Bassanova @ Setagaya-ku

It’s getting colder here in Tokyo lately … ramen cravings strike again! Was just chillin’ in Shimo-kitazawa (eating totoro cream puffs… will show you that in my next post :p) and decided to walk over to Shindaita for ramen at Bassanova because I just saw it on TV in the morning (lol).IMG_5822.JPG

Bassanova is famed for their avant-garde flavours.Today I tried the Ninki #1 tondaku wadashi soba, their signature ramen with a “double broth” of tonkotsu (pork bone) and gyokai (fish). The noodles were Hakata-style – straight and thin, with a nice hard bite. This was topped with some extraordinarily thick pieces of menma and a beautifully grilled piece of chashu (egg was extra!). IMG_5826.JPG

I also tried the rather unique tom yum ramen, a Thai-influenced bowl which I thought tasted a little too lemongrassy at first but eventually got used to it though the broth was still a bit too salty and thick for my liking. I guess I should not have expected a tom yum goong base with lovely hints of prawn when it really only said tom yum. In any case, because the ingredients used were generally good (the wontons were nice and crunchy), I ended up finishing the bowl. I think I’d like to come back to try the green curry ramen that everyone seems to rave about! IMG_5828.JPG

Oh just an extra close up shot of the tom yum ramen.

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Bassanova 

Address: Hanegi 1-4-18, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo

東京都世田谷区羽根木1-4-18 新代田たちばな荘 1F

Phone: 03-3327-4649

中華そば すずらん Suzuran @ Shibuya

My good friend Eri and I have been eyeing the extraordinarily thick noodles at Suzuran since the first of our four failed attempts to try it (first two times closed, third time full, forth time they ran out of thick noodles!) We finally got lucky today and managed to get our long-anticipated fix 😀

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Suzuran is well known for its fresh, handmade, very broad hirauchi-men. I ordered this in the form of a miso kakuni tsuke-soba (dipping noodles). Kakuni literally translates to “square simmered” and refers to blocks of braised pork belly simmered in a sauce typically containing dashi & mirin. It is reminiscent of the Chinese dong-bo-rou, only with a thinner sauce. I actually ordered the same thing on my previous visit, when they did not have the thick noodles. The kakuni was very tasty so I had to have it again despite seeing numerous items on the menu that I still really wanted to try. IMG_4200.JPG

As you can see, a few big slabs of this very tender kakuni sit on top of the wonderfully chewy noodles which were, as advertised, very broad – like a Japanese version of the Italian pappardelle. IMG_4203.JPG

The miso dip contained a mountain of ingredients- every bite swept up a swarm of sprouts, cabbage, and other fresh vegetables. In addition to all that, there was actually more pork underneath! The egg however, was very mediocre – the funny thing about Suzuran is that it sells 100 yen “egg cards” that get you an egg everytime you show your card for the rest of your life. IMG_4205.JPG

Eri had the wonton noodles which I also tried a bit of. I felt that dumplings were definitely not one of Suzuran’s strengths. Also note the yaki-gyoza which had skin as thick as the noodles! These were not very impressive :p  But we agreed that the noodles alone were worth coming again for.

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Just felt like adding one more photo of Eri’s wonton swimming in my miso broth.IMG_4209.JPG

I actually felt sick after this meal because it was so heavy. It felt like one portion of noodles here could actually feed two girls (we weren’t that hungry that day). So I took a stroll to Hikarie nearby and bought this Acai berry drink that made me feel much better 😀

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Chuuka-soba Suzuran 中華そば すずらん

Address: 3-7-5 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

〒150-0002 東京都渋谷区渋谷3丁目7−5 大石ビル 1F

Phone : 03-3499-0434

 

 

 

Tamawarai 玉笑

‘Twas a drizzly evening in Tokyo and for some reason, everytime it rains I feel compelled to reflect on life (notice how in music videos, there is that cliche depiction of a contemplative subject staring out the window? It always happens to be raining too). Inevitably these reflections include some less philosophical revelations such as the amount of fat I have accumulated from festive feasts consumed in the past few weeks. Over some serious sensations of guilt, I decided that for one night at least, I must not succumb to that evil glutton in my mind who keeps drawing me away from foods that are (relatively) low in calories and fat. And that is how I ended up trekking my way to Tamawarai, a small soba shop buried in one of the most inobtrusive streets near Harajuku.
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The restaurant was a little difficult to spot because the entrance to Tamawarai was anything but ostentatious. I eventually found my way with the help of Google Maps and this lonely looking little lantern.

