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Tokyo short review (Kanesaka, Dons de la nature, Takazawa, Kyubei etc)

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Lurker here - but thought it might be useful to give some trip report on a short trip to Tokyo a week ago, especially after reading so many tips and reviews of food from the board.

Kanesaka
Managed to get a lunch reservation at Kanesaka - Chef was Sanpei - and we went for the 15k menu.
Having been a fan of Shinji in Singapore, decided to head down to the mothership and taste their sushi and see if there was any difference. First of all, the atmosphere - pretty empty during lunchtime, but that is not a bad thing as the Chef was fully focused on serving. The 15k menu includes some sashimi and some grilled dishes. No need to wax lyrical about how good the sushi was - but enough to say that these tasted really fresh. Some couple of standouts: The tuna cheek - we had tuna cheek sushi as well as grilled cheek in shoyu and some yuzu. Amazing texture - tender, oily. A real treat. When the chef took those out, I thought they looked like wagyu (the amount of 'marbling'). Definitely a must try. What really stood out for Kanesaka wasn't their fish, but to me, I really really love their rice. Just the right amount of vinegar, temperature (slightly warm), and just the right amount of 'pressing' to make sushi where every grain of rice just fell apart in the mouth. I like that. I dislike sushi where the rice is pressed too hard.. Chef Sanpei also suggested that the water that is used in Singapore may be slightly different than the one used in Tokyo - which may explain why the rice is just so slightly better in Tokyo. I kind of like the way Chef Sanpei prepared the sushi - he pressed it very gently - almost gingerly, as if the sushi was kind of sacred. The other thing that stood out - and one which was significantly better than Shinji, was the nori. The nori was just the right amount of crispiness and umami - can't quite describe it. I asked Sanpei why this was so, and he postulated that whilst the supplier was the same, it could have been due to the temperature (Singapore is notoriously humid). Excellent.

Dons de la nature
Dons is helmed by Chef Yoshiji-san. A spritely old chap who is extremely proud of his produce. I don't really need to elaborate on how good his beef was. Me and my wife chose a 400g Kobe Sirloin cut at dinner - and whilst it must be the best beef I have had in my life, my wife thought it was just way too fatty and too 'melt in your mouth'. She preferred beef with a lot more texture, and unfortunately, wagyu being wagyu, this was not to be. To me, what I really like abt Dons wasn't so much the beef (which was amazing), but the wine list was also amazing - we had a rousseau clos st jacques at an amazing price to go along with the beef - and we had a good chat with the Chef. Chef Yoshiji had a few cards up his sleeve - apparently he trained in France many years ago - and Alain Passard (disclaimer: L'arpege is my all time favorite) worked in the kitchen under him (so I guess that must be in the 70s or early 80s). Another interesting fact: Apparently Chef Yoshiji ages his beef for 2 months before he deems it worthy to be served - combination of dry and wet aging. Well, next time anyone goes to Dons, do ask him to pull out his beef that is "aging in progress". It is amazing. He also keeps the 'birth certificates' of the cow that he buys from (comes complete with nose print, the cow's lineage etc - absolutely fascinating). Another interesting fact - I asked him whether he had Matsuzaka beef - and he said that he didn't serve them as he felt they ate too much grass - and that they were not suitable for his charcoal grill. Total for beef and wine was abt 80k - very pricey, but I can see why they cost so much.

Kyubei
Ah, the grand old dame of Sushi. While we didn't manage to get a first floor sitting, they sat us on the 5th floor for dinner. Can't remember the Chef's name - but he had very good technique, and very very precise in his use of sauces. What stood out for me was the 'dancing shrimp' - an amazing raw prawn that was still alive which he sliced quickly for sushi. The prawn was still throbbing - pretty disgusting, but tasted so good, and almost .. crunchy and muscular. My wife was a lot more squirmish and decided to eat the prawn cooked. Overall, very well executed, technically can't fault their sushi and every bit as good as any other top sushi place. Sometimes, I wonder whether what makes a place truly great - surely beyond technical execution it has to have that emotive element which really does it right? I felt that whilst this was very good, it didn't have that extra something (perhaps the chef?) that did it for me.

Takazawa
Many people here have talked about Takazawa - so I won't really go down to description of the food. Going straight to the point - my wife loved it. It is definitely her top restaurant of the trip - the food was inventive, playful and thematic. It was a play on all her senses, visual (and all the food trickery that Akiko-san suggested), smell (burning leaves, towels that smell like pine trees), texture (jelly that bursts out in flavor, vegetables that just tastes so different), company (yours truly) etc. I didn't feel that they were trying to be gimmicky - (I went for the "tea pairing course" because I had drank way too much during lunch and decided to go easy for dinner - also, I didn't want to drink Japanese wine to be very honest) - and I really appreciated how inventive they were. Moreover, this was a place that I felt I had "fun". I mean, the food is not as cutting edge as Pierre Gagnaire, but certainly I felt that it was place where I laughed a lot, where we were amazed and were shaking our heads on how only the Japanese could pull off something like this (like the hot air balloon dish) etc. I don't really want to spoil it for others who want to go, but Takazawa was amazing. Was it a life changing experience - no - but it was certainly a place that would be talked about, remembered, laughed at. Very memorable.

Others
Well - staying in Shiodome means that I am inherently too lazy to travel across town to track down the best restaurants in Tokyo - so I ate at places pretty much where I stayed. Tateru Yoshino at Shiodome for lunch (good if not very memorable), Tsunahachi Sui for Tempura (they killed the eel right in front of you - pretty brutal - but seriously good) and various random restaurants not worth mentioning. All in all - Tokyo was pretty good - this is my second time in Tokyo, but the first time looking out for some serious food. Would have loved to go to Ryugin, Sawada etc, but alas, time is too short.

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  1. Well, what makes good sushi ? That's a good point. Sushi is difficult, and as there is Kyoto taste, Hokkaido taste of sushi, there is Ginza sushi-yasan.. Ginza used to have a 'Ginza credit card', Ginza sushi-yasan used to be as exclusive..sushi Kanesaka and sushi Kyubei are now big groups, and lost the 'difference' of what makes you want to crave for their sushi,.. 'Oh that taste !!' I will go for again, I didn't have that impression. They became a brand name.