Dinner @ Ogata (Kyoto, Japan)

April 18, 2019 in Japanese

For my annual trip to Japan in 2019, I (finally) ventured out of Tokyo. Grin. And when I decided to head to Kyoto, I knew I had 4 restaurants that I wanted to try; Ogata, Tominokoji Yamagishi, Acá and Hirasansou. Having read that it’s really difficult to secure a booking at 2 Michelin stars Ogata, I decided to use Tabeall.

I sent my reservation request to Tableall in end September 2018 but was informed that Ogata only take reservation for February from 1 December. However a few days later, I received another email from Tableall confirming that they had secured my booking with Ogata for dinner in late February 2019. Yeah.

For my 7pm dinner, I was the second to reach the restaurant. And instead of directing me to the empty seat beside the first group of customer, the staff led me to the other end of the counter which was beside a full-height glass window with a view of the indoors garden. And I liked my seat because it’s directly in front of the charcoal grill. VIP seat to witness chef-owner Toshiro Ogata’s grilling actions. Keke.

After seated, I was asked for my choice of drink which I went with iced green tea. And once everyone had settled down, I commenced my ¥33,000 dinner with:-

1) Dish #1 (above) – Sea urchin with sticky rice, topped with grated yuzu and pine nuts which was so light I nearly mistaken as puffed rice. In fact, I initially thought the topping was meat as the urchin’s colour was very dark. But its dark colour was from the seasoning.


2) Dish #2 (above) – “A type of Japanese pasta,” the staff said. And this was somen served with grated radish.

  

3) Dish #3 (above) – Baby tuna (meiji-maguro) sashimi. And when this was presented with a fox mask over it, the staff explained it’s a Japanese culture celebrated on 2 February. “A major day for Japanese,” he elaborated. I was told that the fox mask and leaves were used to ward off evil. The staff further shared the leaves were personally collected from the place of prayer and hand-carried back for Ogata’s customers. Wow. And after the explanation, the staff asked me to lift up the mask to expose the sashimi beneath. But just as I was about to do that, head chef Ogata san came over and assisted me. He continued to take the leaves and demonstrated what the Japanese would do by hitting himself on the chest. Once on each side with the leaves. He even got me to follow suit! And just as I was about to tuck in, I noticed head chef Ogata san whispering to his staff and nudging his staff in my direction. Apparently he asked his staff to take my handphone and take a photograph of me posing with the mask. So cute! I was honestly touched as his actions made me feel included. Fox mask and leaves aside, the baby tuna which was slightly grilled (aburi) was really tasty too.

4) Dish #4 (above) – Belt fish served with toasted sesame seeds. The toasted sesame seeds was very aromatic. It tasted almost similar to the peanuts used in our muah chee (glutinous rice snack coated with sesame seeds or peanuts).

5) Dish #5 (above) – Tempura butterbur (fukinoto) flower bud on tempura butter fish.

  

6) Dish #6 (above) – Tempura carrot. And for this, the other customers were exclaiming in excitement when head chef Ogata san placed the tempura carrot onto their plates. I concluded it must be a really special carrot especially with its deep-red colour. Even with my first bite, I mistook it for sweet potato because it was as sweet as roasted sweet potato.

7) Dish #7 (above) – Tempura abalone served with its liver sauce. And I was expecting it to be soft (like simmered kind of soft) but its centre was hard and crunchy. And the sauce definitely had something else besides liver. It contained small chunks which tasted like baby white shrimp (shiro-ebi). I ain’t too sure but it sure was yummy!

  
  

8) Dish #8 (above) – Blowfish (fugu) and milt. Shortly after my plate of milt was placed on the counter, head chef Ogata san appeared with the ice snow ball. Head chef Ogata san opened the snow ball with chopsticks to expose the packets of individually packed blowfish sashimi within. And we were told to personally take out our pack from the snow ball. I got to learn it was a tradition which the Japanese do for good luck. Food wise, one could eat the blowfish on its own or dip it in the milt sauce.

9) Dish #9 (above) – Hot sake with grilled blowfish fin.

  

10) Dish #10 (above) – And I very clearly heard the staff introduced the ingredient as round radish and not Japanese radish. Served with kelp (kombu).


  

11) Dish #11 (above) – Moroko fish. I was told this fish could only be found in the biggest lake in Japan. And we were given 3 each. Yum.

And it was a sign that the rice dish was to be served next when the assorted pickles was placed in front of me. And for the rice dish, the staff mentioned there’re 3 flavours. Unsure, I asked for recommendation and the staff proposed the oyster dish. But he went on to say I could have all three too. So I requested small portions for all. Keke. Stomach was bursting but I was greedy.

12) Dish #12 with options of:

(A) Baby white anchovy with egg omelette on rice (above)

(B) Deep-fried oyster on rice (above)

(C) Buckwheat noodle (above)

13) Roasted tea (above)


  

14) Dish #13 (above) – Filled with azuki beans, I was told cherry blossom was also used.

