Lunch @ Tempura Kondo てんぷら 近藤 (Tokyo, Japan)

June 28, 2020 in Japanese

When I did my first (ever) research for tempura restaurants in Tokyo, Michelin-starred Tempura Kondo was one of the few names that came up top in my Google search. But… It took me almost 4 years to eventually dine here. My bad. And for my restaurant reservation, my hotel concierge assisted me with it. I was given the second seating at 1.30pm, and was also informed that Tempura Kondo provided 2 menus (¥6500 and ¥8500) which I was to choose at the restaurant.

And on the day of my lunch, I was really nervous as I made my way to the restaurant. I didn’t realise there were 2 counters at Tempura Kondo, and was praying hard I would be assigned to chef-owner Kondo Fumio’s.

Located on level 9, I stepped out of the lift at 1.25pm to see a group of people had already gathered outside the restaurant. But because we belonged to the second seating, we had to wait for the first seating to finish their meals before we could be seated. As we waited patiently, a staff would regularly step out to check who (else) had arrived. Although I guess if one was anxious, one could also head into the restaurant to inform the staff of one’s arrival. I ain’t sure if seating arrangement was first-come-first-serve, but I noticed the staff indicated a ’5′ beside my name on her reservation list.

Words couldn’t express my relief and excitement when I was led to the main counter. The pair who entered before me was somehow led to the other counter which was located at the back.

And for our bags, there were baskets placed beneath every chair. However, I had trouble putting mine. I was lazy and was trying to place my handbag into the basket by bending over while seated. Haha. I was so focused that I didn’t realise head chef Fumio san noticed my struggle. He got his waiting staff to help me, and only resumed what he was doing after making sure I had settled down comfortably. How did I know? After the staff helped me out, I looked back to the front and locked eyes with head chef Fumio san. He gave me a gentle smile, and that’s when I realised. And honestly… That gesture touched me a lot.

And from the menu (pages 1, 2), I ordered:-

1) Tsubaki course (¥‎8500) comprised of:-

(A) Tempura #1 (above) – Prawn heads.


(B) Tempura #2 (above) – Prawn. Ever since I was taught a perfectly fried prawn tempura is one with a slightly raw centre, I since developed a habit to bite into my prawn tempura and check the centre. Keke. And yes! Perfectly fried prawn tempura by head chef Fumion san. :)


(C) Tempura #3 (above) – Prawn.

(D) Tempura #4 (above) – Asparagus. These didn’t look like it but they were so hot within!

(E) Tempura #5 (above) – Lotus root.

(F) Tempura #6 (above) – Japanese whiting/sillago (kisu) fish.

(G) Tempura #7 (above) – Eggplant.

(H) Tempura #8 (above) – Ice fish wrapped with shisho leaf. This was really interesting. Although it was made with many (fishes), the texture was like that of a thick fish fillet.


(I) Tempura #9 (above) – Sea urchin. And it’s becoming a habit that I would pay extra attention to the preparation of sea urchin tempura. And I noticed head chef Fumio san would ensemble his and dip it entirely into the wet batter before frying.

(J) Tempura #10 (above) – Lily bulb.

(K) Dish #11 (above) – Onion.


(L) Tempura #12 (above) – Sea eel (anago).

  
  

(M) Rice dish (above) – We were given 3 options to choose from; Tendon-sauce dipped, tencha or scallop-prawn tempura served separately from the rice. And I went with tencha.

(N) Roasted tea (above)

(O) Dessert (above) – Strawberry.

2) Sweet potato, ¥2400 (above) – When the staff went round taking our order at the start of our meal, it was specifically mentioned that the course menu do not include sweet potato. And the sweet potato was an item which many highly recommended. So I ordered it as an additional a-la carte item. And I must say, I wasn’t expecting it to be so big! As I was trying to finish it, the waiting staff came up to me and said I could pack the untouched half. Thank goodness! But to be honest… I didn’t really enjoy my sweet potato. It was a little dry in the centre.

