Monday, July 7, 2014

Tokyo, Japan

So as you can tell by the snow in these pictures that this post comes from my winter trip to Japan earlier in the year. There's so much to love about Japan and it's honestly one of my favourite places to visit. I've actually only ever been during the bitter winter but I wouldn't have it any other way because I absolutely love snowboarding in Japan! The above picture is at the Hachiko statue in Shibuya. It's a popular meeting point for young kids but more importantly it commemorates the story of Hachiko, an Akita dog who displayed one of the sweetest measures of loyalty to its owner in the 1920s/30s. It's one of my favourite stories so look it up!

Hapineko Cat Cafe, Shibuya

Lucky for Ryan and I, we arrived in Tokyo in the midst of the worst snowstorm Japan had seen in years. The cold was bitter, fierce and an absolute shock to the system as we came from sunny Sydney. I couldn't resist heading to a cat cafe while in Tokyo and surprisingly the visit proved to be a perfect way to escape the cold.

KITTY! The concept of a cat cafe in Western culture is unsurprisingly a little odd. But for those living in such densely places like Tokyo, the concept of domesticated pets such as cats and dogs is so unrealistic. Most people live in small apartments so don't have the opportunity to own a cat or dog so they head to cat or dog cafes to spend a little time with some furry creatures.

I opted to head to Hapineko cafe which is a short walk from the Shibuya crossing. I was pretty keen to visit a dog, goat or owl cafe but unfortunately they weren't conveniently located at the time and I was desperate to escape the brutal snow. Hapineko is up a creepy stairwell in an unremarkable borderline dodgy building while the establishment itself is very small, the size of a very small studio. You basically line up and wait your turn to be allowed into the room with all the cats. You're asked to read all their rules, do not carry a cat while you are standing, keep your belongings off cats please, do not move a cat from a high places, etc... take off your shoes and wash your hands thoroughly before being allowed to sit in a room and cat-watch.

Your entrance fee includes a coffee or equivalent beverage, small biscuits and 30 minutes cat time!

If you're lucky a cat will come up to you and then you're allowed to pat them!

Only half a dozen or so people are allowed in the room at any one time not to stress out the cats. It was a mix of Japanese young people and foreign tourists at Hapineko and it seemed pretty popular as there was a line when we left.

L'Occitane Cafe, Shibuya

Located in the heart of Shibuya towering above the famed crossing is L'Occitane Cafe. Coffee prices are outrageous, we're talking $9! and it really wasn't a good coffee at all.

What you really come here for is the view of the Shibuya crossing. It's quite nice to sit by and people watch and maybe the food fairs better than the coffee.

Kagari, Ginza

Sweet Lord the snow storm was relentless! I shiver just thinking about it. We were staying in trendy Ginza and were craving some piping hot ramen and Kagari was apparently the place to be.

Kagari is a little difficult to find because it's so small and completely unassuming. It's in a small alley lined with vending machines with only a small "Soba" illuminated sign to mark its existence.

Despite warnings of permanent lines at Kagari we decided to give it a go anyway. Kagari opens at 5:30 for dinner and despite being there before 5:45 there was already a sizeable line. Cue crying and whining in the snow, we were unaware of how small the actual place is and waiting in the freezing cold for over an hour before being let in.

Pondering whether we had made the right decision between praying all our limbs would survive the blistering cold, a line slowly began to snake behind us as the clock reached 6. Each time the little wooden door would open we'd peak our heads out from under our snow drenched umbrella but alas, still not our turn!

Finally, we were next in line and we prayed to the heavens that this ramen would be amazing and worth the frostbite. As we finally entered the teeny-tiny restaurant we realised it really was super small. It only seats 8 guests at a time so no wonder there's always a line!

The menu isn't extensive, with only a handful of ramen variations on offer. The ramen is cooked right in front of your face and comes out as quickly as you order. It's quite a spectacle watching the ramen masters at work. No one really talks in the restaurant, you kind of order, eat and leave as politely as possible.

I'm so happy to say the ramen was amazing. Although I can't say I enjoyed the hour long wait in sub-zero temperatures in thin pants, a t-shirt, cardigan, coat and Air Force One's (note: this is not appropriate winter wear) I honestly can't wait to return to Kagari! I actually have dreams of this gorgeous ramen and it definitely kicked off my once-a-week ramen necessity in Sydney.

This was the day after the mega snow blizzard which basically wrecked havoc on Japan, particularly Tokyo. No cars were on the roads as people meandered along the empty streets. I feel like this is what armageddon would be like.

Masamoto Knives, Tsukiji 

I was pretty determined to purchase a Japanese knife during my trip and settled on visiting Masamoto Knives who boasts five generations of knife making excellence. Located in the famed Tsukiji Fish Markets, I was so excited but overwhelmed selecting a knife. There's a knife for everything you could ever do in the kitchen but I opted for a general all rounder stainless steel kitchen knife. The knife was just under $200 but you could spend a sizeable fortune in the tiny shop building up an impressive collection.

