Jimbocho Den

If you’ve read much of my blog, you’ll know that I usually like to give detailed write-ups for restaurant reviews. Going through dish by dish helps me relive the night and makes me hungry all over again. Hopefully, it also gives you a lot more insight than a few pictures and parting comments. However, for Jimbocho Den I am going to have to make an exception.

Dining at Jimbocho Den is full of delightful surprises. To tell you too much about the dishes and flow of the evening would spoil the experience. Instead, I’m going to mention some highlights and my final thoughts with a few photos. Even then, that might be too much of a spoiler. So all I’ll say is, if you’re after a unique and captivating fine dining experience in Tokyo, put Den on speed dial and make a reservation as soon as you can!

Jimbocho den cured fish

Jimbocho Den salad

As with all kaiseki everything that was served at Den was seasonal and grown locally. There are a lot of little details that went into the meal, from the cute little hydrangea sticker to the more obvious smiley face and Dentucky chicken.  My stand out dish was actually the pork. Fatty, unctuous and just all around glorious to eat with the fresh and unusual greens. Apparently, this is a divisive one, with many foreigners not enjoying how fatty the meat is. Perhaps all the tonkotsu ramen I ate over the trip trained me up, but I fell in love with this.

I could talk about all the things I ate in detail, however, it’s not the food that I want to ruminate on. It’s everything else. Usually, chefs say that they want to tell a story with their food. I’ve been told all about the local landscape and culture, the chef’s childhood nostalgia and the origins of dishes. However, Den goes one step further. This was a dialogue. Literally. Zaiyu Hasegawa, the head chef and owner came out to speak to us a few times about the dishes, his travels and the restaurant in general. His ever gracious kimono-clad wife also stopped by to exchange a few words. She professed that she was working on her English in the hopes that she would be able to chat with overseas guests as well.

We mentioned that we loved eating out and all types of food in general, and asked for a couple of suggestions. Chef Hasegawa asked if we had tried Fuunji since it’s pretty famous, and we both gave back blank looks. He paused and said that one one of the chefs really loves eating out and had heaps of recommendations. At the end of the night, we were presented with this list of restaurants to check out. Hasegawa even offered to help us secure a booking for one of the classier restaurants if we were interested.

Armed with this list, we left a little giddy with the euphoria of our meal, the excellent nihonshu and ready to unlock even more of Tokyo.

Jimbocho Den counter

Are there more refined Japanese Kaiseki restaurants out there? Definitely. In fact, Hasegawa admits as much. Saying that it’s not hard to find amazing top quality food almost anywhere in Tokyo. In all honesty, my favourite dishes of the trip were actually not from Den. Then why do I love Jimbocho Den so much?

It goes without saying that the food at most fine dining restaurants will be high quality and interesting. After all, that is why you are parting with all that money. Sure enough, the food at Den is tasty, fun and engaging. However, as a complete dining experience, Den is so much more. I’ll remember the boundless hospitality, the convivial atmosphere and sense of generosity long after I forget what the dishes were called and what they tasted like. If truly good dining is about evoking emotion and a sense of genuine connection, then from start to end Den is a brilliant success.

Website: http://www.jimbochoden.com/en/

Tips

Booking is a bit of a nightmare since reservations are only taken by phone. You should start trying to secure a booking at midday exactly, Tokyo time, two months before your desired dining date. It took me one and a half hours of continuous speed dialling before I got through, but once I did I managed to get my first time preference and date.

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A tale of two curries

Japanese curry is definitely comfort food. It is mild, easy to make and even easier to eat. For most of us, (including most Japanese people) Japanese style curry is as easy as chucking a few things into a pot and adding the prepackaged roux. Even in Japan it’s not hard to find plates of curry from chains like Coco curry or family restaurants like Denny’s.almost everywhere you go. As much as I enjoy the taste of these simple curries, there’s also a whole spectrum of other curry dishes in Japan.

That’s where the next two restaurants come in. Although they both serve Japanese curry by name, they could not be any more different.

