Dinner @ Jungsik 정식당 (Seoul, Korea)

October 28, 2020 in Korean

My trips to Korea were mainly visiting family-owned restaurants. I follow a few Korean food shows, and would hunt down the restaurants that appear on the shows. Uh huh, hunt. But when Michelin Guide Seoul was (first) launched in November 2016, it got me curious. It made me want to check out the fine dining scene in Korea. And I was lucky that one of my (ex-)crossfitters (from my Korea trip 2017) was keen too. And thus, we went to Jungsik and La Yeon.

Reservation at Jungsik was made through email with 1.5 months advanced notice. Dinner almost failed to materialise because Jungsik was closed for private event on our 2 preferred dates. But after adjusting our itinerary, we secured our reservation by returning a completed reservation form which included a credit card guarantee.

Jungsik was a short 5 minutes walk from Apgujeong Rodeo metro station. We were greeted by a receptionist who led us to our table at level 2. And with 2 options on the dinner menu, we each ordered the 5-courses, ₩120,000:-

1) Welcome drink, Complimentary (above) – With grapefruit jelly, the staff told us to drink it just like how we would down a shot. Keke.


2) Welcome dish, Complimentary (above) – Introduced as banchan (side dishes), we were told this was Jungsik’s style. And we were served scallop, truffle capellini, snapper with kimchi (to be eaten as a wrap), smoked salmon in a cone, rice ball with oyster, and fried burdock.

3) Appetiser with options of:


  

(A) Gujeolpan ver. 3 (for 2) (above) – Raw tuna. The ‘+2′ on the menu meant the dish was for 2. And so, my friend and I had to choose the same dish for our choice of appetiser. The staff explained gujeolpan meant ’9 types of food’, and the 9 on our dish being sour cream, sprouts, seaweed, yam, wasabi, kimchi, minced tomato, jelly and tuna. I wouldn’t recommend stacking a bit of everything onto the piece of crispy seaweed. I tried and ended up dirtying the floor when I tried putting my tall ensemble into my mouth. Sob.

(B) Octopus (+ ‎₩10,000 supplement) (above) – Gochujang aioli. So glad my friend was a glutton like me. We decided to order the octopus dish although we had exhausted our appetiser option with the Gujeolpan ver. 3 (item #3A). And as an add-on, this a-la carte order cost us ₩25,000.

4) Rice with options of:


(A) Sea urchin (+ ‎₩10,000 supplement) (above) – Fried millet. We were told to mix the black rice, fried millet, puffed rice and sea urchin together. I liked the crunchy bits within. Just like scorched rice if I ain’t wrong. So good.

(B) Grilled rice (above) – Barley, duck. I really enjoyed this dish. Could taste the strong smoky aroma.

5) Sea with options of:

(A) Ok dom (+ ‎₩10,000 supplement) (above) – Namul. And was told that the red snapper was Jungsik’s signature from Jeju island. Served with vegetables and rice cake.

(B) Black cod (+ ‎₩10,000 supplement) (above) – Classic, dried radish. Cooked by pouring hot water over slowly to keep it tender inside, and placed on a base of acorn jelly and assortment of vegetables which included cucumber and onion.

6) Land with options of:-

(A) Tenderloin (+ ‎₩20,000 supplement) (above) – Deodeok.

(B) Duck 2017 (above) – Aging, brocolini.

7) Pre-dessert (above) – Palate cleanser. Jungsik’s take on Korea’s cinnamon tea. With pear, ginger pudding and cinnamon juice.

8) Sweet with options of:-

(A) Dolhareubang (above) – Green tea mousse. Dolhareubang, the large rock statues symbolic to Jeju Island. Served alongside milk ice cream.

(B) Cheongdam pie (above) – Apple pie. With apricot jam and jasmine ice cream.

(C) Rose of versailles (above) – Blueberry cremeux. Again, another dessert which we ordered as an add-on for ‎₩20,000. Blueberry (used to make the rose), lychee ice cream, rose meringue cookie (as the crown), and blueberry cheese cake.



  

9) Tea/Coffee – And after our meal, we were given the option to go with tea (peppermint, chamomile, mugwort and buckwheat) or coffee. I usually would go with coffee, but decided to try the tea instead.

10) Petit fours – Black sesame biscuit, chocolate cube, and earl grey choux.

My friend and I enjoyed our dinner thoroughly. Got to thank the staff who was attending to our table. My friend and I were trying to take notes of the ingredients and made him repeat himself a few times. But he was so nice and patient. Thumbs up! Could definitely see why Jungsik was awarded 1 Michelin star. Food, tick. Service, tick. Ambience, tick. And as a bonus, my friend and I even got to see a Korean actor!

I definitely recommend Jungsik for upscaled Korean cuisine.

