Tamawarai: Soba so good

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Soba with chilled fresh tofu and shaved bonito flakes yum!

For a lazy Saturday lunch, Kevin found this little gem of a soba place, Tamawarai (玉笑) which earned a spot on revered Tabelog’s (#1 foodie review site for restaurants in Japan and totally trustworthy) Top 50 lunch places. After climbing up a slope-y Harajuku backstreet in the blistering summer heat, we were more than happy to park our behinds on a chair in Tamawarai’s cool interior and bury our hands and faces in the cool towel offered (and also say a BIG THANK YOU LAWDY that there was no queue at this intimate and zen little place which says chotto… to reservations).

They’ve a pretty limited menu, which focuses mainly on soba and small bites. Given that we were in the midst of summer, Kevin and I decided to go for cold soba. His choice of Zaru soba – simple cold soba noodles cooked to chewy perfection and served with wasabi + spring onions + a delicious soy dipping sauce – was a nice reminder that sometimes less is more :) They even provided broth at the end of his meal to dilute the dipping sauce so that he can drink it like a soup. Apparently this is pretty common, but it still got me going wowww none of the good stuff’s wasted!

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My chilled soba with freshly-made tofu (1,700 JPY) was honestly one of the best sobas I’ve ever had. The noodles, cooked and chilled perfectly, was a melange of cold and delicious tastes and textures. The freshly-made tofu was so fresh it tasted like a slab of Mascarpone cheese made from spring and sweetness. The mix of flavours – fresh sweet tofu, salty soy sauce, savoury bonito flakes, freshly-chopped spring onions – with each mouthful of chewy soba was a pretty amazing experience… and proof that a simple bowl of fresh noodles can indeed bring lots of happiness :)

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The portions here are Japanese-sized portions but I was surprisingly full after (buckwheat does fill you up pretty quickly!). For the higher than average prices charged here  – soba dishes range between 1,000 to 2,500 JPY – it’s certainly justified by the freshness and quality of the noodles and toppings. Also definitely worthy of the 1-Michelin star bestowed upon it in 2013 :)

This place is a little hard to find, as it’s seriously buried in one of the small streets off Harajuku. Google Maps does a pretty decent job of getting you there, just keep a lookout for a restaurant with a wooden exterior and white curtains billowing above it with 玉笑 written on it. I’m already eyeing their tempura soba, and will be back v.v.soon…

–Sulsuls

Wherefore art thou?

Tamawarai 玉笑 (map here, ~8-10mins walk from Meiji-Jingumae station)
5-23-3 Jingumae,
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

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Esquina: Tap that tapas

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This Spanish gem tucked away by a corner in Singapore’s quaint Chinatown area had me wistfully sighing Ti Amoooo at first bite. Under the guidance of Michelin star chef Jason Atherton (protégé of Hell’s Kitchen godfather Gordon Ramsay), Esquina has managed to beautifully blend delicious morsels of legit tapas (LOVE that the portions aren’t minuscule) with a super fun and gregarious atmosphere. What’s also cool is that everyone’s seated by the counter facing the open kitchen with an awesome view of the deliciousness sizzling and cooking by the stoves!

We ordered a bunch of tapas, and pretty much everything we had was scrumptious and authentic yay!

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Crispy baby squid in black ink aioli

Tapas balls

Ham croquetas

These piping hot little ham balls split open to reveal a gooey, delicious mixture of ham, cream and cheese. One croquette per person was just the right amount, as it felt like biting into a ball of carbonara which explodes into an artery-clogging but totes delicious buttery bath…

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Grilled romaine, truffle honey, manchego, black olives

So we got this as a feeble attempt to be healthy at a tapas bar, and OH BOY IT WAS ONE OF THE BEST ROMAINES I’VE EVER HAD! Each Romain was lovingly grilled to crisp-edgy perfection, and the flecks of savoury manchego and chopped olive bits were the perfect foil to the Romain’s sweetness. So, so good that it just kept ending up on my plate, even though I had enough Romain during lunch to make me run away from veggies for the rest of the day.

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Grilled pork secreto with miso glazed apple puree, hazelnut, apple salad, crispy skin

THIS. OMG this grilled pork is probably THE best grilled pork I’ve had ever. Pork is one tough MOFO to cook, and the guys at Esquina cracked it (literally). The pork was grilled to juicy perfection, with a crisp outer layer which sealed in all the delicious juices from the cooking. The crispy skin and chopped walnuts added a nice crunchy twist to each bit of porky perfection mmmmmm….

