While Daisan Harumi was a pretty satisfying first sushi meal in Tokyo, we were really excited and couldn't wait to go try out Sushi Iwa. Prior to the trip, we had done quite a bit of research and came across a blog post on this one Michelin star restaurant. We were quite lucky in getting a dinner booking despite calling maybe only a week or two in advance. Since there are only about 6 seats available, reservations are a must.
Tokyo , Chuo-ku, Ginza 8-5-25 second Sanyu Building 1F
After the sashimi, the chef began proceeded to prepare the sushi for us. We were both mesmerized by how precise he was, from dabbing exactly two drops of soya sauce to only two quick shavings of lemon zest for specific pieces. Kelven has never quite enjoyed ikura (salmon roe), uni (sea urchin) or any kind of fish liver. Lucky for us, they served us all three during the meal and I must say they were the highlights of the meal. Even Kelven had to agree this was pretty good because it tasted so fresh. The uni was so sweet and creamy that it melted in your mouth without that bitter taste that we sometimes taste in uni back home. We thoroughly enjoyed each item offered and were quite full by the time the tamago came around. I will let the pictures speak for themselves :)~ .
The other best part of the meal was the amount of good sake we had. We had originally ordered only one small bottle between the two of us. But within minutes of us sitting down, an older Japanese gentleman who was dining alone on Kelven's right began talking to us and offering us some of his sake. His reason for offering us his sake was that he believed this sake to be one of the best in Japan and that he wanted to welcome us to this beautiful country (how nice of him!!). You could tell he was really enjoying his meal and despite dining alone, he was having a lot of fun talking to us. When he left, the chef actually told us that we probably wouldn't want to know how much that sake cost. That got us really curious so he finally told us that the bottle of sake could easily go for $150USD a bottle.
Whilst Kelven was talking to the Japanese gentleman on his right and we were trying the sake, the gentleman on my left began to talk to me. I could hear from his conversations with his daughter and his wife earlier that they were on vacation from Hong Kong, so I quickly introduced myself in Chinese. They were delighted to find out that I can speak Cantonese and within seconds, he too offered us some sake from the bottle they brought to dinner (which also happens to be about $150 a bottle).
Les Petites Choses
Filtering by Category: "Photography"
When we were planning for our trip to Japan, the key thing that we had in mind was food. Where were we going to get some great food and how do we get it. That was the key question. Me and Janice are sushi lovers so naturally, when we were planning to go to Japan, we were at a loss as to which sushi-ya to try. While we would have loved to give Saito, Sawada, Mizutani or Jiro a try, we could only afford to eat at that level so many times before we went way over our budget. We read about Daisan Harumi as a cheaper and easier to book alternative so we thought we would give it a try. This place was no slouch either, being ranked the 19th best sushi restaurant in Tokyo by Tabelog (Japanese review site) in October 2013.
Tokyo, Minato-ku, Shinbashi 1-17-7
1. Sushi Iwa (by a country mile)
2. Sushi Dai
3. Daisan Harumi
4. Sushi Midori
5. Sushi Zanmai
It has been a while since my last post. Christmas and New Year's Eve has passed by while we were on holidays in Japan and Taiwan - but let me tell you, it was a trip to remember. Japan has long since been a place that I have wanted to go - ever since I was a little kid, watching Dragon Ball, reading manga and playing the original Street Fighter on the Nintendo. I have always been fascinated with the culture and from my teen years onwards, I have been infatuated with their food. So when we moved to Australia, we thought hey, if we are going to have a chance to visit some more Asian countries, Japan better be one of our first.
We will have individual posts for the places and the restaurants we visited but this is to give a birds eye view of our impressions from our visit to one of the most impressive countries we have ever been to.
Those who have been to Japan know it as a place that is abundant in history, culture, and food. If you want temples, serenity, and diversity from your everyday life, Japan has it. From temples to monkeys, to shrines, to areas as rich as Ginza and as vibrant as Shinjuku and Shibuya, there is no reason not to get lost in the city and just take it all in. The pictures below will give a glimpse of what we saw.
Temples, shrines, and history. Though there were more in Kyoto, Tokyo did not have a shortage either.
The streets of Japan are so different from what I have seen anywhere else that I have been to. So many advertisements and so much going on. It made finding specific restaurants very hard at times but it was a feast for the eyes.
