Ogino

If you ask me what the Japanese are best at cooking apart from Japanese cuisine, I’d say French. Some of you might argue – Didn’t Italian food get popular first back in the 1920’s? How about Korean BBQ with Kobe beef? Not denying the quality of other international cuisines in Japan (with the exception of Chinese food perhaps, as I have yet to find anything brilliant in Japan apart from a sheng jian bao that was 10 times better than the famous Xiao Yang in Shanghai!) , but it seems difficult to find another culture that has a level of refined sensitivity and perfectionism matching up to what is required of artful French cuisine. This is in part accountable to how serious Japanese chefs get when it comes to sourcing ingredients, and our chef of the night Shinya Ogino is one such example. On the official Ogino restaurant website, all the farms chef Ogino sources from are introduced along with  smiley headshots of the farmers themselves. One of the things I admire most about Japan is that whilst farmers in many countries are commonly pictured either as exploited or lowly-paid workers suffering in the coutryside, Japanese farmers are often seen as proud producers of their specialties, regarding themselves as “researchers” of how to grow the best tomatoes,corn,eggplants,beefporkchicken whatnot.

So here’s our meal at Ogino (in Ikejiri-Ohashi, just one station away from Shibuya) !

IMG_3868

We opted for the 5 course “Menu Saison”. This was an omakase tasting menu although we were also allowed to pick out dishes from the a-la-carte menu if there was a particular dish we really wanted to try.

The first appetizer was a zuwai crab salad in an avocado puree, topped with a layer of mandarin orange jelly. Not a particularly innovative combination, but the mandarin jelly gave a fresh zesty kick to the creamy mixture, all for fostering an appetite to begin the meal.

IMG_3872

Next up was this jerusalem artichoke cream – probably the less impressionable of the appetizers; I would have liked it better with more flavour or a bit of a crunch. The jerusalem artichokes used were evidently very fresh, but IMO a bit of an accent would have been neat :p  IMG_3873

Before the second pair of appetizers we were served the bread and some delicious homemade rilette. IMG_3876

Our third appetizer arrived swiftly after the breads; although I’ve been telling myself to stop eating foie gras for both health and ethical reasons, this Vendée duck foie gras and truffle terrine was too good to miss so I had to side with the devil. The truffle aroma here was not particularly strong – what really took centre stage in this dish was the six blocks of fujinotori chicken, loaded with flavour permeated from the gamey foie gras. IMG_3882

The final appetizer was sauteéd st-jacques with truffled mashed potato in a “bacon cappucino” sauce. This one was divine! The aroma of black truffles in this dish was more apparent than in the foie gras terrine. The scallops were not particularly big but in here it meant a compact, intense sweetness in every little bite. They were also nicely done golden brown at the top and bottom, whilst remaining just opaque enough in the middle to be sufficiently cooked without losing moisture. IMG_3884

For our mains we had two different seafood dishes and two meat dishes. For seafood we had the oven-baked cod with cumin and Lobster thermidor. IMG_3886

I’d say I preferred the lobster thermidor. It was meaty, buttery but not overly so, and smelled oh so good! The cod was not so bad but it made me see why Ogino’s claim to fame was based on meats rather than fishes. IMG_3888

An icy palate cleanser was served between the seafood courses and meat courses.IMG_3891

For the meats we had the Za’atar (mixed herbs of middle eastern origin) lamb and roast veal (from Brittany). Both very good, but at this point I was getting so full that I really wanted dessert ASAP. (They say we have a separate stomach for desserts. I can only assume so, and the only way to keep enjoying food without making one stomach explode ought to be switching to the other one, right?)  IMG_3896 IMG_3894

The next three photos are of desserts that I did not try personally. I’ll just let the photos speak 😛

The warm chocolate brownie,IMG_3900

Pudding,IMG_3899

and panacotta. IMG_3901

I had the “reversed mont blanc” which was basically a standard mont blanc with ingredients done inside out, with the pureed chestnut and whipped cream sitting inside a gang of broken meringue pieces. Not bad!! IMG_3903

Lastly we had our herb tea and madeleines, and that was the end 😀
IMG_3904

Ogino’s motto (as seen on his website) is “世界はひとつ!美味くて安くて楽しい、それがOGINO料理です。” (The world is one ! Tasty, cheap, fun, that’s OGINO cuisine.)