We also had another porky dish – Spiced pig cheek, roast belly, sweet & sour onion, chorizo crumbs (pictured at top of the blog) which was ok, but definitely couldn’t fill the ginormous delicious shoes left by its grilled pork predecessor.

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Blueberry ice-cream – on the house if you get dessert… and so we did :)

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Charred pineapple & lime salad, basil sorbet, coconut lime jelly – nice palate cleanser after the awesome tapas fest!

Prices are a little steep at this joint (starters, meat, dessert and drinks can come up to ~SGD 80 per person), but for the quality and authenticity it’s worth coming back to for sure :) It’s a pain that they don’t take reservations (as place is pretty small), so swing by before 7pm to grab a seat and have some deliciously legit Spanish tapas in Singapore!

Here’s a short clip of the place, it was crazyyy packed on a week night!

–Sulsuls

Wherefore art thou? Map here (~11 min walk from Tanjung Pagar MRT station)

Esquina Tapas Bar
16 Jiak Chuan Rd,
Singapore 089267

Jaan: Très superb

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When I first moved to Singapore years ago, Jaan (under the helm of then rockstar chef Andre Chiang) was one of THE places foodies needed to pay their respects at. But thanks to my procrastination, chef Andre packed his bags to set up his own shop before I could step foot into the holy food shrine that is Jaan *CRIES*. All is not lost however, as fellow piglet Sonsons was in town recently and we decided to give Jaan a little piglets visit after reading all the rave reviews of the revamped Jaan under current chef Julien Royer.

Upon arrival at The Swissotel hotel, we were whisked to the 70F where Jaan discreetly sits and proceeded to have one of the most epic lunches. Ever. Definitely comparable to our numero uno Narisawa in Tokyo, but with chotto less creative flourishes…

We decided on their 3-course menu, instead of the 5-course which beckoned oh so temptingly…Thank god we did, because loooookie what awesome amuse bouches came to say Hi!

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Pissaladiere, goats cheese, Spanish anchovy – tasted like fluffy choux pastry stuffed with cheese and anchovy mmmm

Hummus

“Saint-Flour” lentils hummus and cereal crackers – the homemade hummus came with a twist of ground chestnuts, which lent a sweet blend to the spread

Soup

Wild mushroom tea, Cep Sabayon, Lovage, Walnuts – essentially a rich buttery foam with sprinkles of crunchy walnuts… WANT MOAR!

Not forgetting the other 2 delicious bites (pic right at the top): Smoked unagi, konbu, finger lime AND Pastilla, chicken and coriander. Such delicious food foreplay… and it’s the gift which keeps on giving because next up came a delicious bread basket filled with choices of baguettes, walnut rolls, truffle rolls…WANT. EVERYTHING (and took everything…)

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Jaan’s Garden: I opted for this starter as penance for my meat fest last weekend in Bali. This rainbow vegetable compilation came with a handful of wild herbs, nut bits and spices. The vegetables were delectably sweet and crunchy, but the dollop of yoghurt-y dressing was a tad too heavy and the milky taste didn’t quite sit nicely with the rest of the Garden…

Eggs

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55′ Rosemary Smoked Organic Egg: Sonsons’ starter. The smoked rattes potatoes and chorizo iberico arrived in a glass swirling with puffs of smoke. After we were done ooh-ing and aah-ing and taking a gazillion pics, the nice waitress proceeded to crack the rosemary smoked organic eggs into this, so that you get mouthfuls of runny golden wobbliness mixed with buttery mash and savoury ham bits with each bite…

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We both picked the buffalo ricotta ravioli for our mains. The violet artichokes, iberico ham and chives melded lusciously together with the ricotta cheese to give a burst of velvety deliciousness with each morsel mmmm…

Brie is hard to resist. Brie with truffle centre? No is not an answer!

Brie is hard to resist. Brie with truffle centre? No is not an option!

Jaan, you make us totes happy!

Jaan, you make the piglets totes happy!

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Mara Des Bois Strawberry – chilled rhubarb soup with strawberry, marshmellows and basil sorbet. Perfect palate cleanser after a delish meal

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Light lemon curd with cherry, verbena, elderflower bits and ice kwimmmm

Just when we thought it was time to bid adieu to Jaan, delicious petit fours (compliments of the house) swung by in the form of crackling sorbet pops, yuzu marshmellows, cookies and luscious cream-filled chocolate-pops! *Piglets do a victory wiggle*

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Our lunch menu which they graciously printed for us..service par excellence indeed!

Our lunch menu which they graciously printed for us..service par excellence indeed!

