How to use this site

Dear readers, this is a brand new site and you won’t find posts under some categories…Please keep checking in!

It might appear that the whole blog is, in fact, about food – this will change slightly as I am planning to pass on all my tips on planning a perfect Japanese itenerary – and if you have a question, please email me at planjapan “at” wordofprey.com!!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Hiatus

If you have noticed absence of new posts over the past week, don’t despair! I have no plans to abandon my blog.
In fact, I’ve been working hard to redevelop it, making it easier to access old articles and search information.
A few other life issues intervened; I promise to be back in a week, with the new site launch planned by July!

Yours truly
xx

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Sushi Nagashima – the best cheap sushi in Sydney. And the most authentic!

Did you know there are 200,000 restaurants in Tokyo? A lot of them are very, very good. Tokyo has the highest concentration of Michelin star restaurants in a single city. But the greatest joy about eating Japanese in Japan is veering off into a little lane and knowing you are guaranteed to find a little hole-in-the-wall  place, where the food is hearty, super
delicious and cheap! Yes, despite what people say about Tokyo, it’s cheap.
From$1 coffee cans in those vending machines to $40 3 -course lunches at Luke Mangan’s very sleek Salt (you would be paying $60 for steak alone at his Sydney restaurant Glass) – it is all unbelievable value.

Sushi Nagashima stall just before the lunch rush

You can only imagine how overjoyed I was to find a proper Japanese hole-in-the-wall within 10 minutes from my office! Yay.  That place is Sushi-Nagashima, in the Hunter
Connection foodcourt in Sydney CBD.

This little place is run by the jolly Nagashima-san, who used to cook at Jurin – but left to
start a tachigui (stand-up) sushi bar. The stall, a favourite with Japanese expats, sells traditional Japanese packed lunches – bento. Each box is – can I say lovingly? – packed with a variety of fresh and cooked vegetables, tempura, tofu– that’s just the sides. There is a star dish in each bento – fish, chicken or beef, cooked in a variety of ways. However, the grilled saury bento is the most unexpected yet very traditional Japanese lunch. I don’t have to tell you how healthy it is.

Cold bento

Another suprising option is chirashi – or sushi in a bowl. Basically, it is sashimi served over a bowl of sushi rice – not a dish one would commonly find in a food court.  You
can either pick a pre-packed chirashi or design your own from the varied selection including tuna, salmon, kingfish, lobster salad, tobikko (flying fish roe), Japanese omelet and other delicious trimmings. The fish is super fresh. The rice is masterfully seasoned. The cold bento are kept cool, hot bento are freshly prepared – and everything comes with a complimentary cup of a soup.

Sashimi bento

Make-your-own-chirashi

The udon menu stands out with the inclusion of tsuke-udon , where black sesame sauce and soup fillings are served on the side.  It is filling and the rich nutty sauce makes it ever so morish.

Black sesame udon with teriyaki beef

My favourite, however is the new neo-pari bento. You must try it! Despite appearing lto be an ordinary chirashi bento, it comes with a packet of small nori sheets, so that the customers can make their own fresh sushi rolls. It is such a fun and tasty meal – I am officially addicted! Whenever the chit-chat in the office turns to who had what for lunch, I feel slightly embarassed. People must think I suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, as I eat at Sushi-Nagashima almost every day:)

Set for rolling my own!

Best fillings for my sushi rolls!

Bento, udon and chirashi are priced at around $7.80 – with more exotic options like grilled saury at $8.80.

Sushi-Nagashima

F12B/7-13 Hunter St Sydney

Also known as Hunter Connection foodcourt, cnr of Hunter and Pitt street. From Pitt St entrance, ascend the escalators – Sushi Nagashima is second on the right.

Ph. 9223-9962

Posted in Sydney Japan | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Where to find Mont Blanc cake in Sydney – all revealed!

Not so long ago, I wrote about Japan’s most popular cake – my favourite cake! – Mont Blanc. To my surprise, this has become the most popular post in the short history of Plan Japan.  What do you know, people just want cake!

I mentioned that I found one place that sold Mont Blanc in Sydney, and now I am about to reveal it.

Fans of Mont Blanc cake – run, don’t walk, to Azuma Patisserie.

