Wednesday, 31 March 2010


Chef Harunobu Inukai runs Blancharu, a Japanese-French bistro in Elizabeth Bay, Sydney.
We came here because Blanchuru is holding a "A Taste Of Japan" evening in conjunction with the JNTO and JTB and includes a 6 course degustation with matching wines (and beer and sake). Oh baby. We've only been back from Japan a week or two and we're still not over the Japan thing. This is an itch that must be scratched.

Blancharu has 1 Chef's Hat from the SMH Good Food Guide.

A taster of an oyster in sauce and a piece of of ocean trout.

Scampi in brik pastry, Shiso leaf
2008 Cassegrain Semillion, Hastings River, NSW
This little fried morsal was delicious. The shiso leaf is almost the taste of Japan for us. Shiso leaf was served everywhere and in everything (slight exageration but you get what I mean I hope). It has quite a distinctive flavour and is quite strong. We didn't realise you can get here in Oz. Sweet.

Wagyu beef tartar, Tosazu Jelly and eggplant caviar
2008 Cassegrain Chardonnay, Tumbarumba NSW
Ah wagyu. Home grown Aussie Japanese beef. It is quite good but not a patch on the the fatty cow from Kobe or Kyoto or Kyushu or... drool... Hida. Still, it is a good as we can get in Oz and it goes well with the jelly and caviar.

Foie Gras "Chawanmushi" with carrot and crab
Yummy foie gras flavour suffuses this soup. It also has an interesting crunchy texture that I am convinced is caviar of some sort although I can't see any in the soup. We ask the waiter who asks the kitchen and there is indeed roe in the soup. This, as I said, is yummy.

Dashi infused Bar Cod with Chrysanthemum leaf
2008 Cassegrain Edition Noir Pinot Noir, Tumbarumba, NSW
Dashi is a kelp based stock. It is used quite a bit in Japanese cuisine. It is even used with the delicious tomago eggs... but I digress. Nice fish.

Twice cooked Duck breast with Miso glaze
2007 Cassegrain Edition Noir Durif, New England, NSW
Michelle loves duck. Me not so much but this is tender and delicious. Good duck.

Anmitsu green tea ice cream A la Blancharu
NV Cassegrain 'Noble Cuvee', NSW
I love green tea ice cream. The creamier the better. This was good and creamy and ice tea-y.

We met some nice people who are planning a trip to Japan and they were kind enough to snap tweedledee and tweedledum below. Enjoy your trip to Japan guys.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Home to Perni

It is as hot at Sydney Airport at 7.30am as we were dreading. We actually fly through customs which is good. I even got the home made jar of apple jam the people from Pension Schnee in Nozawa Onsen through without a hitch.
Taxi home. Dump bags. Jump into car to pick up Copernicus. He has been "holidaying" at Hanrob but yesterday he was delivered to our local vet so we could pick him up today. Half way through our holiday I emailed Hanrob to see how he was going. Apparently he was being a good boy and eating well. Cat boarding ain't cheap. Copernicus' 4 and half week stay cost over $700. Meh, that's only a bit more than a decent sushi meal in Tokyo and is worth it for piece of mind and the happy cat we get back.
At the vet we were handed over a very excited cat. He looked shocked to see us. He always looks as if we'd abandoned him and were not going to see him again. Apart from a grotty nose he looked fine. This is the best part of coming home.

Flight JL 771 - Narita to Kingsford Smith Airport Sydney

The first thing we do on boarding is kick off our shoes and put on the complementary slippers. Comfy. We also get a toothbrush and toothpaste, ear plugs, an eye mask, refresher towels and a face mask. I didn't need to buy my souvenir face mask at Tokyo station after all.
Dinner is served about an hour and a half into the flight. I had the chicken. Sake is also on the menu. It is good sake too. An older Japanese woman across the aisle from us seems to be watching us out of the corner of her eye. She seems amused that we're eating the Japanese food option and with chop sticks. Later she pulls out packets of large rice crackers and shares them with us. What a nice ol' gal. Good rice crackers but not as good as the fresh ones I chowed down on in old Kyoto.
After dinner it is lights off for most people. This is a night flight. Quite a few people watch movies though. I try to avoid seeing spoilerific scenes from "Paranormal Activity" and "2012" which a number of people around us were watching. Damn the big screens in Premium Economy.
I try on the face mask. It gets hot under those things. I dunno how so many Japanese wander around all day with these things on.
Not as many obvious business travellers as the flight over. We were surrounded by business men working on lap tops on the way to Japan. This time it looks like mainly tourists - either going home or visiting Australia. Apparently it is the first day of spring vacation for the Japanese which would also explain the crowd at customs. We joined hundreds of people crowding customs and passport control at the airport. It took ages to get through.

