命の出汁 – broth of vigour

an adventure in japanese cuisine, an obsession with the izakaya

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Extreme Teppanyaki

February this year I was invited to a dinner with some people I had met in Tokyo at an incredible venue in Shinjuku. The restaurant was perched on one of the top three floors of the Mistui building, just near where I usually stay, and I experienced the most over the top Teppanyaki ever.

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I don’t know about you, but for me back in Australia, Teppanyaki conjures up memories of team building or family dinners where you had some reasonable food, cheap hot sake, and throughout the night food is thrown at you making you feel like an absolute fool. This was not one of those venues.

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With two sets of small appetisers including a multiple spoon construction and a sensational bonito carpaccio starting us off the grilled foie gras and the lobster with butter then came as no surprise. After I had come to terms with my sake coming in a beautiful glass teapot the beef finally came out adorned with a smattering of vegetables and the thinly sliced garlic that had been cooking for most of the meal.

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So yes, as the finale there was the obligatory fried rice, but it was placed lovingly into bowls instead of being thrown at us across the room. I also managed to leave the restaurant without bits of fried egg stuck in my hair.

The food was delicious of course, fusing french ingredients and flavours alongside Japanese Teppan cooking and I suppose that is what distracted me a little. Certainly a great occasional experience but typically would prefer to lay down the cash on something a little more traditional when contemplating a good Japanese meal and go fully French when I wanted to. But the ingredients, cooking and atmosphere seriously could not be beaten when you are thinking “experience” beyond just eating.

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Sushi Bar Yasuda – Tokyo

Let it be known that I am a Sushi Junky, 100%. What started in the Edo period as a street food and eventually took over the world and became something to add to in every country (sometimes not so well) grabs me with it’s simplicity and intensity.

Towards the end of 2013 I saw an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” on CNN that featured Tokyo. Well, it featured parts of Tokyo that were not really up my alley for the most part (being tied up and having wax dripped on me for one) but it did highlight a sushi chef in his restaurant – Sushi Bar Yasuda.

Now that I have you back . . .

This story really dragged me in. Firstly, someone who had made for themselves a name overseas and then returned back to the mother ship to prove themselves. Sushi is everywhere in Japan and with the movie “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” and the plethora of Michelin Star sushi only restaurants in Tokyo this is not an easy feat. Secondly, a wild passionate martial artist running his own sushi bar and sticking to his “guns”. And lastly, a top quality sushi restaurant in Tokyo where the master actually speaks english.

My first visit to Sushi Bar Yasuda was with my wife in August 2014. The majority of folks that evening were international visitors who had booked there prior to their arrival with the hope of having some sensational sushi. They were not disappointed. Many of them had suffered from the impact of “global sushi”. By this I mean that they have had limited exposure to much beyond salmon and tuna and thought more of the fish than the rice. Yasuda-san politely tried to nudge most people out of their comfort zone without being too pushy to enjoy some more different toppings. I tried to help having long ago had my sushi apprehensions shattered by friends and colleagues desperate to feed me the weirdest things the sea has to offer.



Yasuda is very clear to comment when you are in the restaurant (as he states in the Bordain segment) that sushi is about the rice, “Sushi is Rice culture, not Fish culture” and this is evident in his end product. There is something a step beyond just a nice piece of topping on good rice going on here. From the video also you will see that he spends much time in preparation. Unfortunately the video gives you the impression that he is incredibly cheap when it comes to selecting ingredients. One night at his place and you will realise that this is more him using his skill to find different tasting morsels from various parts of the fish. Ask where his Uni (sea urchin roe) comes from and you will realise that he seeks to find the best for his customers.

Keeping a 14 customers satisfied and under control like I have seen no one else accomplish on there own, Yasuda-san fires out perfect balls of sushi mixed with banter and in English and Japanese. You can get mesmerised just watching him put together sushi. See the small video below.

There are several sushi items that have surprised me at this place. Delivering Uni (sea urchin roe) without wrapping it in roasted seaweed, oyster sushi, and having sushi with nothing more than sprouts; the latter being one I often ask for seconds of and the taste still surprises me.


