We allowed ourselves to splurge on one meal this trip to Tokyo and following my boss’s recommendation, we chose Sushi Sho. A relative unknown in the foreign guidebooks, it is well known among the locals. We were lucky to be able to get a dinner reservation despite a booking only a week in advance.
The small restaurant seats only 12, with 3 chefs behind the counter. 2 chefs prepare the sushi on each end and the middle chef assists both. Fish for the night are displayed in front on the counter so you have an idea of what’s coming despite it being an omakase dinner. I would have preferred the counter seating to be higher or the display boxes lower so I could have a better look at the chefs at work, but that is just a very minor detail.
The dinner started with some sashimi and then progressively moved to sushi. From the first dish, I knew we were in for a treat. The clams were extremely fresh and sweet. What followed was a succession of 24 different courses that kept our taste buds intrigued with different tastes, texture and temperatures. Each fish was paired with a different rice, some with brown rice, some with warmer rice. It was also the first time trying some of the fish we were served, which deviated from the usual otoro and uni served at most high end Japanese restaurants.
One of my favourite of the night was the last dish, an odd combination of uni-ika maki that brought 2 very different tastes and textures together that worked perfectly. I laughed out loud when he said “uni and ika… best friends”. So Jamie Olivier!
The chefs were very friendly and engaging despite only speaking a little English. The experience felt very comfortable, and we felt genuinely taken care of without the stuffiness.
Thanks to head chef Keiji Nakazawa for the best sushi meal of our life.
Dinner was ¥20,000/pax paired with 3 different types of sake.
1-11 Yotsuya, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
José Andrés’s tapas style restaurant in the swanky SLS hotel was easily the best meal we had in the US. The hotel is dimly lit and the restaurant takes up 80% of the hotel lobby. We found the furnishing rather quirky, imagine weird animal wall ornaments or a 6 foot dog headed army general statue. The Philippe Starck furnishing adds to the baroque tone of the hotel and the restaurant.
Reservations must be hard to score after winning many awards, but we didn’t have a problem when we went in 2010. The crowd was casual chique, with most ladies dressing more for the after party and we definately felt under dressed in our casual jeans and hoodies. Try to get a counter seat so you can observe the chefs at work and the seat is perfect for people like me who prefer to see how the food looks before ordering it.
José Andrés has an impressive resume, starting out as a young chef under Ferran Adrià at elBulli. The menu consists of small portions of traditional and modern Spanish tapas. The traditional tapas were executed well but there wasn’t anything to shout about; the draw here are the modern tapas. The creations are his modern take on classic dishes, and no doubt the molecular gastronomy influence at elBulli was evident. Each dish was interesting and creative and the it was an interactive atmosphere with the chefs explaining the creations as they were making them.
465 South La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90048
We had lunch at La Tour d’Argent in the summer of 2008 with H’s parents. This was our first foray into the French gastronomy scene and to be honest, it was intimidating. I am writing this 4 years after our visit, so much of the experience is hazy and not too detailed.
This place is an institution, founded in 1582 and its reputation precedes it having served royalty and politicians. The restaurant used to have 3 stars but lost them and now is comfortably sitting on 1 star. The dinning hall is very grand, with big chandeliers and heavy draping. A few of all the waiters were dressed in tailcoats which seem a little extreme to me, and the service was bordering on the line of pretentious. It made us uncomfortable, though I have to say we were probably too immature to embrace it then.
Tour d’Argent is famous for 2 things – pressed duck and their wine cellar. The wine list arrived in the form of a 3 inch thick book and their cave under the restaurant is a treasure chest of close to 500,000 bottles. An auction in 2009 saw the restaurant selling 4% of their bottles to pay for the refurbishment of the restaurant. The wine prices are a bit silly, but it is expected of a restaurant of this standing.
The pressed duck is the speciality here and each duck is tagged with a serial number. Every customer that orders the dish will receive a postcard with their duck number attached. The duck is served in a sauce of duck blood and bone marrow (hence pressed duck). I remember it tasted delicious as I was oblivious to the preparation and it was only after lunch that I felt queasy when I found out about the blood sauce.
