Kanazawa

Our next stop on our honeymoon was to Kanazawa, a lovely city with beautiful old streets, gardens and a castle to boot. More popular with local Japanese tourists than with foreigners, we really enjoyed the wide open spaces offered by the gardens, well-laid out roads and lack of crowds.

To get there from Hakone, we journeyed back by bus to Odawara then took the train to Tokyo. We had an unfussy lunch at Eataly in Tokyo station, fancying a break from Japanese food. Meat and veg-topped focaccia filled our tummies whilst sfogliatella filled my gastronomic soul. I gave in to the temptation at the dessert counter. My, it was the most delicate pastry filled with heavenly orange-scented cream which shattered in my mouth and coated my lips with icing sugar.

Because our journey to Kanazawa was going to take most of the day, we got some takeaway bento boxes from Ekibenya Matsuri for dinner. The crowds in the shop were unbelievable. I grabbed a beef bento box for Gareth and a seafood one for myself and hurried right out.

The bullet trains travel so quickly that you can actually feel the G-force pushing against you in the train. And I’ve said this before already but I couldn’t get over how punctual the trains were. Like clockwork.

From Kanazawa station we took a taxi to our hotel, The Square Hotel, and had a very chilled rest of the evening. Our hotel was functional and clean with a bonus view of the mountains from our window. There was also an onsen available to use with robes provided in the room but I didn’t check it out that time.

The next day, we had a very nice breakfast at Curio Espresso and Vintage Design Cafe, a place serving excellent coffee and breakfast sandwiches. I had the bacon and egg sandwich and Gareth had the pulled pork sandwich, both of which came in freshly baked rolls, crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. We had an extremely pleasant meal there before taking a leisure stroll to Kanazawa Castle.

Just outside the cafe there were interesting little shops with cool street artwork to admire.

On our way to the castle we walked through Oyama Shrine, a quiet peaceful shrine with a beautiful compact garden surrounding it.

Within the grounds of the castle and park itself is Gyokusen’inmaru Park, a beautiful park stunning in its simplicity and botanical architecture. This was the first time I had seen pine tree branches being supported by tentlike frames of ropes. The way the branches had been shaped in tiers was quite a triumph in gardening. Japanese garden styles are so interesting and different to the English gardens I’ve been used to seeing. Whilst English gardens have a wilder, freer style to them Japanese gardens are much more structured and  disciplined, both beautiful in their own right.

Kanazawa castle was the seat of the feudal lords from the Maeda clan who ruled the Kaga region. Much of the castle has been rebuilt, with the oldest structures of some storehouses and the Ishikawa-mon Gate being the only ones remaining from the 18th century. The castle and grounds are well worth a visit. You can explore the insides of a gate itself, walk around the gardens, climb up a small hill to look at the view over Kenrokuen and generally have a pretty chilled couple of hours there. You can buy a separate ticket to have a look inside the castle but we chose to just explore the grounds instead.

Across the road from Kanazawa Castle is Kenroku-en Gardens, one of the most beautiful gardens in all of Japan. They were designed and developed by the same Maeda clan and used to form the outer gardens of the castle itself. The gardens were quite a bit busier than the castle but again worth a visit to enjoy Japanese garden design in splendid form.

The cherry blossoms were only just coming out but were clearly very popular with lots of people (us included!) flocking there to take photos of them. 
These beautiful and clearly very old pine trees were supported by solid wooden poles, in themselves creating beautiful shapes against the spread of the branches and pine needles. They are intended to protect the branches from sagging and breaking under heavy snow in winter. We then doubled back on ourselves (there was a lot of walking that day!) to head to Omicho Market, where our lunch destination was. Quite a lot of the stalls had closed for the day by the time we got there, but there were still a few selling fresh seafood, including massive crabs with the longest legs I’ve seen.

Iki-iki Tei is a small stall tucked away in a corner of the market selling kaisen don, fresh sashimi on a bed of rice. The set is served with green tea and a fish broth made presumably from the bones of the fish they serve.

If I remember correctly, the system is you write your name or give your name to be added to a list, then wait until you’re called in.

Although working in a cramped and clearly very busy place, the lady behind the counter was so friendly and even offered to take a photo of us. I liked how they served the sashimi separately on a plate perched on the bowl of rice. The fish was incredibly fresh and delicious. The fish broth came served with bones and all. No pandering to tourist palates here!