Yasuda-san often refers to his place as “sushi bar public house” and he loves to have a buzzing atmosphere. This is completely at odds with the majority of more high end sushi places I have visited which are very somber and quiet. Feel free when you come in to get fire off some questions and the mood will flip immediately. He is more than happy for you to take photos and to not only enjoy his food but have a great time. On subsequent visits with work colleagues I have moved with them and others to the small table behind the counter and held court with more drinks until the shop finally closed.



OK, so this is not the place you will come to every night for sushi. Or if you do, please contact me through the blog so you can adopt me as your son. However, compared to many other upmarket sushi places (or Normal Sushi instead of Fake Sushi as Yasuda-san would say) the price is reasonable, the atmosphere incredible and the sushi extreme. I always go for his YASUDA style Omakase and trust him but there is a fixed menu if you want predictability on price. See his website for information on pricing but as a guide we tend to pay about 2/3rds of what that place in Ginza charges for food alone including drinks.


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New York State of Mind . . . Blue Fin

In New York a day or two before starting a 2 week course with for work, needed a sushi hit (my 30 minute layover at Narita didn’t really lend itself to the opportunity). Staying right near Times Square was great location wise but I had Sunday day time which dropped off some of the “must see” ones I had on the list (such as the original Sushi Yasuda).

After a small google I decided on a short wander for an early lunch to Blue Fin only a few minutes walk from the hotel. The sushi was good, but a little pricey no doubt due to it’s location but I can’t complain about the variety.


Technically I arrived for “Brunch” which seems to be an insanely popular concept in New York. Half the menu was a Raw Bar and Sushi and the other half full of eggs, muesli and other brekky stuff.

My mental illness kicked in and I asked the waiter if it was technically possible at brunch to order a plate of sushi with a side of applewood bacon. “Of Course, Sir” was the reply. I didn’t, but I can’t say I wasn’t tempted. The Gaijin in me showing wildly. Going to run that idea past my Japanese circle when I stop there for a week on the way home ;).

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one cd, one sushi and one beer

Forgive the George Thorogood reference but I couldnt get that song out of my head as I was climbing up the series of escalators in the Tower Records building in Shibuya. The Japanese market seems to be incredibly big on almost everything and for me this provides the opportunity to get some good Jazz music. Most of the 6th floor is dedicated to Jazz and believe me it is a huge range. My haul this time was smallish (4 cds and 3 SACD’s) and then I went in search of a late afternoon brunch.


I felt like some sushi. Not cheap sushi, not Jiro sushi, but some good sushi. I wandered a little around a couple of blocks in Shibuya and say a sign on the side of the Seibu building that mentioned a sushi place on the 12th Floor (along with a whole pile of other squiggles I dont understand). The pictures look good which unlike in western food advertisements normally means the food will be similar. The Japanese take everything from a streetside yakitori to 3 Michelin star dining almost as seriously.

Wandering up the myriad of escalators to the 354th floor (ok the twelth but I was almost getting motion sickness from the circular wandering) I came across a couple of sushi restaurants. One was a sushi train and while the food didnt look so bad the chef with the microphone constantly screaming about what was available didn’t really gel as the quiet lunch I was hoping for.

Around the corner I encountered a far more traditional (and silent) sight with a noren hanging over a door and a the warm indication of “English Menu Inside”. WOO-HOO 😉


I ordered one of their lunch specials, the larger one, as it was my breakfast and my lunch. The set came with two items called “custard” and “clear soup”. As my luck would have it I was able to be seated at the counter and watch the entire extravaganza.


The making of the sushi was enjoyable for me to watch. A few interesting touches included the making of a small roll with two fillings where the sushi chef cut right down the centre between the two fillings he put into my roll; no tuna in the wierd grass section, no grass with my tuna. Skills!


The lunch plate looked spectacular and sat very nicely with a cold draft beer.

Another neat installment was how the raw octopus was cut to make the sushi topping; from a relatively cylindrical piece of sashimi grade octopus tentacle the chef cut almost all the way through, flipped it over and cut another piece almost all the way through, and one more time. The result being a single piece of octopus to lay on top of the rice for sushi.


The clear soup was a very simple but incredibly tasty dashi with some tofu and wakame seawead.


