Category Archives: Food Adventures

Kagari 篝: Possibly Tokyo’s Best Ramen-ya

IMG_1026It took us a couple of attempts to finally get through the queue at the famous ramen-ya in Ginza, Kagari. On our first attempt we were told that the waiting time had surpassed 3 hours so we returned determinedly half an hour before opening time the following day. Amazingly, there was already a queue 14 people strong. Luckily, on this occasion it only took 45 minutes before we finally managed to get a seat. Impressive, as it really is a hole in the wall that only seats 8 people. It must be noted that the queuing rules are fair and empty seats are left until the size of the next party in line can fit in. A word of caution though, there is no English menu.

IMG_1021Kagari’s fame almost came overnight after they opened in March 2013. In particular, they are well known for their two soup based ramen (中華そば); Nimboshi Shoyu (煮干醤油), a soy sauce and dried sardine based soup, and the Tori Paitan (鶏白湯), a chicken based soup. They also had a choice of tsukemen / dipping noodle (つけ麺). Following the advice from Tokyo Food File’s Robbie Swinnerton, we decided to go for the Tori Paitan. After all, how often do you come across ramen that has been made from chicken?

IMG_1022At 980 yen for a large portion of ramen, the price was more than reasonable considering their prime location at the heart of Ginza. The ramen took a good 15 minutes to prepare so we sipped on some asahi superdry whilst we watched other diners tucking in. The smell wafting from our neighbour was agonizingly delicious. But our wait was finally over…

IMG_1019The Tori Paitan arrived with an unconventional choice of juicy and tender chicken instead of pork, as well as seasonal vegetables which on this occasion included lotus roots (renkon – 蓮根), nameko mushrooms, spring onion and a dollop of salmon roe. I also opted for flavoured egg (ajitama – 味玉) from the extra toppings on offer (which also included garlic butter, bamboo shoots and roast beef). On the side were also some fried onion and grated ginger for those seeking a bit of a kick.

IMG_1020The soup had a beautifully concentrated flavour of chicken. It was elegant and creamy yet surprisingly refined. It’s butteriness was something I’d never encountered before with a bowl of ramen and took me by complete surprise. The noodles were slightly thin and softer than I normally preferred, but it somehow worked with the delicious soup. Together with the starchy lotus roots, meltingly good ajitama and slight kick from the fried onion and ginger, this was definitely the best ramen I had as far back as my memory could take me. And just like that, the bowl was empty all too soon. I wished that I had ordered more but I was very content despite my meal being over.

IMG_1018As we walked out half an hour later, the queue had already built up to where we were the night before. One of the chefs was doing his round explaining the waiting time to each patient patron, but not a single soul flinched and they all stayed put. That’s dedication for you. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were return customers. I certainly would queue up again after having tried their ramen. It was really just that good. And for less than 1,000 yen, this may be Ginza’s best valued meal. ご馳走様でした!

Wining and Dining in the High Country, Victoria

P1140845Location: High Country Victoria      Attractions: Wineries, Fine Dining, Dairy & Mustard

If you’re ever in need of taking a break from the hustle and bustle of city life, head to the High Country in Victoria. Bound by the Victorian Alps and the Murray river, it really doesn’t matter where you are in the region you will have a beautiful and inspiring backdrop. You could easily spend a weekend in the region exploring pretty little towns like Beechworth where it almost feels as if time had stopped since the glorious era of the Gold Rush. But don’t let the slow pace of life deceive you into thinking that not much goes around here. From historical towns and fine dining to top winemakers and dairies, the region has it all. What’s more, it has very discretely claimed the title of one of Australia’s best food and wine region without many people noticing, until recently that is. If fine dining and wine doesn’t tickle your fancy, you could always immerse yourself in the hundreds of kilometers of cycling routes or head down to Mt Bulla for skiing during season.

P1140869A meal at the highly acclaimed Michael Ryan’s Provenance Restaurant is a non-negotiable for any foodie visiting the region. Occupying the old Bank of Australasia built in 1856, the wealth of the era in which it was constructed is reflected in the high ceilings, brass fittings and arched windows. Even the original bank vault has been kept as a home to Chef Ryan’s wine cellar which is managed by his wife Jeanette Henderson. And the food? You can read all about Chef Ryan’s Japanese-inspired cuisine in the Restaurant Review section.