Chef Kimitaka Azuma, of the Azuma restaurant’s fame, opened a café/patisserie serving Japanese desserts and drinks with his wife Yuki Azuma. She could not find her homeland favourite, strawberry shortcake, in Sydney, and Kimitaka was also missing Japanese balance of flavours. Thus, the husband and wife duo opened their fifth business next to another new venture, Azuma Kyushiyaki at Regent Place.

This time, I come to the patisserie alone and get some takeaway cakes. Mont Blanc tart and Green Tea tart, please!

As you can see on the photo below, this Mont Blanc cake is quite different to the Japanese version I described in the previous post. It is a tart, so it is a short crust base, rather than a sponge one. Still, the chestnut  puree covering a mound of cream tastes like the real deal! Ideally, I would like the tart a little crumblier, but the moist layer of sweetened chestnuts at the bottom is a winner.

Green Tea tart – the short crust pastry is paler, but very crumbly. The filling is white chocolate flavoured quite intensely with green tea.

If you decide to enjoy a few treats inside, there is a an excellent choice of Japanese teas to choose from (my favourite is genmaicha) as well a very unusual green tea cappucino.

Another specialty is Shiffon cake, the tall sponge cake flavoured with black sesame, honey, chocolate…While I remain unmoved by their charms of airy lightness, a friend of mine found them to be extremely good. To my disappointment, shiffon cake has replaced rice mochi they once served. I hope they will bring them back!

Azuma Patisserie

Ground floor, Regent Place,

501 George Street, 9267 7701.

Mon-Sat, 12-10pm; Sun, 1-8pm.

Web: http://www.azuma.com.au/cafe/home.php

Posted in Sydney Japan | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Fujiya 1935 – 2 Michelin star Osaka restaurant

We were lucky to get a booking in Fujiya 1935, for a night that fell on our 2 year wedding anniversary. I was browsing Michelin guide for a somewhat ‘molecular’ restaurant in Osaka, and Fujiya 1935 jumped out at me. Chef Tetsuya Fujiwara opened his restaurant in 2003, after extensive training in Spain and Italy and, according to the Michelin guide, displayed latest techniques and ‘once felt moods’ in this cooking . We came with an anticipation of avant-garde cuisine, and a little hope of being blown away. Did we? Well, read on, fellow gourmands!

Upon our arrival, we were asked to sit down at the low table in a dimly lit room. Silly me, I actually thought that was where we were going to have dinner! It was just an incredibly stylish waiting area, with aromatic herbal tea on offer, to boot.

Soon enough, we were led upstairs and seated in a room off the main dining area, with just 2 other diners. Polite half-nods of acknowledgment were exchanged.

We were presented with an English menu but were warned that the staff only spoke Japanese and Spanish. Perhaps, that explains the cute verse on the menu: “In autumn, for the egg laying and passing the winter that starts from the mountain”. All course names below are copied from the menu:

1. Paper that dries and is yellow; Snack of Chestnut; Marshmallow of Pistachio; Fresh Vegetable [Tomatei-ryo].

You cannot see the ‘paper that dries and is yellow’, but inside the white envelopes were edible sheets of dehydrated vegetables (I don’t remember which), and the Fresh Vegetable was green tomato.

2.  Ginkgo fumigated by Hus, Bread of Truffle.

Glazes ginkgo nuts seemed to be a popular item on autumnal menus in Japan. The spongy bread sandwiching the truffled cream was as squishy and delectable as one could hope.

3. Hot bread with smoked butter.

Ok, this was not a course listed on the menu, but would it be sacrilegious to say it was my favourite item? Just two piping hot rustic bread rolls, served in a beautifully crafted wooden box with a hot stone at the bottom, so that the bread would keep warm throughout the entire meal. As soon as we smothered  the hot bread with densely smoky-flavoured butter, we were suddenly elevated to a new plane of gastronomic experience. The buzz, you know?

4. Pumpkin and Caviar.

From the favourite bread experience of my life and onto the caviar? I liked the place more and more.

5. Saute of Consomme milt of potato.

Read – fried fish sperm in a potato soup with fried potato shavings. Yes, I ate fish sperm and I liked it. A popular dish in Russian far east.