Friday, 19 March 2010

JAL First and Business Class "Sakura" Lounge

I think I've already mentioned how much I love this Premium Economy travel thing especially when we get to partake of the facilities of the JAL First and Business Class "Sakura" Lounge for nix, nada, nuthin', nuffink, zilcho. We arrive just in time for beer o'clock. Free beer and free food. Well, I suppose by paying for Premium Economy we really are paying for it but we didn't know about this when we booked. Neat little robotic beer pourer too. It tilts the glass as it fills it with beer and then squirts on a nice foamy head. Dinner is beef curry, rice, salad, clam miso soup and muffins. There is no way we'll be hungry by the time we board the plane. Speaking of which that is our plane we can see being loaded out the window of the lounge. We wander down from the restaurant to the lounge area of the lounge to sample the Japanese scotch and snacks they have down there and use the free wifi to check Facebook. This certainly beats sitting around at Maccas until the flight is ready to go.
In about 10 hours we'll be in stinky Sydney.

Narita Express

I'd wondered what the NEX on the front of the Narita Express trains stood for. D'oh. Only just figured it out now. Double d'oh.
Michelle doesn't look too thrilled to be leaving does she? We had booked our hotel for a late check-out today - 3pm instead of 10am. That allowed us to go out for lunch and then come back to the hotel to finish packing and freshen up before hitting the road. From Roppongi station we took the metro Hibiya line to Kasumigaseki Station and then transferred to the Maranouchi line to Tokyo Station to catch the Narita Express. We are glad we ended up buying these wheelie bags. Makes transferring stations and dragging bags down streets a breeze. Stuff carrying backpacks around. My bag has put on weight. It has jumped from about 15kg to 22kg. I think it was all the fridge magnets I bought as souvenirs.
I bought my last can of coffee from the vending machine on Tokyo Station. It was a crappy as usual but I will miss that hot sweet caffeine hit.
On the train there are TV monitors showing the latest news headlines, flight departure details and weather in various cities around the world. We see that Sydney was expecting temps in the mid 30s for the next few days. It is supposed to be autumn at home for god's sake. When we left for this trip we were hoping to miss the rest of the summer. When we got back to Tokyo we were struggling with temps around the 14 degree C mark after acclimatising to sub zero temps the week before. Oh well.
It takes about an hour to get to Narita Airport.

Sometimes you can find your way around Tokyo

When you can find a street sign it is easy to find your way around and when the building has the building number on it too it is easy. But the numbers pictured below aren't on every building.


Sadly, very bloody sadly, this will be the last Michelin starred place we'll eat at in Japan this time round. It will be in fact the last place we eat in Japan unless we get a feed at the airport. Raku-tei is a small tempura restaurant hidden in a quiet almost suburban street not far the from the fortified American Embassy residential compound. We arrived at 11.30 to ensure we could get a seat. We needn't have worried. Again we were the only customers for lunch. What a way to go out too. The best tempura we've had in Japan. Shit, if it is the best we've had in Japan we ain't going to get better anywhere else are we.
Check out the video at the bottom for the most efficient eel filleting you'll ever see. He was like a machine. It was hypnotic as he filleted about 15 eels while we watched. That is part of the appeal of these places - the entertainment.
The latest edition of Gourmet Traveller has an article about Tetsuya Wakuda's favourite places in Tokyo and Raku-Tei gets a mention. A few restaurateurs either mentioned or asked us about Tetsuya when they found out we were from Sydney. In culinary circles Tetsuya is probably Japan's most famous export. We were even shown a copy of Tetsuya's book in a small restaurant in France a couple of years ago by the owner.

This'll be the last visit to Starbucks for sometime

Well our Japanese experience has shown that Starbucks isn't horrible but soon we'll be back in Oz and have more options including our home machine using that lovely Vella Nero coffee.
This Starbucks is in the Ark Hills Mori building in Akasaka - a few minutes walk from our hotel in Roppongi.