Archive for January, 2019

London – Clerkenwell – Walking Around

Posted in Clerkenwell, England, London, United Kingdom with tags , , , , , , on January 31, 2019 by gannet39

Clerkenwell is steeped in history and culture which makes it one of my favourite London neighbourhoods. Happily I’ve managed to see a fair bit of it thanks to my friend Tom who lives in the area and has shown me around.

There are heaps of good places to eat and drink as well which I have put in the next post. My Google map with everything on is here.

Clerkenwell has a long tradition of left wing politics, starting in the middle ages. Clerkenwell Green was the scene of some of the events of the Peasants’ revolt in 1381. It was were the London Corresponding Society demonstrated against the Napoleonic Wars and in 1887 it saw a huge demonstration demanding freedom for Ireland.

In the early twentieth century it was where the Communist Party used to meet and the Marx Memorial Library is located here. The library has tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays marxlibrary.org.uk.

Marx, Lenin and Stalin all lived in the area at various times. Their local was the Old Red Lion www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk at 418 St John St which is one of London’s oldest boozers. Over its 600 year history, many other notable people, including Dickens and Stalin, have taken refreshment here. The Second Congress of the Communist League was held in an upstairs room and the meeting requested that Marx and Engels who were attending the meeting should write the League’s programme; the Communist Manifesto.

In 1890 Clerkenwell Green was the scene of the very first May day rally. In 1919 the rally called for British troops to be withdrawn from trying to bring down the Russian Bolshevik government and in 1969 it demanded equal pay for the women of Ford’s Dagenham plant. It’s hard to think of any place that has a longer or more illustrious history of struggle.

The ancient military order of the Knights of Saint John, also known as the Knights Hospitaller, has a long association with the area which is why they appear in many local names. You can still see St John’s Gate which was built in 1504 as the south entrance to their priory.

Now a volunteer ambulance charity, they were originally formed to protect sick pilgrims in Jerusalem during the crusades. They have a museum next to the gate at 26 St John’s Lane www.museumstjohn.org.uk.

The famous Smithfields Meat Market is just at the bottom of the road.

In the 19th century the area around Clerkenwell Road, Farringdon Road, and Rosebery Avenue was known as Little Italy due to high levels of immigration from that country. A couple of businesses and an annual festival are all that remains of that legacy, as well as the community’s church, St Peter’s Church on Clerkenwell Road.

Elsewhere, Charles Rowan House is a landmark housing estate built in the Expressionist style. It was built in the 1920s as married quarters for Metropolitan policemen (Rowan was one of the first Commissioners of the force when it was formed in the 1820s) but became a Council estate in 1974 and is now a Grade II building.

Many other historic and beautiful buildings grace the area, I’ll try and expand on this post when I have time to write about them. If you’re on a PC, click on the photos to enlarge them.

Eating and drinking in Clerkenwell next!

London – feasting in Holborn

Posted in England, Holborn, London, United Kingdom with tags , on January 30, 2019 by gannet39

When logistical issues caused a rethink for my 50th birthday celebrations, my friend Andy came up with this Japanese Yakiniku restaurant (recommended by some of his Japanese friends) as a good plan B. Our friendship started when we were both living in Japan so this was a great choice.

Kintan (High Intermediate B+), 34-36 High Holborn, www.kintan.uk

Yaki Niku means barbecued meat and this is a Japanese take on a Korean BBQ restaurant. You make a communal order of several plates of thinly sliced marinated meats, seafood and other tidbits, and cook them yourselves on a grill set into your table.

At Kintan they have about six different set menus which work out at between £24 and £38 per person depending on how much you want to eat.

Twelve of us had the Matsuri menu…

… which included Miso Soup, Kintan Salad, Spicy Cabbage, Ebi Furai (fried shrimp) and Beef Sukiyaki Bibimbap (rice mixed with veg and egg) as starters.

And for the main barbecue we were served Kalbi (short rib in sweet soy), Harami (skirt steak in miso), Premium Rib Eye in Ponzu, Pork Kalbi Shio (salted ribs), Garlic Tiger Prawns, Chicken Teriyaki and various veggies.

The Kalbi and Harami were listed as USDA Premium, the top level of quality for American beef. This isn’t a patch on Wagyu grading of course but at least you know it’s good meat.

To finish, S’mores (some mores) or chocolate and marshmallow sandwiched between Graham crackers. They’re a campfire classic in the US but you can make them on a grill too.

Queen Street (Intermediate B+), 32 Great Queen St, www.greatqueenstreetrestaurant.co.uk

I occasionally work in Holborn and more often than not I come here for lunch when I do. The food (rustic modern European/British) is good, the staff are friendly and the space has a bit of character.

On weekdays they have a Worker’s Lunch menu where you get two courses for £20 or three for £22, which is very good value for London. Here I got the Gloucester Old Spot and Duck Heart Terrine (A).

And the Morrocan-style Lamb, Mint and Barley was good too (B+). Reviewed 19/01/17.

My Google map for London is here.

London – top Turkish food in Harringay

Posted in England, Haringey, Harringay, London, United Kingdom with tags , , on January 29, 2019 by gannet39

I lived on Burgoyne Road in Harringay (a local area in the London borough of Haringey) for a year back in the late 90s so it was nice to go back in 2017 and experience a bit of déjà vu.

Along with Dalston (see my post on Mangal Ocakbasi), the area has a large Turkish community and you’ll find some great restaurants along the main road.

My London Google map is here.

Gökyüzü is one of the most famous ones. In 2017 they won the British Kebab Awards for best kebab restaurant in north and west London…

Gökyüzü (Intermediate B+), 26-27 Grand Parade, Green Lanes, Harringay, www.gokyuzurestaurant.co.uk

I came here with my friends Tom, Karen, Jishan and Lucy so we could share a bit of a spread. We began with a mixed mezze. From 11 o’clock; Soslu Patlican (fried aubergines with tomato sauce), Haydari (strained yogurt with garlic, dill and feta cheese), Kisir (bulgur wheat with tomato sauce, herbs, fresh mint, dill and spring onions) and of course Hummus (pureed chick peas with tahine, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic). All great.

After this we also had some Lahmacun which is described as very thin traditional Turkish pizza covered with seasoned minced lamb and onions, fresh tomatoes, parsley and red peppers. Lish!

I find it very hard to say no to some marinated and charcoal grilled lamb chops, especially with some beautiful Turkish rice which I crave on a regular basis. All buttons pressed here.

Antepliler (Intermediate B), 45-46 Grand Parade, Green Lanes, Harringay, www.antepliler.com

This is another Turkish kebab restaurant just a few doors down from Gokyuzu which no doubt also does decent kebabs but they also have a dessert room which was recommended to Tom.

We came to try the Kunefe; a kind of stringy cheese dessert topped with grated pistachios, which you can have with or without clotted cream. We opted for the cream which made it feel very indulgent but all the other customers went without. It was very enjoyable (B+), especially with a glass of strong Turkish tea.

These Turkish restaurants on Green Lanes in Harringay are definitely worth the trip if you’re looking for a good place to feed a group.

Manchester – Rusholme – Kurdish food off the Curry Mile

Posted in England, Lancashire, Manchester, Rusholme, United Kingdom with tags on January 28, 2019 by gannet39

Rusholme famously has a mile of mediocre curry houses, except for the occasional gem like this one. In my opinion the better places are run by the most recently arrived immigrants and it’s best to swerve the more longstanding restaurants. Thanks to the war in Iraq, the local curry scene has been enlivened by this great little spot..

Kurdish Restaurant (Elementary A), 4 Grandale St, Manchester M14 5NS

This café-style place is down a side street off the main drag away from the posher curry houses. It seems to double as a social club which is always a good sign.

As soon as we sat down a small complementary bowl of chicken and lentil soup arrived. It wasn’t great to look at but it was very tasty (B+).

Our first main was Lamb Quzy (also spelt Quozi or Kozi), a famous Iraqi dish where traditionally a whole lamb is stuffed with a mix of spices, nuts, currants, vegetables and more minced lamb and roasted (recipe here) and served on a bed of rice. Obviously it had been scaled down here but was still delicious (A) and the rice was good too (B+).

It came with another two soups, chickpea (B) and lamb with (A) for the grand total of £6.

Also the ‘Kurdish Kebab’ was effectively a very delicate keema kebab (B+) and came with grilled marinated liver (A).

With a large salad of red onion, lettuce, lemons and marinated red cabbage (B), three naans made on the premises (B), two cups of salted yogurt (B) and four cups of strong black tea the total bill came to £17, which given the quality of the food was an absolute bargain.

I’ve been to the Kurdish area in western Iran and if anything the food in this restaurant is better. A solid recommendation.

Manchester – small plates in the city centre

Posted in City Centre, England, Lancashire, Manchester, United Kingdom with tags , on January 27, 2019 by gannet39

Like the UK in general, the restaurant scene in Manchester has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years. Here are two of my favourites for Mediterranean flavours…

Google map here.

The Refuge (High Intermediate A), in The Principal Hotel, Oxford St, Manchester M60 7HA www.refugemcr.co.uk

I need to declare a conflict of interest here as one of the proprietors of this top notch small plates restaurant is my best and oldest friend from school but believe me, my boy knows his grub, and if it wasn’t really good, I wouldn’t write about it.

As well as holding the contract for this hotel bar and lounge, Luke and his business partner Justin run their own restaurant, Volta voltafoodanddrink.co.uk in West Didsbury, and a boozer, Electriks Bar electrikbar.co.uk in Chorlton, both of which I also highly recommend for good food, drink and vibes.

The Refuge is located in the former office building of the Refuge Assurance Company who occupied the building for nearly 100 years, from 1895 to 1987.

Their red neon ‘Refuge’ sign, at the top of the building’s sixty-six metre tower, was an Oxford Road landmark for much of this time. The building has now been converted into an opulent hotel called The Principal www.phcompany.com

It has a beautiful red brick and terracotta exterior.

