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Apr 21, 2012 12:52 PM

Upcoming trip to Tokyo/Kyoto

First of all I'd like to thank all the experienced hounds for their postings.

I have never been to Japan before and knowing that business casual is acceptable in most (Japanese) restaurants was something I had been trying to find out but only got confirmed here.
I'm also not that experienced as a chow hound, but I like good food and have had some good sushi and other Japanese meals before (in LA and LV in the US, sadly nothing good in the UK) so decided to make food one of my primary focusses on this 'trip of a lifetime'.

I am travelling during Golden Week, so Sushi Saito was booked solid even two months out. Here's what I *have* got booked, starting in Tokyo.

Sushi Yoshitake. Was glad to hear that Yahitake-san has some English as this will be my first high end dining experience in Japan. I don't know any Japanese but have learnt that the phrases itadakimasu (I humbly recieve) as the first dish is served and gochisosama deshta (thanks for the meal) as you leave are appreciated.
I will be travelling with my Michellin Guide, Sushi dictionary and Japanese food dictionary, and taking a notebook to write down my impressions. If I can pluck up the courage I may well ask for the '5 tastes of tuna' as described elsewhere on this site to slightly supplement the omakase. Do you think he would mind if I took some no flash photos of the food? Is this generally acceptable/unacceptable?

Hagazumi in Minato-ku
Seems to have an interesting menu. MIchellin advises the Udon omakase. Any hound tips on this one?
Like All the restaurants I will be visiting I have matched the google maps street view to the pictures of entrances in the Michellin guide or on the website to make sure I can find the place! This one is a bit more off the beaten track than most and has a particularly anonymous entrance :)

Uchiyama, Ginza
I wanted to have a kaiseki meal in Tokyo and this one looked like it was good value (I can't afford 300k Y for all my meals)

Chanko Tomoegata, Ryogoku
Not a Michellin starred restaurant this time, but it's a chanko-nabe restaurant. I will be at the sumo all day and then visit this restaurant within easy walking distance of the Kogukikan afterwards. I'm not the smallest of fellows, so I will fantasise that I too am a mighty sumo warrior as I tuck in to (what I am currently minded to go for) a kobe beef hot pot.

Now to Kyoto.
Not got long in Kyoto, staying at the Hotel Granvia in Kyoto station for one night. Was hoping to maybe pick up one of their bento lunches there as they look very good, but maybe other hounds have a better value for money option for lunch?
For the evening meal I have gone for Fujiwara in Gion. It looked to have a contemporary twist on Kyoto style cuisine and had a reasonably priced omakase (I've gone for the pricier of the two offerings). As a plus, it's easy walking distance from Gion Corner.

I will update this post in a month or so when I am back from travelling, but would be very interested to hear any hound tips in the meantime.

Domo arigato gozaimasu

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  1. You don't really say "itadakimasu" at restaurants but I guess they might get a kick out of it...Definitely report back on Tomoegata. Enjoy your trip!

    1. I just visited sushi yoshitake last week. Yoshitake San is the most welcoming of chefs. I took picture of literally every dish I had. He would gladly inform guests of the fish involved in each dish. Look out for the ebi (shrimp) sushi, it was divine.

      I would recommend Kikunoi for a kaiseki lunch. Ask for counter seat so u can see the many chefs in action. The lunch costs 10000 yen and is quite reasonable for what it consists of.

      8 Replies
      1. re: CWFOODIE

        Thanks for the feedback guys. I'll not be embarassed to take pictures now.

        Kikunoi has a website in English and it's name on the entrance, how easy is that!

        Just to show my ignorance again. When you get Bento from high class restaurants is this still a meal to be taken away or must it be eaten at the restaurant? The boxes and dishes in the pictures look too good to take away, so I'm asuming it is an eat in, but Marayamu park is just across the way, so I could eat-out there I guess. I think a full kaiseki lunch and dinner on the same day is a bit ott :


        I'll be a lot more knowledgable on Japanese food when I come back, that's for certain!

        1. re: pinballer

          When you get a bento it just means that it's served in a box (or boxes), and served all at once rather than as a multi-course affair.

