Sushi Trio

No trip to Japan is complete without gorging myself on wonderful fresh sushi. There’s an almost innumerable number of places to check out from the most high-end and exclusive of sushi-yas to cheap and cheerful sushi trains. We were not keen to blow all our money on one meal but had palettes that were a little bit more refined than the standard sushi train. So all of the sushi restaurants we visited in Tokyo sat somewhere squarely in the middle of the two extremes.

My personal list from, best to worst:

Sushi Dai

sushi dai

If you love sushi and Japan, Sushi Dai needs no introduction. It’s the cheapest Michelin starred sushi restaurant in all of Tokyo, and perhaps the world. Its reputation comes as much from this accolade as the infamous waiting times to get in! The humble little sushi store is located within the Tsukiji inner market, where all of the hustle and bustle happens. Admittedly, we had a very hard time locating the way to the inner market, as we weren’t sure where we were and weren’t allowed! The English signs dotted around as we wandered around in the dark weren’t all that helpful either.

I would say, go straight through the side entrance to the main gate and straight up, then turn left into where all the restaurants and stores are. If you arrive after the trains are running this should present no problem, as there will already be a line of people waiting! If you get there deep in the night, like we did at around 1am, it might take a bit more searching! This map should be somewhat helpful – Sushi dai is in the green coloured row of stores.

We were feeling particularly energetic at around midnight, so we boarded the last train and somehow managed to make our way, guided mostly by streetlights and the moon. We were actually a little bit unlucky because even though we got there at just past 1am which would usually guarantee entry into the first 5am sitting, there was a very large group of around 10 that had already arrived just before us! That said, the hours passed fairly quickly as I wandered around the market by night, caught up on Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure and occasionally watched Ryan play the DS. It definitely helped that it was Summer and the nights mild.

sushi dai chef

The first thing we laid our eyes on when we were ushered inside was the long well-worn sushi countertop that hundreds of thousands of people had sat at before us. For the most part, the chefs spoke very decent English and were very helpful with their instructions on how to eat the sushi.

There are a few different menu options, from ordering a la carte to the full 10 course omakase for 4000 yen. I’m pretty confident that almost everyone always orders the 10 course omakase and who were we to fight against the norm.

As we got stuck into breakfast the warm miso soup and fluffy egg omelette warmed our bellies for the rest of the meal. Surprisingly, the fatty tuna, (toro) wasn’t all that memorable. Instead, the bright red lean tuna made a bigger impression. So much so that we later ordered another piece.

I love the distinct taste of Pacific saury and mackerel so it made sense that this would be one of the stand out pieces for me! To finish the set course off there’s a selection of hand rolls to make sure that you’re full and to use up the cuts of fish that aren’t perfect enough for nigiri.

sushi dai bonito

Where Sushi Dai really came into its own for me and made me think that all of that lining up was worth it was with the extra pieces that we could order at the end of the omakase. The daily recommendation of bonito really blew me away. It was so fresh and  I’ve never had it raw before.

sushi dai line

I think the biggest question everyone has for Sushi Dai is, ‘Is it worth it?’ My answer to that is an ambiguous, ‘It depends.’ In the end, it’s a question of if what you value more, time or money. Got a lot of time and but not a lot of yen? Sushi Dai is probably one of the best sushi experiences in Tokyo, and that includes the fun of lining up at all sorts of strange hours! Just make sure to bring a little foldable chair or something comfy to sit on if you’re not one for standing up for hours.

On the other hand, if you’re all cashed up thanks to your high flying job/promotion/investments/parents you’re probably better off going somewhere a little more upmarket. A place where more attention is paid to the rice, your preferences and tea refills or drink pairings.

Of course, if you can’t be bothered waiting for a few hours there’s plenty of other options in Tokyo.

Sushi no Midori

Popular with locals and tourists alike Sushi no Midori is touted as a restaurant with good quality sushi at very reasonable prices. There are a few branches all of Tokyo, but we happened to visit the Shibuya branch, which is also the busiest by dint of it being in a very convenient location. Luckily, we only waited for roughly half an hour or so to get in since we were having a pretty early dinner at 5:30pm.

As a popular dining spot for tourists, there is a comprehensive English menu and most of the staff are used to requirements like asking for no wasabi.

The sets are pretty good value for money as they come with miso soup and chawanmushi. In Australia, the equivalent would set you back almost twice as much for some of the more luxurious cuts such as eel. I wouldn’t say that the sushi here is life changing but the sushi was fresh and there was lots of variety and some more premium types of seafood for a very decent price. If the line isn’t too long I recommend trying it out!