The walls and pillars of the bar area are decorated with decorative ceramic tiles known as Burmantofts facience.

Beyond this there is the tastefully decorated restaurant which seats ninety in cosy banquettes.

On the far wall is a legendary stencil which was taken from an old poster the boys found in the cellar.

As luck would have it, I occasionally work in an office just two blocks up the street. Usually I eat a light Thai lunch in Chinatown, but when I deserve a treat, I come to the Refuge.

The food takes inspiration from Mediterranean cuisines; Spain of course but also North African and Levantine. The small plates are best shared with friends and you need at least two but ideally three per person. Everything I’ve ever had has been great.

The menu is always changing but here are some past favourites; Sake cured salmon with spring onion and ponzu, Lamb tagine meatballs with apricot and pistachio, Char grilled cauliflower with carraway and pomegranite, Chargrilled Picanha steak with smoked Cafe de Paris butter, Mackerel with couscous , Daal Makhani, Salt cod croquettes, Battered squid, Salmon on rye, Roast baby new potatoes with bravas sauce, parsley and aioli, Grilled broccoli with beetroot Romesco and hazelnuts. Click the pics to enlarge them.

Service has always been friendly and on-point. As a miserly Yorkshireman if I was to criticise I’d say some portions are a little small for what you pay but hey, you’re getting top quality grub in a beautiful space in trendy Manchester so it’s to be expected.

And now for the competition…

This is a highly renowned tapas bar in the central retail district of Manchester. Luke loves it as well despite the fact it is a rival.

El Gato Negro (High Intermediate B+), 52 King St, Manchester, www.elgatonegrotapas.com

This is a review of my experience in 2016 so the menu and wine list may well have changed. I’m sure the quality of the cuisine is still the same though.

To drink I had the Morfil Garnacha (B+), one of the cheaper wines at £21 a bottle. I also got complementary Aqua Panna.

The Jamon Croquettes were very good (B+).

As were the Lamb Skewers (B+).

I loved the Syrian Lentils too (B+).

I was really looking forward to the Scotch Eggs with Morcilla but sadly the flavours just weren’t there for me (C).

The Ribs were okay (B).

And to finish, the Yorkshire Rhubarb & Cream Crumble was a winner (B+).

I pushed the boat out with a £7 glass of Emilio Lustau Moscatel (B+) to go with it.

And even further out with a glass of Alvear ‘El Presidente’ Brandy from Cordoba which was a new one on me and unexpectedly good (B+) for a £5 glass.

The staff were very attentive, as was the chef owner which makes a nice change. My total bill with a tip came to a greedy £80.

So a couple of Mediterranean inspired gems to bring you some sunshine in the Rainy City. Enjoy!

Birmingham – fine dining in the city centre

Posted in Birmingham, City Centre, England, United Kingdom, West Midlands with tags , , , on January 26, 2019 by gannet39

Birmingham has many fine dining establishments, some Michelin starred and some on their way to getting one. Here are three I’ve been to in 2019, 2016 and in 2010. My map here.

Adam’s (Advanced A), New Oxford House, 16 Waterloo St, Birmingham B2 5UG, www.adamsrestaurant.co.uk

At the time of writing in January 2019, Adam’s is TripAdvisor #1 in Brum, beating off competition from four other Michelin starred restaurants. Its five star rating is fully deserved in my experience.

I went for the £65 three course à la carte menu rather than the £95 tasting menu (the only two choices) as I wasn’t hungry enough for six courses. You get three choices for each course with the à la carte menu and this being a Michelin place, lots of little extras as well.

The first amuse bouche was fairly non-descript but the second was fantastic. The tiny lump of savoury ice cream (forgot what it was sorry) paddling in a beetroot based liquid and anointed with olive oil was full of flavour and looked great (A). This was the case with all the following dishes.

The beetroot theme continued with the following dish of Cornish mackerel. A beetroot jelly overlaying tiny cubes of beetroot and apple accompanied an immaculately grilled fillet (B+). On the side in a bowl of pebbles was a tiny goblet of grilled eel in some kind of pastry which was fabulous (A).

Next a little extra of a warm bun with a mushroom filling served with butter topped with seaweed powder (A).

With this a glass of Greco di Tufo by Lapilli, one of my favourite Italian whites. It was okay but I’ve had better (B).

Next a satisfying main of Cumbrian suckling pig, both loin and confit belly, pressed all the right buttons (A).

I really liked the St Laurent by Johanneshof Reinisch from Thermenregion in Austria which had a great nose and an unusual fruity flavour (B+).

The ‘transition’ from savoury to sweet was made with this little number. Again I didn’t keep track of what it was exactly (mango, creme fraiche, pecans?) but it was wonderful (A).

For dessert an innovative concept called Pear William; a candied sponge filled with speculoos (spiced shortcrust biscuit popular in Germanic countries) , vanilla and bergamot (an Italian citrus).

It looked great but I was slightly disappointed it didn’t have more flavour (B+).

To go with it a glass of sweet 2017 Auslese from Tschida Angerhof (B).

Finally a chocolate bonbon and another chocolate in a box to take home.

By this time I think they’d worked out I was a blogger as I was given a tour of the kitchens and an introduction to the head chef.

Total cost just shy of £100 with tip. The wines were £7 and £8.50 respectively for a 125ml pour, and £5 for 70ml of the dessert wine. I felt it was pretty good value for a top quality experience.

After such a good meal I wanted a brandy to finish but nothing on the drinks list grabbed me so I went around the corner to the The Old Joint Stock, www.oldjointstock.co.uk at 4 Temple Way. It’s in a lovely building with an opulent interior.

I had a couple of glasses of Janneau, a French brandy I hadn’t had before (B).

And in 2016 I went to…

The Wilderness (Intermediate A), 27 Warstone Ln, Birmingham B18 6JQ, wearethewilderness.co.uk

Rather strange location, inside an office block, less than a minute away from the south exit of Birmingham New Street. The décor scheme makes use of moss glued to the walls train-set style and a canopy of artificial leaves springing from dead branches fastened to the pillars.

As a lone diner I got the worst seat in the house but I didn’t mind it too much. The lovely attentive staff made up for it, especially Luby. It’s the kind of place where they refold napkins whenever a customer leaves the table.

I had their tasting menu ‘The Full Story’ with wine matching for £105 (£65 without drinks). Apologies for the lack of good photos, the lighting did not allow.

Proceedings began with a hot bread bun and some smoked homemade butter which was made delicious by some heavy salting, a bit too much on my second serving, and I like salt (A-).

After this, Mackerel, Apple, Pear and Bergamot (A).

This was matched with a Digby Reserve (A). Made with the same grapes and methods as Champagne and Chardonnay.

Pork Belly, Parsnip, Squid (A+). The pork had been roasted for 16 hours and would have got A++ but the meat was a little bit dry, although the flavour couldn’t be faulted.

The Wobbly Munk cider was flat but had great depth of flavour (A).

Seabass, Cauliflower, Turnip, Kohlrabi, Chorizo (A).

Green Gimlet (A).

Celeriac, Egg Yolk, Caviar, Wild Mushrooms, Chicken Skin (A).

To drink, Mencia (2012) an unusual red from Galicia with notes of Cherries, Liquorice, Dark Tannins (B+).

Lamb, Carrot, Swede (B).

Albillo, a fresh wine from Madrid with notes of white flowers and stone fruit (B+).

Cheddar , Shallot, Wood Ants, Edible Flowers (A). The ants tasted strongly of citrus, apparently from the formic acid they produce for defensive purposes. A first for me! Wish the photo had come out as it’s quite a sight seeing a plate dotted with ants.

Black Cow Vodka made from milk whey. The curds were used to make the cheddar in the next dish.

Beetroot, Lavender, served with berries and the plate coated with Beetroot Dust (A).

My only dissatisfaction was that the food was served quite slowly. I was served in lockstep with the table next to me, which was a bit annoying as they kept going for a smoke.

To finish a Kings Heath Americano with Dark Chocolate, Salted Caramel and Butter Scotch Whisky.

A very interesting experience, thoroughly recommended.

And from back in March 2010…

Purnells (Advanced A), 55 Cornwall St, Birmingham B3 2DH www.purnellsrestaurant.com , GEM ALERT!

This was an eight course Michelin starred escapade with my friends Luke, Alex and his lady and the Bragazzi’s boys; Tim and Matt. This was one of my first meals as a blogger and I hadn’t yet started taking photos but here’s what we had anyway:

Amuse Bouche (can’t remember what).

Poached egg yolk, smoked haddock milk foam, cornflakes, curry oil.

(In the shape of a fried egg, the foam was wonderfully fishy and the cornflakes gave flavour as well as texture).

Royal of goats’ cheese and pineapple on sticks, watercress puree.

(A nostalgia trip reminiscent of my parents cheese and wine evenings in the 70’s, but far more refined! Loved it.)

Salad of Devonshire crab, apple, celeriac, smoked paprika honeycomb. (Loved the combination of crab with apple).

Monkfish masala, Indian lentils, coconut, coriander, pickled carrots. (Not what I wanted to eat after a month in Bangladesh! but the fish was great and the dahl far better than over there!).

Breast of duck, liquorice charcoal, butternut squash terrine, cep & liquorice purees, quinoa. (My favourite course and the best duck I have ever eaten. Wonderfully concentrated mushroom puree, left the liquorice one though. Quinoa has left me cold in the past, but again this was the best I’d ever tasted!).

Warm, dark chocolate mousse, mango & rosewater sorbet, mango leather. (Filled the need but drowned the sorbet, which was very nice).

Burnt English custard egg surprise, blackberries, crystallised tarragon, blackberry sorbet. (Memory going but was great at the time! Crystallised tarragon!).

Coffee and petit fours. (Nice little machiato. Matteo rated the coffee highly so it must be good!)

