Dinner @ Ginza Shinohara 銀座 しのはら (Tokyo, Japan)

December 29, 2018 in Japanese

To dine at Shinohara was a ‘dream come true’ for me. Actually, to dine at any of the highly-rated restaurants in Japan is a ‘dream come true’ for me. Am always grateful when it happens.

So I got to know about Shinohara back in early October 2016 through a Japanese instagrammer. At that point, Shinohara had just relocated to Tokyo; Renaming themselves Ginza Shinohara from Shinohara Mikumo. Called them in mid October 2016 to make reservation for my November 2016 trip, but was told they were fully booked till December 2016. And to be really honest… Since then, I gave up all hopes of being able to dine at Shinohara in my next trip (which could only happen 1 year later, earliest) because they were gaining immerse popularity at an exponential rate. Even gaining 1 Michelin star in less than 1 year of operation. If even the Japaneses found it extremely difficult to book, what about me (a tourist)?

But I guess one shouldn’t give up. With plans to return to Tokyo in January 2018, I got my hotel concierge to call Shinohara in August 2017. But despite the 5 months advanced planning, I was given the bad news that they were fully booked. That’s when I decided to give it another try and asked my hotel concierge to check their availability for February. And with a stroke of luck, I was fortunate to secure a slot for early February 2018. And with that, I adjusted my travel dates to work around my Shinohara reservation. Got to admit I am a real hardcore.

  

For my 8.30pm reservation, I reached the place at 8.25pm. Upon entering through the entrance, the staff took my coat before directing me to my seat. And I noticed the restaurant could sit up to 8 customers in one seating.

The staff knew I was a non-local. So while everyone was settling down, (what definitely seemed to be) the sous chef came up to me and apologetically informed that they speak very little English. But they were too humble, honestly. Their grasp of English was pretty good. I understood them well. And once everyone was ready, chef-owner Takemasa Shinohara kick-started dinner by giving a short speech. I didn’t understand a word of it cause he said it in Japanese, but I assumed it must be his introduction to welcome everyone. And with that, I commenced my ¥23,000 dinner with:-

1) Japanese tea (ocha) (above)

2) Dish #1 (above) – Japanese spotted prawn (botan ebi) and ark shell clam (akagai) sashimi, kelp (kombu) and flower in dashi-vinegar sauce.

Just as we finished our sashimi dish, a staff went round with a bowl of live river fish (moroko). He tried to introduce the fish to me in English but ended up speaking Japanese. And it was cute because head chef Shinohara san and the sous chef were watching him from the counter. Just like how parents would peer through the window to watch their child during their first day at school. So when they heard him speaking in Japanese, they laughed and teased him with “moroko fish?” And that’s also when sous chef stepped in like a bigger brother and helped him out by telling me it’s river fish. And yes… No surprises that I was really liking the fun, relaxed ambience, and the chemistry within the team by then.


3) Dish #2 (above) – Milt (shirako) wrapped with tofu skin, in soup with grated winter melon (I think that’s what it was since it didn’t taste like grated radish) and yuzu.

4) Dish #3 (above) – Sashimi assortment of Spanish mackerel (sawara), flat fish, lean tuna (akami), medium fatty tuna (chutoro), and abalone.


5) Dish #4 (above) – Monkfish liver (ankimo) and crab on rice. And we were told to mix everything up. So, so good!


  

6) Dish #5 (above) – I didn’t manage to catch the name for most of the ingredients, but the plating was gorgeous. And for the pigeon, it was prepared at the grilling counter that’s visible to all. So I got to watch the entire process of grill-marinate-grill by sous chef.

7) Dish #6 (above) – DIY handroll with pickled radish, minced tuna and sesame seeds


8) Dish #7 (above) – Persimmon and foie gras sandwiched between wafer biscuit (monaka).

9) Dish #8 (above) – And the river fish made a returned appearance! Charcoal-grilled river fish (with accompanying vinegar sauce) and soft-shell turtle, and pickled radish which tasted more like pear to me. Haha. But it was not any plain radish. I initially thought they served 2 pieces because I noticed it was sliced. But when I picked it up, I realised they introduced a slit to smeared something within. I liked their attention to taste!

10) Dish #9 (above) – Soba.


11) Dish #10 (above) – Duck soup with sliced duck, meatball, mushroom, tofu and vegetables.


12) Dish #11 (above) – Claypot rice with crab. And it was a sight to see the entire team working together on the crabs to remove its flesh from the shells. Such great teamwork! After which, head chef Shinohara san went on to mix the freshly extracted crab meat with sea urchin and rice. Urchin sauce and seaweed flakes were further topped to the individual portions. And this was brilliant! I loved it so much.

  

13) Dish #12 (above) – Egg porridge.


14) Dish #13 (above) – Japanese confection (wagashi) of white bean and matcha filling.

