Food without memory is just digestion

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Singapore Sizzle!

Are there times, Gentle Reader, when every bone in your body screams out for Char Kay Teow? When those around you keep talking about Hainan Jeefan Shokudo? When the Singaporean Ambassador mentions a little out-of-the-way place?

You can find Hainan Jeefan Shokudo (map) in the alley behind Food Magazine at the foot of Roppongi Hills. There's also a sister restaurant in Ebisu.

My recommendation is that you find it, soon. The continuous cycle of customers probably means it's going to be around for a while yet, but this place is one way to impress even the most insidious Tokyo-Termite (a long-termer who just eats away at the insides of your Tokyo experience) with your knowledge of restaurants.

Accompanied by the Child Bride, I stopped by with The Expat and his Lovely Wife Kath. The Ambassador's right - this is the real deal. The Child Bride grew up in Singapore and Malaysia, and can spot a fake Fish Head Curry at 100 paces. This experience didn't affect her too much, except for a intermittent craving for Bee Hoon at all hours of the night and day. If one can ignore the slightly gauche birdcage lamps on the wall and the dorky "lightbulb" ceiling lights, the fragrances and sounds at Hainan Jeefan Shokudo were all authentic and the bustle was pitched just right.

We started with Singapore's own Tiger Beer. There is a wine list, but it's tedious and I'd stick with beer if you're headed towards curry. Thus fuelled, we promptly started salivating over a menu that promised much. In the end, we "shared" Char Kay Teow, Hainan Chicken Rice, Fish Head Curry, Vegetable Curry, Laksa, and Chicken Curry.

Gentle Reader, I'm not good at sharing (particularly good food!) and see no place for it in a civilized society. Sharing is so~0 lovey-dovey, and is sort of like that weird ritual of twining arms to drink champagne - which wastes time and risks spilling perfectly good champagne. I'm supposed to pretend that I care what others think??? Let them rise and fall on the basis of a poor palate and a lack of decisiveness!

Trust me, I won the sharing competition. This food was good, good enough to get me to recall slightly different variations I've had (out on the East Parkway etc ...) at some out-of-the-way place in Singapore or Malaysia.

Apart from a slight mix-up over the order, utter confusion, and difficulty attracting the attention of the staff, Hainan Jeefan Shokudo is a perfectly adequate Singapore restaurant. [Actually, that probably makes it even more like the real thing.] Except it's in Tokyo - which makes it very special indeed! By the way, try the Lime's special, and desperately authentic!

Rating: Food: 7/10; Service: 5/10 ; Wine: 6/10; Ambiance: 7/10; Price: 8/10; Total 33/50 (2 Forks)

Hainan Jeefan Shokudo: Roppongi 6-11-16. [Behind Food Magazine at the southern end of Roppongi Hills ] Open 11:30am-1:30, 6-10pm (LO). Closed 3rd Monday. Tel: 5474-3200

Friday, 14 September 2007

Shopping - Bon Repas

14 September 2007

Try this for a deal - you join a members club for Y10,000, which entitles you to a spoonful of caviar and a glass of champagne every time you visit, and 25% off everything you buy. Wine tastings, imported jambon and smallgoods, fresh Italian olive oils from the barrel, great wine from all around the world, hard-to-find ingredients, etc etc.

You're right - a touch of food-geek heaven. You're thinking New York or Paris, right? Try Azabu-Juban, here in Tokyo.

The Don was the one to introduce me to Bon Repas, and we spend an hour or so here most Saturdays. I was lucky enough to join during a Y5000 campaign, but have already "saved" more than Y12,000 by my reckoning - and I haven't started adding to my Riedel collection or bought wine with more than 4 digits yet.

The store is open and airy, perfect for tasting the latest addition to the Bon Repas cellar or the cold meat from Germany, Spain or Italy. If you've been looking for a whole Jamon Iberico for a party, or just a few slices of Bavarian Hunters Pressed Ham, this is the place for you.