The sushi no midori branches are a little bit different, as there’s a standing only store and also a conveyor belt branch. Please check out their website to see what the most convenient store for you is!

Website

Sushi Zanmai

Sushi Zanmai boasts that it is possible to have cheap and tasty sushi with a real sushi chef without the need to spend all your cash. It also operates 24/7, 365 days a year which is pretty unheard of for most sushi restaurants, even in the midst of Tokyo.

There’s so many Sushi Zanmais all over Tokyo, with a number in Tsukiji market. This website has a handy link to all the locations. If you’ve got a late night craving for some sushi or want to low key count down the new year (like a group of my friends did while they were in Tokyo) Sushi Zanmai has your back. I won’t guarantee that it’s the best sushi you’ll ever have, but it’s decently priced, tourist friendly and safe for beginners with some more familiar western maki roll options available.

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Le Sputnik

Tokyo is a great city for fine dining. It is the most Michelin starred city in the world and always dominates Asia’s top 50 best restaurants. That said, sometimes finding a great fine dining restaurant experience in Tokyo can be completely bamboozling. The sheer number of restaurants can be somewhat overwhelming. Then there’s always the holiday budget to take into account. Is it really worth it to blow the price of the plane ticket on a single meal when there’s also so many cozy local places to eat at and shopping still left to do? Not to mention all those bastions of Japanese cuisine that seem impossible to reserve a table at unless you are located in Japanese and speak fluent Japanese.

So I came up with a simple two-step process to take away some of the stress.
1. Online bookings: Japanese of English, it’s pretty easy to figure out most online bookings systems. I preferred booking through the restaurant’s website directly. I’m not that fond of third party websites like pocket concierge that charge a premium for English language bookings.
2. Lunch specials: Many fine dining restaurants offer a cheaper lunch course. Rather than splashing out for just one expensive dinner, I love being able to sample a few different shortened tasting menus for the same price.

Le Sputnik ticked both of these boxes perfectly. I was drawn in by the amazing rose dish splashed across the restaurant’s website and also the painless booking. I’m not completely sure how I came across this website, but I have the vague recollection of browsing a few Eater and Japan Times articles before coming upon Le Sputnik and being intrigued.

To start we actually had a glass of celebratory champagne. What were we celebrating? Being in Japan and eating well I guess!

le sputnik tokyo

Cured fish atop a very zen garden-esque rock was a light little nibble to kick start things. I think Melbourne has spoilt me for fresh sashimi style dishes, because as good as this was I found myself missing the acidic tang of some my favourite cured kingfish dishes back home.

le sputnik bread

Baguette from Maison Kayser with a salted butter. This is as close as it gets to an authentic French baguette in Tokyo. Instead of the usual light fluffy bread, this had the crunch and chew that most Europeans look for in a good loaf.

le sputnik gobo

Deep fried smelt atop deep-fried gobo (burdock). The entirety of this was edible, but we were advised not to devour the whole thing as there was still plenty more food coming. Maybe I just don’t appreciate the earthy taste of gobo but this dish just didn’t do it for me. It was fried with a light touch, crispy and not at all greasy but I wasn’t all that into the flavour.

le sputnik fish

Saba with blue cheese sauce and fig. This arrived in a dome, with billows of smoke swirling around inside. It was unveiled theatrically and we were left with something as pretty as a picture. Saba is a fish with a very strong and distinct flavour profile so it was a bit of a shock with the similarly strong fig and blue cheese sauce. However, I soon came around to it.

le sputnik espresso

Foie Gras with orange and espresso jelly. Now, this is really where the meal came into its own. Soft fatty seared foie gras is always a pleasure to eat. The addition of slightly bitter coffee and sweet citrus fruit cut through the fat, to make this incredibly moreish and just rich enough to keep going back for another bite without feeling overwhelmed. The soft jelly seemed to melt into the foie gras whereas the crumble provided some welcome textural contrast.

le sputnik mushroom

Buckwheat crepe with poached egg, mushroom ice cream and a sprinkle of truffle. My face immediately lit up as this dish was being explained to us. This dish was a combination of everything I loved, crepes, eggs and mushrooms. In my mind, this was brunch gone fine dining in the best way possible.

le sputnik fish main

Sea Bass in a squid ink sauce with cabbage. Little known fact, I love Japanese cabbage. It’s so much sweeter and softer than Australian cabbage. I could probably eat half a cabbage by myself! Cooked like this, and paired with soft tender fish and an intense savoury sauce it was even better!