When a restuarant prides itself on being cheap I normally would not expect it to be all that great. However in Ogino’s case the terrific cost-performance of my meal really shone through. At 6500 yen (around 65 USD) for a five-course meal including lobster and foie gras, I think Ogino’s claim to be tasty and cheap is certainly justified 😀

Ogino 

Address: 2-20-9 Ikejiri, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
東京都世田谷区池尻2-20-9

Tel: 03-5481-1333

Website: www.french-ogino.com 

P.S. Ogino even has a link to his own blog in the “About Us” section of the restaurant’s page. When you click the link a message pops up saying that you can only enter the site if you can confirm to be over 30 years of age. Naturally being the good girl I am, I did not click it.

JK. Unfortunately there is nothing explicit in there. Just chef Ogino and his sidekick updating everyday about new goodies from their delis around the city!

Kohaku 虎白 

Decided to give this fusion kaiseki restaurant a try tonight because all the other diners I wanted to visit were either closed or fully booked. Well before I start making this place sound like a sad rebound that’s available when everyone else isn’t, Kohaku is actually a highly acclaimed restaurant boasting 2 michelin stars. The only reason I was able to get a reservation last minute was that, unlike at most high-end kaiseki restaurants in Tokyo, chef Koji Koizumi and his team (as I later observed) are energetic night owls who can work well past midnight, meaning that  multiple rounds of customers get the opportunity to enjoy full course dinners everyday. 

Chef Koizumi previously served at the famous 3-Michelin-star Ishikawa, a traditional kaiseki ryotei that in fact used to be located exactly where Kohaku is right now. After the old Ishikawa was re-positioned, Koizumi took over the space (though chef Hideki Ishikawa remains one of its owners) to begin a new project that took traditional kaiseki to a modern plane, by incorporating ingredients from other culinary capitals such as China and France.

IMG_3765Upon entering Kohaku at 9:45 pm- fairly late for a kaiseki meal. (there were people entering even later at 10:45pm)
IMG_3768 The meal began with a delightful sakizuke (the Japanese equivalent of the French amuse-bouche) of ebi-imo, a traditional Kyoto vegetable that literally translates to “shrimp potato” due to the shrimp-like stripey pattern on its skin. Perfumed with a few slices of black truffle, this appetizer set the scene for an avant-garde kaiseki dinner with a French twist. IMG_3773My first course (ippin) was fugu (blowfish/pufferfish), and its shirako (or milt, or sperm, whatever you like to call it) soaked in mizore-zu, a combo of grated daikon radish, rice vinegar flavored with mirin and citrusy yuzu peel. 
IMG_3776

Plump and velvety, my little sacs of fugu shirako matched exceptionally well with the bright tangy flavours of the mizore-zu. Fugu was skillfully prepared into paper-thin slices, with small slivers of its gelatinous skin adding delightful, crunchy bites to the otherwise moist, creamy dish.

20140116-232838.jpg

Those not keen on blowfish sperm were served this hotate (scallop) with konbu paste for substitute. I had the pleasure of trying this dish as well because I was hungry … since it was already quarter past 10 at this point! Less exciting, but very fresh nonetheless. 7083331e41ceb9836e40d28cf5c939c9

Next up was the shinogi しのぎ course, a segment of kaiseki cuisine where something relatively substantial, such as rice or soba, is typically served. Tonight I had this suppon gohanmushi,  (snapping soft-shell turtle steamed rice). 20140116-232855.jpg Super rich in collagen, chef Koizumi prevented the gooey consistency of this gohanmushi from becoming too thick by balancing it out with tiny, crispy cubes of wintermelon and shiitake mushrooms. The sophisticated, intense flavour of turtle meat (and its nutritious amino acids!) is infused into every spoonful of perfectly firm rice. Not that I ever care about health when it comes to good food, but if something tastes this good and has notable beauty benefits, I’m all in!

20140116-232915.jpgI also tried a bit of the koubakogani (snow crab) gohanmushi. This was fantastic in its simplicity, for the flavour of fresh crab is best preserved without tampering too much with its natural sweetness. A tiny dab of kani miso (crab roe) rests on top, adding a trace of creamy, pure umami. IMG_3788 In the middle of the meal I ordered a glass of “la france” sake. For those who are unfamiliar, la france is a European pear originally cultivated by a French man called Claude Blanchet back in 1864, and then introduced to Japan during the Meiji period. I guess they were not bothered with giving the pear from France a name any more original than La France.  Its texture is reminiscent of a hybrid between apple and peach (very juicy, like the japanesemomo) and is extraordinarily sweet compared to most other pears. I was very happy with this glass of sake because it showcased the unique, nectarous sweetness of la france most faithfully and whilst it was extremely easy on the palate, it did not feel like it was lacking in alcohol content (hate drinks that are literally just juice when they are not supposed to be juice!).  IMG_3790