Trying to put together a cheese plate? Bon Repas will let you taste the various cheeses on display to get the balance just right - or will recommend one of the selections it has thoughtfully pre-packaged.

Pasta? Fresh Tuscan olive oil? Sauces and toppings? Sheesh, don't get me started.

Bon Repas specializes in Bordeaux, Burgundy, Italian and German wines (although you can also get a 5 liter mini-keg of Czech Pilsener) and the ground floor shows an excellent selection. There are wines from other countries as well, although there's a little up-and-down in the quality. Still, better a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.

After something a little more special? Wander upstairs and you're suddenly immersed in an Alladin's Cave of great wines, brilliantly stored and presented, and available at reasonable prices. Life Hint: ignore the final zero and divide by 2 if you're a member. Otherwise some of these wines will need your bank manager's approval.

There are regular tastings for members, and I think I've convinced them to stock fresh olives to round out the offering.

Bon Repas is a life-support system for a food geek, and an innocent pleasure for those of you less mono about it all. Take my advice, and drop by (map; gmap) next Saturday. I'll be the fattie upstairs drinking champagne in the deep leather lounges.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Magnifico! La Taperia

12 September 2007
Tired and frustrated after another "ho-hum" day in Tokyo, I put in a quick call to the Child Bride and Cost Centre #4 to have them join me at La Taperia in Yotsuya. I had just found it on the Web while searching for an Italian restaurant in Ichigayadai-machi (I know, don't take me there...). Ever sensitive to the complaint, Gentle Readers, that I tend to the upmarket side of the Tokyo dining scene (and having dined at Twenty One the night before), I decided we should try to re-capture the magic of our one month soujourn in Spain almost 10 years ago to the day.

What a find! This is a delightful little restaurant with 32 seats, run by Carlos Berrocal, and tucked away in Yotsuya 3-Chome. Carlos is quite a character, who first came to Japan about 15 years ago in search of Aikido nirvana. He's a Madrileño, and very typical of the gatos we came to know and love. It's fortunate for us all that he's still here. He's been running La Taperia for a little more than 3 years after refusing numerous requests by Japanese owners "to cook spaghetti". I agree - there's no such thing as Mediterranean cuisine unless you're a thousand-store US budget chain operation, and as a supporter of regional cuisines within the traditional Spanish pantry I'm grateful for people like Carlos with the integrity and passion to make a difference.

We started with a platter of Iberico cold meats, with the heavenly Iberico jamon that melts in your mouth, chorizo, and salchichon. Meant to be eaten with the fingers, ours threatened to turn into an arm-wrestling contest as we jostled for more of this pleasure.

Now I'm sorry to disappoint our Pacific neighbors, but tortilla in Spanish is not a flat unleavened bread. Maybe it is in Mexico, but in Spain it is an omelette typically containing potatoes and onions with herbs designed to serve as an accompaniment or as a tapas offering in a small cervecería. The Tortilla Espanola at La Taperia is light and filling, and immediately brings to mind the efforts of Africa our Spanish chef during our soujourn in Campo Salobrena 10 years ago.

Having enjoyed a CruzCampo Spanish beer, I was delighted when the wait staff produced an Antonio Barbadillo Palomina Fina 2005 as the white wine choice. This wine had been the lubricant for many a world-saving conversation in Spain with The Don and his Bride. Maybe Antonio had lost some of his skill over the last 10 years or my palate has changed a little, but this wine is only enjoyable after the second glass these days. Darn!

We also enjoyed Pata Campagna, Gambas al Ajillo, and Champinon a la plancha as well as a wonderful peanut-butter ice-cream served with Carlos' "secret" ingredients. "Secret" - Humph...that's a challenge!

La Taperia is a great place to enjoy with family and friends if you want good food, engaging staff and the warmth of the immediate friendships typical of everyone we met in Spain. We'll certainly be going back, and I fully expect to upgrade my rating as we get to know Carlos better.

