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

Lunch @ Le Sputnik ル スプートニク (Tokyo, Japan)

January 8, 2019 in French

When chef-owner Jason Tan of Corner House strongly recommended Le Sputnik on his Instagram, I knew I had to check out the Michelin starred French restaurant. And thus, reservation was made on Tablecheck via Le Sputnik’s website.

Shortly after I made my reservation, I received an email from Le Sputnik team. In it, they mentioned they often serve game animals such as venison, duck, pigeon, etc for main and asked if I had any objection. To which, I replied with my dietary restriction of ‘no beef’. And at the same time, I also requested for the ‘foie gras-beetroot’ dish as I wasn’t sure if it was included in the lunch menu. So yes, if one is only lunching at Le Sputnik and wishes to have the ‘foie gras-beetroot’ dish, one would need to request for it as they don’t normally put that on the lunch menu.

It was a breeze locating Le Sputnik with Google map. Upon entry, the staff led me to my assigned table which gave me a good view of the kitchen through its full height glass door. And with that, I commenced my 8-course tasting lunch menu, ¥6000 with:-

1) Dish #1 (above) – Japanese pear wrapped with tile fish, served on a handpicked volcanic rock from Mount Fuji.


  

2) Dish #2 (above) – Burdock-wrapped sweet fish (ayu) placed on a huge pile of fried burdock strips. The staff mentioned the sweet fish was dusted with five spices and burdock powder, and asked me to enjoy it with the balsamic vinegar sauce. I tried my best to finish the fried burdock strips, but I just couldn’t. Too much lah.

3) Bread (above)

4) Dish #3 (above) – Cod milt (shirako) topped with burnt butter sauce, and served with olive oil and herbs.



  

5) Dish #4 (above) – Foie gras torchon and beets. And ain’t it a beauty? Assembled to look like a rose. And yes, the thin crispy beet chips were ‘stuck’ into the foie gras, which also had a layer of beet jelly over it, to hold them in position. Innovative!


6) Dish #5 (above) – Fermented mushroom crepe with grated truffle. And when this was first served, it looked pretty non-appetising because everything on the plate was brown. Ie, no vibrant colours. So thank goodness for the egg and asparagus within the crepe. And I liked how they played with (contrasting) temperatures; Warm cooked food and cold mushroom ice cream with bacon bits.


7) Dish #6 (above) – Garoupa with dashi-broth foam.

8) Dish #7 (above) – Grilled deer. And no, the (real) branch was inedible.


  

9) Dish #8 (above) – Sake kasu ice cream, and ball of yuzu jelly and chocolate mousse that’s covered with meringue sheets and grated yuzu peel. I really liked this.

10) Petit fours (above) – Cream puff choux dusted with matcha powder, and hojicha pudding with olive oil and rock salt.

11) Coffee, Complimentary (above)

I left the restaurant feeling very happy. Corner House’s chef Jason Tan was spot on with his recommendation. Food was great, atmosphere was comfortable and service was professional.

There’s no menu at Le Sputnik. Only a piece of paper to introduce the restaurant’s concept. I guess the absence of a menu was the restaurant’s intention to maintain the customers’ anticipation of what’s going to be served next. So when every dish was served, the staff would give a very detailed introduction. And a particular female waiting staff manager stood out. I liked how she was able to inject interesting comments on top of the already-lengthy introductions. I had lots of good laugh thanks to her. And throughout my meal, I could sense the team’s passion and sincerity in wanting to share chef-owner Yujiro Takahshi’s creations with customers.

As taken from their website, ‘Sputnik’ is a Russian word originally meaning a ‘travelling companion’. And as very beautifully described by website EATPIAEvery diner becomes a fellow traveler on chef Takahashi san’s gastronomy journey at Le Sputnik.

Do I recommend 1 Michelin star Le Sputnik? Definitely!

LE SPUTNIK ル スプートニク
7-9-9 Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo, Japan (東京都 港区 六本木 7-9-9 リッモーネ六本木 1F)
+81 3 6434 7080, Website, Tablelog
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Tues – Sun : 12:00 – 15:30 (Lunch)
Ambience: 7
Tues – Sun : 18:00 – 23:00 (Dinner)
Value: 8
Service: 8
* Closed on Mon

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 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