        2. re: CWFOODIE

          So does your camera smell of fish after the meal ? Or do you eat sushi with chopsticks ? :)

          It may sound like a joke-question, but I'm actually serious, I understood quite a few high end sushi places advise the customer to eat sushi with their hands, and I'm thinking both of the camera smelling of sushi, but also a camera which is brought everywhere and left in a pocket or bag is not the cleanest equipment, so won't your hands have a plastic/unclean taste after taking numerous photos ?

          I know, sometimes I have some weird worries... ;)

          1. re: Rio Yeti

            When you eat sushi with your hands, you can wipe your fingers on your oshibori after each piece.

            1. re: Rio Yeti

              You don't need to eat with your hands if you don't want to. Many people use chopsticks in high end sushi places too. And, of course, some pieces, like sashimi, must be eaten with chopsticks.

                1. re: Rio Yeti

                  Yes traveling in learning few words is important, as the instant is so important and the collective memory is so in tradition in Japan, in the generations chef in kaiseki sushi, and all these chef that succeeded to their fathers have been collecting few words for accomplishing.. Hope you will have this instant memory with the chef in a counter sushiyasan or.. after in a kappo like Koju in Ginza that dinner begin at 14700yens, and equally cheaper than the Uchiyama, even I haven't tried it, it seems to have good reviews from japanese and foreign customers, the chef is so into putting his soul into ingredients.. right now my preference is on sushi..
                  For sumo, don't miss the early bouts, from 'lower' divisions (the wrestler from top divisions arrive in the afternoon, the highest division - Makuuchi, with Yokozuna, Oseki, ... appearing last). It is really worth it to stay long hours and eat a bento !! Me I was a lucky one, I was invited in a box and had food for 2 days !! After, in may, it will be kind of difficult to have a nabe, just go for a soba and tempura to the near one Michelin star, the tempura ate there were ok just too expensive in my opinion(tempura + soba, almost 5000yens).

                  1. re: Rio Yeti

                    The difference between eating sushi with your fingers and with hashi is big. !! The master(if good master!), will press the rice(shari) differently, more softly if you eat with your fingers, and if you eat with your hashi it will get more compact ! Mizutani San made me that remark at the end of the omakase, you eat with your hands, I hadn't noticed earlier !! Too busy to realise what is going on the other side of his counter.. of 9 seatings (that happened 4 years ago)!

            2. Amex rang all the restaurants again to confirm the bookings and it turns out Uchiyama have decided they no longer want to open on a Sunday, so my booking was cancelled.
              Gone for Rokukaku-tei instead. Food on sticks (yakitori), well I'll give it a go :)

              1. Back from Japan, so here's my review of the restaurants visited. I don't speak Japanese and am not the most experienced in Japanese food, so please take all these reviews as uninformed. I was a bit worried about how easy it would be to find some of these places before I went, but with a bit of research on google street view matching the pictures in the michellin guide and a good map it turned out to be mostly pretty easy, so I ended up arriving pretty early at most places, but this didn't seem to be a problem for any of them.
                These were all dinners with the top available menu selected.

                In Tokyo

                Sushi Yoshitake
                Many of his dishes have something extra to them, rather than just fish, rice, wasabi/soy. There has been some discussion of his rice, but I liked the red vinegared rice very much.
                There were 7 sashimi/non sushi courses first. A couple of these were the 'only in Japan' types which I sometimes find difficult including a dish of baby eels about 3 cm long which were actually impossible to chew, they escaped your teeth. I think the trick is to swallow them without chewing. The other being baby shrimps which were similarly translucent, but a bit easier to handle. The highlight of the sashimi for me was the bonito which was amazing. Very lightly seared on the outside with a little soy and I think some mint. The octopus (slices from a fully grown octopus but extremely tender) and the snapper were also very nice.
                Then 13 pieces of sushi served one at a time. 3,4,5 were three types of tuna. The very fatty tuna was the best I have ever had. It actually melted in my mouth in a way no other has. Finished with unagi and miso soup, I don't usually find unagi that interesting (having only had the cheap stuff) but of course here it was very good.
                I liked the way he had all his ingredients in wooden boxes, the ingredients were clearly presented during the preparation which was done on the counter which was on a level to allow customers to see everything that was going on. Yoshitakesan did speak English and was happy to explain the ingredients but a few of them were beyond his powers to describe and beyond mine to identify. All in all, an enjoyable 2 1/2 hours but not the meal I enjoyed best in Japan.