Metro stations, TRA's, JR, Shinkansen, Japan has their transportation system down pat. It made travelling around the country a synch! Kind of.
The Tsukiji fish market is world famous and rightfully so. We were there at 4am in the morning to lineup for Sushi Dai but sticking around afterwards to explore the market was a blast.
We even saw a Geisha! Janice was very excited about this.
If you wanted to catch a glimpse of nature in Japan, you could too.
Japan is the birth place of sushi and many other great eats and boy, do they know how to do it right. We both love food and we have been lucky enough to have lived in and visited places with amazing and diverse cuisine but if we had to choose one type of cuisine, it would be Japanese. With that bias in mind, read on, but we can say safely that we had some of the best meals of our lives on this trip.
Top 10 Restaurants we visited
1/ Sushi Iwa (Tokyo) - We have had some great sushi in Vancouver, San Fran and New York but nothing came close to this. Sushi Iwa was our version of transcendent sushi. Each piece was perfectly crafted and the flavors melded together harmoniously. Compared to Shiro's and Sushi Yasuda, Sushi Iwa was on a different level and have set the bar for our future sushi meals. We are so screwed. Luckily we can't afford to eat at this level too often yet I suppose ($200+ USD per person). While not considered to be the pinnacle of sushi in Japan, Sushi Iwa does an amazing job... to the point where I cannot imagine it could be much better than this.
2/ Sushi Dai (Tokyo) - Waited 3 hours and had to line up at 4am in the morning for this but this was surprisingly delicious. Located in the Tsukiji Market, this restaurant is famous amongst tourists all over the world (as evidenced by their extraordinary lineups at such an ungodly hour). Honestly, this was better sushi than at Shiro's in Seattle and we thought that was amazing. All for $39 USD per head. Just... be prepared to be freezing and grumpy at 4am in the morning.
3/ Yamamoto Menzo (Kyoto) - Kyoto is known for its culture and food. Yamamoto Menzo is a perfect example of that. We went on Christmas day only to find that the restaurant was closed but we were lucky enough to fit it into our schedule before we left. Trying to be clever, we arrived at 10:50am hoping to beat out any line... well we were outsmarted... by about 30 people. We were in the queue for over an hour before we got in and it was freezing that day. Maybe it was cold or maybe it was the hunger, but this bowl of udon was the best that I have ever had. The broth was so flavorful and the noodles perfectly cooked. Paired with the amazing chicken tempura and you have an outstanding meal for about $15 USD per person. Honestly worth the hype and the wait and we drool everytime we see the photos again.
4/ Shorain (Kyoto) - When I heard that we could experience gourmet tofu in Kyoto, I originally thought, gourmet tofu... what is that? But we were so glad we went. We were given two warnings about this restaurant: 1) it would be hard to find and 2) it will exceed any tofu you've ever eaten. The second warning was enough for us to go. We settled for the $46 per person meal for lunch and... wow. I'll leave it at that.
5/ Yoroniku (Tokyo) - Our quest for food in Japan was not only for sushi, udon, or tofu. It was also for great beef. I have always been a fan of steak and when we read the reviews for Yoroniku, we realized that we had an opportunity to try an example of Japan's outstanding variety. On the day that we wanted to go, the only open reservation was at 10:35pm ... So we accepted! The room was smoke filled but holy mother of cow, that beef was amazing. The beef slices were so thin and fatty, the cook called it "silk". This restaurant might rank as my second favorite restaurant on our whole trip but Janice is more of a fish lover :)
6/ Okakita (Kyoto) - On Christmas day, we wanted to visit Yamamoto Menzo for their much talked about udon so we lined up in the queue. We only found out later that we had lined up not for Yamamoto Menzo, but for a mysterious restaurant next door called Okakita. While we were disappointed that the restaurant we wanted to was closed, we thought, what the heck, if it has this long a lineup, the food must be good. It was. This place specializes in udon and they do it masterfully. The broth was so pure and "refreshing" (weird word to describe udon broth but in this case, it was true). The udon was so smooth, light, and of perfect texture - it was clearly freshly made in house. This udon shop has been in business for many years and their experience shows through. Okakita and Yamamoto Menzo are both in a class of their own. Yamamoto Menzo was just outright incredible but in more of a casual, every day style while Okakita was more refined and classic. Both were fantastic and would blow every udon shop out of the water in Vancouver.
