eating my way through Tokyo

Despite having been to Tokyo countless number of times and obviously loving the place, I can’t say that I know the place well because Tokyo, whether we are talking about the city in itself or the various precincts, is so huge as compared to Singapore (which I also can’t say I know well). The other reason also would be that these days I don’t have a planned itinerary when I visit, but rather go with my mood which more often than not takes me back to places that I am familiar with, unless the adventurous and energetic streaks spring forth that takes me on an exploratory trail around. There is a lot of walking involved even if we are talking about the usual places and therefore it is easy to grow weary.

Where food is concerned, it is seldom a miss, even if it is a very non-descript tiny hole-in-the-wall shop or those convenient booths that you find crammed in a corner of the busy train stations. One afternoon, before meeting my friends for coffee, I popped into this shop somewhere near JR Shinjuku. It is in the basement of Odakyu department store but not part of the mall’s food hall, more of a small collection of eateries interpersed between the floors of the mall and the train station. I used to ‘frequent’ the tempura joint in that stretch but I wasn’t feeling the mood for tempura that day so I thought that I would go for chirashi, a serving of sashimi atop a bowl of rice. I really love this bowl! Even if I am not a big fan of rice these days and only ate the bed of white, chewy Japanese rice beneath as a sign of respect for the chef since I was sitting at the counter, the generous serving of fresh and delicious sashimi made this 850yen pre-tax (iirc) totally worth it, especially now that the exchange rate is relatively favourable for us!

On another day, while I was at the Roppongi Hills area, I was again checking out food options near the metro station. Near the exit to Roppongi Hills, I had tried a couple of shops before which sold ramen, both the soup and dry versions but again ramen wasn’t ranking so high on my list of cravings then, so after a long process of walking back and forth I finally settled into this shop that sells very yummy-looking set lunches (based on the displays outside the shop). I chose this grilled fish set, which my goldfish memory has caused the type of fish to elude me, and it comes with healthy brown rice, some pickled vegetables and sald and a bowl of miso soup. The fish was a little oily, not so much from the grilling but I think more from the natural fish oil that was found on the underside of the skin. Well, perhaps I am in  self-denial in saying this but at least it wasn’t deep-fried and I really enjoyed it to the last morsel of fish!  Here is a closer take on the fish, which is a litte charred on some parts but overall, it’s all good!  I had an earlier post on the food halls that I was checking out on a daily basis (hoping I don’t get recognised by the obasans manning them) and they are really amazing even if prices are not what I would consider as economical, at least not from a Singaporean point of view. Perhaps it is also not that cheap from a local perspective because comparatively, we are able to get cheaper options elsewhere, such as those shops that operate with the vending machines where you buy your meal ticket and present it at the counter in exchange for food. One of those nights after a Bikram class, I decided to give myself a treat, not that I wasn’t already indulging and treating myself in Tokyo every single day….

But this bento box that I got from Takashimaya really made me happy just by looking at it. After I finished it, I discovered to my horror that this was meant as a 2-person portion! Again, I tried to make myself feel better by getting friends to agree with me via a post on Instagram that this can’t be for 2 persons, right? Either that, or the Japanese people have really small appetites. Haha, as you can tell I am still in self-denial mode. All nine items in this tic-tac-toe box tasted great for post-workout me in that cold weather which called for a sumptuous meal! It included breaded and deep-fried chicken and fish, salads, sauteed squid and prawns, etc. It was probably the best bento box I ever had so far. 😀    And the last item here is something I didn’t eat, but my friends ordered from a Food Court at Diver City, when we visited to check out the life-size Gundam figurine. The food court is so atypical of Japan but I guess this area catered more for tourists and visitors and a collection of food stalls in an enclosed free-seating area makes sense. It felt very un-Japan though, but the food quality I would reckon is far above the general food court fare that we get (in most Singapore food courts anyway), as commented by my friends who loved the dollop of eggy mash on top too. 

Latteria Mozzarella, Duxton Hill Singapore

Restaurant week just ended not too long ago, and as much as I have heard about it and read about it, seen pictures on friends’ blogs and instagrams of the posh-nosh food that they enjoyed during this time of each year (actually now it happens twice a year), I have never once partook in it. I just got to know that the concept originated from New York, where this initiative was birthed to let more people access the high-end restaurants through a more affordable menu. It is of course hoped that despite the competitive pricing, they don’t compromise on other aspects, such as quality. I can’t really comment on that since in the first place I seldom visit high-end restaurants. Either you can say that I don’t have expensive taste-buds, I don’t know how to enjoy the good food or I simply just am a eat-to-live person. Anyhow, this year marks my virgin experience at Singapore Restaurant Week and I checked out Latteria Mozzarella at Duxton Hill. I love working in the Tanjong Pagar area because besides the availability of many of such apparently well-known restaurants, there is also a good mix of other eateries and F&B outlets, cafes, etc. There are even hawker stalls, several of whom are definitely worth their salt!

