Friday, 3 March 2017

Perfect tempura at the Hilton Hotel Odaiba

One of my students, Natsumi worked at one of the restaurants in the Hilton Hotel Odaiba and I had been meaning to go there one of these days to eat at her restaurant.  Well she recently told me that she was changing jobs soon so the decision was made to go and have lunch at Sakura restaurant at the Hilton Odaiba.  I asked Tetsuya if he was willing, being a former chef, he is always willing when there is food involved.

I met Tetsuya at the hotel and we made our way to the restaurant and were lead to our seats.  Now the Sakura restaurant has 4 different areas.  The main restaurant, the teppanyaki counter, the sushi counter and the tempura counter.  Natsumi had recommended the tempura counter as it was the one with the best view.  She certainly wasn't wrong!



Soon after being seated our tools were placed in front of us!



Soon after came a small appetizer.  



Tetsuya asked what it was and the answer came back, "Shirako" with no other explanation.  I had heard this word before and I was wracking my brain trying to remember what it was.  "Don't ask," Tetsuya said, "just eat".  Suddenly I remembered that my food and wine writer friend, Eriko (my gourmet tour with Eriko can be found here) had recommended that I try this food.  Now if only I could remember what it was.  Suddenly I remembered.........fish sperm.......  Tetsuya and the restaurant staff looked with bemusement at my horrified realisation and continued watching intently as I picked up half of it and slowly put it into my mouth.  "How was it" I hear you asking.  Well, it kind of tasted like fishy cheese.  Just that sample proved to be enough for me though...

Next, the chef brought out a sample of what he would be cooking up for us.  I nice selection of seafood and vegetables.



Now I am not a big lover of shrimp / prawns so he had included some extra fish for me.  As he began cooking, Tetsuya asked him how long he had been working in this restaurant.  "22 years, since the hotel opened".  Wow, our food was certainly being cooked by one impressive chef!

First up, Tetsuya was served some little tempura shrimp legs



while on my plate, whiting (白鱚).  



Now whiting are a hugely popular fish variety in Australia and they have a very delicate, light taste.  This took me back to my childhood when I used to catch whiting with my Uncle and Grandfather!

Next up was some canola flower.



These had a nice fresh, herbaceous, light oily taste to them.  This was my first time to eat these and they were good.

After that came some lotus root (レンコン).



Lotus root is a vegetable that I love, the starchy crunchiness was wonderful so this disappeared pretty quickly!

At about this point I realised that the chef was preparing each ingredient separately and timing the serving with perfection, a short wait after the previous one, just like a good sushi chef does. He would start preparing each one as we were enjoying the previous one.


Next up was a scallop (ホタテ貝).




I am not a big eater of scallops so I am not really qualified to comment on the taste of this one.

This was soon followed by a slice of onion (玉ねぎ).




Now, I had never had tempura onion before now, so this seemed to be a strange choice, but it really worked. The onion had been cooked to perfection, retaining enough juiciness and crunchiness that, combined with the crisp tempura coating, made this one of the highlights!

And here's another quick shot of the onion (with that wonderful view....).





Next the chef serve up some lightly battered squid (いか). As with the shrimp and scallops, I don't eat a lot of shrimp but the crunchy texture of the batter contrasted nicely with the chewy texture of the squid.



Next was a little piece of shiitake mushroom.




This was followed by some tempura eggplant (ナス).



This was so soft and tender, the chef had cooked this one to perfection. I noticed at this stage that he was watching us eating and starting to prepare the next item accordingly. Each required different cooking times and he was timing everything to perfection.

Next up was a Japanese favourite, loved by so many people here, sweet potato (薩摩芋).  The chef told us not to season this with anything, just to eat it straight.  While not a big fan of sweet potato, I would have liked to dip this one in a sauce, but I'm sure fans of sweet potato would love it!




After that came some saltwater eel (穴子).  Freshwater eel (鰻) is more common in Japan, but this one was a good match for tempura.  Soft and tender and with a delicate flavour.




With that item, we had reached the end of our course but suddenly Natsumi came out and told us that the chef wanted to prepare us an extra dish for free!  We settled on a rice dish with chopped up tempura pieces mixed in.



The condiments were seaweed, eucaly (I am guessing this comes from the Australian eucalyptus tree, please correct me if I am wrong) and sesame seeds.  These were promptly thrown in top of the rice bowl.




After polishing this one off, we were served with desert, mochi balls with sweet red beans (sorry, couldn't find a Japanese translation).



