Matsumoto まつ本, Hakodate

As with many enthusiastic foodies, we attempted to make a reservation at the 1-Michelin star (guide published only once in 2012) tempura restaurant Tazawa and failed despite trying it almost 2-months in advanced…In fact another Michelin-starred restaurant we shortlisted in Hakodate – Umenozushi, was also fully booked. We found it puzzling as the town itself was pretty quiet and we don’t really see huge crowd of tourists (except up at the Hakodate Mountain). I know its kinda silly, but we even tried our luck by walking in to Umenozushi to see if they actually have available tables as we were nearby. Sadly the server turned us away since we don’t have a reservation. However what impressed me was the service attitude of the Japanese staff. Although she had to reject us, she did so in a very polite and apologetic manner. She even saw us out to the door and stood there bowing as we walked away. Its a pretty standard Jap norm to bow and see people off, but oddly she somehow made us felt “embarrassed” that we had the nerves to walk-in without reservations. She might be view us as being disrespectful to the restaurant for thinking that we could just drop by and expect an available table. But the truth is we made the effort to stop by despite knowing that they were supposed to be fully booked.

When we couldn’t get a seating at Tazawa, naturally we started looking for alternative restaurant serving tempura. A common name that came up from google search was Tenya. However we did further search using Tabelog and found Matsumoto that has pretty good reviews. Naturally we made a reservation to ensure that our dinner was secured.

I usually like to make reservations whenever possible as this would ensure that my dining plans are in order during my trip. Despite doing research on the operating hours, there were times whereby after investing time to travel to the particular shop we realised that they were closed and that feels terrible…

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When we stepped into the restaurant, we saw an open-kitchen area with about 8 counter-seats and 1 table for 4 pax in the tiny space. There were 3 Japanese diners who were already having their meal. After we settled down at our seats, our attention was drawn to a vintage looking fridge placed at the corner of the restaurant. Lo and behold, the fridge is still in working condition! Amazing!

Items available are written on slips of paper and pasted on the wall cabinet. The chef handed us an A4 menu written only in Japanese. We ordered the set meal based on the chinese character of 定食 ‎¥2,500 ‎per set and the chef began preparing the ingredients to be fried.

Meanwhile, a lady served us the warm towel, pickles and soup. It looks like a small business run by husband-and-wife, which is typical of many traditional establishments in Japan where skills are passed down through the family.

As we were seated in front of the copper wok, we saw the Chef began preparing the batter from scratch, adding the right amount of water into a bowl with flour. After mixing it to the right consistency, he dipped the ingredients into the mixture and sled them into the oil.

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Part 1 of our fried items were served, including ebi and fish. Soon the Chef prepared another batch of fresh batter and fried another set of ingredients. This time round, it comprised mainly of the vegetables such as mushroom, eggplant, pumpkin and crabstick etc.

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The light batter meant that we could taste the natural flavour of the ingredients without being distracted by the coating. Overall the whole meal didn’t feel heavy at all with the pickled daikon and tentsuyu sauce helping to cut through the oiliness.

Once again we gained more satisfaction from dining at small establishments favoured by locals compared to the ones faved about in guidebooks. The Chef even rounded down our bill as he said “Service“. I learnt somewhere that it’s a way of showing hospitality in Japan. We were truly grateful for Chef’s kind gesture.

Before we leave, we took a namecard of the shop and noticed that it was established since 1934 (Showa 9). So the business has been established for more than 80 years! Apparently the shop used to be housed within an old Japanese structure and only shifted into this unit a few years ago, I suppose many of the furniture were probably retained from the old place which explains why this restaurant exudes an old-school feel.

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3-20 Matsukazecho Hakodate Hokkaido
北海道 函館市 松風町 3-20
Te: +81-138-23-2256

Earlier photos taken:

Finally the Hakodate Ropeway resumed operation on our final night in town. Somehow the tourists which were of non-existence for most days all appeared and congregated at the foot of the mountain waiting to take the ropeway up for the night view.  We went up the mountain at around 4.30pm so that we could see the view before and after sunset. It was quite a shocker to hear some tourguides telling their group members to take the ropeway down latest by 5.10pm. When we reached the top of the mountain there was an indoor observation deck filled with people so we decided to brave the cold weather and went up to the outdoor deck. Turned out the outdoor deck was even more crowded than the indoor one…

There were minimally 2-3 rows of people standing behind the railings all scrambling for a shot. It was times like that that having a selfie stick would make photo taking much easier…

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It took us some time to bid our chances by staying behind the rows of people and waiting for the folks in front to move off. However some of the latecomers resorted to pushing/shoving to nudge their way through. That soon became an unpleasant experience as we were squashed like sardines. Most of the time I was just peeping over the shoulders of the folks standing in front of me to observe the view as the sun sets. Guess most visitors without time constraint would camp at their spot to enjoy the sunset moment. After more than 30 mins wait, when the sky has turned dark we finally got a front row spot. However we soon started to feel snow falling and the fog started to blur the views…People at the back seemed to panick as the visibility got worse and I felt a sudden wave from behind and found my body pressed firmly against the railing! Although the shots seemed serene and romantic, it was not the case in reality when I was struggling to take the photos…

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