Shimbashi Soba, Paragon

Two of my friends gave me a treat last Friday and suggested checking out Shimbashi Soba in the basement of Paragon. To be honest, I have never stepped foot into this place despite that I think it has been there for the longest time, although I don’t know why. I do quite enjoy Japanese food, and among the noodle varieties, soba and ramen are the type that I prefer as compared to say, udon.

This is my order of the san zai soba, a huge bowl in fact, that comes with a very flavourful and savoury broth despite that it really is just soup noodles with lots of mushrooms and some vegetables. 20130723-084243.jpg

We ordered some sides, and among the three items, this was the most popular; battered and fried hotate. The batter was thin although not very crispy, but the scallop within retained its juiciness and it was also very generous in terms of size! 20130723-084259.jpg

We thought we ordered grilled teriyaki chicken, and when this was served we checked if this was the right thing, which was confirmed. But don’t you think this looks more like tori karaage than teriyaki grilled chicken?20130723-084311.jpg

It was as well coated with some flour and fried, strangely, since the name evidently said “grilled”. It wasn’t too bad but it wasn’t crispy despite that it appeared deep-fried but to their credit, I think it was drizzled with teriyaki sauce.

And lastly, the tempura moriawase, consisting a couple pieces of prawn, the usual vegetables and maybe one piece of fish. Not the best tempura I had of course, but not too bad. At least it was not dripping with oil so overall I still quite enjoyed it.20130723-084322.jpg

I can’t really recall for each item how much they cost, but price level tends towards the high side, because one simple bowl of soba without many ingredients (if any at all) already costs more than S$10. There were more elaborate ones that could set you back by S$30, and the sets also around that price range or even more. To their benefit, the soba was good. I loved the consistency of the noodle and the broth did not feel like it was laden with MSG, at least I didn’t feel it. But the sides were a little lackadaisal, or they were just ordinary. Still, it was a treat and the evening was well-spent, not so much focused on the food but the company and the chatter we shared.

DADA Café, Tokyo

This is one really interesting place that I went to this April, because I was meeting up with a Japanese friend and I told her anywhere that qualifies as a nice cafe. Well, I think she did put in a lot of effort to find a nice place (oops, I forgot that the Japanese always give their best to whatever requests you may have), and I would really love to share this place with you guys!

Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of the place, because within the space of the cafe I thought it was not very polite of me to encroach on the space of others by snapping pictures while everyone is engaged in some hushed (or not so) conversations with their friends over lunch or coffee.

We went there sometime when lunch was almost over, so perhaps it explained why we could easily get a table, and after us more people left the cafe when they were done with lunch. Initially, I wanted to just order some desserts to go with coffee but I saw the two ladies sitting next to us having this curry dish and it looked so good it begged to be ordered.  20130517-100229.jpg

From the picture, it looks just like any other Japanese curry dish, but maybe with the benefit of the aroma wafting through the air assaulting my olfactory senses, plus the fact that it was a really cold day when we met and my stomach decided it wanted something nice and warm, I gave in to temptation and ordered this, which is a chicken curry with rice and salad. My stomach totally welcomed this and yes I think on cold, drizzly days, we should all eat warm stuff to keep ourselves cosy and comfortable.

This cafe is actually converted from an old, Japanese house, and it is not easy to locate because it is nestled in the midst of other buildings surrounding it that could just obliviate its presence. But the moment you step through the wooden sliding panel that is the door to the cafe, you seem to be transported back in time and cut off from the hustle and bustle of city life. Everything there seems to be from a different age and time, the furniture and how the whole cafe looks. Of course, not the people, and the coffee machine that sits atop the cashier counter. I love this place for its cosiness, and I would hope that I have a chance to revisit in future to try their desserts! Check out the photos on this link; the cakes look yummy!

Address: Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Sendagaya 5-23-10 東京都渋谷区千駄ヶ谷5-23-10 (about 7-10 minutes’ walk from Takashimaya Shinjuku (exit to Meiji-dori), map and directions here).

