Archives

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!)

Journey towards Tokyo Marathon 2018

Today I officially got accepted into the Tokyo Marathon! A bucket list item about to come true (if I make it to the finish line)!

I saw people on Facebook getting their rejection emails, so I checked my email and nothing yet. Hopefully no news is good news. I then finally got an email and was amazed to see that I had been accepted! I had previously applied 5 times and been rejected. So about time, I say.

Wow. Can’t believe I’m one of the lucky ones who get to participate.

Shit. This means I’m going to actually have to run and train! I don’t remember the last time I went for a jog and I’m at my heaviest weight ever!

So now I gotta train for a full marathon. I can’t believe my first ever marathon is going to be the Tokyo Marathon in 2018. I think the hardest part is over though – the actually getting accepting into it. I suppose running is the easy part but perhaps not for me. This is going to be a huge wake up call for the body.

First thing on my list is to buy a pair of running shoes. My current running shoes are so old and ruined that they are no longer wearable. I’m going to have to do something about.

And I’m going to have to find a lot of motivation to train for this. But it’s such a rare opportunity that I don’t want to squander it, so I really want to finish within the time limit of 7 hours.

I’m going to make an effort to jog, train and blog about my journey to Tokyo Marathon 2018! Bring. It. On.

 

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:

IMG_1952

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.

IMG_1940

IMG_1941/

 

IMG_1943

 

IMG_1950

 

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

IMG_1936

 

IMG_1937/

 

IMG_1935

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.

IMG_2294

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.

IMG_2306

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

IMG_2299   IMG_2298

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).

IMG_2303   IMG_2304

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.

2015 Soy sauce cooking contest

One of the highlights of last year was that I entered a cooking contest.

I saw this contest advertised. I really only entered for the chance to win 100,000yen which at today’s exchange rate is about 1,200 AUD. I decided why not. Even if didn’t win first place, there were still second and third cash prizes. First step was to enter in a recipe and a story (based on the recipe). So actually both the housemate and I decided to enter. We would both submit a recipe, a photo of the dish, and our story to accompany the recipe. The contest was being run by the Soy Sauce Association (who knew there was even such an organisation) so the recipe had to feature soy sauce. We came up with our recipes and modified them to include a tablespoon or two of soy sauce. We made a pact that if either or both of us won any money that we would share our winnings with the other. (Stupid mistake that was.)

So anyway, we spent one weekend each perfecting our own recipe and our story. We have seen enough episodes of Masterchef Australia to know that everyone has to have a sob story. Your story has to touch people’s emotions either through tears or laughter. So we definitely made sure to include poignant heartwarming stories.

We submitted our recipe, our photos and story online. Too easy.
I decided on chicken-katsu parmigianna – basically a Japanese-style version of chicken katsu (schnitzel) parmigianna style ie with eggplant, tomato and cheese on top served with asparagus wrapped in bacon.

This is what I ended up submitting for my entry.

From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest

It looked appetising enough. And tasted pretty flavoursome.
It was a matter of wait and see if I would progress to the next round.
As there were two categories, I actually entered in both the Japanese and Western cuisine category.
Housemate entered the Western cuisine category only with his apricot chicken, or maybe it was peach chicken. For the western cuisine, I didn’t really put in much effort and just submitted a spaghetti bol recipe. I was mostly aiming for the Japanese cuisine category. You were allowed to submit as many recipes as you wanted though.

About a month later, lo and behold, the both of us had been invited to the cook-off. We were one of the finalists in each of the categories. Of all the submitted recipe entries, we were in the top 5 for our respective categories. They had about 100 recipes in total split amongst about 70 entrants (accounting for the fact that some people submitted multiple recipes). It turned out that my recipe for the Japanese category was a finalist.

Wow. Pretty cool to have been a finalist. The cook-off was held in August last year. Both the housemate and I had a chance of winning 100,000yen each. Turns out though that the housemate wasn’t going attend the cook-off despite being one of the top 5 finalists. If I had of known that he wasn’t going to attend the cook-off, then I should not have made the deal to split our winnings, because it would now mean that any money we would win, would have to be earnt by me, and I would have to split it with him, even though he destroyed any chance of him winning despite making it this far. He did not attend because of work on a Saturday. I told him to take the day off work. He had enough notice to give, and really, was working on the weekend going to pocket him more than the possibility of 100,000yen? I think not. So off to work he went, against my bitter protests.

So anyway, I went along to the cook off on my own. It was a bit of a bizarre, surreal experience. You really never know what to expect, especially in Japan. The cook off was on a Saturday and practically an all-day affair. The recipe had to be cooked within an hour, so I didn’t think it would take that long, but we spent hours there. First of all I was a little late in finding the venue. It was held at a culinary cooking school institute near Shinjuku.