Rating: Food: 7/10; Service: 7/10 ; Wine: 7/10; Ambiance: 7/10; Price: 8/10; Total 36/50 (3 Forks) Beware: NO CREDIT CARDS ARE ACCEPTED
Restaurante La Taperia, B1 Stream Yotsuya Building, Yotsuya 3-3, Shinjuku-Ku, Tokyo. T: 03-3353-8003.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Cicada tries hard

10 September 2007

I spent a very pleasant couple of hours with the Expat at Cicada, not one of my favorites. Greg enjoys this restaurant, for reasons I can easily understand - and to be fair, it's not as bad as I often pretend. I remember going there with David Satterwhite just after it opened, and although the menu probably hasn't changed since that time, the food is still reliable and prices reasonable. It seems the website hasn't been updated in some time - the concept page explains the restaurant as "aaaaaaaaa" [sic].

We were forced to start with a TY Brewery beer (we chose the Organic Lager), a niggle I have railed against before. I understand that ownership wants to promote its other ventures, but restaurants are for customers not owners. Just give me a choice, and you may be surprised by the result! At the very least it would be an interesting experiment in consumer testing.

We had a bottle of forgettable Pinot Gris from Trent (Tiefenbrunner, Pinot Grigio, Trentino Alto Adige '06) to accompany our appetizers of Spicy Moroccan Crab Cakes and Mushrooms stuffed with Chorizo. The wine list strikes me as slightly immature - it tries to express its character through eclectic small label vineyards, much like a teenager looks for something "cool" or a band that no-one else has heard about. TY Brewery is the same, and I guess it's a management policy to be bleeding-edge for unknown wines.

Both of the appetizers were tasty and filling. Chef David Chiddo has chosen a tapas theme for this part of the TY Express operations, and it works well. The restaurant always seems to be buzzing with excited punters, although there were a few too many OL's "wah - ing" in the main dining room.

For mains, we chose Lamb with Anchovies and Rosemary (you can guess this wasn't me) and Ricotta Ravioli. This little number turned my head - ricotta dishes are easy to do badly, but hard to turn out well. Chef Chiddo succeeded in achieving the latter, and my hat's off to him. Perhaps I should re-evaluate this place, as they really do try hard and the bilingual staff make navigating the menu and wine list relatively simple and straightforward. Not to mention pleasant to talk with and about. Last time I scored Cicada at 26.5 (1 Fork), and as you can see below I've upgraded my rating. A little less "talent" on the wine list, and at least one degree of freedom in the beer list, and they'll get to 3 Forks (which means you can take your boss there!).

Try Cicada early in the week, when you're in the mood for something light and an easy dining experience. Take a work-mate or client, rather than a lover.

Food: 7/10; Service: 7/10 ; Wine: 6/10; Ambiance: 7/10; Price: 7/10; Total 34/50 (2 Forks)
Cicada: 5-2-40 Minami-azabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0047; T: 03-5447-5522 (See the website for a map)

Saturday, 8 September 2007


7 Sep 2007
The last time I was at Angolo was almost six months ago when I was slugged about Y60,000 for a bottle of Dom Perignon - or a mark up of over 300%. Makes me wonder whether I'm in the wrong business...

After wandering all over the planet and pitching into some high-level brainiac meetings in Tokyo, it was time to just get out and relax with friends. We invited Greg and John with their lovely brides Kath and Elizabeth to join us at Angolo (conveniently located close to Chateau Expat in the event that the babysitting by Cost Center No. 4 ran into trouble). The Child Bride had threatened Angolo with 20 of her closest friends towards the end of the month, and I felt compelled to offer some sort of olive branch well in advance!

Angolo started as a hobby restaurant for a successful businessman, and sometime reflects his eclectic tastes in wine and food. A good thing too, because he has extraordinarily good taste. The Child Bride and I had enjoyed meeting this technology entrepreneur, and were looking forward to a relaxing time with some good people. Angolo could improve the ambience by turning down the background music a little, but it is well laid out and succeeds masterfully in creating private and public spaces.