3) Oolong tea, ¥400

I was thankful to sit at the length of the L-shaped counter where head chef Fumio san faced. I always appreciate being able to watch chefs in action. And although he had 2 sous chefs, I noticed head chef Fumio san preferred to do almost everything. He would personally fry all the pieces as his sous chefs prepared the various ingredients. And when he was done with the frying, he would put the cooked ingredients onto a common metal tray where his sous chefs would then take over and distribute the various tempura pieces to us. I guess that’s head chef Fumio san’s way of managing the quality of food at Tempura Kondo. Everything at the frying section was personally handled by him. Although he was visibly aged and with a hunchback, the arduous task of changing the oil was also done by him. The only time the sous chef came near to his frying station was to help him top up the dry flour in the bowl.

My lunch came up to ¥12,204 (including tax and service charge). And I liked that it was a very straight-forward dining affair. Head chef Fumio san was very focused with his cooking. The only times he interacted with customers (including his regulars) were before he started cooking and after he finished cooking. I guess it’s also because of that, that Tempura Kondo don’t receive much attention on social media. But head chef Fumio san definitely left an impression on me. I could feel his sincerity through his food, and from our brief interactions; Ready to leave, I bent down to pull my handbag from beneath my chair. And when I looked up, he had positioned himself in front of me behind his counter. He smiled and bowed to me. I bowed and smiled back, and thanked him for the enjoyable lunch.

Will I recommend Tempura Kondo? Yes. But again, one should manage one’s expectation. If one’s after an interactive experience with the chef or to be swept off by fancier food presentation, Tempura Kondo isn’t a place for that. And having said that, one should also order the carrot tempura as an additional item! Head chef Fumio san does his differently where the carrot were shredded before deep fried. And it looked so delicious!

TEMPURA KONDO てんぷら 近藤
9F, Sakaguchi Building, 5-5-13 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo, Japan (東京都 中央区 銀座 5-5-13 坂口ビル 9F)
+81 3 5568 0923, Tablelog
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Mon – Sat : 12:00 – 15:00 (Lunch)
Ambience: 7
Mon – Sat : 17:00 – 20:30 (Dinner)
Value: 8
Service: 8
* Closed on Sun

Lunch @ Ode オード (Tokyo, Japan)

May 31, 2020 in French

Ask me what I remember of my meal at Ode and my first answer would be… The good looking staff! Like seriously, there was so much handsome-ness in the space. So much that I couldn’t resist locating the instagram account of the cutest staff sous chef. And yes, I followed him. Sheepish grin. Don’t judge me, please. :)

Opened in September 2017, Ode was a 10 minutes walk from Hiro-o metro station. And spring is always a beautiful time to be in Japan. If one walked further along the street, one could enjoy the sight of many cherry blossom trees lining both sides of the highway.

It was not hard to notice everything was in shades of grey. From the grey skim-coated external wall and door, to the dark grey painted interior walls, and even to the (grey) stainless steel island counter within the U-shaped counter. Although the (harsh) all-grey interior was softened with bits of wood; Timber feature ceiling and wooden chairs. I wondered if chef-owner Yusuke Namai has an obsession with grey. Even his signature dish was named ‘Grey’. Hmm…

Although we were seated at the U-shaped counter, most of the actions including plating were behind the kitchen walls.

After I was led to my seat, the staff confirmed with me the menu that I had booked when I made my reservation before continuing to take out an iPad. There were many words on it. But the word ‘degustation’ jumped out at me. And that got me momentarily confused because I thought they reconfirmed my choice of menu just seconds earlier. It was only as she scrolled through the document that I figured it was the drinks menu. And yet again, another word jumped out at me. And it was the word ‘tea’. So I said “tea” to the staff. But what happened next was a blur. My intention of wanting to order a cup of tea suddenly became an order for their non-alcohol (tea) pairing.

And just when I thought lunch would be commencing after settling my drinks order, I noticed head chef Namai san was making his round to greet the different groups of customers. A very nice personal touch! Shortly after which, I commenced my lunch omakase (carte blanche menu, ¥7000) with:-

1) Dish #1 (above) – Hot milk with Taiwanese spices.

2) Dish #2 (above) – The staff came up with a big bowl of dry ice. On it was a brass coloured ball. The staff proceeded to transfer the ball to my plate and asked me to open it up. And within it was the famous ‘power ball’ which many had taken photograph and posted on instagram. Inspired by head chef Namai san favourite Japanese anime Dragon Ball, I was told the ball contained shrimp flavoured mousse within.