Once you select your knife, it's engraved, sharpened and ready to take home. Service was friendly and helpful, particularly given the limited English spoken by staff. Do yourself a favour and pick up a knife at Masamoto if you're in Tokyo.

After making your knife purchase wander around the market for a sushi breakfast plus snacks.

I hope you feel inspired to visit Tokyo in the wintertime. There's so much to do and eat you'll never find yourself unsatisfied.

Hapineko Cat Cafe
3F Dogenzaka Kratos Building
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 2-28-3, Japan

L'Occitane Cafe
2-3F Shibuya Ekimae Building
2-3-1 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan

4-4-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku
Tokyo, Japan

Masamoto Knives
4-9-9 Tsukiji , Chuo-ku
Tokyo, Japan

Monday, June 30, 2014

High Tea Heaven at the Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney

I'm slowly making my way through the hotels of Sydney hunting for the best high tea in the city. Almost every hotel has their own rendition or little spin and my favourite so far is definitely high coffee at The Intercontinental or the Mad Hatter high tea at The Westin. I really love the Shangri-La Hotel and have stayed there on numerous occasions on top of savoring some late night dessert in the lounge so I had pretty high hopes for their high tea heaven.

Aesthetically the high tea looks pretty standard with the standout features definitely on the top tier. My first impression of my high tea experience sadly to say wasn't perfect. The waitress appeared a little flustered when I arrived as per my reservation and quickly scampered behind the counter. I also wasn't too impressed watching her unwrap the high tea from underneath it's plastic casing in plain sight.

The sandwiches were nice but nothing special. It definitely reminded me of a sandwich you'd find in your school lunch box.

The scones were a little bit doughy and dry which was disappointing. My favourite place for scones is definitely The Tea Cosy so my standards are pretty high for scones.

The desserts were definitely the best part of the high tea although they weren't the best desserts I've ever tasted. My favourite of the lot was definitely the chocolate dessert followed by the macarons. 

I really love the Shangri-La as a hotel and it was my go-to for a number of years. The view is phenomenal, especially from Blu Bar on 36 so I had high hopes for the high tea. Overall I'd say my experience was average and didn't leave me clamoring to return. There are some fantastic places to go for high tea in Sydney and unfortunately the High Tea Heaven at the Shangri-La isn't at the top of the list

Shangri-La Lobby Lounge on Urbanspoon

Shangri-La Hotel Sydney
17 Cumberland St
The Rocks NSW 2000

Monday, June 23, 2014

Ryo's, Crows Nest

Ryo's Noodles was on my food hit list for years and years because I'm completely loathed to venture across the bridge. Slowly but surely I've begun familiarising myself with the iconic Harbour Bridge and have lessened the stress of driving to the dark side. Anyways, enough of my excuses and back to Ryo's! It's in fact an easy, easy drive with the famed ramen joint located on Falcon St in Crows Nest.

As with the majority of ramen establishments, it's courtesy to basically order and eat as quick as humanly possible so the people queued up outside can also order and eat as quickly as possible. It's relatively no fuss, and the service isn't rude if you dawdle but if you're looking for a restaurant where you and your dining companions can catch up over food and long, drawn-out drinks, Ryo's probably isn't for you.

Ramen in soy sauce flavoured soup with roast pork, nori, egg and shallots $13.50

I'm generally pretty boring with my ramen order - usually a soy based or tonkotsu broth with chasu pork and definitely an egg. I'm a firm firm believer that the broth makes the ramen. Noodles and sides are a big component in ramen of course but a lackluster stock is heartbreaking. The broth at Ryo's is light in flavour which I thoroughly enjoy compared to the overly fatty and rich broths featured in other ramen establishments. Don't get me wrong, I also love gelatinous, rich and pork-fat laced ramens but definitely only once in a while because it's definitely not good for my waistline.

Ramen in spicy hot flavoured soup with roast pork, nori, egg and shallots $13.50

I don't normally gravitate towards a spicy broth because I find the flavour a little too overwhelming less than half way through the bowl. I do however love a good sample or two and Ryo's is relatively mild and pleasant.

Fried chicken $8

Trekking all the way out to Crows Nest it seemed silly not to order as much as we could sensibly fit in our bellies to ensure we had a great understanding of the food as well as didn't waste the drive over. Everyone loves fried chicken and funnily enough, fried chicken was a welcome change of pace for our palates in between slurps of ramen.

Gyoza $7.50

I'm such a sucker for gyoza. In all my years of experience dining out, I know I probably don't need to order any additional sides with ramen but still, I can't resist. The gyoza was nice but given the choice I'd rate the chicken first.

I really like Ryo's! It's notoriously busy so be prepared to wait outside the small shop. It has all it's simple charm working for it and it's really all about the beautiful ramen. My current go-to for ramen has to be Menya or Ippudo for flavour and convenience but when in the mood, I also love venturing out to Ryo's for a change of scenery and some delicious, delicious ramen.

Ryo's on Urbanspoon

Ryo's Noodles
125 Falcon St
Crows Nest NSW 2065