7/ Katsukura (Kyoto) - Tonkatsu in Japan is a very popular dish which involves certain cuts of pork, deep fried with a light breaded batter and served with sauce, rice, and thinly shredded cabbage. Doesn't sound like much but if you find good tonkatsu, you'll be craving it again and again. Katsukura is a place we visited at the Kyoto station one evening and it blew us away. I had the premium cut of pork tenderloin but it wasn't just the meat that was impressive. It was the crusty layer which was light, crispy, and deliciously tasty as well. We also made our own sauce by grinding sesame seeds to give the sauce a beautifully fragrant smell. I am drooling just thinking about this. Yet another, "best meal we have ever had" in Japan. This is a chain restaurant but don't let the stigma of the restaurant's ownership structure fool you - it serves great tonkatsu.
8/ Daisan Harumi (Tokyo) - On the evening of our first night in Tokyo, I booked a reservation for Daisan Harumi. Reading up on reviews, Daisan Harumi was not in the class of Jiro's, Saito's, or Sawada but it was still on another level compared to most restaurants you could find in North America. When we finally found the restaurant, we had just survived over 15 hours of travel and we were sleep deprived. Still, we were excited to try high level sushi in Japan for the first time. How did we find it? Well... it was good but not outstanding. No where near Sushi Iwa's level unfortunately. It was better than anything you could find in Vancouver and Melbourne for sure but at $185 per person, it should be. Sushi Yasuda in New York was more impressive to us honestly... It was a great experience regardless but I think this was a bit of a disappointment for us.
9/ Keiseki at Ohanobo (Kyoto) - When we stayed at our ryokan in Kyoto, we opted to stay in for dinner one night. A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn with all your basic amenities but also with those traditional Japanese qualities to it. The ryokan served a traditional keiseki meal right in your own room so we thought, great food, traditional setting, and all in our own room? Score. We were served over 10 varieties of foods with an abundance of different flavors including thin and extremely fatty slices of kobe beef, yutofu, different varities of sashimi, and other items that I am unsure about but loved the flavor. Safe to say that we were absolutely stuffed after the meal. Definitely a must do in Japan is to have a keiseki meal and we were glad that we got a chance to do it here.
10/ Sushi Midori (Tokyo) - One night, we were wandering around the neighborhood close to our hotel when we noticed a queue that was longer than usual. It turned out that it was for a sushi restaurant (part of a chain) that had been receiving rave reviews on Trip Advisor so we originally thought, oh well, it's probably just tourist hype. The lineup was easily 2 hours long and we weren't about to wait in line on a freezing cold night for sushi that was not in the higher class (we had unknowingly become sushi snobs). On New Year's Eve however, we were looking for dinner and thought we had run out of luck as most restaurants and establishments close in Japan early for NYE as it is a traditional, family oriented holiday and not the party-party one that North America and the rest of the world is known for. We got lucky that evening as we waited in line for only 5 minutes that night. For $30 per person, we feasted until we were ready to roll over. The quality was fantastic for the price we paid too. Sure it was not Sushi Yasuda level but it was not far off of what you could get at Sushi Sam's in San Francisco or Shiro's in Seattle. Definitely worth going to!
Honorable Mentions: Wako Tonkatsu, Udon-tei, Ippudo Ramen, Rokurinsha Ramen
What are things we have learned about this amazing country?
1/ How polite people are - Honestly, we have heard about how people in this country conduct themselves and even then, we were amazed how polite and courteous most people are. On our first night in Tokyo, we asked the taxi driver where Daisan Harumi was. He not only took us to our location but got out of the car, walked around the street with us and pointed us in the right direction - all without speaking any english. When we went to Sushi Iwa, a lone diner poured us several glasses of aged, premium sake because he wanted to welcome us to his country and to see what this beautiful country has to offer. We loved Japan and the people are a huge aspect why.
2/ Bikes are left unlocked - We saw many bicycles in Tokyo as this is a common form of transportation. But what surprised us is that the vast majority were left unlocked. Think what would happen in Vancouver or Melbourne if someone left their bike unlocked. They would almost certainly have to find a different form of transportation home! People seemed very trusting and honest here.
3/ Rimowa luggages are everywhere - Not normally is this a strange observation but when any Rimowa luggage over 25 inches is worth over $800 you would understand why we were so surprised. Japanese people love to travel in style and would happily pay the premium for a very nice suitcase!