After lunch we walked to the Kazuemachi Chayagai and Higashi Chaya districts, atmospheric old buildings and streets built in the Edo period when they used to be teahouse districts. Today amongst these old wooden buildings there are not only teahouses, but shops and restaurants to enjoy. Gareth bought a bottle of sake from a specialty shop in Higashi Chaya. We much preferred walking around Kazuemachi Chayagai – as far as I could see, the buildings were mainly private residences with fewer shops and consequently fewer tourists around.

There were lots of tourists dressed up in traditional clothing walking around. You can rent them from specialty kimono shops, mainly geared towards tourists. At first it was quite exciting as we thought they could be maiko or geiko (geishas) but after seeing a real geiko on the street in Kyoto later on, I could really tell the difference in the quality of the costume, the hair and the make-up.


After all that walking, we had a good old rest back at the hotel before going out again for dinner. This time we went to The Godburger which is situated along a street by a canal. That street had lots of other places to eat as well, and made a pleasant walk in the evening. Our burgers were really tasty, and although they left out the avocado in my burger we still had a very enjoyable meal there. 

Look at my more conventionally sized meal against Gareth’s behemoth of a burger!

After another night at the hotel we headed to Kyoto the next day, our last leg of the honeymoon. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Kanazawa, and would love to head back one day.

Birthday dinner at Ebi Sushi

I was treated to a lovely birthday dinner at Ebi Sushi in Derby over the weekend. Japanese food is one of my absolute favourites and being brought to probably the best Japanese restaurant in the East Midlands got my tastebuds all a-tingling on the days leading up to it. The story goes that the chef was brought over from Japan to cater to the Japanese staff working over at the nearby Toyota factory, so authenticity is guaranteed!

It’s an unassuming frontage that greets you and inside is again a modest affair with bamboo blinds over the windows and simple art on the walls, plain tables peppering the floor and the sushi bar tucked in the corner. But the food more than makes up for it.

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We started off with complimentary fried mackerel in a vinegar and onion sauce. This was light and fresh and whetted our appetite for what was coming up.

Sashimi platter

There was a choice of three, five or seven fish types for the sashimi platter and we opted for the middle one which came with sea bream, tuna, turbot, salmon and yellowtail. The pieces of fish were all incredibly fresh and sweet. The salmon, tuna and yellowtail especially ate like butter. My favourite was the yellowtail whilst G really enjoyed the tuna.

Pickles

The pickles were a lovely crunchy counterpart to the fish were were having and we thought they were daikon, and maybe umeboshi (salt plum) and aubergine. Maybe I should be a better blogger and ask for more details before eating the food.

Tuna belly roll

Next up was a tuna belly roll with spring onion. The nori sheets had been toasted before rolling up the sushi and gave it a lovely depth of flavour. We could have easily eaten another plate of these, they were so good.

Soft shell crab

After the cold dishes, the hot dishes came out in succession and first up was the eagerly awaited soft shell crab. We missed having this when we were recently down in Cornwall and were so happy to be able to order it this time – it was just as anticipated. Hot and crunchy with a light greaseless batter encasing the soft sweet crab.

Chicken yakitori and miso black cod

Trust G to order chicken skewers for a fancy meal out. His words, not mine! But boy, were these yakitori such a good choice. Pieces of chicken thighs were grilled and coated in a sticky sweet and salty yakitori sauce with lovely flavours of sake coming through. My only very slight criticism was that the meat could have been charred a little more, but the flavour of that sauce was an unexpected delight.

Black cod with miso was again incredibly fresh and this time had a great charry flavour to it courtesy of the grill. The unctous flakes of fish came slid down our throats very easily indeed.

Pork tonkatsu

Tonkatsu is a deep fried pork cutlet coated with panko and this was a superior version of it. That chef’s got a great hand with the fryer. We poured tonkatsu sauce over this liberally and savoured every single morsel. By now we were pretty full but there were still two more dishes to come.

Cold soba noodles

I think having cold soba noodles on a very wintry-like night was not the best idea, and even though I still enjoyed it, it was perhaps a better choice for warmer weather. Saying that, the buckwheat noodles were perfectly al dente and the dipping sauce was a light savoury accompaniment to the noodles. G had a much better choice of tempura prawns with soba in hot miso soup which was again delicious. We were struggling a little from over-ordering by now, but had dessert on one person’s insistence. Heh.

