After 10 days in Tokyo spent eating the most incredible ramen, tonkatsu, sushi and other Japanese delicacies, it was time for pizza. We'd heard about this place in Roppongi called Savoy. Sean Brock, from Husk in Nashville, had written that he'd been thinking about the pizza at Savoy for a long time. I had to try it.
We caught the subway to Roppongi. It was a cold night, around 4C. Savoy looks nothing from the outside — a wooden shack at the top of some stairs, lit by a wonky neon light.
We stepped inside and were hit with a wave of warmth and the intensely umami smell of something delicious cooked over fire.
Savoy doesn't seat many, because most of the space is taken up by a huge pizza oven (that thing cranks at 400C).
It's just one guy who makes the pizza, works the oven and serves the piping hot pizza to customers at the bar. It all happens right in front of you and it's a sensory explosion.
First, he salts the bench. Then he works his wet dough into a disc. On top goes a ladle of his secret recipe tomato sauce, a shaved garlic clove, a handful of mozzarella and some basil. More salt. He turns, salts the oven, grabs his stick (which rests on a beaten up drum cymbal) and puts the pizza in. Forty-five seconds later, you're about to taste what I would argue is the greatest pizza in the world.
If you think about it, world-class pizza in Tokyo makes perfect sense. There's only one culture that understands umami as deeply as the Italians — the Japanese. I polished off that pizza and licked the plate, washing it down with a cold Sapporo. To express my gratitude to this guy, I ordered another pizza as dessert. We rolled home through the icy streets of Tokyo that night, so happy and inspired.
We'd just finished up a particularly busy holiday season one summer, and decided to get out of town for a few days. My wife, Dominique, and I hadn't been to South Australia and there were a few restaurants I had wanted to visit. So, last minute, we booked flights to Adelaide, arriving on Boxing Day. First mistake.
Christmas night at our place is never a quiet affair. Needless to say, we were nursing some serious headaches as we boarded our flights. Arriving at our hotel was a brutal awakening too — in the search for a centrally-located hotel, we'd inadvertently chosen one the middle of the shopping district. Being anywhere near the shops on Boxing Day is my idea of a nightmare. And here we were — in the middle of the swarming crowds.
It didn't get better once we were in the hotel. Remember those flats you lived in when you were in university? This place made those flats look like luxury. At this point, all we wanted to do was sleep but neither of us were game enough to lie on the bed. The linen looked like it hadn't been washed in months.
So, nursing hangovers, in the world's worst hotel room, in the middle of Boxing Day mayhem, we decided to make plans for dinner. Turns out, the restaurants we had wanted to try were on extended holidays, and wouldn't be open for weeks.
Thankfully, South Australia is wine country, so we hired a car and just drove. We also checked into a better hotel. But, needless to say, there's a lot to be said for proper planning. We're very careful now about travel dates and accommodation (and taking it easy on the champagne the night before we fly).
Hayden McMillan, owner and creator of Etta in Melbourne, is returning home to New Zealand, to cook at the upcoming SkyCity Variety of Chefs black-tie dinner, raising money for Variety — the Children's Charity. The event is on in Auckland, on August 31. Tickets are on sale at varietyofchefs.co.nz