Monthly Archives: June 2016

Isshin (いっしん), Kyoto

FullSizeRender-20Chef:   Hideichi Katagiri      Website: N/A       Cuisine:   Beef Kaiseki

(Photos courtesy of Framed Eating)

Isshin is a small restaurant tucked away in the heart of the Gion district in Kyoto. It is operated by Chef Hideichi Katagiri and his wife, who looks after the front of house. The couple moved their restaurant to Kyoto in 2003 from the Shiga prefecture, bringing with them the region’s famous Ōmi beef. Isshin is famous amongst the locals for their dishes utilising the rarest cut of the inner shoulder blade, the misuji, which only yields about 2kg from an entire cow. The restaurant, of course, offers much more than that. Isshin offered a very good value nose-to-tail menu of Ōmi beef for 13,000 yen. I was excited to compare this against the Matsuzaka beef I had tried in Tokyo!

FullSizeRender-19Isshin has a couple of policies around dining manners. Whilst the chef doesn’t mind photographs being taken, he does ask for diners not to use cameras that make a lot of noise. He also doesn’t take solo diners as they tend to finish their dishes quicker and disrupt his serving rhythm. I booked one of their two private dining rooms to ensure we could have the option of using a more powerful DSLR. It was a good option given the low lighting level throughout the restaurant. Service commenced rather smoothly. Our drinks were brought to us promptly… although it must be noted that was not consistent throughout the meal.

FullSizeRender-171st Course: Beef Sōmen (生肉そうめん) – Raw beef that had been cut very precisely to resemble the Japanese wheat flour noodle of sōmen. It was served with yam, seaweed, spring onion, horse radish, wasabi and home made tsuyu dipping sauce.

FullSizeRender-16The thin beef noodle had a good amount of marbling with just the right amount of fat; not too little and not too much.  The wasabi and horse radish cut through the fattiness of the beef and drew out its flavour. It had a lovely smooth texture and was a great introduction to Ōmi beef.

FullSizeRender-152nd Course: Beef Three Ways (生肉3種) – Starting with the left was a vacuum cooked Roast beef, followed by a Raw yuba (tofu skin) made with beef and Mino (a fish which is the South Korean varietal of the Japanese Drumfish), topped with salmon roe. The last item to the right were two slices of Inner Thigh prepared two ways; one as a shiozuke (in salt), and one in misozuke (in miso).

FullSizeRender-113rd Course: Beef tongue and Conger eel soup (生タンと穴子しんじょうのお椀) – The chef carefully placed the beef tongue on the conger eel so that it sat above the soup, ensuring it did not cook any more than it needed to. Sure enough, the tongue was cooked beautifully and, whilst it was slightly tougher in texture, the flavour was amazing. The conger eel and broth were subtle but present, allowing the star of the dish to shine.

FullSizeRender-124th Course: Inner shoulder blade of beef (ミスジの昆布締め) This was exactly what I had been waiting for. The premium cut of the beef. The inner shoulder blade, the misuji, which only yields 2kg from an entire cow is hightly sought after. It was cured with kelp to draw the flavour out of the meat using its natural umami. It was served with Japanese aubergine (nama nasu) and radish, dressed with a ponzu sauce. It just melted like butter in my mouth. Wow.

FullSizeRender-95th Course: Beef tongue sashimi (タン刺し) – The beef had been marinated in soy sauce before it was served with some kelp (konbu) to enhance the flavour. This was another solid dish oozing with umami.

FullSizeRender-106th Course: Beef Tail with Dadacha-mame flan (ダダ茶豆のフランとテール肉の煮凝り) – This was tail meat that had been slow cooked over hours to soften the texture. The gelatinous feel of the sauce was extremely rich. This balanced well with the flan made from dadacha-mame. Dadacha-mame is considered to be the king of edamame’s with its earthy and sweet flavours.

FullSizeRender7th Course: Sushi moriawase (寿司の盛り合わせ) – Starting with the right was Aburi Toro (あぶり寿司) which was essentially another beautiful slice of their superior misuji cut that had been torched to create a nice and oily sushi. In the middle however, was a rather confused Crab and Avocado roll (カニアボカド巻) with slithers of the same cut of beef. It wasn’t terrible with the creamy avocado and rich crab meat but I thought it just didn’t fit and distracted from the rest of the dish. Lastly to the left was the ‘Toro’ Beef on rice (トロ肉漬けごはん) which was a bowl of fatty beef that had been pickled over the rice to further infuse its flavour. The texture was exactly like a top grade ootoro and just melted in your mouth. I never expected to have this texture from beef. It was even softer than the finest fassone tartare I had in Piedmont.

FullSizeRender-68th Course: Asparagus and beef tongue in white miso (アスパラガスタンの白味噌仕立て) – The lovely cut of misuji was served this time as a stew with sweet white miso. It wasn’t a terrible dish but the white miso distracted from the beautiful cut of meat which was a shame.

