Saturday, October 7, 2017

Ginza Iwa (Tokyo)

October 2017

8-4-4 Ginza, Chuo 104-0061, Tokyo, Japan
Tel: +81 3 3572 0955

A sushi restaurant which really impressed us on this trip was Ginza Iwa. Tucked along a small street in Ginza, and taking up the ground floor and basement of a narrow shophouse, it seemed rather popular with the foreigners as most of those dining with us that lunch were from out of town. However, these were not your usual sushi neophytes but experienced global foodies; for example, in the six-seater basement we dined at, we were accompanied by a couple from China and another from Malaysia, and no one asked for their sushi to be cooked. It helped that the sushi chef spoke decent English and tried his best to engage all of us with humour. After all, this is a restaurant which just received its first Michelin star, so it should be expecting its fair share of international diners.

The lunch was a 13 piece sushi course.  Below are the photos of some of them. The chef used 2-week aged tuna and the flavours were very intense (for example, the Akami was aged between two pieces of seaweed). We also thought that the rice was very well-balanced with the right seasoning of vinegar. The lunch went on at a good pace and lasted about 90 minutes. At ¥8,000, it was not a cheap lunch but was decent value for money given the very high quality.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Dons de la Nature (Tokyo)

October 2017

104-0061 Tokyo, Chuo, Ginza, 1 Chome−7−6, Japan
Tel: +81 3 3563 4129

Dons de la Nature is regarded as one of the top 3 steakhouses in Tokyo (the other 2, Karamura and Aragawa are practically impossible to get a seat in without insider help). From the crowd there on a Wednesday night (there was only one other table when we were there), it may be that it is still relatively unknown. Or it could be because a meal here is prohibitively expensive. Nonetheless, we were on a hunt for the best steak in Tokyo and this was apparently the place to get it.

Located in the basement of a building off the main street of Ginza, it was obvious that the chef-owner Yoshiji Otsuka is a francophile. Empty bottles of French wines littered the entrance of the restaurant and also inside, and even the wine list was predominantly French. We tried to order the Almaviva on the winelist and chef Otsuka wrinkled his nose at that choice, imploring me to choose the Charmes Chambertin Grand Cru he highly recommended instead. We usually dislike being made to take a bottle of wine over our own choice, but fortunately, the Burgundy did well for the meal and was a very good accompaniment for the steak.

Chef Otsuka was obviously very proud of his beef, and that was all he was interested in talking about. Less than 5 seconds after we got seated, he brought his prized beef selection to our table. There was the Hokkaido sirloin, the Matsusaka sirloin and the Omi tenderloin. He recommended the Matsusaka and Omi beef and we left him to prepare for us a portion each of those for us.

Almost as an afterthought, he served us some bread (the brioche was crispy, warm and sweet) and we ordered a shrimp cocktail and vegetable salad, which were decent.

In under 15 minutes, the steak was served. It was cooked over a special charcoal kiln and was nicely charred on the outside. Thought we were not asked what kind of doneness we wanted, the steaks came out medium rare / medium in doneness. These were probably the best Wagyu steaks we have ever tasted. The sirloin had more intense flavours but the tenderloin had the better texture. High quality wagyu steaks are generally expected to be so tender that you can cut them with a spoon, but in this case, the steaks weren't as fatty as many others yet still had such strong umami flavours. Moreover, the charred surface was done just nicely without being bitter.

Chef Otsuka came over to chat further about the steaks, being obviously very proud of his beef. He didn't even ask us about dessert and we were so full that it was probably a good idea to stop there. Nonetheless, dinner with a bottle of wine was over and done with within an hour.

This is definitely a destination restaurant just for the steaks.

Ides (Melbourne)

December 2016

92 Smith Street, Collingwood VIC3066, Melbourne, Australia
Tel: +61 3 9939 9542

Ides was originally a pop-up concept which was the brainchild of several chefs in Melbourne led by the former sous chef of Attica, Peter Gunn. The idea was that every month, some of the top and up-and-coming chefs in the city would come together and operate a pop-up restaurant, with minimal operating cost (each chef would be prepare one dish, and serve that dish, hence reducing the need for a large wait staff). This was so successful that it morphed into a permanent restaurant in the hip and grungy neighbourhood of Colliingwood.