Next I was presented with this beautiful bowl ; here is the Owan course,  a warm soupy dish that is served during the course of a kaiseki meal. IMG_3791For tonight’s owan I had fresh bamboo shoots and white sesame tofu in a gentle white miso soup base. The flavours of this dish were delicate and if you are the kind of person who only enjoys heavily seasoned food or deep fried chunks of meat then you are not going to like it. Well thankfully I’m not one of you :p. The fragrant taste of sesame spread through my mouth subtly but clearly, and together with the freshly picked bamboo shoots, this was all in all another enjoyable dish.
IMG_3793After the hearty owan dish, we moved on to the Otsukuri, generally referring to the kaiseki course containing sashimi. I had the aburi kinmedai which is a seared golden eye snapper (apparently it is also called the Splendid alfonsino and according to wikipedia … this fish appears in the Wii game Endless Ocean…lolwtf?). This dish was uber appetizing covered with ponzu jelly, but what I was more impressed by was the other otsukuri dish … (scroll further down)
20140116-232942.jpg The wagyu beef sashimi!  This was simply divine. I often found beautifully marbled pieces of wagyu beef too oily or fatty for my liking but here, combined with the zesty ponzu gelee, it was a match made in heaven! NO SHI*T THIS WAS GOOD. Melt-in-mouth tenderness that literally evaporated as soon as it hit my tongue, leaving only the transcendental, buttery taste of beef behind. 20140116-232931.jpgNext up was the yakimono, or flame-broiled dish. This was a super succulent fillet of nodoguro (blackthroat seaperch). I loved the lingering aroma of the miso marinade which at the same time did not overshadow the inherent flavours of the fish. This was served with komochi kombu (herring roe on kelp) and nanohana karashi ae (brocollini/steamed rapeseed flowers with a soysauce/dashi/mustard marinade), both zippy compliments that worked well to counterbalance the greasiness of this fatty nodoguro.
IMG_3808
In addition I tried the flame-broiled kuruma-ebi (Japanese imperial prawn/tiger prawn) which smelled incredible and after devouring both immaculate plates of seafood I had the sudden urge to become a fisherwoman who lives by the sea and eats from the ocean everyday. IMG_3805 I was served my hiyashimono (the cold dish) just in time to cool those impractical, nonsensical thoughts down (I hold utmost respect for all fisher-men and women; I simply don’t think I can handle that life). This was the matsuba crab and kabu (turnip). Again not a dish for those with less sensitive palates but I inhaled this one in seconds because it was so refreshing, almost like a kuchinaoshi (palate cleanser) after the two relatively salty yakimono dishes! IMG_3812After the cold dish it was time to warm up again with the nimono , or simmered dish. This was the Zao duck simmered with horigawa gobou (burdock), shungiku (edible chrysanthemum greens) and daikon (radish). The duck was pleasantly gamey and juicy, and at this point two slices was exactly the right portion I wanted to be served. I did not want to be too full before the next course which I specifically ordered upon making my reservation!
IMG_3821
And what could be in here? This was the oshokuji (rice dish made with seasonal ingredients) I had been waiting for. IMG_3826Dun dun DUNNN!!! This was my black truffle zousui (japanese soup rice … or hangover porridge) made with aromatic black truffles, a little bit of egg, and crunchy little dices of lotus root producing a zousui with titillating textures. Strong whiffs of truffle wafts through every single spoonful of this delectable bowl of SOUL-HEALING MAGICAL OMNIPOTENT HOLY SPIRITUAL GODLY ELIXIR OF LIFE!! (ok I’m writing this at 2am so I’m kinda **** in the head at the moment). IMG_3832

Absolute ambrosia!!! OF COURSE I ASKED FOR SECONDS. Served in a bowl with a different design (I always pay attention to tableware and cutlery used … somehow that is a very enjoyable thing for me). 

IMG_3835

uhuhu! P.S. the homemade tsukemono (japanese pickles in small dish on the left) were very, very good too.  
IMG_3836
Last but not least I had the dessert, consisting of strawberry sherbet, murasaki-imo (purple potatoes), rum jelly and deep-fried yuba (tofu skin). This might look a bit messy here but tastewise it turned out to be a well-coordinated, interesting but harmonious dessert that ended the meal on a high note. 

20140116-233902.jpg

Had to take a photo of this very cool portrait of a white tiger before leaving. (btw the restaurant name Kohaku literally translates to tiger white). Had a casual chat with chef Koizumi as he sent us out of the restaurant and then realised it was almost 1 am already. Oops! I shall be back! IMG_3841

KOHAKU 虎白
Address: 3-4 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
東京都新宿区神楽坂3-4
Tel: 03-5225-0807