Dining at the temple of Den

    You know when your expectations are so high reality can never live up to them. That was...

Tokyo Part-timers

  Recently we were interviewed by the Sunday Star Times for the Expat Tales feature. It was great to...

Kamakura

  Excitement is high as we approach Tokyo Station for our overnight trip to the seaside town of Kamakura....

Atami

50 minutes by bullet train, and what seems like a world away from Tokyo, is the seaside resort town...
Inspiration, Stories
Dining at the temple of Den
Inspiration, Stories
Tokyo Part-timers
Inspiration, Stories, Travel
Kamakura
Stories, Travel
Atami
Inspiration, Stories

Dining at the temple of Den

 

 

You know when your expectations are so high reality can never live up to them. That was how I felt as I approached the entrance to Den in Tokyo’s Jingumae.

I have been following the career of chef Zaiyu Hasegawa for some time, from an up-and-comer to now #2 in Asia and #11 in the world, along with two Michelin stars.

His approach to food follows traditional kaiseki and seasonality but with a modern approach and whimsical touches.

Sue and I had been lucky enough to meet Zaiyu at a Belles Hot Chicken pop-up he hosted with Morgan McGlone last year. He was warm, charming and very approachable. There is a slight impishness about him, someone who doesn’t take himself too seriously.

And here we are again, this time with a hard-earned, actual reservation that took 382 phone calls to secure exactly two months to the day before our booking.

As we enter we are greeted excitedly by Emi, Zaiyu’s kimono-clad wife, they remember us from last year. Zaiyu smiles and waves out from the kitchen. They recall how Sue was much more interested in Zaiyu’s cute chihuahua Puchi Jr and said before we leave Puchi Jr would say hello.

The restaurant is small, seating today perhaps 20 guests with a private room for another four. There is a long counter table running parallel to the kitchen with diners seated only on the side looking into the kitchen. We are seated at one of only two separate tables.

We are offered beautiful cloth napkins which have been chosen to complement the colours we are wearing plus a choice of a complimentary sake or sparkling wine. Of course we take the sake.

From here the nine course menu unfolds. Each dish is presented and described by Emi, Zaiyu or any one of the 9-strong kitchen and front of house brigade. They are equally well-versed in the provenance of the ingredients and how they are prepared.

You can see how proud the younger members of this restaurant family are of the food they have cooked for you. At restaurant Den they embrace the philosophy of ‘omotenashi’, selfless hospitality, making diners feel a part of the family.

With no written menu we furiously write notes and photograph each dish then sit back to admire and appreciate the presentation and the beautiful crockery before taking a first bite.

Monaka filled with foie gras, sweet potato and pickled cucumber

Chawanmushi with oyster, kutzu-thickened dashi broth with soy, sake and butter

Dentucky chicken, a signature dish, the wing is deboned and stuffed with chestnut, maitake mushroom, rice and ginko nuts

Sashimi of Kue, giant groper from Shizuoka, aged five days and served with vinegared seaweed

Kamo and negi, duck breast with Japanese spring onion, eggplant and Jerusalem artichoke flower petals

The famous Den salad with 20 vegetables, raw and cooked, with kombu dressing

Soup with red konnyaku, daikon, winter melon, big-eyed red snapper and yuzu

Chef Zaiyu serves donabe rice to guests

Donabe rice with ikura, pickles and miso

Persimmon, grape and pomegranate with cream cheese mousse and rum jelly

What a spectacular feast – the gorgeous seasonal ingredients, the quirky twists in presentation, while still adhering to a traditional format. The simplicity of shojin ryori – buddhist cuisine, the multiple courses of samurai cuisine and the luxury of imperial cuisine.

The service is impeccable and sake recommendations just to our taste. As I look around the dining room there is always someone ready to catch my eye and if I look toward the kitchen Zaiyu-san looks up and beams back at me.

As each guest rises to leave Zaiyu and Emi leave their stations to have a chat, thank them for coming and then escort them out of the restaurant where they wave until the guests have disappeared from sight.

 

 

We, however, have one treat left. Puchi Jr is woken from where he sleeps behind the front desk and brought out to say hello. Puchi Jr gives us each his own special badge and a Puchi Jr shaped cookie.

While Sue coos over Puchi Jr I talk to Zaiyu about New Zealand and the wonderful fishing which I know he loves. I invite him to come to New Zealand one day.

We thank our gorgeous hosts for a wonderful evening as they lead us out.

Next time, they say, we can just email when we want to return.

Next time we will.

For more information follow the link to the Den website

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Inspiration, Stories

Sunday Star Times Feature

EATING TOKYO

It’s packed to the rafters with restaurants and cafes – it’s a foodie’s heaven
but on a visit to Tokyo where do you start?

We couldn’t be more excited to share a photo story from today’s Sunday Star Times, put together by Bernadette Courtney, about her week with Eating Tokyo. Follow the link to check it out,

We still have a few places available in May 2019.
For full details on availability http://www.eatingtokyotours.co.nz/tour-details/

 

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Inspiration, Stories

Tokyo Part-timers

 

Recently we were interviewed by the Sunday Star Times for the Expat Tales feature. It was great to have the opportunity to make recommendations in the city we now call our second home. Check out the full interview here

Funny story – On the flight up to Tokyo for our May 2018 tours we sat next to a lovely woman who was stopping in Tokyo for 4 days en route to London. She told us she had read an article in the Sunday paper about two expats in Tokyo and had booked a walking tour in Yanaka, an area they had recommended. We had to fess up that it was us. Of course we then had a great conversation about Tokyo and recommended lots of other things to do during her short stay.

 

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Inspiration, Stories, Travel

Kamakura

 

Excitement is high as we approach Tokyo Station for our overnight trip to the seaside town of Kamakura.

We had read that it is just an hour away from Tokyo by local train and costs just $12.

We head straight to the ekiben to select our bento boxes for the journey. We need little excuse to scoff one of these amazing little meals even though it is 10am and we have lunch planned in Kamakura.

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Stories, Travel

Hiroshima

Hiroshima.

Say this city’s name and your thoughts immediately go to 6 August 1945, the day the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan. Images of a city and its people devastated, destroyed.

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Stories, Travel

‘Not eating’ In Tokyo

This story is written by a guest who came on the very first Eating Tokyo tour earlier this year. After the tours, we sought feedback from guests in order to refine and improve our offering for future guests. Trish provided us with this story as her feedback. We thought we would share it with you …

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Stories, Travel

Kiso Valley

These photos were taken in and around the Kiso Valley, specifically in Tsumago and Magome. They are from the travel blogger Local Milk and inspired us to visit this untouched and ancient part of Japan. Stay at the Fujioto Ryokan, a beautiful inn with exceptional food – highly recommended, though we didn’t get a chance to try it ourselves. Next time.

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Otoshi

Otoshi is a custom peculiar to Japan and we in the West have nothing like it. It is the surprise dish you receive when you take your seat at a bar or izakaya. Otoshi means ‘to pass’ and is something to eat between placing and receiving your order.

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Atami

50 minutes by bullet train, and what seems like a world away from Tokyo, is the seaside resort town of Atami. After a dazzling week of food, markets, restaurants and shopping with Eating Tokyo, in the crazy bright lights of the metropolis, Sue and I booked a night away in a tranquil and traditional Japanese ryokan.

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