Genkatsu (ゲンカツ), Tokyo Ginza

This is probably the fourth time I have visited this place, after first being brought to it in December 2006, and I wrote about it here and here too. Oh boy, as I reminisce all the times I visited Tokyo and look through the pictures, I realise I really do miss the place so much. Even if at times I got a little tired of it but I think company does make a lot of difference to how I feel.

The trip I made in April was great, because I had the company of two of my friends as we walked, talked, shopped and ate on some of the days while we were there, and on some other days I met up with other friends too, either who lived in Tokyo or who were also in Tokyo at that time. I almost forgot how it feels like sometimes, to go on holiday with someone else.

I thought I’d bring my friends to Genkatsu, since it’s about the only katsu place that I have been to a few times that is not bad. I remembered that I mentioned before it didn’t seem as good as the first time that I went but I think this time, it was still good. My friends liked it too and commented that the pork was easy to eat because of the way it was made, with layers of pork that was battered and fried, instead of just coating a pork fillet with batter and deep-frying it, which would sometimes make it difficult to bite and chew.  

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With Genkatsu, we don’t have that problem because the layers were thin, and even though there so many layers in one piece, the existence of space between the layers means that it is not hard to bite through the thin layers. I ordered a Lady’s lunch set for 2,000 yen, that comes with a katsu in original flavour, some mixed grain rice, appetisers and a dessert.20130509-093101.jpg

This set only comes with the original flavour, which is also good but I think my favourite would still be the black pepper!

Nanbantei, Shinjuku Tokyo

In Singapore, I have only been to Nanbantei once, the tiny outlet located on level 4 of Far East Plaza. It has been there since forever, because even though I have not been there until maybe a couple of years ago, it’s not easy to miss it since it is just in front of the escalator that leads up from level 3. Besides, I have often heard from others about how good it is. From the only time that I have been there, my friend and I sat at the counter and it was very crammed, but all I could recall was that the food was pretty good. Ok, I am not fussy about my food, as I have realised to a certain extent after talking to people and hearing about their grouses of food and so on. But I have had yakitori that wasn’t that good, still edible but not palatable; they were dry, perhaps over-cooked and whatever was skewered on the stick felt like a burnt piece of meat. 20130426-100326.jpg

On the last night that R & G were in Tokyo, I thought we could check out Nanbantei since it’s something we have all heard of (I think) and it’s yakitori! We could all do with some good Japanese grilled meat and veggies. Besides, it was the eve of G’s birthday and R wanted to give him a nice birthday celebration. Unfortunately we didn’t have any cake to go along with the dinner, also because by the end of dinner we were too stuffed for anymore food.

Thankfully for me, the failed tourist guide, this Nanbantei had an English menu. The selections weren’t too big but I guess acceptable, at least they have tsukune (something like chicken patty), one of the must-order things for me when I have yakitori. We were quite lucky too because when we dropped in (literally, because the outlet is in the basement), we managed to get a table that was away from the counter, in a nice cosy corner. There were some patrons who were smoking, as usual, but luckily there weren’t too many customers who were lighting up. It’s quite common for the Japanese to eat, drink and smoke at the same time, maybe that’s how dinner can stretch for hours and also how they eat slowly (and thus not grow fat?).

So now for the food pictures! All these are wrapped with a thin layer of pork, cherry tomatoes, inoki mushroom and asparagus. They were grilled so well in my opinion that the meat was slightly burnt and crispy but still retaining its juiciness, of course together with that of the vegetables wrapped within, there was this burst of flavours in your mouth when you bite into them. Ah… heaven.  20130426-100340.jpg

Skewered beef and very big, succulent scallops!20130426-100350.jpg

Mushrooms for the girls. I love grilled mushrooms, and generally I can order all kinds of shrooms when I visit yakitori restaurants. 20130426-100401.jpg

Before I could take a picture of the tsukune that we ordered (three sticks, one for each of us), they were grabbed off the plate! That’s how much we were looking forward to having this, served last. It isn’t the best tsukune I’ve had (there’s one in Ebisu that my friend J brought me to before but it’s a challenge to have to order there because everything is in Japanese and the place is extremely small) but this was still good. Besides meat, there was also some bits of vegetables mixed in that give it an added crunchiness. 20130426-100411.jpg

G also ordered this bowl of rice that came with a raw egg on top of it. R and I were a little iffy on it but I think he enjoyed it, and it kind of filled him up so much that he couldn’t finish the yakitori at the end!