Rojira samurai curry

Soup Curry from Rojiura Curry Samurai

We first became acquainted with Soup Curry in its hometown of Sapporo.  Soup curry sounds rather unappetising and bland, but trust me it is anything but. Unlike normal Japanese curry, the curry sauce and other ingredients are cooked completely separately. It’s only at the last stage that the crisp flash fried vegetables and meat meets the sauce.

At Rojiura there’s an almost endless amount of customisation in this bowl of curry. From the texture of the chicken, spiciness of the broth and amount of rice, it’s all up to you. Their signature curry comes with 20 types of vegetables! There’s also add ons like mochi cheese, soft boiled eggs and even oysters so you can even more in your bowl.

samurai soup curry chicken

I couldn’t resist getting the curry with 20 vegetables and an extra egg on top of my rice. The vegetables looked at tasted so vibrant. The quick flash fry left them crisp and so fresh. The curry had a very different spice profile to the Soup curry I had tried in Hokkaido but it was every bit full of flavour.

samurai soup curry shimokitazawa

Ryan added a potato cheese mochi and opted for half chicken and half pork. He also had a few less vegetables, settling for 13. If there’s something that you have to add to the soup curry it’s definitely the mochi cheese potato. I would eat 10 of those on their own at an izakaya if that was an option. The pork was also just as good as the chicken.

Rojiura Curry Samurai is actually a chain from Sapporo, but even there it is a highly regarded purveyor of soup curry. The Shimokitazawa branch is the first Tokyo outlet but their success has seen them expand beyond this original location.

Samurai curry website

French curry spoon

French cooking x Japanese curry at French Curry Spoon

This style of curry is entirely in a class of its own. The chef and owner of French curry spoon worked at a number of fine French restaurants before deciding to open something a little bit more humble whilst still making use of his classical training.The result is a satisfying blend of French cooking techniques, comforting Japanese curry and a unique blend of Indian influenced spices.

Ryan’s W curry was not very pretty to look out, but it was everything he wanted. A very generous double serving of tender beef sat next to the thick curry sauce. The beef is cooked in a red wine sauce and some of the most melt in the mouth meat that I have ever had. If you want to amp up the flavour profile even more, feel free to add even more spices to your curry!

I’m a little less carnivorous than Ryan. So I opted for a regular serve of meat with plenty of vegetables on the side. Of course I also added an ontama because that’s what I do when I’m in Japan. Once again it was clear that the vegetables were cooked separately from the curry. A combination of poached, sauteed and raw veg meant all sorts of crunchy textures. There’s less of the chunky curry sauce but even so it was delicious.

French curry spoon foi gras

The month we visited French Curry Spoon was actually celebrating their eight year anniversary.  To commemorate the occasion they had a few specials. When we saw just how reasonably priced the foie gras done three ways was we immediately caved and ordered it. Sweet berry sauce, fatty rich fried foie gras and creamy pate. We were in French food heaven for a moment there.

As a word of advice, we managed to squeeze into the last two tables at the counter for dinner. However, I hear that this is a very popular lunch spot so be prepared to get there early for a midday meal. Otherwise, getting a curry set to go is always an option!

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Hawker Chan

Last year when it was announced that the world’s cheapest Michelin starred eatery was coming to Melbourne social media and news outlets went wild. On its opening, Hawker Chan attracted crowds and wait times of up to three hours. By the time we got around to visiting the wait time had shortened to a much more modest 25 minutes to get to the register, and then another 10 before getting our food.

Hawker Chan is meant to be set up like a Hawker Hall, where there is no table service. However, the shiny screens, air-conditioning and number system reminded me more of an upscale food court than anything else.

hawker chan melbourne hor fun

Plum tea was just not our cup of tea (excuse the pun) it was vegetal and too sour to really quench our thirst. The osmanthus tea fared a lot better and was sweet with the light passionfruit taste that is characteristic of osmanthus flowers. I felt that the drinks could have down with a bit of ice so that they were actually cold instead of just a bit below room temperature.

