Lunch @ Acá 1° (Kyoto, Japan)

June 14, 2020 in Spanish

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 @ Ogata 緒方 (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