Category Archives: Japanese wine

Posts about Japanese wine experiences in Tokyo, written by Rebekah Wilson-Lye for Ichi for the Michi.

Tokyo Food: Potsura-Potsura, Shibuya – ぽつらぽつら、渋谷

Tucked away on a dark backstreet of Shinsen, the warm glow of light that emanates from this little restaurant has recently been attracting foodies like moths to a flame. This is due in no small part to the enviable coverage it has received in various food magazines, including a glossy four-page spread in the latest edition of Tokyo Calender’s Top 100 Restaurants.

Potsura-Potsura

Local produce-driven izakaya in Shibuya

 Any concerns that I had about this popularity resulting in arrogance or aloofness from the staff were quickly diminished the moment I cracked open the door and was met with an enthusiastic cry of “いらしゃいませ!” A warm welcome indeed.

 

As our party was a group of four we were seated at a table in a discreet alcove near the rear of the shop. However, I recommend securing one of the coveted counter seats from where you can to enjoy watching head chef, Yoneyama-san, a jovial figure dressed in full chef’s whites, and his talented brigade wield their knife skills in the open plan kitchen. Their collective backgrounds in French, Italian and washoku cuisine is reflected in a menu which melds European techniques and flavour profiles with exclusively domestic produce. Yoneyama’s food philosophy is all about celebrating the best of Japanese produce from the ocean, mountains and fields, and he is not just paying lip service to this popular trend; everyday he sources his vegetables from the farm behind his house in Azamino, Kanagawa. Buying directly from the farmer enables him to not only keep abreast with what is in season, but also ensures that he is able to bring produce of extraordinary freshness back to his kitchen each day.

This enthusiasm for domestic produce is not limited to the kitchen. Since the shop opened two years ago, the in-house sommelier, Fujimori-san, has taken it upon himself to become educated about Japan’s growing wine industry. He has travelled the country extensively to talk with winemakers, and after tasting hundreds of wine has amassed a comprehensive cellar selection. His regularly updated wine list is made up of around 60 labels with prices ranging from ¥3,000 to ¥12,000 per bottle, though most sit around the ¥4,000 mark. On his recommendation we began with the zesty Yoshi Sparkling Chardonnay from Takahata winery, in Yamagata.

An elegantly plated duo of ootoshi quickly appeared following our first toast. On the left is a smoked salmon filled choux pastry – a lovely one bite amuse, on the right, a kinoko mushroom and lotus root ‘pate’ dressed with a cheese sauce. A pleasant start to the proceedings.

As I only get to eat ankimo (monkfish liver) in the winter months, I order it at every opportunity – in case you hadn’t already noticed. Fortunately, my dining companions share my predilection for fish offal, so after inhaling this lot ankimo ponzu, we immediately treated ourselves to another round. 

Winter is a great – if not the best – time for fish in Japan, and there is no better way to enjoy the seasonal bounty from the sea than as a moriawase platter. As it was Sunday, the kitchen was carrying a limited quantity of sashimi, so we had to make do with a plate for two between the four of us. What it lacked it volume was made up for by the high quality of the fish: kanburi (winter yellowtail), chu-toro tuna, akami tuna, kinmedai (yellow-eye snapper), houbou (red gurnard), squid, shime-saba (cured mackeral), magokarei (marbled flounder), and ainame (rock trout). They were all very good, particularly the fatty shime-saba and meltingly soft chutoro which were the outstanding. 

The vibrant colours of the seasonal vegetables paid testament to their freshness, and their inherent sweetness meant that there was no need for embellishment. Simply grilled and seasoned with a smattering of salt flakes – delicious. 

                                               

A mille-feuille of yuba sashimi with brown uni (sea urchin) proved to be a hit. The subtle flavour of the yuba was a nice counterbalance to the rich intensity of the uni.

                                       

Next up, a gratin of shirako (yes, that’s cod sperm sacks folks). Creamy decadence.

                                       

As it was a girls night, it seemed only fitting that we ordered a wine produced by one of Japan’s only female winemakers. Ayana Misawa is the fourth generation of Grace, a family run winery in Yamanashi, which produces half the total volume of Japanese wine. The Grace Koshu 2009 is their benchmark wine – perfumed and light in both fragrance and palate, yet with good structure which retains its…well, gracefulness throughout. The fruit is fresh with a hint of citrus and crisp green apple, without being too sweet. Overall this wine is dry and well-balanced, and pairs nicely with the subtle flavours of Japanese cuisine. 

