Emma, Shibuya, Cozy little counter izakaya.

About a year ago I came across this place in a magazine.  A young girl starting up her own izakaya from scratch and had been meaning to visit for a long time.  I recently got down there and was glad to have.

It is one long kitchen counter izakaya.  The menu changes seasonally and Emma the lady behind the counter is the master and chef.  She is nice and easy to talk to if you speak Japanese.  The food is not traditional traditional izakaya fare and the seasoning is healthier (less salty) than at your average izakaya, but I liked it.  She serves a couple of craft beers I plumbed for the Coedo blonde, which I like.  She also has nice plum wines and sake.

Emma
Coedo at Emma

Food wise I went with the special which was salt stewed pork belly with cabbage.  I guess a Japanese equivalent to a Sourkraut.  I also had Toriham tofu ae, Nanohana and Tai ae, and the Sui Gyouza.

Toriham
Toriham Tofu Ae
Nanohana and Tai
Shio Kakuni and Haru Kyabetsu
Sui Gyouza
Sui Gyouza

For a quiet bite to eat with a friend, this place will do just fine. A bit quieter than the noisy main street izakayas and a little healthier tool.

Kaneko Hannosuke Meshi, Nihon Bashi, Tempura Lets just say “Value” for money.

I like Tempura.  It is kind of reminiscent of the Fish part of Fish and Chips in the UK.  So it is a little nostalgic for me.  It of course is not fair to Tempura to make that comparison, because though I like the UK Tempura is far superior.  I have eaten in Michelin starred Tempura places and they are wonderful.  Kimono dressed waitresses, live shrimps, fine table wear and Japanese minimalist, calm atmosphere.  With drinks you are looking at 15,000 Yen.  When I am in the mood for Tempura with out the flash, this is where I go.

Kaneko Hannosuke has two restaurants quite close to each other in Nihon Bashi.  One is the Tempura don and the other is the Tempura meshi.  I recommend the Tempura meshi.  You will have to wait.  The queue will be about thirty to forty minutes and this seems to be almost at any time of day.  The menu is super simple; Tempura meshi 980 Yen, or Tempura meshi with Anago 1,380 Yen.  I recommend the Anago.

Pickles
Pickles and Tentsuyu

The Tempura is made to order and is very good quality not quite michelin star but considerably better than average places.  You also get to have the pickles.  One is burdock root, Gobo kinpira. There is also the squid pickle and the daikon Takuwan.  Try all three they are nice.  The meal comes with Miso which is usually a clam based miso and rice.

Rice, Miso
Rice and Miso soup
Clam miso
Clam Miso soup

The First plate of Tempura is Shishitou, Maitake, Egg and Anago.  The Anago I recommend you eat in the following way.  First, the tail with a sprinkling of salt.  Then the middle part with the tentsuyu.  Lastly, the belly with a little dash of soy sauce.  I learnt that at the higher end venue but you get three really nice flavours out of the single piece of Tempura.  The Maitake is for sure in the tentsuyu, while the shishitou I would be open to having with just salt.  Something not far from Pimentos del Padron in the Spanish Tapas.  The egg keep for later.

First Plate
Anago, Maitake, Shishito and Egg Tempura

The second plate is the Shrimp, chicken, pumpkin and kakiage.  Now I think purist might baulk at the chicken and I myself often question the value of it being there.  Still it is there and it is not bad though I would personally prefer another vegetable over it.  Shrimp I usually eat half with salt and the tail end with tentsuyu.  I eat the tail if it looks delicate and crispy as in this case.  The pumpkin is also tentsuyu for me along with the chicken.  The kaki age I like to put over the rice.  In this instance ,with the soft egg tempura aswell you have to remember to leave a little rice to finish off with the egg tempura and a little sauce sauce.  Something close to a Tamago Kake Gohan finish.

Second Plate
Shrimp, Chicken, Pumpkin, Kakiage

You will be full and you will not find a better value lunch than this in any city other than Tokyo.

Great Marketing, Somewhere on a Tokyo Tube train.

On the train, look up. There is a shady looking guy looking suspiciously at the copy he shares a poster with.  The random shaver pondering his future.  Men’s TBC to the rescue.  Fully 180,000 users take advantage of their services, which one I am not sure but I am guessing not this service after I read the absurd copy.

