Sukiyabashi Jiro at Roppongi Hills, Tokyo by Ryan Buaron

Sukiyabashi Jiro's Chef Takashi Ono and his team at work.

Sukiyabashi Jiro's Chef Takashi Ono and his team at work.

There is a heaven, and it’s in an unassuming piece of seafood and rice. Sushi at Sukiyabashi Jiro is probably one of the most delightful culinary experiences that we can remember, and sushi will forever be benchmarked by it.

We flew to Japan solely for the purpose of eating at Sukiyabashi Jiro, a sushi restaurant owned and operated by a man who is regarded as Japan’s living treasure - Jiro Ono, whose business was made famous by the 2011 documentary, ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’. There are two branches for this restaurant, the 3 Michelin star helmed by Jiro-san in the shopping Ginza district, and the 2 Michelin star branch under his son Takashi in Roppongi Hills.

Making a booking at either of the restaurants is a feat on its own. Guests need to book through their Tokyo hotel or a dedicated concierge, no bookings are accepted through any other means (which means your international phone calls, if ever you make it through on what seems to be a perpetually busy line, will be in vain). Booking is done only on the first day of the previous month. So if you are booking for say July 15th, you can only book on June 1st.

We were extremely fortunate to book 2 spots at the Roppongi Hills branch, thanks to our hotel concierge from our Shibuya hotel and a Filipino friend living in Tokyo!

We booked and arrived at 7.30pm sharp and there were four other diners already present, who including us, brought the total to 6 diners for the night. While there are no specific dress codes, they reserve the right to refuse service to those wearing shorts and collarless shirts. Takashi Ono was very friendly, his smiles seemed to puncture the feeling of seriousness in the room. While Jiro-san can hardly speak English, Takashi can converse well enough to put foreign guests at ease. Each sushi piece was a course, which meant that we had a total of 20 courses that night. It was probably one of the most divine meals I’ve had in a long while. The right freshness, the right temperature, the balance of delicate flavours and the hint of wasabi embedded in each piece was such a joy for our palates.

Uni (Sea urchin)

Uni (Sea urchin)

Saba (Mackerel)

Saba (Mackerel)

Who knew that seafood would feel like silk? With uni melting in your mouth and the piece of octopus tasting like crab, the flavours were just surprise after glorious surprise. The ability to innovate is indeed a hallmark of a true world-class chef. Sushi must be enjoyed right after it is prepared with flavours at their most exquisite.

Aside from kohada/gizzard shad,  we also tried  smoked bonito, ikura, kurumaebi, clam, mirugai, anago, ika, hirame and abalone. Each course was consumed in almost absolute stillness, as the sushi is truly the star of the show, and in the capable hands of Chef Takashi and his team, shone well on our palates. Scott, normally averse to mackerel because of its overpowering aftertaste, took an instant liking to the mackerel sushi served that night. The entire meal was a heavenly experience that made flying to Japan to eat at Sukiyabashi Jiro totally worth it.  In total, we spent ¥59,900 (US$ 548 at 24 May 2016 exchange rates) with a tea pairing.

Octopus

Octopus

Baby scallops

Baby scallops

Scott Allford, Chef Takashi Ono and Dave Ryan Buaron at Sukiyabashi Jiro.

Scott Allford, Chef Takashi Ono and Dave Ryan Buaron at Sukiyabashi Jiro.

Overall, the experience was exhilarating, an odd way of describing a meal, but indeed it was. Reservations are up to four people per group. It’s closed on Sundays, public holidays, Saturday evenings, mid-August and year-end holidays. Lunch is from 11:30-14:00 and Dinner is from 17:30-20:30.

Ginza: Tsukamoto Sogyo Building, Basement 1st Floor,2-15, Ginza 4-chome, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, Japan

Roppongi Hills: 六本木6-10-1, 六本木ヒルズ けやき坂通り 3F, Minato, 東京都 〒106-0032 Japan, Motoazabu, Roppongi Hills

Dave Ryan Buaron, Owner and Co-Founder THE NEXT ESCAPE: TRAVEL, ARTS, SPORTS AND LIFESTYLE

Facil at Mandala Hotel, Berlin by Ryan Buaron

Sometimes, we are all so busy that we ignore all the good things right in front of us. This was more or less true when we stayed at the Mandala Hotel in Berlin. Noting the quite peculiar (but most welcome) serving of ceviche and a glass of Veuve Clicquot during breakfast, I made it a point to have a lovely chat with a Filipina server who informed us that the head chef, Michael Kempf, is a 2 Michelin starred chef, and one of the youngest Berlin has ever had. Unfortunately that day, we had to fly to Venezia, but we instead promptly booked a table for lunch on our return a few days later. When we came back, we took our good friends and hosts from the German Foreign Ministry for a small lunch treat at Facil.

Ceviche of Yellow Fin Mackerel- Coriander and Radish.

Ceviche of Yellow Fin Mackerel- Coriander and Radish.

Vineyard Peach - Goat Cream Cheese, Chicoree and Sorrel.

Vineyard Peach - Goat Cream Cheese, Chicoree and Sorrel.