                                             

What do you get when you cross a Japanese chef with a pizza? A mochi flatbread topped with shirasu, ooba (a kind of perilla), and provolone cheese. Strangely good.

                                      

As well as his duties as sommelier, Fujimori-san tends to the front of house, and I must say that tthroughout the evening the service was exemplary. He was warm, attentive, and patiently answered our many questions about the menu. He was also mindful of staggering our order so that dishes were served in a timely manner, and ensured that throughout the evening our glasses were never allowed to empty. A good example of Potsura-Potsura’s customer orientated service was when our buri kama teriyaki arrived in duplicate. At first I thought I was seeing in double, but as it transpired the extra portion was simply sent out gratis from the kitchen so that it was easier for us to share.
The teriyaki glaze was savoury yet deliciously sticky, perfectly complimenting the sweet oily meat. Within minutes we had picked it down to the jawbone. 

Keen to move onto something a little more substantial, we asked Fujimoto-san for something red with a lot of character. Without missing a beat he produced the amusingly named がんこおやじ手造りのわいん (Wine Handmade By A Grumpy Old Man), a 100% organic cabernet/koshu blend from Nakamura Winery, in Osaka. Like a cantankerous Osakan oyaji, this wine had ‘character’ in spades; a herbaceous nose, with a slight hint of black sesame, and a full-bodied palate of spicy berry which receded into a dry finish. The wine would definitely benefit from some time to mellow out so that the tannins are less astringent and overwhelming for the fruit. That said, I would be interested to approach this wine again once it has a few more years under its belt.

Well into our third bottle of wine, we were in need of food with a higher level of absorbency. Thankfully, we had prepared for this eventuality by pre-ordering two claypots of rice, which take 40 minutes to bake. The ikura yakigomi gohan arrived first, and was quickly demolished – definitely the star of the night.

A second pot, this time of octopus and dried tomato, arrived in quick succession and elicited moans of approval from all assembled. 

Well sated we decided against the dessert menu, opting instead to have our sweets in liquid form, which in my case was a refreshing yuzu liquor made by sake brewer Hououbiden, in Ibaraki. It is worth noting that the drinks menu also offers a good selection of sake and shochu – something I will be keen to investigate on a return visit. 

Its quirky onomatopoeic name, Potsura-Potsura, is meant to convey the feeling of an environment where you can relax and linger… and dilly-dally we did. As there was no pressure from the staff to settle up and move on, we sat back with full tummies and rosy cheeks to enjoy our lively conversation which, despite the late hour, showed no signs abating.

Potsura-Potsura
03-5456-4512

Tokyo Food: Akane Shokudou – あかね食堂、白金

October 11th, 2010
After spending time amongst the wineries of Yamanashi, esteemed British wine critic, Janis Robinson, declared, “Koshu wine is something uniquely Japanese and cannot be found anywhere in the world. It is very delicate and pure.” Her subsequent championing of the new generation of Koshi, coupled with enthusiatic reviews from International wine awards, has made the wine community sit up and take notice. 
“But still,” I hear you say, “Japanese wine – isn’t that an oxymoron?” Well, the Koshu wine in question is far removed from the cloying alco-cordial that has been characteristic of domestic wine in the past. Years of development and improvements in viticulture have resulted in the Koshu wine of the Yamanashi region finally reaching its true potential. 
Koshu, the only indigenous Asian grape, has a long history, arriving in Japan over 1000 years ago via the Silk Road. The new generation wines are subtle and dry with hints of citrus & stone fruit, reminiscent of a low-alcohol Pinot Gris, which, it’s makers say, makes it a perfect match for Japanese cuisine.
Curious to put this theory to the test, we beat a path to Akane Shokudo, in Shirokane, an eatery which does a Japanese riff on French bistro style dining, and where all of the ingredients & beverages are sourced from domestic purveyors – a practice I heartily endorse.
The shop’s interior of whitewashed walls, cafe chairs and blackboard menus give it a rustic ‘French’ air and the ambrosial smells that emanated from the kitchen were inviting, as were the staff. 