le sputnik venison

Venison from Hokkaido with a red wine reduction. We ate incredibly well on this trip, but I can say with confidence that this is the best single dish that we had on the entire trip. The meat was shockingly not gamey at all and the sauce incredibly rich and bold.

le sputnik dessert

I’m not too sure what this dessert was called, but it was an absolute masterpiece, both to look at and to eat. Crisp crystallised sugar broke apart to reveal juicy berries. The sorbet was fresh and light, exactly the sort of dessert I wanted to enjoy after eating a little bit too much on a warm Spring day.

le sputnik petit fours

Petit fours and tea finished off the meal and kept the highs going. The green tea dusted choux cream was a delightful little bite but I was more taken with the houjicha cream served in a small dish with a side of olive oil and salt. The creamy houjicha was already perfect on its own. The salt made it a touch more interesting but I preferred the houjicha cream by itself.

As each dish came out the meal just kept getting better and better. I will admit that I wasn’t wowed at the start, as I found the first few bites falling flat. However, by the end I was completely won over. The unusual flavour combinations and complex elements reveal an ambitious younger chef, keen to come up with something novel. Sometimes I found this a little bit too much. Certain elements seemed to be added for the sake of inventiveness rather than to actually improve the dish. Despite this, no matter how strange everything was grounded in solid skilled cooking and the hits far outshone any misses.

Ps. At 6,500 yen plus 10% tax, the 8 course lunch is the most amazing value for money!

Website

Patisserie Dominique Ansel Omotesando

I think that most people’s Tokyo food wish lists are filled with high end sushi stores, famous slurp worthy ramen counters and freshly fried tempura shops. As much as I love all of those things, I would do away with all of them in favour of all the delectable sweets in this bustling city.

Patisserie Dominique Ansel is just one of the many extraordinary sweet stores in Tokyo, but it is famous among locals and tourists alike. Dominique Ansel found his fame in another city entirely: New York. There he created the half croissant, half donut hybrid, also known as a cronut. I’ve tried a few of these in my time and often found them a little bit too rich and oily to be one of my favourites. Even without cronuts, there’s still a range of other sweet treats to indulge on.

dominique ansel cakes

As I waited in line to order, right next to me was a whole row of pastries and cakes tempting me to wreck havoc upon my wallet and waistline. I ended up buying the tomato bread and DKA to enjoy the next day. As for dining in, the obvious options were the dine in exclusive cookie shot and the iced smores.

The frozen smore is blow torched right in front of your eyes just before you take pick it up. This is a mix of almost every texture imaginable. The crisp torched shell, the chewy marshmallow, crunchy biscuits and the cold creamy ice cream were so addicting together. It also got increasingly messy to eat, threatening to fall off the stick the more I bit into it.

The cookie shot was just as novel but a little less complex. It’s exactly as it sounds: a shot of milk in a cookie shot glass. The inside of the still warm cookie shot was coated with a thin layer of chocolate to stop the cookie from getting soggy and disintegrating. The cookie was the quintessential all American chocolate chip cookie, chewy soft, sweet and buttery enough to just feel it on your hands. Honestly, I felt like I needed a bit more milk to help the sweet and rich cookie go down but Ryan loved it.

Patisserie Dominique Ansel is Tokyo by way of New York in the best way. There’s a combination of lighter Japanese inspired pastries along with a collection of very sweet decadent Americans treats. Whether you enjoy picking at something a bit more refreshing or want to be hit by saccharine sweetness this is the place to enjoy both worlds.

Tips
There is no table service on the first floor. You line up for your sweet treats and then find a seat to enjoy them. It’s a lot easier to come with someone else and have them scout out a table while you wait to order something in line, but when I came by myself it was also pretty easy to politely ask to sit next to another group on the communal table. The second floor has table service and a vastly different menu. There’s a 10% surcharge for ordering items from the first floor on the second floor. I think that the best way to experience both would be to head up to the second floor for a plated savoury or sweet and then heading down to take away a few more sweets for later, or just sitting down and indulging again.

There is also a take away only Patisserie Dominique Ansel located in Ginza for sweets on the go.

Website

Jimbocho Den

If you’ve read much of my blog, you’ll know that I usually like to give detailed write-ups for restaurant reviews. Going through dish by dish helps me relive the night and makes me hungry all over again. Hopefully, it also gives you a lot more insight than a few pictures and parting comments. However, for Jimbocho Den I am going to have to make an exception.