P1140861A weekend trip of course requires accommodation and luckily you don’t need to go far to look for a luxurious and comfortable place to stay. Provenance has four beautifully designed suites behind the restaurant for those who want to just stumble back to their bed after a delicious dinner. The bonus of course is that you get to indulge in more of Chef Ryan’s delicious food the following morning during breakfast. Surprisingly, the price is reasonable and in my view worth every cent. But be warned that you will need to book in advance, particularly for weekends.

P1140835A visit to the High Country of course cannot be complete without a visit to Milawa! For a small town with a population of only around 600, this town houses quite a few well known establishments including the Brown Brothers vineyard which has been around since 1889 and also Milawa Mustards. I was amazed to find so many flavours of mustards including, but not limited to, French, Mild Honey and Tarragon to more unusual ones like Bourbon, Dill & Lemon and Flaming Hot Chilli that comes with its own warning.

P1140795The most famous institution that put the town on the culinary map of the region was of course the Milawa Cheese Company. Cheese tastings are offered all day until 4.30pm with sales extending until 5pm.

P1140820If you also plan in advance and are fortunate enough to get a space, a cheese making course offered by Anna-Kate Pizzini is a must and will surely be one of your highlights. Our course took place on the premise of the Milawa Cheese Company but Anna-Kate now offers these courses at Pizzini Winery (More details available at Coming in at only $140 per person for the course including all equipment and supplies and which lasted for a good part of the day, this is an absolute steal and one of the best value cooking classes I have ever been fortunate enough to do! What’s more, you can replicate everything you’ve learnt at home without buying a dairy farm or expensive / complex tools.

P1140802We attended a class focussed on blue cheese and goats cherve, although classes on hard and soft cheese are also available. We started with the light fresh goats cherve and ended up with enough to last us for a week. It was delicious! Anna-Kate then did a cooking demonstration using the goats cheese to make chevre chaud. This is essentially tasty goats cheese, prosciutto and herb patties which are crumbed and fried, and accompanied by a rocket salad with vinagrette. In conjunction with a very generous cheese tasting platter, this was a very welcome morning tea. Divine.

P1140815We then proceeded on to make our blue cheese. This took a little more patience and required some homework. While the curds were settling we tucked into lunch involving some delicious pizzas from the cheese factory (we upgraded to include some local wine as well). In the afternoon we finished our blues and placed them in molds to rest before using the whey to make some ricotta, which again we got to take home to enjoy later. All in all a fabulous way to spend a day and I really felt at the end of the course that this was something I could easily do in my own kitchen. As I mentioned making blue cheese did require some homework. Once we were back at the hotel, over the next six hours,there was a strict time frame in which the blue cheese needed to be salted and turned in its mold before undergoing a three month approximate period of maturation. It is a testament to my wifes obsession with cheese that later in the evening she popped back to our room in between courses at Provenance on at least two occasions to tend to her charges. It was worth it. At the end of it all we came away with quite a few rounds of blue cheese which we then ate with our family at Christmas. They were fantastic!

P1140951A five minute drive from Beechworth will also take you to a couple of amazing wineries such as Castagna and Giaconda. After our first encounter with Giaconda’s chardonnay at Attica as part of the matching option, we knew we had to come here some day to get a feel of the place. With no cellar door available, die hard fans can try calling Rick Kinzbrunner for a visit though he is often occupied between managing the winery and spending several months at a time in the Languedoc region of France.

P1140968Kinzbrunner’s wine cellar is a site to behold. With the aid of a few exposive technicians (doesn’t everyone have such people on call?), Kinzbrunner blasted his way through solid granite from the side of a hill to create the perfect wine cellar to overcome the Australian summer heat, without incurring a hefty energy bill. All it took was some patience to find the right group of experts to take on the job, a hundred days of work and two and a half tonnes of explosives.

P1140966Whilst the prized Estate Chardonnay was sold out, we got the opportunity to try Kinzbrunner’s Estate Shiraz straight from the barrel using a beautifully custom made wine thief from France, and his other range of chardonnay; the Nantua Les Deux – essentially a blend of premium Giaconda Estate grown chardonnay and fruit sourced from neighbouring vineyards. The wine was made using similar methods to the Estate Vineyard Chardonnay but with less time in barrel (roughly one year). The result was much more fruity. What a way to end our trip!

