Food without memory is just digestion

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Downtown Delhi ... Spicing it up for 50 Years!

I have to admit, Gentle reader, to more than a strong aversion to overly spiced food - particularly the type one normally encounters in English pubs or Indian chain restaurants here in Tokyo. "Methinks the kitchen doth protest too much!" is my standard response.

So you can imagine my trepidation when I was ordered by the Child Bride to appear at Delhi [Map] to join some long-standing Japanese friends of hers for a real "Indian" dinner. Summoned, and enjoined to "behave", I accompanied her and the Princess there on a recent Sunday evening. The restaurant was packed to the rafters, and the only way we avoided a wait was that our Host has been a twice-a-week regular for more than 30 years in that particularly lovely Japanese style of loyalty.

I further admit to being a huge fan of Kingfisher beer, and so my curiosity was whetted when I saw it prominently featured on the drinks menu. "At least I can get quietly sozzled!", I thought. The host proceeded to order a dizzying array of dishes, and I steeled my wavering nerve and quietened my quivering stomach.

Delhi is a rare exception to White's Law of Spicy Food. From the opening Samoza through the curried cauliflower, the foxtrot through the Tandoori chicken and Lamb Korma, and the plunge into the Tomato salad and the Buttered Chicken - Delhi knows how to prepare great ingredients in a sensitive and subtle way that never threatens the diner but allows him or her to explore new territory.

Don't be mistaken - this is not some swarmy, plush high-end restaurant. Delhi is a matter-of-fact, honest eatery that has been a feature in Ginza for more than 50 years. Prices are better than reasonable. The wine list is adequate, but ample. The service is sometimes under pressure, but the smiles are genuine and the friendliness sincere.

Thomas, our guide, spoke both excellent English and Japanese. Perhaps it's his engaging manner, or perhaps it's the great food, but I have a feeling that this will not be the last time I venture to brave Delhi in Ginza. For what it's worth, affectiandos tell me that the other two venues (Midtown, Ueno) are not a patch on the "honten".

Rating: Food: 7/10; Beer: 7/10; Ambiance: 6/10; Service: 8/10; Price ($): 7/10. Total: 35/50
Delhi (Japanese only) [Map]: 3rd Fl., Nishi Ginza Bldg., 6-3-11, Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo. Tel: 03-3571-7895

They'll be seeing me again ... a presto!

It was at the recommendation of the Headhunter, Gentle Reader, that the Child Bride and I were scouring the back streets of Aoyama to find A Presto [map]. Sad to relate, but we did a "blocker" before I decided to call - to find myself standing outside the said establishment! "A presto" is Italian for "see you again", which sentiment I wholeheartedly support for this fine restaurant.

A table of 6, Chef Nobematsu was kind enough to seat us in the private dining room although I fear this may have been a furtive attempt at noise control. A Presto is an impressive venue, hidden from the madding crowds yet bright and cheery with knowledgeable and energetic staff.

The Headhunter had been gracing A Presto for years, so at his advice we all opted for the Cene A ('A' dinner) with 3 of us substituting a meat course for the fish. Ever accommodating, Chef was really very comfortable with this idea and added a "taster" version of the lamb at your Humble Correspondent's request.

Chef is very proud of his Bagna Cauda, and serves it with vegetables and home-made bread as an amuse to all his customers. Now I know why Michael Garabaldi attempted so valiantly to smuggle it aboard Babylon 5 - although I am not a huge fan of Anchovies, this is a delightfully inelegant way to start a meal that promotes conversation, friendship, and appetite.

The six appetizers, impressively plated, show Chef's skills off well and provide a sophisticated tour of campagne cooking that all builds towards the primo piatti pasta. Offered a choice between a Chicken in Cream Sauce or a slightly spicy Beef Tongue, our table decided to split the difference. Unfortunately, this prompted a lively discussion about which was best - a tie, we decided, and bordering on excellent!

We chose the 2002(?) Gavi "Filagnotti" as our white wine. The sommelier at A Presto is both accommodating and knowlegeable, and you would do well to follow her advice if you need help with the Italian and French wines on this excellent list. Our red, 1998(?) Brunello di Montalcino, was excellent (Note to self: Order this ASAP!).