                This was only 1 star, but was the meal I enjoyed the most. The chef is quite young and good looking and he prepares the dishes with some flair. He had managed to get his hair to look like a Japanese version of Gordon Ramsey :)
                This was also the only restaurant that had background music (light smooth jazz) but is wasn't intrusive. A nice touch was that if you order sake, the waiter comes round with a tray of vessels of all kinds for you to choose your own, and each new sake you order you get another choice of drinking recepticle.
                Started with an amuse bouche of white asparagus and other veg in a creamy sauce.
                Next a miso flavoured custard with soy beans and little crisy balls.
                Than a platter of sashimi, squid, tuna (chotoro I think as there were no lines of fat in it) and a white fish with a silver skin (herring?) with grated lime zest (one of Yoshitake's dished also had grated lime zest, so I wonder if this is a popular technique now. I'm not sure it's a great idea myself).
                Then a soup with dashi stock (he used a pot to cook the dashi in and various ingredients, so it's involvement with various dishes evolved throughout the meal). Various Japanese veggies and celery. The starch was a soft white blob of something I've had before but can't remember what it is (it's not tofu). The whole was a very delicate flavour and enjoyable.
                Next cold buckwheat noodles with a vinegared collection of veg cut into tiny 3mm cubes with a blob of fresh wasabi on top. This was excellent!
                Next was a grilled sardine dish. I hesitate to call it sushi as there was about 4 times as much fish as rice and it came with a sweet potato mash ball and pickled veg on the side.
                Then another broth dish with 3 main ingredients boiled in the dashi and some grated daikon on the side. The dumpling was great, it had some sort of tomato based stuffing that was delicious.
                Then a dish of grilled vegetables including japanese sweet peppers with lighly seared beef. This was the low point in the meal for me as the beef was a bit chewy, but it had good flavour.
                Finally rice and pickles. The rice had various seasonings in it and a lot of freshly grated ginger and was very good. Since they then served tea and took my chopsticks away, I thought this was it, but they then served a sweet which was a big blob of sweet kelp jelly dusted with icing sugar that had the consistency of slightly thick wallpaper paste but was delicious.
                This was the only meal I had in Japan where I came away stuffed full with that sated glow. I think this guy has potential to work his way up the Michellin ladder if he buys some slightly more expensive meat/fish ingredients. It certainly felt like good value for money at 14k including various sakes and beer.

                This was kushiyaki cuisine. I have to say that it more suited to an evening of boozing rather than dining. As such it was suprising to find they only had one sake and one type of beer on offer. The wine menu was more extensive and seemed to be what most patrons were going for. The idea is that the skewers keep coming until you say you are full. After 20 skewers, I wasn't full so I asked for 5 more. It turned out that he has 24 different skewers so this caused a bit of confusion. I would have liked to re-order some of the earlier items rather than go for the last 4 which weren't that great. The fish skewers were all very good especially the Scallops, clam, shrimp, salmon and octopus. Other items included, beef with curry sauce, bamboo shoot, burdock, yam, pumpkin, broad bean, cheese, a small whole fish, sea bream with green onion, herring and some other items that I was unable to determine. The chef will show you the pre-cooked skewer if you are interested to determine what it is.
                The chef did offer me some bread, which I should have accepted because 24 very small single skewers (it would take about 3 to make up the content of a normal yakatori skewer) weren't enough for a filling meal in my opinion. I felt the need to go in search of rice when I left. Perhaps the idea is to get some early boozing done with a few skewers here, then go do some more boozing and then hit a ramen stand later on. Or perhaps just go for lunch.
                This was also the quickest meal I had at about 1 hour.