P1140973With an abudance of restaurants, wineries, outdoor activities and natural beauty, the High Country makes great grounds for exploring. What I particularly enjoyed from my various encounters with the local people during the trip was that everyone we met was genuine and passionate about their work. The balanced quality of life here appeared to have spurred on the passion and imagination of the local artisans. And when it comes to creativity, I’m sure you will agree that this mailbox amongst many unique ones we saw that weekend makes my point.








Dan & Ben’s Excellent Adventure – When Attica met Coi

Melbourne-Attica-Coi-019Event: Dan & Ben’s Excellent Adventure   Date: 11 Nov 2013  Location: Attica, Melbourne

(Note: Big thanks to Harvard Wang for the great photos

They may speak with different accents and live on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean but there’s more similarity than the eye meets between Australia’s greatest chef, Ben Shewry from Attica, and his good friend Daniel Patterson from the highly acclaimed 2 Michelin starred restaurant, Coi. Just like Shewry, Patterson made a successful career away from home in California and has featured on San Pellegrino’s Top 100. Absent of pretense in their food, you seldom come across two people with such sincere humility and deep respect for each other. Their equally matched obsession and endless curiosity around produce, foraging and a sense of place suggests they may be brothers separated at birth. It therefore wasn’t a surprise to find out that the two chefs would be cooking together in November 2013 when Patterson was touring Australia to promote his latest book, Coi: Stories and Recipes.

Melbourne-Attica-Coi-001With the exclusive one night event at Attica selling out almost immediately after the announcement, getting a table was no easy feat. Other than the food related celebrities like Matt Preston and a handful of prominent writers, it felt as if we were dining amongst extended relatives to the Attica team that evening. Amongst the jovial banters and laughter that echoed across the dining room all night, you couldn’t help but feel as if you were attending a family reunion, and an extravagant one if I may add.  Melbourne-Attica-Coi-004The menu that evening was carefully designed to incorporate a balanced number of dishes from both chefs. Shewry kicked off the evening with the Black Broadbean Leaf with Rotten Corn (Attica), which was essentially black broadbean leaves from his garden served with fermented corn juice emulsified with egg yolk, and sprinkled with forest anise and alpine pepper.

Melbourne-Attica-Coi-005The second dish of the Australia Bowl (Coi) was Pattersons take on Down Under and adapted from his signature dish of the California Bowl. It had the perfect crisp and delicately balanced toppings. It consisted of brown rice that had been puffed and dehydrated, topped with charred avocado purée, sprouts that Attica had been sprouting over the last few weeks for Patterson, red dust of beetroot powder, vinegar powder, native pepper and Californian spice (aka espelette pepper, originally from France).

Melbourne-Attica-Coi-008Ben’s classics hit of the Snow Crab and Sorrel (Attica) of course made it on the menu and as always left the dining room speechless, followed by a few mutters of “mmmm’s” and “ahhh’s”. The snow crab had been steamed and picked delicately to ensure all the shell had been removed. The sorrel leave compressed in verjus and grapeseed oil blanketed over a purée made from whole mandarins, buckwheat, mustard flowers and spiced vinegar. Some dusting of the native bush tucker pepperberry to finish.

Melbourne-Attica-Coi-010Asparagus cooked in its juice (Coi) and seared, served with a meyer lemon sabayon, citrus oil, juice of asparagus, and dusted with seaweed powder. The asparagus was of good quality and cooked well. The seaweed powder packed with umami took the flavour to another level. Simple yet delicious with a clean aftertaste.

Melbourne-Attica-Coi-015Another familiar, yet consistently delicious dish of Marron and Ground Greens (Attica). Shame the matching glass of wine wasn’t the usual Giaconda Chardonnay, although the substitute of the Clos Ste Magdeleine Cassis Blanc complemented the dish enough with its minerality and spice.

