to be really honest, I ain’t sure if I should have enjoyed it that much. Considering the religious reason behind my dietary restriction of ‘no beef’, I ain’t too sure if I could consume horse meat. Hmm…

  

11) Dish #9 (above) – Crab paella! The dish that I was looking forward to the most. The main ingredient used for the paella changes with seasons, and I was lucky that crab was in season when I dined in April. However, I didn’t catch what type of crab Was used; I too read that the type of crab used also changes with what’s seasonal. And I was told to have it on its own for my first bite, before having it with the lemon and mountain herb sauce. And this was so good! Whenever I had Spanish cuisine (in Singapore), I would always order paella and they usually failed to impressed. But this was unbelievably good. So when they asked if I wanted to have some for take away, I was like “yes!”

12) Dish #10 (above) – Ice cream on olive oil.

13) Dish #11 (above) – Was asked if I wanted coffee or tea, and I went with English mint rose.

14) Dish #12 (above) – Amazon cocao chocolate covered with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and chocolate crumbles, and garnished with a dried apple chip.

15) Hot tea (above) – At the start of my meal, I ordered tea for my beverage. And it was refilled once during the course of my lunch. Am honestly not too sure if I was charged for this because the drinks menu had no price. But even I was, I am sure it would have been reasonably priced. :)

16) Homemade sangria, ¥1000 (above) – Hard not to order sangria at a Spanish restaurant. Keke. And when the staff said they have hot sangria, I was totally up for it.

My lunch at Aca came up to ¥28,570 (including tax and service charge). And that excluded the ¥390 which was paid straight to Omakase for using their website to make the reservation.

And onto the big question… Would I recommend Aca? A big resounding… Yes! I was relieved (in a way that) I didn’t leave the restaurant disappointed, especially with my expectations heightened from all the raving reviews that I read prior to my visit. And I appreciated how head chef Azuma san tried his best to add a personal touch to every customers’ dining experiences. He would also personally walk us out at the end of our meals. Now… If one still doesn’t know, I am really bad at striking or continuing conversation. So I actually strategised to be the second to leave. I thought I could get away if head chef Azuma san was still occupied talking with the first group. But, no… He still managed to grab me. Haha. But I enjoyed our brief conversation. I think I became a bigger fan when he asked for my name; He wasn’t asking for the sake of asking. We were talking about something which led him to asking that. And that gave me the impression he was going to remember me. I hope? Sheepish grin.

It was also interesting that only 6 of the 8 counter seats were occupied. I was pretty sure Omakase showed all seats were taken up. So I guess maybe a pair of his regulars pulled out? It’s either that or it was done intentionally to allow himself to cope with the bigger group that was to come later; We were halfway through our meal when a group of 5 entered. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop but I could (again) hear snippets of their conversation as my seat was nearest to the communal table. Realised the group was from Hong Kong, and a mutual friend had contacted head chef Azuma san.

And as a heads up, do note there has been changes to Aca since my meal in April 2019 as I write this review. Aca has closed their Kyoto-based restaurant and will be relocating to Tokyo in June 2020 (Not too sure if the opening date will be delayed because of COVID-19 pandemic). So if reservation was hard to get when they were in Kyoto, I can’t imagine how harder it’s going to be now that they are shifting to Tokyo. I just hope Aca is still on Omakase. Cause if they are, there’s always a glimpse of hope. However small it may be. Wink.

ACA 1°
2F, 55 Masuyacho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto , apan (京都府 京都市中京区 桝屋町 55 白鳥ビル 2F)
+81 75 223 3002, Website, Tablelog
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 9
Mon – Sat : 12:00 – 13:00 (Lunch)
Ambience: 7
Mon – Sat : 18:00 – 21:00 (Dinner)
Value: 8
Service: 8
* Closed on Sun

Dinner @ Nishiazabu K+ (Tokyo, Japan)

June 8, 2020 in Italian by thywhaleliciousfay

It was from the many pictures posted on instagram that I got to know about Nishiazabu K+. Well… The then Kagero, and now Nishiazabu K+. I was particularly drawn to their shaved ice dessert (kakigori). I mean… It’s hard not to since I love kakigori and many people were raving how good theirs was.

So a bit on the restaurant’s background… Thought it may helpful because I was baffled when I got down to making my reservation; I knew the restaurant as Kagero, but it was with K+ that I made my reservation with.