JUNGSIK 정식당
서울 강남구 선릉로158길 11
+82 2 517 4654, Website, Naver
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Mon – Sun : 12:00 – 15:00 (Lunch)
Ambience: 7
Mon – Sun : 17:30 – 22:00 (Dinner)
Value: 8
Service: 8

Dinner @ Tominokoji Yamagishi (Kyoto, Japan)

October 8, 2020 in Japanese

A few days were spent in Kyoto for my February/March 2019 trip to Japan. Well… 2 days to be exact. And for the very short period spent in Kyoto, my dinner reservation at 1 Michelin-starred Tominokoji Yamagishi was made via Tableall. I sent my reservation request as early as July 2018 for my meal in February 2019. Uh huh… Kiasu-ism (fear of losing out) at its best. Haha! Don’t judge me please.

But it was kinda crazy that just 2 days before my dinner, I received an email from Tableall informing that Tominokoji Yamagishi had hiked the price because ingredients in winter were more expensive in general. So the last notice was in no way Tableall’s fault. Pure coincidence as Tableall also offered the option for a full refund if I wasn’t comfortable with the price increase. And for my dinner at Tominokoji Yamagishi, it was planned with another foodie friend @terenceongwh to check out the place together.

  

For our 9pm dinner reservation, we reached early at 8.40pm. And we were directed to a separate hut located just beside the open car park. However, the restaurant wasn’t strict with the first-come-first-sit policy.

A couple arrived after us and was waiting in the waiting hut with us. And because they reached after us, they were nearer to the door of the hut. So when the staff came for us, the couple exited the waiting hut first and entered the restaurant before us. And oddly, I noticed another group was already seated at the counter when we entered. Hmm…

Do note that we had to remove our footwear for both the waiting hut and restaurant. So one may want to make sure no holes in socks, or wear footwear that’s easy to slip in and out. Thank goodness I’m a sneakers person and not a boots or heels person. Keke.

And once all 9 of us customers settled down, chef-owner Takahiro Yamagishi commenced our ¥25,000 dinner with:-

1) Dish #1 (above) – Cod milt with radish.


  

2) Dish #2 (above) – Sandwich of Spanish mackerel (sawara), rice cake and penshell clam (tairagai). And the seafood were all grilled over charcoal. We were each given a wooden plate for us to place the ‘sandwich’ down. But because this was handed to us by head chef Yamagishi san, I didn’t notice the plate and finished it quickly after snapping a picture. Ha.

  

3) Dish #3 (above) – Steamed egg (chawanmushi). There was also another ingredient inside which texture reminded me of fish maw.

4) Dish #4 (above) – Blow fish (fugu) sashimi and blow fish milt with ponzo sauce. I enjoyed this!


5) Dish #5 (above) – Taiza crab in white miso soup. I was really excited for this. Only available during winter, Taiza crabs are snow crabs (matsuba crabs) caught in Taiza Port and are ranked top in quality and flavor. And for this, head chef Yamagishi san started off by cooking the vegetables in the stock. After removing and portioning the cooked vegetables, he skimmed off the scum before continuing to cook the crab meat in the simmering broth (shabu shabu). Such a treat!

  

6) Dish #6 (above) – Taiza crab in white miso reduction.


  

7) Dish #7 (above) – It’s only after my meal at Tominokoji Yamagishi that I learnt this dish was called ‘Sugi Hassun’; A tray of tidbits made with ingredients from the seas and mountains. Typically 1 kind of sushi and several smaller side dishes. And supposedly the ultimate signature dish that symbolized the essence of the restaurant.

8) Dish #8 (above) – Belt fish (tachiuo) topped with chopped onion, and served alongside burdock.

  

9) Dish #9 (above) – Mackerel stick sushi (saba bozushi) with shiso leaf, sesame seeds and ginger.


10) Dish #10 (above) – Sea urchin hand roll. And for this, head chef Yamagishi san went round and asked how full we were. I guess he adjusted the sushi rice (shari) portion according to our responses. But now… One may have seen pictures of this hand roll with 2 rows of sea urchin. But that’s really for his regulars. Everyone, in that 9pm seating, were given just 1 row of sea urchin. Still a lot (of sea urchin), I say!

11) Dish #11 (above) – Baby white anchovy (shirauo) and urui (a type of mountain herb).


  

12) Dish #12 (above) – Grilled sardine (iwashi). We were also given pollock roe (mentaiko), nameko mushroom and dried baby sardines to enjoy with the fish and rice. White radish (daikon) was also available. But instead of placing the radish in bowls for us to help ourselves, the staff would go round and ask if we wanted the radish. Which they would then put into our bowls upon request.

13) Roasted tea (above)

14) Dish #13 (above) – Sticky renkon (lotus root) mochi, served slightly warm. And I liked how the leaves left a refreshing mint aftertaste.