And just like that, it was all over.  It had been an amazing dining experience.  The chef was an utter professional and delivered a complete dining experience.  My thanks goes to Natsumi and her chef at the tempura counter at the Hilton Hotel Odaiba.  We had a great time!



Well, that's it for another post.  I highly recommend going to the Hilton Odaiba, Sakura restaurant for a high class dining experience.  I thoroughly enjoyed it!  Thanks for reading.  Please leave a message below and sign up for email updates on the right side of the screen.  Also, please share the post if you know anyone who would like to read.

Take care, and see you next time.


Cost: tempura course - 5,000 yen.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Step Back in Time - Nihon Minkaen Folk House museum

First of all, sorry for the long break.  I took a couple of months off of visiting places for the blog.  Work got a little crazy busy and also my sister and her partner came to visit around Christmas time so I spent some nice times showing them around My Japan.  Also, during that period, the domain name lapsed and I hadn't realised it.  Luckily no-one else snapped it up and I was able to get back on line!!

Having said that, I am back and already have things to write about!!  Hang on for another year of exploring Tokyo and Japan and finding more hidden gems.

People who regularly read my blog know that I love Japanese traditional architecture and I am always on the lookout for places to visit to enjoy it.  I have visited places near and far to enjoy it including Gujo Hachiman, Hida Takayama, Shirakawago, Magome and Tsumago, Narai, Shibamata and Kawagoe to name but a few.  Almost one year ago I visited an outdoor museum, the Tokyo Edo Open Air Museum (blog posts for which you can find here and here) and at the time, one of my old workmates, Jason, recommended another, similar place to go and visit, Nihon Minkaen.  I had previously tried to head there on a Monday a couple of months ago only to find it closed (Apparently a lot of museums are not open on Mondays in Japan).  I recently had another free day (which was not a Monday!) and decided to head there again for a look.

Nihon Minkaen opened in 1965 in Kawasaki, only 30 minutes from Shinjuku on the Odakyu line.  It, as with the Tokyo Edo Open Air Museum, opened to preserve the history and the beauty that traditional Japanese architecture is renowned for.  As opposed to the Tokyo Edo Open Air Museum which showcases a broad range of Japanese architectural styles over the years, Nihon Minkaen displays old Folk houses from around Japan.  It displays some of the beautiful Gasshou Zukuri style houses that are typical of eastern Japan as well as other farm houses and merchant houses (the number of exhibits currently sits at 25).

I arrived at Mukogaoka-yuen station 


and set off on the short 20 minute walk from the station to nearby Ikuta Ryokuchi Park where the museum is located.  Stepping straight inside, I grabbed a ticket and went through to the indoor area which has some displays showing and talking about various regional architectural styles.




As you can see from the last photo, there is plenty of information in English both at the displays and also at the front counter where you get your ticket.

Moving through this area I stepped outside to the main section and immediately felt a surge of excitement as I could see the first of the buildings just ahead.  There is a path to follow that winds its way through all of the exhibitions.  Being that it is located in a park, you are surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature which only adds to the experience!

First up was a large early 19th century house that had originally been located in Fukushima prefecture which is located about 240km north of Tokyo.


Very nice!

The walk through the area was really nice and while I won't show you all of the buildings, I will show you a selection of them.  While I was there, there was some reconstruction of the pathway that you follow and also some reconstruction of one of the exhibits so some of the nostalgia is interrupted by construction equipment.

This next one is a lovely Gasshou style farmhouse built in the early 18th century which was originally located in Toyama prefecture on the Sea of Japan east coast of Japan.


This style of architecture is distinctively identified by its steep sloping thatched roof.  This area of Japan is renowned for its heavy winter snowfall (some of the heaviest in the world) and the steep roof helps the snow slide off.

This next farm house was built in the late 18th century and it's original location was Yamagata prefecture, almost 300km north of Tokyo


The epitome of rustic, don't you think?

Next up, a village headman's house that was built in the late 17th century.  This one did not have to be relocated very far at all as it was originally located in Kawasaki city, where the museum is also located.


This next one was also originally located in Kawasaki and is a small shrine that was built in 1863.


Next up, another village headman's house built in the late 17th century from nearby Kanagawa prefecture.


I just love the old wood used in all of these buildings.  Of course you would have been in a bit of trouble had a fire broken out, but the the use of something as natural as wood gives all of the buildings a wonderful earthy look!