So this was the menu that was presented for Restaurant Week for a lunch set.IMG_0318.JPGThe choice comes in the main, where you have 3 options of either crab, lamb or fish. Of the 4 of us, two of us chose the fish and the other two the lamb shank. I wonder why no one picked the crab but since I am no crab or lamb fan, it was an easy, or rather, no option for me.

The appetizers were served up, bocconcini in carrozza, arrabbiata sauce, which is like a fried mozzarella ball.

IMG_0319.JPGThis is a closer look at a cut-up piece. It’s actually pretty tasty, with its exterior thinly coated with I guess flour and then fried, while the inside still retained the fairly soft texture of mozzarella cheese.

IMG_0320.JPGMy main of the sea bass filet, chick peas, pesto & cherry tomatoes. The filet portion was just nice for me, so I figure it could be too little for bigger eaters. But the sauce, which I think is most likely blended chick peas, helps to give you a bit more satiety, and the pesto gave a little contrast to the flavour of the fish and chick peas. But sea bass isn’t my most preferred choice of fish though as it feels a bit tough especially the parts near the skin.

IMG_0321.JPGThis was a picture of the lamb shank with mushroom orzotto which the other two had. I didn’t ask them how it tasted but they cleaned their plates so I am guessing it should be good, otherwise it just meant that they were really hungry. It could be either actually, considering that they are both guys but the orzotto should have provided a good amount of carbs for them.

IMG_0322.JPGAnd it’s dessert time! As with all good Italian restaurants… presenting the Tiramisu! This was served with espresso cream. I was really taking my time with the cake, slowly savouring every little morsel of it and enjoying it with the espresso cream. It’s quite nice, not too soft and mushy but some others I have tried, and I find the taste and flavour to be just nice, not too strong but still having that distinct tiramisu signature taste.

IMG_0323.JPGOf course, this was then ended off with a coffee, which I neglected to take any pictures because it was just black coffee, and because the rest of the table just aren’t into this habit of snapping pictures of their food. They already accommodated me by offering me the chance to snap the lamb shank! For a nett price of S$25, it isn’t what you would typically pay for lunch (heck, it can be my entire week’s worth of lunch budget!), and I don’t know what is the usual pricing at Latteria Mozzarella, but I think it should be considered quite worth it for the 3-course meal and I thought taste-wise it was pretty good! Again, as I have never been there before I wouldn’t have been able to provide any comparison. 🙂

Lunch with a view

I don’t know why but somehow from this picture, my main looks more like chicken than fish, don’t you think so too? But it’s pretty delicious, even though I have no idea what the pile of thing on it was. Perhaps some form of preserved vegetables, which would have been rather weird. Love the rosemary potatoes but then the couple of stalks of greens arranged on the side seemed a tad out of place. I can only say it’s fusion. Haha.20140218-205902.jpgIt was a pretty hot afternoon, but seated in this alfresco eatery with the sea right in front of us, the wind never stopped and in fact I felt a little chilly for that time of the day with the sun blazing outside. I was secretly glad when subsequently we stepped out into the car park where we were momentarily sheltered from the wind and I could enjoy a little of the warmth that the harsh sunlight offered.

20140218-205857.jpgIt isn’t that I am not appreciative of the great weather that afternoon. I am missing the nice, cool, and even sometimes cold weather that we had… all the way up till just before the Chinese New Year. This is one reason why I tend to not like Chinese New Year as much as Christmas or New Year’s, because almost all the time, the moment the Lunar New Year descends on us, the weather just does a complete turnaround to hot. It was still pretty nice all the way up to then. Urgh.

Let’s just take another look at the lunch I had. I finished everything! Except for the lemon peel that was garnishing my lunch, and some of that unknown pile of dressing on my grilled fillet.

20140218-205908.jpgOf course it was even nicer that it was a treat. No complains whatsoever.

Sugisawa, Robertson Quay

I was trying to look for any homepage online of Sugisawa at Robertson Quay but they only have a FB page it seems, although there have been various reviews by local food bloggers since years back for this Japanese restaurant. Well I didn’t actually read the reviews but a quick scan shows that the reviews seemed generally good and positive, and it is also proof that this eatery has been around for a good many years. For good reason too! It is actually the first time I’m trying it, because there are just too many F&B outlets in that area to check out and I don’t usually go there because it is kind of like some “atas” area that is not within close proximity of MRT stations. I love Japanese food, and have tried a different Jap restaurant just next to it (if I’m not wrong it’s called Shunjuu) which was really good too!