Pretty breathtaking view of the marina from Jaan

Pretty breathtaking view of Singapore from Jaan’s windows

For $68 ++ , this scrumptious 3-course meal (which includes deliciously decadent amuse bouches and petit fours) is a pretty good deal considering how ludicrous fine dining prices can get in Singapore. The ambience is quiet and intimate without being intimidating (there were only 4-5 tables when we were there, and felt like we had very own private room by the window!), and service is gracious and friendly. We waddled out with Jaan food babies, stuffed and extremely satisfied..before digging into a chili crab dinner mere hours later hehehe

–Sulsuls

Wherefore art thou? Map here

Jaan Restaurant
Swissotel The Stamford Singapore,
Stamford Road,
Singapore 178882

Oreno Italian: officially obsessed

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Cold spaghetti carbonara – house specialty at Oreno Italian

Oreno. 2 syllables, infinite amounts of eating pleasure guaranteed. What started out as a “Hey, let’s go check out this Oreno Italian joint where you stand, eat and listen to jazz” has turned into a full-blown love affair with the Oreno chains. Along with some of the munch bunch, I ended up paying not one but TWO visits to the Oreno chains in one week. And uhmmm maybe a visit the week before….

I guess we’re pretty obsessed with Oreno joints! But where else can you find a place where the chefs hail from Michelin-starred restaurants and vow to continue serving delectable delicacies at a fraction of the price at fancy pants places? The fact that it’s a standing joint (although there are very few tiny sitting booths available) is a totes small price to pay, as the solid wine list they have ensures that you are well sloshed enough so that you don’t feel the ache in your legs while standing :)

The first time we hit Oreno Italian in Ginze 8-chome, it turned out to be an unplanned epic night out. We were greeted with complimentary parmesan cheese to start the night.

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Some jazz to entertain us throughout the meal (not too sure if this is the only joint which has a jazz band performing), with lots of unsolicited sing-and-jig-along from us…

Oreno jazz

Let the feast began! We pretty much ordered half the menu, but everything disappeared miraculously as soon as they were placed in front of us because EVERYTHING WAS SO DAMN DELICIOUS WHAT IS THIS SORCERY

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WHOLE lobster with saffron sauce. Gone in 60 secs

Beef Truffle Foie Gras Mille-feuille mmmmmm

Beef Truffle Foie Gras Mille-feuille mmmmmm

Truffle pizza with wobbly yolk

Truffle pizza with wobbly yolk (if you’re a raw egg fan, this will drive you crazy)

Rice

Foie gras risotto. Rich and melt in your mouth, but not quite all that

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Shrimps in garlic oil. So good that we wished it came with baguettes to mop up the garlic oil!

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Wagyu beef cheeks with cous cous and green beans. So tender it literally fell apart when poked with a fork…

Wine makes the world go round :)

Wine makes the world go round and round and round

Everything was polished off with Mango Esupuma and creamy layers of tiramisu in a glass. And maybe another bottle of wine :)

Total damage from wallowing in mouthfuls of succulent lobsters, tender wagyu beef cheeks, melt-in-your-mouth foie gras and truffles, crusty pizza, al dente pasta, creamy heavenly desserts and almost a bottle of wine per person: a very, very reasonable 4,800 JPY per person!

It does get a little tight, crammed and noisy in Oreno Italian (it’s a standing joint after all), but hey we still had tons of fun wining and dining hehe

So what I found out on my second visit to Oreno: Ore-no in Japanese means “My” – in a super macho way (i.e. only guys say it). That revelation pretty much started the “Let’s speak like Gori-macho dudes” shindig, with everyone round the table going”MAJI YABE” (it’s the shiz yo) in praise of the deliciousness that is Oreno!

BTW en route back to Ginza station, we excitedly counted 4 Oreno chains within the Ginza vicinity – Oreno Italian (*2), Oreno French, Oreno kappo (high end traditional Japanese)! Apparently there’s also Oreno Yakiniku (top-of-the-range grilled A5-grade wagyū beef) and Oreno Yakitori somewhere in Tokyo – I MUST HUNT YOU DOWN VERY SOON MY LOVELIES.

Heads up though that the Oreno queue is horrendous (ranges from 45 mins to 2 hours, seriously) and reservations are close to impossible. But all is not lost and I would definitely queue to eat at Oreno again. Just remember to grab a few cans from a nearby konbeni, have lots of swigs and laughs with your dinner friends, and before you know it, a friendly server will appear in a jiffy and usher you inside with the magic words “Taihen omatase shimashita, dozo….”

–Sulsuls

Wherefore art thou?