4/ Garbage bins, where are they? - You walk around the city, eating snacks to keep up your energy and then you wonder, "Where can I throw away my garbage?" It was not easy to find a garbage bin at times but what is amazing is how clean the streets of Tokyo are despite having rubbish bins hidden away! Shibuya is chalk full of people as one of the busiest intersections in the world and yet the streets look clean. How do they keep this up?
5/ Calming sounds in the train stations - When you start taking the metro in Tokyo or the train from Kyoto station, you may notice a hymn or the sound of birds chirping. No, that isn't a huge bird in the metro station (at 10pm at night). Janice is convinced that this is by design to serve as a calming mechanism or as a guidance for people who are visually impaired. My mind was blown. Having a hard time proving this theory through Google search though?
6/ We love the shinkansen - 300km per hour in a ride that feels smoother than a car being driven on a straight road with no traffic and zero road imperfections. Who would not love this? Then I thought, Formula 1 drivers drive this fast around curves on a race track...
7/ I want a Japanese toilet seat installed in my future house - It warms your butt as you sit on it on a cold cold day. Enough said.
8/ We love Japan - To the person who poured us sake that evening at Sushi Iwa, we do love your country. The food, the people, the culture, everything. We will definitely be back.
| This past weekend was a
good one. For one, it was a weekend of firsts.
FirstlyWe got the opportunity to hang out with Natasha and Derek from, Beautifully, Suddenly this weekend. I have long since been following Natasha’s flickr and blog. People who know of her work have an idea of the masterful way she works her camera as she has taken some of my favourite editorial grade coffee, flower, and market shots. It was a pleasure meeting with the two of you! Next time, I will buy coffee ok? We also had a chance to meet one of J’s friends from way back when (17 years). Thanks for taking us around in the rain. Looking forward to the next time!
SecondlyWe had a chance to visit our first Anthony Bourdain featured restaurant – Porteno. If you are a meat eater, this seriously is a can’t miss restaurant in Sydney. Serving 8 hour slow roasted pork and lamb as well as amazing wagyu skirt steak, it is really no wonder why there is such hype about this place. A word of warning though, get there early if you are a party under 5. We got there at 6:05pm and we ended up having to wait until 7:45pm for dinner because we just missed the first cut. Luckily they had a lounge upstairs where you could order tapas and drinks while you wait. Just don’t order too much food upstairs because you really don’t want to miss out on the entrees. I love steak and I have visited some great steak restaurants in North America but this wagyu steak was legendary.
FinallyWe visited Sydney for the first time since our arrival in Australia about 3 months ago. It was only a weekend trip but we felt it was time we took another weekend off to see the other most celebrated city in this country. We wandered around the town, walking enough for a few weeks worth to see some of the sites such as the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t cooperating so the beach was deferred until next time. Rain or not though, we had a great time. We will definitely be back in the very near future (hopefully when the weather is better)!
The rain was around all weekend. But under it gave us a good excuse to settle down and have a few drinks at the Opera House Bar. It certainly doesn't stop the crowds in Sydney from queuing up for great food. Apparently, the seagulls weren't phased either.
Christmas is near! That means Japan is too :)
One of the things that people expect to see when they go to Melbourne is the 12 Apostles. We have now been here for almost 3 months and only this past weekend did we have a chance to go. Good thing we did though because we had some fantastic weather – 24+ with plenty of sun and a nice breeze, what more could we ask for? Of course, what that meant was that we would be on the road with countless other tourists looking to spend a day or the weekend on the famous road as well. A fellow Vancouver-ite made it to Melbourne for the road trip with us from New Zealand. We made it a point to start the day early to deal with that though as we picked up the car at 8 in the morning and headed out of town by about 9.
The good thing about making this a weekend trip is that we had more time to explore and take in the sights. So much of my Europe traveling was done on such a short timeline that you just had to see something and go. We stopped by quite a few sites but by no means is this a comprehensive list. I’m sure that we missed a few and we will make a point to come back again one day to catch up. Anyway, on to our first top!
By the time we got to Lorne we were all very hungry. This stop was about 1.5 hours from Melbourne so it was about 10:30 already at this point and none of us had had any breakfast. The chorus of bag rustling in the car was a sign that we would have to stop for some real food soon. Lorne was a fair sized town with a strip of boutique stores, restaurants, and cafes to serve the weekend road trippers. We settled down at, “The Bottle of Milk” for some burgers and a coffee for me before heading off. Sometimes the fear of going to a restaurant in a tourist driven area is that you’ll end up with expensive cafeteria grade food but this was not the case. The burgers were flavorful and huge as well. Nothing to complain about and certainly miles better than your fast food options. They serve Seven Seeds coffee as well so that’s a plus. Definitely recommend this place as a stopping point for breakfast or lunch on the way.
