Food Travel Asia / Japan

Kuidaore at Fujiya 1935

When I started planning my trip to Japan this year, I had no specific plans in mind of extravagant Michelin starred dining. While I was interested in experiencing another starred sushi experience in Tokyo, I couldn’t find a hotel concierge who was willing to help me make reservations, and seeing that’s how it’s usually done in Japan, it seemed it would require a lot more effort to try to get an “hard to get” reservation. But knowing there’s so much great eating in Tokyo, I wasn’t too worried.

What’s funny about my Japan adventures is that I usually focus most of my energy on the Tokyo portion of my trip even though it usually amounts to less than 20% of my actual time spent in Japan. I know much of that is due to the fact that Tokyo is always featured as such an eating mecca to the Western world, so I’m constantly reading about places I want to go to. But the other reason is because once I hit the Osaka/Kyoto portion of my trip, my eating itinerary is filled with things I must repeat, coupled with the many family dinners which take me to places outside of my control.

But what people may not know about Osaka is that in terms of eating, it’s really where it’s at. “Kuidaore”is a term used in Osaka that means “eat till you drop and describes me perfectly in vacation mode. I often attribute my food focus in life to the fact that I spent so much time in Osaka growing up. Most of my memories from Japan have a strong eating component to it, and so many of those ended with my family lying back muttering “manpuku” (feelings of being overly full) under their breath.

Knowing that I have no problems finding good eating in Osaka without Michelin stars, I’ve never researched the upper echelon of dining in Osaka.But when I was unable to to find a concierge to help secure any “good” restaurants in Tokyo on this trip, I thought I’d reach out to the concierge of the hotel if be staying at in Osaka to see I could get some assistance with reservations. Lucky me, the concierge at the Righa Royal in Osaka was more than happy to assist me. With that knowledge, I turned my eyes to Osaka and what high end pleasures I might discover.

When I started looking, of course I found many interesting choices that piqued my interest. But then I narrowed my focus by  location and the fact it had to be lunch, it was clear that 3* Michelin, Fujiya 1935 was tops on my list of places to try.

Tetsuya Fujiwara is a 4th generation chef who has worked in the kitchens of Osteria Francescana (2016 #1 on the World’s 50 Best List) and (now closed) L’Esgaurd in Barcelona before making his way back to the same space in Osaka that his family has been operating a restaurant out of since 1935. It’s said he was “enlightened by an advanced modern Spanish cuisine”in his time in Spain and has strong influences in his cooking because of this.  Although sometimes categorized as Spanish,  I believe innovative cuisine using seasonal Japanese ingredients to be more reflective of the dishes I was served.

Lucky for me, I found Fujiya 1935 two days before reservations opened for the date I was looking at. I contacted my concierge and felt like I’d won the lottery when he’d confirmed he’d made reservations for me for lunch. (Later my concierge told me how he’s never been able to get a reso at Fujiya 1935 for anyone else before).

With a reservation in hand, I needed someone to join me for the meal. After the amazing time my mom and I had at Kikunoi for lunch on our last trip to Japan, she was my natural choice. I knew my mom would be experiencing food that would look outside of her comfort zone, but she’s always up for the adventure and happily she said yes.

My worries that the meal would be too “out there” for my mom surfaced again when we entered the restaurant and were seated in a dark waiting space to wait for our tables. 2 cups of warm water drawn from birch trees  were placed in front of us.

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Warm water drawn from Shirakaba (birch) trees.

I sipped away at what tasted like plain warm water and wondered if this meal was going to be too out there for me too. Luckily after the water, we were brought to a table in the restaurant and my feelings of doubt melted away.

Fujiya 1935 Fujiwara Osaka pea bread

Spongy pea bread filled with the most vibrant pea puree

"fujiya 1935 fujiwara osaka prawn"

While it’s written on the menu as prawn gullet, I think they mean gallette. Whatever the translation, this combination of raw prawn on a shrimp biscuit was delicately delicious.

It was kind of a weird service for me because they served us mostly in Japanese, where I was able to understand some of what was going on, but knew I was missing some key components.  I was happy when my mom asked if they could provide us with a menu of what they were serving us (they were going to wait to present it to us after the meal was done). With descriptors in hand, I was able to focus my attention back to the food.

"fujiya 1935 fujiwara osaka uni"

Sea urchin from Kumamoto Amakusa fried with sea lettuce seaweed. It’s “known” that uni is one of my favorite foods. Deep fried and coated with the salty seaweed, I wished I could have been served a basket of these.

"fujiya 1935 fujiwara osaka hamaguri"

Hamaguri clam from Mie cooked softly with green peas and cherry blossoms. This dish made me unbelievably happy. I am not a huge foam lover, but in this dish, it just seemed to elevate my mood to grasp best the season has to offer.

"fujiya 1935 fujiwara osaka firefly hotaru ika"

Hotaru ika (firefly squid) from Toyama with green asparagus linguine in squid ink – My mom seemed very excited to see hotaru ika on the menu,  so I knew I was in for a treat. This was a dish that truly delighted from tastes and textures.

"Fujiya 1935 fujiwara osaka pork"

Kokuryu Ginjyo pork from Fukui with spring vegetables. Everything up to this point was so delicate, I was a bit surprised to be served such a large portion of pork, but after my first succulent bite, I realized there’d be no worries about getting through this generous portion.

"fujiya 1935 fujiwara osaka lemon"

Setouchi lemon from Ehime with elderflower ice cream – Lemon and elderflower are 2 of my favorite flavors. ‘Nuf said.

"fujiya 1935 fujiwara osaka kumquat"

Kumquat from Kouchi and cream of kumquat peel was almost too pretty to eat. And then I learned it was a dessert a bit difficult to eat. Kumquats on a biscuit, I was told to eat by hand, but there was no way you balance all the pretty pieces while picking it up to eat. It also wasn’t something you could cut into with the fork provided. Somehow I managed, and was delighted that the flavours matched the bright colours of the dish and made me think who cares that it was so difficult to eat.

Fujiya 1935 is known for having a reasonably priced lunch as a Michelin 3*. All in, for 2 people with a glass of wine each, this meal was US$170. Considering service is included in Japan, I think it it’s a very good price considering the ingredients and workmanship that went into preparing this meal. Was it my cheapest 3* experience? No, Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong and lunch at Jean Georges, (especially back in 2010, right after the crash) were both less. But experience wise, Fujiya 1935 need’t be qualified as cheap in the reasoning to visit. Chef Fujiwara’s food was creative, thoughtful and above all, delicious. Definitely an experience to remember. And the fact I got to share it with my mom? Well that makes it priceless.

Fujiya 1935 Fujiwara Osaka Susy Bando

Arigato Fujiwara-san for the amazing meal!

Fujiya 1935 –

 

 

 

 

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