The wines, waiter’s handwriting permitting were:

Michel Arnold Grand Cru, Verzency Rose. (Refreshing pink fizz to start).

Jordan Estate Chenin Blanc South Africa 2007. (Lovely honey coloured, good legs, great with the cheese and pineapple).

Akaishi Sai Junmon Sake, Yamada Nishiki rice, Japan. (Rather unsettling nose and dry leaf taste but very interesting. Like no other sake I had ever tasted, even after three years of living in Japan. Amazing when combined with the crab salad).

Gewurtztramiener Austria, Willi Opite, Spaatslese 2006. (Went very well with the spices and the monkfish).

Merlot Coonawana, Western Austrailia 1999. (Perfect accompaniment for the duck, pure bliss).

Pineau des Charentes, South of La Rochelle, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot of Cognac, no vintage.

Colecaian (?) 125, late harvest Moscatel, Julian Chinte, Navarra 2005. (Wonderful, clear singing dessert wine that reminded me of Muscat di Trani).

£150 all in, worth every penny.

Peterborough – a walk around town

Posted in Cambridgeshire, England, Peterborough, United Kingdom with tags , , , , on January 25, 2019 by gannet39

I worked in Peterborough on a couple of occasions back in March and August 2016. It’s a historic market town with a famous cathedral so I stayed overnight to get to know it a bit better.

My Google map is here.

From the train station, you’ll see some nice street art if you take the pedestrian subway under the Queensgate Roundabout (click on the pics to enlarge).

I arrived in town around 4pm which meant I had time for a very quick tour of the cathedral which closes at 5.

The Cathedral Church of St Peter, St Paul and St Andrew was founded in the Anglo-Saxon period, but the architecture is mainly Norman. It’s one of the most important 12th-century buildings in England to have remained pretty much intact.

However my favourite part is the fan vaulting in the “New Building” around the end of the Norman eastern apse, which is a rare example of Perpendicular Gothic. Fan vaulting are an architectural feature peculiar to England (again click on the pics to enlarge).

The old market hall in the centre of town is another nice old building.

The Charters Bar www.charters-bar.com is a pub on an old Dutch barge. My friend Matt who is a football journalist told me about it. He’d stop off here for a pint before going to the London Road stadium which is just down the road.

The Leendert-R was built in 1907 and is apparently the largest continental barge in the UK. The lower deck is a real ale pub while upstairs is a Thai restaurant. My pint of IPA didn’t have much of a head and was a bit pricey at £4 but the surroundings made a change from the usual.

The Draper’s Arms at 29-31 Cowgate, www.jdwetherspoon.co.uk is a big old pub with a lovely polished-wood interior. It’s a former 19th-century draper’s shop with floor-to-ceiling windows.

When I was there in March 2016 I ate well at Clarkes on Queen St in the centre. It was the best restaurant at the time as far as I could make out. It has since moved to The Fox in Folksworth just outside Peterborough. www.foxatfolksworth.co.uk

Edinburgh – a tasting menu at Timberyard

Posted in Edinburgh, Old Town, Scotland, United Kingdom with tags , on January 24, 2019 by gannet39

This visit in late July 2016 was my third time in Edinburgh, and like the others, it was a fleeting one-night affair.

Here’s my Google map with quite a few other restaurants, bars and hotels on it.

After work I went to this place a couple of streets south west of the castle…

Timberyard (Advanced B+), 10 Lady Lawson St, www.timberyard.co

Out of the many top notch restaurants in the Scottish capital I decided to come here because it’s one of Guardian restaurant reviewer Marina O’Loughlin’s favourite restaurants in the UK. It’s an upmarket hipster joint (tattooed young staff, reclaimed industrial interior) but not in a bad way.

Unfortunately very few of my photos came out as the lighting was very low. I don’t hold that against them as I’d light it in the same way if it were my restaurant.

I had the six course menu (other options are four or eight courses) for £65 with the paired drinks add-on for £50.

We began with an amuse bouche of Sourdough, Onion, Crowdie and Truffle which was fine (B). Crowdie is similar to cottage cheese and is said to have been introduced by the Vikings in the 8th century.

This was paired with a titchy pouring of a beer called Burning Sky Saison Anniversaire from Sussex which was okay (C) but not what I really wanted, especially at an average price of £7 a drink.

Things kicked off properly with Crab, Lobster, Pea, Horseradish, Brioche, a delightful combination (A) although I couldn’t detect the latter two ingredients.

This was served with Orea, a 2010 Ar Riesling Spatlese from Saar, Germany which was just okay to my, admittedly limited, palate (B).

Next, the Raw Beef, Quail Yolk, Daikon, Buckwheat, Shallot, was also excellent (A).

With this, a glass of 2010 manzanilla (B+) called La Bota de Florpower 53 Mas Alta by Equipo Navazos from the Jerez DO in Spain. The bottle looked familiar so I think I may have had something else from their bodega.

After this, another riot of fantastic flavours with Scallop, Smoked Roe, Courgette, Fennel, Leek (A).

This was matched with Le Coste Bianchetto 2014 from Lazio, Italy; a cloudy and highly unusual mix of fifteen different grapes (B).

Next, the Duck, Elderberry, Beetroot, Tarragon was again excellent (A).

This matched well with my favourite wine of the night; Le Grappin a 2015 Fleurie-Poncie from Beaujolais, France which had a great nose and strong flavours (B+).

The following Lamb, Carrot, Mushroom, Radish, Kale, Chard pressed all my buttons. Three different parts of the lamb were used including the heart. I adore big flavours and the caramelised jus elevated this to being my favourite dish of the night (A+).

The 2014 Olek Bondonio Barbera D’Alba from Piemonte, Italy was a fairly good match for this (B).

Finally for dessert I was given Blueberry, Strawberry, Oatmeal, Buttermilk, Mint which was nice (B+) and apparently very simple. I must have a crack at this myself.

This came with a glass of 2001 Maximin Grunhauser, Abstberg Riesling Spatlese from Mosel Germany which was served from a huge bottle and probably cost a fortune, although I was not completely enamoured with its petroleum flavours (B).

In short then, the food had some fantastic flavour combinations but the drinks failed to impress me. Having said that, I’m not the greatest connoisseur and they were certainly all highly unusual. I only felt slightly ripped off as the experience was still better value than many fine dining establishments in other parts of the country. I’d definitely recommend it but personally I will probably try somewhere else next time I’m in town.

After this I went in search of a nightcap near my guest house to the north of the castle…

Bramble Bar & Lounge (Intermediate B+), 15A Queen Street, www.bramblebar.co.uk

This small atmospheric bar is not easy to find as it’s in a basement and has no sign. I would have completely missed it if a customer hadn’t been smoking outside. I finished the evening with a couple of decent Negronis for £7 each, much cheaper than at Timberyard where they are £12. I also liked the cosy atmosphere, the hiphop soundtrack and the friendly hipster barman so I’d definitely come pop in again if I was passing.

The Lake District – an evening at Lake Road Kitchen in Ambleside

Posted in Ambleside, Cumbria, England, Lake District, United Kingdom with tags , on January 23, 2019 by gannet39

Although I’m quite well-travelled (fifty two countries and counting), to my shame I’ve hardly been anywhere in my own country, the Lake District being a case in point. My father tells me we came on a family holiday when I was ten but that it was a soggy affair as it rained all the time. The weather wasn’t much different on this one night visit in late July 2016 when I was up in Windermere for work, but I didn’t mind, I was happy just to be there, even fleetingly.

Here’s my Google map with a few other hotels and restaurants recommended by guides and friends.

Lake Road Kitchen (Advanced B+), Lake Road, Ambleside, www.lakeroadkitchen.co.uk

This excellent restaurant was recommended by Alex Shaw an award winning chef friend of mine and it also features in the 100 Best Places to Eat in the UK list.

They are known for their obsession with sourcing quality ingredients, which includes growing their own and foraging in the Cumbrian countryside.

It was a bit quiet on the Sunday I went so I got a lot of attention from the friendly chef (owner?) as I was seated right next to the pass. I think he’d worked out I was a blogger so he regaled me with the backstories of a lot of his ingredients. It was fascinating but I was too tired from work to fully retain all the wisdom he passed on.

I began with a Negroni which was pretty decent (B+) although I was later scandalised to find out it cost £15!

On the positive side it was made with an unusual vermouth from Turin (the home of vermouth) called Mancini which I hadn’t tried before.

I had the eight-course tasting menu for £90. It began with the Braised Hereford Snails with LRK Miso, Parsley and Chickweed which looked suitably slimy but also managed to taste very good (B+).

This was matched with a 2013 Domaine Du Daley, Le Chasselas Selection, Villette Grand Cru from Vaud in Switzerland (B).

Next the LRK Garden Salad, plucked from their own garden, was lovely and fresh (A).

I loved the Tempura Courgette Flower that came with it as well (A).

The 2013 Albourne Estate Bacchus from West Susex, England, went well with this (B+). It had a fantastic nose and showed once more that you can get decent wine from England. I must try and get some. [2019 note, just looked at their website www.albourneestate.co.uk and the 2017 was going for £15 but sold out really quickly].

I really enjoyed the Monkfish Cheeks, Charred Spring Onion, Chicken & Herb Stew (B+).

The 2013 Valpolicella Classico Velluto Meroni from Veneto that went with the cheeks was fine (B).

My favourite dish was the Cumbrian Milk Fed Veal, Stew of Summer Legumes which had fantastic green flavours (A).

This was paired with a glass of 2012 Domaine A et P de Villaine, Mercurey Les Montots from Cote Chalonnaise, France (B).

I also loved the Lemon Verbena Tart, Buckwheat Pastry, Alpine Strawverries and Wild Strawberry Sauce (A). My photo was too blurry sorry but I can assure you it was beautifully presented.

This went well with the 2012 Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, Delas Freres from the Rhone Valley in France (B+).

