Friday, August 10, 2012

Japan times - part 4: Bamboo Grassy teppanyaki, Ebisu, Tokyo

I recently spent two-and-a-half weeks in Japan, eating and drinking my way through a destination I've wanted to visit for more than a decade. This is the fourth of several posts of food, booze and sights in Japan.

Château Restaurant Joël Robuchon, Ebisu Garden Place, Ebisu, Tokyo, Japan
Ebisu was a place I'd not heard of before arriving there. I was familiar with the similar-sounding Yebisu beer so it made some sense that the two are very much related.

Ebisu truly is a beer centre, with the area actually named after the beer brand and the train station built more than a century ago for the purpose of beer distribution. In turn, the beer is named after the God of fish and merchants. 

At the entrance of the Beer Museum, Yebisu
Currently, Sapporo Breweries owns the Yebisu beer brand and also has its headquarters in the area, which boasts the Yebisu Beer Museum - my first beer museum visit!

War time Yebisu beer bottles, without branding
There's a small exhibition showcasing the history and development of one of Japan's oldest beer brewers, with short tours conducted in Japanese only.

It was here I learnt that Yebisu has long been a German style malt beer, with expert German brewers brought out to Japan in the early 1900s.

Half-half Yebisu
With two main Yebisu brews, the half-and-half was the easy option in the museum's beer tasting salon, where coin tokens purchased from a vending machine could be exchanged for beer and food.

The dark beer lent a rich bitterness to the mixed beer, which had so much head it took several sips before I actually got to any beer.

Dinner in the area was an elegant teppanyaki restaurant of which, we were informed, didn't throw bowls of rice and other food at diners. We chose to sit at the counter, directly facing the chef and the pristine teppan flat grill where almost every dish was cooked.

Cod fish cake from Bamboo Grassy, Ebisu, Tokyo, Japan
For ease, we went with one of three tasting menus on offer featuring a number of courses cooked before our eyes and served with condiments such as sesame and ponzu sauces. The starter was a pat of white fish blended with potato into a subtle, grilled croquette of sorts.

'Grant' sashimi salad
We had a little trouble working out what fish the pale pink sashimi starter was – I think “grant” was what was concluded – but with a zingy dressing and snow pea sprout salad, it didn’t really matter as it was such a delight to eat.

Grilled mushrooms, lotus root and eggplant
The array of earthy vegetables tasted better as a result of the extreme care they were given on the teppan. The fresh lotus root, eggplant and mushrooms were gently pushed around low heat on the grill, with the lotus root maintaining a satisfying soft crunch.

Teppanyaki chef and live prawns on the plate
The meal got very interesting, if not controversial, when the prawns came out – skewered on metal sticks but clearly still alive with their many waving legs. We realised just how alive they were when they hit the grill – jumping a good 20 centimetres or so straight up off the teppan.

As I looked on in shock, they continued to jump and squirm on the grill for about a minute, inciting disbelief and some pity for my dinner (though I’m not sure if prawns feel pain).

Grilled prawns
The prawns eventually cooked and curled up, at which point they were skilfully peeled with teppanyaki utensils and served, while the prawn shells remained for further cooking on the grill.

I’m not sure how the so-fresh-it’s-still-alive factor is supposed to improve the eating of prawns but shock aside, I don’t recall the prawns being any sweeter or firmer than I’m used to.

Grilled prawn shells
Not long after, we were served the now orange and crisp shells of the prawn, including the head and tail which have so much flavour to give it seems a complete waste to not do this all the time.

Grilled snapper with mushroom sauce
The seafood continued with a fillet of skin-on snapper, done a little French with a creamy, diced mushroom sauce sandwiched within the fish. Carefully cooked and flipped, I was pleasantly surprised with the unusual ingredient combination.

Sea urchin roe with grilled rice and nori seaweed
I’m not a huge fan of uni sea urchin roe but the effort in the next dish had to be rewarded. The rice here was actually the teppan component, having been seasoned, shaped and then crisped on its two sides.

Sitting on a square of toasted nori seaweed and beneath a helping of uni, this was essentially a new style of sushi that was best eaten in just a couple of mouthfuls.

Wagyu beef steak and garlic chips
Presented with a raw piece of wagyu steak and asked how we would like it cooked, the chef seemed suitably pleased at our requests for medium-rare.

After all sides of the steak were seared, the beef was cut into chopstick-appropriate bite-sized pieces and served with teppan-cooked garlic chips (thinly sliced cloves cooked slowly in puddles of oil).

My first steak eaten with chopsticks was buttery and tender as expected with buckets of character added by the garlic.

Okonomiyaki on the teppan grill
Our last savoury course was a modern style okonomiyaki; sometimes referred to as a Japanese pancake. The modern-yaki was filled with cabbage, soba noodles and pork, and cooked expertly to a golden surface beneath a gold cloche-like cover.

Modern okonomiyaki

Modern okonomiyaki with sauces and toppings
It was then covered in a sweet, brown okonomiyaki sauce, squiggled with Japanese mayonnaise and garnished with katsuoboshi dried bonito flakes and aonori seaweed – and easily makes the list of my favourite Japanese dishes.

It was, however, a carbohydrate-heavy and filling end to the meal which seems to be how the Japanese structure their meals.

Annin tofu - almond jelly pudding
Dessert options were a pistachio crème brulee, annin doufu almond jelly pudding and mine that actually involved the teppan: mango segments cooked in a passionfruit and orange liqueur sauce, served with vanilla ice cream.

Mango with passionfruit sauce and vanilla ice cream

Pistachio creme brulee
The Bamboo Grassy teppanyaki experience seemed very pure in concept, full of clean flavours and food that literally jumped off the grill. Ebisu was definitely an unexpected winner in Tokyo, and a must-visit for beer enthusiasts.

Plenty more Japan posts to come; in the meantime, see more photos on my Facebook page.


joey@FoodiePop said...

Oh yum! I wish I could visit Japan! Jealous. :-)

sydneycool said...

Tina - the food in Tokyo looks brilliant. Big question we know - what's the best place in Tokyo?

Vivian - vxdollface said...

I much prefer this kind of teppanyaki over the showy ones in Syd!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

The first thing I think of when I hear Ebisu is beer and the second thing is the end of the train line. The food looks good although I don't know how I'd react to the live prawns jumping so high! :o

Tina said...

Hi joey - Was a great trip I had, long overdue visit to Japan.

Hi sydneycool - It's all great, even the cheaper stuff! Could never pick a favourite, let alone the best...!

Hi Vivian - I'm too scared of someone throwing a bowl of rice at me!

Hi Lorraine - You're right in both counts in this case! The prawns were unsettling but it was a nice meal overall.

Richard Elliot said...

Looks like a great meal.

I'm not sure what I think about the cooking of the live prawns, surely they must have some feelings otherwise they wouldn't have jumped away from the heat?

Regardless I still think I would have eaten the tasty looking set menu!


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