Friday, December 27, 2013

Memories of Japan, Sukiyabashi Jiro and Gora Kadan over a roast chicken dinner


On Thursday night, my old friend T and her husband came over for dinner. I made French-style roast chicken, barbecued ribs, and all kinds of other comfort food for a relaxing meal.

There was much to catch up on as I hadn't seen them in a while.

They live in Singapore, and I haven't been there in a while -- although I'm actually sailing into Singapore next year, sooner rather than later, in my never-ending Travelife.

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THINKING ABOUT 
THE BUBBLE DAYS OF 2008

We reminisced about a lot of things, including a trip they made to Tokyo in 2008 -- just a few months before the global economy crashed and changed the world forever.

It was still a bubble when they visited Tokyo from Singapore, and the Michelin guide for Tokyo had just been released for the first time as well.


ONCE UPON A TIME,
THE BEST-KEPT FOODIE SECRET

So they made a list of all of Tokyo's top-rated restaurants and got their concierge at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo in Roppongi Hills to book these for them.

In 2008, Tokyo's good restaurants were still pretty much a secret to the rest of the world, as many of these really just became well-known outside of Japan after the Michelin guide came out.



DINNER AT SUKIYABASHI JIRO

Anyway, one of the restaurants they visited on that trip was Sukiyabashi Jiro, a hole-in-the-wall in the general Ginza area that's considered by many to be the world's best sushi shop.

It has enjoyed Michelin three-star status since 2008.

This was way before many foodies started trooping here, so very little information was known about it to foreigners.

So my friend and her husband committed the first faux pas of asking Jiro, the man himself, for the menu.


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NO CHOICES FOR ANYONE

Sukiyabashi Jiro has no typical menu, you see.

If you're lucky enough to get a seat at its counter -- the waitlist is at least six months -- then you shouldn't have to discuss things like menu and costs.

At least that's how they make you feel.


Apparently, Jiro's son had told them in simple English: "No menu. Sushi, sashimi or both."


FAUX PAS #2

Then, their next mistake was to keep on eating everything without saying "stop." 

The result was a pretty stupendous bill for a lot of sushi -- yes, stupendous, even for high flyers like themselves -- scribbled hastily on a piece of scrap paper.




After the initial shock, they were going to take out the credit card, when they were told that Sukiyabashi Jiro only deals in cash.

No AMEX or Visa cards here.

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CASH ONLY

The bill was something like US$600 for a dinner for two, even back then. So they had to scramble for cash. Not too many people have US$600 in their pockets when they go out to dinner, after all.

Fortunately, they had just enough between them to cover the bill.

But the sight of two foreigners frantically scrounging their wallets, bags and pockets for cash must've been amusing for the other clients -- all of whom were Japanese.

A WONDERFUL RECOMMENDATION



The other thing we laughed about was how I'd recommended the ryokan Gora Kadan in Hakone for them on this particular trip.

Gora Kadan is one of Japan's most famous and best hot springs resorts, and probably its most glamorous ryokan. I like it a lot, although I haven't been back in years now.



Anyway, my friend T vividly remembers how I'd so happily recommended Gora Kadan to them, saying "You must go there if you're going to Hakone."

During the bubble, Gora Kadan was simply impossible to book as it was full almost every single night. And if you got a reservation here, it was a very big deal akin to winning the lottery.

Yes, it was a very strange feeling, but it's quite the norm in Japan among top establishments, for some reason.

You go as a paying customer, but when you get your reservation, you actually feel like thanking them for allowing you to stay there and pay a small fortune for the experience.



FORGETTING THE MOST IMPORTANT THING

My friend and her husband loved it -- everything from the room and the outdoor bath to the cuisine.

But when it came to payment time, again, the bill was rather shocking.

Fortunately they take credit cards here.



And on Thursday night, she said to me: "You just recommended Gora Kadan so happily to me, but you forgot to tell me how much it actually cost. It's a good thing they accepted credit cards and we hadn't maxed our cards out yet!"

We all giggled merrily at these memories.

And with that, another wonderful evening ended in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife. 






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