Anyway, back to Sugisawa. Their menu doesn’t contain many pictures, especially of the a la carte items but the bento boxes are mostly pictured, to give you an idea of what you are paying for and also to perhaps help with the decision-making. Prices are pretty reasonable, for each bento box you pay about S$20 (before taxes) depending on what goes into the box.

My friend ordered an assortment of tempura, cold soba and sushi, priced at S$24. Imagine all this food for just S$24!

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I might have considered this too because tempura is something I really enjoy but it felt like a substantial amount of carbohydrates and I had quite a big sandwich at lunch so I passed on it.20130813-101419.jpg

And opted for this instead, which had a very generous fillet of grilled teriyaki cod, salmon and tuna sashimi and some other assortment of items that included a prawn, sweet egg, carrot, fishcake, etc. There was rice too, of course, sprinkled with a dusting of plum powder which I liked but I didn’t take the rice since the rest of the items in the box already left me extremely full by the end of it. 20130813-101426.jpg

Here’s a closer look, and oh man, just looking at the cod makes me feel like eating it again.20130813-101433.jpg

What I liked about them was that the food was really good, of course that’s one of the things we look for in restaurants/eateries, and they are generous with the serving too. The sushi is more fish than rice and the ingredients were fresh and tasty. It was an enjoyable dinner that did not burn a hole in our pockets, and it was also a rather cool evening so sitting outside did not make us start perspiring over our food. I’m not sure how spacious the inside of the restaurant would be but on weekends if you would like to sit indoors perhaps you want to try calling for reservations. Service was generally ok but when the customers started filing in around dinner-time, they seemed pretty short-handed and requests for top-up of our green tea took a while, three times to three different waitresses before our cups were re-filled. Other than that, it’s a good place that I will return again for their food.

Kraze Burger, MBS

Finally tried South Korean burger house, Kraze Burger for the first time in my life! I think I mixed them up with Freshness Burger because of the colour of the logo, because while I was talking about it with my friends, I mentioned to them the other outlet(s) I have seen elsewhere before took the form of a fast-food outlet instead of the restaurant concept like those of Billy Bombers, in this case. After I checked out their website (linked above), I realised the confusion I had, because I remembered that Freshness Burger was in Singapore for a while, but I think they have since left (right?). Then I also remembered seeing this in Seoul but had never tried it.

So anyway, my friends and I went to Kraze at MBS since unlike the nearby Rasapura, Ding Tai Fung or Toast Box, it wasn’t overflowing with patrons. It was not empty but there were available seats, and we had a short wait before being shown to a table that happened to be right below a speaker which was blasting pop music. I wondered if the rest of the tables had a similar experience, because as much as the ceiling was fairly high, the volume was high and the music just felt annoying and jarring. Perhaps that is a strategy to induce high turnover of patrons, yet I think if you want to operate a restaurant instead of following the usual concept of a fast-food chain, this kind of “experience” leaves much to be desired.

Service was iffy, but generally acceptable. All of us ordered burgers and opted to not have any sides or drinks because with that kind of noise it wasn’t possible to hold any decent conversations, so after having the food, we left for somewhere quieter.

I decided on the Salmon Burger with whole wheat bun, after thinking if I should have a Cajun Chicken Salad or Soup but since this is a burger house after all, burgers it shall be then! This is my stacked-so-high-it’s-impossible-to-bite-into burger, with a side of greens.   20130812-100243.jpg

The grilled salmon fillet, or what they called smoked salmon (it felt more grilled actually) was quite nice. I liked it even if it was a little oily because maybe I was really ravenous. I took the entire burger apart, layer by layer, which is usually how I eat my burgers anyway unless it’s McD’s then there isn’t a need to. The burger had generous portions of healthy greens and some tomato and cucumber slices, together with what was supposed to be cream cheese spread. Overall, I liked the combination because surprisingly for a burger it sounded, looked and felt quite healthy, or delusionally I think it is. The bun, for a whole wheat bun, was quite soft and I would have preferred if it wasn’t as soft as it was because it felt more like white bread and my personal preference leans towards bread with a little extra omph in its bite that would end up sticking to my incisors when I sink my fangs into the bun.20130812-100253.jpg

The burger costs S$15 before the extras of service and taxes, but if you are paying with UOB credit cards (not sure how long this promotion lasts) there is a 20% off the bill! In general, the place was ok. It was too loud for us to want to stay longer and we didn’t try their sides even though the fries looked rather appetising. Food took a while to be served, which could mean that we were there at the same time as other patrons going for an earlier dinner and perhaps also that food is freshly-prepared?