hawker chan thai style tofu

Soya sauce chicken with rice is the signature dish, so of course, we had to order it. It was obvious just from the get-go that this portion of chicken was tiny. I had a look around and felt that the servings were generally on the small side, but for some reason, this plate looked especially sad. Unfortunately, the disappointment continued. The chicken was tender, but really lacked that soy sauce flavour that we were expecting. The rice didn’t have much flavour even with sauce drizzled on top, so we resorted to mixing the hor fun sauce and chilli into the rice dish.

hawker chan rice

Soya sauce chicken with Hor Fun was a few dollars more expensive, but definitely worth it. This chicken was a lot better than the chicken with the rice. It was super tender and coated with sweet and salty soy sauce. Likewise, the sauce on top of the slippery Hor Fun was full of flavour, even when I pushed the spicy paste to one side.

Thai style tofu was fried extremely well so that the outside was crisp and the inside of the tofu still silken and soft. It was sadly let down by the sauce which was too sweet, cloying and one dimensional. This would have been amazing if in true Thai style there had been a bit of sour, saltiness and spice in the seasoning and garnishes.

In the past when big Asian institutions have come to Melbourne, they have never been able to compete with the real deal in their home country. It’s probably something about the ingredients, pricing and expectations in Melbourne which make it impossible to replicate that amazing meal overseas. Even with those admissions, Hawker Chan was still a bit of a letdown. Sure, the dishes are cheap, at less than $10 for almost everything but the small portions, inconsistency and wait times mean that I would rather fork out an extra $5 to $10 and get a more satisfying feed elsewhere.

 

Website
Hawker Chan Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Small Axe Kitchen

Isn’t it amazing how food can affect our mood? An amazing slice of cake or blissfully lazy long brunch can instantly turn my frown right around, and I know that I’m not alone!

Stumbling into Small Axe Kitchen on a Tuesday morning was an absolute blessing. We had originally intended to go somewhere else, but GPS, traffic and timing mishaps meant that we stopped by Small Axe Kitchen instead. I was not in the mood for brunch or conversation when we pulled up into the parking lot, but I couldn’t leave after laying eyes on the cute courtyard and tempting pastries. It also definitely helped that the young man who greeted us had the most soothing voice and helped us to a seat in the courtyard almost straight away.

Small Axe iced tea

Ryan was even more tired and grumpy than I was and therefore in desperate need of a coffee. The cappuccino was smooth, creamy and all around excellent drinking. My seasonal iced tea was the prettiest iced tea I have ever seen! What I originally thought was a floral incased spoon, was actually a gorgeous long ice cube with flower petals frozen inside. The actual peach tea was also the refreshing hit that I needed on the very warm Summer day.

Small axe pasta

Now, we couldn’t go to this cafe and not order the Breakfast pasta! All the individual components of the pasta are very good, from the al dente pasta to the crispy cured meat, but break the soft boiled egg on top, mix it all up and there you have it: brunch perfection. Although breakfast pasta by name, I would happily eat this for any meal of the day.

Small Axe pear

I don’t usually order sweet breakfasts, (even though I frequently eat cake for breakfast) but the Sangiovese poached pear with natural yoghurt really called out to me! Pear poached in wine sounds like a heady breakfast,  and the poached pear was definitely all soft and sweet with an almost berry-like sweetness from the wine. However, the dish as a whole struck a balance between light and decadent.  The pomegranate, honey and savoiardari crumbs topped it all off for a bit of extra sweet, sour and light crispy crunch.

Small Axe Kitchen was everything that I didn’t know I needed. The chill ambience, smooth beats and irresistible food put me in the right mood to face the rest of the day! In fact, the Sicilian inspired menu was so intriguing that made me very excited for more brunch in 2018. All I can say is I’ll be back for you ‘Mozarealla in carrozza’.

Small Axe menu

Website
Small Axe Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bien Etre Patisserie

I don’t really like rainy days. It’s hard to walk around, public transport is incredibly crowded and I’m never wearing the right shoes. However, after looking at these photos it seems fitting that we would stumble through the back entrance of Bien Etre Patisserie still shaking off our umbrellas and dodging the steady rain outside.

