Category Archives: obanzai

Tokyo Izakaya: Nakamura, Shibuya – 並木橋 なかむら、渋谷

Sunday, August 1st.
Summer sees the arrival of a plethora of antipodean visitors to these shores, desperate to escape the worst of the southern hemisphere’s bleak winter. So while most folks headed to Yokohama to watch the hanabi display, I guided two Kiwi’s through the madding crowds of Shibuya to a quiet side street in Namikibashi, and our destination, Nakamura.
Housed on the 2nd floor of a nondescript office building, Nakamura’s restrained, minimalist interior and subdued lighting give it an air of casual elegance. The room is dominated by a wide U-shaped wooden counter, which encloses the kitchen, upon which large platters of the day’s vegetables and fish are temptingly displayed for your consideration. Discrete private dining areas are also available for larger, more boisterous groups. 
Nakamura specialises in obanzai fare; something which has become a bit of a trend among eateries these days – what’s old is new, it would seem. The menu focuses on homestyle food made with seasonal ingredients. This evening’s specials included a variety of organic vegetables, which could be ordered individually or as part of an obanzai tasting platter. 

We opted for nasu (eggplant), tomato and courgette, which were served on ice with umeboshi, miso and Okinawan salt. Although flavourful and cooling, let’s be honest it’s just a pricey plate of cut up vegetables. The sadachi sours we ordered helped everything go down nicely – including my indignation.

The waiter who attended us grew impatient with my endless questions and requests for kanji readings – fair enough, it was peak dining time and the place was filling up fast. So after a few minutes fretfully deciphering the cursive script, I placed our order and hoped for the best.

Our sashimi moriawase was an elegant array of suzuki (sea bass), iwashi (sardine), katsuo tataki (seared bonito), nama tako (fresh octopus) and tashiuo (great sword fish). The only let down of the evening was that the special of oma maguro (line caught adolescent tuna from the Tsugaru Channel) was not included in the dish.
We were advised to eat the white fish with a squeeze of sadachi and Okinawan salt in order to best enjoy the flavour, and we obediently did just that. All were of good quality, and they did not skim on the portions – as is so often the case with posher places.

Nakamura’s sake list has around a dozen well regarded brands on offer and a sake sommolier is on hand to guide you through the selection process. Prices range from ¥1,000 to over ¥1,400, for a daiginjou, per tokkuri; a little expensive, but one can can’t really quibble when the sake comes served in an elegant urushi bowl such as this.

First up, the sommelier’s recommendation of Ishizuchi junmaiginjou (石鎚酒純米吟醸) from Ehime, which had the soft fragrance of rice and a nice clear finish in the mouth. The bottle was not presented to the table (me being a mere female and all), so click here for a visual.

The agejakko (fried whitebait), okahijiki (land seaweed) and silken tofu salad is one of Nakamura’s most popular dishes for good reason; it’s delicious. Even the Kiwi’s, who prefer their protein to come with a wooly coat, scraped their plates clean.

There was no nitsuke this evening – the bane of dining out on a Sunday – but I was delighted to learn that they had ‘early’ sanma shioyaki on offer; a fish one usually associates with autumn. According to the news, fishermen are predicting the worst sanma season on record due to a severly reduced fish stocks off the coast of Hokkaido. Apparently, ‘global warming’ is to blame – or that just the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestries and Fishing’s code word for ‘overfishing’?
The sanma was indeed early, as it arrived before the sashimi. When I questioned the waiter about timing, he immediately apologised for the oversight (sashimi is usually served at the start of the meal, and I had ordered it as such), and the the offending dish was immediately removed. When it, or rather one of its freshly charcoal grilled brethren,  reappeared later in the meal, it was indeed a happy reunion. The flesh was moist and unctuous with a wonderful smokey flavour. Delectable.

Reminiscing about misspent youths is thirst inducing, so a round of Gorin daiginjou (五凛大吟醸), from Ishikawa, was ordered. It had a fresh, slightly fruity fragrance and a full body, which gave way to a lovely clean finish. Mmmm. By now, the sommelier had realised that one member of our group was a sake otaku (my stack of sake guidebooks must have been the giveaway), and began offering the bottle to the table. Please note; they don’t take too kindly to flashes accidentally being fired – I was soundly admonished by our curmudgeonly waiter for this oversight.