3) Dish #3 (above) – Foie gras and sweet potato tart. And as I chewed through, there were also chunky pieces of nuts which tasted like pistachio.

4) Dish #4 (above) – Cherry blossom leaf and clam (hamaguri) in clam broth. I was told to eat the leaf first for the flavour before proceeding to the broth. And the leaf which got me really curious was crisp like a chip. Pretty neat!


5) Dish #5 (above) – “Grey, our signature dish”, said the staff. And he went on to emphasise by pointing to the grey painted wall (just beside us), to his grey apron and to the dominant grey interior. We laughed. And hidden out of sight beneath the meringue (made with fish innards) was sardine, beetroot, fennel, pickled onion, lemon purée and cherry vinegar. I heard beef tartare when the staff introduced the dish to my neighbour, so I guess the kitchen must had removed that to cater to my dietary requirement (of no beef).


6) Dish #6 (above) – Freshly baked focaccia, brought out by none other than the cutest staff! It seemed he’s in charge of the baking and sweets department. And when he came round to ask if I wanted seconds, I nodded with a big grin. Haha. But no, really… I couldn’t resist good bread.


  

7) Dish #7 (above) – Risotto with white mushroom, Japanese spinach and kelp powder. I was told the mushrooms were cooked 2 ways for varying textures. Although I wasn’t sure why the risotto was so orange. Didn’t hear any particular ingredient in the dish introduction which could explained so. Strong cheese?

8) Dish #8 (above) – Snapper with mountain herbs, bamboo shoot (including the foam) and firefly squids.


  

9) Dish #9 (above) – Chicken wellington with chicken sauce, cauliflower mousse and foam, and vegetables (cabbage and beans) on mashed potato.


10) Dish #10 (above) – Chrysanthemum (which texture was similar to marshmallow), strawberry and pistachio bits, served alongside chrysanthemum ice cream. And this was seriously good. I was literally scraping my plate clean in an attempt to get everything.


  

11) Dish #11 (above) – Sakura biscuit and wafer biscuit (monaka) with filling of yuzu, green tea and rice cake.

As with most Japanese meals that come to an end, it’s (almost) customary to offer tea. But because I was doing the non-alcohol pairing which was basically different types of tea, I had the “What. More tea?” moment. Haha. But between the 2 options of roasted black tea and local bean tea, I went for the latter. Right choice if I may add. It was really fragrant.

With my non-alcohol pairing, my bill came up to ¥13,068 (including tax and service charge). Would I recommend 1 Michelin star Ode? Yes! I certainly enjoyed myself. And for ¥7000? The meal was very value-for-money. Skip the pairing though. One could tell I wasn’t really into it with the lack of pictures. My personal preference if I may add. Hee. It’s a plus too that reservation could be done easily on Ode’s website. But hey, don’t go dressed in grey. You, may, just, blend, in. Okie, lousy attempt at trying to be funny. Ha!

ODE オード
2F, 5-1-32 Hiroo, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan (東京都 渋谷区 広尾 5-1-32 ST広尾 2F)
+81 3 6447 7480, Website, Tablelog
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Mon – Sat : 12:00 – 15:00 (Lunch)
Ambience: 8
Mon – Sat : 18:00 – 23:00 (Dinner)
Value: 8
Service: 8
* Closed on Sun

Lunch @ Nihombashi Sonoji 日本橋 蕎ノ字 (Tokyo, Japan)

February 23, 2020 in Japanese

When I first read about Nihombashi Sonoji on instagram, I was particularly drawn to the fact that chef-owner Toshiyuki Suzuki served (fresh) soba instead of the usual tendon (tempura on rice) and tencha (tempura on rice, in green tea) for the final dish. And people were raving about his soba. So I knew I had to visit. One could almost say I made reservation at his tempura restaurant for his soba. Oops.

I initially tried to use my credit card concierge for my lunch reservation. However I was informed the restaurant require hotel concierge as they had a cancellation policy. Thus, I got my hotel concierge to assist.