Although it is sandwiched between Shibuya and Shinjuku, Yoyogi is very much a residential neighbourhood. Situated up a very steep incline, Bien Etre Patisserie is a store that you have to seek out. Just as well, seeing as it only has a handful of small tables.

Bien etre tokyo

Next to the counter is an assortment of cakes, cookies and teas all ready for you to take home or gift a lucky someone. The cakes in the refrigerated counter are equally colourful and salivating.  However, Bien Etre Patisserie’s most famous dessert is never on display. The only clue you have is a tiny little handwritten placard on top of the cake display.

That’s right, Bien Etre Patisserie’s true calling card is their beautiful seasonal parfaits. The parfait for June was Hibiscus and American cherry with a caramel sauce. Fresh pastry cream, tempered chocolates, herbs and a generous amount of biscuit crumbs met with the slightly sour and bitter sorbet and caramel sauce to make each bite interesting. If I lived in Japan I would try to come back regularly to try all their monthly parfaits.

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The berry cake didn’t reach the same fantastic highs as the parfait. However, the tart and sweet berries and soft cake was a nice light way to continue my sugar high.

Bien etre tea

Hibiscus tea was tart with just a hint of sweetness. It really helped keep me alert as the rain poured down outside and the gentle sounds of people tidying up in the kitchen made its way into the cafe. Chamomile tea was on the other end of the spectrum entirely. Sweet and soothing I would have happily fallen asleep drinking this.

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Salon Ginza Sabou

Under normal circumstances, in Melbourne, if someone told me to visit a cafe produced by and located in a clothing store I would be sceptical. However, this is Tokyo and past experience has taught me that unlikely food collaborations often exceed expectations.

Adam et Ropé is primarily a smart casual fashion retailer but also dabbles in a variety of other ventures. From interesting concept stores to a number of food outlets and three separate restaurants it’s safe to say that this brand is keeping itself busy.

Located in Tokyu Plaza Ginza, Salon Ginza Sabou is kept tucked behind the Adam et Ropé storefront. The rather modern building and Scandinavian decor of the store almost hide the very traditional Japanese fare that is featured in the cafe.

salon ginza sabou

I chose something very simple and light in the form of the vegetable inarizushi. I actually usually don’t like inari very much because I find the flavours a bit too cloyingly sweet and samey. After all its usually just inari and sushi rice. However, the thick tofu skin and fresh vegetables made this an inari that I would happily eat every day.

salon ginza sabou teishouki

The Karaage set was a lot more substantial. Ryan and I were both surprised by just how juicy and crispy the fried chicken was. I loved dipping it in the salty matcha powder provided but it was excellent on its own as well. At Salon Ginza Sabou the rice is cooked the traditional way in a donabe as opposed to a rice cooker. This is meant to produce better tasting rice. Personally, I will vouch for the deliciousness of almost all Japanese rice. However, this really was a cut above the average stuff you find at any regular coco curry!

salon ginza sabou parfait

I would be lying if I said that Instagram photos of their famous matcha parfait weren’t the reason I was so interested in Salon Ginza Sabou. Beneath the zen garden like chocolate layer were mouthfuls of soft matcha mouse, sweet red beans and crisp jelly and rice puffs. My only qualm with this is that it started melting a little bit too much too quickly. By the time I got to the end it felt like there was a whole lot of matcha liquid at the bottom of the cute wooden container and no way to get to it without looking like a pig!

If you’re after fresh and premium tasting Japanese meals without spending a fortune I can’t recommend Salon Ginza Sabou enough. Since I’ve visited they have also introduced seasonal parfaits! As a sweet tooth, I would go back just to have more parfaits all to myself.

Tips 

There was a bit of a line to get into the store when we arrived at 11:30 on the weekend. It took us around 30-40 minutes to get a seat, but the food arrived very promptly when we sat down. I would suggest trying a weekday so that hopefully the lines are a little shorter. It also helps to wait with someone so that you can take turns browsing the store.