FullSizeRender-59th Course: Sirloin steak (牛肉ステーキ) – As expected from a restaurant specialising in beef, the penultimate course was a fine miniature sirloin steak, dressed with a soy sauce foam and horse radish, served with a side of salad. The soy sauce foam was like no other. It was light and airy, tangling around the meat and melted on your tongue. The meat of course was cooked to perfection, bordering the rarer side to medium-rare with a slight crispy exterior.

FullSizeRender-210th Course: Beef Chazuke (肉茶漬け) – The finale was a comforting ‘porridge’ or chazuke of beef served with a side of pickles. The pieces of beef was prepared rather unconventionally as a nikujaga (beef cooked in a soy, mirin, sake and brown sugar) before being added into the green tea with puffed rice, seaweed and spring onion.

FullSizeRender11th Course: Corn crème brûlée and peach sorbetA rather bizarre combination of flavours to finish of the meal. On their own each element was delicious and would have probably worked better as separate dishes.

FullSizeRender-1Needless to say, 13,000 yen for the entire menu was an absolute bargain and a steal given the quality of the dishes that kept being brought to us. I personally found the marbling of the beef here far more agreeable than the fattier Matsuzaka beef I had up in Tokyo at Satou Steakhouse. The misuji cut was particularly impressive and unlike anything I have tried before. The downside to the meal was the service tempo which almost gradually came to a near grinding stop when the restaurant was operating at full capacity. It took nearly an hour before someone came to our room after our last course had been served. Luckily we were in no rush to go anywhere but let it be warned that you may want to avoid planning ahead for any post-dinner activities.

Igni, Geelong

P1180971Chef: Aaron Turner   Website:    Cuisine:  Modern Australian (charcoal)

When Loam abruptly closed its doors for good over two years ago I was rather annoyed with myself. I should have made the effort earlier to head down to Drysdale and I was kicking myself. To add salt to the wound many of my food contacts would often repeat how great the restaurant was. So when I heard Aaron Turner had decided to make a come back I wasted no time in getting a reservation to his new venture in Geelong. His new restaurant Igni promised to deliver far more refined food than Loam with a focus on using a charcoal grill like Lennox Hastie’s Firedoor. After a rather disappointing meal at Firedoor I was praying for something better.

P1180973The generous amount of space in a modest sized dining room made the dining experience a rather intimate one. The raw timber and simple designs of the furniture were reminiscent of Noma and El Celler de Can Roca where Turner had previously trained and polished his skills. There’s also no escaping from the intoxicating charcoal grill smoke that adds that rustic canvas to a modern decor. It took me back to my meal at Asador Etxebarri almost five years ago. P1190027Igni only had two degustation menus on on offer: a five course menu (AUD 100) or eight course menu (AUD 150). Turner only used fresh ingredients available on a given day so there was usually not enough of one ingredient to go around for all diners. To top it off, the chef also catered to each diners likes / allergies so each table was not likely to be getting the same dishes. We were perhaps not overly helpful when asked about likes and dislikes as all I could come up with was “No bad food, please”. As with most degustation menu options there were also matching wines available for both menus… Who am I to say no?

P1180978The bread on offer was supplied by a seventh generation baker based out in Warrnambool. It had a light and fluffy texture and disappeared all too quickly with…

P1180979… the smoked home cultured butter that really got our palate going. We subsequently had another two serves.P1180982Amuse Bouche 1: Air dried beef – The beef had been marinated in a concoction of mushroom soy sauce, grapeseed oil, vinegar, dried herbs and fish paste before being dehydrated. Delicious!P1180983Amuse Bouche 2: Salt and vinegar saltbush leaves – The saltbush leaves had been fried to a crisp and dressed with a vinegar powder. It was a healthier alternative to salt and vinegar chips and rather delectable.P1180984Amuse Bouche 3: Duck Crostini – A lovely fatty slice of duck ham wrapped around the thinner-than-usual crostini which was as texturally pleasing as it was flavoursome. P1180985Amuse Bouche 4: Chicken skin and cod roe – My personal favourite of the amuse bouche series were the crunchy roasted chicken skin that had a generous portion of cod roe with a hint of citrus spread across it and dressed in dill. This was exactly my kind of food. Comforting, different but most importantly delicious.P1180987Amuse Bouche 5: Guanciale – House made slices of guanciale.P1180988Amuse Bouche 6: Zucchini flower and pickled mussel – The zucchini flower had been stuffed with pickled mussels before being grilled over charcoal. This was the end of our amuse bouche segment. Not a bad start at all. Overall, some interesting textures, flavours and ideas. P1180992Course 1: Oyster, guava berry, sea water – Our first course consisted of a lightly roasted oyster that had been placed in a ceramic oyster shell with a salty sea water emulsion and guava berry juice. All the flavours worked well including the slightly tangy guavaberry which I had never tried before (apparently it goes well with rum!). The overall taste echoed the taste of the ocean. Light, fresh and mineral.