6. Black Truffle and Vegetable

The oven-hot little pot held roasted chestnuts, beetroot, other autumn vegetables and speck. The waitress shaved a generous knob of truffle into each pot and we were asked to give it a minute before eating. The result (note the delirious happiness on my husband’s face!):

7. Fish is Pomfret.

OK, the fish is Pomfret, but what did that mean for us? The fish was managatsuo (harvest fish?) and was accompanied by a 3 mushroom consomme as well as fresh mushrooms. It seems that the play on varied textures of one ingredient in a single dish was something our Michelin chef liked to do.

8. Pasta is Maccheroni. With Wild Boar’s Meat.

 The pasta was beyond reproach, although my husband would have liked a great deal more of the rich, full flavoured meaty sauce.  Those peppercorns are baked pepper, by the way. Baked pepper!? The chef kept surprising.

9. The Main Dish Venison.

Ahh, the main dish venison. Venison is cooked to perfection and served with several textures of the humble onion – as crunchy layers of shallot, charred stalks of spring onion, creamy sauce infused with chives, and a pool of intense green onion sauce in the middle of venison jus. So clever.

10. Pudding of chestnut.

Smoldering coals, roasted chestnut on a little ‘hay stack’….The art of atmospheric seasonal kaiseki cooking shone through the nouvelle cuisine. Creamy chestnut pudding with what I remember was coffee jelly very morish.

11. The Grape, Tree Branch.

Here’s the textbook trick of infusing grapes with CO2 to make them fuzzy and fun. Tree branch was made of chocolate. The branch was ‘planted’ in raw cocoa nibs.

12. Autumn.

This was the last but unfortunately the least interesting dish. Here, the chocolate powder, sugar and gooey caramel are mixed with dried fruit and sorbet. I found it a bit too sugary, especially after so many courses. A divine tea service followed. Scott had espresso.

Finally, a few words on the interior. This was perhaps the most stylish place I’ve dined in. Everything was finished in luxurious wood, and furnished with minimalist restrain. A few sneak peeks at the ladies’ restroom and the holy grail, the kitchen! We were the last ones to leave and I was lucky to get a shot of the gleaming kitchen that was already spotlessly clean.

As far as Osaka Michelin restaurants go, Fujiya 1935  is definitely not to be missed. Having visited only two Michelin restaurants in Osaka, I might not be qualified to make such a statement, but I hope to have you convinced of the specialness of this place.

Tell me, reader, what dish caught your attention the most?

Posted in Eating Out in Japan | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Kyushu Trip Part II – a Day in Nagasaki

So, dear readers, here’s what we did on our second day in Kyushu. I wrote about the first one here.

Getting to Nagasaki

To continue our bold last-minute dash across the island of Kyushu, we decided on a day trip to Nagasaki. We gave our JR Pass a workout and caught a sleek, super comfortable Kamome Limited Express. JR trains website provides an amusing description “It looks good and have very sophisticated atmosphere, but this seat is very slippery and has very strong leather smell….This car has dark painted wall and less lighting. And you will see lots of calligraphy and paint in this car. It looks like Art Gallery.”

The train did look good and got us to Nagasaki station in under two hours – just enough to enjoy a coffee served by an exceedingly polite trolley lady and read the Nagasaki travel section in my Insight guide.

What we (I) wanted to see

Nagasaki is famous for two reasons. Sadly, one reason is universally recognized to be one of the greatest tragedies of modern times.  After Hiroshima, Nagasaki became the second and the last city in human history to experience atomic bombing. Of course, a visit to Nagasaki Peace Park and the Atomic Bomb museum were mandatory. Happier reason is Nagasaki’s history of contact with Europe and a rich foreign flavor or local architecture and cuisine. Not long before the trip, I read the The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, a book that is set in the 18th century Nagasaki, where the island of Dejima was the only window to the foreign world. Hence, I was quite excited to actually see Dejima (no longer an island), along with Clover Park and China Town. Regrettably, we had to give a miss to the Huis ten Bosch, a theme park-like reproduction of a traditional Dutch village.

Peace Park and Atomic Bomb Museum

After a devastating visit to the harrowing Hiroshima Peace Park that left me sobbing once I got to the ‘thousand paper cranes’, I felt a bit uneasy about seeing Nagasaki’s memorial. However, I found the museum’s stunning modern architecture brought forth a reflective, philosophical and peaceful message rather the raw pain of Hiroshima. I think they complement each other and both are a compulsive viewing for anyone interested in modern history.  