“Every day 5 minutes of shaving or go to work earlier?  Your life will probably change! 1000 Yen trial for facial hair removal.”

Do we live a world where we really no longer have a clue.  What will getting to work 5 minutes earlier really mean? An extra coffee, an extra cigarette, a bit of banter, life changing stuff it seems.  And what is a trial?  Do they just do a patch randomly in the middle of your face?

The beauty of this poster for me was that the copy is so dumb even the illustrations face appears suspicious of it.

Great marketing never ends.

Facial hair removal course.

Ramen Ichizu, Musashi Koyama, French Ramen…..

This one I heard about in a shop.  “Favorite Ramen?” “Oh I know this great one started by a group of Chefs from a French restaurant, Ichizu.” So I figured this needed investigating.  In a way I can understand the desire to leave a French Restaurant to start a Ramen ya.  A popular Ramen shop will be more profitable than a French Restaurant in Japan.  It is really just to do with the frequency at which Japanese people eat ramen.  I recently met a guy who eats it every day.  It is no wonder then that you see shops with queues in front of them.

Ichizu promised to be something new, outside of the standard four of Shoyuu, Shio, Miso, and Tonkotsu.  The shop itself is a fairly standard decor, counter seating and a kitchen behind, which was bigger than expected and better equipped than a standard Ramen ya.  There is a Japanese style Koshitsu or private room in the corner too.  You can apparently reserve this and order a French course.

The menu is longer than a standard Ramen ya and their ramens have a few different angles; a standard shio with a twist in the broth ingredients, a curry ramen, and about three others.  I went with the Eri, which was described as a ramen that you would not expect in a ramen shop and was one of their first recipes.  It said there is a limited number per day. Though I suspect not so limited, as I was there at 9.30 at night and they still had it.  Besides the ramens, they have a few interesting sides such as white shoyuu poached eggs and confit of chicken.  I ordered the confit, as I happen to just love anything confit.

The wait was standard. The two chefs much better dressed than standard ramen chefs, were busy toiling away in the kitchen.  Out came my menu and I have to say it was nicely presented, an iron skillet with the confit chicken in it and a Japanese pottery ramen bowl of above standard quality.  A nice touch, to give you a small serving of edible Ra-yuu and the advice to add it later when you want a change of flavour.

Ichizu Ramen, Eri

I plunged into the ramen.  It was as described not what you expect.  In a nice way.  It was a little like a cream stew broth with the ramen in.  Much thicker and richer in flavour than usual ramen broth.  The richness has the edge taken off with some raw red onions finely sliced on top as a garnish.  I would just advise it is hot, so mind not to burn yourself on your first bite.  The thicker broth seems to keep its heat much better than standard broth, when slurped.

Ichizu Ramen, Confit Chicken

 

I went on to the chicken confit and this did not disappoint.  At 400 Yen I would say this is a bargain.  Confiting food is time consuming and expensive and they had done a good job.  It was tender and well flavoured with something that made me think of China, but very subtle.  The skin was crisp and for me well above what you would expect in a Ramen ya.

I went back to the ramen and added in the Ra-yuu and as suggested the French stew flavour took a turn towards chinese flavours, a pleasing outcome from such a simple action.  They offer a service portion of rice.  They ought to take a little more care when doing the rice. I felt they had made it too soft.  It was still worth having though, as dipped in the remains of the soup it was quite a nice soul food type of flavour.  I think perhaps even to do it earlier before the addition of the Ra-yuu might have been best of all.

All in all well worth a visit and at 1300 yen, which is not soo much more expensive than usual ramen a bit of a bargain.

 

Tonkatsu Suzuki, Shirokane, friends recommendation.

We came to talking about Tonkatsu and a friend recommended Tonkatsu Suzuki in Shirokane.  Shirokane is a little area that bemuses me.  There are a number of interesting looking bars and restaurants.  It is very off the beaten track and hard to get to, so I often wonder how they survive.  Still they survive.  I headed out in the evening just for a quick bite.

