Food adventures in Tokyo

Last week a business trip brought me to a city I haven’t been before: Tokyo. It was a fascinating couple of days. Although there was a lot of challenging work involved I had the opportunity to taste exciting fish – from arm-thick octopus tentacles to twitching torigai – and learn more about the flavours of Sake. I’m just writing down a few impressions before the memories fade away and also I have a lot of photos so it’s going to become a very illustrated post.

First thing I did on the airport was visiting the post office to pick up the visitor SIM card I had ordered from b-mobile (thanks for the tip Martin). Live is a LOT easier with Google Maps. My hotel was in Iidabashi (Chiyoda district), a not very spectacular but very central and so quite convenient place. It was beautifully warm and pretty much remained so throughout the week. A bit shattered from the long flight I studied the transportation system which is a little complicated in the beginning as different lines require different tickets.

Iidabashi Station

Down in Shibuya I just drifted along between all the dancefloor beats, the colourful signs, the monotone voices of dressed up girls promoting things, highstreets and backstreets.

Shibuya crossing

I had a bit of Sushi at Uobai – not a very impressive quality but the plate is around 100 Yen and the ambient is quite entertaining. Each table has a little touchscreen (a Samsung tablet) so you can place your order and after a few minutes a little tray whizzes to your place and stops so you can pick up the food. It’s worth having lunch there once for entertainment purposes I’d say. This is how it looks like when the plates arrive:

Robot sushi at Uobai

This being a cheap start to Japanese food we very slightly improved going out with a few colleagues visiting a restaurant I can’t translate the name. It was described as a Japanese Nando’s and sadly the quality of the meat sticks and meatballs was rather poor. What I liked was a dish I think is called Mizutaki (at least I think it is – let me know if you know it better!). A hot pot with broth and chicken chunks was brought to our desk which had to cook for a little till we could throw in all kinds of vegetables to blanch, dip and eat. To the rest of the stock we added a bowl of rice, boiling stirring and so producing some kind of risotto as the last course – nice!

Mizutaki hotpot

The first seriously mentionable food experience we had at a place called Ippo in the Ebisu area. Sake, wine and food journalist Melinda Joe had recommended it to me on Twitter. It’s in the first floor of a small building. I have to admit that we wouldn’t have entered without knowing about it. We arrived early and almost till the end of our meal there were no other guests so we had the full attention of the chef and the staff.

The chef at Ippo presenting a fish

Their English was not very good but we got along quite well. We tasted a number of different Sakes throughout the dinner and I was really impressed (my experience is very limited though). Peach aromas, cherry blossom, bamboo, lime, some fruity and fresh, some dry and nutty, very exciting.

One of several Sakes we tasted at Ippo

The dinner itself was close to what Melinda described on The bar is actually called “Fish & Sake” so fish, no Sushi. Starting with Sashimi we had an excellent opportunity to taste nothing but the quality of the raw fish – a wonderful experience with the fresh coming directly from the famous Tsukiji fish market.

Sashimi Ippo

There were also a few grilled dishes involved which where juicy, full of smooth texture and flavours which I’m not used to get very often in that intensity.

Grilled fish at the Ippo

Specifically delicious was the namero, mined fish with herbs. Watching the chef mincing the fish with two knives made it double exciting (and fluffy) of course. Have a look:

Namero at the Ippo

Friday David and I finished work a little earlier to spend our afternoon playing virtual reality games at Joypolis – you could even play games in the toilet. Sensors measuring your peeing activities let you control a figure with a hose on a screen at the wall. Very weird but also very funny.

Peeing games at Joypolis

After walking a bit through Electric Town we wanted to go for some Ramen and looked for a place called Mazeru. We had to look very long. But it was worth not giving up. You find it going through some kind of garage and it has just eight seats. You have to pull a ticket outside selecting (and paying) the Ramen dish of your choice. We asked a random pedestrian to help understanding what the buttons mean, it’s all Japanese only. And then we got a seat and a massive bowl of Ramen with pork belly. 900 Yen only and really tasty but way too much. We both couldn’t finish (you notice the difference to a Ramen at Wagamama do you?)

Ramen at Mazeru

I had some time left on Saturday which I spent (besides a bit of shopping) walking around in the Yoyogi Park and a visiting the Meiji Shrine. I was fascinated by the little hand-washing facilities in front of the park used by visitors to clean their hands before praying.

Visitors of the Meiji Shrine washing their hands before praying

Highlight of the trip was the following dinner at Isana in Roppongi (another recommendation by Melinda). The chef Junichi has been working and living in London for 10 years before moving back to Tokyo and opening his own little restaurant: the Isana. It’s not cheap. But it was absolutely amazing and worth every Pence Yen. It is a small but beautiful place, bright, with an interior letting generic materials talk for themselves (so wood and a bit of stone – that’s where the inspiration for Apple stores must come from). Again there were no other guests so I got Junichi’s full attention.

Junichi: the chef of the Isana

And that was really nice. Not surprisingly he speaks fluently English so it was a great opportunity to ask all the questions I had concerning the food. How he makes his fish stock for example. Of course his fish also comes from the Tsukiji market and the Sashimi as well as the Sushi prove what world-class they sell at that place. I surely never had fish of this quality before. Look at that dark, deeply red tuna:

Tuna at Isana

There were super smooth slices of an octopus tentacle and torigai so fresh that it was still twitching (prepared as Nigiri):

Torigai at Isana

There were snails and baby sardines:

Baby sardines and a snail at Isana

Also eel and botan shrimp – all freshly prepared in front of my eyes.

Junichi preparing a botan shrimp Nigiri

It was a constant delivery of deliciousness. Junichi probably smiled after I left as I was so excited about the quality. I just didn’t want to stop eating.If you appreciate food this is a strong recommendation.

It was a fantastic time in Tokyo and a bit sad I couldn’t share the experience with Melanie. I hope we’ll come back one day – probably selling our wine?

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