15) Matcha (above)

Dinner was really fun. The dishes certainly lived up to all the raves I read on Instagram. And I really liked the friendly atmosphere which head chef Shinohara san created in his restaurant which allowed everyone to join in the group conversation and laugh at jokes together. Head chef Shinohara san looked stern but had a warm heart and a beautiful smile. Keke.

A male customer seated 2 seats from me was very fluent in English and became the unofficial translator. And head chef Shinohara san was noticeably less shy halfway through dinner; He made the effort to initiate conversations with me despite his broken English and without the help of our unofficial translator. It was really cute and I really appreciated it.

But as a solo diner, I also found myself needing to find stuff to do in order to kill time in between the dishes. At Shinohara, the preparation of food was an art itself so it’s done at the counter in front of customers. Since most customers came in groups, they would pass time by chatting. But I didn’t had much to do because there was no (mobile phone) signal at the restaurant which was located in the basement of the building. Sob!

Would I recommend Ginza Shinohara? For sure! It’s a must, although securing a reservation at this 1 Michelin star restaurant is a challenge in itself.

GINZA SHINOHARA 銀座 しのはら
Habiulu Ginza II, 2-8-17 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo, Japan (東京都 中央区 銀座 2-8-17 ハビウル銀座2 B1)
+81 3 6263 0345, Tablelog
Overall: 9
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 9
Mon – Sat : 17:00 – 23:00
Ambience: 9
Value: 8
Service: 9
* Closed on Sun

Dinner @ Takayama

June 27, 2018 in Japanese

When I got to learn about Takayama through my IGGF (InstaGram GirlFriend), I was really interested in their dinner menu. And it was exciting that my IGGF was keen to join me in trying their dinner menu because she had been lunching at Takayama and she enjoyed the food so far.

However, I was undecided between the $280 and $380 menus. Both were 11-courses with the latter requiring at least 2-days advanced notice. In the end, I decided to go with the $380 menu because I figured I would be getting the real deal. I mean… Since head chef Taro Takayama knew my IGGF and she was contacting him directly to make our reservation, I figured he wouldn’t shortchange me. So with that, reservation was made with at least 1 week advanced notice.

Located at the ground level of OUE Downtown, it’s a 15 minutes walk from Raffles Place MRT station to Takayama. My IGGF went with the 8-course ($190) from the menu while I went ahead with the 11-course menu ($380) as pre-ordered. And with that, we started our dinner with:-

1) Takayama menu, $380 comprised of:-

(A) Dish #1 (above) – Young onion, sea urchin from Hokkaido and dashi jelly.


(B) Dish #2 (above) – Tofu souffle with hairy crab and summer truffle.


(C) Dish #3 (above) – Asparagus, somen and corn ice cream.


  

(D1) Dish #4 (above) – Otsukuri platter of baby white shrimp (shiro-ebi), pike eel with plum sauce, big-eye snapper (kinmedai) with vinegar jelly, Spanish mackerel with homemade plum sauce and radish, tuna tartare with frozen yolk within, blue fin tuna and mackerel stick sushi (saba bozushi) with kelp. The tartare was pretty interesting as chef Taro san shared that the yolk within was marinated in soya sauce to achieve its cheese-like texture.


(E) Dish #5 (above) – Sandwiched between the wafer biscuit (monaka) were foie gras (marinated with sake and mirin) and pickled watermelon skin (marinated in sake lees).

(F) Dish #6 (above) – Spotted prawn (botan-ebi) and raw egg plant in grape dressing.

(G) Dish #7 (above) – Abalone with two sauces; Sea urchin and abalone liver.


(H) Dish #8 (above) – Wild-caught eel with salt flakes, served with fermented barley and various vegetables.

(I) Dish #9 (above) – Rice with sea-caught salmon and pickles.

(J) Dish #10 (above) – Musk melon and mango.

(K) Dish #11 (above) – Pumpkin and green pea (usui-endo) jellies.

2) Alcohol pairing, $98 (6 types) (above)

It was an enjoyable meal because I had the company of my IGGF. It’s no secret that I am really shy with new faces. But with my IGGF, I was about to converse freely with friendly chef Taro san. However food wise, I didn’t think it was worth the $380 price tag.

Compared to my IGGF’s $190 8-course menu, the additional dishes that I got for my 11-course menu was somen (dish #3) and abalone (dish #7). The other differences were i) eel was used instead of hairy crab for her souffle (dish #2), ii) she got snapper with soya foam instead of blue fin tuna (dish #4), iii) huge sweetfish (ayu) instead of eel (dish #8), and iv) wine-marinated peach instead of mango (dish #10). Which honestly, I felt the dishes only justified a $280 instead of $380 menu. Even the plating between the $190 and $380 were the same. I guess I was disappointed because I was expecting more. At least 1 really special ingredient since advanced notice was even given.

