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Jun 24, 2009 03:38 AM

Trip Report - Japan

In Japan, my wife and I visited Kyoto and Tokyo in May/June. Rather than having one enormous post, I'll break up the Japan portion of the trip into 2 posts in this thread over the coming days.

We also visited Seoul, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai and Xi'an in the same trip. I'll post a link to the Seoul thread once it's up, and the China thread can be found here now:

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  1. First up - Kyoto

    Venue: Owariya
    Address: 322 Kurumayacho-Nijyo, Nakogyo-ku
    Total Bill: Y 3,300
    English menu: Yes
    English spoken: A little

    Incredibly, this small soba restaurant has been around for more than 500 years - so they must be doing something right!

    Stepping into this place was like stepping back in time - being an avid fan of Asian cinema, it found it reminiscent of eateries I've seen in Edo-period Japan, with shoji sliding doors, noren curtains, and just the overall look and feel of the place - what a great find!

    There are some pictures of Owariya on the Kyoto Foodie blog here, but note that these pictures really don't do it justice (I don't think there was an English sign up outside the restaurant, so these pictures will help you identify it!):

    Both tatami mats and western-style seating is available, and a waitress politely ushered us to one of the two tables (which suited me just fine, as I find it quite painful sitting cross legged for any period of time!).

    Green tea was promptly served while we perused the menu - I ordered soba with tempura, and the wife ordered soba with fish. I also spotted some buckwheat spirits in the drinks section, so thought I'd give them a try. Quite a large glass of the sprits arrived first, along with a teapot of soba water to add - water that soba noodles have been boiled in! Randomly, to me it tasted a bit like cacha├ža (Brazilian spirits made fron sugar cane juice) - nice!

    Two large bowls of soba noodles in dashi broth arrived shortly after, with a stack of tempura on the side for me, and large piece of fish on top of the wife's. Now, with the exception of shellfish, octpous and squid, I really don't like fish (in the wrong country, I know...!). This was the first time I'd ever had dashi broth, so I was a little nervous about whether or not I would like it - my concerns were not warranted, as the broth didn't taste fishy at all. In fact, it was quite delicious, with a deep, smokey, slightly sweet flavour. I sampled a little of the wife's fish, and it too was rather nice - it had been smoked and also had a slightly sweet flavour to it. The substantial stack of vegetable tempura was good, but not the best I was to have in Japan - more on that later. The real star of the show was of course the soba noodles - without question the best I've had, with a great flavour and just the right amount of chew to them.

    Two full bellies later, and the bill came to Y 3,300, which is good value. We were also given some free buckwheat confectionary - which might sound a bit odd to western tastes, but was really delicious. I only wish we'd gone back to buy some more before leaving Kyoto :/

    I highly recommend anyone visiting Kyoto to try Owariya for lunch or dinner.

    Venue: ?something? Tofu
    Address: Higashiyama
    Total Bill: Y 4,800
    English menu: Yes
    English spoken: A little

    Sorry again - I didn't make a note of the name or address of this place at the time :( We were walking round Higashiyama to see the Kiyomizu-dera and Jishu-jinja temples at the time and stopped for lunch at this large tofu restaurant. It was directly opposite a smaller tofu restaurant, if that helps at all.

    As we walked in we went past a large, 'open kitchen' where people were making tofu on-site. A good sign we were in for a treat :


    There were several set meals on the menu and we picked one at Y 2,400 per person. We got a lot of food for that!

    First to arrive was some chilled soya milk. At least, having never tried it before, that's what I think it was. To me it tasted like a thick, creamy cow's milk. Quite nice.

    First up were various tiny dishes containing nicely presented tofu and tofu skin items - all were excellent, with the firmness of the tofu varying between dishes.

    Next to arrive was a truely enormous pot of large, very soft tofu cubes (each was around 2 inches). I think it was called 'yobufu'? There was soy sauce and pickles on the table to eat with it. This was some really delicious tofu, but there was no way we could finish all of it!