And I was informed that Nihombashi Sonoji took reservation from 1 December 2017 for dining reservation request in February 2018. I was also asked to decide on my choice of menu prior to my visit. Either full course (‎¥‎8900) or half course (‎¥‎6900). I went with full course and also indicated my preference for no beef and no oyster. Yeah… I stated ‘no oyster’ cause I saw he served really large oyster tempura on instagram and wasn’t sure if I was totally over my oyster phobia. Bad move on my part, I got to admit.

The restaurant could sit 8 people but there was only 3 of us. I didn’t mind that as I was craving for a quiet session. The waiting staff used Google translate to check if I was fine with deer. Deer? No problem! And soon after that, head chef Suzuki san commenced my omakase lunch (full course, ¥‎8900) with:-

1) Dish #1 (above) – Clam soup.

2) Dish #2 (above) – Mushroom, seaweed, and what tasted like barley or chopped ginkgo. Didn’t quite like this appetiser.

3) Dish #3 (above) – Prawn.

4) Dish #4 (above) – Prawn.

  

5) Dish #5 (above) – Prawn head.

6) Dish #6 (above) – Prawn head, served in sauce.

7) Dish #7 (above) – Japanese whiting/sillago (kisu) fish with lemon juice.

8) Dish #8 (above) – Flounder. 1 piece served with sauce (and was told to have it on its own), and 1 piece to eat wit salt.

9) Dish #9 (above) – Was told to take a break from tempura by having buckwheat! Pretty interesting… And bitter.

10) Dish #10 (above) – Carrot. And this was super, super sweet.


11) Dish #11 (above) – Tamatoridake mushroom (玉取茸).

12) Dish #12 (above)

13) Dish #13 (above) – Deer.

14) Dish #14 (above) – And because I stated my preference for no oyster, head chef Suzuki san replaced my oyster with flathead (megochi). So although I had my fish tempura in front of me, I couldn’t help but glance over at my neighbour’s oyster tempura. It was interesting because head chef Suzuki san would serve the huge oyster tempura in halves. First half to have it on its own, and second half served with sauce and seaweed.

15) Dish #15 (above) – Onion. And I was asked to be careful as it was hot.


16) Dish #16 (above) – Sea eel (anago).

17) Dish #17 (above) – Sakura shrimp.

18) Dish #18 (above) – The waiting staff came round and asked if I preferred to have my soba served hot or cold. I opted for cold cause I felt that’s the best way to enjoy and appreciate his soba; Head chef Suzuki san handmade the soba daily using buckwheat flour from Mashiko and Kawane. And it was really good. The soba texture was light and went down the throat very smoothly. And I loved that much love was also given to the dipping sauce. I read that the dipping sauce was prepared with 4 different bonito fish flakes and soba sauce base (which matured in the same pot for over 30 years). Enjoyed everything about this dish!


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19) Dish #19 (above) – Red bean dessert.

I really enjoyed my lunch at Nihombashi Sonoji. My stomach was bursting by the time I finished! And what I learnt after my meal was that although head chef Suzuki san moved from Shizuoka to Tokyo, the ingredients he used were all specially sourced from Shizouka. For example the carrot and mushroom! And Shizuoka vegetables are apparently hard to find in Tokyo. A treat indeed! And I liked that the meal was affordable at ¥10,057 (including tax and service charge).

However, there have been some changes since my last visit in 2018. Instead of ¥‎8900, lunch now cost ¥‎‎12,900. Did the price increase come along with the star, I wonder… And yes! Since my last visit in 2018, Nihombashi Sonoji was awarded 1 Michelin star by Michelin Guide Tokyo 2019.

NIHOMBASHI SONOJI 日本橋 蕎ノ字
2-22-11 Nihombashi-ningyocho, Chuo, Tokyo, Japan (東京都 中央区 日本橋人形町 2-22-11 井上ビル 1F)
+81 3 5643 1566, Tablelog
Overall: 7.5
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Tues – Sun : 12:00 – 14:00 (Lunch)
Ambience: 7
Tues – Sun : 18:00 – 21:00 (Dinner)
Value: 8
Service: 7
* Closed on Mon