Finally I was given an extra dessert of Tayberries, Salmonberry Sauce, Rose Granita (A). I’d never had these berries before which isn’t surprising as they have a very short season and the chefs had to wade along the river banks to pick them.

The Lake District generally is quite expensive and this restaurant was no exception. However I admire their dedication and the efforts they go to in order to procure the finest, freshest local ingredients. Definitely somewhere I’d recommend you go to if you’re in the area and want to treat yourself.

Yokohama – Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum

Posted in Japan, Kanto, Shin-Yokohama, Yokohama with tags , , , , on January 22, 2019 by gannet39

On my last day in Japan I went to Raumen Museum www.raumen.co.jp

This ‘museum’, dedicated to my favourite noodle soup, opened just a few weeks before I went home to the UK back in 1996, but I was always too busy to go there. It’s located in Shin-Yokohama which was one of the trai, stops on my way to and from work, so you can imagine my frustration at passing it twice a day and not being able to go. I finally managed to tick it off my bucket list in 2016 when it was celebrating its 20th anniversary.

My Google map is here.

Calling it a museum is a bit of a stretch, although in the museum shop there are a couple of displays about the international spread of ramen and the methods and utensils used for making it.

I’d describe it as being more of a themed food court with eight ramen shops selling different styles of ramen on floors B1 and B2. There’s also a bar and a couple of other shops, one selling nostalgic sweets and chocolate bars.

The lower floors have been designed to look like city streets from 1958 (the year the instant noodle was invented) and they do quite a good job of it.

There’s lots of period paraphernalia dotted about.

My sole reason for being here was to eat, but with eight shops to choose from, I faced a conundrum. Fortunately all the shops sell half bowls so it was possible to try a few. The ramen shops can be divided into four styles; Tonkotsu, which involves a pork stock based soup, Miso, which employs bean paste, Shoyu/Salt with soya sauce or salt, and International with versions of ramen from Italy and Germany. I resolved to try one from each group but only managed the first three, probably because I also had a regional beer from each shop, and some giant-sized gyoza dumplings at the last one.

Each shop has a vending machine outside where you choose and pay for what you want. The buttons have helpful pictures for each menu item but this isn’t always the case everywhere and it can be hard to know what you’re going to get.

Komurasaki

This historic ramen shop was founded in Kumamoto, Kyushu in 1954. The light stock is a blend of chicken bone and vegetable broth with a tonkotsu (pork bone) base. The soup uses their own specially-flavored oil, and roasted garlic chips are scattered over the top.

I enjoyed the broth (B+) but the noodles were a bit too soft for me (B). The garlic really helped the overall good flavour.

Kirin Beer is okay but not particularly exciting (B).

Sumire – this location now closed?

Sumire is one of Sapporo’s most popular ramen shops. This rich, heavy miso soup has a distinct ginger flavour and a fresh aftertaste. Rather than roast pork it uses pork mince which helps the flavours spread. I enjoyed the broth (B+) and the noodles (B+).

The Sapporo ‘Classic’ Beer was a new one on me (B).

Genkotsu

Genkotsu’s stock includes pork bone, chicken bone, fatty cuts of tuna and konbu (kelp). It’s shoyu style which means a flavouring sauce containing soya sauce and salt is mixed in. I enjoyed the broth (B+) and the noodles (B+).

Their jumbo gyoza are unique (B+).

Asahi ‘Premium’ Beer is great (A).

Your entrance ticket will allow you to return to the museum in the same day, so technically it would be possible to have lunch, go and do something else, and then come back for dinner. That something else could be a trip to the Cup Noodle Museum www.cupnoodles-museum.jp, also located in Yokohama, but I’d left it a bit late in the day to squeeze it in as it closes at 16.30. Here’s another blog that reviews it though.

And that my friends is my last post of sixteen on Tokyo and Yokohama. Back home to Blighty for a while now.

Tokyo – Skytree in Sumida

Posted in Japan, Kanto, Sumida, Tokyo with tags on January 21, 2019 by gannet39

I do enjoy climbing tall things to get a good view of where I am and before I came to Tokyo I’d planned to go up either the Tokyo Tower (333 metres) or the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (243 metres).

My Google map is here.

Unbeknownst to me both these sights had now been eclipsed by the Tokyo Skytree www.tokyo-skytree.jp which at 654m is the world’s highest tower (the second is the Canton Tower in Guangzhou at 600m). Although there are a few tall buildings in Tokyo, they usually can’t go too high because of the threat of earthquakes, but the Skytree employs state-of-the-art engineering to overcome this problem.

There are two levels for public access, one at 350m, and another at 450m, but the top of the tower reaches 654m.

It’s not cheap, the first level cost a little over Y2000 (£14) in 2016 and I could have paid another Y1000 or so to go to the next one, but the view was so good on the first level that I didn’t feel that I needed to.

From up here you can see Greater Tokyo stretching off in all directions, only limited by the bay on one side.

You can also make out the tall towers of Shibuya and Shinjuku which stand out from other neighbourhoods.

Even Mount Fuji was just about discernible, although it’s probably better to come earlier in the day before the pollution haze rises to get a clearer view of it.

My personal video here.

Looking down at the base of the tower through the plate glass window is quite vertigo inducing as well.

I’ve developed a penchant for eating in high places (see my Hong Kong post) but the café didn’t have much on offer except sandwiches and Karē Raisu (Japanese curry rice) which I’m not particularly fond of. I decided to try it again to see if I still feel the same. It’s okay as a sauce to make plain rice a bit more interesting, but there are many other things I’d rather have. The view from the cafe was great though.

So the Skytree is an entertaining if slightly pricey tourist experience, but one I’d recommend if you’re not on a budget. If you are then go to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Shinjuku which is free.

I’d like to come back another time after nightfall and see the city lit up. Or earlier in the day to get a clearer view of Fuji. At midday it’s a bit too busy for my tastes.

Down to Yokohama next!

Tokyo – Kitchen Knives in Kappabashi

Posted in Japan, Kanto, Kappabashi, Tokyo with tags , , , , on January 20, 2019 by gannet39

Kappabashi is a district near Asakusa that specialises in kitchen and restaurant equipment. It’s a fun neighbourhood to visit if you’re a foodie or a chef.

My Google map is here.

On the main street every shop specialises in a different kind of culinary equipment, such as pots and pans…

…Americana…

…Chinese lanterns.

For my 50th birthday my friends had clubbed together and given me some money to spend on what I liked and I decided to get something I’d always wanted; a Japanese fish knife.

I’d been advised by Kazuki Watanabe the friendly chef at Higashiyama in Meguro that the best knives generally used in the catering industry were made either by Aritsugu, an Osaka based company, or Masamoto in Tokyo but they were a bit out of my league at upwards of £300 ($400 or Y44,000) for a good carbon steel knife.

Further research on the internet identified two shops in Kappabashi as being the best place to buy knives, Kamata and Kama-asa.

Kamata was the first shop we came to and the helpful English-speaking assistant gave me lots of info about the impressive selection on display.

Fish knives came in three lengths and in three grades; blue and white tungsten and stainless steel. Blue tungsten is the best, and most expensive, as it’s harder wearing and so stays sharper for longer, with stainless at the other end of the price scale as it needs sharpening more often.

I compromised with a white tungsten medium-sized blade which cost Y31,000 (£220), about Y10,000 less than a blue tungsten of the same length.

Some of them are decorated very beautifully.

I also bought two Western-style stainless steel knives. I did worry about getting the knives at home but I didn’t declare them (the declaration form I had to fill out only mentioned Samurai swords) and put them in my hold baggage and they got home without incedent.

Another shop we stopped in on was Ganso Shokuhin Sample-ya, famed for making the plastic replicas that are used in restaurant window displays in Japan.

There’s a plastic version of just about any kind of food you can think of.

They had a few extreme examples on show.

On the second floor they have a workshop where you can learn to make your own replicas. A popular choice is making your own lettuce. The process has been filmed and put on Youtube and Facebook many times. Unfortunately many people actually believe that this lettuce is then sold for human consumption and don’t realise they are having their legs pulled! Videos here.

If you want to have a go yourself you need to book a demonstration and take someone to translate for you.

Tokyo Skytree next!

Tokyo – Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa

Posted in Asakusa, Japan, Kanto, Tokyo with tags , on January 19, 2019 by gannet39

Asakusa is most famous for Senso-ji Buddhist Temple. Founded in 628AD, it’s Tokyo’s oldest temple and a major tourist site that attracts big crowds. It was the very first place I was taken when I arrived in Tokyo as a young teacher back in 1991, so it was really nice to visit it again after so many years.

My Google map is here.

You enter the temple complex via the Kaminarimon gate, famous for its huge red lantern.

As this is Japan, you then pass through a street full of shops.

They are selling such essential take home items as Geta (open toed sandals)…

…and Furin (wind chimes).

You then come to Hozomon, the second gate.

Before praying you should go through a purification process.

First you wash your hands in the water flowing from the mouths of eight dragons in the Omizusha (water hut).

Next you waft smoke over yourself at the Jokoro, an incense brazier. It’s believed that if the smoke touches unhealthy parts of the body they will get better.

Finally you climb the steps to the main hall…

… and throw some change into the big box at the open door of the temple and put your hands together in prayer. Here Shinsaku is praying that his chosen horses for the day will win their races!

From the temple it’s just a short walk to the Sumida River. Boat tours leave from here should you fancy one.

We came just to see the view. Over the water is the Asahi Beer Headquarter Building was designed by French designer Philippe Starck and completed in 1989. It is topped by the Asahi Flame which is meant to represent the ‘burning heart of Asahi beer’.Shinsaku told me the building is known by some locals as ‘the Golden Turd’ (kin no unko, 金のうんこ)!

Off to Kappabashi Cook’s Town next!

