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Strings Intercontintental – summer afternoon tea

Here’s a write-up of an afternoon tea I did 18 months ago – I am only now trying to catch up on a backlog of afternoon teas which I’ve yet to post about. My blogging hiatus has been for a number of reasons but mostly it comes down to lack of time. Other priorities have take over which eat into blogging time – mostly work and swim training. Over the last couple of years I really ramped up my swim mileage training for marathon swims and channel swims etc. This meant most of my time when not at work was spent swimming. Any free time was taken up with sleep, bludging (ie Netflix – which I cancelled last year), and catching up with friends etc and trying to maintain a social life. Anyway, here is my attempt to try and get back on the blogging horse.

The afternoon tea scene in Tokyo has really exploded the last couple of years. So many places now offer it – hotels, restaurants and cafes. It used to be limited to just a few select hotels. But now hotels are offering seasonal teas so they are getting more varied and fancier, and with the changing menus with each season and sometimes monthly (!) – they now how to get customers to keep coming back.

So let’s rewind back to the summer of 2016 – the Strings Intercontinental hotel in Shinagawa was a hotel that I had not yet been to for afternoon tea so I jumped on the chance when they released a summer afternoon tea. Their offering was a summer kakigori (“shaved ice”) afternoon tea in a tiered round bowl vase.

The afternoon tea wasn’t overly special. It was light on the savoury bites and too heavy on the desserts. There were just a couple of h’ordeauvres (ie a sandwich and olives).

The rest were all sweets and only ok at that. Given the seaons, it focused on fruits and citrus flavours. The desserts tier included: a passionfruit macaroon, a passionfruit chocolate bonbon, a lime tart, and few other sweet treats.

As for the scones – a coconut one, and an acai one – both of which were new flavours of scones for me and not the standard fare. They were also very typical Japanese ones ie hard and dry. Very unlike Australian scones which are super soft, light, fluffy and buttery. No country does scones like Australia, I tell you.

I liked the servingware though. I’m always drawn to how different venues serve their afternoon tea and the presentation. This one come in an interesting tiered spherical bowl.

Each layer/tier of the bowl was unstacked and held food.

The differentiator of this afternoon tea, was the kakigori (shaved ice dessert) – a popular Japanese different in summer.

A different experience for afternoon tea – but the quality and taste factor of the food wasn’t quite there.

Nevertheless, another Tokyo venue ticked off the list:

Tsugaru Channel swim: the EPIC video

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post. I shall just say that 2018 has been an EPIC year for me. And hopefully I’ll get around to writing about some various highlight at some point before the year end.

But for the past 8 months of the year, I was swimming. A lot. I achieved a bucketlist item of swimming Tsugaru Channel (that body of water between Honshu and Hokkaido) and one of the Oceans Seven swims. I swam it as part of an international 3-person relay with two friends (also expats in Tokyo). And for the record, I’ve been trying to do this swim for the past 2-3 years and was never chosen for a slot. But at the end of 2017, I was finally notified of a last-minute slot for 2018 (I think due to someone else cancelling).

It was quite the journey in terms of training and build-up and the actual swim itself. Will eventually write an epic swim report, but for now, I will leave you with the EPIC video documenting our channel swim which we did on 19-20 July 2018. The film was shot and edited by my amazingly talented friend (and crew support on the swim) Matt.

For your viewing pleasure: (and yes, we really did this!)

Tokyo Art City video

 

I recently went to the Tokyo Art City digital art and light installation at Gallery Aamo produced by NAKED Inc. It was pretty cool. Really enjoyed the robot performances. Pretty mesmerising. A good way to while away about an hour or so of time. A great exhibition to really capture the essence of Tokyo.

Check out the video I put together with my new GoPro:

Jade5 Tokyo Brunch

Jade5 is one of my favourite places for a solo brunch in Tokyo, located in the back streets of Hiroo.
The cafe only seats about 10 people and is a quaint cosy cafe to grab a coffee and eat a hot brekky with a book.

The small interior:

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The brunch offering is tasty and in the comfort food domain.
On this particular day, I was hungry having just been for a swim.

I ordered the Lumberjack and it didn’t disappoint.

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I may be back to try the rest of their menu:

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Michelin Star Tsuta Ramen – the easy way

Michelin star ramen?! Yes, it’s got to be done. It’ll be the cheapest Michelin meal you’ve ever had. Tsuta was awarded one Michelin star in the 2016 edition of the Guide.

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I had read many reviews and blogs with many complaining about the wait to get in. The small ramen shop only seats 9 and they operate on a ticketing system whereby you have to get there really early to then be allocated a dining slot. It’s not uncommon for slots to be taken up between 8-10am with diners having to come back between 11am-3pm at your allocated time.

