Ravishing ‘snow-aged’ beef at Andaz Tokyo Hotel
THE seaside resort town of Kamakura, with its Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, peaceful gardens and bamboo groves, is only an hour by train from Tokyo, and an ideal weekend retreat.
We set off for Kamakura on a Sunday, planning to visit Hokoku-ji Zen Buddhist temple, also known as the Bamboo temple.
Situated within a residential area a bus ride from Kamakura station, Hokoku-ji is famed for the mystical bamboo grove flourishing behind the main temple.
Deep within the bamboo garden is a tea house serving matcha tea (oxidant-rich green tea processed from finely-ground green tea leaves).
For 500 yen you can sip matcha tea from a bowl, and achieve inner peace, as the breeze rustles through the bamboo leaves surrounding the tea house, and birds chirp in the filtered sunlight.
Well, we never reached that peaceful state of being, as we stopped off for lunch before visiting the temple, and the last orders for matcha tea had already been taken when we arrived. Kamakuragosan, the rustic little restaurant where we had lunch, specialised in udon (flour) and soba (buckwheat) noodles, served either hot or cold. Ajisai, a set menu costing 1 100 yen ($10), of miso soup, sticky rice with vegetables and miniscule hints of chicken, a tiny dish of boiled rape blossoms with soy sauce, and three slices of pickled radish, was refreshing rather than filling.
George fared better with a hot bowl of soba noodles, with grated yam, edible wild vegetables and mushrooms, also 1 100 yen.
As always in Japan, customer service was great, and we were made to feel very welcome. We made low bows in response to our host as we left, and set off for the Bamboo temple.
In addition to a few tourists, a group of pretty young Japanese women wearing traditional kimonos were visiting the temple.
We admired a statue of Buddha inside the temple, and then climbed a steep flight of steps leading past ponds, streams and manicured shrubs, on the way to the bamboo grove.
Kosoan Teahouse, literally translated as Old Mulberry Hut, is one of the best kept secrets in the busy shopping suburb of Jiyugaoka in Tokyo. It is also a favourite place to enjoy matcha tea in traditional surroundings.
If you see a carved wooden sign saying ‘open’, in front of 100 year old wooden house, and follow it down a winding path, you’ll find a tranquil Japanese garden and the entrance to Kosoan Teahouse.
Take off your shoes, and you’ll be escorted over tatami mats to be seated inside on dark blue cushions at low tables. In addition to matcha tea, the menu includes amazake (wine made from fermented rice), and strawberry milkshakes, served with Japanese sweets. If matcha is not your cup of tea, you can always order a cappuccino, iced or hot.
One of the most impressive meals we had was a celebratory dinner in the Tavern Grill and Lounge at the 5 star Andaz Tokyo Toranomon Hills Hotel. As we stepped out of the lift on the 51st floor, smiling waitstaff welcomed us and escorted us to our table.
Marvelling at the sleek, modern architecture with its futuristic outlook and aerial views of Tokyo, I could have been standing in the beautiful sky tower in Tom Cruise’s film, Oblivion.
We all opted for the Evening Box (4 800 yen), named for the appetizer, served as a bento box with 8 small compartments.
Shrimp cocktail, fried chicken with wasabi, prosciutto ham and fruit, seafood salad, fresh cheese and tomato and a green salad, all freshly made, teased our palates. The main course, grilled Japanese beef, was made from ‘snow-aged’ beef and prepared by executive chef Shaun Keenan, an Australian who has spent the last 18 years in Japan.
The Japanese science of snow-aging matures beef for 25 days in a natural Yukimuro refrigerator, and gives the beef a melt-in-the-mouth quality with a buttery finish.
The flavour of Chef Keenan’s beef was ravishing, and the plating of the dish with white asparagus, micro radishes and horse radish mustard sauce made this a stand-out dish.
Dessert of the day, however, consisting of a handful of fresh strawberries and two miniature eclairs, was only mildly impressive.
When visiting Japan, enjoy sushi, edible wild plants and miso soup, but be sure to taste the Japanese beef. It is something out of the ordinary. — A Matter Of Taste with Charlotte Malakoff
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