I got to meet the other finalists. I was curious as to where they were all from. (Here’s a photo of about half of the contestants)

From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest

Some had come as far as Kyushu and I think Akita. Most were from Tokyo or Saitama. The contest was also only open to foreigners living in Japan. The Soy Sauce contest for the last 6 years was previously only open to Japanese people, and now they were trying to make it more international. The travel expenses for all the finalists was also paid for, so it was really nice for those that were further away to get a free holiday to Tokyo. At least my 3 dollar or so train fare was covered.

From Soy sauce cooking contest

The day consisted of waiting around a bit, getting to know the other contestants – no one knew what the hell was going on, then a briefing by the organisers, opening speeches by the panel of judges, a tour of the kitchen, cook-off and then getting photos in the studio.

Pics of the organisers coming into the participants waiting room:

From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest

And then we got to go down into the kitchen where each of our stations were set up with our ingredients etc and we got to meet the panel of judges including I think a couple of famous people (but I’m not really up on my Japanese TV celebrities) as well as a chef at a hotel in Tokyo.

Fellow competitors:

From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest

Panel of judges:

From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest

And oh, did I mention that they had photographers and camera crew etc, and yes, they came around whilst we were cooking and asked us questions in Japanese etc. I could never be on Masterchef, because I find cameras really off-putting when you’re trying to cook to a time limit. Talk about pressure.

From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest

Here were some of the cooking stations from the competition:

From Soy sauce cooking contest

There’s a lot of mushrooms on this one. He must be a fun guy (funghi – get it?):

From Soy sauce cooking contest

This is MY cooking station:

From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest

And then it was time to cook. All a bit of whirlwind really. There was 9 other people cooking in the same kitchen and cameras and judges walking around to each station talking to us etc, while we’re trying to cook. I don’t really like talking to cameras. I was also going to be pushed for time. Was also a little weird to not be cooking in your own kitchen. Things like the utensils and oven were a little bit different. Everything here was all commercial appliances and large scale. It was a big stressful really. After the time was up, here was my final dish.

From Soy sauce cooking contest

When I had found out I was a finalist, I tried to practice my dish a couple more times at home and for the life of me, could not get it to look like it did in my original submission photos. I haven’t been able to replicate my dish since. Even on the cook-off day, it was different to my original dish.

From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest

All of our dishes went onto the front bench for the judges to try. Everyone had to make 4 person servings, but a lot of it went untouched. I felt like I had made a lot of food, which barely went uneaten. I think the judges literally only had a forkful of each food. Granted they did have to try 10 dishes (5 from both the Japanese and Western cuisine categories).

From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest

We also didn’t get to try the dishes of our competitors. There was some serious competition though. I was up against one or two French guys (who can compete with the French?), a couple of Americans (one of whom cooks at a restaurant in Tokyo), a trilingual Canadian girl who has her own Youtube cooking channel and blog. Er, yeah no one pays me to cook and I’m no chef. I do like cooking though. Wish I had a better kitchen in Japan though. The standard though in hindsight really wasn’t that high though. Made me question the other 90 or so recipe submissions. Some of the finalist dishes were just spring rolls, or spaghetti bologanise but using packet udon noodles instead of spaghetti. At least handmake the udon! I mean, even my dish was not special. Anyone can make what I made. A pretty mediocre effort on my part.

We then had to go to the photo studio to get pro photos of our dishes and our beautiful selves. Apparently our photos were going to get published in something.

From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest
From Soy sauce cooking contest

And then we had a bit of a closing ceremony and a group shot.

From Soy sauce cooking contest

We would now have to wait for 2 months until we found out the results.

You will have to stay tuned for the results. That is a blog post for another day.

Tokyo afternoon tea, Captain Cook

Did another afternoon tea recently. The brief was a bit of a challenge. It was a friend’s birthday and only had about a week to book it. Everything in Tokyo needs to be booked 2-4 weeks in advance so getting a table anywhere for five people was going to be tricky. I tried about 5-6 venues to no available. Another hurdle which unfolded was the budget. They wanted an afternoon tea for about 3000-3500yen which is hard to find in Tokyo. The third hurdle was the time. Most afternoon teas don’t start until about 2pm but we needed one for a lot earlier for around 12:30pm.

I finally found a place that offered tea for 3000yen and they had availability. However, when I requested the time, they informed me that afternoon tea wasn’t offered until later in the afternoon, but they so kindly offered to prepare it earlier for our group. Yay, success.

The place in question was Captain Cook Cafe. And it was quintessentially British. It was a like a little piece of England in Tokyo.

From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea

The venue is two floors and we were seated upstairs. Interior was very British and cosy.

Upstairs:

From Captain Cook afternoon tea

Downstairs:

From Captain Cook afternoon tea

Look, there’s even HP sauce:

From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea

The menu features all things British and they’re open for brunch and dinner, featuring classics such as roast beef, pie and chips, sausages, and even the good ol’ hot English breakfast. I will definitely be back to sample more of their fare.

Afternoon tea was on the agenda for this particular Saturday afternoon, or rather lunch.