I was prepared to spend a midweek public holiday Wednesday to get there early and do the wait, but as luck and preparedness would have it, I ended up rocking up on a Monday night and walked straight in.

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So what’s the trick? I follow them on Twitter. Every day they update on how many tickets are still available for time slots. They’ll update when slots are filled etc. They are also open for lunch and dinner, so I think dinner might be easier to get in as well. Many people prefer ramen as a lunch rather than a dinner. And a Monday night when less people are likely to dine out, I was able to just turn up after having monitored their Twitter statuses. Be also prepared to dine just outside of peak hour. 6-8pm is likely to be a little busy and harder to get in. I had finished work just after 7:30pm and saw on their Twitter that there were still several slots left for 8pm. They also close at 9pm. I gave them a quick call as well at 8pm and asked if there was currently a queue for the remaining slots. They said no there wasn’t but at the same time can’t guarantee you a slot either. It’s a first come-first served basis. I figured I could get there by 8:30pm. I doubted that other people would be trying to get in at that time on a Monday, so I headed on over. Tsuta is located in Sugamo on a quiet street but very close to the station. I got there about 8:30 and was able to walk right on in.

IMG_2290 Orders are taken via a vending machine. Select your ramen (which is actually called Soba at this place. This confused me at first). I went their signature ramen dish. It’s the top button, costs 1500yen and there’s a photo of it. (Most of the dishes don’t have photos on the vending machine). From memory most of the vending machine was in Japanese and not a good description available in English). Their signature dish is a soy sauce-based broth with truffle oil, with wontons, egg and chashu (slices of pork). Once you feed your money into the vending machine, you then hand your order ticket to the staff. There were a few seats available – all are counter seats of which there are only 9. I was seated in the waiting area until I was called up to a counter seat. They set out a tray and then you wait. IMG_2295

The place isn’t very fancy.Very small. Free water is self service which you pour from their water dispenser. I was surprised by the high staff headcount. Considering they only seat 9 diners at a time, there was 5 staff on shift.

IMG_2291 Once your dish is ready, they place it on the counter, which you then bring down to your tray. IMG_2301

IMG_2300 The ramen was very good. A bit of truffle oil hurt no one. Broth was clear and delicate. The egg was perfectly soft boiled. The noodles were skinny noodles (I guess, a kind of soba which is why all the dishes are called soba rather than ramen here). I generally prefer the fatter, chewier, mochi-er ramen noodles. The highlight were the wontons though. The meat inside them were super flavourful. And what was interesting about the wontons here are that they are mostly the wonton pastry which are super long. IMG_2296

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All in all, it was a very decent ramen. The  best ever? – debatable. I’m more a miso ramen fan myself with a penchant for the fat noodles. I like the Hokkaido style ramen which is a lot more richer, creamier and koi (deep) in flavour. The ramen here is more delicate and lighter. There is also a shio (salt-based) broth ramen as well as tsukemen (where the noodles are dipped into a broth rather than served IN the broth).

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It’s quite a simple, no-frills affair. I was in and out within 30 minutes and I was the last diner to leave at 9pm.

Another Michelin star acquired to my dining belt.

Dolphin swimming in Japan

Another opportunity to swim with wild dolphins, this time I got to go on as crew.

It’s pretty amazing to be able to swim with wild dolphins. It didn’t get off to a great start but in the end, we saw a lot. I got in one particular awesome jump.

At one point, we got so close to them, it was pretty incredible.

Coming straight for me:

From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016

A cool shot as they swam underneath me:

From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016

These dolphins were particularly playful and stuck around for a while.

From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016

There were about 5-7 dolphins in this shot:

From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016

And on a separate jump, we saw a mother and a baby dolphin, but they didn’t stick around to play.

From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016

Seeing dolphins from the boat:

From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016
From Dolphins June 2016

Oiso 10km swim race – the motion video

You’re in for a treat. So normally, I would write a swim race report, but this time I have a real video for your viewing pleasure.

Last Saturday, I did a 10km swim race. In a pool. 20 laps of a 500m pool. Same race that I did 2 years. You might recall the <a href=”http://memoirsofaleisha.blog.com/2014/07/01/my-first-10km-swim-race-oiso-10km-swim-race/”>race report.</a>

The only difference since is that I’ve gotten older and slower. I managed a time that was about 40min slower than last time. Ugh.

The housemate finished before me so was able to get some footage of me. Mind you, the footage was taken at around the 8km and 9km mark, so I was literally ready to die. Body really struggled and it wasn’t pretty. But don’t take my word for it.

You can view it for yourself:

1967, Tokyo Afternoon Tea

Another year, another afternoon tea.