There is no doubt in my mind that I "won" with the Satsuma-imo fed pork cutlet I had chosen as my main meal. Chef spends considerable time melding the Palma ham and pork fillet together before breading, and then turns it out crisp and golden from a double virgin olive oil bath. A touch of fresh lemon juice, and we're off to Royal Ascot! Oh, Gentle Reader, this is one of those "hold every morsel in the mouth as long as possible" dishes: it is simply a delight! I think I recall that others enjoyed their Sea-bass as well. Chef doubled up with the Lamb, and my bliss was complete. Among the best I've ever eaten, sweet yet flavoursome through to the bone.

Dessert was again a medley of Italian classics, with my favourites the Pumpkin Mousse and the Strawberry Sorbet.

Enjoy A Presto with friends and lovers, although I advise making a reservation well in advance.

Rating: Food: 8/10; Wine: 7/10; Ambiance: 8/10; Service: 8/10; Price ($$): 7/10. Total: 38/50
A Presto [map]: Kita-Aoyama 3-13-1, Minato-Ku. Tel: 03-5774-6216

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Foodies of the World, Unite!

A quick post, Gentle Reader, to advise you to block out the evening of Friday September 26 2008. I'm working with the Tyler Foundation to host 5 of the world's great chefs at a special charity event destined to go down as one of the best events of 2008 here on the gin-and-tonic front lines of Tokyo.

Seats will be limited, and tables of 10 will be bound to sell out quickly to the corporate end of town. There are also rumors of specially commissioned Entertainment, with fantastic prizes and one-of-a-kind auction items.

Chefs from 4 continents, with a galaxy of Michelin stars between them! Send me a note if you want more information as it comes out.

Monday, 21 April 2008

When you wish upon a star ...

I am sure you are familiar, Gentle Reader, with the boisterous image Gordon Ramsay presents on his various television shows. More beeps to the minute than even naughty-boy Anthony Bourdain, and an obvious passion for perfection that translates into 10 (count 'em!) Michelin stars spread around the planet.

So it was with high expectations that the Child Bride and I ventured into Shiodome with friends from the Tyler Foundation to the eponymous Gordon Ramsay at the Conrad Tokyo [Map] for the British Chamber of Commerce event featuring none other than "Chef!" himself.

Truth be told, I had been surprised that GR did not rate a star in the first edition of the Michelin guide for Tokyo, and I was determined to find out why. Part of the reason could be the venue - the Conrad feels a little out of place among the Dentsu towers and on the Sunday we were visiting the surrounds were empty and folorn. The hotel itself is a delight, and the restaurant divine.

Surrounded as we were by the glitterati of expat Tokyo, it was hard to stop craning one's neck to see who had arrived after the Miss Universe Tokyo team or Bobby Valentine. The Asparagus Soup Amuse arrived to put all thoughts of company firmly to one side while we began our adventure into the mind of a Michelin 3-star chef. People often expect too much of an Amuse, forgetting that it is meant to be whimsical and flirtatious while setting the tone for what's to come. Chef certainly achieved this goal - by virtue of this simple yet finely crafted dish, we were assured that the other courses coming our way would be a delicate balance of flavour and imagination.

The next course was a triumph - ballotine of foie gras with confit chicken - that gave fibre and form to the Ramsay legend, and shouldered aside any fears that Chef may not have been able to force his will on GR in Tokyo. It was teamed by Sommelier with a Pinot Gris: in my view, not worthy of the food nor the attention it was being given.

Some of us, Gentle Reader, are forced to trials and tribulations in the service of our fellow humans. That was entirely my attitude - thinking only of you, I rushed headlong into next course of pan-fried scallop with a millefeuille of potato, parmesan veloute and truffle smarties. This dish also features in Gordon's recent book 3-Star Chef, and it was delightful. Perhaps the truffles available in Tokyo in April lack something, but I felt ours were a little tired and distracted one from the otherwise superb St Jacques. This was served with a Chardonnay from Chile that surprised, and for the ABC (Anything but Chardonnay) drinkers among us helped remind one of what a New World chardonnay can achieve. Believe me, Mr Ramsay can cook and he deserves all ten (so far) of his stars.

