Tag: Japanese

Hannah Restaurant, London, United Kingdom

With the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, one thing that I haven’t managed to have for a long time was Japanese food. One day, whilst I was doing some internet searching, I came across Hannah Japanese restaurant in Waterloo. The menu looked interesting enough, and with the credentials of chef Daisuke Shimoyama (who was the head chef at Umu in London before he opened this place) and the fact that he’s a qualified sake sommelier, I thought I’d booked the place and give it a try – at least I know the sake menu would be decent enough.

For dinner, there are 2 set menus to choose from – a 10-course Omakase Menu (£105) and a shorter 6-course Omakase Menu (£75). As usual, Russell and I went for the longer menu as we wanted to try everything, and we also went for the sake pairing to share between us.

The first “course” was actually 5 small dishes of Seasonal Starter Selection – all came on a large block of wood. In terms of presentation, it’s definitely got the wow factor. For the two of us, fortunately we were seated at a table of 4 – otherwise accommodating two blocks of wood on the table for 4 people would be a bit more challenging (one of the neighbouring tables did have 4 people and I must say that I wouldn’t have enjoyed this course so much with the more restricted table space). From right to left:

  • Sweet potato, aubergine, lotus root & padron pepper
  • Chawanmushi
  • Steamed vegetables with mushroom
  • Slow cooked duck breast with duck sauce
  • Tuna Fish with chilli sauce

The 5 starters all tasted very fresh and delicately flavoured. The first sake for the pairing was Koshi No Kanbai’s Muku (“Pure Realm”) which was light and worked well with these light starters.

The next course was “Sushi” – Langoustine Sudachi Rice with Kombu Cured Wagyu Beef Tartare and Caviar. It came with a piece of seaweed paper which you have to wrap round the rice and beef. The beef just melted in the mouth and it’s a little piece of heaven worth having again! The sake served with this dish was Kokuryu “Ryu” (Gold Dragon) – a daiginjo that was so bland that it lacks any sort of characteristics for me and so I might as well be drinking water!

Third course is Sea Urchin Tempura with Shiso Leaf & Truffle. I love sea urchin but it seems that every time I see this on an a-la-carte menu at a Japanese restaurant, conveniently the sea urchin is not available. So I am pleased to see this course on the set menu at Hannah! It’s topped with a copious amount of shaved truffle also. The sea urchin and truffle flavours kind of got a bit lost with the cooking, but still very delicious (I actually came to Hannah again the week after for lunch, and this dish was a lot better, with a buttery flavour of the sea urchin). The sake that came with this course was Sohomare “Indigo”, a junmai ginjo.

Next is the Seasonal Grilled Vegetables and Pork Belly with Seasonal Mushroom. Now this is quite something – the flavour of the various vegetables works well with the tender pieces of pork belly that blends in well with a rich flavoursome sauce. I was literally using the chopstick to try my best to pick up every last drop of the sauce using the bits of vegetables. If I wasn’t at a restaurant, I would have used my fingers to wipe the sauce from the block – finger-licking good! It paired well with the Masumi Hiyaoroshi “Sleeping Beauty”, a junmai ginjo made using the yamahai method.

The next course was Tsukuri, a selection of 5 kinds of sashimi.

From left to right going clockwise (The middle one was cuttlefish):

  • Fatty Tuna
  • Sea Bass
  • Turbot
  • Salmon Tataki

The sake served with the sashimi was Kuzuryu “Junmai” (Nine-Headed Dragon) – again, not really something I was too impressed with.

The sixth course was Hot Somen Noodle – Japanese thin somen noodles with sea bream shabu shabu and dashi stock. The sea bream was beautifully cooked, and it was a very enjoyable dish. The sake served was Dassai 45 – I love Dassai anyway…. Do I need to say more? Actually I do…. after tasting other sake earlier on, this one actually was not as spectacular. But still very drinkable and definitely worked well with the sea bream and the soup stock.

The course that followed was the Charcoal Grilled Miyazaki A5 Wagyu. The aroma of the charcoal was rich and comforting, as soon as the dish came to the table. The flavour of the beef reminded me of the most delicious bakkwa (beef jerky) from Asia (even though the meat was far more tender than bakkwa – just that BBQ flavour notes of sweet and umami).

The sake that came with the wagyu beef was Tamagawa’s Tokubetsu Junmai. Now this was a very nice discovery – the toji (master sake brewer) is a British guy (moved from Cornwall to Kyoto) called Philip Harper – who has written several books on sake, including “The Book of Sake: A Connoisseurs Guide”

Even more interesting is the pairing of this one. It has a rather umami aroma and has a umami and cereal grain flavour when tasting on its own. However, with the wagyu beef and the salt level of the sauce, it brings down the alcohol flavour of this sake and releases a hidden orange flavour in this sake. 

The last savoury course was probably the dish I looked forward to the most: Lobster Curry Rice.