Manhattan Fish Market, Singapore

If I recall correctly, Manhattan Fish Market opened in Singapore after Fish & Co., the latter starting here way back in 1998 and has since expanded to various locations overseas. To be very honest, I haven’t had either enough to differentiate which is better in terms of this “seafood-in-a-pan” culinary experience, but I think I used to like it pretty much. That is until a point when I started to find the greasiness a little too much for my liking. What used to be enjoyable fish & chips (my almost default choice whenever I visit) somehow began to taste not-so-good anymore and there were occasions when I had fish where the battered skin was distinctly separate from the fish itself and to top it off, it was a little soggy and oily. At that point, I think I happened to check out a Manhattan Fish Market outlet, which I believe was at Plaza Singapura, and thought it tasted much better and had a wider variety in their menu. I’m not sure if that is really the case but at Manhattan, I remembered having more choices to pick from where non-deep fried food was concerned.

But in any case, I have since reduced my frequency of visits because I still find the food greasy to a certain extent. Anyway, recently I went back to Manhattan Fish Market (which has a long history of 180 years!) because my colleagues wanted to go there for a  lunch promotion where you pay S$19.90 for two set lunches that included soup. The selection was not too bad, and in addition, the platters also were on promotion, and comes with a soup and drink.   20130222-141350.jpgI ordered a non-deep fried item of course, even though part of me was thinking of ordering fish & chips but I thought I’d just go for an option that I considered to be slightly healthier, because of the greens on the side. I have missed broccoli so much! Gosh, I need to go home for dinner one of these days and request my mum to cook this for me, otherwise eating out usually means too little greens and definitely not broccoli. 20130222-141405.jpgThe greens on the side were really fresh and crunchy, boiled just to the right consistency without being too soggy. I know that is just a side, but I enjoyed it more than the grilled fish. It wasn’t that the fish is not nice but I just happened to enjoy the veggies more, and I wondered if there was some batter of sorts on a side of the fish that was grilled because it was a little tough to cut through it using just a fork, so I had to use the fish-knife to portion the filet and not be lazy and just use the fork. This item that I ordered came with herb rice which is fragrant and tasty, but if you would like to have chips/fries instead you could always request for that. The dip that is provided on the side is rather spicy and could add that layer of texture to the taste of the fish and the tangy sauce that was spread on top of it.

Oh and just for fun, the answer to the question on the napkin “Do you know why you’ve never seen any fish on the train?” is…

“Because they take the octo-bus”. My first guess was that “they had all hopped onto the Sea-bass”, but apparently that wasn’t the correct answer.

Lou Hei (捞鱼生)

Each year during Chinese New Year, there is a tradition to “lou hei”, which is actually a Cantonese term for 捞起, which literally translates to picking/scooping/fishing up. According to wikipedia, this is called Prosperity Toss, and as much as the term commonly-associated with it is Cantonese, yusheng is a Teochew-style raw fish salad. I don’t always have yusheng during Chinese New Year, since it is not really something you would go to a Chinese restaurant to on “lou” your own, besides my family do not have this tradition of eating yusheng within our own nucleus, rather it is something that we will have if we are having dinner with the relatives during this festive period. Steamboat is more common or popular with us.

So before CNY began, I had my first lou hei of the year with my colleagues during lunch at a Japanese restaurant. It was a little weird because it is a Japanese restaurant after all, but then that means we had all the raw fish we wanted in it, though we had to go through the process of adding the condiments ourselves, together with speaking the auspicious phrases that go with each item added. I don’t think we did it right, except of course the last part, which I’m sure everyone is well aware of, 满地黄金.        20130222-091138.jpg

This is a picture of the yusheng that we had yesterday, with a different group of colleagues, at Crystal Jade Kitchen. It’s a rather big portion (costs S$68) and comes with 16 slices of raw salmon, which I only managed to get a paltry measly slice. Yusheng dishes are not always nice because sometimes there is too much of the sauces that are added that makes everything soggy and sweet but in this case, it was just nice and there was this item in the dish, fried yam sticks I think, which is something different. It added to the variety in terms of taste and texture so on the whole it wasn’t boring to eat it. Well, supposedly yusheng is a dish that is eaten more for its significance rather than its taste but it does help that it is palatable and generally healthy (as long as we are mindful of the amount of sauce thrown into the mix and also the number of pieces of 黄金 that you take)!