The restaurant had a rather nondescript entrance (we nearly missed it and walked past it) and a spartan interior, which was in line with its previous incarnation as a pop-up. It was also sparsely staffed, with only one waitress (who doubled up as front-of-house) and a bartender (who made a mean Negroni). It had only one fixed menu and for each dish, a different chef (who was responsible for preparing it), brought it out to our table and explained it to us, resulting in seven courses which were quite special.

The meal was excellent because it was intensely focused: no unnecessary amuse bouche or small bites, but every dish was the pride and joy of its creator chef. The downside was that it felt rather quite casual, without the usual expected trappings of fine-dining (the price was equivalent to that of a fine-dining establishment though). However, in the context of its history as a pop-up concept, this was wholly understandable.

The lettuce dish was a tad bit tart, but otherwise the other dishes were very good, in particular the chicken dish (the Holmbrae) which was exceptional and the Caramalized Cheese dessert which was divine and probably the best dessert we had that year. There was a lot of emerging talent in the kitchen that night, hopefully they can sustain this model and take the restaurant to greater heights.

Salt & Pepper Cos Lettuce - on ice with lemon oil and palm sugar

Black Russian Tomato - filled with smoked and picked pork hock, Nigella seeds & Lovage cream with dressing of rhubarb & tomato seeds   

Moreton Bay Bug with pumpkin soup

Snapper - grilled baby snapper seasoned with Sancho and raw asparagus seasoned with Perilla

Holmbrae - corn fed chicken with Sorrell, almond puree, cabbage with chia seeds, boiled egg with caviar, grilled broccoli sauce

Caramelized Cheese - Gjetost grated over crushed mango, pistachio nuts & cocoa nibs with elder flower & truffle honey

90's Chocolate - cocoa sugar, cardamom chocolate cream, peaches in coconut oil and grapefruit oil

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Dinner by Heston (Melbourne)

December 2016

Crown Towers Melbourne, 130/8 Whiteman Street, Southbank VIC 3006, Melbourne, Australia
Tel: +61 3 8582 2061

In 2015, Heston Blumenthal closed his Berkshire flagship, Fat Duck, for renovations, and duly moved his entire kitchen to Melbourne to keep his staff busy. The Crown Casino was probably the only place truly suitable to house his Fat Duck pop-up given its global appeal and profile, and apparently it was easier to get an audience with the Queen of England than a table at the Melbourne Fat Duck. Six months later, they returned to the UK, but not entirely, leaving behind Heston's newer incarnation, Dinner by Heston, which has garnered comparable following in the years it has been operating in London's Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

We are a fan of Dinner by Heston, having dined at his London restaurant several times (read about 2 of the meals: 2014 and 2015), and were curious to see if their new Melbourne outpost would match up to the same high standards. We were there for dinner, and the interior was vast and opulently adorned, much as would be expected for the premier restaurant in the city's glitziest casino. The large kitchen was visible though ceiling-high glass panels, and diners could watch the chefs meticulously prepare their meals while they quaffed their champagne.

We ordered some of the same dishes we so loved during our meals in London, and they didn't disappoint; the Meat Fruit (probably one of my favourite foie gras starters of all time) was exactly identical in looks and taste, and the ribeye steak had the same deep rich flavours. The tipsy cake was no different as well. The other dishes were also very good, with special mention to the sous vide chicken dish which was so tender and had a wonderful sauce. The Lemington Cake was a version of a local favourite so we have to try it, and we had the same chocolate ganache at the end of the meal which we felt was too rich and didn't really enjoy again.

Was Dinner by Heston Melbourne as good as the London one? Pretty much so, we thought.

Meat Fruit (c. 1500): Mandarin, chicken liver parfait & grilled bread

Chicken cooked with Lettuces (c. 1670): Grilled onion emulsion, oyster leaf and spiced parsnip sauce

Bone-in rib of Angus for 2 (c. 1830): mushroom ketchup & fries

Lamington Cake (c. 1900): raspberry jam, toasted coconut, run and vanilla ice cream

Tipsy Cake (c. 1810): spit-roast pineapple 

Chocolate Ganache

Attica (Melbourne)

December 2016

74 Glen Eira Road, Ripponlea VIC 3185, Melbourne, Australia
Tel: +61 3 9530 0111

(Writeup to follow)