Melbourne-Attica-Coi-017The main course was contributed by Patterson with the Beef encrusted in Lichen (Coi). A beautiful cut of sirloin of a pure breed Black Angus beef from Cape Grim, coated in a lichen powder and served with creamy potato purée. Patterson had collected the lichen himself from a forest near San Francisco and brought it with him to Australia. My immediate thought was, how did he get it through customs!? The bordelaise sauce was acidified and had angelica root and Californian cypress as flavourings. The dish was topped with beach herbs including sea succulent, dune spinach and sea lettuce. I was initially disappointed to not see the Wallaby course from Attica but this dish was equally stunning. Melbourne-Attica-Coi-021A serious contender to one of my all time favourite dessert course ever, Shewry’s Plight of the Bees, was the Raw Strawberry Jam (Attica). The strawberries sourced from Wandin, Yarra Valley were served in multiple ways. Some were fresh, some dehydrated slightly, giving them a chewy texture, and some also used to make a jam using the roto-evaporator, allowing Shewry to ‘cook’ the jam at about 35 degrees celsius and thereby preserving the natural strawberry flavours. The meringue was flavoured with vinegar and the ice granita was made with vanilla and forest berry. To complete the dish, a dollop of slightly soured cream. Four words. Heaven on a stick.

Melbourne-Attica-Coi-022Patteron’s finale of Whipped Coconut (Coi) was full of surprises. The coconut milk whipped through marshmallow was partially frozen to create a very unique texture bordering chewy and creamy. It was decorated with frantoio olive oil, fresh passionfruit and liquorice herb. A perfect balance of the trifecta: sweetness, acidity and savouriness. Sensational.

Melbourne-Attica-Coi-024 Some Pukeko’s Egg (Attica) to finish the meal with an espresso. I think it was a fair observation to say that my companion for the evening, Harvard Wang, who also took all the photos for the evening was equally blown away from the meal.

Melbourne-Attica-Coi-002Based on just four courses served that night, I could see why Shewry described Patterson as a “beautiful cook”. Similar to Shewry, Patterson made delicious food look easy to produce with his simplistic presentations but you could appreciate that was far from the truth after tasting his dishes. Yet, despite the highly technical skills that went into each dish, Patterson’s aim was always to draw out and highlight the flavour of the main ingredient on that plate. He did it with such elegance without complicating things. Everything on the plate was there for a reason. Whilst the intention to purchase his signed book was there all night, I felt it was something I could only own after visiting Coi properly in California to better appreciate his food in an environment he knows like the palm of hand. Having never visited California to date, his restaurant would be the perfect introduction and I can’t wait.



Exploring San Sebastian in search for the best Pintxos

P1120622The city of San Sebastian is synonymous with fine dining where one is spoilt for choice from various Michelin starred restaurants including Spain’s first 3-Michelin starred Arzak. Whilst fine dining was on our agenda, we surely could not leave this city without sampling some of the best pintxos that made the city famous in the first place. After weeks of researching into the casual dining scene, we came up with a pintxo route that allowed us to sample the specialities from various taverns.

The Spanish are notorious for dining late but there is one tavern in San Sebastian which everyone has to arrive early in order to avoid disappointment. P1120624The tavern of Nestor on Calle Pescaderia, 11 serves the most amazing tortilla and tomato salad. Only a couple of tortilla’s are made every day at 1pm and 8pm, and we were lucky to have just made it in time to snap up the last three portions amongst four of us.

P1120628I’ve had my fair share of tortilla’s but this one was just superb. It was creamy, the seasoning was perfect and the layers of potatoes still held its shape and texture inside. The difference here was the caramelised onions which added depth to the flavour with it’s sweetness. What a great start to the evening!

P1120631Their tomato salad with olive oil and Maldon salt was so simple yet a perfect accompaniment to the tortilla. The tomatoes were so fresh and full of flavour, and the olive oil had none of the bitter aftertaste. Naturally, we were soon mopping the plate up with bread.

P1120634Our next stop, Txepetxa, is located on Calle Pescaderia 5, which is literally a few metres away. This place is all about the anchovy pintxos; to be precise there were more than ten dishes. I was curious to compare them to the famous ones from my mother’s town of L’Escala and they did not disappoint.

P1120637As we had a few places to visit this evening, we didn’t quite want to get full so early. We therefore decided to go for their famous anchovies with majid crab sauce, served on bread. The flavour of the anchovies that had been cured in vinegar really stood out and it was surprisingly unsalty. The crab sauce was so fresh and the slight seasoning from the anchovy brought the flavour out. This was definitely one of the highlight of the evening!

P1120640 On to Borda Berri at Fermin Calbeton 12 where I was told we would find the best meat course of the evening.

P1120643The veal cheek certainly was rich and soft in texture but I was rather disappointed to find it over seasoned. A glass of beer washed it down really well but this certainly was not as good as the one I had tried in Mas Pou in the province of Girona.

