Crunchy Bottoms

Striking the caloric balance. Barely.

Monthly Archives: April 2012

artichoke cafe + bar: Brunch!

It was about time that I popped by Artichoke again. It’s the rainy season, and the last I remembered, I left my umbrella at the restaurant. That was last November. I’ve gotten drenched more times than I care to remember since then.

No, I’m only joking. I missed the place, and going Food Geek-y chatting with Bjorn. I have been meaning to drop by for brunch before heading off to the cows in Switzerland for my summer study. Perhaps then I’ll finally get round to putting up recipes again. Who knows?

The last time I was at Artichoke for dinner, Bjorn brought out an unassuming slice of toast with a dollop of his homemade labneh (yoghurt and double cream) and drippy chunks of peach jam – one of the new products of his tinkerings in the kitchen. It was sensational, and I all but declared that such a beauty should only be savoured with a cup of strong, bitter coffee. You know, the perfect pairing for a brunch dish and that whole jazz.

Crunchy toast and sweet, syrupy jam to mellow out the tangy bite of the labneh. This was an unnamed, mysterious concoction that surprisingly worked. This is comfort food.

And then this was introduced proper to the brunch menu under an equally unassuming name of Cheese & Jam Toast ($14.00), and served up with a couple of slices of freshly made pita bread, and a thick slice of toasted sourdough. It was great, although less tangy than what I previously tried. Hopefully it’ll regain its kick. It’s a unique combination. Try it.

This is the Brunch Special ($24), also known as Artichoke’s take on the Ploughman’s Platter, with chicken terrine, labneh on the side, eggplant jam, homemade pickled vegetables, green olives, and thick slices of sourdough. It’s one of those iconic English dishes, so you can imagine that I was rather surprised seeing this among Artichoke’s Moorish influences.

I tell you, the chicken terrine is fantastic. It’s a lot lighter than most terrines, flaky, and certainly not mushy. It is seasoned perfectly with a dash of some spices for a beautiful fragrance. This isn’t pâté though, so while you should schmear some on a slice of bread, it is not going to spread like butter, but add a small bit of that sweet eggplant jam (I tasted the caramelized onions more than eggplant, so haters needn’t worry) and you’re good to go. This is essentially a cold dish, so if you’re hankering for one of those belly-warming brunch dishes that’ll send you back to bed right after you wake, you might want to consider their ever-popular scrambled eggs (with sides of mushrooms and feta cheese, or maple-glazed bacon chop, or Moroccan sausage).

Or you could check out the Ful.

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Japan, Tokyo 2011-12: Sushi Kanesaka

I have an age-old habit of recounting things in chronological order. I have to present things sequentially. It’s rather like a form of reassurance for myself, that I haven’t left anything out, and also because I’m a stickler for build-ups and dramatic climaxes.

For the better part of the last three months, I’ve been putting this off. This was, after all, the last – but most memorable – meal I had in Japan, so it has to come after I’ve blazed through a total of three cities’ worth of blog posts, because Tokyo was my last stop. Right?

But I can’t wait. I ache, and pine, and yearn, and crave. Perhaps writing it out will soothe the gaping maw that Sushi Kanesaka has left in my chest ever since, as if being lovesick from Japan isn’t enough.

Sushi Kanesaka is a two-starred Michelin restaurant, located in the Ginza district of Tokyo. It is, almost by definition of being a famous sushi restaurant, invariably excruciating to find. So what if it’s Michelin-starred? Before the rampaging Michelin people started sweeping across Japan, these sushi joints were already popular among locals, cleverly squirreled away in basements, near car parks, office buildings, and the like. You’d need to be local to know where these ninja restaurants were.

Googlemaps is useless. Heck, Googleman, is useless. After anxiously circling blocks of buildings in Ginza, and already late for our reservation, I had to phone up the restaurant for directions. Truthfully speaking, even after that, if one my of travel companions hadn’t been able to read the Hiragana on Kanesaka’s red banner, I’m certain we would have given up and sat on the sidewalk, and I would probably have been in tears.

We even wandered down into a tiny warehouse because my frazzled brain was convinced we’d be dining among crates of fruits and sake, which doesn’t sound half bad, but unfortunately wasn’t Kanesaka. A kind Japanese man had to lead us gaijin out and point us in the right direction. Boy was that hilarious.

Perhaps calling it a sushi ‘restaurant’ isn’t quite as accurate as describing it to be more of a sushi bar. It isn’t as tiny as Sushi Saito (7 seats), but still rather small at 14 seats. To put things into perspective, I almost walked right into my seat when we slid open the wooden, rice-paper entrance door. Yep, you read it right. I opened the door, and less than an arm’s length away, was my seat. Perfectly convenient. The three of us had to shuffle around each other to get comfortable. I was also almost responsible for injuring a French customer after I sent a chopstick flying through the air in the narrow confines, but that’s another story.

Our reservation was made about 3 months in advance, done by a friend (thank you Edward!) who was doing an exchange in Japan, and who could speak the language. We had to settle for lunch instead of dinner because of our flight to catch in the evening.

Sushi Kanesaka serves their Edomae-style sushi only as omakase – a phrase which very literally means “I’ll leave it to you”, and which also means that you entrust your stomach, and wallet, into the capable hands of the chef. There is no menu. You will not know what you will get. It is a gamble, except that you can be certain that it is, at the very least, skewed in your favour at Kanesaka. I do believe that it is this silent agreement, rather like a leap of faith, that enriches the dining experience and forms an intangible bond with the chef almost immediately from the moment you quote your price. It is personal.

Their lunch omakase go for a range, at ¥8,000, ¥10,000, ¥15,000. Prices may vary according to what ingredients are available that day, but not by very much. I’ve seen other posts on Kanesaka on the web quoting different prices. Lunch will, however, always be around ¥10,000 cheaper. That’s about S$170 cheaper. My travel buddies went for the ¥10,000, while I went all out with the ¥15,000.

I won’t lie, sushi omakases are a pricey affair. Be prepared to drop at least S$150. This was a meal I had saved up, apportioned, and reserved a sum of my travel budget for. This is also, after all, a two star restaurant, not that the sushi chefs in Japan actually give a flying rat’s ass about European culinary grading or anything.

This is going to be a picture-heavy post, and possibly my lengthiest one ever, but I’m sure you’ll understand since I have 18 courses to cover. You might also want to brace yourself and grab a cup of tea or two.  Read more of this post