Website

Frances Food & Coffee

I’m thankful that these past few years have seen the rise of more quality brunch places in the city. There’s the usual inner city suspects that almost every self-respecting brunch-loving Melbournian has tried. However, sometimes I’m not feeling baked eggs, madeleines, hot cakes or matcha anything. I just want to go somewhere a little different, less trendy and less crowded. That’s where Frances Food & Coffee comes in. Located close to the iconic Victoria markets, this is a bit of a walk away from the rest of the brunch heavy hitters.

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Green salad with hummus and halloumi. The greens were actually still warm and coated in dressing. They were actually a touch too well seasoned, towards the end of the dish it started to get a little bit too oily and salty which isn’t entirely what I had n mind when I ordered a salad. I must admit that I usually find halloumi in large doses far to salty for me to handle, so that may have contributed to me finding the whole thing a bit too much. I would say that this is the perfect salad for people who actually don’t usually like salads because it was warm and the flavours so full on.

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The chicken sandwich could have easily fed two people. This would have been a pretty good sandwich with just the juicy chicken, salad and crispy bread but the apple slices, walnuts and balsamic really took things to the next level. This is a combination that I’m looking forward to trying out myself at home next time I’ve got all these ingredients on hand!

Frances Food & Coffee won’t be winning any awards for innovation or setting Instagram afire with the hottest new thing. The tables and chairs are a bit squishy and the view is one of construction. However, the food is generous and hearty. It is comforting without being boring and definitely worth a try.

As an aside, my mum who is rather discerning when it comes to her coffee really enjoyed the brew at Frances Food & Coffee. So this might be a good spot to stop by to get an afternoon or morning or afternoon pick me up.

Website

Frances Food & Coffee Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

TOLO Coffee and Bakery / Shirohige cream puff

I have a confession to make. The first time I watched My Neighbour Totoro was two years ago. In fact, it’s only rather recently that I’ve really started watching a lot of Ghibli films and enjoying them for their artistry and storytelling. My relative lack of knowledge has never stopped me from loving the cute and very charming looking characters though. At Shirohige cream puff shop you can get a literal mouthful of Totoro.

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tolo and shirohige

You can always pick up the cream puffs and homemade cookies to go or enjoy them on the small patio just outside. However, upstairs is Tolo Coffee and Bakery. This is a cafe and restaurant in its own right, cream puffs downstairs aside. If you want to enjoy the cream puffs straight away at Tolo there is a small surcharge on each plated Totoro and a minimum drink order per person. I managed to nab a cute little spot out on the balcony all to myself. So, I decided to have some me time and order a pasta and a sweet.

tolo pasta

I chose the most interesting and Japanese pasta on the menu. Whitebait, bamboo, chilli and tomato pasta. The combination sounds strange on paper, but it really worked. There was a real savouriness to the sauce thanks to the tomatoes and fish but the bamboo kept things texturally interesting. Even though it was an oil pasta it still felt very refreshing, summery and not at all heavy. The pasta at Tolo changes seasonally, so I think you’ll be in for a treat no matter what you pick.

The bread was a bit too soft and flavourful to be much good at mopping up leftover pasta sauce. Instead, it served as a bit of a carby starter!

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Now onto the main event: the adorable cream puffs. These are almost too cute to eat. I actually felt bad when I stuck my fork into this adorable tottoro and cut his face in half. The flavours also change with the seasons. I lucked upon strawberry custard. This was surprsingly filling. The custard cream is lightly flavoured and not too sweet. I was impressed with how they managed to fill the Totoro with so much filling!

tottoro cream puff

The shop and cafe is located in a rather residential area of Tokyo. The closest station is Setagaya-Daita but it is also very walkable from the bustling Shimo-Kitazawa. In fact, right after this meal, I meandered over there to do some shopping.