Tokyo – Soba in Akihabara

Posted in Akihabara, Japan, Kanto, Tokyo with tags on January 18, 2019 by gannet39

Akihabara has the nickname of ‘Electric Town’ (Akiba Denki-gai). Historically it’s the place to come to buy electrical goods of every kind. You can visit whole department stores dedicated to the products of a single electronics company or shop at market stalls selling individual components and microchips. Shops for cameras, computers, games and various hobbies make it a mecca for otaku (geek) culture.

My Google map is here.

Nowadays it’s also known for maid cafes and pop idol theatres.

On this occasion though I’d come to eat.

On the other side of the river there are some venerable old restaurants.

Kandayabusoba (Intermediate A), 〒101-0063 東京都千代田区神田淡路町2丁目102-10 Kanda-Awajicho, Chiyoda-ku, www.yabusoba.net , open 11.30am-8pm

This is the place to come to try Soba.

The buckwheat noodles are served in a broth (either hot or cold) called Tsuyu which is made of from dashi soup stock and a mixture of soy sauce, mirin and sugar. The menu had several options including Nameko (a kind of mushroom, with grated radish), Anago (eel), Okame (with kamaboko fish paste) or Tempura (prawns in this case). For something different I tried the hot Kamo Nanban; soba topped with duck meat and green onions. It was good (B+) but I still prefer the cold version.

I had it with a bottle of Yebisu, a favourite Japanese beer that I’ve never seen outside of the country.

I’m not sure what this old place over the road is called but it specialises in Fugu, the poisonous puffer fish which kills a couple of Japanese diners every year. The chefs have to be specially certified to prepare it which makes it’s very expensive. In fact most Japanese people have never tried it because they can’t afford it.

Back in the 90s when I was a teacher here, I was lucky enough to try fugu thanks to a wealthy student. It was served in two ways as I recall. First the bones were boiled up to make a soup, and secondly as sashimi. I remember being very disappointed by the bland flavour which made me think it’s just a gimmick food; something dangerous you can say you’ve eaten. I’d like to give it another go though to see if I like it more.

Thankfully that evening was saved by the amazing sushi the chef prepared for the next course. The super fresh fish was sliced with lightning speed and moulded into nigiris in a matter of seconds. At the time it was the best sushi I’d ever eaten. The rich student (her husband owned an umeboshi plum factory) treated her whole class and all the school staff, about ten people. Later when she was paying the bill (in cash as is the Japanese way) I saw her had over the equivalent of a couple of thousand pounds!

So does anyone want to treat me?

Tokyo – Eating Italian food in Tsukiji

Posted in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Tsukiji with tags on January 17, 2019 by gannet39

And finally, just for a change, an Italian restaurant…

Trattoria Tsukiji Paradiso (Intermediate B+), 6丁目-27-3 Tsukiji, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 104-0045, www.tsukiji-paradiso.com

It would be hard for me to try to choose between Italian and Japanese seafood, so I’m not going to! Normally I only eat the food of the country I’m in but when I heard that Tsukiji had a good Italian restaurant I had to try it. I love seafood linguine which, along with the seafood risotto, is the house speciality.

Unfortunately it wasn’t very easy to get in. The waiter I met was a complete tyrant and unpleasant to such a point that I wondered if he was being racist towards me. Thankfully this was a rare experience for me when I lived in Japan but it did happen occasionally. Other Westerners have said as much about what must be the same waiter on various review forums but to be sure I read the Japanese reviews and they also mention a very rude waiter, so the jury is out for me.

Despite my very polite enquiries using his language, this waiter looked at the diary and told me they were fully booked up lunch and dinner for the foreseeable future and that there was no way I could get in. It turns out that reservations aren’t taken, or at least are very hard to make, but you can get in for lunch if you go early and wait a short while outside, which is what I did the very next day. A different, much nicer, waiter let me in and seated me. But guess who my table waiter was!? You should have seen his face! I was annoyingly nice to him the whole meal, except for a tiny tiff over his description of the wines but he actually mellowed towards me a bit when I spoke a bit of Italian to him. Not sure exactly what his problem was but he’s in the wrong job…

Anyway enough of him, I got what I wanted, the wonderful Linguine alla Paradiso (A) with cherry tomatoes, mussels and two kinds of clams. It was indistinguishable from anything I’d had from Campania which isn’t a surprise when you learn the chef trained in Sorrento.

To finish a Baba (a famous Neapolitan dessert) with cream, which again was just like the real thing (A).

Total cost with a good coffee and wine was Y6530, about £46; fairly good value given the quality.

Tokyo – Eating Sushi in Tsukiji

Posted in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Tsukiji with tags , , , , , , , on January 16, 2019 by gannet39

As I mentioned in my previous post about Tsukiji market, I ate sushi nine times in the six days I stayed in Tsukiji, for breakfast, lunch and dinner! My excuse for this overindulgence is that sushi is one of my favourite ever foods and this was the best I’d ever eaten, so of course I had to fill my boots. Thankfully it was also the best value I’ve ever had, because of how close the restaurants were to the market.

As well as freshness, another key factor to eating sushi is seasonality. The winter is the best time to eat it (I was lucky to be there in late November/early December) because that’s when many sea creatures put on fat to protect themselves from the cold, and as we know, fat is where the flavour is. As a general rule of thumb then, the colder the water, the better the seafood.

I also got to eat several things I’d never tried before, thanks to the amazing selection that the world’s biggest fish market has to offer.

However, I should warn readers with a weak stomach that they might not find some of the things I mention below to be very palatable! Read on at your own risk!

If you’re thinking of visiting the wholesale fish market please note that it has relocated from Tsukiji to Toyosu in 2018. All the new and old locations of the businesses below are on my 2019 map.

Sushi Katsura (Intermediate B+), 〒104-0045 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Tsukiji, 2 Chome−15, 築地2丁目15−4 www.sushi-katsura.jp , still open

This was my first sushi experience of the trip, a quick lunch while I was waiting to check into my AirBnB. It had a good price/quality ratio so it’s a good place but nothing out of this world. The restaurant is a little difficult to find as it’s hidden down a back alley, but it’s just a couple of blocks away from Tsukiji market.

I had the Omakase, a standard sushi set which typically consists of the ‘chef’s choice’ of around nine Nigiris (hand-pressed rice balls with a seafood or omelette topping) and a Maki (a seaweed roll cut into six or eight sections).

The word Omakase translates as ‘to entrust’ so you’re literally saying to the chef ‘I’ll leave it up to you’. There’s an element of risk in doing that as you may not have the same tastes as the chef, who you’ve effectively just invited to surprise you, but usually you’ll get the best quality seafood in the restaurant at a cheaper price than if you were making the selection. Ordering a la carte is known as Okonomi and it’s fine to do this instead, but ideally you should know your sushi.

I sat at the bar where the sushi is served on banana leaves (as opposed to a beautiful lacquered box if you get a private room). The first serving of Nigiris included…

…Akami (lean red tuna), Ika (squid), Aji (horse mackerel, which is usually sliced with some skin remaining on one side and served with freshly grated ginger and minced scallions).

Also Chutoro (medium fatty tuna), Tai (sea bream), Sake (salmon, pronounced as “sha-keh” rather than as “sa-keh” for the fermented rice spirit of the same name ).

This comes with a stack of Gari; sliced pickled ginger that is used to cleanse the palate between different types of sushi. It also aids digestion and helps to kill microbes in the raw fish.

Sushi courses usually progress from lighter fish to richer, fattier ones. The second banana leaf held Hotate (scallop), Ebi (prawn/shrimp), Tako (octopus) and Unagi (freshwater eel, as opposed to Anago or Conger eel), Tamagoyaki (omelette) and trios of Kappa Maki (cucumber roll) and Oshinko Maki (aka Takuan aka pickled giant radish aka Daikon).

After the Omakase I still wanted more so I asked the chef for “shun no sakana” (fish of the seasons) and in return was given this. What’s your best guess?

They are Shirako (milt aka sperm sacs of male cod) which are briefly in season between December and February. So yes, this is one of the things I warned you about at the beginning of this post! All I can say is don’t knock it till you try it, it is actually really, really good. The pleasant flavour and creamy texture were sublime, definitely one of the best things I’ve ever eaten in Japan (A+). Eating milt is not unknown in Europe. In Sicily tuna milt is used as a pasta topping known as ‘lattume’. It would make a good test to separate the gourmets from the gourmands.

I finished with a pair of Toro Nigiris. The fatty marbled belly tuna looked almost like bacon but tasted even more sublime. An eye closing moment (A+).

One of my favourite restaurants was also just outside the market…

Tsukiji Sushidai Honkan (Intermediate A) 6 Chome-21-2 Tsukiji, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 104-0045

This is a popular spot on the main road in front of the market area, Harumi Dori.

The opening hours were more acessable than the market restaurants so I ended up eating here three times. They have at least two sushi counters, in the basement and on the ground floor, and I think private rooms on the second floor.

I had the best negiri I’ve ever eaten here (A++); Kawahagi (filefish) with its own Kimo (liver) and a small amount of chives. The fish has quite a subtle taste but the addition of the creamy liver just sends it to another level. Absolutely sublime. I like it so much that next time I go to Japan I’m going to try and go to the port in Shizuoka where it’s landed and try it there.

I was very lucky to catch it in season (late October to early December).

My second favourite was Shirako again, here served with Ankimo (monkfish liver) another delicacy that has the nickname “foie gras of the sea”.

A second time it was served as a Gunkan Maki, which translates as ‘battleship style’. This is where a band of Nori (seaweed) is wrapped around a rice ball with a bit of space at the top to contain something that might otherwise fall off, such as Ikura (red salmon roe) or Tobiko (orange/yellow flying fish roe). You can see some Tobiko on top of the Shirako in the pic below.

Note the lack of soya sauce in any of these pictures, along with Wasabi (grated Japanese horseradish). Adding either would be poor etiquette as you’re questioning the quality of the restaurant’s fish. At Sushidai, if soya sauce is needed, the chef paints it straight onto the nigiri with a brush.