The restaurant boasts breath taking views of the Seine and Notre Dame so reserve tables by the windows if you can. I can imagine it being very romantic at night with Paris lit up, but its equally beautiful in the day if the weather is sunny.
There is also an épicerie on the ground floor where you can buy some of their in house pâté or confiture.
15 Quai de la Tournelle
One of the restaurants I was looking forward to was 3 starred Pierre Gagnaire at Rue Balzac. H’s family had graciously invited us to have dinner there in 2011 and I was filled with all sorts of expectation.
Pierre Gagnaire has been described as a creative genius and I agree. It was a gastronomy journey that took over 4 hours. Every dish came in parts, there was never just 1 plate. Each plate that came draws you in visually and all the flavours and textures on the plate complemented each other. There were a few dishes that had Asian influences, like Thai and Japanese, and even though it was really delicious, I wish there wasn’t the French-Asian fusion concept.
Desserts deserve a special mention as they were divine. We were stuff at the end of the mains but we ate all 4 desserts, all different and complex. The flavours were very delicate on the palate and it was surprisingly very light. Fini en beauté!
There were 2 things towards the end that left me with a bitter taste. Firstly, as the dinner progressed, the time wait in between dishes got longer, sometimes up to 20min. Secondly, I requested for a cheese substitute and not only was it replaced with a unintelligent butterhead lettuce tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, but they forgot about me! The rest of the table was served their truffle cheese and I was left plateless while my salad remained behind me on the serving table for a good 10min before any waiter noticed. There was no apology when I was finally served my salad.
When you are paying these prices at a 3 star restaurant, you expect the whole experience, the food and service to be nothing short of excellent. I was so mad that I sent an email to Mr Gagnaire to complain and I am pacified after getting his (or the secretary) explanation and an apology.
Objectively I have to say the food was pretty damn good except for the 2 service flaws that spoilt my whole experience. Bad luck perhaps!
Dinner was €265 and consisted of 7 courses + 4 desserts and many small additional dishes.
6 Rue Balzac
We had lunch at L’Arpège in 2011 and it was easily one of the best dining experience we’ve had. Alain Passard’s 3 star restaurant in the 7th kept me tickled and wowed with each dish that came.
With Passard’s focus on vegetables, his creativity shines through. How many ways can you cook a carrot? It is hard to imagine that a vegetable can be the main focal point, but oddly enough you forget that fact and just focus on each plate that comes. Each dish draws you in visually with its colourful presentation and the myriad of tastes matched perfectly.
Even though I thoroughly enjoyed each dish, I was worried that this would be the most expensive vegetarian meal in my life. To my relief, we had fish and chicken as 2 of our main dishes. The flavour of each were very delicate so as not to overpower the vegetables that was paired with it.
On a personal note, cheese is something I cannot appreciate – the smell makes my stomach turn and the taste … perhaps the closest way to describe my reaction – it is like durian to the non-Asians. So I am grateful that the kitchen prepared a smoked potato substitute for my cheese course. Even though it was a very simple dish, I was very happy that I was served something other than a green salad!
Lunch took something like 3 hours but the food was well worth it. Service was excellent, just the right amount for us to feel special and not too stuffy. The atmosphere was still light and casual despite being a 3 star restaurant. And yes, we were stuffed despite it being mainly vegetables.
8 course lunch at €120, with a couple of additional in between dishes.
84 Rue de Varenne
We went for lunch at this 2 star when Chef Christophe Pélé was still at the helm in 2010. Be prepared to set aside at least 3 hours for the no menu pre fix meal. The restaurant is bright and minimalistic and if you sit facing the open kitchen, you will be able to observe the 4 or 5 people scurrying around the small space.
It was an excruciating slow wait between each course and even though I know and appreciate the amount of work and detail that goes in each dish, it was too much! Take a look at the pictures and you will see – something so minimalistic in presentation and bite size cannot take that long to prepare!
The well priced €45 lunch menu consisted of 2 starters + 2 mains + 2 desserts. Definitely value for money but go for lunch only if you really have 3 hours to spare… it took up a good part of my summer afternoon which could have been better spent walking around in the city.
106 rue Nollet