Lunch @ Sushi Arai 鮨 あらい (Tokyo, Japan)

August 30, 2017 in Japanese

With all the ongoing raves about Michelin-starred Sushi Arai by the Japanese instagrammers that I follow on social media, coupled with the fact that Sushi Arai was one of the few sushi-yas which could use Yamayuki (a specialty shop dedicated to tuna located in Tsukiji Market and a time-honored brand in the market)’s top cut, I got really keen in checking out Sushi Arai.

However, the real challenge was making the reservation. With rumours that Sushi Arai don’t accept reservation from hotel concierge, I decided to play it safe by using a reliable external booking agent. And having previously used Tableall’s service for 1 of my booking during my November 2016 trip and seeing that Sushi Arai was a Tableall’s listed restaurant, I contacted Tableall.

But to make reservation for February 2016, I was actually too early with my November 2015′s request since reservation is only taken up to two months ahead. Keke.

Located at basement 1 of RUAN Building, I arrived punctually at 12pm for a weekday lunch. I was fortunate to be given the best seat at the counter where I could watch chef-owner Yuichi Arai up close. And what caught my eye was the ice box refrigerator built into the rear wall. I read it’s an old tradition in the art of sushi-making where the fridge was cooled by ice blocks on the upper level instead of electricity to keep the sashimi at the right temperature. But it was unfortunate that my grasp of Japanese language was zero because the row of handwritten wooden plates hung on the wall wrote the fishes that’s offered for the day.

There’s 3 menus during lunch service; 10 pieces priced at ¥8000, 14 pieces ¥10,000 and dinner menu for ¥15,000. Having pre-selected my menu, I commenced my lunch with:-

1) 14 pieces, ¥10,000 comprised of:-

(A) Sushi #1 (above) – Flounder.

(B) Sushi #2 (above) – Snapper.

(C) Sushi #3 (above) – Big-eye snapper (kinmedai).

(D) Sushi #4 (above) – Squid.

(E) Sushi #5 (above) – Lean tuna (akami).

  

(F) Sushi #6 (above) – Medium fatty tuna (chutoro).

(G) Sushi #7 (above) – Gizzard shad (kohada).

(H) Sushi #8 (above) – Premium fatty tuna (otoro).

(I) Sushi #9 (above) – Kuruma-ebi (tiger prawn).

(J) Sushi #10 (above) – Halfbeak (sayori).

(K) Sushi #11 (above) – Surf claim adductor muscles (kobashira).

(L) Sushi #12 (above) – Saba (mackerel)

(M) Sushi #13 (above) – Saba (mackerel). I was surprised to be served a second sushi with the same topping (neta). Thinking that head chef Arai san might have made a mistake by placing it in front of me instead of the lady on my left, I left this particular sushi sitting on the counter instead of putting it into my mouth within 3 seconds from the time it’s served. Head chef Arai san who was busy talking to the pair of regulars on my right, caught on a bit later and went “Saba.” Oh. Okie. I guessed it was for me afterall Hmm…

(N) Sushi #14 (above) – Sea urchin.

(O) Maki roll (above) – Hand roll with hard clam and cucumber.

(P) Soup (above) – Clam soup.

I have heard read much about head chef Arai san prior to my visit. But to witness head chef Arai san reject a batch of sushi rice (shari) was a seal of confidence that head chef Arai san takes a lot of pride in his food; Red vinegared sushi rice (shari) was prepared in the kitchen and brought out in small batches to head chef Arai san. And at one point, after trying to knead the first ball of sushi rice with a fresh batch, the rice must have felt wrong because he immediately called his sous chef to replace the batch of rice.

With lunch starting at 12pm, my meal lasted 1 hour 15 minutes. Would I recommend Sushi Arai? Well… I honestly loved his sushi which were on the bigger size and with stronger seasoning. It was an interesting observation that head chef Arai san would wet his hands (both sides) before he commenced with each sushi making. But as one know, good food alone doesn’t make a wonderful overall dining experience. Chemistry between the chef and customers is equally important. Especially at sushi-yas when the 2 parties are within close proximity. Unfortunately for me, head chef Arai came across as slightly aloof. And that was made more noticeable cause I was dining alone.

Head chef Arai san focused a lot on his regulars, which I understand from a business point of view. But not too extreme lah. I noticed the Japanese couple, who came in together with me and sat on my far right, was equally neglected as me. Unsure if we came to the end of our meal with the bowl of soup since most sushi-yas would end the sushi course with a rolled egg omelette (tamago), the Japanese couple and I must have waited for almost 15 minutes before they decided to enquire with the staff. So following their cue, I also called for my bill.

So…. Would I still recommend Sushi Arai which was awarded their first Michelin star by Michelin Guide Tokyo 2017? Well… I would. Instead, to make the meal more enjoyable, perhaps come with a partner. =) Or better still, be able to speak some Japanese. Keke. And opt for their dinner menu if one is going during their lunch service. I was very much drooling over what was served to the regulars on my immediate right.

And because I made my reservation through Tableall, I had to pay a middleman fee which included 8% tax, 3.6% handling fee (used for credit card settlement) and ¥3000 booking fee (per head). Of which total figure was further rounded up to every ¥500.

SUSHI ARAI 鮨 あらい
Ruan Building, 8-10-2 Ginza, Tokyo, Japan (東京都 中央区 銀座 8-10-2 ルアンビル B1F)
+81 3 6264 5855, Tablelog
Overall: 7
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Thu – Tues : 12:00 – 13:30 (Lunch)
Ambience: 7
Thu – Tues : 17:00 – 23:00 (Dinner)
Value: 7
Service: 7
* Closed on Wed

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.