P1120644The mushroom risotto was much better. Similar to the cheeks, it was cooked perfectly with a bit of bite. The mushroom flavour really came through and I had no issue mopping this up.

P1120653After a somewhat mixed feeling, we headed over a few streets down to Ganbara on San Jeronimo Kalea, 19 to try their famous mushroom pintxos but we were unlucky to find out there wasn’t much left and the place was completely heaving!

P1120655I was still feeling quite thirsty from the cheeks so immediately ordered a bottle of local cidre before deciding on what to eat.

P1120659After much deliberation, we made the right choice by opting for the sea crab tartlet which was warm and full of flavour. The size was perfect for one bite as it was oozing out of the crust.


And some chistorra (fast-cured sausage from the Basque region) in puff pastry. It was served fresh from the oven and the spiciness of the sausage was just right.P1120670A more modern approach to pintxos at la Cuchara de San Telmo at Calle 31 de Agosto, 28.

P1120669The seared foie gras with a green apple jelly was very good and I was astonished to find it was so reasonably priced at 3.60 euros only (Feb 2013)! It was great to see that luxurious ingredients were affordable to everyone in San Sebastian. The apple jelly was perfect to cut through the foie.P1120684Unfortunately, the last place on our list A Fuego Negro, which serves kobe beef mini hamburgers was shut! Luckily a local overheard us conversing in Spanish and gave us a few more recommendations. Had it not been for her we would have walked straight past Gandarias Jatetxea on Calle 31 de Agosto 23, which is famous for steaks.

P1120679We were quite full at this stage, or so we thought, and opted for the solomillo (sirloin) with green peppers on bread. The meat was so soft and cooked exactly the way I like my meat; medium-rare. This was so good we decided to stay here and order another three pieces each before heading to a bar for some cocktails.

I can see why so many people flock to this city for the humble pintxos. Although the concept of pintxo dining is very casual and laid back, the locals here take food very seriously and it is evident wherever you go. One could easily spend a week here and hardly make a dent to trying all the amazing restaurants the city and the surrounding region has to offer. The solution? Move there permanently of course!


In search for Asia’s Best Pastry chef at 2am: Dessertbar

P1100416Chef: Janice Wong     Website:      Cuisine: Avant Garde Dessert

Something very exciting has been happening in the centre of the upmarket area of Holland village in Singapore. Her name is Janice Wong, a young and dynamic chef who’s trained at some of the world’s best restaurant including Per Se and Alinea, and she’s been running the 2am Dessertbar since 2007. Chef Wong has continued to hit the headlines, having been appointed as ambassador to modern Singaporean cuisine, and more recently attaining the impressive title of Asia’s Best Pastry Chef 2013. With such accolades at such a young age, I surely could not leave without checking this place out, and who better than Fine Dining Explorer to join me as I found out he was in town for a couple of days!

P1100424The establishment essentially offers trendy desserts with wine pairing, with a small selection of savory dishes. How often does one find a sommelier dedicated to desserts? There was a choice of counter seats and long sofas on the side where you could lay down while having your dessert. Stylish, and we liked it.

P1100429Kayambe H20 – 72%MichelCruizel and Evian water, yuzu sorbet.

The solid was made using dark chocolate but lightened with water instead of milk. Not much sugar was used and it was quite bitter, although there was a hint of sweet element from the caramel that was drizzled on top. Initially we were concerned about the acidity of the yuzu sorbet to the chocolate, but no, the sorbet had a mild sweetness instead. I had some food envy but I was not disappointed with the choice of…

P1100433… Purple – Purple potato purée, blackberry parfait, lavender marshmallows, “fruits of the forest” sorbet.

The texture of the little domes of purple potato purée reminded us of mochi, which was quite interesting and unexpected. The marshmallow had an intense flavour and smell of lavender. Together with the concentrated blackberry parfait, it was a highly unusual but successful combination of flavour and texture, not to mention very refreshing.

P1100426We arrived promptly at 6pm so luckily there was no queue ahead of us, but as we were leaving we did notice a massive queue of people trying to get their hands on some of the tastiest treats in Singapore! A word of advice though, reservation is necessary after 9pm. It was a great little place, and I would certainly love to try more of these delicious and unusual creations the next time I am in Singapore. Unfortunately, we both had prearranged plans which we had to attend to but rest assured we’ll both be back soon…

This review was done in collaboration with Fine Dining Explorer