When you enter on the left is a small counter, on the right two tables on elevated tatami flooring.  Not being one for sitting cross legged too long, I went to the nice wooden counter.  You can see the place has not been renovated in many years. It has a very old fashioned feel to it.  I noticed the wood panelling on the tatami side of the room.  Japan has quite a nice aesthetic when it comes to wood.  It is not entirely my favourite but I do appreciate it.

The menu is phenomenally simple Loin, Fillet, Shrimp, Bite size Fillet, Fillet and Naganegi skewers.  There is also lunch and four drinks including bottled Sapporo.  I went with the most standard Loin Tonkatsu.  The master was in front of me. He looked exhausted and seemed to be holding himself up by resting his arms on the counter in front of him.  He appeared to be well into his seventies perhaps even into his eighties.  Still he got to work on the order.  I was quite surprised when I saw him triple dip the Katsu in the flour and egg.  The loin had also had a knife run over it. A little like the way sushi chefs do to squid.  This seemed to ensure a nice thick crust to the Katsu.  The oil was very dark looking.  I am told that some of the older school tempura and tonkatsu places always keep a little of the old oil back, before adding fresh oil to keep the flavour.  The little appetisers were brought out while he did this.  A cabbage coleslaw and some Japanese pickles.  They went down well with the Sapporo.

Tsumami and Sapporo

A few minutes later, the master pulled out the Katsu from the oil and placed it on a small round chopping board.  He ran a large knife through it with a slow yet purposeful movement, glimpsed inside and served it on the plate.

Rosu Tonkatsu at Tonkatsu Suzuki
A Hearty Chop

I had my first bite just with salt and was very intrigued as the crust was not as bready as many place, though it was still quite thick and crisp.  The result of the triple dipping in flour I should imagine.  It was tasty and the meat was a nice thick chop, which these days is getting harder and harder to find as restaurants have taken to reducing size to reduce cost. The next bite was with Shichimi and Soy sauce.  Followed by bites with sauce and mustard.  I found the Soy sauce and Shichimi to be my favourite.  The miso soup was quite notable not that it appeared special, but I believe this was a Aimiso mixture of two miso.  In this instance a rice miso and a soy bean miso.  Either that or they had put Kome Kooji into the soup.  It had a nice round flavour and a hint of sweetness, but not the type that sugar brings.  Diner with a beer 2500 Yen quite satisfying.  It did not surpass Butagumi in Nishi Azabu. However it did have a nice nostalgic Showa era feel to it.  I could see this place ending up on Kodoku Gurume one day.

Old school Japan, Denki-Bran in Ebara-Nakanobu

I was recently invited to eat at a small Kushi-Age shop a bit out of town in Ebara-Nakanobu.  The food was very standard fair, but the retro posters and retro drinks made for an interesting evening.  The highlight of which was drinking Denki-Bran.  Not because it was delicious but more because you rarely see it and yet in a phase in Japanese drinking culture somewhere in the Showa era, this was a very common drink.  The name derives from electric and brandy.  In essence I was told that it made your tongue tingle, so they called it electric brandy or in Japanese Denki-Bran.  I like the fact they have kept a super retro bottle design.  If you see it somewhere, it is probably best drunk as a highball but give it a go over the rocks first to see if you get the electric shock.  Also try out Hoppy if they have it an interesting beer substitute, which I am told is ok for those with Gout.  All the interesting things you learn on an evening out in deep Japan.

Denki-Bran
Denki-Bran worth a try

864 Fukuniku Nikujiru Gyouza, Musashi Koyama, for those of you who are mad about Gyouza.

Bumped into this place of an evening while out riding.  The queue was about ten deep and the shop only has 16 tiny seats so gave it a miss.  On a second visit only had to wait five minutes.  The main draw is obviously the Gyouza but they also do some ramen noodles as a Shime (Closing dish to fill you up).  The guy who thought of this place must be Gyouza mad.  You can choose three types of fillings 80% 60% 40% meat content, hence the name 864.

864 Gyoza
864 Gyoza, Musashi Koyama

The Gyouza filling is lightly flavoured and the skins are fairly standard thickness.  You then get to choose from a whole bunch of options like Ma-Ra sauce, Coriander, Clay pot cooked and several others.  I took the Coriander 60% and the Ma-Ra ones with a Grapefruits sour.