15) Green tea (above)

Head chef Ogata san certainly impressed. Dinner was fabulous! How do I put it… He wasn’t extravagant in terms of plating. One would realised from the food which were presented simply. But the taste of the dishes weren’t simple. He was able to bring out the best in each ingredient. And I was very impressed by how he also mixed tradition/culture into the dishes. Like the fox mask (kitsune).

I initially thought I would be neglected cause head chef Ogata san didn’t seem to be able to converse in English. The first few dishes were presented by his staff. But his passion and sincerity in wanting every customers to enjoy their dining experience must had made him cast aside his shyness and came up to me. Yes, the third dish! And for that, I was honestly touched and grateful. I ended up enjoying myself a lot. Head chef Ogata san looked stern on the outside but was actually mild and gentle. Even charismatic I must admit. Keke.

As I made my way to the exit, head chef Ogata san and his wife were there to say goodbye. And as a souvenir, I received a pair of chopsticks. Wow!

Would I recommend Michelin-starred Ogata? I definitely would! The raves about Ogata were real. And since I booked my meal through Tableall, it’s to note I pre-paid ¥44,000 (including tax, etc). And for the iced green tea which I ordered during the meal, I topped up another ¥1000. The ¥33,000 which I mentioned was the meal course, but tax not included yet. So if one did the mathematics, handling fee by Tableall is almost ¥4800. Very affordable, considering Tableall has been the most reliable third party reservation website. To me, at least. I always rely on Tableall for the super-hard-to-book restaurants.

OGATA 緒方
726 Shinkamanzacho Shimogyo, Kyoto, Japan (京都府 京都市下京区 綾小路西洞院東入新釜座町726番地)
+81 75 344 8000, Tablelog
Overall: 9
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 9
Tues – Sun : 16:00 – 21:30
Ambience: 8
Value: 9
Service: 9
* Closed on Mon

Sweets @ Minatoya みなと屋 (Tokyo, Japan)

March 27, 2019 in Japanese

I honestly enjoy kakigori (shaved ice) hunting when I am in Japan. Just the ice alone makes a huge difference. So besides Mamatoko, the other kakigori shop that I went during my February 2018 trip was Minatoya.

Tucked inside Sasazuka’s shopping arcade, Minatoya was a 5 to 8 minutes walk from Sasazuka station. Besides kakigori, the shop also sold takoyaki. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try the latter as I only prepared sufficient stomach space for kakigori. Oops. And from the menu (pages 1, 2), I ordered:-


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1) Kakigori #1, ¥900 (above) – Cacao, カカオ.


2) Kakigori #2, ¥1000 (above) – Mont blanc, おいもんぶらん.


3) Kakigori #3, ¥850 (above) – Kumquat (kinkan) milk, 金柑ミルク.

4) Kakigori #4, ¥900 (above) – Pistachio milk, ピスタチオミルク.

The ice at Minatoya was really light and fluffy. I mean… Although the cookies were placed in the middle of my cacao kakigori, the cookies came out clean and dry. Now, that’s really impressive cause it’s despite a ‘mountain’ of shaved ice layered over it. The brown stain (as pictured) was only there because I scraped my spoon against the cookie.

And having tried 4 flavours, I recommend ordering the ones which have milk. I especially liked the mont blanc-kakigori. Though one should also try ordering their signature pumpkin (かぼちゃ) kakigori which has drizzled caramel sauce too. I meant to, but I got distracted by the seasonal flavour (kumquat milk).

MINATOYA みなと屋
2 Chome−41−20 Sasazuka, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan (東京都 渋谷区 笹塚 2-41-20 岡田ビル 1F)
+81 3 6383 3120, Website, Tablelog
Overall: 7
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 7
Mon – Tues, Thur – Sun : 11:00 – 19:00
Ambience: 6
Value: 7
Service: 7
* Closed on Wed

Dinner @ Sushi Inomata 鮨 猪股 (Saitama, Japan)

March 23, 2019 in Japanese

And during my February 2018 trip, one of the sushi-yas that I went to was Sushi Inomata! In fact… With the exception of Kioichi Mitani, I booked my other sushi meals based on instagrammer @andrew_gyokudari‘s recommendation; I asked for places that’s within his Top 10 which are also not impossible to book, and he recommended me Sushi Inomata, Sushi Ryusuke and Sushi Suzuki. He also recommended Sushi Arai but I had already gone there. Also, I read Sushi Arai has since become difficult for non-locals to book head chef Arai san’s counter. But I digress…

For 6pm dinner, my hotel concierge assisted to make reservation 1 month prior. And when my reservation was confirmed, I was pre-informed the meal would range between ¥20,000 to ¥25,000.