Here you can see the three main cuts of tuna; Otoro belly tuna at the top, medium fatty Chutoro below that and at the bottom lean Akami.

Another way I’ve heard it described is that there are two kinds, Akami and Toro, but there is two kinds of Toro, Chutoro and Otoro. The o- prefix in Japanese is an honorific that adds respect, in this case for the very best tuna.

In this photo you can see the big contrast between the fat content of Akami and Otoro.

As well as different cuts there are also different preparations. Aburi (flame seared) uses a blowtorch to change the flavour of the tuna, making it softer and adding an interesting aroma.

Negitoro (a blend of minced toro and Japanese green onion).

Otoro will always be the best though.

I love prawns and there were several different kinds.

Ama-ebi (sweet or Northern prawn) was my favourite.

Botan-ebi (pandalid shrimp) here it was served uncooked, which was very good, but I prefer the Ama-ebi.

Kuruma-ebi, a large salt-grilled prawn.

I also had some gresat deep-fried white prawns (A) which I couldn’t read the Japanese name for. They were eaten shells and all because they are so small, which reminded me of the tiny deep-fried prawns used for Tortillitas de Camarones in Cadiz (see here).

The difference between a prawn and a shrimp is a matter of great confusion amongst English speakers however no such distinction is made in Japanese, there are just different types of Ebi.

Uni (sea urchins) with strips of Nori (edible seaweed) for picking them up.

Sazae ( horned turban sea snail).

Akagai (ark shell) which was butterflied to fit on the nigiri.

Ika sashimi (raw squid without rice).

Other delicacies included…

Awabi (abalone).

Hamaguri (Orient clam, grilled).

And even a deep fried fishcake which caught me by suprise.

Tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette) looks good here too. Some people judge the quality of a sushi restaurant on how good the Tamagoyaki nigiris are.

My drink of choice with sushi on a cold winter evening is always Atsukan (hot sake).

So lots of variety and good quality sushi at Sushidai. The staff can be friendly, it’s easy to find, open late and you can usually get a seat. What’s not to like?

Into the market next…

The restaurants in the outer market opened at 5am to serve the market workers and closed early, which is why I had sushi for breakfast on a few occasions. Over time the clientele changed to tourists but the opening times stayed the same. I’m happy to say all three of the market shushi shops I went to have successfully made the move to Toyosu and are still in business. I give both the new and old addresses at the top of the review.

Sushi Dai was the most famous of the market sushi restaurants (now moved to Toyosu), and deservedly so I’m sure. However, when most tourists arrived at the market, they would automatically join Sushi Dai’s insanely long queue (sometimes four or more hours!) without actually knowing what they were queueing for. When I went I’d just walk around them and go into one of the many other excellent places in the same alley or the next which had virtually no people waiting.

This place was actually right next door to Sushi Dai…

Daiwa (Elementary A), OLD LOCATION: 〒104-0045 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Tsukiji, 5 Chome−2−1 築地市場6号館1F, NEW LOCATION: 6 Chome-3-2 Toyosu, Kōtō-ku, Tōkyō-to 135-0061

Okay, there was a short queue here as well as they are also quite famous, but it was only about 15 minutes max.

Rather than get the usual boring Omakase I asked the friendly chef for “shun no sakana” (fish of the seasons) in the hope of getting some more unusual nigiris. He didn’t disappoint.

The Tai (sea bream) was great (A). I’m told this kind of sea bream is impossible to get outside Japan.

I’d had grilled Hamaguri (Orient clam) at Sushi Dai but this was the first time on a nigiri (A).

I enjoyed the Engawa (flounder) as well (B+).

Buri (Japanese amberjack or yellowtail) was also nice (B).

Their Kawahagi (filefish) served with its own liver was stunning again, as it had been at Sushidai (A+). The Aji (horse mackerel) (A), Negitoro (minced toro with scallion (A), and Hotate (scallop) (B) were also good, as were many others the names of which I couldn’t catch.

Sushi Maru (High Elementary B+), OLD LOCATION: 5-2-1 Tsukiji | Tsukuji Whole Sale Market Bldg. 10, Tsukiji, Chuo 104-0045, NEW LOCATION:〒135-0061 Tōkyō-to, Kōtō-ku, Toyosu, 6 Chome−6−6 1 管理施設棟314, tukijikagura.jp

Although they do many of the typical nigiris that other places do, Sushi Maru seems to specialise in Aburi Sushi where the topside is lightly grilled with a blowtorch and the underside left raw.

When I went to the old location I had a the Aburi Jyu set which included grilled Sāmon (salmon), Ika (squid), Chutoro (medium fatty tuna) along with Ikura (salmon roe) and omelette, ginger and pickles on the side.

I also had Anago (Conger eel). By contrast Unagi (freshwater eel) is slightly richer and oilier. Both are painted with a brown sauce called Kabayaki and grilled.

I thought I’d compare Tsubugai (whelk) with Akagai (ark shell) and found the former more chewy (B-) and the latter more tender (B).

I also had some Kaki (oysters) which were good but a bit too big for my taste (B+).

Sushi Bun (High Elementary B+), OLD LOCATION: 8 Chuo Shijo Building, 5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, NEW LOCATION: 6 Chome-5 Toyosu, Koto, Tokyo 135-0061, www.tsukijinet.com

This shop specialised in Chirashizushi, sushi rice in a bowl with various seafood or vegetable toppings. I had it as part of a set with Miso soup, tea and pickles.

In my bowl I got Sāmon (salmon), Chutoro (medium fatty tuna) Uni (sea urchins). I prefer this sushi style when I’m very hungry as it’s more filling and satisfying than nigiris.

As an aside, did you know that salmon was only actually introduced as a sushi ingredient into Japan by a Norwegian entrepreneur in the 1980s!

Midori Ginza (Intermediate B-), 〒104-0061 Tokyo, Chūō, Ginza, 7 Chome−2番先 東京高速道路山下ビル 1F, www.sushinomidori.co.jp

So this popular sushi restaurant (one of a chain) is in neighbouring Ginza rather than Tsukiji but I wanted to show how different two sushi places can be, even when they’re both near the fish market. It’s popularity is due to the sushi being quite cheap in comparison to other mid-range places. I had to wait half an hour but got in eventually.

Here I had the usual Omakase which was fine if unexciting (B).

Also, some Sāmon Uramaki (inside out sushi roll) which had been drizzled with mayonnaise. You just wouldn’t see mayo or any sauces on sushi in a traditional Japanese sushi-ya. It’s more typical of Nikkei sushi, that is, second generation Japanese cuisine in the Americas where they like that kind of thing. I don’t mind it too much (B).

As another aside, California Roll is another example of a Nikkei Urumaki. One of the key ingredients in California Roll is Kani Kama, or imitation crab meat, another ingredient I have never seen used for sushi in Japan. Kani Kama is a kind of Surimi (imitation crab, lobster or eel which is actually made with fish paste, often pollock or cod) which is used elsewhere in Japanese cuisine, but not with sushi to my knowledge.

The biggest let down though was the Kawahagi, my favourite new discovery, which at Sushidai I’d scored A++. Although it looked the part it only scored a flavourless C and I have no idea why. Perhaps the attention to detail must be lacking in such a big busy place.

As a friend once told me, there are two things you should never skimp on in life, sushi and plastic surgery. Never was a wiser word spoken.

I did try to get into the three Michelin star Sukiyabashi Jiro www.sushi-jiro.jp in Ginza, but I didn’t succeed. It’s tiny and you have to book weeks ahead. Here anyway is the sushi master’s guide to eating sushi.

Expect a Toyosu post at some point…

Tokyo – Tsukiji Fish Market

Posted in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Tsukiji with tags , , , , , on January 14, 2019 by gannet39

Coming to Tsukiji, the world’s largest fish market, was something of a pilgrimage for me as it was something I’d wanted to do for more than twenty years. When I lived in Japan in the 90s I was always working or partying too much to go.

This trip then was my chance to put this right so I rented a small apartment via AirBnB right next to the market. From my back door I could see the rooves of the market sheds and Tokyo Bay Bridge beyond.

In the six days I was there I ate sushi, one of my favourite foods, on nine occasions, and I’ve dedicated the next post to cover what I learned from those experiences.

I was especially thankful to be there in late November/early December 2016 partly because this is the best time of year to eat seafood and partly because the market had been due to close in October and move elsewhere. Thankfully for me, the move had been delayed indefinitely due to problems with the new site, so I was very lucky to see the old market in full flow.

The market is organised into two parts, inner and outer, and confusingly, there is also a street market outside the fish market itself. The inner market is the fish wholesale market where chefs and restaurateurs go to buy their fish every morning from 5am.

Tourists are not allowed in here until 10am when most of the action is over. This is for safety reasons as market porters are zipping around at high speed on small trucks called turrets and it can get very congested and busy.

You wouldn’t want to get run over by one of these.

I still saw some amazing things on sale; huge octopus tentacles, the biggest bivalves I’ve ever seen, boxes of poisonous fugu fish, and everywhere men wielding huge fish knives. Please click on the photos to enlarge.

The outer market includes the sushi restaurants and the shops selling products related to eating seafood such as ceramics, knives, bill hooks, seaweed, some pickles and fresh wasabi roots. It’s open to all from 5am. Again, click on the photos to expand them.

In addition there is a street market outside the fish market itself.

This is where to come for your ready-to-eat seafood and pickles amongst other things. Click to enlarge.

One of the main attractions for tourists is to visit the tuna auction but it’s not easy to get in to it. Only 120 tourists are allowed to view it per day and during peak periods you have to get there at around 3.30am to be at the front of the queue. Once you’ve been admitted into the waiting room you then have to hang about until 5 or 5.45am which are the starting times for two groups of 60 to see the auction for 45 minutes each.