15) Matcha (above)

I had always thought Tominokoji Yamagishi was a kaiseki restaurant. But again, it was only after my meal that I learnt Tominokoji Yamagishi’s cuisine was cha-kaiseki; Based on the tradition of tea ceremony. Interesting…

Would I recommend Tominokoji Yamagishi? Well… I am actually on the fence for this. A good meal is made up of many factors, and not just food alone. And I was slightly thrown off guard by head chef Yamagishi san. Based on all the pictures shared on Instagram, I imagined him to be a very friendly and smiley person, and always gamed to pose for the camera. But he wasn’t all that. He did pose for the my camera, but was selective in who he posed generously for. So it was disappointing because it was pretty obvious that I was among the few who were into ‘camera eat first’. I ended up feeling slightly awkward and extra conscious of myself during the meal. And am pretty sure I wasn’t being over sensitive.

But food wise, it was a pure treat. Winter was definitely the right season to visit Tominokoji Yamagishi. I especially enjoyed the blow fish and crab dishes. Although I be outright honest too that I wasn’t impressed with the sea urchin hand roll. Yes, it’s great for Instagram, but any chef could pull off that ensemble. One just needed the right ingredients.

And because I booked my meal at Tominokoji Yamagishi through Tableall, I pre-paid ¥32,000 (including tax, Tableall’s handling fee, etc). And for my drinks order (hot green tea), I topped up another ¥1200 at the restaurant.

TOMINOKOJI YAMAGISHI 富小路 やま岸
560 Honeyanocho, Nakagyo, Kyoto, Japan (京都府 京都市中京区 富小路通六角下る骨屋之町560)
+81 75 708 7865, Website, Tablelog
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Mon, Wed – Sun : 18:00 – 23:00
Ambience: 8
Value: 8
Service: 7
* Closed on Tues, 2nd & 4th Wed

Dinner @ Nishiazabu Taku 西麻布 拓 (Tokyo, Japan)

October 4, 2020 in Japanese

Unlike my Japan trip in 2018 which my sushi planning was based on recommendation from a Japanese foodie instagrammer, my February 2019 trip was planned to my foodie friends’ recommendations. In particular @zachdevours‘. Whom I also nick ‘InstaGram Bottomless Pit’ on my blog. My gosh. It has been a long while since I mentioned IGBP here. Keke.

And like me, IGBP travels to Japan annually. Well okie… Minus 2020 cause of COVID-19. However, while I preferred checking out different places, IGBP and his family would religiously return to their regular sushi-hunts. So I was keen to check out IGBP’s recommendations (Nishiazabu Taku and Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi) and understand the ‘pull factor’.

My hotel concierge assisted to make the reservation at Nishiazabu Taku. Got them to specifically request for head chef Kenji Ishizaka as I read that customers at Nishiazabu Taku would be served by either head chef or sous chef. And it would have been nice too if I managed to match my appointment date with IGBP’s, but somehow our meal schedules just couldn’t align. Boohoo.

The L-shaped counter could sit up to 8 people. And at 6pm, I was the first to arrive at the restaurant. I guessed I must be the only one eating early that evening because once I settled down, head chef Ishizaka san immediately commenced my ¥21,600 omakase dinner with:-

1) Dish #1 (above) – Broad bean. And I was unsure how exactly to eat these when head chef Ishizaka san placed the dish in front me. Seeing my puzzled look, I was told to pick it up with my hands and squeeze the bean out from the skin. Ahhh…

2) Dish #2 (above) – Sea cucumber with jelly.

3) Dish #3 (above) – Flounder.

4) Dish #4 (above) – Grilled flounder fin.

5) Dish #5 (above) – イボダイ. Am able to share the fish’s Japanese name (and in Japanese character) because head chef Ishizaka san made reference to a book while trying to explain the fish that was served. And yup! It’s a small butter fish.

6) Dish #6 (above) – Clam, lightly grilled. And was told to enjoy it with salt.

7) Dish #7 (above) – Baby snapper. And to give me a gauge of how ‘big’ the baby snapper was, head chef Ishizaka san said he could only get 2 such pieces from it.

8) Dish #8 (above) – Ice fish with fresh sea weed.

9) Dish #9 (above) – Needlefish.

10) Dish #10 (above) – Cod milt.

11) Dish #11 (above) – King salmon from Hokkaido.


12) Dish #12 (above) – Short spine sea urchin.

13) Dish #13 (above) – Purple sea urchin.

14) Dish #14 (above) – Shiitake mushroom with ponzu sauce.

15) Dish #15 (above) – King squid, aged for 5 days.

16) Dish #16 (above) – Squid legs, served with a little salt.

17) Dish #17 (above) – Steamed egg (chawanmushi) with clam stock.

18) Dish #18 (above) – Spanish mackerel belly.