Dining at Jimbocho Den is full of delightful surprises. To tell you too much about the dishes and flow of the evening would spoil the experience. Instead, I’m going to mention some highlights and my final thoughts with a few photos. Even then, that might be too much of a spoiler. So all I’ll say is, if you’re after a unique and captivating fine dining experience in Tokyo, put Den on speed dial and make a reservation as soon as you can!

Jimbocho den cured fish

Jimbocho Den salad

As with all kaiseki everything that was served at Den was seasonal and grown locally. There are a lot of little details that went into the meal, from the cute little hydrangea sticker to the more obvious smiley face and Dentucky chicken.  My stand out dish was actually the pork. Fatty, unctuous and just all around glorious to eat with the fresh and unusual greens. Apparently, this is a divisive one, with many foreigners not enjoying how fatty the meat is. Perhaps all the tonkotsu ramen I ate over the trip trained me up, but I fell in love with this.

I could talk about all the things I ate in detail, however, it’s not the food that I want to ruminate on. It’s everything else. Usually, chefs say that they want to tell a story with their food. I’ve been told all about the local landscape and culture, the chef’s childhood nostalgia and the origins of dishes. However, Den goes one step further. This was a dialogue. Literally. Zaiyu Hasegawa, the head chef and owner came out to speak to us a few times about the dishes, his travels and the restaurant in general. His ever gracious kimono-clad wife also stopped by to exchange a few words. She professed that she was working on her English in the hopes that she would be able to chat with overseas guests as well.

We mentioned that we loved eating out and all types of food in general, and asked for a couple of suggestions. Chef Hasegawa asked if we had tried Fuunji since it’s pretty famous, and we both gave back blank looks. He paused and said that one one of the chefs really loves eating out and had heaps of recommendations. At the end of the night, we were presented with this list of restaurants to check out. Hasegawa even offered to help us secure a booking for one of the classier restaurants if we were interested.

Armed with this list, we left a little giddy with the euphoria of our meal, the excellent nihonshu and ready to unlock even more of Tokyo.

Jimbocho Den counter

Are there more refined Japanese Kaiseki restaurants out there? Definitely. In fact, Hasegawa admits as much. Saying that it’s not hard to find amazing top quality food almost anywhere in Tokyo. In all honesty, my favourite dishes of the trip were actually not from Den. Then why do I love Jimbocho Den so much?

It goes without saying that the food at most fine dining restaurants will be high quality and interesting. After all, that is why you are parting with all that money. Sure enough, the food at Den is tasty, fun and engaging. However, as a complete dining experience, Den is so much more. I’ll remember the boundless hospitality, the convivial atmosphere and sense of generosity long after I forget what the dishes were called and what they tasted like. If truly good dining is about evoking emotion and a sense of genuine connection, then from start to end Den is a brilliant success.

Tips

Booking is a bit of a nightmare since reservations are only taken by phone. You should start trying to secure a booking at midday exactly, Tokyo time, two months before your desired dining date. It took me one and a half hours of continuous speed dialling before I got through, but once I did I managed to get my first time preference and date.

Website

A tale of two curries

Japanese curry is definitely comfort food. It is mild, easy to make and even easier to eat. For most of us, (including most Japanese people) Japanese style curry is as easy as chucking a few things into a pot and adding the prepackaged roux. Even in Japan it’s not hard to find plates of curry from chains like Coco curry or family restaurants like Denny’s.almost everywhere you go. As much as I enjoy the taste of these simple curries, there’s also a whole spectrum of other curry dishes in Japan.

That’s where the next two restaurants come in. Although they both serve Japanese curry by name, they could not be any more different.

Rojira samurai curry

Soup Curry from Rojiura Curry Samurai

We first became acquainted with Soup Curry in its hometown of Sapporo. Soup curry sounds rather unappetising and bland, but trust me it is anything but. Unlike normal Japanese curry, the curry sauce and other ingredients are cooked completely separately. It’s only at the last stage that the crisp flash fried vegetables and meat meets the sauce.

At Rojiura there’s an almost endless amount of customisation in this bowl of curry. From the texture of the chicken, spiciness of the broth and amount of rice, it’s all up to you. Their signature curry comes with 20 types of vegetables! There’s also add ons like mochi cheese, soft boiled eggs and even oysters so you can even more in your bowl.

samurai soup curry chicken

I couldn’t resist getting the curry with 20 vegetables and an extra egg on top of my rice. The vegetables looked at tasted so vibrant. The quick flash fry left them crisp and so fresh. The curry had a very different spice profile to the Soup curry I had tried in Hokkaido but it was every bit full of flavour.

samurai soup curry shimokitazawa

Ryan added a potato cheese mochi and opted for half chicken and half pork. He also had a few less vegetables, settling for 13. If there’s something that you have to add to the soup curry it’s definitely the mochi cheese potato. I would eat 10 of those on their own at an izakaya if that was an option. The pork was also just as good as the chicken.

