It's pretty difficult to have a bad meal in Japan. The country holds the distinction of having the most number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world, besting France for the title for more than a few years now. But dining out in Japan doesn't have to be as costly as we think it is. Here's a hot tip: Book the expensive restaurants for lunch, when tasting menus are on offer for about a third less than what they would cost at dinner.
Following is a rundown of where we ate in Tokyo and Kyoto - good, bad, expensive, and inexpensive. Check out my Instagram account for more photos.
We went to the stand-up one (no seats) in Shibuya.
We could have had two steaks each, and Nicolas did, but I was - quite foolishly - exercising restraint. Why? I have no idea.
I should never listen to myself when I am trying to be reasonable.
If you like fruits in cream, then you've come to the right place. I wasn't sure about these pancakes, but they turned out to be amazing.
According to the Filipinos we met at this restaurant, this chain opened in the Philippines but wasn't successful. I can't imagine why. While, obviously, not everything on the menu will work, the ones that do are pretty darned good.
Order the half-and-half special that features the carbonara with camembert and crispy bacon, and pasta with shrimp, avocado, and fresh herbs with Genovese sauce.
We stumbled upon this chain from Brooklyn, New York as we were walking from Shibuya to Omotesando. I saw the photo of the Eggslut and knew that we had to have it.
We were ushered into another room for dessert and coffee. And that's where the staff presented me with a rose for my birthday and a photo print to commemorate the day.
Nicolas' friend brought us to this superb sushi bar at the Nikko Hotel. It must have cost an arm and a leg and a few other extremities.
A French restaurant with a well-deserved Michelin star. Nicolas had a "Ratatouille" moment when he tried my quail dish, as it conjured up childhood memories for him in the French countryside.
I do like this Japanese chain of cheap burgers. We were on our way to try out Freshness Burger, but were distracted by the shrimp burger, teriyaki burger, and bacon and cheese burger at Lotteria.
- The barbecued crab stall right at the entrance to the Yasaka Shrine.
Nicolas and I loooooooooove unagi (eel). We wanted to book a Michelin-starred unagi specialty restaurant, but it was closed when we arrived in Kyoto. So we settled for this place instead.
I mean, unagi is unagi, right?
Remember how I said it was difficult to have a bad meal in Japan? Well, we managed it.
The flesh was too mushy. But we ate it anyway. We ate all of it. And this is where I think we went wrong. We shouldn't have finished it, especially since there was so much of it. Now I think we may be put off unagi for life.
While I don't mind ramen, I'm not crazy about it and haven't gone out of my way to try the ramen shops that have been sprouting up all over Manila. Nicolas doesn't like ramen at all.
But it was getting late - and a bit chilly. We wanted some hot soup in our bellies, so we decided to try the ramen place near the Yasaka Shrine that our host recommended.
The staff recommended the Miyako Ramen. We ordered a small bowl to share.
It was love at first taste. Damn, that was good. WHY AM I SHARING MEALS IN JAPAN, FORGODSSAKE???
This one-starred restaurant served up the best sake:
The best cold-noodle dish:
And the best duck we've ever had in our lives:
Plus Chef Ryuta Sakamoto showed us a cool way to eat yuba (tofu skin):
I don't think the Japanese can screw up steak even if they tried.
I was trying to book Japanese-French fusion restaurant, Takumi Okumura, because of a blog review I had stumbled upon. But it was closed on Tuesdays, so I booked its sister restaurant, Gion Okumura, instead. It turned out to be our favorite restaurant of the trip! Everything was perfect and we don't know how it has escaped the notice of the Michelin gods.
I recommend booking a stay at this one-starred ryokan rather than just a dinner, but only if you've never stayed at a ryokan before.
While the food was beautifully presented...
… there are better dining options for much less in Kyoto.
Although I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the Japanese breakfast that I had in the morning.
I was looking for Eric Clapton's favorite restaurant in Japan and ended up here instead. My only regret was not having two orders of their pork tonkatsu with cheese, dammit!
Just to show you how our attitude towards ramen has changed, we had ramen at the Narita Airport before checking in for our flight to Cebu.
From the Narita website:
Kookai's Chinese noodle soup is made by slowly simmering pork and chicken bones that have been carefully roasted to bring out their delicate and unique flavors and fragrances.
We are the first Chinese noodle shop in Japan to use the French culinary technique of extracting soup stock (fond) by roasting the bones first. Enjoy our clear, quality soup prepared with great care and time.