The star of the evening was roasted fillet of beef with a truffle and vegetable infusion. A perfect pairing, and a celebration of the best of British food traditions while staying above the commonplace and mundane. Served with a Cote de Rhone which was a little sharp, this dish alone is reason for all of us to mark a place in the diary for GR whenever we have something to celebrate or guests to impress and entertain.

For mine, the Tarte Tatin seemed a paradox - the apples exploded with flavour and a delicate sense of discovery, but the caramelised pastry fell apart a little too easily. Of course, the problem could have just as easily been the diner rather than the dinner! This is one of Gordon Ramsay's signature dishes and the ice cream that accompanied it was heavenly. As befits a 3-star Chef, the attention to detail is impressive.

So should Gordon Ramsay get a star in 2008? No doubt in my mind, but I think a lot will depend on Chef being able to stamp his personality on the GR team. If Gordon can spend a little more time in Tokyo working the front of house crew a little harder - and urging the kitchen team on to his own passion for perfection - there is no doubt that Gordon Ramsay Tokyo will be recognized as another jewel in the starry galaxy that is Tokyo dining. I, for one, am glad that Chef Ramsay has decided to dazzle Tokyo, and I urge you to try GR for that special evening with friends and lovers!

Rating: Food: 9/10; Wine:8/10; Ambiance: 9/10; Service: 8/10; Price ($$$$): 8/10. Total: 42/50
Gordon Ramsay: [Map] 1-9-1, Higashi-Shinbashi, Minato-Ku. Tel: 81-3-6388 8000

Friday, 18 April 2008

Secrets of Singapore - Sin Tong Kee

It's becoming somewhat tedious, Gentle Reader. That wretched Dominic ( seems to be one step ahead of me in searching out great dining experiences in Tokyo and then having the audacity to blog said venues. Oh, the pain. Oh, the shame! [giggle]

Truth be told, Dominic was kind enough to provide me with the meishi of Sin Tong Kee, the Singaporean restaurant in Ebisu causing considerable excitement among the fans of Sin-tsai in Tokyo. I was brave enough to advise the Child Bride of this discovery, so I was not surprised to receive a digital summons to meet said Child Bride and The Princess outside this hostelry.

Your Humble Correspondent is loath to recommend Sin Tong Kee - not because of any problem, but because it might fill up with loyal patrons very quickly leaving less space for me! Gentle Reader, this is the real deal - absolutely genuine Singaporean cuisine, Tiger beer, Raffles Singapore Slings ... the whole shooting match.

We arrived at 6:30, to be greeted by the nice touch of our names written on a blackboard. The place quickly filled with customers despite the pouring rain, and the staff were showing the signs of a little pressure. I magmanimously chose to forgive this slight stumble, because the food that was arriving kept the Child Bride and I launching into howls of delight.

We tried:
  • Spicy Spring Rolls (great sweet chilli sauce),
  • Ro Bak (outstanding, and inspiring me to try a yuba wrapping for my next pork and veal terrrine),
  • Satay (chicken and pork),
  • Char Kway Teow (the best I've ever had!),
  • Hainan Curry Chicken (delicate and juicy),
  • Chinese Pea Sprouts (garnished with fried garlic, and gobbled down even by The Princess!)

Sin Tong Kee was started two years ago by an expatriate Singaporean marketing lady, who brought with her treasured memories of Mama's chilli and Hainan Chicken Rice. The result is a bright beacon of authentic Singaporean cuisine here in Tokyo - delivered at an incredible price.

Enjoy Sin Tong Kee only with people you can trust with a secret. I promise, I'm going to be really annoyed if you fill it and don't leave a place for me! I'll be back again before the end of the month to try the Chilli Crab, Fish Head Curry, and Hainan Chicken Rice. Look for the little round man with the glazed look in his eyes.

Rating: Food: 9/10; Wine: 6/10; Ambiance: 6/10; Service: 6/10; Price ($$): 9/10. Total: 36/50

Sin Tong Kee [There is a map on the site] : 2F, Ryuo Bldg, 1-18-12 Ebisu Minami, Shibuya-ku, 03-3713-2255. OPEN EVERY DAY.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Bewitched by Incanto!

Incanto has been open 8 months just up from Tengenji crossing, and was recently featured in the Japanese foodie rag "Danchu". I have previously introduced you to my redoubtable Assistant, who is a dyed-in-the-wool fan of this magazine (to the extent of photocopying articles for future reference) and one of the best restaurant "snouts" I have met in Tokyo. It was at her urging I ventured off to Incanto with The Expat, desirous of some witty conversation and a sympathetic ear.