Imagine the best fried pieces of lobsters, and then served in a rich curry sauce with rice – this is like katsu curry heaven!

The sake that was served with this curry rice was Seitoku “Bessen”. On its own, the sake came across a bit harsh. But it mellowed out quite nicely with the curry and the pairing worked pretty well. So a reminder that this is a good choice to pair with curry or another big flavour in future – I will have to try this with my Okinawan pork belly!

There were 2 desserts to finished off the meal – one was a fresh fruit salad with sake, and the second was Hojicha ice-cream with matcha and azuki bean paste. Both were very nice.

And again there’s a sake to go with each dessert (so by the time we finished the meal, we felt that we had drunk a bit too much even though we shared one sake flight!) – for the fruit salad, it’s a umeshu (plum sake) – I couldn’t quite figure out the details… I’d like to say that this is from Kamoizumi Brewery Company but not totally sure. For the ice-cream, it was paired with Tamagawa “Time Machine” 1712 – Because of the kimoto brewing method, this has a more “funky” aroma on the nose (purely a personal preference thing), and despite not being a huge fan of sweet sake, this one is pretty nice and mellow, and I would be quite happy to order it in future as a dessert sake.

On the whole, it was a very enjoyable meal and definitely one of the more impressive Japanese meals I’ve had in London in recent years. I returned a week later to try the shorter 6-course omakase lunchtime menu with my nephew (who loves Japanese food and the poor chap doesn’t get many opportunities to have Japanese food, let alone decent Japanese food, where he lives currently), and he was so happy with the meal too!

Address: County Hall, Southbank Riverside, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 7PB, United Kingdom

Telephone: +44 (0)20 3802 0402

Website: https://www.hannahrestaurant.london/

Opening Hours:  Wednesday: 5 – 10 pm ; Thursday – Saturday: 12 – 3 pm, 5 – 10 pm ; Sunday: 12- 3 pm, 6 – 10 pm

Food: 9/10
Ambience: 5/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 18/20 [Based on visits in November 2021 and December 2021 ]

Soto, New York City, United States

[UPDATE: 2021-12-28: This restaurant is permanently closed]

My first visit to Soto, a Japanese restaurant in Lower Manhattan, was actually in April 2012. It was so impressive that I went back with the “usual suspects” of food friends in October, the Saturday before that superstorm Sandy hit Manhattan.

The restaurant was not easy to find, as there was no sign or name outside to indicate the location of the restaurant. So if you do ever visit this place, remember it’s number 357!

The menu was extensive and served a whole range of dishes that sounded delicious enough without even sampling them! The four of us decided to pick with the dishes we really wanted to try, and then go for another round of ordering afterwards – if there were any dishes in the first round of ordering that were really exceptional, we could just ask for another portion in the second round.

(1) Fluke Ponzu (Thinly sliced fluke with chive, shiso leaf, ginger shoots, scallion, under mizore ponzu sauce) was fresh and worked well with the citrousy ponzu sauce.

(2) Goma Tofu (Black sesame and white sesame tofu, served with wasabi soy sauce and soy form) had a silky smooth texture with a rather delicate soy sauce.

Fluke Ponzu Goma Tofu

(3)  Uni Tempra with Uni Powder (Deep fried sashimi quality sea urchin in tempura batter, flavoured with home-made uni powder)  was interesting with the sea urchin just melting in the mouth. A first dish that won our hearts and got a repeat in round two of ordering.

(4) Sea Trout Carpaccio (Cured sea trout with black truffle sea salt, chive and caviar, served with watercress with miso mustard sauce and sesame) was so fresh it was almost like eating by the sea. Another dish we simply had to repeat in the second round.

Uni Tempra with Uni Powder Sea Trout Carpaccio

(5) Chawan Mushi (Traditional organic egg custard soup with shrimp, chicken, shiitake mushroom, mitsuba, gingko nuts and yuzu zest) tasted a little bland at the start but the flavour grew with every mouthful of it, and finished off to a very nice memorable taste.

(6) Botan Ebi Tartare (Chopped botan ebi sweet shrimp with fresh ginger, topped with uni served with shiitake dashi broth) had the expected sweet taste of the shrimp. However there was too much of a ginger taste.

Chawan Mushi Chawan Mushi

(7) Uni and Yuba (Black soy bean milk skin with finest uni, served with shiitake broth)  was one of the very few disappointing dishes – a lack of flavour of any kind.

(8) Tuna Tartare ( Chopped big eye tuna with pine nuts, asian pear, cucumber, scallion, sesame seed in spicy sesame sauce) was like a fish version of the Korean Yuk Hwe (raw beef), and it was delicious with a nice hint of spiciness.

Uni and Yuba Tuna Tartare

(9) Uzaku (Broiled fresh water eel with tosa vinegar and sweet eel sauce, garnished with japanese cucumber) was the third winning dish for us. The sweetness of the sauce coupled with the delicious eel meant that we simply had to order another one to make sure it was that good – and it was!