We began with an aperitif of Kudokijouzu Kamenoo junmai ginjou nigorizake (くどき上手 純米吟醸亀の尾にごり酒). ‘Pick up artist’ by name, ‘pick-me-up’ by nature, this fresh and effervescent sake was a great start to the proceedings. We matched it with a selection of starters: (from the left) simmered okahijiki (land seaweed), tomato and nametake (wild enoki mushroom); homemade ika shiokara (squid fermented in salt); and celery & cucumber pickled in garlic soy sauce. I think I was overly ambitious in ordering  the ika shirokara, as its strong ammonia smell and pungent fish taste forced us to admit defeat after one tentative tasting. Chalk that one up to experience.

Sashimi is my favourite food, bar none, and as such it is the dish that can make or break a dining experience for me. The moriwase of akami maguro, kinmedai and tennen tai (as opposed to ‘unnatural’ snapper, I suppose) was of good quality, though I thought it was lacking in knife skills and flair of presentation. Pedestrian is the word that I think best sums it up.

Thankfully, the grilled nasu (aubergine) and shuto (the salt pickled entails of katsuo) was much better executed and, for me, the stand out dish of the night. Shuto is an acquired taste, to be sure, but unlike the ika shiokara, this was delicious; its piquancy mellowed by the juicy aubergine it was paired with.
The drinks menu is comprehensive, with a good selection of wines by the bottle, shochu, sake, and spirits – all from well regarded Japanese brands. There are half a dozen koshu available by the bottle, but after chatting to our obliging hostess, we were able to sample a couple of the wines by the glass, instead. Our first glass was the Grace Koshu 2009, a crisp pale yellow wine with fresh fruit and citrus aromas that reminded me of a Pinot Gris. Grace Winery is undoubtably Japan’s best known producer of koshu; its wines are served to first class travellers on both JAL & ANA airlines, and its Grace Koshu took out the grand prize at the 2007 Japan Wine Challenge. 
We followed it up with the a glass of the Alps Wine koshu, which had a deep golden color and rich aroma reminiscent of green apples and pears. Had it been a blind tasting I would have sworn that I was drinking a riesling. We immediately abandoned the idea of ordering a different bottle from the list and ordered up another round. Superb!

The chef’s classical French training became evident in the next dish of seared scallops with ‘Japanese’ cream sauce, which was divine and paired perfectly with the koshu. The scallops were plump and delicious, with a nice acidity coming from the confit tomato garnish. The sauce, a reduction of fish veloute and cream, was exceptional, rich and morish. 
The small portions of tofu, in the tofu and jakko (fried whitebait) salad with a blue seaweed dressing, seemed to get lost in the mix, which was something of a disappointment given it should have been the hero of the dish. Tasty, none the less.       

Nikomi is a cheap and hearty dish that I associate with shitamachi izakaya, where you often spy a vat of motsu (offal), in a rich miso based soup, bubbling away at the counter. My companion thinks of himself as something of a nikomi aficionado, so was keen to sample the kitchen’s French interpretation of shiro nikomi. The stock was a classic mirepoix, into which tripe and vegetable were slowly stewed. The broth (which I sampled) was fragrant and lightly seasoned and the motsu (which I didn’t) was cooked to perfection, according to my companion.

Jakko age – dry, overcooked bullets of blah, that were in dire need of a sauce or dressing to accompany them. Next!

To round out the meal we ordered two vegetable plates: Handmade tsukemono, brined in vinegar as opposed to salt – a nice little post meal digestive, and steamed organic vegetables with sides of homemade aioli and basil oil dressing. It was a relief to end on a positive note after a slightly inconsistent meal. The kitchen produced some highs and lows; the former seemed to be the more French inspired dishes, where we could see the chef’s real passion come through, while the latter were Japanese dishes, which lacked a certain je ne sais quoi.

Is Akane Shokudo worth the 10 minute hike from Hiroo Station? Hmm… Possibly not. However, its efforts to champion local produce, matched with reasonable pricing and genuine service, definitely earn my admiration. And, thanks to wines that I sampled here, my appetite for koshu has well and truly been whetted.
03-3280-7075