Visitors can add an electronic message of peace for the residents of Nagasaki and other visitors by drawing a picture, writing a message and saving it with your photo and details  - it was a lovely touch and made me feel connected to the Nagasakians’ quest for world peace. 

Scott did this one

Dejima

After taking a tram (Nagasaki is so easy to navigate on trams!) we reached the historic Dejima wharf studded with waterfront restaurants and cafes and then walked to the Dejima museum.

Now enclosed by land, Dejima was beautifully restored (or replicated) Dutch warehouses filled historical trades that apparently were excavated! It was hard to believe that something only 200 years old had been buried underground? Not exactly the Pyramids…I think I need to do more research into this! Here’s a few pictures of painstakingly reproduced interiors and miniature figure illustrations of those days. So Japanese!

China Town, Clover Park and delicious Castella cake.

Next, we walked to China Town (unremarkable, I’d say) and onto another tram and up to the Clover Park via some sort of lift. I am sure there is a name for it: 

We rode it

Once Japan was re-opened to Westerners at the end of 19th century, sophisticated European homes and chapels were built to accommodate an influx of foreigners. My biggest regret is that we did not actually go into the Clover House – I was devasted to read later that this was the setting for Puccini’s Madame Butterfly! Do not repeat my mistake, pay the fee and go see it. I also missed the Ringer house that stands on foundation stones brought from my home city of Vladivostok! What was wrong with me! Instead, we admired the National Treasure-ed Oura Catholic church  (from afar) and enjoyed a lovely romantic walk down the lantern-lit street lined with cafes and a myriad of shops selling castella cake.

Oura Church

 Castella is a legacy of the Portuguese and is an eggy, spongy yellow cake. Typically, most of the shops offered tastings so I stuffed myself with all varieties of Castella imaginable – cheese Castella, coffee Castella, chocolate Castella – and bought some as take-home souvenirs. Recommended!

Return to Fukuoka

Before we got on the returned train, I dragged Scott around the train station in search of more local delicacies. In addition to Portuguese influence, the Chinese traders also left their mark on Nagasaki so one of the popular dishes is BBQ pork buns. They were really, really delicious. Dare I say more delicious than the ones I’ve eaten in Sydney’s Chinatown or Singapore – the Japanese have a knack for taking someone’s staple dish and making it uniquely theirs!

It was a wonderful day of train travel, history, romance and food – even half of those attributes would make for a top trip. Go there!

Posted in Must See Places, Planning Travel | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Mont Blanc – most popular cake in Japan

A cafe advertising on Ginza - Mont Blanc is calling!

When I lived in Japan, I fell in love with Mont Blanc.  Not of the French Alps variety, but a dish that was adapted from (still French) Mont-Blanc aux marrons, a dessert of puréed, sweetened chestnuts topped with whipped cream. A mound of pureed chestnuts covered with a blanket of cream does remind a snow-capped peak, but the Japanese made the dessert their own by inverting the structure. Typically, a Mont Blanc (monburan) has a sponge base with layers of cream, chestnut cream and finally, a luxurious mound of sweet chestnut ‘spaghetti’ on top.  It is pure indulgence and my favourite dessert in the world.

To me, it looks as good as it tastes, so I could not resist snapping a couple of forbidden photos of Mont Blanc cakes in the Mitsukoshi’s food hall…

Finally, the time came to make my choice and take one home. I settled on this towering concoction from Giotto patisserie and was rewarded with layers of melting, eggy sponge, plain and chestnut-flavoured cream and a blanket of nutty, earthy chestnut puree. Heaven!

(Note the meticulous packing into a shopping bag, cake box, including a mini packet of ice, tiny cutlery, napkin etc. Normally, such elaborate packaging would elicit cries of ecological protest on my part, but watching a Japanese salesperson pack your goods is just mesmerising. I felt I would be committing a faux pas by interfering with that ritual!)

Finally, dear readers, I found a wonderful recipe online for those who would like to attempt to recreate this concoction at home.

I also found a somewhat close imitation of Mont Blanc in a Japanese patisserie in Sydney, and would be writing about it soon.

Hungry yet?

