I think all my fellow bloggers will agree, one of the best things about writing a blog is making new friends all over the world. As soon as I confirmed my trip to Japan, I emailed Nano, an ex-pat blogger from Georgia living in Tokyo. Nano and I had been reading each other’s blogs and interacting on social media for ages and we were keen to meet up for dinner one night during my time in her current home city.
A dedicated fellow food lover, Nano really went all out in her hospitality and she invited Mr S and I to meet her and Mr B at Michelin-starred Ukai-Tai in the chic Omotesando area of Tokyo. Not only had Nano booked one of the finest Teppanyaki restaurants in the city, she’d also arranged for us to have a private room with our own private chef! I wish I’d got more photos of the restaurant itself as the decor was so beautifully elegant and plush and some of the pillars and beams were made from 100 year old Zelkova trees first used in a Merchant’s home is Kanazawa 150 years ago.
With the quietly polite Japanese hospitality that we became accustomed to, we were led to a private room and the four of us sat comfortably around the iron plate that the chef would be using to prepare our food. There are three set menus available at Ukai-Tei Omotesando but as this was a special occasion with two bloggers meeting from across the world, it seemed only right to choose the most decadent option available.
While our husbands chose to accompany the meal with a wine pairing, Nano and I toasted our first meeting with a glass of champagne before starting on our first course.
A simply delicious morsel of caviar and fresh shrimp in jelly served in the most beautifully elegant glassware.
The next course on the set menu was an unctuous roasted foie gras which my three companions loved.
And as I find foie gras too rich, I enjoyed the lighter option of marinated red sea bream, which was very prettily plated.
Next our chef would begin preparing the seafood and firing up his iron grill, he started preparing Ukai-tei’s speciality, steamed abalone.
Now as abalone is an edible sea snail, it may not be for everyone…and not going to lie I felt a little queasy as our chef started preparing it on the grill, it opened up and moved around because it was still alive! But bear with me as abalone is considered a delicacy in Japan and as I’d eaten before I wasn’t too put off.
Covering it in seaweed and then layering on salt, the abalone is left to steam under a copper dome while we enjoyed a soup-like clam and custard mousse.
Next more theatre as our chef began to sauté our lobster before our eyes!
It was really rather magical seeing the skilled chef prepare such luxury ingredients and it was so much fun to watch as we got to know each other better. Nano and her husband, Mr B, told us the story of how they met and their eventual engagement and we swapped stories of favourite restaurants and travel destinations.
The final plate of lobster was so beautifully cooked and juicy, served in only a light stock to enhance the flavour.
And now back to that abalone, the chef broke open the salt and ask if we’d like to try the liver too. Well if were going to eat a mollusc we might as well go for it and try every part of it…
To be fair, everything including sea snail, tastes better with a butter sauce. I actually really like abalone as I enjoy the slightly chewy texture similar to squid or octopus. Having said that I imagine abalone that’s over cooked or prepared wrong can be really bad!
And now for the bit we’d all been waiting for, sampling the very finest wagyu beef! Wagyu, meaning Japanese cow, are highly sought after cattle which produce beef with beautifully marbled fat. Unlike regular ‘fatty meat’ the fat isn’t chewy or stringy but soft and with a low melting point, so when it’s cooked it is the most melt-in-the-mouth meat that you’ve ever tasted. The meat comes from four breeds of cattle produced in various regions throughout the country such as Kobe, Miyazaki and Ohmi and they are fed beer to stimulate their eating and receive regular massages. Lucky cows.
Ukai-Tei chooses the best meat on the day, picking the top quality cuts with the finest marbling and fat to meat ratio.
We watched as the chef carefully cooked the meat to perfection and then plated up each portion with precision. Regular readers will know, fish is usually my preferred protein but I was keen to sample this incredibly high quality beef. And of course we weren’t disappointed. No hint of chewiness despite the fat content, the meat had a silky texture and the most deliciously robust flavour. Easily the best meat I’ve ever had in my life.
Needless to say that was the consensus around the table as we savoured the delicious mouthfuls of meat.
Our final savoury dish was more of that delicious wagyu beef cooked sukiyaki style. Our chef took thinly slice beef and cooked it up in a hot-pot with vegetables, soy sauce and mirin.
Delicious, heart-warming comfort food…
Served with raw egg, miso soup and a bowl of sushi rice. So tasty but so filling!
Meanwhile our waiter, who’d been fantastic all night, served the final drinks with a theatrical flourish!
Can you think of literally anything better than a dessert room? Well Ukai-Tai has one! It was a really gorgeous room, beautifully appointed with soft furnishings and comfortable seats, just like on Christmas day when you’ve eaten too much food and need to loll on the sofa. After more substantial desserts we had the option of choosing from the petits four trolley, which felt deliciously retro!
And here’s the lovely lady herself again, we vowed to continue to stay in touch and I hope Nano and Mr B come to London so we can extend them the same kindness. Not quite ready for our night to end, and keen for some authentic Japanese drinking, I suggested we head to the Golden Gai in Shinjuku.
If you haven’t heard of the Golden Gai, it’s like a little blast from Tokyo’s past. A network of six very narrow alleyways joined together and housing around 200 teeny tiny bars.
Not all of them allow foreigners in so look out for English signage, find a random little bar and get yourself a sake! The place is just so random that I couldn’t possibly tell you the names of the ones we went into but I’d highly recommend it as it’s just so different to anything in the UK. There’s plenty of cool cosmopolitan bars in Tokyo but Golden Gai feels like a taste of old school Tokyo.
It was truly wonderful to make friends with a blogger in a city outside my own and I can’t wait to read more of Nano’s wonderful tales of Tokyo living, and remember the city through her vicariously. A big thank you to Nano and Mr B for organising such a wonderful night and making us feel like such welcome guests.
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(FYI there are other branches of Ukai-Tei throughout the city, check out the website for details)