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LUXURY TRAVEL: Blowfish in Toyko

ONE OF THE most enjoyable meals The Luxury Travel Bible ever had was at The Rees Hotel Queenstown in New Zealand, partly because hotel Chief Executive Mark Rose matched food and wine perfectly for a tasting menu at the hotel's True South restaurant and was so eloquent in explaining his choices that we all felt enriched by the experience. Mark Rose talks about food and wine with true passion. Since then Mark has been one of our insiders sending despatches around the world to tell us of his latest gourmet adventure. From caviar to cuttlefish Mark seeks out the most unusual and the best worldwide. He's a Food Adventurer (capital F, capital A) and he's been our unofficial guide to fabulous food around the globe. Now we've decided to share some of his 'despatches' with you. Would he risk his life in the course of food exploration? Seems so. Mark recently sampled the notorious Puffer Fish at one of Toyko's most revered Fugu restaurants. But was it worth it?

pan fried
sashimi sides
miso broth
pumpkin mousse
porridge and pickles
'You will be pleased to know (or not) that I just lived through my first (and possibly last) Fugu experience' writes Mark Rose.
I managed to book 2 months in advance at Usukifugu Yamadaya, a 3 star Fugu Restaurant close to Rappongi in Tokyo - like the great Sushi Bar Muzutani, Usukifugu Yamadaya was very difficult to find (and I had a Japanese guide!) - up a residential driveway, out the back, round the corner and down some stairs....

I guess that eating Fugu is a bit like jumping out of a plane and hoping that the parachute will open

Fugu or Puffer Fish is extremely poisonous if not prepared properly - chefs must undergo an eight year apprenticeship before applying for a licence to practise on the general public. Puffer Fish contains tetrodotoxin, a poison that causes its victims to become paralysed while still being fully conscious - death by asphyxiation follows, which accounts for five or six deaths each year in Japan.
At this point you are probably wondering why I bothered - I guess that eating Fugu is a bit like jumping out of a plane and hoping that the parachute will open!
I opted for the tasting menu (which is eye wateringly expensive) - seven courses using every piece of the fish excluding the extremely toxic liver and ovaries, matched with a rich sweetish sake:
 - Pan fried in a light soy and ponzu broth with a side order of abalone and lightly char grilled vegetables
 - Sashimi with a ponzu, lime, pepper and shallot dipping sauce - garnished with the skin chopped and piled in the middle of the sashimi  (rubbery but kind of nice)
 - Basted in light soy, grilled and served with a sweet baby shallot
 - Deep fried in a light golden batter - eaten with your fingers
 - In a Miso broth with shitake, tofu and a rice cake
 - In a rice porridge with shallots and to die for pickled vegetables on the side
 - Pumpkin mousse with a bean curd top and ginger ice - which was up there with a liquorice parfait I once had, sweet but not sweet.
Each course was presented beautifully but there was a distinct lack of theatre from the chef. (Surely a disappointment when you're eating something as  dramatic as thisEd) Having never eaten Fugu before there is no comparison that I can make - the dishes were interesting, tasty but no better than a piece of freshly caught Harpuka - the flavour and texture was almost identical. The taste stayed with me overnight (in a nice way) making it through two bouts of teeth cleaning and my mouth seemed slightly numb for a few hours - a sensation I am sure I have experienced in another life.
I am often asked that if I was to die tomorrow what would my last meal be - having lived through my Fugu experience I can tell you it certainly wouldn't be Fugu!
True South restaurant at The Rees Hotel
Rose was previously General Manager of Cameron House Hotel on Loch Lomond, Scotland and brought his Head Chef Ben Batterbury with him to run the Kitchen at the hotel's True South Dining Room. Batterbury bases his menus around local produce from high quality suppliers in the area south of Christchurch. So guest can expect seasonal treats such as West Coast whitebait, Stewart Island blue cod, and Haka Valley merino lamb, free range pork from Havoc, Gibbston Valley and Omaru Whitestone cheeses.

Usukifugu Yamadaya is a fugu (blowfish, pufferfish) restaurant in Tokyo's Nishi-Azabu district. The three star Michelin restaurant has been serving fugu dishes since 2007.
Level A, Fleg Nishi Azabu Vierge
4-11-14 Nishi Azabu
Minato-ku, Tokyo

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Words and Photos: Mark Rose 27/7/11
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