Mitsukoshi Department Store
4-6-16 Ginza, Chuo-ku
Tel: 03(3562)1111
Opening Hours: 10:00am-8:00pm, year-round except 1 January

Posted in Eating Out in Japan | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Kyushu Trip Part I – Things You Didn’t Know About Fukuoka

First, great news! From World Tourism Organisation: Travel to Japan poses no risk.

However, today I’d like to share a little bit more about my travel experiences in the southern island of Kyushu. I had previously written that for those on the cautious side, now is the great time to explore the Southern side of Japan. Here’s some ideas.

We ended up on Kyushu by chance, all due to a late snow season. What was meant to be several days of skiing in Nozawa Onsen, due to the unseasonal absence of snow across Japan, became a spontaneous dash on Shinkansen to Fukuoka. We left the mountain village on an 8 am bus, had a brief stopover in Matsumoto to have a tour of Matsumoto castle and arrived in the Hakata station by around 7 pm.  

Fukuoka is truly a getaway to Southern Japan, with convenient train connections to just about every part of the island.  We picked the city to be our base as we explored the island in mere 3 days. We checked into a super cheap ‘the b hakata’ that was booked the night before for less than $60 AUD. Less than $60? Oh yes, welcome to another Japan – the super affordable one. The hotel was a short stroll from the central train station (Hakata), had free coffee and Internet in the lobby and a very well equipped room – albeit on a small scale.

A quick exploration of the neighbourhood took us to the Yodobashi camera mega store across the road. The upper floor housed a great selection of charming eateries – rather cheap, too! We settled on a Yakiniku place and had an endless stream of ¥400 ($4.5)  wagyu plates delivered to our table. Did I mention Fukuoka was cheap?

A side note: I am seriously considering having my mini-retirement in Japan in Fukuoka. A quick check of real estate catalogues revealed a plethora of rather centrally located apartments for about $300-400 a month!! It is quite incredible, really, to think that an apartment in Japan could be rented for the price of a hotel room. Those into Lifestyle Design like to talk about economic arbitrage – e.g. using the power of the Western currency to get more bang for buck in less developed world – but I don’t think they mean Japan. Well, there you go. $300 a month.

My fondest memory of Fukuoka, however, was the Hakata train station. I loooove train stations in Japan for one simple reason – the amazing array of food and drink that can be purchased just before your train journey. (I am not talking about a quick ride on the local train, but those fun 2h+ rides on fast trains). First things first – there is a charming little bakery, right opposite the JR turnstiles, whose miniature croissants, hot out of the oven, are sold by weight for about  ¥300/100g.  Must grab a few chocolate ones before your ride!

Then, there are bento boxes. Bento can be thought of as a kaiseki-influenced packed lunch. Usually, it is a complete, balanced, harmonious meal. The ones sold at train stations are called eki-ben and the Japanese look forward to their train journeys so they can have an excuse to devour a box or too! So do I. I found that the ones sold at Hakata were particularly tempting. I was so overwhelmed with choice that I was never really satisfied with the ones I got.

Practical Information:

Fukuoka (Hakata) was reached from Nagano in a mere day by following this itinerary:

  1. Take a bus to Togari Nozawa Onsen train station. There, catch a local train to Nagano.
  2. From Nagano, take Shinkansen to Nagoya.
  3. From Nagoya, take Shinkansen to Osaka. (If you are not travelling on the JR pass but buying Shinkansen tickets in Japan, you can splash on Nozomi  – then a stop at Osaka unnecessary, go straight to Hakata)
  4. At Osaka, change to Sanyo Shinkansen to Hakata.

 

Do I look happy with my eki-ben?

Posted in Planning Travel | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

The twin disaster is changing the cultural landscape

Unkalo - will store nuclear waste for 100,000 years?

Large scale disasters have a tendency to sear themselves into the collective psyche. Even smaller, localised disasters – natural or man-made - have a potential to  leave long-lasting tracks in the national cultural landscape. People in the impacted areas continue to live in the shadow of old tragedy, with memories of relatives and friends who perished, lost possessions, physical and emotional scars.  The wider community, too, is reminded of what happened as writers, composers and movie makers make references to the disasters in their music, books, films. Thus, a disaster becomes part of our national identity.