Through instagrammer @andrew_gyokudari and blogger missneverfull, I learnt it all started with L’equateur. Since 2015, L’equateur (arguably the hardest-to-book French restaurant in Tokyo) would go on a 3-months hiatus every year to change its name to Kagero where head chef Yoshiyuki Ono took on his interpretation of Japanese-Italian cuisine. However by late 2017, they decided to open a new restaurant named K+. But unlike their previous practise with Kagero where it’s only opened during summer, K+ would be operational all year long. Yeah! However, while chef Ono san does not lead the kitchen at K+, the menu is produced by him.

For my reservation in March 2019, I did the booking 1 month in advanced. Ie, starts on the first date of each month for the following month’s reservation. And for overseas reservation, a non-refundable pre-payment was required. The restaurant would send the payment link via email after the reservation was made on their website.

And in my reservation, I indicated I was dining solo. To which the restaurant replied they could prepare 1 seat for me, with the course fee being ¥20,196 (tax and service charged included). After I made my pre-payment, I was further informed that I may have to pay additional cost and cover charged depending on what I ordered during my meal.

By public transport, one could choose the 10 minutes walk to K+ from Hiro-o metro station. I chose to alight at Roppongi metro station, which was a slightly longer walk of 20 to 25 minutes. And it was weird that I entered to an almost empty restaurant at 7pm. I guess I was expecting them to be ‘full house’. But that said, I guess the locals could only dine late. It’s either that or they were after the a-la carte menu which was only offered from 9pm. Cause when I left around 9.30pm, most of the tables were occupied.

After taking my counter seat, I was given the menu (pages 1, 2, 3). And for my pre-fixed course (¥17,000), I could choose 5 dishes from the appetiser section, and 5 dishes from the main course and dessert sections. And I ordered:-


1) Bread, Complimentary (above)

2) Appetiser with options of:-


  

(A) Steamed black abalone and caviar with abalone liver sauce (+ ¥700) (topmost)

(B) Marinated jelly fish with yuzu pepper (above, right)

(C) Fish carpaccio (above)

(D) Soft boiled egg with truffle (above, left)


(E) Snow crab croquette with tartare and caviar (+ ¥700) (above)

3) Main course with options of:-

(A) Sea urchin carbonara (+ ¥700) (above)

(B) Squid ink tagliolini with oyster and tomato (above)

(C) Risotto (above) – I decided to go with one of the specials; Risotto with scallop and truffle.

(D) Roasted kinka porc loin (+ ¥500) (above)

4) Dessert with options of:-


(A) Shaved ice with strawberry sauce (above)

5) Drink, Complimentary (above) – Now, I didn’t realise 3 drinks was included in my ¥17,000 course. Before I was shown the menu, the staff asked if I wanted to drink which I responded with a “water please”. And although I had the menu later, I failed to notice the fine prints stating ‘including 3 glasses drinks’. It was only towards the middle of my dinner while messaging a friend that I realised my mistake. And so, with my dessert, I requested for a sweet wine and was served this.

And for my dinner, I had to top up additional ¥3089 (including tax and service charge). Would I recommend K+? A big yes. And honestly… I couldn’t think of a better place if one is craving for (good) food late into the night too. Till today, I am still thinking about the other dishes that I didn’t get to try from their menu. Although if I had a chance to re-select my choices, I would give the jelly fish and squid ink tagliolini a miss.

So! Before I get to head down to K+ again, please try the soft cod roe gratin and the spaghetti with whitebait for me. Have only read good reviews about these 2 dishes!

NISHIAZABU K+
4-5-8 Nishiazabu, Minato City, Tokyo, Japan (東京都 港区 西麻布 4-5-8)
+81 3 6433 5141, Website, Tablelog
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Thur – Tues: 18:00 – 02:00
Ambience: 7
Value: 8
Service: 7
* Closed on Wed

Lunch @ Ode オード (Tokyo, Japan)

May 31, 2020 in French by thywhaleliciousfay

Ask me what I remember of my meal at Ode and my first answer would be… The good looking staff! Like seriously, there was so much handsome-ness in the space. So much that I couldn’t resist locating the instagram account of the cutest staff sous chef. And yes, I followed him. Sheepish grin. Don’t judge me, please. :)

Opened in September 2017, Ode was a 10 minutes walk from Hiro-o metro station. And spring is always a beautiful time to be in Japan. If one walked further along the street, one could enjoy the sight of many cherry blossom trees lining both sides of the highway.

It was not hard to notice everything was in shades of grey. From the grey skim-coated external wall and door, to the dark grey painted interior walls, and even to the (grey) stainless steel island counter within the U-shaped counter. Although the (harsh) all-grey interior was softened with bits of wood; Timber feature ceiling and wooden chairs. I wondered if chef-owner Yusuke Namai has an obsession with grey. Even his signature dish was named ‘Grey’. Hmm…

Although we were seated at the U-shaped counter, most of the actions including plating were behind the kitchen walls.