Explantion of the fillings

In addition to the usual Ra-Yu, Soy Sauce and Vinegar, there is a special Ra-Yu which I recommend. Although it claims to be very spicy, I found this to be an exaggeration, but this did not detract from the nice crunch of peanuts and the additional flavour of the dried shrimps.

The sauces

Any way, what I most liked about this place vs say Harajuku Gyouza, which I also like, is that I managed to have all twelve Gyouza with a different combination of flavours.  I recommend this little exercise in creative thinking while you are eating. It made the meal that much more interesting and seemed to add to my appetite.  I am sure next time with the help of a few friends I will manage more than twelve combinations.

Ma-ra Gyoza, before
Coriander Gyoza before
After well worth the visit

Of food and other blunders in Japan

It is rare to have bad culinary experiences in Japan.  However, this drink was one such a rare blunder, Chilli Shochu Chu Hai in a small oyster bar, I will leave unnamed as it would be unfair to put a poor light on them, given everything else was great.  You see something like this on the menu and you think, I must try it.  It piques your interest in an odd fashion.  You then figure it must be drinkable, otherwise it would not be there on the menu.  After all we are in Japan and it is hard to blunder when ordering.  Visually quite an appealing drink. The three bright red Chillis with the Shiso leafs green, really bring the drink to life.   Then you take your first sip and you realise that there really are some crazy spice addicts in this country.  Whats wrong is that your lips mouth and throat are burning now.  Secondly its only flavor was heat, so no real taste sensation to take the edge of the heat or make the drink worthwhile.  The Shiso leaf was an interesting garnish, though it had no flavour effect on the drink. I ended up eating it to see if it would stop my lips from tingling.  I did not manage to finish this drink, because my lips were burning and out of fear of what it might do to my system overnight.

The guilty party

Still, life is all about trying things out, so I am glad I tried it and in the future I will refrain from ordering it.

I also spotted a funny pot of hair wax in this restaurant. I thought I would share it.  Some of the english you can spot in this country is hilarious, even after 17 odd years.  Besides being called “Cocks Grease,  Extra hard” at first glance I thought it said “Hair Gonads” on top. It was in fact “Hair Pomade”. Still what a wonderful brand name and catchy slogan.

Deserving of a marketing prize for catchy names.

Itemae, Shibya Shinsen, handy little eatery just out from the hustle and bustle of Shibuya.

Lunch with a couple of friends.  While riding around on our bikes exploring some of the innumerable side street of Shibuya, we came across this little gem Itemae.  Teishoku lunches for around 1000 Yen, with a nice and simple interior.  The counter seating is a little bit of a squeeze but the tables at the back are spacious and nice.

Wafuu Ankake Kara-age teishoku.

All the trimmings like miso a small Kobachi (small side dish) are there.  The Kara-age was nice and crisp and the An (thickened sauce) had a nice mix of vegetables and a light soy sauce base.  Just kind of hit the spot.  A one up on the mom and pop shops, though I get odd cravings to going to those places too, but often more to get a feel of real Japan.  My friends opted for grilled fish, an absolute staple in the Japanese diet.  This was Aka-uo (Red Rockfish).  It was grilled just right, still moist while crisp on the outside.  Anyways after finishing up you can grab a coffee at one of the many many coffee shops in Shinsen, or if your in the mood a beer at OL.

Aka-uo yakizakana teishoku.

 

Takiey, Toritsu Daigaku, Craft beer bar with a tasty burger.

Healthy selection of craft beers and some ciders

Toritsudai is a bit out of central Tokyo on your way to Jiyuugaoka.  I was taken there by a visit to Maker`s Base.  For lunch after a little walking I found this place. It has a kind of homemade feel to it. Certainly not what I would call flash, but more homey.  They might have taken a little more time when considering their name, but still looked interesting.

Takiey Burger

I went for a burger as I had not had one in a while. My favorite to date in Tokyo is Jack 37 in Ningyouchou, but I enjoy trying new ones and there are plenty to try.  This one was a nice burger it did not top Jack 37 but was a tasty morcel.  I found some pleasure in the fact that they make their own home made tomato sauce, which was nice and tangy.

The other thing which is likely to bring me back to this place, was the large selection of craft beers.  I will come back of an evening and try and work my way through some of those with a few friends.

Homemade Tomato Sauce