Culinary Trip to Japan (Wrap Up)
I keep postponing these blog posts about my trip to Japan almost a full year ago (!!). Memories start to fade, but I still have plenty of pictures of some of the restaurants we visited back then.
I decided to not dedicate a full blog post to each restaurant, but instead do a smaller review for each of them in this post.
Tapas Molecular Bar
This was our next stop, located on the 38th floor of one of the nicest hotels I have ever been to: the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo. Over the course of 2 hours, the chefs bombarded the 8 guests with many tapa-like minicourses, displaying as many ‘molecular’ cooking tricks as possible. Now personally, I’m a big fan of trying new things. I don’t mind these modern techniques to create new structures/textures and experiences in a meal. Ferran Adria of El Bulli was a fan and innovator and so is Heston Blumenthal of the Fat Duck (which I got to visit in 2013). But there’s a thin line between cooking like this to enhance the meal and experience (but still making sure every course is fucking awesome) and just doing it to display the techniques.
In Tapas Molecular Bar, some courses leaned more towards the latter than the former. Don’t get me wrong, It was still a nice dinner, but it could have been more.
Check out all the pictures over here.
Our only visit to a restaurant with 3 michelin stars in Japan. Nr 33 in the world at that time.
The dishes were pretty good overall, but we weren’t blown away. More similar to a 2 starred restaurant in Europe in our opinion (this can sound very snobby… but when you go expect 3 stars and pay for 3 stars, you should notice them), but that’s possibly just a result of us being used to the European way of cooking. Plenty of dishes could use some more salt (and some pepper)… but this seemed to be a recurring trend in Japan.
On top of this the wine pairing was not really worth it (except for the sip of 70-year old port) and the service was not very friendly.
We did arrive half an hour late, our fault… and apparently they do 2 servings each night (pretty uncommon for such a restaurant) so that put some pressure on us finishing in time. But they still could have handled it with a bit more class.
Little extra fun fact: one member of our group wasn’t really dressed for the occasion and was just wearing a t-shirt and a leather jacket. Now a real shirt wasn’t mandatory, but sleeves were. So he had to keep on his leather jacket inside the restaurant during the entire meal. It’s not uncommon for ‘high end’ restaurants to have some sort of dress code, so be prepared!
You can find the full album on flickr.
Ukai-Tei in Omotesando is a steak/teppanyaki restaurant with 1 michelin star. We opted for the “Chef’s Special Picks” which was served in a private (4-6 seat) room with the teppanyaki part of the menu being cooked right in front of us. That’s clearly where their focus was and it showed. Not that the other courses were bad, but (spoiler alert) we would eat the best steak of our lives right here.
On the expensive side (mostly because of the high grade Wagyu steak… but worth it), the wine pairing was a bit lacking again, but good, friendly service and did I mention already it literally was the best steak we ever had?
When I heard Tokyo had tempura restaurants with Michelin stars, I knew I had to try out at least one of them. We managed to get a reservation at Kondo where we opted for the Kaede menu
- 2 Appetizer (Today’s chef’s recommendations)
- Tempura (2x prawn, 6x vegetable, 3x fish)
- Kakiage (mixture of bits of scallop fried in batter)
combined with a side order of sweet potato (which was recommended in one of the reviews I read before ending up at Kondo).
In Europe (or Belgium at least), we often encounter tempura where the batter is just too thick and doughy… and that’s not really what it’s supposed to be.
In Kondo, every single piece of tempura was just fried to perfection, with the thin layer of batter adding a bit of extra flavor and crunchy texture, without being overpowering.
And with the shrimp actually being still alive until they were decapitated and fried in front of us, this was not only some of the best tempura, but also the freshest. But I guess you can’t have one without the other.
So while it was an excellent meal in probably one of the best tempura restaurants in the world, it’s still a bit weird knowing it has 2 Michelin stars when you compare it to a more traditional, ‘regular’ restaurant. Definitely worth the experience nonetheless!
And as usual, the full album can be found on flickr.
Kondo was the last of the couple of fancy restaurants we booked in advance. But my favorite meal in the 2 weeks of Japan was actually sort of an impromptu visit to a really good sushi place “Sushiya Ichiyanagi“, rated very highly by locals on the Japanese rating site http://www.tabelog.com. We opted for the Omakase (chef’s choice) and had an elaborate epic sushi menu which led to yet another “best ever” experience. The chefs spoke very little English, but were super friendly and did an amazing job. Would recommend.