    Next up was some vegetable tempura. No sauce or salt was providing for dipping, but when it arrived our waitress told us this was because it was already salty. The batter was salty. And oh-so delicious! Some excellent tempura that beat what I'd had the previous night at Owariya (but you still _have_ to go to Owariya for their soba noodles :)

    The final item was particularly delicious - skewers of grilled, firm tofu with some kind of sweet (red?) bean paste on top. This was my favourite dish.

    I'd recommend anyone in the area with a hankering for a tofu-feast to give it a try - hopefully someone else on this site can help pin-point it's location!

    Venue: Asuka
    Address: Jingumichi Nishi-iru Nishimachi 144, Sanjo-dori
    Total Bill: Y 2,700
    English menu: Yes
    English spoken: A little

    This tiny restaurant doesn't have an English sign outside, so look for a red lantern outside - we found it easily enough. Inside there is a small bar and 3 tables with tatami mats (oh, the pain, the pain!).

    Time for more tempura! Both the wife and I ordered large stacks vegetable tempura, which came with miso soup, rice and pickles. The tempura came with a dipping sauce, and was the best so far - the batter was just perfect! It had been perhaps 2 years since I last had miso soup (and that was in Brazil, randomly) and I'd forgotten how good it was - Asuka's rendition was delicious! The Japanese-style pickles were a great accompanyment too.

    The total bill came to Y 2,700 including a coke and a beer - really great value, and recommended!

    Venue: Asuka
    Address: Jingumichi Nishi-iru Nishimachi 144, Sanjo-dori
    Total Bill: Y 2,400
    English menu: Yes
    English spoken: A little

    Yes, back to Asuka again... we had been intending to sample some udon noodles at Omen on Gokomachi-dori, but we couldn't find the place - we walked right up and down the street a few times, but it just didn't seem to be there - has it shut down or something? Anyway, after giving up we tried to find somewhere nearby with an English menu, but after 30 minutes hadn't found anything. The wife was hungry and grumbling, which of course was my fault, so we ended up back at Asuka.

    The wife, predictably, had her beloved vegetable tempura again, while I opted for 'Japanese style fried chicken', which came with rice, miso soup and pickles. While the chicken, which was in the most amazing, crisp, lightly spiced batter was certainly delicious I can't testify to its Japanese-ness :)

    The total bill came to Y 2,400 including a coke and a beer. This was another great meal, but we were a bit dissapointed we couldn't find Omen :(

    1. Next, Tokyo. I'm afraid I'll post these in dribs and drabs, as I don't have much time at the moment :(

      Venue: Imaiya
      Address: 6F Marunouchi Building, 2-4-1 Marunouchi
      Total Bill: Y 6,550
      English menu: Yes
      English spoken: A little

      When we arrived this place was very busy. There were no tables left, so we took the last 2 seats at the bar. And as it happens, at the bar, in front of the open kitchen is the best place to sit at this great izakaya on the 6th floor of the Marunouchi building!

      We were served by a waitress that spoke some English, and we also got an English menu (although there were a few amusing mistakes on it, the meaning was quite clear).

      I'd only ever had sake a couplke of times before, and so I asked the waitress for a recommendation. I think she pronounced it like English 'you'. Anyway, Y 1,000 got me an enormous, chilled glass of the sweet sake, which was particularly nice!

      We ordered several grilled skewers: leek, shitake, peppers, chicken breast with leek, chicken meatball with raw egg yolk, chicken hearts. We also ordered some rice with sour pickles, which was nicely presented as a triangle of rice containing the pickles.

      Everything was cooked to absolute perfection and was delicious! My only complaint would be that it's relatively expensive, and each menu item is only one skewer with 3-4 pieces on each.

      A couple of nights later we went to another izakaya. Tanyu Kurumaya in the Caretta Shiodome (write up will follow) - prices there were perhaps 40% cheaper, but the food is just as good (although it doesn't have the same atmosphere and buzz that Imaiya has).