The web site suggests Incanto is all about "wine with a face you can see, and a story to tell". Oh yes... yes, indeed. This restaurant is truly fun and focused at the same time. Incanto - as I'm sure you know, Gentle Reader - is Italian for 'bewitched', and Owner-Sommelier (now there's a blessed combination!) Takeishi-san joined forces with Chef Koike to start this live guide to interesting food.

Incanto has a pan-Italian menu, but concentrates on what it does well to provide a very pleasant dining experience at a very reasonable price. The bread was deeply impressive and satisfying, and was replaced with alacrity whenever we gobbled it down。

Takeishi-san was a very generous and abiding host, taking the trouble to point out to me that the San Gimignano white that I had ordered was blown, and to offer a suitable replacement. We feasted on all manner of regional favorites, and The Expat deigned to pronounce one of his choices possibly the best salmon he had ever eaten. Big words of praise from an upstate Washington State boy, and thoroughly deserved. My Gnocchi was superb, and I will be returning to Incanto with a check-list in hand to test Koike-san across the other items on the menu.

My dear friend Prince Brian of Thornapple would thoroughly enjoy this place - the Dolce menu features both Affogato and Creme Brulee, and would delight both him and the lovely Mrs Smith at every bite.

Take friends and lovers to Incanto, and enjoy the delightful ambiance and outstanding service.

Rating: Food: 8/10; Wine: 7/10; Ambiance: 8/10; Service: 8/10; Price ($$): 7/10. Total: 38/50
Incanto [Japanese only] : 2nd Floor, 4-12-2 Minami-Azabu, Minato Ward, 03-3473-0567

Monday, 7 April 2008

Oh, Chez Matsuo!

Twice in the last two months I've been able to sneak off to Chez Matsuo [Japanese only] [map] for lunch. What a blessing this is - a peaceful retreat in Shoto. Far from the madding crowds, Gentle Reader, and as far from the hubbub of Shibuya as Denny's is from food!

The Engineer and I needed to discuss some business matters, so what better refuge than the delightful C. Matsuo. Established in this elegant residence in 1980, one might visit just to take in the wonderful collection of modern art with Chagall and Picasso particularly well represented. But as two long-term foodies from way back, we dived deep into the Dejeuner du Printemps (Luncheon) before we noticed the decoration. I've listed the menu below, but be aware that it changes on a daily basis, and difficult to influence unless you discuss matters with Chef well in advance.

Our food was, in a word, magnificent. Beautifully prepared, and wonderously plated on crockery that was especially designed for the restaurant. Each course was a lovely little journey into Chef's mind, and we both came away eager to travel with him again some time soon.

The service in English, French and Japanese is exemplary and the wine list outstanding (although a little on the steep side). Steeped in ambiance, C. Matsuo also boasts a lovely garden with running water and an exquisite Edwardian/Taisho feel - if you're a good boy or girl, you'll be invited to enjoy your dessert and coffee out here.

I'm surprised that Michelin only deigned to award 1 star here - perhaps the judges were having a collective bad day, or otherwise felt some animus to this long-standing star of the Tokyo dining scene. I will agree that there are aspects that feel quaint - but the food, wine and atmosphere overcome all of that with aplomb.

For your Humble Correspondent, true fine dining in the best foodie city on the planet!

Rating: Food: 8/10; Wine: 8/10; Ambiance: 8/10; Service: 8/10; Price ($$$$): 7/10. Total: 39/50
Chez Matsuo [Japanese only] : 1-23-15 Shoto, Shibuya Ward, 03-3485-0566 [map]

Dejeuner du Printemps
Hareng marine au verjus a la fleur de raifort vert a la chevre fraiche
Terrine de proc d'iberico et jeune shiitake chaud en tartine, au pissenlit
Soupe de gobo aux crouquettes de calmar
Noix de St-Jacques mi-cuit au Bai Ma-krut, au fenouil, aux oignons noveaux
Trou normand
Supreme de canard roti au miel et thym au Udo caramelise a la reglisse
Balnc-manger au lait de soja au basalic, sirop de cafe express au pralin