Matched with a glass of the 2014 Bodegas Bernabe la Amistad, Alicante, Spain

P1180994Course 2: Leek, cultured cream, dill – A fat piece of char grilled leek served with cultured cream, dill oil, saltbush and oyster leaf. I was not the biggest fan of this dish. I could see that Turner was trying to celebrate the humble leek in the same way the Catalan do with their Calçot, but I found it rather bland and at best slightly bitter. It looked better than it tasted.

Matched with 2012 Ben Haines, Encore, Marsanne, Yarra Valley, Australia

P1190004Course 3: Southern Calamari, broth, brook trout roe – This was a better dish. Raw thin calamari ribbons, dressed with a generous portion of trout roe and finished with a marron and chicken broth poured at the table. The broth had a good depth of flavour, perfect to be mopped up by the incredibly thin slithers of calamari. Its aroma was equally inviting.

Matched with 2014 Pierre Rousse, Le Pelut Dithyrambe, Languedoc, France

P1190007Course 4: Marron, pil pil, cucumber – Admittedly this dish divided us a bit. The lightly grilled marron was an odd combination with the fermented pickled cucumbers, yet the Basque pil pil sauce worked brilliantly well. Overall, however, there was one flavour that lingered in our mouth and that was the pickled cucumber. I thought it was a bit of a shame for the beautifully cooked marron.

Matched with 2014 Matassa, Coume de l’Olla, Blanc, Cotes Catalanes, France

P1190009Course 5: Lamb rump, parsnip, radicchio – A giant radicchio leaf dressed in a honey vinaigrette was placed over…

P1190010… a smooth parsnip purée and a piece of perfectly cooked lamb which was unbelievably tender and juicy. The honey vinaigrette worked well to balance the bitterness of the radicchio. Every element here was important in creating a very well balanced dish. I’m not easily impressed by red meat dishes but this was quite good.

Matched with 2013 Brendan Tracey, Gorge Seche, Loire, FranceP1190013Course 6 (Extra course at supplementary cost): Smoked duck, baby fennel, finger lime – Perhaps it was the caliber of the last course but we felt we could do one more meat course before moving on to the dessert courses. This was the best decision we made. The free roaming ducks sourced locally from the Great Ocean Road were aged for 21 days before being smoked. The crispy skin, the smokey meat, the bursting bubbles of finger lime. What a treat to the taste bud!

Matched with 2014 Mahana, Gravity, Pinot Noir, Nelson, New Zealand

P1190017Course 7: Old ewe, new ewe – Essentially a mixture of Roquefort cheese, mint and sheep milk granita. An interesting take on Roquefort but I would have much preferred a plate of good old Roquefort to be honest.

Matched with NV Tom Shobbrook, Salvia, Barossa, Australia

P1190021Course 8: Mandarin, cream, honeycomb – To my relief it wasn’t another cheese course but this time it was a bowl of mandarin sorbet, cultured cream, lemon drops and honeycomb using real honey for a change. Refreshing and great flavours from a tried and tested combination. A perfect course to make way for the finale.

Matched with Ginger beer and Heiwa Shuzo yuzu-su

P1190026Course 9: Seaweed, quinoa – A rather polarising finale of a sweet and sticky goats milk ice cream flavoured with seaweed, sandwiched carefully between thin and crispy quinoa wafers dusted with a green tea powder. I personally thought the dessert was a triumph. The umami and saltiness of the seaweed, the sweet and sticky ice cream and the slightly bitter green tea. It all just complemented each other.

Matched with 2015 Mukai Shuzo, Junmai Genshu, Japan & Ota Shuzo, Dokan, Ume-shu

P1190029Petit Fours 1: Madeleine’s coated in icing sugar to finish the dish off.P1190030Petit Fours 2: Roasted pineapples and physalis to draw the meal to a close.

Perhaps it was the friendly front of house who put up with my wanker food talk with a grain of salt and good humour, or it may have been the intoxicating smell of burning charcoal, but there was something in the air that made you feel at ease in Igni. The food was very serious but equally comforting and delicious. What was a pleasant surprise was that the food here was far more enjoyable and less pretentious than Firedoor in Sydney. Whilst we decided to drive from Melbourne, the station is only a few minutes walk if one wanted to partake in the very reasonable and excellent wine matching option too. It was a few years of waiting but I’m glad I finally had the opportunity to try Turner’s food. His future looks promising. Let’s hope he keeps this one open for a while. I certainly will be planning to return there a couple more times.