      1. Only almost a year late, here's the next post for Tokyo :) I'd forgotten all about this, and just stumbled across the notes I'd made at the time)

        Venue: Aburiya Fudo
        Address: Shiodome City Center tower, 42F
        Total Bill: Y 8,300
        English menu: Yes
        English spoken: A little

        There are 3 areas, the bar, a bit with tatami mats and a small section with tables and chairs - we sat at a table. If you want a table by the window I'd advise making a reservation - there are only 4 tables by the window and all were reserved on a Tuesday night. Being on the 42nd floor, you do get a stunning view over Tokyo.

        First up was vegetable tempura, which was a little on the bland side. It was served with a small bowl of salt, and it needed it - not as good as Asuka, which is the gold standard for me :)

        Next up was minced chicken with radish and small rings of spring onion, served as a tower. It wasn't advertised as such on the menu, so I got a shock when it arrived raw! I'd never eaten raw chicken before, and certainly never would in the UK - but I'd previously read it was quite safe to eat in Japan. I was pleasantly surprised - it was quite delicous, and not chewy as I would have expected. And I didn't get ill afterwards ;)

        Arriving next were deep fried pork and rice with pickles. The pork was excellent. The rice was nicely presented in a triangle shape, wrapped in fishy tasting seaweed, with the rice having pickles shredded all through it (not as good as Imaiya's).

        The final two dishes were duck meat dumplings and small horse mackrel. The dumplings were served in a light broth, with a selection of mushrooms, which were delicious. The dumplings themselves were so-so, with too much gristle and fat in them for my liking, I'm not big on fish, but the wife advised that the mackrel was very good :)

        I had some plum wine with the meal, which was the best I have ever tasted. It was on the menu as "'something' treasured plum wine" (sorry, I don't remember what the 'something' was :)

        Overall I'd say good, but not great. They do have an extensive menu, and I'd say it would be worth another visit.

        2 Replies
        1. re: GordonS

          Thanks for the update, but that would be En on the 42nd floor of Shiodome City Center, not Aburiya Fudo.

          1. re: Robb S

            Gah, you're right!

            We had originally planned to go to Aburiya Fudo, but went to En instead (hence the mixup in my notes)

        2. Venue: Tanyu Kurumaya
          Address: Caretta Shiodome
          Total Bill: Y 5,300
          English menu: Yes
          English spoken: A little

          We went to this quiet izakaya on our last night in Tokyo, after previously having a great meal at another izakaya, Imaiya (posting further up this thread).

          We kicked off proceedings with some Japanese pickles. A small bowl of salad arrived, with lettice, cucumber and carrot, lightly pickled in a tart and peppery dressing - deliocious and very different to the Japanese pickles had elsewhere.

          Next up was some tuna sashimi, 7 large pieces served with wasabi, grated daikon and bowls of soy sauce with sesame seeds. I'm not a big fish lover, but this was really delicious!

          Then onto the skewers: chicken and leek, chicken livers, gingo nuts, shitake mushroom, peppers and pork - all outstanding! The chicken livers were larger than I'm used to and melted in the mouth. The 6 ginko nuts were perfectly cooked and seasoned, and the pork was really tender, and particularly delicious!

          The total bill came to Y5,300, which included a cocktail and a small bottle of hot sake - excellent value!

          Tanyu Kurumaya certainly lacked the atmosphere and buzz that Imaiya had - but the food was a lot cheaper and every bit as good as Imaiya's. Recommended.

          3 Replies
          1. re: GordonS

            I liked that place - unfortunately they're no longer in business.

            1. re: Robb S

              It certainly was quiet when we went... I think there was only one other table in that night. A shame though - we had some great food there :(

              1. re: GordonS

                As with the other two Tokyo selections, it was part of a chain of upscale izakaya. So if you're back in town, you can probably seek out a sister location.