But the thing was… Within that short 1 month from making-the-reservation to the-actual-dinner, they changed their menu. From February 2018, Sushi Inomata only offered a fixed 22 courses menu. My friend and I didn’t realise that till the end of our meal. And yes… Dinner at Sushi Inomata was supposed to be a solo affair. But when my friend learnt I was going there, she expressed interest.


And it was interesting that Sushi Inomata allowed me to make adjustment to my existing reservation via Instagram. Made me wonder for a moment if they would accept new reservation through Instagram. And yes, we exchanged texts in English. It was during our meal at Sushi Inomata that I realised it was chef-owner Kiyoshi Inomata’s fiancée wife who was replying me.

Sushi Inomata was not in central Tokyo. Located on the outskirts of Tokyo, it was a 45 to 55 minutes (metro) journey to Kawaguchi metro station followed by a 15 to 18 minutes walk. And once everyone arrived and settled down, we commenced our dinner with:-

1) Dish #1 (above) – Squid. We were told it’s aged for 4 days.

2) Dish #2 (above) – Flounder (hirame).

3) Dish #3 (above) – 1-week aged black throat sea perch (nodoguro).

4) Dish #4 (above) – Needlefish (sayori).

5) Dish #5 (above) – Adductor muscles of clam (kobashira).


6) Dish #6 (above) – Sea urchin (uni).

7) Dish #7 (above) – Marinated tuna (maguro zuke).

8) Dish #8 (above) – Vinegar-marinated mackerel (shime-saba).

9) Dish #9 (above) – Sweet shrimp (amaebi).

10) Dish #10 (above) – Ark shell clam (akagai).

11) Dish #11 (above) – Whale tail (kujira).

12) Dish #12 (above) – Premium fatty tuna (otoro).


13) Dish #13 (above) – Cucumber sushi roll.

14) Dish #14 (above) – Stuffed squid.

15) Dish #15 (above) – Milt (shirako).

16) Dish #16 (above) – Medium fatty tuna (chutoro).

17) Dish #17 (above) – Marinated premium fatty tuna (otoro).

18) Dish #18 (above) – Gizzard shad (kohada).

19) Dish #19 (above) – Hand roll of marinated tuna (maguro zuke) and premium fatty tuna (otoro).

20) Dish #20 (above) – Pickled gourd sushi roll.

21) Dish #21 (above) – Egg omelette (tamago).

I only had 21 dishes because I requested not to have oyster as I wasn’t sure if I fully recovered from my oyster phobia. My friend had fewer dishes than me since she clearly knew her likes and dislikes. Because she was still hungry and I was greedy, we tried requesting for add-ons. And that’s when we realised head chef Inomata san had changed to a fixed 22 courses menu. He was apologetic he wasn’t able to offer us additional nigiri sushi.

My friend and I continued to linger a little before requesting for the bill. Although it was odd our bill took a long while to come, my friend and I didn’t mind the wait because we were quite entertained at the sight of the remaining drunk high customers. Keke. And what touched us was after the husband and wife saw everyone off, head chef Inomata san came up to us and explained he couldn’t oblige earlier because of his other customers. That’s when we realised he turned down the other customers’ requests for additional sushi too. So yes, we were touched because he must have realised my friend was hungry since she had significantly fewer dishes. I think she skipped at least 4 to 5? And he made us a sea urchin rice bowl each. We didn’t take any picture cause he requested us not to.

Including a cup of green tea, my meal came up to ¥29,800 (inclusive of tax and service charge).

Will I recommend Sushi Inomata? I definitely enjoyed myself. Sushi was great. Instead of refined, one should think of his style as bold and… Rough? Influenced by Hatsunezushi, head chef Inomata san aged (jukusei) his fishes. Though not all. His sushi was also heavier on the palate as his rice was seasoned stronger with sake less vinegar. My friend and I had lots of laughter thanks to his warm and very adorable wife too. Head chef Inomata san, the shy and gentle bear, couldn’t converse in English. So when my friend and I couldn’t understand him, his wife would take out her pocket translator and translate on his behalf. So cute. We honestly loved the husband-wife team. I only wish their restaurant was more accessible.

And since my February 2018 dinner at Sushi Inomata, there have been more changes. The space was renovated, and Sushi Inomata has collaborated with Hatsunezushi from March 2019. So instead of their former 6 operating days, Sushi Inomata is only open on Wednesdays and Thursdays with 3 seatings.

SUSHI INOMATA 鮨 猪股
Sunlive Saiwai-Cho Courthouse, 1-12-23 Saiwaicho, Kawaguchi, Japan (埼玉県 川口市 幸町 1-12-23 サンリーブ幸町コートハウス)
+81 48 211 4175, Tablelog
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Wed – Thur : 14:00 – 22:00
Ambience: 7
Value: 7
Service: 9
* Closed on Mon, Tues, Fri, Sat & Sun