When something profoundly devastating happens, it is not just the town folk whose life will never be the same. A disaster has a potential to affect everything – laws, politics, attitudes, books people become interested in, fashion, art, everything. Think about World War II. It changed so many countries so radically. Germany has become ultra-pacifist; Russia got a charge of national pride that lasted decades; Japan has borne the scars of atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I have been to atomic bomb museums in both cities. One thing that I found particularly tragic is that there are still people impacted by the bombing. Children who were irradiated in utero are now sickly adults; some survivors are still battling cancer; witnesses still remember the terror like it was yesterday.   There is no doubt that the recent events at Fukushima plants are seen through the prism of that legacy by the Japanese. As this WSJ article says, “for the only country ever to have experienced the atomic bomb and the horrific effects of concentrated radiation exposure, the nuclear crisis escalating in Japan has had a crippling effect on the nation’s collective psyche.”

What is also happening, I believe, is the public’s renewed concerned over the safety and suitability of nuclear energy for such seismically active nation as Japan. I read a fascinating article in Japan Times that talks about the way the disaster is affecting what movies are being shown around Japanese cinema.

Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter” was pulled due to its tsunami scene, while Chinese disaster film “Aftershock,” which features not one but two megaquakes, has been held back indefinitely. But two movies are generating an immense public interest. ‘Countdown to Zero’ is about the increasing threat of nuclear weapons and “Into Eternity” is a startling documentary about a nuclear waste storage facility that is built deep underground in Finland. Pre-screenings of “Into Eternity” generated a stampede, with people being turned away from the doors. Currently, the Japanese nuclear situation is such that the spent nuclear fuel, the nuclear waste, is being kept in pools near the reactors. Nuclear waste lasts over a 100,000 years. Humanity is simply not equipped to deal with it – the entire human history is only 50,000 years long. The nuclear waste we are currently generating has a potential to outlive current and many future civilisation – and perhaps outlive humans altogether. Now that’s a scary thought. Enough to turn anyone into an anti-nuclear campaigner!

Have a look at the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qoyKe-HxmFk - what an eerie move. Can’t wait to watch it!

Posted in Japanese Culture, Tohoku-Kanto Earthquake | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Foreign teachers stay in Tohoku + Coolest Charity to donate to

“Flyjin” is new term that has been coined to describe foreign residents in Japan – gaijin – fleeing the country after the disaster.

I cannot blame them for choosing the safest possible option, I would probably do the same. Yet, today I read a story about this cool group of English teachers staying behind to help the community that had become their home, and it made my day.

Kyle Maclauchlan, an English-language teacher from the United States, has been working at Tagajo Junior High School in Tagajo, Miyagi Prefecture, when the tsunami struck this small coastal town. Kyle lost all his posessions, and is currently couch surfing between his friends’ places, but decided to stay in Tohoku to help those who have supported him for the last three years.

“For the three years, everyone has been very supportive of me and they’ve been my friends,” he explained. “It’s tough to see things like the nuclear power plant situation. But this has been my home for so long and I couldn’t just leave.”

The coolest part of the story, though, is that he and his friends have set up a local charity Teachers for Japan, that aims to channel donations from overseas directly to those afftected by the tsunami in their town.

They are working to establish a PayPal system for direct overseas donations. To be honest, whilst I have donated to Red Cross and Salvation Army, I wondered how much of tht money would be lost to the administrative costs locally, here in Australia. Charity like Teachers for Japan is a great way to help earthquake and tsunami victims directly. 100% of donations will go toward the charity’s stated goals of helping to rebuild educational infrastructure and assist needy families.

Now, this is a charity after my own heart. Please check them out here – http://teachersforjapan.org/ - and stay tuned for when PayPal donations channel becomes available.

Posted in Tohoku-Kanto Earthquake | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Review of Kikunoi Roan – a classic Kyoto kaiseki

Australia’s favourite chef Tetsuya Wakuda named Kikunoi as one of the top kaiseki restaurants, so I kept his recommendation in mind when going through the Osaka-Kyoto Michelin guide. To my pleasant surprise, I discovered that there were two branches of this venerable restaurant in Kyoto – the 3-star restaurant Kikunoi Honten and slightly more accessible Kikunoi Roan (2 stars), and both offered reasonably priced lunch kaiseki.

I settled on Roan as the line “the prices are set reasonably low so as ot make Japanese ciusine more accessible to young people” promised a less formal environment.

We arrived in Kyoto on a crisp, sunny morning of November 30th. Last day of autumn! That meant that we again would be dining on the dishes that would highlight autmun flavours. Now I keep thinking, how different the next day would hav been?