The final and surprise package of lunch was a cup of green tea with a small dessert. The surprise was in the desert both in its existance (probably not looking at the set menu to realize) and the flavour; balanced green tea taste with an extra punch of green tea from the match powder coating the cubes.


A great haul of cd’s and a great lunch. Just for kicks have a look at the chef slicing small red raddish with a yanagiba, absolutely incredible and he still had all his fingers. 😉

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breakfast is served

Back in Tokyo this week on business. I am not normally a breakfast person and after the first morning I was here and experienced the “buffet of doom” I reviewed the back of the little breakfast coupons I was given for each day to get fed (one of the joys of working for a large global company that negotiates lots of things into their hotel rates). There was a second option to have a Japanese Breakfast in one of the Japanese restaurants in the hotel.

There was more on this breakfast bento that I could eat (am in Great Lent vegan fasting time as an Orthodox Christian) than in the aforementioned buffet of western grease. Very fresh and healthy looking, tasted fantastic.

I wonder where I will be having breakfast for the rest of my stay 😉


Breakfast at Japanese Restaurant “Kakou” inside Hyatt Regency Tokyo (Shinjuku)

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Got ice?

I love the way you can still get hand crafted ice balls in many Japanese bars apart from the quality of the ice and the slow melting times (low drink dilution scale), if you plant yourself in a good spot you are in for a great show. Fortunately the bartenders tend to drink less than you do and I am yet to see any real injuries.

This one comes from my most recent trip to Japan (Feb 2013) as I sat for a quiet meal up at the bar of an Izakaya in Yoyogi-Hachiman near Shibuya.

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Narukyo – なるきよ

Narukyo has long been one of my favourite Isakaya’s in Japan. I was first taken here by a work colleague in around 2007 during a business trip to Tokyo and have been in love with it ever since. My attraction to it sprung to me on the first night I visited when we saddled up to the bar stools to the left and back and started with a glass of imo shochu and the rest just seemed to happen. Maybe it is because I always go with a regular, but I have never seen a menu (although I am assured they have one) and with just a hint of “what do you feel like” you wander through some courses until you are full.


I have to admit also that I have never set foot in their dining room, a more traditional Japanese / sit uncomforatbly on the floor type arrangement from what I have heard. Oversized western man no fit so the counter near the bar is right on for me. This is the perfect spot for me as I like watching the food being prepared almost as much as I enjoy eating it (ok, maybe not that much). From our facourite vantage point you can see right across the bar / kitchen area, seeing all the preparation for the food. While we have never been short of good food suggested by the staff, sometimes that dish the crosses your sight is what you want next ;).



As for style it is very Japanese and very seasonal. I have been there through many seasons and whether it is an appetiser of Oden from the bubbling pot at the front of the kitchen to the seasonal vegetables and seafood. Narukyo himself is a frequent visitor to the Tsukiji fish market for fresh produce and there are always fresh vegetables and fruit procured that day balanced on mounds of ice ready at hand to be crafted into something special.



There are always an array of grilled items available including sensationally marbled Japanese beef, tataki of tuna or bonito, and I am quite surprised at how many different ways I have been served what began as a chicken thigh.


The standard issue ending dish for me has always been Champon – a noodle dish quite unlike any other I have tried. If you search the internet you will be bombarded with simple explanations of this former peasant dish but no comments or photos will do justice to the flavour. This beast is part ramen, part yakisoba with an interesting array of fish cake, seafood, pork and other items included from time to time. The stock is vaguley ramen-esque but when quized the only answer I could get roughly translates to “secret sauce”. When in for a real treat, close your eyes and open your wallet and ask for the “deluxe” champon which with include oftern uni (sea urchin roe) or ikura (salmon roe) or sometimes even a giant hard shell prawn.


The owner, head chef, master of ceremonies and stand up comedian Narukyo of the restaurant of the same name ;). He is a colourful character as anyone who remembered what adorned the walls four years or so back but has a great eye for food and always keeps you entertained. I only wish my Japanese was better to understand the complete entertainment package.


So when you have a few hours of hunger to kill and Omatesando is nearby, find the nearest Japanese speaker and head down for a great meal and entertainment all round. Contact details can be found on their facebook page.