Apollo Bay and Cape Otway
Our next stop was Cape Otway and the Apollo Bay. Cape Otway is famous in pictures for the lighthouse but ironically that is the one place we did not stop off at. It looked like you had to pay to get in and the sight wasn’t what we were looking for (we were much more keen to see the coast, the cliffs, and the sand instead). Instead, we did go into Cape Otway and saw something else amazing – wild koalas! It’s one thing to see them in captivity or in sanctuaries but here they just hang out on their favorite eucalyptus trees either eating or sleeping… or in our case, walking down a road full of cars. It was one of the most bizarre things that we have ever seen but it is not something I will easily forget. The lone walker literally stopped traffic as people just got out of their cars whilst they were in the middle of the road and started to snap pictures. Be proud, koala, be proud, you caused a traffic jam because of your fluffiness.
Doesn’t he remind you of Stitch? Oh and we saw some pretty cool horses as well.
By the time you get close to the twelve apostles, the famous sites all started to pop up within very close proximity to one another. Our next stop brought us to the 12 Apostles (well almost). The Gibson Steps is the first stop that you’ll want to make as you get close to the main attraction. This site was just beautiful. The waves came in hard but in an almost soothing rhythm. In the distance, you can see two stacks of rocks in the water as well which added to the appeal of being there (though, they are not considered part of the Apostles). The sand was fine, soft, and warm while the water was cold at first touch but almost felt luke warm by the time my legs adjusted.
Loch Ard Gorge
Not far from the steps is the Loch Ard Gorge. The viewpoints provide a neat perspective of the gorge but I think in order to really get the full impact of this site, you really need to descend to the beach level to view it from there. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware as the sign said “< Loch Ard Gorge, Something Cave >”. Alas we didn’t go down to the cave but that was evidently where we were supposed to go. I can see this as being a site definitely worth spending some time at though so we’ll be sure to revisit this one next time.
The Twelve Apostles
This is what most people come to Melbourne and want to see. Though there weren’t twelve, the site of the apostles in the distance with the setting sun was… how do you describe it… it is one of those moments where you just want to take a deep breath and just take it in. This is going to sound somewhat old fashioned of me but it’s sights like this that make you think that the world is an amazing place. Anyway, the pictures below are what we saw. If I could compare the impact of this place to anywhere else I had been… I would say that this is equally as impressive as the Cliffs of Moher on the west coast of Ireland and Victoria Falls in Zambia. There are no words that can explain a place like this. You just need to be here to experience it. The weather had gotten progressively colder as the day wore on and by sunset it was cold and very windy. But we stayed for sunset anyway and we were glad that we did.
The Arch, London Bridge, and the Bay of Islands
After a full night’s rest, we headed westwards about 10km’s before looping back inland to get back to Melbourne. The journey west of Port Campbell brought us to some historic sights such as the arch, London bridge, and the Bay of Islands. The pictures below will do the rest of the talking. The pictures were somewhat rushed though as the weather had taken a turn on us, sending temperatures of 7 degrees and extremely gusty wind our way.
After about 5-6 hours on the road, I was really looking forward to settling down for the night. We were absolutely exhausted from the driving, the sun, and the cold during sunset. We settled down for the night at the Parkview Motel in Port Campbell, a small town closest to the Great Ocean Road’s main stopping points. The accommodation was for an apartment/townhouse that was fully equipped with a kitchen, all necessary utensils, television, internet, and two bedrooms. It was a great place to just lay back, have a few cups of wine before turning in for the night. Greg and his wife take care of this place and they were very pleasant as well – though J might disagree as they gave her a great scare after jokingly saying that they had sold our room off after we had passed our check-in time. In all honesty, if you are looking for a place to stay on the Great Ocean Road and want to be near the main attractions, Port Campbell is a great option. From here, you can get to the Apostles in less than 10 minutes. Hard to go wrong with that.
How do you summarize a road trip like this? I love road trips to begin with and when you couple it with amazing natural sites, photography and most importantly great company, you have the makings of something very memorable. We will be coming back here again for sure.