Nevertheless, we arrived in the restaurant slightly late as the taxi driver did not know the location and simply dropped us off on the main road. Luckily, his rudeness was immediately balanced out by an exceedingly helpful gentleman who walked a good ten minutes with us straight to Kikunoi door.

At Kikunoi, we were shown to our seats without much fuss (our luggage was taken by a hostess) and the first dish arrived shortly:

1. Amuse of tofu, Maitake mushroom, Shiitake mushroom, Yuzu.

The silky, quivering chawan mushi was an absolute delight. In fact, this photo makes me hungry – and I just had dinner!

2. Hassun (appetisers) of chestnut chips, Karasumi (dried mullet roe), Matukaze (duck liver pate with white poppy seeds), maple leaf-shaped squid coated with egg yolk and sea urchin, anglerfish liver, Mibuna, Shimeji mashroom, pine needle-shaped tea noodles, Sake-glazed gingko nuts.

This dish was an unquestionable success. Chestnut chips scattered like folliage, squid shaped into a maple leaf, crunchy ‘pine needle’ – working our way through that plate was like foraging through the autumn forest. It was exquisitely beautiful and I happily collected a double portion of fish row and liver – things my die-hard fisherman husband just cannot stomach.

Kikunoi appetizer

3. Sahimi  – first course: Tak (red sea bream), Tsubasu (young amberjack), chrysenthemum petals, Wasabi.

 I already recounted my red bream sashimi experience at the Osaka kaiseki place - the chewiness was unusual and not really to my taste. However, here I was presented with a double challenge – the red bream and amberjack. It was the first time I sampled amberjack and it was even chewier!  Faced with chefs casting glances at my laborious jaw workout, I felt horribly exposed and terrified of chocking. I just could not chew through it. This time, it was my husband’ turn to help me out and he graciously ate all the fish on my behalf.  Phew.

4. Koshibi (baby tuna), egg yolk sauce.

Now, this was much better. The tender pale tuna melted in our mouth. This is how we like our sashimi! However, talking to one of the chefs, we came to know that it is red bream which is the ‘king of sahimi’ in Kansai.

5. Steamed course – Guji (red Wakasa tilefish) steamed with millet, baby daikon radish, yuzu peel and chrysanthmum sauce.

This was a beautiful steamed fish wrapped around millet filling, swimming in delicately scented, gelatonous broth. It was at that point that I was beginning to feel very full. Trying not to repeat my Osaka mistakes, I skipped breakfast that day. Still, I could tell that was not going to help – kaiseki restaurants are way too generous with their portions!

6. Grilled dish – miso-marinated flatfish wrapped in cedar, Japanese taro, miso. 

This dish was clearly meant to be the centrepiece of the lunch. A vessel filled with smoldering coals and maple leaves held two singed bamboo clams.  Suddenly, I was transported to a countryside where smoke rose from burning fields and fallen twigs crunched under gumboots. It was a triumph of seasonal cooking.

 7. Rice course – Rice with salmon row, chinese cabbage soup, Japanese pickles.

Mmmm….Japanese pickles! Delicious – crunchy, salty, sweet, sour, the full umami range of flavours.  Again, I was getting desperately full, just when this divine salmon roe rice was presented to us:

Sigh. Why or why my stomach so small? If there ever was a rice to stuff oneself silly with, that was it. The chinese cabbage soup was smoky and had a thicker texture than miso shiru, reminiscent of pea-and-ham soup.

8. Dessert – caramel ice cream, buckwheat flour sponge cake.

The dessert was nice – but I was a poor judge of taste as at that point, I realised I could not eat anymore. You know that feeling when all food becomes tasteless, once full satiation is reached? Well, I was well past that point. My husband cleared the plate for me, and slowly we raised from our seats.

It was a wonderful, delicious lunch and I felt nurtured by food, hospitality and atmosphere of Kikunoi Roan. As far as 2 Michelin star Kaiseki restaurants go, lunch at Kikunoi offers amazing value and experience. Don’t miss it!

Kikunoi Roan

118 Saitomachi, Kiyamachi Shijo Sagaru, Shimogyo-ku Kyoto

Tel. 075-361-5580, fax 075-351-2431

www.kikunoi.jp

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