(10) Steamed Lobster with Uni Mousse (Layers of steamed Maine lobster and uni mousse in lotus wrap, garnished with smoked uni and caviar) was so beautifully presented that it left us staring at the dish for quite a while, wondering who would have the courage to ruin the piece of edible artwork in front of our eyes. However, the meat of the lobster was a little too cold (maybe we should have stared at the dish for longer to let the meat warm up a bit more) but the sweetness of the uni mousse really lifted the flavour of the dish.

Uzaku Steamed Lobster with Uni Mousse

(11) Uni Ika Sugomori Zukuri (Sea urchin wrapped in thinly sliced squid with shiso, served with quail egg and tosa soy reduction) was interesting enough though it lacked the flavour somewhat, which surprised me because I was expecting the sweetness of the sea urchin and the soft-boiled quail egg would really come through in this dish.

Uni Ika Sugomori Zukuri

(12) Tartare Tuna Roll (Spicy tuna tartare with asian pear, cucumber, avocado, sesame, pine nuts, scallion wrapped in white kelp) had an extremely creamy texture and easily one of the best tuna rolls ever.

(13) We also had a few pieces of nigiri sushi: Maguro (blue fin tuna from Massachusetts) and Zuwaigani (snow crab from Nova Scotia) were good but not that impressive, while the Anago (sea eel from Nagasaki) had a very slick texture and was absolutely delicious.

Tartare Tuna Rol Maguro Zuwaigani Anago

(14) To finish the meal off, it’s a selection of ice-cream mochi. Pleasant and light enough as a dessert.

Mochi

For a restaurant of this high calibre in the middle of Manhattan, the price was not ridiculously expensive. If anything, even with sake thrown into the meal, it cost no more than USD100 per person which was very reasonable indeed. I usually find Japanese restaurants that are Michelin-star-rated in the Western world rather disappointing, but Soto has proven that this is not always the case – if anything, it has become one of my favourite restaurants in New York City for sure.

Address:  357, 6th Avenue, Manhattan, New York City , United States
Telephone: +1 (212)-414-3088
Website: www.sotonyc.com

Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday 5:45-11:45 pm

Food: 9/10
Ambience: 5/5
Service: 4/5
Total: 18/20 [Based on visit in October 2012]

Uma Restaurant, Berlin, Germany

I was in Berlin for a conference and I just felt anti-social one evening, so I decided to go out on my own and find a restaurant to spend a quiet evening. Uma caught my attention with its Western-Japanese fusion cuisine. The location was very convenient also – it was just on the southern side of the Hotel Adlon Kempinski by the Brandenburg Gate.

The decor was impressive, with a Chinese clay horse presiding right in the middle of the restaurant. However the restaurant itself was like a death-trap, with the low lighting and the unexpected steps scattered around.

There were many choices on the menu to satisfy most people. Some dishes are more South-East Asian than Japanese, but there’s one theme throughout – there’s always a Westernised twist to the dishes. It took me a while to decide what to have, as there were just too many dishes I wanted to try.

The amuse-bouche was Cucumber Mousse & Lemongrass Foam with Paprika – the mixture of hot and cool (both in temperature and flavour) was interesting: the spicyness of the paprika combined with the coolness of cucumber, covered by a thick layer of foam.

My first course was Aubergine with Teriyaki Sauce and Bonita Flakes. When the waitress proudly presented the dish to me, I said to her that I didn’t order the Japanese pizza, but aubergine. She then said “oh really?” Well, yes! Suspiciously enough, my aubergine dish turned up a short while afterwards. The mistake was forgiven as the fish was flavoursome and the aubergine was nicely cooked through. Very enjoyable.

The main course was Black Cod with Yuzu and Ginger. The wonderful fragrance of the dish was let down by the uneven cooking of the fish – part of it was too dry while another part was fine. The flavour was also not evenly distributed, resulting in some parts of the fish with overpowering taste. I ordered a bowl of steamed rice to go with the fish – there was a generous sprinkle of sesame on top of the rice which was certainly not Japanese rice – American long-grain perhaps?

For dessert, I ordered Liquid Chocolate Souffle with Green Tea & Vanilla Ice-Cream. Not really a Japanese dessert in any way, but at least the souffle had a nice gooey liquid chocolate centre. So it was a satisfying finish to the meal.

On the whole, the food was good – it was really just been let down by the fish and the rice. Service was good though the attitude of the waitresses could have come across a little less cold – it’s not as if they were rude or anything, just lacking that welcoming friendliness in a Japanese place.

Address: Behrenstraße 72, 10117 Berlin, Germany
Telephone:  +49 30 30 11 17 324
Website: www.uma-restaurant.de

Opening Hours: Monday – Saturday: 18.00 – 23.00

Food: 7/10
Ambience: 4/5
Service: 3/5
Total: 14/20 [Based on visit in October 2010]