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More eating, in Osaka

Making tempura batter at Hanagatami, Ritz-Carlton hotel, Osaka, Japan

Making tempura batter at Hanagatami

The gal continued her eating-in-Japan, with a trip to Osaka.  Hanagatami, in the 292-room Ritz-Carlton, actually offers all the standard Japanese cuisine that you can think of.

There are sushi corners, but we have done that (got a mental PhD in that one), and teppenyaki (have to leave something for the future) and tempura. Ah, that will do.  So there we sat, two of us, one quarter of the full restaurant…

First, a bit of history.  The luxury dining that we know as tempura is not native to Japan.  It was introduced by Jesuit missionaries coming from Portugal in the 16th century, and making fish and veggies seem appetizing might have come from their non-meat days, Fridays and Lent and other fasting days.

Anyway, whether or not the Japanese lapped up Christianity, they certainly ate their tempura, and the world has adopted it as a Japanese speciality, now taken worldwide.

Five different salts are put in front of us, ready for flavouring the tempura

But for its purest form, come to Japan.  Ritz-Carlton Osaka’s GM, Oriol Monial, from Barcelona, arrived on his first assignment in Asia on March 11th, 2011 (the day of the earthquake), and he has become addicted to the purity of its culture.

Oh the art of tempura. It takes 15 years to perfect its making, in its purest form.  A tall metal jug holds eggs beaten with water – no seasoning.  When required, some is poured into a hemispherical metal bowl of flour, and beaten in with a long wooden divided stick.  The thickness of the resulting paste depends on what will be tempura-ed.

Put that, prawn or asparagus or whatever, into the paste, lift it out carefully and – slowly, SLOWLY (this is the secret) – into a bowl of safflower oil heated to 175-180 degrees.  (Interestingly, look up tempura batter on google and the first item that comes up is co-sponsored by an arthritis charity, which seems utterly inappropriate, and Leading Hotels of the World, which would be completely spot-on but sadly Ritz-Carlton is not part of that excellent consortium.)

At Ritz-Carlton Osaka’s Hanagatami, two tempura chefs, looking after eight customers, each have a cooking station.  Their oil pans are obscured by copper half domes so that we, the students, cannot see what they, the masters, are actually doing.  But, it is stressed again and again, put the items oh-so-slowly into the oil, and one by one, not en masse.

The cooked delicacy is then carefully put on a little china tray in front of you, and you finish the act by dipping it into a sauce, lemon or vinegar, and salt.  There are five flavoured salts, in a neat row, namely seaweed, red plum, green tea, yuzu citrus and sansao mimosa.  We eat and eat, and discover that Moët – or any good champagne – is an ideal accompaniment.  The Saturday evening passes.

After so much rich dining, a simple breakfast seems a good choice

After so much rich dining, a simple breakfast seems a good choice

Sunday morning dawns.  The gym is waiting, as is the empty – indoor – pool. Breakfast places in the stately 34th floor Club Lounge of the ultra-luxury Ritz-Carlton Hotel Osaka are set merely with linen mats and pairs of chopsticks. That is all.

Yes, 78 percent of everyone who stays here is Japanese, but the other 22 percent (mainly from USA, but also Hong Kong and China) can use their grade school initiative and help themselves from clearly-marked stacks of knives, forks and spoons, half-wrapped in crisp linen napkins and one each of the utensils wrapped in a blue-Ritz ribbon bow as if to say, hello, I am a spoon.

Japanese breakfast early.  Even on a Sunday, the room is quite busy ten minutes after seven o’clock opening.  Chic young ladies in kimonos bustle around offering teas and excellent coffee.  The gal finds her must-have fresh-fresh juice, and takes three of the lady-like shot-glass portions of yoghurt.

The Japanese like seaweed and salads, and eggs and bacon.  She heads for the breads, which are actually more muffins, big ones, and outsized croissants. Toasting breads are white and fluffy, so she settles for an onion bagel and white English muffins. Flexibility is the name of the game, even for the luxury traveller.

Blissful sleep in the La Prairie spa, Ritz-Carlton hotel, Osaka, Japan

Blissful sleep in the La Prairie spa

She heads for the spa, bliss, it is La Prairie. She sleeps, wakes feeling marvellous, and heads for the pool. Two of the three lanes each accommodate four under-12s, with their fathers – who, in typical Japanese fashion, prefer walking the laps rather than swimming. One mother snoozes on the side. By the time she leaves the pool, five more kids are arriving.

Ritz-Carlton Osaka established itself as the chic place in town when it opened 15 years ago – last night, for instance, it hosted nine weddings (it did over 500 last year, split between its Christian and Shinto halls, and the romance concierge can take care of any details except, apparently, finding the necessary partner).

This is also the hotel to which Top Locals come, for a weekend away from their rabbit-hutch homes.  Mostly they leave any bunnies behind but for those that do bring their little ones, part of the weekend-away is, it seems, for the youngsters to plunge into the water.

'Neighbourhood restaurants' display sampuru (sample), plastic versions of what ordered dishes will look like

'Neighbourhood restaurants' display sampuru, plastic versions of what ordered dishes will look like

For more exercise, she heads down to the stately lobby, with its antiques and big log fire, crystal chandeliers and equally-sparkling Asprey store (toiletries in corner room 3506 are also Asprey).

She finds her way down to Herbis Plaza, beneath the hotel, and wanders for ages along narrow corridors flanked by one after another narrow-opening ‘eating dives’ (they are barely wide enough to be called restaurants).

They advertise their menus with sampuru, the so-Japanese sculptures that show exactly what a dish will look like.  Once made from wax, these sampuru – taken from the world ‘sample’ – are now plastic, and they cost a fortune.

Luxury hotel perks - Bicycles at Ritz-Carlton Osaka are ready for a trip to nearby Osaka Castle

Bicycles are ready for a trip to nearby Osaka Castle

And then, sadly, it was time to pack up the Rimowa to head on. She left behind her really comfortable corner suite, with its thoughtfully-provided pair of scissors and bright orange bathsalts.  Down at lobby level, two young ladies in full kimonos were working their smartphones while waiting for friends.

As she left she spied a pair of bikes outside the entrance.  Last visit, she and Her Man cycled around Osaka Castle, a 90-minute round trip to see the folding screen of the Summer War of Osaka and a diorama of the life of Hideyoshi Toyotomi.  Today it would have been too cold anyway but it sure makes a good case for coming back.