                Chanko Tomoegata
                I was looking forward to this, but the language barrier proved unsurmountable even though they have an English menu. You should really go here in a large group with at least one Japanese speaker to make the best of it. If you want one of their banquets you need to pre-order. I ended up having their eponymous miso chanko. Made with four types of miso, the broth was great and the ingredients added to it in the basic menu were all good, but it was sad that I couldn't get some more ingredients and try out their menu a little more extensively. Other customers decided to go with Ramen rather than chanko.

                In Kyoto

                This was another classic Japanese counter restaurant like Hagazumi. I have to say that I probably had the most enjoyable night here. The assistant Chef has excellent English and one of the customers turned out to be her husband who spoke English even better and we chatted throughout the meal. The food was very good but not as good as Hagazumi in my opinion and with less prospect for improvement. The location in Gion was excellent, but be warned this is not an easy place to find, it's down a back alley in the warren of Gion and I had to get some on street help to find it even with all my maps and compass. If you are used to relying on a GPS you might find you miss your reservation time!
                When it became clear I was interested in the contents of what I was eating, the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Japanese Food Items came out and much dictionary work and discussion ensued :)
                It was nice to see them grating the wasabe freshly for each course that needed it. I couldn't see what they were grating it on, but I wouldn't be suprised if it was shark skin.
                Meal contents were:
                Baby squid with mustard.
                Herring Roe.
                Steamed Sushi with accompaniments (which was great and somewhat of a house speciality I gather. Reminded me of taste of glutinous rice steamed in lotus leaves that you get as Chinese dim sum).
                Red snapper and eel with sea urchin.
                Grilled Sea bream, clam on a shell with japanese peppers and white asparagus.
                Wakame seaweed, tofu and bonito flakes with dashi broth. (Although simple Japanese fare, this was exceptionally good)
                Whole fish and japanese pepper tempura (the fish tasted very strongly of liver which wasn't really to my taste).
                Sweet potato dumpling stuffed with meat in a gelatinous broth with broad beans and some grated ginger on top.
                Rice, pickles and miso soup. The rice was another masterpiece. The topping I think was tiny (1 cm long) fried baby eels and the rice was excellent.
                The sweet was a fruit salad jelly in a cocktail glass.
                Some of the descriptions above don't do justice to the complexity and presentation of these dishes which were all of extremely high quality.

                I took photo's of almost everything, so I'll update if I ever upload them to anywhere.

                As to the Sumo, that was a great day, but those good bento lunches need ordering in advance and you'll need a japanese speaker and a permanant address in Japan to get them, although I think there are some vendors who can provide this service from outside Japan. The bento boxes on sale at the venue are pretty poor, so you might want to bring in your own from outside (although this is technically not allowed).

                The other food highlight was breakfast at Tsukiji Market. A full maguro platter at 7 am :)
                That was more about the experience than the food quality though.

                10 Replies
                1. re: pinballer

                  I've uploaded an annotated picture of the roomservice champagne breakfast at the Hotel Granvia in Kyoto here:
                  The photo shows a one person serving.
                  I didn't need to eat for a while after that :)

                  1. re: pinballer

                    Hagazumi... I assume you're talking about Nagazumi. Didn't knew this restaurant but it looks quite interesting. Some very positive reviews on Tabelog also.

                    The lime zest is probably yuzu zest (a very aromatic japanese citrus, which I'm a huge fan of). It's indeed very common in japanese cuisine.

                    BTW, If you search 元赤坂 ながずみ on Google you can walk inside the restaurant using street view. Very cool!

                    1. re: babreu

                      Yes, apologies. Nagazumi. Tabelog seems like a tough crowd if they give this restaurant less than 4 on average.

                    2. re: pinballer

                      Yoshitake Pics

                      1. re: pinballer

                        Nagazumi pics

                              1. re: pinballer

                                Some more japanese food pics from the return journey.

                                Bento on train.

                                Chicken curry at Narita Rest House (turns out they mean beef curry with fried chicken on top)

                                Meals at airport and on plane