I am sure you all have heard the phrase “all good things must come to an end.” Well, after ten blissful days in the beautiful city of Tokyo (Check out Wong Eats Tokyo Part 1 and 2 while you’re at it), I have finally returned back to Hong Kong with a belly full of great sushi and a liver that is permanently scarred from fantastic artisanal cocktails. This is the third and final part of Wong Eats Tokyo. It may not be the most complete recap, but nevertheless, I hope you enjoy it:
Lunch – Soba Class @ Edo Teuchi-Soba Classroom
Usually when I go for Japanese noodles, ramen is my first pick, as I particularly enjoy the marriage between intense broth and springy noodles. Soba, on the other hand, is never something on my mind, as I have been scarred too many times in Hong Kong by overcooked noodles and broth that tastes like it came out of a plastic container, and probably did. But after spending 4 hours at a soba master’s house, I gained a new appreciation for the often unheralded noodle, from the 8:2 buckwheat to flour ratio to produce a perfect texture, to the precision in cutting each individual strand of soba, it was simply elegant and refined. It was also much more difficult that anticipated, and I spent half the class waving my arms and crying for help, but in the end, I managed to craft my own soba noodles. Perhaps it was the sacred 8:2 ratio, or the unique kneading motion, or simply because these noodles were made from scratch in front of my very own eyes, they tasted much better than the store bought noodles you find in Hong Kong.
Dinner – Kyubey (Keio Plaza Hotel Branch)
I was shocked when the girlfriend proposed on a whim that we should have a sushi dinner (She dislikes most shellfish, and we targeted lunch sessions for sushi as it was much cheaper). Obviously as this was a spontaneous decision, it was near impossible to secure a table at any Michelin starred joints, so the hotel concierge directed us to Kyubey, one of the oldest sushi houses in Tokyo. Kyubey has been in operation in Ginza since 1935, predating World War 2 and Communist China, and the restaurant is famed for inventing the gunkan-maki, where the entire nigiri is wrapped a piece of seaweed, making it look like a warship. Instead of the main branch, we went to the one in the swanky Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku. While Kyubey was everything we imagined, with an almost zen-like ambiance and two stern sushi masters with a head of white hair, we were left feeling a bit disappointed with the quality of the meal, especially when compared to the excellent lunch that Sushi Kanesaka a week earlier. The rice was less balanced, the craftsmanship less pristine, and the nigiri lacked the ‘WOW’ factor. There were some stellar pieces though, such as the outrageously succulent otoro, as well as the seared chutoro, with a lovely browned exterior and a medium rare inside.
Dinner – Go-Horumon
After a long day water rafting along the beautiful peaks of Jomo Kogen (Seriously, go. It is absolutely stunning, with ice capped peaks, sakura blossoms and lovely rapids), we arrived back in Tokyo station hungry and exhausted. Wanting to try something truly local, we discovered a small yakiniku joint bustling with people, and while the owner was not the most friendly individual to foreign visitors, we eventually secured a seat after a half hour wait. This particular yakiniku place was a hurumon – a restaurant that specialises in off-cuts and offal, perfect after a long day’s work. Every part of the cow and pig is utilised, some cooked and some left raw. You sear various cuts of liver, stomach and meat on a small hibachi grill in front of you. The slivers of cow stomach was lovely and tender, but even better was the wagyu, sourced personally by the owner. It was rich and marbled, and melted instantly in the mouth after a quick sear. Wash it all down with a glass of ice cold beer and you get the full Japanese experience.
Dinner – Ginza Grand Food Hall
We spent our last full day shopping in Tokyo, fuelled only by a big hotel breakfast. So as you can imagine, we were pretty hungry come dinner time. There were still many items that we have yet to try in the greatest food city in the world, so naturally, we hit up a food court. But this was not any ordinary food court, such as the Food Republic you find in Hong Kong or the hawker centres in Singapore, this particular food court was located on the sixth floor of the uber high end shopping mall Ginza Six. It served wine, and had a team of maitre’d and waiters taking your orders and making them for you. You sit in plush, cushioned sofas, read the menu of all the items available to order from the various stalls and a tuxedo-clad staff will order it in your stead. We were served bowls of oyakodon, where the egg was still slippery and runny, as well as a spotless bowl of chirashi-don (rice with raw sashimi on top) and some decent tempura. It is definitely an experience, and it is a cardinal sin that Hong Kong, a city that embraces all forms of snobbery, excess and lavishness, does not have something similar.
Lunch – Sushi Kotatsu
To bid adieu to the beautiful city of Tokyo, I decided to have one last platter of sushi. So after sending the girlfriend off, I found myself on a counter seat at Sushi Kyotatsu, a surprisingly well rated sushi joint in terminal 1 of Narita Airport. Usually, airports are not designed to be gastronomic temples, in fact, it is where good food goes to die. But once again, Tokyo blew me away. The sushi, for the value, was absolutely incredible. Every morsel of fish came fresh daily from Tsukiji market, and the rice had a pleasant level of acidity in it. While it was not served individually as you would in a high end sushi parlour, the quality of certain nigiri pieces was up there with Kyubey, and for one fifth the price too. This will be a staple for my future Tokyo trips.
Discovering an incredible sushi joint in the middle of an airport affirms my believe that Tokyo is belly heaven. The city simply refuses to let you eat poorly, and I can proudly say that save for some mediocre pieces of sushi courtesy of Sushi Ichiba, everything that came into my mouth, from small skewers of yakitori, to expensive nigiri, to pieces of pastry and dessert, was damn near perfect. I arrived in Tokyo thinking that the level of food in the city would be similar to Hong Kong, but no, the difference is simply night and day.
Anthony Bourdain once said that he could spend the rest of his life in Tokyo, learn the language and still die happily ignorant. And it is true, for every Michelin starred restaurant we walked past or dined in, there seemed to be one of equal caliber lurking in a hidden alleyway, or on the third floor of a residential apartment. There is simply so much to eat in Tokyo, and most of it are still unknown to Michelin inspectors or foreign tourists. Not that the Japanese mind though, the people here know they live in the best gourmet destination in the world, and why share this valuable information when you can hoard it all for yourself?
It’s been an incredible ride, Tokyo. Now on we go to individual reviews…