From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea

There was plenty of food – most of which was very sweets heavy. There were just a couple of morsels of sandwiches which were the only savoury components. The rest were all sweets and cakes.

From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea

This sample was yummy:

From Captain Cook afternoon tea

I would say that the sweets and cakes were either a hit or miss. The cupcakes were probably the worst (they tasted stale), but everything else was edible. The scones unfortunately weren’t very British. We had such high hopes especially given that the birthday girl was British. They were skimpy on the jam and cream though. Not quite enough for 5-people serving and then we discovered they charged us for the extra cream that we had to ask for:

From Captain Cook afternoon tea

The service though was wonderful. The staff were very accomodating and super friendly. And I really loved the venue and the interior. Lots of British paraphanelia.

As for teas, you choose the one kind but then unlimited hot water refills so we went through quite a few pots of tea.

All in all, a lovely quaint afternoon tea for the price tag. And I’ll definitely be back to try other dishes. It’s a nice venue to drop by for a cup of tea and a book, to be sure.

From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea
From Captain Cook afternoon tea

High Tea at Aman, Tokyo

The newest hotel to arrive on the Tokyo scene is the Aman Hotel which opened up in Otemachi (near Tokyo station) last year. This hotel, or rather it’s high tea offering has been on my radar for a while now. But bookings have been near impossible with a lot of frustration on my part. I am a rather impatient person.

In September last year, I tried to get an afternoon tea booking. But they were extremely busy and I was told that there were no seats until middle of October. Seriously, who are all these people who are doing high tea? With bookings full 4-6 weeks in advance, I had to drop pursuing this one for a while. I also did a few overseas trips at the end of last year (Australia in November and Palau in December) so wasn’t available for afternoon tea.

So back in January, I tried again to get a booking, only to be told that they were fully booked until February. Geez, I’ve never known a harder reservation. Getting a Michelin star restaurant reservation would have been easier that this afternoon tea. By this point, I was asking the hotel, let me know all your available days and time slots. How about you tell me when I can get a booking rather than when I can’t. It was at this point, that they enlightened me that they actually offer it everyday! And not just weekends which I was had been trying for. And not only was it offered every day of the week but from 11:30am to 9:30pm. Again not noted on their website (which states available from 12-5pm). With every day offering and a much later timeslot, I opted to do an evening afternoon tea instead. So I was able to finally get a booking for a Friday evening in January. So instead of dinner we went for high tea at 7:30pm after work, which was a little weird. Let’s hope all this trouble was worth it.

From Aman high tea

The high tea is offered in their Lounge Bar of the Otemachi Tower building and it’s called the “Black Afternoon Tea”.

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

You’ll be pleased to know that this is all-you-can drink tea and you can choose as many different kinds of tea as you like. Tea supplier is Ronnefeldt (same as the Four Seasons).

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

As for atmosphere, one word – Dark. Interior was varying shades of black, charcoal and grey.

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

A glass of sparkling: to begin the Friday evening:

From Aman high tea

Everything was black – the napkins were black. And even the teapots were black:

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

I did love the fact that the teapots came on tea warmers. One of only two places I have ever been to in the world so far where they do. This always wins brownie points in my book.

From Aman high tea

Afternoon tea for three:

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

Savouries:

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

The pate was amazing. The savoury portions were a little too small for my liking.

From Aman high tea

And the menu also said it had a fritter, but we think they mean frittata.

I also felt that the petite sweets dishes way outnumbered the savoury dishes. They could have had less sweets to make the afternoon tea more balanced, especially so when they offer afternoon teas until 9:30 in the evening. They could do with less sweets or more savouries for a more balanced dining experience.

There were only 5 savoury bites compared to about 10 sweets (not all pictured below), plus scones! This was a little too much sugar load for dinner (in lieu of a proper meal).

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

The sweets though were impressively handcrafted with a fashion theme.

From Aman high tea

Check out the chocolate handbag and high heels. And hat as well.

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

Edible fashion is a lot of fun:

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

And the handbag came filled with berries:

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

And the high heel was caramel filled:

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

And there was a jelly as well.

From Aman high tea

And jubes that came in an edible chocolate shell basket:

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

I washed all this sugar down with about 4 pots of tea.

And of course, there were also scones to be had: Though shalt not go hungry with the Aman high tea.

From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea
From Aman high tea

So the overall verdict:
Filling, yes. Ideal for sweets lovers. Was a little too light on the savoury elements. And not the most amazing scones ever. Unlimited teas and coffees is a big bonus though. The whimsical edible fashion sweets are a drawcard for girly girls. I’ll always be persuaded on flavour though. Not all the sweets were to my liking. I can’t say I ever really enjoy a jelly.

Standard price is 4,600yen plus tax,so about 5000yen without the champagne. Not bad considering the establishment, food and unlimited tea. Other downside was the smoke. We were unfortunately seated near the cigar library room which meant that cigar smoke pervaded the lounge area. I would recommend asking for a window seat to avoid the smoke. Don’t know that I would go back here again.