Farmer Beuthe's Wooly Pig - Ramson's and Roscoff Onion

Farmer Beuthe's Wooly Pig - Ramson's and Roscoff Onion

Valrhona Chocolate - Banana, Dragonfruit and Coriander.

Valrhona Chocolate - Banana, Dragonfruit and Coriander.

The lunch menu looked deceptively simple and one can order alacarte. Because we had another meal waiting for us, we opted for 2 course tasting meals. I chose Farmer Beuthe’s Wolly Pig - Ramson’s and Roscoff Onion while Scott chose the Rock Octopus, Bean, Artichoke and Tomato. The flavours were accurately seasoned and familiar, the execution neat and precise just like its pressed table linens and well-spaced tables. While there was significant control in the mains, the kitchen let its hair down with its whimsical dessert: Valrhona Chocolate, Banana, Dragonfruit and Coriander. It was rich, deep and inventive - quite a finish to a gastronomic journey. There is an extensive wine list but we did not try it this time.

The Next Escape's Dave Ryan Buaron and Chef Michael Kempf of Facil Berlin

The Next Escape's Dave Ryan Buaron and Chef Michael Kempf of Facil Berlin

Priced at 45 Euros for a three course meal, a great lunch deal for anyone who is visiting Berlin. Not bad for 2 Michelin stars dining.

Berlin: Postdamer Strasse 3, 10785 Berlin, Germany

Dave Ryan Buaron, Owner and Co-Founder THE NEXT ESCAPE: TRAVEL, ARTS, SPORTS AND LIFESTYLE

 

 

AZIAMENDE88 at Mandarin Oriental, Kuala Lumpur by Scott Allford

Back in July, we heard that Spain’s youngest 3 star Michelin chef, Eneko Atxa, was bringing a pop up version of his Phuket based Aziamendi restaurant to Kuala Lumpur for 88 days. After a long wait, the time finally came to try one of the renowned degustation menus.

The venue was the Mandarin Oriental, in the shadow of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. The restaurant has a nice view of the park behind the towers, but the mix of Lim Wei Ling’s artwork with the dated, boxy booths of the Mandarin Oriental made for an odd setting to enjoy molecular gastronomy.

On our arrival, we learned that Eneko  wasn’t in the kitchen, and nobody seemed to be sure when he’d make an appearance. We were assured that all chefs in the kitchen were trained to prepare the dishes by the 3 star chef himself.

 

Truffled Egg

Truffled Egg

First up was Eneko Axta’s signature dish - Truffled Egg, which is prepared by extracting some of the contents of an egg yolk and replacing it with hot truffle consommé which cooks the yolk from the inside. The main taste was that of a typical chicken egg’s yolk with an extremely mild earthy flavor. It was accompanied by a bitterness, which led me to conclude that the consommé had been burnt.  

 

The Garden

The Garden

After the disappointing start to the meal I was glad to see The Garden. It was definitely an aesthetically pleasing dish, and each component had its own distinct, fresh flavor. Overall, the dish was balanced and enjoyable to eat. Sadly, the edible soil, while being something out of the ordinary in the KL culinary scene, is something that every notable chef has had a crack at over the past 6 or 7 years.

 

Lobster A La Plancha

Lobster A La Plancha

Next up was the Lobster A La Plancha, and it was truly a highlight of the entire meal. The lobster was very juicy with a springy texture, and it was complimented by the slight zing of the chive mayonnaise. The crunch of the crispy cone added another dimension to the dish with its light, crunchy texture.

 

Cod with Potato Tempura

Cod with Potato Tempura

Sous Vide Wagyu

Sous Vide Wagyu

It was here that we deviated from the menu – thanks to an extremely cute orphaned lamb we met on the Mongolian Steppes many years ago we no longer eat lamb. We were presented with Sous Vide Wagyu and Cod with Potato Tempura. The waitress informed us that the Wagyu had been sous vide for two days, which seemed excessive for a meat which is known for its juiciness and tenderness. The only way I can describe the experience of eating the beef with the bland gravy it was drowning in is that it is what I would expect canned dog food to taste like. The plating of the Cod was uninspired, and the only interesting component in the whole dish wash the tiny tempura pillow.

 

Dessert: Dulcey Chocolate and Peanut with Salted Caramel

Dessert: Dulcey Chocolate and Peanut with Salted Caramel

To close the meal we were presented with Dulcey Chocolate and Peanut with Salted Caramel Ice Cream. I was interested by the combination of salted caramel and peanut, although I would have enjoyed more crunch to the peanut.

Considering the meal as a whole I would have to say that I was underwhelmed. 3 Michelin stars represents exceptional cuisine which is “worth a journey”, yet I don’t feel inspired to travel to taste these dishes again. Flavours like salted caramel, truffle, and lobster have become rather run-of-the-mill, and the same can be said for edible soil. This leaves Aziamendi88 with a menu which may be a treat in the Michelin void of the KL food scene, but comes across as unimaginative when compared to what other 3 star chefs and restaurants are offering diners today

 

Scott M. Allford, Owner and Co-Founder THE NEXT ESCAPE: TRAVEL, ARTS, SPORTS AND LIFESTYLE