Locations: Do a quick Google Search for the Oreno chains throughout Tokyo. Safe bet is to start the search in Ginza, where you can easily shift to another Oreno joint with a relatively shorter queue :)

Stand up for Shimada

Put yo’ hands up and stand up for Shimada, because this is what you literally have to do when you dine at this FANTASTIC hidden gem ( I somehow managed to find you, my precioussss). This precious is a gourmet standing only restaurant, opened by Hiroshi Shimada who once worked at the 3-star rated Azabu Yukimura. Shimada-san was intent on sharing the mind-blowing joys of fiiiine cuisine minus the mind-numbing pain of wallet hemorrhaging…hence the birth of this standing-only joint in ritzy Ginza which serves such amazing food at a third or less of the usual cost.

I stumbled upon a delicious (non-food) little surprise when entering the restaurant – they actually have one small sit-down table which we managed to snag!

We were given a huge old school menu board to pick to our heart’s content mmmm…but since our eating skills trumped our reading skills big time, the choice was so clear. GO OMAKASE BEBEH!

The HEAVY menu board...which I accidentally whacked on the table :/

The HEAVY menu board…which I accidentally whacked on the table :/

Smizing Ginza style.Ty Ty woulda been so proud urgh!

Piglets smizing Ginza style.Ty Ty woulda been so proud urgh!

Let the oh-oh-oh-mah-kase get rolling:

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Potato salad: 5 words – not your average potato salad. It was oh-so creamy (you are welcome, says the mayo). And smooth, with pickles lending a delightful little crunch with each mouthful.

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Squid salad: The nicely done squid tossed with fresh crunchy veges in a dashi-like stock was another nice opener.

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Crab croquette: There was collective squealing (ok mostly from the piglets’ side) when this came to the table, because EVERYBODY HAD THEIR OWN CROQUETTE yespleasethankyouverymuch. There was also collective sighs of yes, yes oh yessss (from everybody this time) with the first bite, because hotdamn this was one hot creamy croquette filled with lots of lusciously delicious crab meat on the inside, and a crisp golden coating on the outside. We discovered the orange roe-like looking thing sitting atop the salad was carrot pickles, which added a nice tangy twist.

Avocado with hotate salad: It was sublime, and I forgot to take the pic urgh. ANYWAY imagine tender scallops tossed with chunks of creamy avocado and slices of wobbly century eggs in a tangy wasabi sauce. I’m not even an avocado advocate, but I couldn’t help cleaning up this entire dish because the burst of flavours…so much winnnn!

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Salt-grilled Shishamo: It was a pretty tough act to follow post deliciously stellar performance of the croquette and hotate, and the shishamo which came next…unfortunately fell flat (and arrived flat). The bitter tasting head and upper body didn’t quite help it stage a coup d’etat :(

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Fritters with prawns and vege: Arrived delightfully crisp and not greasy soggy. It was like having a little fried golden ball of juicy sweet shrimps and crunchy root-like vegetable bits, studded with specks of coriander.

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Because standing while eating is good for you!

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Tori sukiyaki: This isn’t your usual sweet suspect mirin-laced sukiyaki, no siree. This chicken sukiyaki baby came with subtle kick-ass ma-la spices infused into the sweet sauce, and it was a delightful blend of sweet and very slightly tongue-numbing spiciness. The chicken was grilled to tender, juicy perfection and the baby mochi pieces tossed in provided a nice sticky bed to coat ’em sauce. Add in onions cooked to translucent firmness, and you’ve got sweet sweet heaven in a big bowl!

The ma-la-ness in the sukiyaki makes you do funny things...

The ma-la-ness in the sukiyaki makes you do funny things…

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Onigiri to mop up all that sukiyaki deliciousness #YES!

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Jeff-wee explains to us noobs what that pepper thang in the wooden bottle is…

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…and it’s mountain pepper to give more kickass to the sukiyaki!

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Wagyu beef with asparagus: When asked whether we would prefer soba or wagyu beef to end this sublime meal, it was a unanimous give.us.wagyu.now prease! And it did not disappoint. The beef was seared to pink perfection, and the delicious drippings made a nice charred-buttery coating for the seared asparagus. This, is how asparagus should be cooked mmm…

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A fitting conclusion to this glorious meal: pic from an Asian taking a pic of Asians taking pics of food :)

Dinner came up to a very reasonable 3,900 JPY per person, even with drinks! Winning food at winning prices, this one’s a keeper for sure. I’ll be coming right back into your arms Shimada, even if I’ve to stand for it!

–Sulsuls

Wherefore art thou?