After I was led to my seat, the staff confirmed with me the menu that I had booked when I made my reservation before continuing to take out an iPad. There were many words on it. But the word ‘degustation’ jumped out at me. And that got me momentarily confused because I thought they reconfirmed my choice of menu just seconds earlier. It was only as she scrolled through the document that I figured it was the drinks menu. And yet again, another word jumped out at me. And it was the word ‘tea’. So I said “tea” to the staff. But what happened next was a blur. My intention of wanting to order a cup of tea suddenly became an order for their non-alcohol (tea) pairing.

And just when I thought lunch would be commencing after settling my drinks order, I noticed head chef Namai san was making his round to greet the different groups of customers. A very nice personal touch! Shortly after which, I commenced my lunch omakase (carte blanche menu, ¥7000) with:-

1) Dish #1 (above) – Hot milk with Taiwanese spices.

2) Dish #2 (above) – The staff came up with a big bowl of dry ice. On it was a brass coloured ball. The staff proceeded to transfer the ball to my plate and asked me to open it up. And within it was the famous ‘power ball’ which many had taken photograph and posted on instagram. Inspired by head chef Namai san favourite Japanese anime Dragon Ball, I was told the ball contained shrimp flavoured mousse within.

3) Dish #3 (above) – Foie gras and sweet potato tart. And as I chewed through, there were also chunky pieces of nuts which tasted like pistachio.

4) Dish #4 (above) – Cherry blossom leaf and clam (hamaguri) in clam broth. I was told to eat the leaf first for the flavour before proceeding to the broth. And the leaf which got me really curious was crisp like a chip. Pretty neat!


5) Dish #5 (above) – “Grey, our signature dish”, said the staff. And he went on to emphasise by pointing to the grey painted wall (just beside us), to his grey apron and to the dominant grey interior. We laughed. And hidden out of sight beneath the meringue (made with fish innards) was sardine, beetroot, fennel, pickled onion, lemon purée and cherry vinegar. I heard beef tartare when the staff introduced the dish to my neighbour, so I guess the kitchen must had removed that to cater to my dietary requirement (of no beef).


6) Dish #6 (above) – Freshly baked focaccia, brought out by none other than the cutest staff! It seemed he’s in charge of the baking and sweets department. And when he came round to ask if I wanted seconds, I nodded with a big grin. Haha. But no, really… I couldn’t resist good bread.


  

7) Dish #7 (above) – Risotto with white mushroom, Japanese spinach and kelp powder. I was told the mushrooms were cooked 2 ways for varying textures. Although I wasn’t sure why the risotto was so orange. Didn’t hear any particular ingredient in the dish introduction which could explained so. Strong cheese?

8) Dish #8 (above) – Snapper with mountain herbs, bamboo shoot (including the foam) and firefly squids.


  

9) Dish #9 (above) – Chicken wellington with chicken sauce, cauliflower mousse and foam, and vegetables (cabbage and beans) on mashed potato.


10) Dish #10 (above) – Chrysanthemum (which texture was similar to marshmallow), strawberry and pistachio bits, served alongside chrysanthemum ice cream. And this was seriously good. I was literally scraping my plate clean in an attempt to get everything.


  

11) Dish #11 (above) – Sakura biscuit and wafer biscuit (monaka) with filling of yuzu, green tea and rice cake.

As with most Japanese meals that come to an end, it’s (almost) customary to offer tea. But because I was doing the non-alcohol pairing which was basically different types of tea, I had the “What. More tea?” moment. Haha. But between the 2 options of roasted black tea and local bean tea, I went for the latter. Right choice if I may add. It was really fragrant.

With my non-alcohol pairing, my bill came up to ¥13,068 (including tax and service charge). Would I recommend 1 Michelin star Ode? Yes! I certainly enjoyed myself. And for ¥7000? The meal was very value-for-money. Skip the pairing though. One could tell I wasn’t really into it with the lack of pictures. My personal preference if I may add. Hee. It’s a plus too that reservation could be done easily on Ode’s website. But hey, don’t go dressed in grey. You, may, just, blend, in. Okie, lousy attempt at trying to be funny. Ha!

ODE オード
2F, 5-1-32 Hiroo, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan (東京都 渋谷区 広尾 5-1-32 ST広尾 2F)
+81 3 6447 7480, Website, Tablelog
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Mon – Sat : 12:00 – 15:00 (Lunch)
Ambience: 8
Mon – Sat : 18:00 – 23:00 (Dinner)
Value: 8
Service: 8
* Closed on Sun