Tolo Coffee and Bakery is somewhat overshadowed by the more famous shirohige cream puff shop but both are absolutely worth a visit. Even if you’re not the biggest Ghibli fan, the pasta is excellent and the atmosphere wonderful.

tolo bakery and pasta

Shirohige cream puff shop
TOLO Coffee and Bakery

Yong green food

Although gluten free and vegan foods are on the rise in Melbourne, it is surprisingly difficult to find a restaurant that offers a broad range of both gf and vegan options. That’s where Yong Green Food comes in. It caters to almost every dietary requirement under the sun, with a handy colour coded menu. The chilled ambiance and roomy tables also made it a great place to catch up with visiting out of towners and friends.

The Matcha latte was an incredibly bright green colour. Yong Green offers a wide range of milks, from dairy to soy, to coconut and almond at no extra cost! I was tempted by the almond milk but decided to play it safe. I found this to be more powdery and sweet than most matcha lattes, but perhaps that is due to the soy milk.

Ryan commented that the espresso wasn’t the best, and didn’t provide him with the caffeine boost he so desperately needed. Our friends ordered a chai tea and some of the cold drinks. These seemed to go down a treat.

yong green food

I ordered the Yin and Yang Charger. Initially, I was a bit dubious because it was one of the most expensive items on the menu. However, once this spread arrived in front of me I knew that I had made the right choice. Interestingly, the highlight wasn’t the fried mushrooms. Instead, I found the squash salad to be utterly delicious. It was cold, sweet, soft and just a touch stringy. The soup also had incredible savoury depth for a vegetarian offering.

yong green food japchae

Ryan and one of my friends both ordered the Japchae. I usually make my Japchae vegetarian so I had no doubts that this could be incredible even though it had no meat. I snuck in a bite and found it much less greasy than the usual japchae at restaurants but full of flavour. The vegetables tasted fresh and light, and noodles had good bite.

yong green chilli

My gluten intolerant friend ordered the chili. She commented that it had a good spicy kick to it that went well with the sour cream.

The Vegetarian curry was a very generous portion. It looked and smelled exactly like a beef Japanese curry.

The Katsu was a little bit more diminutive in size. I’m assured, however, that it was very tasty. Especially when mixed with the curry sauce. We all agreed that the biodynamic rice that came with a lot of the dishes was excellent.

The service was friendly if at times a bit scattered. They also pulled up tables for our group of 6, even though it would have been fine for us to squish together on the larger table!

Raw, organic, vegan, gluten free, no onion and garlic? Yong Green Food has it covered. More than that, it serves some straight up tasty food regardless of the labels.

http://yonggreenfood.com.au/

Yong Green Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

All C’s cafe

Did you notice that there’s a lot of tasty things that start with the letter C. For example, cake, cookie, chocolate, coffee, crepe and cafe? The people behind All C’s cafe were smart enough to pick up on this and run with it.

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Located on the second floor of a fairly non-descript building in Koenji, All C’s cafe also brings another C word to mind: Cute. The interior looks like the candy covered house in Hansel and Gretal bought to life. Every corner is covered in cute candy decor. You don’t need to go on this adventure alone either because there’s also plenty of cuddly bear friends. I named my new friend Alberto, even though I’m sure he already has a name.

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Ryan’s chai latte is one of the cutest drinks I have ever seen. The smiley boy surrounded by frothy milk was almost much too cute to drink. Ryan showed much more fortitude than I did, and tucked right in. It was pleasantly spicy, sweet and milky.

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For some reason, it seems like my standard tea order in Japan was almost always apple tea. This cup was so large it almost seemed like a bowl. Although it came with sugar, the fragrant apple lent the tea enough sweetness already.

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After some deliberation, we settled on the pudding trio. I was a little disappointed to see that they were using frozen fruit on the fruits pudding. However, this feeling quickly faded when I tasted the actual pudding. It was shockingly smooth, silky and just eggy enough to be full of comforting flavour, but not too much so that it tasted like scrambled eggs. My favourite was the slightly bitter walnut and shortbread topped pudding. The caramel was slightly more bitter and the crunchy biscuit and nuts provided a really good contrast to the soft pudding.

All C’s cafe also offers cookie decorating classes and party plans. I have a feeling that if I lived in the area I would be tempted to check them out! For now, I think it suffices to say that no matter where you are in Japan it’s possible to stumble into a cute corner like this one!

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