It was a great meal with excellent company, and thanks R & G for the treat!

You can check out the Gnavi link here for its location and address in Shinjuku if you are interested when visiting Tokyo. It’s somewhere amongst the alleys in the way between Takashimaya and Bicqlo (near to Shinjuku Isetan side).

Curry House CoCo Ichibanya, Tokyo

Again, this is an eatery that hails from Japan which is already available in Singapore since September 2011 (Level B3 of 313@Somerset), but I have never tried it, for some reason or another. I actually like Jap curry a lot, but I always end up over-eating because it is too darn delicious. Many years ago, there was this Japanese curry place (I think they serve Jap curry, if my memory hasn’t failed me yet) in Stamford House, called Curry Favor; unfortunately they have now already shut their doors after the place was sold in early 2011 to conserve the buildings (Stamford House, Capitol Building and Capitol Theatre) and transform the area together with a new 15-storey building into a mixed-use development.

I just did a quick search online and found that it relocated to Velocity Novena, but has already pulled their shutters down for good. It was a pity because I really enjoyed their curry, where you could order half portions if you didn’t want to risk overeating, and could customise the level of spicyness to a certain extent too. I have tried Japanese curry at a shop in Central Mall but it was pretty disappointing.

Another reason why I seldom eat Japanese curry is because it seemed to either have a lot of MSG added or its ingredients somehow tend to make me feel very thirsty afterward. Even in Japan! Besides, it is a rather heavy choice of food, both in terms of taste and also its fill-you-up index (I don’t know what term to use, so this is the best and apt description I can think of), so it is not something that you will have on a regular basis, like for example, yong tau foo.

Ok, enough rambling and back to CoCo Ichibanya, which boasts more than 1300 stores worldwide! I chanced upon this small little shop in Shinjuku, which I had also passed countless times but despite its arresting bold orange-and-white signage I had never ventured inside. I remembered a friend raving about it on FB once, so I popped in. It also works along the concept of machine-vended meal tickets, and I think I paid about 850 JPY (about S$12) for curry katsu with rice.   20130110-090556.jpg

Feels pretty pricey if you think of it as a small eat-and-go kind of eatery, but the portion was pretty decent, be it the curry sauce, the rice or the katsu, especially to me. Might not be enough for bigger eaters but there is an option to choose more rice, and you probably just need to top-up another perhaps 100 JPY. The curry did stil make me feel extremely thirsty thereafter, and there was a slight curry and fried foods smell lingering on my coat after stepping out of the tiny shop. But service was as usual, good and courteous!

Yomenya Goemon, Tokyo (洋麺屋 五右衛門)

Through my friend Ilsa, I came to know about this Japanese restaurant that serves pasta, although I have never actually tried it. The only times I recalled having Japanese-style pasta or pizzas were at Waraku, and they weren’t too bad, based on the choices I had selected anyway. I liked that the pizzas were so thin that it didn’t feel like I was stuffing myself with flour (like those thick-crust American pizzas that I can never appreciate), and the choices of pasta were really interesting, not your usual cabonara or whatever.

There was a Yomenya Goemon near my hotel in Tokyo that I had to pass by each time I walk to and fro the JR station or the shopping districts, so one evening when it was raining, I thought I’d pop in for dinner since I was really cold and hungry and wasn’t exactly inspired as to what to eat. The restaurant was decidedly empty at that time, probably about 7pm, since I believe it was a weekend, and the area I stayed in was more of a business district, though it wasn’t far from the always-crowded areas of Shinjuku.

I had wanted to order just a spaghetti but was told by the friendly waitress (in English! I think she wasn’t local) that I could just pay a little more for an additional salad, small soup and drink; all that for 1,430 JPY (about S$21 thereabouts), so I thought why not?

The salad and soup were served first, which I really liked as an appetizer because of the light yet tangy dressing on the salad and those… bacon bits? I don’t know what they are but they provided a nice contrast to the taste of the rest of the vegetables. 