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It was only 5:30 pm and I was the first customer of the night. IMG_3696

For a traditional soba-ya, the glittery silver menu was rather stylish, with a calligraphic drawing of the lonely little lantern at the corner. The main food menu was divided into three sections – Otsumami (snacks, generally eaten as accompaniment to alcohol), soup soba, and cold soba.IMG_3700

The first thing I opted for was an otsumami, the grilled kuruma-ebi. Since I hate peeling prawns I just ate the entire thing, shell included. This could have been unpleasant at other places but the shell of this prawn was so thin and crunchy that I felt more like I was just snacking on a prawn shaped, prawn flavoured crisp with real prawn flesh inside! This was fantastic with my ume-shu (Japanese plum liqueur). 20140120-123005.jpg

My next otsumami was the dashi-maki tamago (dashi as in fish stock, maki as in roll, and tamago as in egg. In short, a fish stocky roll omelette). Nothing can go too wrong with dashi-maki tamago!  This was standard in a good way; huwa huwa (the Japanese expression for soft, fluffy things) in texture, served while it was still piping hot. IMG_3709

My final otsumami was the misoyaki which was basically a perfectly circular smear of delicately flavoured miso paste containing small bits of spring onion, grilled and served on a hot metal plate. IMG_3711

Finally, oh star of the night – my natto soba! I’m aware that there are many natto haters out there (both in and out of Japan) who find the pungent smell of fermented soybeans vomit-inducing, but seriously, natto is one of the things that truly taught me what an acquired taste really means. In my opinion, acquiring a taste does not necessarily require repeated exposure, nor does it have to be a slow developmental process that needs to be nurtured intentionally unless you are actually neophobic. Sometimes, all it takes is a situation that triggers an urge to give something one more try. For example, I always hated natto as a kid – but it was when I saw a random woman eat natto on rice as though it were the most delicious thing in the world that the crazy foodie in me felt impelled to give the smelly beans one more chance. This opened my gustatory senses to a whole new world of different types of natto, which might not have been possible had I not been in the particular situation. So, natto-rice woman, thank you for appearing in my life that day!  (I’d also like to thank my dad for making durian appear to be exotic ice cream)

OK, back to my bowl – The natto beans here were very large compared to the standard sized natto commonly found in supermarkets. Also on the soba were seaweed, spring onions, katsuobushi (bonito flakes), and the obligatory raw egg in the middle.

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Neba-neba! (That’s the Japanese onomatopoeia for sticky, stringy, slimy things)

Having been living in Oxford where my closest source of artisanal Japanese noodles was udon from Koya in London, and then Hong Kong where the sushi and ramen trends have overtaken the Japanese culinary scene, I have not been having brilliant soba for a long, long time. I couldn’t help smiling as soon as I had my first bite of this nicely firm, aromatic soba.

The tsuyu sauce had an elegant flavour that was suitably strong without overpowering the soba’s sweet buckwheat taste; its refinedness also allowed the freshness of all other ingredients to shine through. Definitely a well-crafted bowl of soba that can only be the product of some very skilled hands! IMG_3724

My mom ordered the tempura soup soba that I also tried a bit of. Whilst the tempura was not particularly commendable, the hot soba, which was significantly thicker than usual soba, had a chewy, grainy texture that was just as impressive as the cold natto soba I had. IMG_3718

As usual the meal ended with soba-yu (hot water used to cook soba) poured into the remaining tsuyu after all the noodles were eaten. A wonderful meal that did not make me feel too heavy afterwards, yep! IMG_3725

Tamawarai 

Address: 5-23-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

東京都渋谷区神宮前5-23-3

Telephone: 03-5485-0025

P.S. Whilst looking for their precise address online, I realised that Tamawarai actually received its first Michelin star last year! I’d say that was well deserved 🙂

An Nam

For the longest time, finding somewhere good to have Vietnamese food in Hong Kong seemed extraordinarily difficult. Although by good I certainly do not just mean “upscale”,  it does appear that there have hardly been any attempts at high-end Vietnamese cuisine in Hong Kong. I mean, in the past, whenever I craved for a bowl of beef pho, I would only think of going to one of the few modest, super-cramped Vietnamese restaurants in the Tai Hang neighbourhood. At times of social gatherings that required more space, I’d generally be stuck with one of the inauthentic, Chinesified renditions of Viet cuisine scattered around the island.