On the occasion I went we were fortunate to be entertained for some of the waiting time by Kosei, one of the tuna buyers who edified us in excellent English with some interesting facts about tuna. The buyers work very long days so god knows how he had the time to learn a language. Here is some of what I remember from his speech.

The Japanese consume 25% of the world’s tuna. There are four types of tuna, the best of which is considered to be Bluefin, and the best Bluefin comes from the Tsugaru Strait off Omamachi in Aomori Prefecture in northern Honshu. Bluefin tuna unloaded at Omamachi are known as Oma Maguro and they tend to sell for double the price of tuna caught elsewhere. The second best comes from around Boston on the north eastern coast of the US and the American fish are called Jumbos because they are flown in by jumbo jet.

Fishermen are not allowed to take tuna less than 20kg so as to allow stocks to replenish. Some fishing boats that have been out in distant seas for more than a year. The tuna they catch have spent as much as twelve months in a deep freeze.

Adult tuna are between two to three metres in length, the biggest ever caught was 679kg. The meat fetches between Y18,000 and Y5,000 depending on the quality. There are three grades of tuna; the cheapest is Akami (lean), the medium grade is Chutoro (medium fatty), and the best cut is Otoro (fatty tuna).

The most paid for a fish at the time of writing was just over a million pounds for a 222kg Bluefin back in 2013. It was sold at the first auction of the year which is traditionally the most competitive.

The buyers decide which tuna they are going to bid on by careful examination of the tail end of the fish. The tail has been removed so that they can hack out small pieces of flesh with a special bill hook.

They examine the meat for fat content by rubbing it between their fingers. Kosei will choose about ten fish to bid on but he says he gets his analysis wrong about one in seven times, despite having done the job for nineteen years, so it’s not an exact science and if they get it wrong they have to give the customer a discount. Quality then can vary by the individual fish as I found out when eating toro, the most fatty and most expensive part, with the most flavour.

Next to the fish market is Namiyoke Inari Jinja www.namiyoke.or.jp , a shinto shrine which guards the market and its traders.

Prayers are offered to the deities at the Honden building.

The other buildings house the Mikoshi, portable shrines, in the form of dragon heads.

The gold head is a male dragon and the red one is female.

Every mid year the shrine celebrates a festival called the Tsukiji Shishi Matsuri where two or three of the shrines are paraded around the streets. The shrines are extremely heavy (up to a metric ton) and require tens of men to carry them. Sometimes the bearers shake or toss the shrine to amuse the deity. As they’re dressed only in loin cloths and headbands it’s quite a sight!

Eating sushi in Tsukiji next…

Tokyo – Eating and Drinking in Ginza

Posted in Ginza, Japan, Kanto, Tokyo with tags , , , , on January 13, 2019 by gannet39

Ginza has lots of good places to eat and drink. Below are reviews of a select few of them. These and many more are on my map.

Little Okinawa (Intermediate B+), 8 Chome-7-10 Ginza, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 104-0061, tabelog.com , open noon-1.30pm, 5pm-3am Monday-Friday, noon-1.30pm, 4pm-midnight Saturday and Sunday

This cosy little restaurant was my first experience of Okinawan food and it was really interesting. The sub-tropical archipelago has always held a fascination for me and I’m determined to go and visit one day. Okinawans have a very distinct culture with their own language and cuisine which I’d love to learn more about. Coming here was a chance to do that.

Things started well with some delicious Umibudo (A), a kind of Okinawan seaweed whose name is translated as ‘sea grapes’.

Then some Tempura (B/B+) which included sweet potato, shallot, wormwood (!) and erm… luncheon meat! It wasn’t too bad actually (B).

Also Jimami-dofu, a tofu-like custard made from peanuts (B) and Onigiri where the rice had been cooked in mushroom broth and diced kale, pork, carrots and mushrooms mixed in (B). Sorry the pics didn’t come out.

Unfortunately I wasn’t too impressed by the local draught Orion beer (C+). It’s better out of a can.

On the other hand I quite enjoyed the local shochu called Awamori, described on the menu as Okinawan ‘whisky’. I tried four types; Mizuho (B), Danyu (B) and Zuisen (B+), or at least that’s how I think they’re spelled.

However the best of all was the Snake flavour! (A)

I really enjoyed eating here and would love to go back. The manager was lovely too.

Bulgari Bar (Advanced A), 〒104-0061 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Ginza, 2 Chome−7−12 ブルガリ銀座タワー 10F www.bulgarihotels.com

I expected lunch at Bulgari to be quite formal and staid but actually they were really hospitable and friendly. I had a great experience thanks mainly to the two homesick Italians I met, but more of that later.

I’d come for the famed Bulgari lunch box; miniature snacks immaculately presented in three bento-like boxes stacked on top of each other, a concept that made a big impression on me.

The first ‘Savory’ box displayed a Porchetta and Lettuce Sandwich (B+), an Arancini with White Truffle (A), Polenta Chips with Mantecato (B) and a Japanese Wagyu Beef Mini-Burger (A).

The second level, ‘Pastry’, revealed a Cotechino Potato Quiche (B), an Olive Oil Brioche (A), a Chocolate Tart (B+) and a piece of Salty Cacao (B+).

For the Brioche a waiter wheeled up a trolley with three different fillings to choose from. There were a couple of nice-sounding jams but naturally I went for the chocolate sauce.

The final ‘Sweets’ box (although most of the previous box were also sweets) contained a Coffee and Pistachio Roll Cake, a Citrus Baba and a Pear Jelly (B).

The star however was an Almond Mousse with Caramel Sauce (A+). I really loved this, must learn how to make it.

To finish a cocktail was in order and, as it was an Italian bar, I went with my all-time favourite, a Negroni.

The bar tender, Alessandro, put five bottles on the bar, rather than the usual three, so I trotted over to see what he was up to.

Besides the usual 30mls of Campari, London Gin and Red Vermouth (Carpano Antica Formula at my request) his trick is to add 10mls of Amaro Averna (a bitter from Sicily) and 10mls of Barolo Chinato, an aromatised wine similar to vermouth that I’d not come across before. The result was excellent (A+) and again something I’ll have to try at home.

After I’d finished eating I went to sit at the bar to continue chatting with Alessandro about his and my favourite cocktails and their ingredients. He followed up the Negroni (invented in Florence, his home town) with a Zombie; a tiki cocktail I’d previously avoided due to my dislike of fruit juices. However it tasted very nice (B+) and was lovely to look at.

We were soon joined by his boss Pietro from Puglia and the conversation developed into a more general discussion about Italian food, covering Burrata Mozzarella which costs a fortune in Japan but is cheap as chips in Puglia, and Florentine beef versus Wagyu which they slated for being too fatty despite it just having been served to me! I think I’d made them thoroughly homesick by the end of it.

I just happened to mention that I’d come to Japan as a birthday present to myself and the next thing I knew there was a tray of treats and a candle next to me, along with three tastings of various drinks we had discussed.

I didn’t tell them that my birthday had actually been two months earlier as I think a 50th anniversary is definitely one that’s worth milking.

I would happily have spent the rest of the day with these guys but had to pull myself away. However it was a real pleasure to experience this unexpected Italian hospitality in the heart of Ginza.

Here’s another place for a cocktail…

Bar Lupin (Intermediate B+, 〒104-0061 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Ginza, 5 Chome−5, 中央区銀座五丁目5番11号 www.lupin.co.jp

This basement bar is another classic drinking establishment. Lupin is the second oldest bar in Ginza, opened in 1928, (Bordeaux was the first in 1927) and has been patronised by many famous writers, photographers, artists and actors over the years.

It’s a little hard to find, down a back alley, see my Google map. It’s open 5pm till 11.30pm Tuesday to Saturday notwithstanding the opening hours displayed outside.

I went one evening for a couple of drinks and was welcomed by several friendly staff, most of whom seemed to be approaching the age of the bar itself. I had a well-made Martini in a nice glass.

The following Negroni and Mojito were fairly standard (B). Drinks were about Y1,400 each as I recall, and there was a cover charge of about Y800 which makes it quite expensive. It was a pleasant experience though.

Ginza Kagari (Elementary A), 1F Ginza A Building, 4-4-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku, 〒104-0061 Tokyo, 中央区銀座4丁目1−2, NOW CLOSED!

What would one of my posts be without a noodle shop! Sadly this Michelin bib gourmand rated establishment closed in 2017 which is really hard to understand as there was always a very long queue outside.

The signature dish was Tori Paitan Soba; thick, a creamy white soup made from chicken broth, which was a first for me. In the mouth it was very creamy and flavourful and the presentation was immaculate (A).

Kimuraya (Initial B+), 〒104-8212 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Ginza, 4 Chome−6−16 銀座三越 地下2階 www.kimuraya-sohonten.co.jp , floor B2 of Mitsukoshi www.mitsukoshi.co.jp

The basement food floor of the Mitsukoshi department store is an experience in itself. This bakery is particularly famous for Anpan, a Japanese bun filled with red bean paste which is sweet but not too sweet (B+).

The history is quite interesting. The bun was invented during the Meiji period by an unemployed Samurai called Kimura who opened the bakery, hence the name.

Tsukiji fish market next!

Tokyo – A Personal Shopping & Sightseeing Tour of Ginza

Posted in Ginza, Japan, Kanto, Tokyo with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2019 by gannet39

Ginza is one of the world’s elite shopping districts with whole buildings dedicated to famous international fashion brands such as Gucci, Prada, Dior etc.

There are plenty of other blogs about Ginza fashion so here I wanted instead to describe a little tour of the more interesting buildings that many of these famous brands inhabit. I’ve also included a few of my favourite shops for kitchen goods and home wares. The following post is about where and what to eat in Ginza. As ever, you will find all the places included on my map.

An optional start to the tour is the statue of Godzilla out of the west exit of Yurakucho station at 1丁目-2-2 Yūrakuchō, Chiyoda-ku. Yurakucho is the best station on the Yamanote line to go to Ginza.