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And I was indeed ravenous, because after the salad I kept thinking why my food wasn’t served yet even though it was not a long time before my spaghetti was brought before me.

Needless to say, the moment it was presented to me, after snapping a couple of quick pictures, I dove right in and felt extremely satiated by the feel of hot food coursing through into my stomach. It was a rather big portion, to me at least, and even after just about half or slightly more than that, I was pretty stuffed.

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As you can perhaps make out from the picture, this one that I ordered came with mushrooms, seafood (prawn and I think there was one piece of scallop), pork, seaweed, cut chilli and a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds. The overall taste of this was excellent, although I might have felt that way because I was really starving. I really liked it too because it was not drowning in sauce like some western-style pastas are, and I am honestly not a big fan of cream sauces, tomato-based pastas are ok but my favourite would generally by the aglio-olio type, and hopefully not so dry that the noodles end up clumping together. I didn’t have any problem with this plate I had, and it was a big thumbs up, for the restaurant and for the service of the staff!

Maybe it helped too that the restaurant was fairly empty that evening, and as I was making my payment I chanced a look at the cake display and they looked so inviting; a pity that I was already filled to the brim, and no I don’t have a separate stomach for desserts, snacks maybe yes, but desserts, usually not. Perhaps I will check out Goemon in Singapore in future, when I am having a pasta craving.

Happy mid-week!

Mikuni at Fairmont

What used to be called Inagiku many years ago changed its name, and perhaps concept, to Mikuni, which is located at level 3 of Fairmont hotel, accessible from a corner of Raffles City.

While it was still Inagiku, I visited it a couple of times, usually choosing to order their sashimi platters or shabu-shabu or sukiyaki sets. Food was good but pricey, and back then the decor of the restaurant was that of a typical Japanese restaurant of the old days, boasting homely colours of light ply wood (I think, something beigey-yellow) that just make me think of many of the eateries I have been to in Japan. When it underwent a renovation the interior got many shades darker, the walls became dark brown/black. I think it was meant to give the restaurant a more updated and modern vibe, or perhaps the change in name or management fuelled the need to overhaul its appearance, to give it a look that is more aligned with the pricing of the food.

I went there once after that and felt that the food quality dropped, or maybe it was just the ambience or somewhat that made the food taste a bit different. Anyhow, that was also where I went a couple of weeks ago for my birthday treat! This time round, I think the food was better, maybe the years in-between this and my prior visit gave them the chance to finetune and improve the culinary skills of the chefs, or maybe it was just how I felt on both occasions.

Their menu is pretty comprehensive but it makes the ordering difficult because if you would like to have a few items that includes sashimi, then you have to think about your budget too. Haha. My friend was able to get a discount off the food so it was well-worth it for us!

Complimentary appetiser. I cannot remember what this is but it’s thin and crispy and tasted like it contained prawn.

Instead of sashimi, we ordered the mixed sushi plate. I liked that the sushi is more fish than rice, and of course the ingredients were really fresh! But perhaps we had too much rice, because in addition to this platter we also had a maki plate.

But this was really good, avocado and I think yellow tail (one of my favourites). And with sushi/sashimi, the wasabi just makes it even better.

Being a big tempura fan, we also had a mixed tempura plate, which consists seafood (prawn and fish slices) and assoted vegetables.

There was an additional grilled or barbequed pork rib that we ordered, that we only had a bit of and were unable to finish because we were so full from all the rice stuff. So a tip for those who have small appetites, don’t take too much carbo, or maybe that’s not really a tip, we probably overestimated ourselves. :p

The pork rib was nicely done and not too oily but it had lots of fatty parts in it that I think most people would really enjoy; we packed that back home but I don’t know why I don’t have a photo of it here.

Since we were already bursting we decided to skip dessert but anyway there was a complimentary matcha mochi dessert, that also came with cubes of azuki sticky cake (rice cake maybe). This was good because it wasn’t sweet, the sweetness of the red bean was complemented well with the slight traces of bitterness from the matcha in perhaps its natural unsweetened form. Nice way to end the meal! And thanks for the treat, my friend!