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.

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 B1F)
+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 @ Kagurazaka Ishikawa (Tokyo, Japan)

August 26, 2017 in Japanese

Wanting to have at least a kaiseki meal in my February 2017 trip to Japan, I decided to head over to Michelin-starred Ishikawa. And I admit I got really excited knowing I need not rely on hotel concierge to make reservation. And as mentioned on their website, I called at 4pm as it’s after 3pm that they have a English-speaking staff who could take reservation for non-Japanese speaking customers.

With only 1 menu, I started my ¥22,000 dinner with:-

1) Dish #1 (appetiser) (above) – Japanese duck and winter spinach.

2) Dish #2 (deep-fried) (above) – Soft-shelled turtle, shiitake mushroom, lotus root and mitsuba green.

3) Dish #3 (soup) (above) – Hard clam and freshly-harvested bamboo shoot.

4) Dish #4 (sashimi) (above) – Flatfish and fresh sea urchin, garnished with fresh seaweed and Japanese herbs.

5) Dish #5 (sashimi) (above) – Yellowtail mixed with grated white radish.

6) Dish #6 (sashimi) (above) – Seared Spanish mackerel.

7) Dish #7 (charcoal-grilled) (above) – Horsehead snapper and shrimp-shaped taro.

8) Dish #8 (delicacy) (above) – Blowfish milt and snow crab covered with sticky crab sauce.

9) Dish #9 (hot pot) (above) – Kinme snapper with seasonal vegetables.


10) Dish #10 (steamed rice) (above) – Steamed rice with scallop. Miso soup and pickled vegetables. It was nice that chef-owner Hideki Ishikawa would present the claypot rice personally to every group of customers. Even to the extent of mixing the ingredients up. One may or may not be able to tell from the photographs chef Ishikawa san was a loud person with big actions. If I could, I may even use the word ‘eccentric’ to describe him. Haha. It was a side of him which I wasn’t aware of and that made my dining experience somewhat new and fresh too. I was very entertained by his gestures. And he speaks good English too; Communicating really well with locals and tourists.

11) Dish #11 (dessert) (above) – Fresh strawberry, molasses agar and crushed rum jelly on coconut soup.

The fact that I was presented with a claypot fully filled with rice, it isn’t difficult to guess that I didn’t finish my dish. At the end of my dinner, the staff passed me a paper bag containing a rice ball (onigiri) as they handed me my outerwear.


And it’s to note that preparation of the dishes were done by the kitchen staff rather than chef Ishikawa san. Although chef Ishikawa san do regularly head into the kitchen to check. How do I know? Being seated at the counter, I saw a kitchen staff handing him a bowl for chef Ishikawa san to try for his nod of approval.

Would I recommend Kagurazaka Ishikawa? Well… In all honesty, I was expecting more since it’s after all a restaurant with 3 Michelin stars. But stars aside, I do acknowledge it’s a restaurant worth checking out although it doesn’t rank high on my list of top-restaurants-to-visit in Tokyo.

5-37 Kagurazaka Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan (東京都 新宿区 神楽坂 5-37 高村ビル 1F)
+81 3 5225 0173, Website, Tablelog
Overall: 7
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Mon – Sat : 17:30 – 00:00
Ambience: 7
Value: 7
Service: 7
* Closed on Sun

UPDATE 1: Restaurant was awarded 3 Michelin stars by Michelin Guide Tokyo 2018.
UPDATE 2: Restaurant was awarded 3 Michelin stars by Michelin Guide Tokyo 2019.

Dinner @ Den 傳 (Tokyo, Japan)

May 24, 2017 in Japanese

As one read the entries of my Japan trip, one would realise I have way too many restaurants (in Tokyo) that I want to dine at. Keke. And Den was another restaurant on my list.

It’s read from Den’s website that they only accept reservation up to 2 months in advance. In addition, they don’t take online reservation and calls must be made between 12pm to 5pm. Wanting to dine in mid February 17, it meant they would only accept my reservation in mid December 16. However, at the point of me making my reservation, they were relocating. Thus, I wasn’t able to get them on the phone. Ie, no one picked up. And because of that, they accepted my reservation when I emailed them. Yeah!

And it felt so surreal to finally dine at Den; To see in person what I normally viewed in pictures on instagram.

After entering through the glass door, one would open the wooden grill-looking door by sliding it. I mistakenly tried to push it. Oops.

And according to regulars, Den has shifted to a bigger space. Customers designated to the communal table that’s almost the length of the dining space, sat facing the open kitchen. Though diners could sit facing each other at the ends of the table since it didn’t disrupt the view of the kitchen. Besides the communal table, there were also tables for bigger groups since it may be hard to talk sitting in a line.

I was fortunate to be seated at the long communal table, and at the centre. Directly opposite head chef Zaiyu Hasegawa where he would be stationed when he’s doing the plating. Keke. And upon seated, head chef Hasegawa san came up to welcome me with a hand shake. Fan girl moment! Haha. And with that, I commenced my ¥19,000 dinner with:-

1) Dish #1 (above) – After the staff confirmed my dietary restriction of no beef, she went on to say that dinner included a cup of alcoholic drink. However, not wanting any alcohol, they replaced it with a sparkling non-alcoholic juice. Said to be from France.