Will I recommend Takayama? Well, for a traditional kaiseki experience, I would recommend elsewhere. But I would not give Takayama a total miss. If one is in the CBD area, one could still check out Takayama but stick to the $190 or $280 menu. Don’t go beyond $280.

TAKAYAMA
6A Shenton Way, OUE Downtown, #01-09/10, Singapore
6224 0864, Website
Overall: 6.5
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 7
Mon – Fri : 12:00 – 14:30 (Lunch)
Ambience: 7
Mon – Sat : 18:00 – 22:00 (Dinner)
Value: 5
Service: 7
* Closed on Sun

Dinner @ Nihonryori RyuGin 祥雲龍吟 (Taipei, Taiwan)

February 21, 2018 in Japanese

After having just visited Taiwan in September 2017, it was an impromptu decision to return (so soon again) in January 2018. But no matter how impromptu a trip may be, I always have my list of restaurants-to-try ready. Keke. And for my second (short) trip to Taiwan, I decided to check out MUME and Nihonryori RyuGin (for restaurants which require reservation).

Reservation request was sent by dropping the restaurant a message on their ‘contact us’ page with 1.5 months advanced notice given. And within 2 working days, I received a response via email. To secure our reservation, we were required to pay a deposit where the amount was 50% of our selected menu. Noting that we had to order the same menu, I chose the 10-courses regular menu (NT$6500) over the 7-courses short menu (NT$4200).

  

RyuGin is located in the same building as RAW, but at level 5. Upon entering the restaurant, my Mom and I were brought to the (waiting) lounge where we were served tea before the staff led us to our table.

Having pre-selected our dinner menu, we started our 10-courses dinner (NT6500) with:-


1) Dish #1 (above) – Caviar, little silver fish, skin tofu, mizuna.


  

2) Dish #2 (above) – Eel, tomato. Tomato was super sweet, and eel was fresh and firm. I liked how the savory sauce pulled the entire ensemble together. I could easily do at least 5 of these. So, so good!



3) Dish #3 (above) – Clam, sweet potato leaves, lemon. I felt it was ingenious that fat, juicy clams were served on a crunchy deep fried sweet-potato-leaf-cracker cause it introduced different textures into the dish. Pretty good.

4) Dish #4 (above) – Threadfin, bamboo, burdock, snap beans.

5) Dish #5 (above) – Squid, sweet shrimp, fatty tuna, hairtail.

6) Dish #6 (above) – Tile fish, crown daisy, mullet roe.


7) Dish #7 (above) – Abalone, sea urchin.


  

8) Dish #8 (above) – Squab, rosemary. The skin was beautifully executed; Very thin and crispy, and most importantly, tastefully seasoned. And to keep the ‘smoked rosemary’ going, a small piece of charcoal was placed beneath the rib bone.


9) Dish #9 (above) – What’s supposed to be clam, green onion and tomato on koshi-hikari rice as mentioned on our menu, we were served tilefish tempura instead because of my Mom’s preference not to have shellfish (her skin may flare). And it was amazing! When the staff brought the pot to our table to mix it in front of us, we could hear the distinct crackling sound (of the fried tempura batter). It was music to our ears. I liked how I would bite into the crunchy bits of the batter and into the softer but firm texture of the fish. A must try!


10) Dish #10 (above) – Sanbokan.



11) Dish #11 (above) – Leicha powder, strawberry.

12) Dish #12, Complimentary (above) – A little something for us to bring back.

And because my Mom and I had (Taiwanese) desserts an hour before our dinner, we were feeling pretty stuffed by the time we reached our main course of rice. And one could tell how much we must have enjoyed the dish when my Mom couldn’t resist asking if the restaurant would pack our remaining rice. But for only 2 small bowls that we ate in the restaurant, it was disappointing that we were only given 1 small takeaway box cause I dined at other kaiseki restaurants and they would pack 1 portion for each diner.

  

Extra disappointing because the tilefish tempura was truly amazing and I wanted more. The batter remained crunchy even 24 hours later even thought it’s mixed into the rice.

I would recommend RyuGin if I do not need to take into consideration of the cost; Food was undeniably good but at a high price. I am fine with green tea being chargeable, but I was slightly put off to know that it was non-refillable. But! Their 十四代 sake-pairing menu sounded like a good deal. If I wasn’t paying for 2, I would most likely have gone for that.

NIHONRYORI RYUGIN 祥雲龍吟
No. 301, Le Qun 3rd Road, 5F, Zhongshan District, Taipei City, Taiwan
+886 2 8501 5808, Website, Facebook
Overall: 7.5
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 9
Tues – Sun : 18:00 – 23:00
Ambience: 7
Value: 6
Service: 8
* Closed on Mon

UPDATE: Restaurant was awarded 2 Michelin stars by Michelin Guide Taipei 2018.