19) Dish #19 (above) – Smoked Spanish mackerel. And for this, I was told it’s a cut from the back.

20) Dish #20 (above) – Rock fish. And interestingly, I was told to eat the fish & vegetables separately.

21) Dish #21 (above) – Sandwich of daikon, shiso leaf and Japanese plum (ume).

22) Dish #22 (above) – Baby tuna (meiji maguro).

23) Dish #23 (above) – Swordfish. And instead of serving a (solid) slice of swordfish, he made the topping with swordfish scrape.

24) Dish #24 (above) – Premium fatty tuna (otoro).

25) Dish #25 (above) – Gizzard shad.

26) Dish #26 (above) – Japanese spotted prawn (botan ebi) with wasabi & soya.

27) Dish #27 (above) – And from the same Japanese spotted prawn (from the earlier dish), the remaining portion was grilled and served as a nigiri sushi.

28) Dish #28 (above) – Mackerel and turnip.

And by this point, I couldn’t resist but tell head chef Ishizaka san that I was full. His sushi was like size L, by the way. Very big mouthful! And he replied me by saying “Last one.” Last one? Okie!

29) Dish #29 (above) – Sea eel. And I could tell head chef Ishizaka san used lesser sushi rice for my last piece of my sushi. Keke.

30) Dish #30 (above) – Egg omlette (tamago). And it’s interesting that there’s 2 different textures within the 1 piece; The top half was smooth while the bottom half was like custard cake. Nice!

31) Dish #31 (above) – Miso soup.

32) Dish #32 (above) – Just when I thought I had come to the end of my meal, head chef Ishizaka san asked if I wanted ice cream. Oh my god. But not being able to resist even though I was full, he went on to mention there’s 5 flavours. Unable to choose 1 (since I would want 1 of each), I asked him for his recommendation. To which he said “3?” HAHA! And he must have noticed my eyes widening because he continued by saying “small ones!” Too cute.. And I went with his recommendation of kinako, shouyu and houjicha.

So on the night of my dinner, head chef Ishizaka san attended to 5 (including me) while the other 2 seated at the counter were attended by the sous chef. There was also another group in the private room. And while head chef Ishizaka san didn’t speak much, one could tell he takes a lot of pride in the dishes he put in front of us. He would often gently gaze at me to check my reaction and to make sure I was enjoying myself. He’s pretty chilled (or open-minded?) too because he didn’t mind the pair of (Japanese & non-Japanese) customers conversing loudly. And I noticed he alternate cooked dishes (otsumami) with the sushi-s. A pretty ingenious idea actually to prevent sushi ‘saturation’ especially since his sushi was pretty big.

IGBP who always had head chef Ishizaka san for their previous meals at Nishiazabu Taku suddenly had the sous chef for their 2019 meal. And he shared with me that there’s definitely a difference. So I would say it’s necessary to request for head chef Ishizaka san if one decides to dine at Nishiazabu Taku.

And a little more about head chef Ishizaka san… He didn’t start off being the head chef at Nishiazabu Taku. Kenji Ishizaka san was training at Ginza Kyubey when he crossed path with Takuya Sato san. On the fifth year of opening Nishiazabu Taku (2010), Sato san got Ishizaka san to come onboard as the second chef. And it was in 2016 when Sato san decided to relocate to Hawaii to help a friend (master chef Keiji Nakazawa of Sushi Sho-Tokyo) to open a sushi restaurant (Sushi Sho Honolulu) that Ishizaka san stepped up to become head chef of Nishiazabu Taku.

So do I recommend 1 Michelin starred Nishiazabu Taku? Yes, but it wouldn’t be a restaurant that comes immediately to mind if one asked me for sushi-ya recommendation in Tokyo. How should I better put it… It was a good meal but the dining experience didn’t leave a deep impression. But that’s because rather than trying to impress by taking out slabs of fishes, etc, head chef Ishizaka san allowed his dishes to speak for themselves. And that also meant he had minimal interaction with customers. It was as though he didn’t want to disturb us unnecessarily. So yes, if one is in a big group and would like a place where one could converse freely yet still be able to enjoy safe and good sushi, Nishiazabu Taku is definitely the place to go to.

And the lack of attention on social media meant if one left planning to the very last minute or have extra meal slots for filling, one should be able to get a seat at Nishiazabu Taku pretty easily. But having said that, don’t take the risk by booking a few days ahead only. At least 1.5 weeks notice please!

My meal came up to ¥21,600, including tax and service charge.

NISHIAZABU TAKU 西麻布 拓
1F, 2-11-5 Nishiazabu, Minato City, Tokyo, Japan (東京都 港区 西麻布 2-11-5 カパルア西麻布 1F)
+81 3 5774 4372, Tablelog
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Mon – Sat : 18:00 – 22:30
Ambience: 7
Value: 8
Service: 8
* Closed on Sun