Eating through Japan – Tokyo Day 1
It is 9am in local Tokyo time. It has been more than 10 hours of flight time across land and ocean. A little disoriented, we fumble around Narita airport to organise a one way trip to Shinjuku on the Narita Express. The language barrier is not immediately apparent … but will soon realise otherwise.
Travel Tip: if you are planning to be travelling at a fast pace across the country, the JR pass would be great, as it covers all JR shinkansen and JR rails. But if like me, you plan to take your time, with a few days here, a week there, and another over somewhere else, then the JR pass may not be worthwhile. Be wary though that most metro trains (i.e. in Tokyo), are not part of JR and will thus not be covered by the JR pass. I found these two sites particularly helpful: JNTO, Japan guide.
After our first stop at our hotel to drop off our unwieldy luggage, we stumble weary eyed southward from our hotel towards the supposedly bustling streets around Shinjuku station. The streets of Shinjuku much like the rest of Japan remain fairly deserted in the morning (except in commute). Not much is open until quite late in the morning, and there certainly are not many breakfast options up for grabs. There is notably not much importance emphasised on this first meal of the day, with most locals eating a simple sandwich or salad before rushing to work.
First photos taken after a quick bite from a bakery – at which the weary eyed food-blogger forgot to take any photos.
Aside the bustling crowds of black haired Japanese speaking populace everywhere you go, you will notice the quirky culture splash painted around every corner in every imaginable way. There are vending machines on every streets to keep you hydrated or sugar-high. Space is a premium commodity here in Tokyo. Houses (apartments mainly) are shoe boxes, shops and eateries are located everywhere you look, many of which you would never stumble upon unless you sought them out – whether it be up on the 8th floor, through a small crack in the wall (by that I mean a tiny door), or down a dark alleyway. No space is wasted.
For a good half the day in Tokyo, I stumbled around without GPS…
if you are planning to pre-plan any destination, particularly restaurants, it is a nightmare to navigate the streets of Japan. There are virtually no street signs, and they will generally be in Japanese anyway. It isn’t the cheapest option, but having a Japanese SIM-card with GPS makes commuting a breeze.
|天ぷら新宿つな八総本店 – Tempura Tsunahachi
Cost: Tempura Set from 1,995Yen
Bookings / table availability: we got a spot immediately, but arrived at around 11.30am. Lines grew quite fast soon after our arrival.
Several sources have glowing reviews for the tempura at this little place.
There are several options available on the set lunches with prices varying from 1000yen to more than 3000yen. Unless you plan on not eating anything afterwards, order one of the smaller sets, as each comes with rice and miso soup also.
It was our first ‘proper’ dining experience in Japan, where we found ourselves cramped up against each other, elbow to elbow. I was so afraid of knocking everything over… Hence not many photos were taken. Lo-and-behold I spilled a full cup of tea onto the table, spilled onto the floor, splattered on thy neighbouring diner, and cause a huge scene.
Everything is prepared right before your eyes – the batter, the sashimi, the frying.
Ok, so how was the tempura? Light, delicate and golden – simply amazing.
Whether it be the crisp crunch lotus root, sweet potato, pumpkin and capsicum; or the moist flesh of fish, prawn and crab, everything was perfectly cooked within the almost transparent batter. The deep fried mushroom and chicken broth in an oyster shell was something quite special.
I was absolutely full to the brim, and yet the next stop would be Isetan’s depachika. Depachika, is an abbreviated term meaning department store basement. You will find many individual shops that carry a dizzying display of high-quality comestibles. Diamaru, Takashimaya, Mitsukoshi and most other large department stores will have one, but Isetan is arguably the best, especially for those looking for a sweet treat.
I was forbidden (although politely) by the staff to take photos, but here’s a few I snuck in.
Beautiful displays of food. Bento boxes. Desserts. And more desserts. A WHOLE entire section with more than 20 stalls predominantly French oriented.
And look what we have here: Pierre Herme macarons!
More free food (*Ahem I mean tastings).
So I didn’t exactly buy these from the depachika, but they were still the juiciest and sweetest strawberries I have had in my life. Had more than 5 small boxes of these during our stay.
Fruit is an expensive commodity in Japan. Although depachika’s provide supply top-line quality fruit, they come at a very high premium. Melons are around $10,000yen each. A box of cream of the crop strawberries were not that much cheaper.
Travel tip: if you happen to be near a department store in the evening hours when they are close to closing, a lot of perishable items are slashed for sale. Join the hustle and grab a bargain eat. If you stumble across a grocery store / supermarket, make sure to take a look at the fruit – they will be much cheaper than depachika.
|伊勢丹新宿店本館 – Depachiko, Isetan department store
Where: 東京都新宿区新宿3-14. (Basement)
Cost: free tastings. Cost of food range anywhere from 100yen to well beyond 5 numeric figures.
Just outside Meiji Shrine.
Beautiful Shinto Shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken [wiki].
A short train ride away … Roppongi.
View of Tokyo Tower from Roppongi.
If your heading out to Roppongi for the Mori Tower observation deck, then do check out the long list of high-end restaurants. Here is one I tried…
L’atelier is one of Joel Robuchon‘s – famed French chef once titled “Chef of the Century” – several Michelin star rated outbranches in the world. This one in particular holds 2 michelin stars.
The menu will likely have completely changed by the time I post this, so I won’t comment too specifically on each item.
Chestnut – the smooth velvety texture of this lightly frothed soup coated the tongue in the earthy aromas of chestnut, and the tiniest hints of foie-gras. Absolutely amazing umami!
Crab, spinach puree and lobster jelly – oceanic delight.
Chicken – done two ways.
Fish – the silky flesh was cooked to perfection with refreshing notes from the marinated cucumber juliennes.
Working the magic on our food.
|L’atelier de Joel Robuchon
Where: Mori Tower. 6-10-1 Roppongi, Minato-Ku, Tokyo.
Cost: Set dinners from 4800Yen.
Bookings: quiet on the day we went, but I’d recommend booking to avoid disappointment.Rating: Yummy+2, pretty close to divine. The food was undoubtedly refreshing yet delicate with many layers of complexity, contemporary and smooth. It was an incredible rhapsody of taste bud contemplation from start until end.
Where did I stay?
Hotel Villa Fontaine Shinjuku – ホテルヴィラフォンテーヌ 新宿
Details: Short walk (400m) from ShinOkubo station and Korea Town. Smack bang in the middle of Kabukicho – find all the nightlife at your doorstep. I would recommend staying a little closer to a station, if plan on lugging your luggage down the road rather than catching a taxi.
P.S Be warned, unless you stay at luxury international hotels, expect rooms sizes in the metropolitan to be shoe box. They will however be generally be cleaned to a very high standard. Check out trip advisor for useful hotel ratings.
Why did I take a shot of our hotel room’s toilet you might ask?
Epic post #1 complete… now for 16 more to go.