Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Honmura An: Modern Classic Soba

Honmura An might not have a rich old legacy like Kanda Matsuya but it could one day reach the same position in future. This Michelin-starred soba shop is actually the Tokyo venture of Koichi Kobari, whose same name restaurant in New York's Soho district is one of the most well-acclaimed and celebrity-patronized one. 
No one would disagree that the menu's backbone is its solid, handmade soba noodles.
The Traditional zaru soba with sesame dipping sauce did offer some magical respite from the harsh winter outside despite the fact that the noodles were cold. Since winter is the best season to savour the plump oysters, the place created a special Curry oyster soba. Interestingly, the oysters are coated in curry-flavoured dough batter and deep fried, retaining the taste and fragrant of spices even though one cannot identify any visible speck of curry in the oysters. Surprisingly, this soba shop served decent Oyakadon too, but still it might be better to head to Tamahide or Honke Abeya for the real thing.

Apart from the soba, it also boasts an array of classic izakaya fare. They are not that exciting or creative, but made with an understated elegance and finesse. The yuba tofu soup with winter vegetables (1000 yen) is deliberately made bland as one was supposed to ladle the broth into individual porcelain bowls filled with spring onions and add the amount of shoyu as desired. However, I thought price leaned on the steep side for homely vegetables dishes such as Sesame Sauce marinated Watercress (900 yen). Perhaps that's because the watercress was harvested from Mt. Fuji.  Likewise, the assorted tempura (2100 yen) were crunchy but they could turn the plate more enticing by adding in some juicy prawns.

Aside from food, service is friendly and unpretentious. Some might think that service is generally assured in most restaurants in Japan but this is not guaranteed especially towards foreigners. But at Honmura An, guests feel no pressure and can dine at ease just like at home. English menu and a selection of craft sake or shochu are available.

Curry Oyster Ala Carte

Honmura An
7 Chome-14-18 Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo 106-0032
English menu available 
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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Hokkaido Fair: Eat till you drop!

Among all the regional food fairs are held all over Japan, Hokkaido fair is one of the most popular and frequent food fair. There are definitely a larger number of souvenir brands and famous food stalls at the local fairs than in fairs held outside Japan. While the exhibitors are largely the same, it is still possible to find new and seasonal edition items every time. 

ISHIYA (Shiroi Koibito, etc...)

One of the brands I check out is Shiroi Koibito, though not for its famous white chocolate langue De chats. It's parent company has actually more than 10 other sub brands selling popular sweets such as White Baumkuchen and Candied Chocolate Bars. The Shiroi Koibito Parfait is one perfect chance to try a bit of everything because it contained the Shiroi Koibito cookie, Tsumugi white Baumkuchen slices, Miyuki Millefeuille and of course the irresistible sweet and creamy milk soft serve mixed with tangy raspberry sauce.

