East End Bread

Seasonal in London


Japanese Nimono in London


Disappointment in Crissier

Disappointment in Crissier

The George And Dragon, Cumbria


The Greenhouse

3 Paris Favourites

Read's and The Sportsman

4 London Favourites


Hong Kong




No reservations dining


34, Mayfair

Quo Vadis

Chinese service

The Sportsman, Seasalter


San Sebastian (again)

Russian restaurateurs in London

Food, Wine and Generosity

Look back in hunger 2011 in Review

New York's Vital Ingredients

A Frenchman In Cambodia

Brunswick House Cafe

Breakfast in New York

Inis Meain

Having Ferran Adria for dinner


First Courses

CUT - the shock of the new

Chiang Mai

Coco di Mama

Burgundy on the Costa Brava

How to design a kitchen

Eating in Edinburgh



The Bermondsey Bunch - Jose and Zucca

30 years in restaurants

New (and not so new) openings in Paris

Greek cuisine

How to be a sommelier

El Bulli and its legacy

Eating in Venice

Cay Tre, Soho - and its designer

Le Bernardin

Pollen Street Social

Make the place fit the space

Eating in Barcelona 2011

Last Supper at El Bulli


The Young Turks

Prune, New York

Seasonal eating at Hereford Road

Eating in Florence

Red Rooster, Harlem

Chinese food and wine

Black Pudding


Montpellier Chapter, Cheltenham

The chefs behind London's wine bars

Dinner by Heston

Sri Lanka

Hunan, London

San Sebastian

Le Bristol, Paris

Fish at The Square

Fergus Henderson, Hotelier

Where chefs eat together

Best meals of 2010

Afghani cuisine

Three-star bread in Paris


Essential equipment for cooking

Restaurant Accounting


Les Deux Salons

Phil Suarez and abc

English Game

Adria and his biographer


Why French isn't sexy


Eating in Cataluyna

A Wine-Pricing Manifesto

Loire Valley

The Gauls of Knightsbridge

The Thrill of the Grill

Home cooking for Singaporeans


How to cope in a recession

Frederic Simonin


The tricky second opening

Eating near Cork

Smoking in restaurants

Tapas tomes


Towpath, Pepito, Caravan



The importance of breakfast


Bistro Bruno Loubet

Cooking at the French Laundry

Ooh, aah Cantonese

Alice Waters

A night in Panzano

The Beckford Arms

Rice in Tokyo

France's most feared critic

The sad death of Rose Gray

More, Tooley St

The Ledbury and Marcus Wareing

Take a Friend for A Fiver

A waiter's perspective

5 London venues for large parties

Chefs at Christmas


Kitchen, W8

Highlights of 2009

5 venues for New Year

5 venues for Christmas

Marea, Locanda Verde and Maialino in New York

Monkey Bar and Le Caprice NY

Madame Troisgros

Dealing in chefs

Paris' Chinatown

Roka and Julien Philippe

Martine Saunier


Beaune, Burgundy

Eating in Napa

Waiting etiquette

Auberge in the Auvergne


Nick’s Italian Café, McMinville, Oregon

London restaurants and the recession

RN74, San Francisco


Finding sustainable fish

Crabshakk, Glasgow



Restaurants and the Crunch

Parisian Opening Hours

How to create a wine list

Gastronomy on the Seine


A trip to Istanbul

Pre-theatre London

Knife sharpeners


The Best Dim Sum In The World

Le Caprice's Personable Jesus

Menus by design

Eating near Verona

Two Tales From Tokyo

The McDonald's Way


The Congo in London

Cepage, Hong Kong

Jacques Genin, Chocolate Genius

Le Repaire du Cartouche

Danny Meyer's Chicken Soups

Tokyo Taste

English vegetables


Take a Friend For A Fiver - UPDATE



St Moritz, Switzerland

Take a Friend for A Fiver

Beat the Lunch Crunch

Essential Ingredients

Affordable New York

Corton, New York

Mixing it up with Robbie Bargh

Trevor Shelley


Restaurants to disappear?


Richard Corrigan comes to Mayfair

Private rooms

Giaconda News

New London Restaurants

Mrs Tee's magic mushrooms

Ballymaloe and nearby

Bringing Mexico to Notting Hill

The Credit Crunch hits London's restaurants

The Joys of Tapas

April Bloomfield

Good News for st John Lovers

The Giaconda Dining Room (and Flat White...and Milk Bar)

37 and out at Le Gavroche

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Aspinalls Club



El Celler de Can Roca - revisited

Colmar, Alsace

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Two Tales From Tokyo - 2009

Dinner at Robata Honten and Mikawa, on my last two nights in Tokyo, remain unforgettable, even several weeks after my return.

Although the food is very different in each, and the bill in the second was three times that of the first, they share vital common ingredients that have ensured their popularity over 30 years.

Both are presided over by gentlemen in their mid 60s although one is the epitome of a restaurateur, the other of a chef. Both exude old-world Japanese hospitality. Both inhabit buildings at least 60 years old, venerable in a city that has seen more than its fair share of recurrent structural damage. And both, as in so many of Tokyo’s restaurants, take only cash.

Robata Honten (pictured here by Jean-Pierre Gabriel)  is located in the narrow road, full of restaurants, that links the Imperial Hotel and the Tokyo International Forum. From the outside it displays two distinguishing features. It is at least one storey lower than those on either side, an obvious clue to its age in this crowded city, and while all the other restaurants along the street display plastic images of the dishes they offer, Robata Honten shows off a tray of fresh vegetables by its front door.