Alternatively you could start on the other side of the tracks at the METoA Ginza shopping centre at 5 Chome-2-1 Ginza, Chūō-ku, metoa.jp I quite like the glass front of the otherwise unremarkable building…

… and the roof garden has a nice view over this part of Ginza.

Two blocks east is the Hermes building at 〒104-0061 東京都中央区Ginza, 5 Chome−4, 銀座5丁目4−1 8階 www.maisonhermes.jp with its dangling sculpture. It looks particularly nice at night.

Four blocks north is Akomeya (Intermediate A), コメヤ トウキョウ, 2 Chome-2-6 Ginza, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 104-6601, www.akomeya.jp

This is a great shop specialising in rice and rice related products where I had to hold myself back from spending a small fortune.

The first floor is a deli where I picked up some Furikake (sprinkle toppings for steamed rice) and tiny tins of Ichimi (chilli powder). The friendly shop assistant also recommended a brand of soya sauce from their extensive range and it was fantastic (and that’s coming from a certified soya sauce addict).

Also on the second floor there are lots of nice ceramics and things for the kitchen and bathroom. I want to try their restaurant next time. Rice, unsurprisingly, features heavily on the menu.

You could pop in to Tokyu Hands Ginza at〒104-0061 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Ginza, 2丁目2−14 マロニエゲート銀座1 5~9F ginza.tokyu-hands.co.jp if you’re looking at homewares, they have seven floors of them here. I got a nifty tool for making Nigiris from the kitchen department.

Even better for homewares and knickknacks of every kind is Ginza Loft at 〒104-0061 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Ginza, 2 Chome−4−6 ベルピア館3F- 6F www.loft.co.jp

Two blocks east the Mikimoto building at〒104-8145 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Ginza, 2 Chome−4−12, www.mikimoto.com has some nice windows.

One block east, De Beers the diamond jewellers at 〒104-0061 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Ginza, 2 Chome−5−11 デビアス銀座ビルディング www.debeers.co.jp has a very unusual façade.

It deserves a couple more shots.

On the same block to the north is the Dear Ginza building at 〒104-0061 Tōkyō-to, Chūō-ku, Ginza, 1 Chome−6, 銀座1丁目6-8It looks completely different at night to what it does in the daytime.

A couple of more blocks east (via lunch at Bulgari? – see next post) is Itoya (Advanced A), 2 Chome-7-15 Ginza, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 104-0061, www.ito-ya.co.jp

Itoya is primarily a stationary shop with whole floors dedicated to pens and paper; however it does also have a couple of floors for travel and home wares which I really like. I can happily browse here for hours. The building exterior is unremarkable but there is a hydroponic farm on the top floor.

Three blocks south is Ginza Place at 5 Chome-8-1 Ginza, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 104-0061, ginzaplace.jp (You could go via the Mitsukoshi food basement – see next post).

Diagonally opposite is the Art Deco (Neoclassical influenced) Wako department store at 4 Chome-5-11 Ginza, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 104-8105, www.wako.co.jp Built in 1932, it’s one of the only buildings in the area that has survived World War II.

Four blocks east from here you will find the famous Kabuki-za theatre at 4 Chome-12-15 Ginza, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 104-0061, www.kabuki-za.co.jp It’s possible to buy tickets for half a show (standing only) if you only want to get a flavour of this ancient performing art.

An optional side excursion on the same street five blocks east,quite near Tsukiji fish market, is Hongwanji, an Indian inspired Bhuddist temple at 3 Chome-15-1 Tsukiji, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 104-0045, www.tsukijihongwanji.jp

You could stop back at the Kabuki-za but true architecture buffs should walk another five blocks south from the theatre to see my favourite building in Ginza, the Nakagin Capsule Tower at 8 Chome-16-10 Ginza, Chūō-ku, Tōkyō-to 104-0061, www.nakagincapsuletower.com

Built in 1972 it is one of the only remaining examples of an architectural movement called Metabolism which sought to fuse concepts related to building large structures with those of organic biological growth.

The idea was that capsules could be added to the tower so that it would evolve and grow like an organism.

Of the 140 apartments, only half are still in use, and then often only for storage or office space. Many lie derelict and decaying and sadly there are plans to demolish the building. You can rent an apartment in the tower on AirBnB but they aren’t cheap.

So that’s my brief architecture tour of Ginza. You’ll be hard pushed to find another Tokyo neighbourhood with so many interesting buildings.

Ginza also has some great places to eat and drink. Please see my next post for more info!

Tokyo – Shinjuku – Noodles and Jazz in Golden Gai

Posted in Golden Gai, Japan, Kanto, Shinjuku, Tokyo with tags , , , , , , on January 11, 2019 by gannet39

Shinjuku is a great neighbourhood for eating and drinking and I had one of the best experiences of my trip there in Golden Gai, an old entertainment district in a tiny grid of streets just a few blocks away from the east exit of Shinjuku station.

My Google map here.

When you walk the streets of Golden Gai you’re effectively stepping back in time to how Tokyo used to be before the Japanese economic miracle happened in the 1950s. Many of the buildings that line the narrow alleys are wooden, two-storey constructions that date from that time.

To get there you might walk through the brash neighbourhood of Kabukicho, once the theatre district but now a red light area (without the red lights) and a Yakuza stronghold.

Ignore the bright lights of the so-called Robot Restaurant and the automatons outside it.

I’m sure their nightly shows are quite a spectacle (from 1.15) but my advice is keep your head down and keep walking till you get to Golden Gai.

In the 1980s there were several attempts by the Yakuza to burn Golden Gai down so that it could be developed in the same way as the modern blocks that surround it. The locals prevented it from happening by organising themselves to keep watch on their buildings at night.

Mine and Shinsaku’s reasons for being here were the same as usual; ramen and music.

Nagi (Elementary A), 1 Chome-1-10 Kabukichō, Shinjuku-ku, Tōkyō-to 160-0021, www.n-nagi.com

Ramen shops are by nature small, seedy affairs, in fact their lack of refinement seems almost a prerequisite for good noodles and Nagi is no exception. As with all good noodle shops there is a queue which in this case was down a very narrow side alley. There was a small trickle of ‘water’ of some undefined origin running down the middle of it which you have to straddle.

The front of the queue is by the door where you can make your selection using a vending machine. Just above your head the staff have improvised a loudspeaker made from a funnel and some plastic tubing.

When it’s your turn to come up a staff member will shout down the funnel for the next person to come up the narrow treacherous staircase to the tiny eight-seat noodle shop on the second floor.

The house speciality is Niboshi Rāmen. Niboshi are small dried sardines that are used to flavour the broth, a ramen style typical of Aomori prefecture in the north of Honshu (the big, central Japanese island). I’m guessing that here this broth is mixed with other broths like chicken (torigara) or pork (tonkotsu) to give more depth of flavour.

If the fish taste isn’t strong enough you could always add some niboshi flavoured vinegar.

Another unusual aspect of this bowl is that besides the chunky noodles you also get some large, broad, pasta-like flaps in there as well. Very unusual indeed but all very tasty (B+).

So if you want atmosphere with your ramen then look no further. It’s open 24 hours apparently. Learning the letters for ‘ramen’ ラメん will help you find the shop.

After eating we went on a hunt for music and liquor. As I mentioned there are about two hundred bars to choose from in Golden Gai, each specialising in a certain musical niche like punk, country, electronic or in our case jazz. Many of the bars can only seat about six people and only cater for their regulars. The owners will most likely let you know when you come in if they can accommodate you or not and will charge non-regulars a cover charge.

I can’t remember the name or address but we found a place playing classic jazz up another narrow staircase. Unlike JBS in Shibuya there was no vinyl on the shelves, just CDs, but hundreds of them.

Our host was gruff but hospitable. Still I was thankful of having Shinsaku with me to smooth the way.

We sat huddled at one end of the bar drinking rum and coke for a couple of hours listening to some great music most of which we’d never heard before.

The CD cases were passed from customer to customer to be read and appreciated.

Albums we heard included ‘Indeed’ by the trumpet player Lee Morgan, ‘Spirit of Django’ by guitarist Martin Taylor and ‘We Get Requests’ by the Oscar Peterson Trio.

And that was pretty much a perfect night out for me (I’m an easy date). I loved it so much that next time I go to Tokyo I’m going to get the nearest AirBnB to Golden Gai.

Here are some suggestions from Rough Guide for other bars to try in in the area.

Despite its ramshackle appearance, Golden Gai isn’t particularly cheap which is kind of understandable as it must be hard for the business owners to make ends meet when their shops are so small. If you don’t fancy ramen and want to save money on food, you could go to the infamous Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho aka ‘Piss Alley’ instead. Doesn’t sound great does it but this is another patch of narrow alleys around Shinjuku station that’s stuffed with yakitori and noodle bars. Again, very atmospheric at night and very cheap. I went a couple of decades ago but can’t personally vouch for anywhere in particular. Eat Like A Girl has a suggestion for Soba and Udon Tempura though.

If you are passing through the east exit of Shinjuku station, keep an eye out for this place…

Bake Cheese Tart (Initial A), 〒160-0022 Tōkyō-to, Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku, 3 Chome−38, 新宿3-38-1ルミネエスト1F cheesetart.com

Originally from Sapporo in Hokkaido but now international, these awesome little tarts are filled with a mousse made from three kinds of cheese; a full-bodied one from Betsukai, in eastern Hokkaido; a mild-flavoured one from Hakodate, in the south of the island and a salty French fromage to round it out.

The mousse fills a pastry cup made from cookie dough which is twice-baked and the tart is served hot from the oven. They’re extremely moreish so I advise you to buy two per person. Unfortunately, they also taste good eaten cold or reheated under a grill. Expect a bit of a queue (see the floor diagram in the pic above) as the tarts are a very popular Omiyage item.

The next stop on my tour of the Yamanote line is Ginza!

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