Japanese cheesecake

We shared a slice of Japanese cheesecake which was a baked cheesecake layer topped with a very generous amount of cream. This was off-menu, offered by our lovely waitress but I did wonder whether a green tea or black sesame ice-cream would have made a lighter finish to the meal.

Onigiri 1

Onigiri 2

After our bill was settled, our waitress presented us with two onigiri to take home. What a lovely touch to a wonderful meal. I ate mine for breakfast as suggested, the bit in bed was my idea. The packed rice was mixed with bonito flakes and had a tangy pickle centre to it and I thoroughly enjoyed the last of my amazing birthday meal.

I highly recommend Ebi Sushi to anyone looking for authentic Japanese food. The pricing of the menu would suggest special occasion meals but if you stick to the hot cooked portion of the menu that would keep the bill more reasonable. Parking is conveniently located directly across the street. We went on Bonfire Night so it was a bit quieter than usual but be sure to book a table in advance as it usually gets very busy.

Ebi Sushi
59 Abbey Street
Derby DE22 3SP
Tel: 01332 265656
Open: Tues-Sat 6-10pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birthday @Higoi

For my birthday earlier this month we went to an old favourite, Higoi. The restaurant is situated in the most unlikely of places, smack dab in the middle of student land sharing a street with the local Sainsbury’s, kebab shop and Ladbroke’s. It’s inconspicuous – blink and you’ll miss it as you drive by. And I kinda like it that way. It feels like a serendipitous find every time I go back. Higoi has been around for 21 years and a restaurant that has lasted this long in that particular area in the midlands has to be something special. Inside is decorated in a cosy Japanese theme, seating probably 20 at most. There’s a cute low table and cushions seating two at the front. We tried it once and it was so uncomfortable, we went back to sitting ‘Western style’ on normal chairs!

We usually go for one of their dinner courses which never fail to impress but this time we decided to splurge on their kaiseki, the taster dinner. My oh my, every dish was exquisitely prepared and presented and all of them excepting one were scrumptious. The only drawback was that the first few dishes took a while to arrive and we had to wait quite a long time in between. Obviously portion sizes were small and combined with the waiting time you’d almost feel hungry again by the time the next course came along. That speeded up towards the end though, as the chef had pretty much prepared everything by then. We didn’t end the meal feeling stuffed as we usually did after one of their dinner courses, but just full enough. Which could be a good thing. Not so good if you’re gluttons like us. Service was their usual good standard and they very nicely introduced each course to us (the saddo foodie that I am, I had to write down each one. The website doesn’t go into too many specifics).

Anyway, on to the good bits. Pardon the blurriness of some shots, I couldn’t wait to dig in!

 

Zensai: Scallops, fish roe, salmon roll

 

Suimono: Sea urchin soup

To be honest, I couldn’t differentiate between the sea urchin and the shiitake mushrooms but it was delicious nonetheless.

 

Sashimi: Raw scallops and prawns with wasabi mayo

 

Yakimono: Black cod with miso sauce

This was so sweet and melt-in-your-mouth, I wanted more!

 

Agemono: Soft shell crab and scallop tempura

So. Good.

 

Nimono: Salmon and Cucumber roll; Prawn and Octopus roll

The salmon and cucumber roll was alright, but the prawn and octopus roll was yummy.

 

Sunomono: Salmon wrapped in chinese cabbage

I think this is where the chef started to run out of ideas, pretty uninspiring tastewise, but credit for the presentation!

 

Mushimono: Prawn and sea bass

Back to high quality deliciousness!

Rice (gohan), pickles (tsukemono) and miso soup (misoshiru)

The prawn and sea bass dish was served with the above

 

Okashi: Dessert of mochi, ice-cream and dorayaki (I think)

This was good, although the dorayaki was quite dry.

The kaiseki dinner has to be ordered two days in advance and is only available from Tuesdays to Thursdays. Everything on the a la carte menu is good! My favourites are the sushi and sashimi dinner, sushi/sashimi moriawase, agedashi tofu or nasu, iro iro maki and hitsumabusi (their current special). The sashimi dinner was my first taste of raw scallop and it was sweet heaven melting in my mouth. During weekdays you can walk in without a reservation but it gets pretty busy during the weekends, so book in advance. On the plus side you can always get takeaway for a 15% discount! Check out their website.