For my birthday last month, I had a small low-key afternoon tea treat with a friend, just the two of us.
Tried out a different venue for afternoon tea – it’s getting harder to find placed I haven’t been to yet.
I had been to this venue for dinner before but not for afternoon tea. The venue was 1967 in Roppongi – an oriental continental bar.

Really nice venue especially in the evenings. The entrance is a little awkward – dark curtained corridor but it opens out into a nice bar area and a terrace lounge area.

From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea

The afternoon tea seemed very reasonable with a Western-Asian fusion. I like when you get the best of both worlds.

From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea

Tea selection was ok, but limited on the black teas. Only one pot allowed. One choice per person.

From 1967 afternoon tea

This place had a good sampling of foods. The savoury elements were particularly appreciated. I liked their modern take and the absence of sandwiches. I’ll take cheese and crackers and these morsels anyday.

From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea

And a little champagne to wash it all down:

From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea

Presentation of the afternoon tea set was also lovely and modern.

From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea

I was quite impressed with the sweets selection – very fresh, delicious and plentiful. And chocolate and strawberries aplenty.

From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea

These strawberries were stuffed with ice cream inside. Amazing and genius:

From 1967 afternoon tea

And there were scones as well. Albeit very miniature scones. Super tasty. Loved the cream. Only complaint was that they were too small. But anything miniature is cute so it was redeemed by the novelty factor and flavour.

From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea

And whilst there wasn’t jam, the scones were served with custard. I haven’t had custard in forever and dare I say it was probably even better than having scones with jam. A winner in this case.

From 1967 afternoon tea

The scones were so small they fit on a spoon. But still cool nonetheless so all was forgiven.

From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea
From 1967 afternoon tea

All in all, this place definitely got my approval. It definitely ranks in my top 10 for afternoon tea in Tokyo and definitely a place I would recommend. It wasn’t busy on this particular Saturday afternoon, lovely outdoor terrace lounge, food was lovely – fresh, delicious, and plentiful. Couldn’t really fault it although tea selection was sufficient, it could have been wider. Also very reasonably priced at 2800yen which is hard to beat for this quality food, and extra for glass of Moet. Both are excellent value. The menu changes regularly which is a not bad thing. Could definitely go back here again. Was super satisfied.

Ishigaki 5km OWS swim race

First open water swim race for the summer and the year was a 5k-er. The destination – idyllic. Water temp – too hot.

I had wanted to do an open water swim race in Okinawa for a while now – Japan’s answer to paradise. Ishigakijima did not disappoint. A really beautiful island for water lovers. Even managed to round a few friends to join not only the trip, but also the swim.

Headed down on the first flight on Thursday and spent Thursday and Friday sightseeing. Saturday May 30 was race day. It was a scorcher. In the mid-30 degrees, but felt closer to 40. And the water was like a bath. Ugh. Much too hot and uncomfortable for my liking.

The race was held at a beach off the ANA resort hotel.

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

This waterpark was probably going to be a lot more fun than a 5km swim:

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

The water was so clean and clear, but oh so warm.

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

The course was 1.5km and required three laps and a bit to make up the 5km.

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

Three of us had signed up for the 5km swim.

Aquaholics Anonymous:

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

The boys were gonna be fast. Was also going to test out my brand new Garmin in my first open water swim race for the year. My goal time was to do it comfortably under 2 hours, anything around 1hour 45 I would be happy with. The last 5km swim race I did back in November without training, took me just over 2 hours to do. But since then I’ve gotten back into the training.

Ready and genki:

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

And we’re off:

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

The view from the water:

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

Scored some action pictures from the race organiser:

Me at the top in the pink cap:

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

Me again – check out the high kick:

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

This is cool action shot:

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

Much of the swim was pretty shallow over reefs.

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

Coming into the finish:

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

Yay. Finished!

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS
From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

Pleased to say I swam a time of 1 hour 40min which was on par with my expectations. Not overly fast but not bad for the first race of the season. Got to leave more fuel in the tank this year, as I have decided to do a 10km marathon open water swim.

I got first place in my age group for females, so not bad. Snared me a gold medal. It’s always nice to not go home empty handed. The boys also kicked arse. They took 2nd and 3rd place in the male age group with way faster times than me, both beating me by over 20 minutes.

Well done all round:

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS

As for the swim race itself – water was way too warm. Wetsuits definitely not required. It was also quite a shallow swim, as we swum over reefs. Got to see a few fish. Also a bit of a current, but all in all a decent swim. Course was a little tricky though with many overswimming the course. It was a 2.5km course, requiring 2 laps.
And much to my disappointment, something happened to my Garmin. Must have hit a button as a swum. Timing was pretty spot on, but it didn’t register the whole distance.

It was a fun swim to kick off the season:

From Ishigaki – 5km OWS