Tag Archive | Tokyo

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:

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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:

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.

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.

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.

Ryuzu: a 2 star Michelin restaurant

I have a year’s worth of blogging to catch up on. Recently, I’ve managed to rack a few Michelin dining experiences under my belt over the last six months. This is one from last October.

I had an arranged to take a half day off work along with a friend and we went for an impromptu Michelin lunch around the corner from our work (we work in the same building). Without a reservation, we dropped by on a chance there were would be availability. Who knew that this was hidden in the one of the back streets of Roppongi. We went to Ryuzu – a French cuisine restaurant with 2 Michelin stars with reasonably-priced lunch options. The chef has trained under Robuchon establishments and I could see the influence in Ryuzu, even right down to the similar plateware.

There are three lunch course options ranging from 3,600, 5800, or 8.400yen. We decided each on the Menu du Jour for 5,800yen. Ryuzu was very understated and for that reason, I really liked it. I liked everything about it – the food, the service, the ambience. You can basically enjoy the likes of the Robuchon establishments without the massive price tag without compromising on quality.

From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin

We were surprised we were able to get a table without a reservation.

Interior was warm and comfortable especially given the fact that it was a raining Thursday.

From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin

We ordered a glass of champagne to start with. (I was in a celebratory mood for reasons to be explained in a later post).

From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin

First up was a pumpkin soup to amuse the bouche:

From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin

The obligatory serving of bread typical at most French restaurants:

From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin

We each ordered different starters with our course so we could try each others.
The foie gras:

From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin

The shiitake mushrooms:

From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin

Here are the rest of the dishes:

From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin

Sharing:

From Ryuzu Michelin

For mains, we got the fish and the pork between us. The food was so light, fresh and flavoursome:

From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin

Dessert was pretty amazing. I decided on the mango and my friend got the chocolate. I had a little bit of dessert envy.

From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin
From Ryuzu Michelin

Petit Fours:

From Ryuzu Michelin

A wonderful lunch.