This all changed when my good friend Eva told me about the new(ish) Vietnamese restaurant at Lee Gardens, An Nam. 20131212-164103.jpg

Belonging to the same group as the Japanese restaurant Gonpachi next door, an extention of the famous Tokyo restaurant that I always saw as an overpriced tourist trap, I had initial doubts about the authenticity of the food at An Nam. But! After my first meal there, I’m happy to say that I was probably just a little too cynical.

The first dish I tried was the big head prawns in fragrant sauce. The prawns were fleshy, firm with a bouncy bite, soaked in a flavorful shrimp roe sauce to form a succulent, briny dose of omega-3 😀

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Next up was one of my favourite vietnamese dishes – grilled pork “bun noodles” that always leaves me feeling extra healthy without taking away from the pleasure of taste. This reminded me of the grilled pork noodles from Banh Mi Bay, a cute Vietnamese “cheap eats” diner that I used to frequent in Bloomsbury, London.

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I also tried the rare beef pho and liked it very much compared to most places I’ve been to in Hong Kong. With tender beef slices and a savoury stock, I’ve been back a few times for this bowl of pho. One thing though – the temperature of the broth (upon being served) fluctuates depending on the time of the day/how busy they are, so a polite reminder for them to serve it hot would be a good idea when you order! I personally cannot stand lukewarm soup noodles !

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The rice rolls, which were essentially finely minced pork wrapped in a thin slippery skin with fresh herbs was also satisfying.

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The shrimp paste on bamboo sticks however, were not exactly worth raving about. They were not horrible but definitely on the dry side. I think I would probably be able to find better versions in other Vietnamese restaurants, even in one of the casual diners in Tai Hang.

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The pork and shrimp rice paper rolls (goi cuon) on the other hand were well-made; at many other places I often found poorly proportioned versions of these with either too much vegetable or noodles inside. Here, as you can see, the rolls have been done in a good size and are filled with well-balanced amounts of each ingredient. Goi Cuon devotees may, however, find the skin a little too chewy and rubbery.20131212-105044.jpg

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The deep-fried frog’s legs and deep-fried shoft shell crabs literally tasted the same. Look at the next two photos… at first glance they pretty much look the same too. Anyway… both were enjoyable since for me, all things deep-fried that are not too oily, reasonably crispy and not without flavour are easily good enough to make delicious snacks to go with any kind of drink :p 20131212-105150.jpg

Though on second thought the soft shell crabs pictured below could have been a little crunchier 😛

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THE deep-fried dish I really like at An Nam however, is the spring rolls. The waitress says they are all filled with fresh shrimps and indeed, as far as I remember, these spring rolls are one of the best Vietnamese spring rolls I’ve ever had in Hong Kong. A neatly stacked bowl of baby lettuce is also served on the side for wrapping around the spring rolls, adding a lovely layer of fresh crispiness.

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The stir-fried beef noodles were also wonderful – piping hot and bursting with flavour.

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In general, I still foresee myself coming back to An Nam again and again but what I will never order again are the following things :

These baked cheesy clams which were seriously over-baked and therefore dry.

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The coconut jelly that is almost tasteless.

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The mediocre chocolate fondant and sweet potato dessert (pictured below – it’s that milky looking bowl of whatever at the back). I can assure you that sweet things are not An Nam’s forte. I would suggest leaving after your meal to go for dessert elsewhere 😛

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An Nam

Address:  4/F, Lee Gardens One, 33 Hysan Ave., Causeway Bay
銅鑼灣希慎道33號利園一期4樓

Phone Number:  (852) 2787 3922

Website: http://www.leegardens.com.hk/dining/LG/2435/An-Nam

Edit:just wanted to include photos of 2 additional dishes I tried later! 😛 vietnamese grilled pork & meatball bun noodles and fried flat noodles.
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