Sasagin – Late Summer Goodness at a Favourite Izakaya

Grilled Sanma fish

Grilled Sanma fish

Every time I visit Tokyo, I look forward to squeezing in dinner at Sasagin especially when there are seasonal goodies to try. This time round the Sanma fish (or Pacific Saury in english and, according to Wikipedia, also known as the mackerel pike) was in season and it was simply grilled with salt. The Sanma is an oily fish but much less fishy than mackerel or sardine. And when its grilled just right with salt, all you need is a squeeze of lime or lemon. While also known for a great selection of sake, Sasagin continues to amaze with food that is far loftier in standards that most izakaya bars while keeping prices reasonable (around USD 50 per person for a set meal). It’s nice to see this izakaya receive recognition from the Michelin Guide, which added Sasagin to its list of Bib Gourmand eateries in the city in 2015.

Entrance to Sasagin

Entrance to Sasagin

Sasagin is located near the Yoyogi-Uehara subway station, which is on the Odakyu subway line and just a few stops west of Omotesando. So if the cab fare from Ginza is a bit steep, it’s actually pretty easy to find using the subway. Sasagin is open only for dinner from 5pm Monday through Saturday (closed Sundays). For more details and photos on Sasagin, please see my earlier blog. And for contact information see the Guru Navi site. Lest I forget, Sasagin has a great selection of sake but I can’t do justice on this as alas, I’m not a sake drinker. I just come to this isakaya for the good food.

Our omakase course started with mixed starters

Our omakase course commenced with mixed starters that included duck breast, sushi, and crunchy fish eggs

Chilled tomato soup - that's a whole roasted tomato in broth

Chilled tomato – that’s a whole roasted tomato in broth

Sashimi course - tuna and mackerel

Sashimi course – tuna, buri (amberjack) and mackerel

Leeks and fish soup

Leeks and  fish ball soup

Fried fish, which followed our grilled Sanma

Fried fish, which followed our grilled Sanma

Dessert - simple but amazingly flavourful grapes - one of the best things about summer in Japan

Dessert – simple but amazingly flavourful grapes – one of the best things about summer in Japan

The sake master is behind the bar

The sake master (and Sasagin’s owner) is behind the bar

Hanamaru – Best Conveyor Belt Sushi has a Ginza Branch

Lightly torched Saba - mackerel

Lightly torched Saba – mackerel

I’d happily recommend Hanamaru to anyone looking for good sushi in Tokyo and now that its Ginza branch is open, it’s even better. This is conveyor belt sushi that renders a visit to a Michelin-starred sushi-ya unnecessary for the most part, especially as I could eat almost 12 times at Hanamaru for the cost of a single meal at the loftier restaurants (JPY 2,500 which is around USD 25 left me very full and happy enough to cry). The fish is fresh and Hanamaru serves some Hokkaido specialities that reflects its origins which you may not get at other sushi bars including an amazing fried chicken.

I first encountered Hanamaru at the Kitte Building in the Marunouchi area on the recommendation of my friend Tom but the popularity with the office crowd at lunch time meant lining up for up to one hour to get a seat. This meant having a quick meal was near impossible. So I was really happy to find out from Tom that they opened a second branch in the Tokyu Plaza Ginza (on the 10th floor) where there was little to no queue. Basically the tourists in Ginza haven’t caught on yet, which is great.

Hanamaru has a menu listing out most of its sushi and other dishes available and you can order from this list as some of it may not show up on the conveyor belt. There are also daily specials which they shout out when available. Unfortunately, if you can’t understand Japanese, the experience is diminished. This remains the main drawback. However, I suppose ignorance is bliss as you can’t miss what you haven’t tried.

For more info see Hanamaru’s website.

Squid sushi

Squid sushi

Salmon belly

Torched fatty salmon

Zuke Maguro - seared tuna marinated in soy and sake

Zuke Maguro – seared tuna marinated in soy and sake

Bincho Maguro - fatty white tuna

Bincho Maguro – fatty white tuna

Chopped tuna

Chopped tuna

Hokkaido style fried chicken - super!

Hokkaido style fried chicken – super!

Dashi-maki tamago, fluffy omelet

Dashi-maki tamago, fluffy omelet

Just a small portion of our consumption

Just a small portion of our consumption

Mid-Autumn Lights at Gardens by the Bay

Giant lantern display of Hou Yi in front of the Supertrees

Giant lantern display of Hou Yi in front of the Supertrees

The giant light displays at the Gardens by the bay are a nice reminder of the Mid-Autumn Festival that used to be one of my favourite childhood festivals. Every evening until September 18, these “lanterns” will be lit highlighting the various folktales that surround the festival. In addition, as the Singapore Art Festival is also going on, Ron Arad’s 720 degrees art installation is set up in The Meadow of the Gardens. The installation consists of projected images on a “curtain” of silicon rods. The images can be viewed inside and outside the installation. Both events made for some fun photos.