This next grand building was originally located in Shirakawago, a place famous for the Gasshou Zukuri style of building.  It was originally a farmhouse before being moved in 1958 to near Kawasaki station where it was used as a traditional Japanese restaurant.  It was subsequently move to the museum in 1970 and is currently used as a soba restaurant that feeds the museum visitors.  Talk about interactive displays!


I will mention here that you are able to enter all of the houses to see what the interiors look like.  While you may not be able to walk through the entirety of the house, you can see what some of the rooms in each look like.






A real glimpse into the past.  Life was very different!

Wandering around such a beautiful and historic place was a damn good way to spend an afternoon.  It was nice and quiet and peaceful.  The surrounding park was shielding the sounds of the city outside and it felt like a calm, serene hideaway hidden in the middle of metropolis.






Before too long, it was time to step out of the cocoon and back into reality.  Thoroughly satisfied I made my way back to the station amongst the cacophony of city noise.  Yes, I had enjoyed those last couple of hours......

I recommend putting aside a good couple of hours to leisurely stroll around the museum and to fully enjoy it.  Obviously, different seasons will present different looks, vibrant green in summer and beautiful reds and yellows in autumn, but it is definitely worth a look in any season.

Admission cost: Adults - 500 yen
                          Students - 300 yen
                          Junior High School students and younger - free

Hours: March - October - 9:30am - 5pm
            November - February  - 9:30am - 4:30pm
Official website:  http://english.nihonminkaen.jp/

Thanks for reading!  I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did visiting it and I hope you also get the chance to visit at some stage int he future.

Please leave me a message below and sign up for email updates when I upload a new post, or bookmark the page and I hope to see you back here soon!  Until next time, bye!

Friday, 9 December 2016

Immerse yourself in old town charm - Gujo Hachiman: a true traditional Japanese town (part 6)

This is part 6 in a series of posts about a recent trip to Gujo Hachiman in Gifu.  I recommend reading part 1234 and 5 first.

Morning broke the next day and it was time to have a last breakfast in Gujo Hachiman.  It was just as big and as extensive as the previous days.










The Japanese sure know how to fuel themselves for the day to come!

We checked out of the ryokan and set off with the friendly owners waving us goodbye.  There was, however, one last thing I wanted to check out.  Now many of you who have visited Japan or who live in Japan will know of the very realistic plastic food models that most restaurants and eateries in Japan display to show off what food they cook and serve.  Well guess what?  They were invented in Gujo Hachiman and the town is still responsible for upwards of 80% of production in Japan!  On our walk back to the station we stopped in at a couple of shops to have a look.












How awesomely delicious it all looked!  But don't worry, each of them had a "do not eat" warning......

We enjoyed one last piece of Gujo Hachiman as we made our way back to the train station.


And even the train station was amazing!



The train from Gujo Hachiman back to Nagoya is also well worth taking as it is a beautiful, quaint little train of only one carriage!




The scenery is stunning as the train winds it's way along the Nagara River.




All too soon it was over and we arrived back in Nagoya.  Having some time before catching the bus back to Tokyo, I was able to catch up with good friend Sachiko for dinner.  It was good talking to her and with what she said, combined with a wander around the station area of Nagoya, I am convinced that a trip to Nagoya needs to be made.  Thanks Sachiko!

Climbing onto the bus, I reflected on the last 3 days.  Gujo Hachiman had been all that I was hoping it would be and more.  The subtle, unpretentious charm which permeates throughout the town, the buildings, the castle and the people was incredible and it was a pleasure to be able to be experience that for a few days.  However, a return trip is in the works as there was still a whole lot of the town that I didn't get a chance to see and my Mother, who reads my blog and who is planning a trip to Japan next year, has said that Gujo Hachiman is on her list of places she wants to see when she visits, and that is quite alright with me!

Okay, costs.

Bus ride from Tokyo to Nagoya - 7,700 yen.

Bus from Nagoya to Gujo Hachiman - 1,850 yen

Miharaya ryokan - 8,000 yen per night (including those amazing breakfasts!)

Train from Gujo Hachiman to Nagoya - 2,490 yen

Bus ride from Nagoya to Tokyo - 7,200 yen

(correct at time of writing)

Well, there it is, the last post about Gujo Hachiman.  I really hope that you enjoyed reading and following the series as much as I did experiencing it.  Gujo Hachiman is definitely well worth a visit when you come to Japan and it is quite English friendly!  Please leave a comment below and share with someone who would like a read and sign up on the right-hand side of the page for email updates when I upload a new post.

See you next time.