There is also a long shiroi koibito white roll cake but I ended up with the Hokkaido Melon Roll for its rarer to find roll cakes in this flavour. Amazing soft texture, but so delicate and soft that it is difficult to slice it properly at aircon temperature. Plus, it does not taste artificially sweet.
LeTao is another regular shop that is renowned for its luscious cheesecake. During Spring, they have the special matcha double cheesecake called The Vert. I also enjoyed the smooth bitterness of the matcha and Darjeeling chocolates shaped like mini pyramids. Surprisingly, it also stocks up some tasty Langue De Chats that has won the Gold award of Monde Selection. The Fromage belongs more to the savoury camp and the cheese filling in the centre is in golden proportion to the buttery round cookies. The Sweet Chocolate is not sweet but rather dull in comparison to the Fromage.ROYCE
And of course there is Royce and its ubiquitous Nama chocolates. But one should skip that and head for its Salted Caramel Macarons. Sold in 3 per box (680 yen), each macaron is slightly drier and chewier than freshly made ones but it doesn't matter because the butterscotch-like salted caramel ganache has made a lasting impact. Another limited edition item: Chocolate Almond Tablette with SALT!! In conjunction with Royce's 30th anniversary, Royce has also come up with a box of assorted Chocolate Wafers that contain 5 flavours (Chocolate, Strawberry, Citrus, Tiramisu and Matcha) . All very delish.
I still can't comprehend the popularity of Baumkuchen but the locals love it, especially this Sanpouroku by Ryugetsu. But i must say this was one of the best baumkuchen I've had. Made with Hokkaido butter and flour, it was tenderly soft and not too dry. The winter flavour was Maple and for spring, it's matcha. Regular flavors are Plain and Chocolate. I usually go for those individual packaged sweets as I would be bored having to take at least one month to finish the entire Baumkuchen by myself. Ryugetsu has some interesting sweets sold in single package. 
The Bonne is a rich chocolate butter cake spiked with Grand Marnier and double coated in white and milk chocolate. The custard cream is supposed to flow but it did not. Instead of the Bonne, the Milk Manju was more palatable. It's a typical Wagashi filled with white bean paste, but less cloyingly sweet because of the blend of milk. Soft, creamy and fragrant.

Tokachi Tottepo Factory
It's hard to find fault with any of the puddings, bottled milk or yoghurt from Hokkado. This can be the BEST PUDDING in my life (even better than matcha pudding). Salted Caramel Pudding
Last but not least, this mochi-like cheesecake cubes is my most prized finding from the Hokkaido fair. Named "Moti-moti", the texture is beyond words could describe as it was my first encounter with this delicious invention. Each bite was unyieldingly soft and creamy despite the chilly temperature. Both Matcha and Tiramisu flavours were excellent. 

The end?? Not quite yet
Stay tune for the spring/summer edition of Hokkaido food posts......

Friday, April 25, 2014

The City Bakery

This New York bakery has opened two outlets in Tokyo; one in Shinagawa and Hiroo. While many foreign restaurants or bakeries have created a hype among the locals, things seem to be rather quiet, or peaceful at the City BakeryThe signature croissant pretzel-croissant made in pretzel form, which is said to have a cult following, was not armed with a satisfying crunch as expected. Being slightly chewy and bready, this might not suit the liking of those who prefer crunchy butter croissants like those from Gontran Cherrier. The chocolate croissant is approximates closer to the standard decent ones. 

The selection of pastries is not as wide as Le Petit Mec or Gontran Cherrier, but there are still some notable picks like the Maple Bacon Biscuit and the Cinnamon Bake. Less rich and sweet than the usual cinnamon roll, the Cinnamon Bake has a mellowy earthy flavour with a surprise filling of crunchy pecan nuts. It is also very fun to dismantle this bread as the chunks of sugar coated cubes on top were inviting people to pluck them off, one at a time. 

The Creme brûlée tart that sat alongside other tarts in the chiller had a rather sassy custard filling that would perk anyone awake with the sweetness. It's the only tart that seems worth trying as other tarts with non-black tart shell looked lifeless. 
I must say that the hot chocolate topped with marshmallow (signature drink) was indeed rich and mildly sweet. The S size was quite expensive at ¥450 though. However, the winter special Lemon Hot Chocolate was surprisingly a new refreshing taste for me. I couldn't imagine how a citrus fruit could work in chocolate concoctions except for mousse cakes but this work perfectly well. 

If there is anything I would remember from the City Bakery, it is none other than the awesome hot chocolate, and also the giant peanut butter chocolate cookie that I decided to grab before leaving for the train station. 
 Cinnamon Bake
Pear Almond Scone (left) Maple Bacon Biscuit (right)
Pretzel Croissant (Wholewheat version)
Lemon Hot Chocolate (front)

The City Bakery
Atre Shinagawa 2F 
Minato Minami 2-18-1
Access: JR Shinagawa Station
Daily 8am-10pm (11am-12midnight for restaurant)
Other outlet: Hiroo
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