We started with beer to take the edge off the post-typhoon heat - (Note: Angolo, consider offering Italian beer (Moretti?) or something other than Malts!). The cocktail listed as Bellini flummoxed the bar, who suddenly noticed he was out of peach juice and somewhere out of a tortured imagination produced the world's first Blood Orange Bellini. Things were not looking good...

We opened a light white from Chianti, produced in a vineyard where the Child Bride and I spent a month last year enjoying Tuscan Tourismo Agricola. Forgive me Gentle Reader, but the scrap of paper listing the wines we enjoyed has disappeared into a wormhole. Look for something that includes quercia.

The Insalata Caprese was a big hit with the table, but I ventured out to the Asparagus Salad with Truffle Chip and Pecarino. This was plated brilliantly, and the taste matched the sweet balance of colors that teased the eyes and the taste buds at the same time. Angolo was living up to the challenge, and that called for another bottle of the white. Our noise levels were rising nicely, which for me is always a sure sign of people enjoying themselves.

4 out of 6 opted for the Chef's Risotto, which our waiter had blithely informed us was done with a crab sauce. Fish and fowl aside, we were surprised when it appeared with Fois Gras. Never one to complain, I tucked into this delight with alacrity. When I paused my spooning (because I was beginning to risk getting porcelain chips by scraping the bottom of the bowl) to look up, 4 out of 4 plates were empty. Press on, brave Angolo.

Now was the time to bring out the Tuscan red - Chianti Classico Gallo Nero. This wine demands attention, and got it from our table. I think there may have been a hole in the bottle, because it seemed to empty pretty quickly.

Greg and Elizabeth had opted for the Sea Bass - which they agreed was wonderfully well prepared and successfully avoided the taste white hole that mock Sea Bass can so easily fall into. I had spied a Cotoletta di vitello being enjoyed at another table and spoke quietly to Chef. I was overwhelmed by the flavor and delicacy that this very traditional veal cutlet is famous for, and I recommend it over any of the other carne on the menu.

All in all, a delightful evening with great company and splendid food at a reasonable price (if you don't buy the Dom!). Chef was kind enough to come out at the end of the meal, and was roundly congratulated by the six of us. In the Child Bride's words, Angolo features delicious food that leaves one feeling full without being bloated. Angolo is best enjoyed with friends, particularly if you can get the staff to turn down the music.

Rating: Food: 8/10; Wine 7/10; Ambience: 7/10; Service: 7/10; Price: 7/10. Total: 36/50 (3 Forks)
Angolo: Cnr Gaien Nishi-dori and Meiji-dori (Tengenji-bashi) Minami Azabu 4-2-42, Minato-ku TEL:03-5447-7055

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

French Kitchen, Roppongi Hills

4 September 2007

Just a quick post this time around - this past 2 weeks I've been in the USA so no new posts. I was back at Cheers in Shibuya the other night...a little disappointing although my guests were badly jetlagged so maybe the atmosphere was not quite right.

Last night was a sad occasion as we farewelled our retiring President at French Kitchen in Roppongi Hills. But I did get to try the great cooking here for the first time in a few years, and that was a great pleasure. So sorry, David, but ...

I had an appetizer of Hokkaido Veal and Fois Gras Terrine - the veal was tender and succulent, melting away and the terrine was brilliantly constructed with great plate-ing. This dish, of course, is one we could all put together given some veal, some fois gras, and some aspic but still...!

My main was duck (a weakness I know Gentle Reader, but what the hey!) confit. I think that this was probably the best confit I've had in Tokyo (and that's saying something!). Soft and succulent, with no struggle to see the meat off the bone. Now I'm thinking this guy can cook, so I will look for an opportunity to take the Child Bride there as soon as possible.

I'll stay clear of a rating for the moment, but think somewhere between 36 and 40 although I think the l'addition is a bit steep. If you need a map, it's here. Otherwise, saddle up the taxi driver for the Hyatt at Roppongi Hills, duck inside the main foyer, and bound up the stairs two at a time to French Kitchen!