The kiwi’s were well pleased with the golden orbs of minchi katsu which arrived next. The crispy panko coating gave way to juicy, just pink meat inside – or so I am told. The waiter decided that I shouldn’t miss out on action, and presented me with a plate of my own, “Service desu!”. It was a nice, though wasted, gesture and was quickly re-gifted to the Kiwi’s, who thought all of their Christmases had come at once.

Plans were being hatched for a nijikai in Ebisu, so umeboshi ongiri were ordered along with a round of Senkin junmaigingou (仙禽純米吟醸), from Tochigi. The Senkin was refined and elegant with a gorgeous aroma, kind of like cassis… or at least that’s what I managed to glean from my increasingly illegible notes. I have no memory of the onigiri.

Nakamura is definitely a shop to keep in mind when an occasion calls for food and surroundings that are a little more refined that your usual izakaya joint. Overall, the food was fantastic and the service, while at times brisk, was professional and attentive. Sadly, my ordering did not do the thoughtful and comprehensive menu justice, so a return visit is most certainly on the cards.


Tokyo Izakaya: ChaCha Konoka, Shibuya – 茶茶このか、渋谷

April 25th.

Pity the person who is foolhardy enough to ask a Tokyo foodie, “Where would you go to eat in Shibuya?, as the retort will undoubtably be, “Get out of there!” While there is no denying that Shibuya is home to ubiquitous chain izakayas and one coin bars, it is possible to find a few diamonds among the rough.
It was Boo-Boo’s first night in Tokyo, so the occasion called for Japanese food with a dining environment that would make a good first impression. ChaCha Konoka fit the bill perfectly.

Housed on the 6th floor of a high-rise building off Centre-gai (above the Franc Franc store), Konoka is one of the newest ventures by the phenomenally successful Jellyfish group. The company philosophy is design-art-food-sound-style, and as we were lead to our seats, a quick appraisal of the striking interior (Kyoto’s uber-hip fashion brand Sou-Sou has designed the upholstery) and the equality aesthetically pleasing clientele, confirmed that they care a lot about appearances. Thankfully, they appear to to know how to cook, too.

The Cha-Cha group of restaurants specialise in Kyoto obanzai ryori: home-style comfort food that your gran would make, if you were Japanese that is. Obanzai dishes are made with seasonal Kyo-yasai (Kyoto vegetables), tofu, nama-fu (wheat-gluten), fish and other staples of local cuisine, and are usually served with rice and miso soup. While obanzai dishes may look plain (they certainly lack the fussy presentation of kaiseki, for example), they are healthy and hearty. With everyone jumping on the “eco” bandwagon, obanzai seems to have become the ‘It’ food of the ‘Me’ generation.

The drinks list is comprehensive and includes a selection of a good half dozen or so well known brands. We opted for the Dassai junmaiginjou – a light and clean style, with plenty of fruits on the palate without coming off too sweet. I am often left perplexed by sake brewers choice of epithets. I mean, if Otter Festival won out in the naming selection, what on earth were the runners-up? Raccoon Jamboree?
The otoshi arrived at this stage, each of us receiving a different offering from the kitchen: nama-fu which had been simmered in a dashi broth and a shijiki salad. We followed this up with a trio of obanzai starters – which I subsequently forgot to document , thought I am sure they were good.

As it was late and Boo-boo was drooping after a long flight from Yosemite, we passed on the course menus (¥3,675-6,300) in favour of ordering lighter fare a la carte.
The sashimi moriawase, served on elegant wabi-sabi yakimono, included chu-toro, buri, toro-salmon, madai (red snapper) and, as it is spring, hotaru-ika (firefly squid). While it was all of high quality, they got points off for their stingy portions. For a sashimi glutton like me, one piece per person is downright cruel.

The ‘handmade’ salad with our choice of dressing (kinoko – wild mushroom) was refreshing; the fried jakko adding a pleasing crunch.

Sadly, the kinki nitsuke and shimesaba konbu maki had already sold out, so we made do with the miso cured saba (mackerel) saikyo yaki – which delivered on taste and texture. Thankfully, it was not the dry and overly salty version that one so often encounters.

If you print out the coupon on gurumenabi it entitles you to a complementary bowl of matcha and an okashi (on this occasion, sakura-mochi wrapped in a pickled sakura leaf), and if you are really organised you will remember to bring it. Thankfully, our lovely waitress took pity on me and served it to us anyway. Now that’s how to make a good impression.

ChaCha Konka