Chang-E and her moon

Chang-E and her moon

Inscribing messages and matchmaking

Inscribing messages and matchmaking

The Supertrees light display

The Supertrees light display with the mid-Autumn lights

Lots of people turned out on the Saturday night

Lots of people turned out on the Saturday night

Ron Arad's 720 degrees

Ron Arad’s 720 degrees

Looking at the images from the inside...

Looking at the images from the inside…

...but I think being on the outside was more fun

…but I think being on the outside was more fun

A close ups of the images as they dance over the silicon rods

A close up of an image as it dances over the silicon rods

I liked the shadows made by the people watching inside the installation

I liked the shadows made by the people watching inside the installation

Gardens by the Bay’s Flower Power

Tourists take a selfie underneath the orchid display

Visitors take a selfie underneath an orchid display

Over the past few months, Gardens by the Bay has put on some temporary displays at its Flower Dome that have been fun to photograph. First there was Lilytopia in June and then the Orchid Extravaganza that was part of the Singapore Garden Festival. Having missed the events earlier this year (tulips, cherry blossoms), I now make a point to check their website for upcoming features. I think it’s time I bought their annual membership!

A decorated vespa set amidst the lilies in Lilytopia

A decorated vespa set amidst the lilies in Lilytopia

Overhanging orchids - definitely looks like a took a lot of time to put these displays together

Overhanging orchids – definitely looks like it took a lot of time to put these displays together

The colourful cacophony of lilies were accompanied by some fun 1960s music

The colourful cacophony of lilies were accompanied by some fun 1960s music

The lilies on the floor of the Flower Dome

The central display area of the Flower Dome is covered with Lilies

More photos from Lilytopia below (there may be some from their regular display).

More photos from the Orchid Extravaganza:

Otowa Yakitori – My Vote for Singapore’s Best Yakitori

Otowa 2016-08-05

Chicken with leek yakitori

Otowa Yakitori is possibly Singapore’s best yakitori restaurant – it’s an authentic, hole-in-the-wall place with no frills but an intense attention to the quality of its food. The chicken skin is grilled evenly crispy and the quail eggs melt-in-your mouth.

As a measure of its authenticity, Otowa serves a variety of raw chicken which is only possible because the restaurant gets its chicken delivered on the day that it’s slaughtered. However, it’s the cooked food that I like.

Located on the third floor of Orchard Plaza, the restaurant seats up to 12 diners around a counter (so reservations are recommended). The only drawback is that its chairs are possibly some of the most uncomfortable ever. So it’s a good thing the food is served efficiently. Owner-chef Yoshino cooks the yakitori with the attention of a surgeon. He’s not the type of chef you’d joke with while he’s cooking. That’s left to his wife Yuki who is perfectly amiable and handles the preparation and also makes good sake recommendations. They’ve been around for 10 years, focusing on honing their food to near-perfection.

Duck foie gras, the exterior is grilled crispy

Duck foie gras, the exterior is grilled crispy

Besides the various chicken yakitori, Otowa also serves wagyu, and duck foie gras. The foie gras is simply grilled with just a hint of balsamic glaze on the plate. The home made fishcake is a treat and I’d highly recommend this on the occasions that it is available. And if you’re looking for carbs, there are rice stew and noodles available but I’ve not tried this. Some of the starters they have include boiled chicken skin with ponzu sauce that is served cold and finely sliced with lots of spring onions and sesame. My husband likes the raw octopus with wasabi.

There’s a choice of having the chicken grilled with a slightly sweetish sauce (like a bbq sauce) or with salt. Generally I’m happy with the salt but the chicken meat balls with the sauce are really good. Overall, I’d say the must haves are the quail eggs, chicken skin and the chicken tail (“bonjiri”). And then there are the chicken wings and meat balls too. Most of the yakitori is around SGD4-5 per stick while the foie gras is SGD18 for the piece and the beef is SGD28.

Otowa is open only for dinner (no lunch) on Monday through Saturday (closed Sundays). Call (+65-67335989) to make reservations.

Boiled chicken skin with ponzu sauce

Boiled chicken skin with ponzu sauce

Raw octopus in a light wasabi sauce with some pickles

Raw octopus in a light wasabi sauce with some pickles

The house-made fishcake is grilled

The home made fishcake is also served grilled

Gingko nuts

Gingko nuts

Chicken meatballs - a bit of cartilage adds crunch

Chicken meatballs – a bit of cartilage adds crunch

Quail eggs

Quail eggs

Bonjiri - the tail

Bonjiri – the tail

Chicken wing

Chicken wing

Chicken skin

Chicken skin

Grilled wagyu

Grilled wagyu