It was this, plus the bottle of wine in the window, which first made me stop and peer through its sliding door and what I saw intrigued me even further. There was a Buddha-like figure dressed in chef’s whites sitting behind a range of pots on the right-hand side while the whole interior seemed to be made up of dark and obviously well-worn wood. In the centre was a man wearing formal Japanese attire with, behind him, a strikingly tall woman in a dark kimono. No restaurant I had ever seen more resembled a film set.

Over the next two days I got to know Takao Inoue, the third generation of the same family to oversee Robata Honten, as much as our limited knowledge of each other’s language permitted.

Having studied Japanese and Chinese literature as well as film (he quipped that the well-known Belgian food photographer with me looked like the late director Stanley Kubrick), he took over this restaurant that his grandfather and father had owned before him. A man of conspicuous good taste, he explained in his gentle voice that all the paintings, as well as the ceramic plates and bowls on which the food is served, have been made by friends of his from around Japan.

The restaurant is narrow with a low ceiling and a steep staircase that leads to two further floors. The first is entirely Japanese with three private tables and tatami matting, the second a mixture of Japanese and Western seating with a considerable collection of Inoue’s books around the walls.

All the food is served from the ground floor, where the chef sits in front of his robata or grill. Between this and the counter where customers can sit are about 25 dishes full of food from which you make your selection. This is then detailed by the lady at the cash desk and brought to your table elegantly laid out on an equally elegant dish.

When I asked Inoue what his style of food was his response was ‘Japanese family style but not too traditional’ and this does seem to be a very accurate description. There are vibrant salads of mizuna, asparagus, sardines and plums; trays of fresh fish such as herring, octopus, wakasagi (similar to smelt) and yellowfish with daikon; finally, there is a string of hot dishes which included pork belly with hard boiled eggs and star anise and a wonderfully thick stew of oysters stuffed with enoki and shimeji mushrooms. When I complimented Inoue on this last dish, he bowed and said 'Thank you. I like mushrooms, too.' Dinner ends (it is open from 5pm-11pm seven nights a week) with excellent green tea and, most unusually, some sweetmeats.

It would be impossible to calculate how many customers the three generations of Inoue gentlemen have looked after over the years (although he told me with some pride that the French actress, Juliette Binoche, had eaten there the night before me). It is, however, much easier to put a relatively precise figure not just on how many customers Tetsuya Saotome has cooked for at his small Mikawa tempura restaurant but also roughly how many pieces of tempura he has cooked in the 33 years he has stood next to his nabe, or tempura pot. 'I have cooked for about 50,000 guests in that time', he explained with a chuckle, 'so that means with about ten different pieces per person about half a million pieces of tempura in total.'

Saotome-san, as he is referred to because of his expertise, can be so precise because the initial Mikawa over which he presides in the evening (there is a second site in Roppongi and a third full of his antiques due to open in late spring) is so small. There are nine seats at the counter and two small private rooms that seat a further 13.

While two young men look after the customers, another two in the tiny kitchen behind prepare the fish and vegetables for Saotome-san to transform. He stands at the apex of the counter in front of a chopping board, with a bowl containing the flour and egg next to it and just to the right, his magical nabe. Alongside are pairs of long-handled bamboo and metal chopsticks that with a strainer form his ‘batterie de cuisine’, while just below are large tins of sesame and salad oils. As cooking techniques go, it could not be more minimalist.

We began with two shrimps which he cooked in seconds and I was told to eat just as quickly with a dash of salt, pureed daikon and soy sauce. There then followed over the next couple of hours his tempura rendition of the head of the shrimp, squid, various local Japanese fish, conger eel, asparagus, and, best of all in my opinion, a single plump shiitake mushroom. The final two dishes were a bowl of miso soup with clams, to clean the kidneys, and a bowl of rice topped with tiny scallops cooked in a tempura batter that was so good that I finished it with immense regret.

Saotome can, I was warned, be as closed as one of his clams but that night he was wonderfully chatty, a tribute perhaps to my attractive Japanese translator. Like Inoue, he has a most lovely face and his boyish grin reveals the continued passion he obviously feels for his particular culinary art. 'I’m not frying', he explained, 'but baking in oil and my role when the fish is in the pot is to calculate the right combination of air, water and batter. I think that I am able to see the scales on the fish that other people cannot see and then just coat each piece in the appropriate amount of batter. After that the trick is simply to count the seconds the fish should be cooked for.' Like all artists, he made it sound rather simple.

I also detected in our three-way dialogue a sense of frustration on his part that while sushi chefs are now considered to represent the very finest Japanese cooking can offer, the charms of his particular discipline have been forgotten. He laughed when I told him that in Japanese restaurants in London tempura dishes tend to be coarse and invariably the cheapest dishes on the menu.

Saotome-san knows how to charge but rightly so. My meal here was certainly better balanced than the sushi I ate at Jiro, considered to be the city’s finest sushi restaurant. Less protein; less filling rice; and, above all, a sense that this simple combination of batter, oil and one man’s sensitivity can produce genuine culinary magic.

Robata Honten, 1-3-8 Yuraku-Cho, Chiyoda-Ku, Tokyo. Tel: 03-3591-1905. Approx 5,000 yen per person.

Mikawa, 3-4-7 Nihonbashi-Kayabacho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo. Tel: 03-3664-9843. Approx 15,000 yen per person.