2) Dish #2 (above) – Typically served as a dessert, Den served their monaka (crisp wafers with filling) as a starter. Sandwiched between the wafers were foie gras, flower jam (tasted similar to strawberry) and pickled radish. This was so good! I wanted to take a bite shot but head chef Hasegawa san caught me in the act of trying to get a clean bite. So yes, I was slightly embarrassed. And no, I didn’t get the shot as planned. Haha.

3) Dish #3 (above) – Soft shell turtle; An ingredient used in traditional Japanese dish but normally served as soup. But at Den, this was served with deep fried cod milt (shirako) and puffed rice. I couldn’t taste any distinct turtle taste which was a good thing because it was my first eating turtle. And honestly, I was a little intimidated.



4) Dish #4 (above) – DFC! Den-tucky Fried Chicken. As the name goes, it’s the restaurant’s take of KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken); Chicken stuffed with glutinous rice, prawn and pickled perilla leaves (shiso). I was in love with this dish. Every ingredient complemented one another. A larger wing for me please? And as one might have guessed, they removed the bone for a fuss free eating affair too. And I seen on instagram that head chef Hasegawa san do personalise these boxes with the respective diners’ faces. So I guess he couldn’t find a flattering picture of me? Though it was an equally nice touch to see a mini Singapore flag within the box! And one could keep the toy chick as souvenir too. Though I didn’t. No proper place to display it at home lah.

5) Dish #5 (above) – Yellowtail brushed with soya sauce, served with seaweed sauce and sea urchin. I wasn’t expecting much cause the presentation paled in comparison to the previous dishes. But I was wrong. This was honestly amazing.

6) Dish #6 (above) – Slightly fried tilefish (amadai) served with vegetables where one could eat this as a wrap or as a sandwich. Good balance of seafood and vegetables. And because it’s a open kitchen, I got to witness it’s head chef Hasegawa san who did the frying personally. And it’s definitely nice to know that although he has many kitchen staff, he controls the quality with his personal touch.

7) Dish #7 (above) – Den’s signature salad where more than 20 seasonal vegetables were cooked in different ways; Deep fried, raw, pickled, grilled, etc. And it was amazing for this was also a dish of contrasting textures and varying temperatures. Look out for the smiley carrot too! I ate mine before thinking of capturing a picture. Keke.



8) Dish #8 (above) – And by the time I reached my rice course, I was starting to feel full. Thus, I requested for a smaller portion of the rice (cooked in katsuo dashi) with bamboo shoot. And the staff was right when they pre-empted me that the bamboo shoot was going to taste like sweet corn.

9) Dish #9 (above) – Only another couple and I remained in the restaurant cause we arrived at the restaurant at the same (late) timing of 8pm. And the couple who were going strong with their food intake recommended strongly for me to try the second flavour which rice was cooked with shirauo (small fish) and wild vegetables, and sprinkled with salt just before served.

10) Dish #11 (above) – Strawberry garnished with white bean, coconut milk, dried black bean and rum jelly. And I was loving the fact that the strawberry was pre-cut to quarters so that we need not struggle with trying to slice it into smaller pieces. Such thoughtfulness!

By 9.15pm, diners from the earlier seating had finished their desserts and head chef Hasegawa san was making his rounds. Most diners seemed to be regulars based on their interactions. And although the couple and I wee only diners left at 10.30pm, I appreciated that the kitchen staff continued to be around (in the kitchen). But of course, some had started to get busy with the cleaning. But what made me truly appreciative was that head chef Hasegawa san continued to be around and gave his personal touch right to the last dish served. One certainly don’t feel neglected even if one was in the later seating.

In fact, for diners whose dinner ended late, we got to see his 2 years old dog! At 10.45pm, head chef Hasegawa san brought his chihuahua to wish diners “good night”. Keke. Named Puchi Junior, it would shake its fore legs up and down. Cute! Though I am not sure if Puchi Junior always make an appearance.

And if one was dining in the private room, one need not worry about being neglected as head chef Hasegawa san regularly went into the room. In fact, it was a clever design that a sliding window opened straight into the kitchen where customers could easily interact with kitchen staff. Lots of personal touch. Very nice.

Dining at Den is a must when in Tokyo; For the food and the warm and playful dining atmosphere which Team Den created. In fact, Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards ceremony occurred days after my dinner. I was thrilled to know Den was ranked 11. And with their great and selfless hospitality, I couldn’t agree more that they deserved to receive ‘The Art of Hospitality Award 2017’.

Architect House Hall JIA, 2-3-18 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan (東京都 渋谷区 神宮前 2-3-18 建築家会館JIA館)
+81 3 6455 5433, Website, Tablelog
Overall: 9
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 9
Mon – Fri : 17:00 – 23:30
Ambience: 9
Sat : 17:00 – 22:00
Value: 8
Service: 9
* Closed on Sun

UPDATE 1: Restaurant was awarded 2 Michelin stars by Michelin Guide Tokyo 2018.
UPDATE 2: Restaurant was awarded 2 Michelin stars by Michelin Guide Tokyo 2019.