KAGURAZAKA ISHIKAWA 神楽坂 石かわ
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

Lunch @ Sushi Tokami 鮨 とかみ (Tokyo, Japan)

May 28, 2017 in Japanese

The one thing I realised from my November 2016 trip to Tokyo was that I didn’t have enough sushi meals. So when I was planning my February 2017 trip, I made sure I didn’t commit the same mistake. Ha. And with a (large) number of sushi-yas that I wish to try in Tokyo, I was glad to secure a reservation at 1 Michelin star Sushi Tokami successfully. But that came with much hassle; I went through my brother’s friend’s cousin’s boss who got as many as 3 (Japanese) staff based in Japan to make the call. Gasp.

But the thing was… Before I received news of the successful reservation (which came in only 3 weeks after I first contacted my brother’s friend with my request), I was really anxious and went to contact head chef Hiroyuki Sato on my own. Sheepish grin. Which head chef Saito san did respond, but only after my lunch reservation was successfully secured through my brother’s connection. And through our exchanged messages, I learnt that he was leaving Sushi Tokami by end March 2017 to start his own restaurant and was currently doing dinner service only. Being really keen to try his sushi (which I heard so much of from Japanese food instagrammers whom I follow), I asked if I could change my reservation from lunch to dinner. Unfortunately, he was overseas for the period I was in Tokyo! Sigh.

And one could say I still went ahead with my meal because I was ultimately grateful to my brother and his friend (whom I know personally). Also because I thought maybe… Just maybe, my review would be useful for those who are considering to visit Sushi Tokami after head chef Saito san’s departure.

For my 12pm lunch appointment, I reached the restaurant which was located in the basement at 11.55am. But I was told to return at 12pm. I guess they were still preparing. Thus, I couldn’t just wait by sitting at the counter? Unfortunately, as the lift lobby was too small for me to stand around, I ended up heading back to the ground floor and spent my next 5 minutes waiting at the main entrance of the building.

And there’s 3 menus for lunch. Each with varying number of sushi pieces. 10 pieces was priced at ¥5000, 13 pieces ¥8000 and 16 pieces for ¥12,000. And from the menu, I ordered:-

1) Menu #3, ¥12,000 comprised of:-

(A) Dish #1 (above) – Sashimi. I thought I heard second chef Shota Oda said hobo (red gunnard), but I ain’t sure.

  
  
  
  
  
  

  
  

(B) Dish #2 (above) – I was excited over the sushi leg of my lunch course because I heard much of their sushi rice (shari); Rice originated from Niigata cooked in traditional ceramic Japanese pot (olla) with the addition of red vinegar fermented using natural sake yeast. A demonstration of edo-mae sushi tradition. And for the 16 pieces of sushi, I was given the usual self-identifiable pieces like squid, different cuts of tuna, gizzard shed (kohada), mackerel (saba), etc. However, for the remaining toppings (neta) which I had difficulty in recognising, I only managed to get the name of a few (like baby snapper, sillago, sea perch) because chef Oda san didn’t have the English name to all of the fishes. With the owner of Sushi Tokami also being the founder of Yamayuki (a specialty shop dedicated to tuna located in Tsukiji Market and a time-honored brand in the market), it’s of no surprise that the cuts of tuna were good. However, besides the quality ingredients and distinct vinegar taste in the rice which I enjoyed, I wasn’t impressed much by chef Oda san’s sushi due to his inconsistency. The size of the sushi rice (shari) became bigger from my ninth piece with significantly more wasabi. I couldn’t help but wonder (then) how better the sushi would taste if it was made with the magical hands of head chef Sato san. That said, I was glad chef Oda san included the sea urchin sushi where cold and warm sea urchins were paired and served together. It’s a dish which head chef Sato san got his inspiration from his chef friend chef-owner Shinobu Namae of L’Effervescence.

(C) Dish #3 (above) – Miso soup.

  

(D) Dish #4 (above) – And the tuna tossaki hand roll was a specialty at Sushi Tokami. Tossaki being a rare cut from the base of the tuna’s head.


(E) Dish #5 (above) – Rolled omelette (tamago). And the version served at Sushi Tokami was ‘creme brulee’ inspired where the top surface was caramelised. Nice.

Including GST and service charge, lunch came up to ¥12,960. Would I recommend Michelin-starred Sushi Tokami? It was a good meal but… No. Not with the departure of head chef Sato san. The meal (by chef Oda san) wasn’t impressive enough for me to recommend others to try. A definite no for travelers who wish to make full use of their limited slots for meals in Tokyo. There are better sushi-yas.

In fact, this meal just reinforced the fact that I will continue to try to dine at where head chef Sato san is. One should see how he serve his pacific sardine sushi. So gorgeous.

SUSHI TOKAMI 鮨 とかみ
Ginza Seiwa Silver Building, 8-2-10 Ginza, Tokyo, Japan (東京都 中央区 銀座 8-2-10 銀座誠和シルバービル B1F)
+81 3 3571 6005, Website, Tablelog
Overall: 7
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 7
Mon – Sat : 12:00 – 14:30 (Lunch)
Ambience: 7
Mon – Sat : 18:00 – 23:00 (Dinner)
Value: 8
Service: 7
* Closed on Sun