Rojiura Curry Samurai is actually a chain from Sapporo, but even there it is a highly regarded purveyor of soup curry. The Shimokitazawa branch is the first Tokyo outlet but their success has seen them expand beyond this original location.

Samurai curry website

French curry spoon

French cooking x Japanese curry at French Curry Spoon

This style of curry is entirely in a class of its own. The chef and owner of French curry spoon worked at a number of fine French restaurants before deciding to open something a little bit more humble whilst still making use of his classical training.The result is a satisfying blend of French cooking techniques, comforting Japanese curry and a unique blend of Indian influenced spices.

Ryan’s W curry was not very pretty to look out, but it was everything he wanted. A very generous double serving of tender beef sat next to the thick curry sauce. The beef is cooked in a red wine sauce and some of the most melt in the mouth meat that I have ever had. If you want to amp up the flavour profile even more, feel free to add even more spices to your curry!

I’m a little less carnivorous than Ryan. So I opted for a regular serve of meat with plenty of vegetables on the side. Of course I also added an ontama because that’s what I do when I’m in Japan. Once again it was clear that the vegetables were cooked separately from the curry. A combination of poached, sauteed and raw veg meant all sorts of crunchy textures. There’s less of the chunky curry sauce but even so it was delicious.

French curry spoon foi gras

The month we visited French Curry Spoon was actually celebrating their eight year anniversary.  To commemorate the occasion they had a few specials. When we saw just how reasonably priced the foie gras done three ways was we immediately caved and ordered it. Sweet berry sauce, fatty rich fried foie gras and creamy pate. We were in French food heaven for a moment there.

As a word of advice, we managed to squeeze into the last two tables at the counter for dinner. However, I hear that this is a very popular lunch spot so be prepared to get there early for a midday meal. Otherwise, getting a curry set to go is always an option!

Tabelog

Hawker Chan

Last year when it was announced that the world’s cheapest Michelin starred eatery was coming to Melbourne social media and news outlets went wild. On its opening, Hawker Chan attracted crowds and wait times of up to three hours. By the time we got around to visiting the wait time had shortened to a much more modest 25 minutes to get to the register, and then another 10 before getting our food.

Hawker Chan is meant to be set up like a Hawker Hall, where there is no table service. However, the shiny screens, air-conditioning and number system reminded me more of an upscale food court than anything else.

hawker chan melbourne hor fun

Plum tea was just not our cup of tea (excuse the pun) it was vegetal and too sour to really quench our thirst. The osmanthus tea fared a lot better and was sweet with the light passionfruit taste that is characteristic of osmanthus flowers. I felt that the drinks could have down with a bit of ice so that they were actually cold instead of just a bit below room temperature.

hawker chan thai style tofu

Soya sauce chicken with rice is the signature dish, so of course, we had to order it. It was obvious just from the get-go that this portion of chicken was tiny. I had a look around and felt that the servings were generally on the small side, but for some reason, this plate looked especially sad. Unfortunately, the disappointment continued. The chicken was tender, but really lacked that soy sauce flavour that we were expecting. The rice didn’t have much flavour even with sauce drizzled on top, so we resorted to mixing the hor fun sauce and chilli into the rice dish.

hawker chan rice

Soya sauce chicken with Hor Fun was a few dollars more expensive, but definitely worth it. This chicken was a lot better than the chicken with the rice. It was super tender and coated with sweet and salty soy sauce. Likewise, the sauce on top of the slippery Hor Fun was full of flavour, even when I pushed the spicy paste to one side.

Thai style tofu was fried extremely well so that the outside was crisp and the inside of the tofu still silken and soft. It was sadly let down by the sauce which was too sweet, cloying and one dimensional. This would have been amazing if in true Thai style there had been a bit of sour, saltiness and spice in the seasoning and garnishes.

In the past when big Asian institutions have come to Melbourne, they have never been able to compete with the real deal in their home country. It’s probably something about the ingredients, pricing and expectations in Melbourne which make it impossible to replicate that amazing meal overseas. Even with those admissions, Hawker Chan was still a bit of a letdown. Sure, the dishes are cheap, at less than $10 for almost everything but the small portions, inconsistency and wait times mean that I would rather fork out an extra $5 to $10 and get a more satisfying feed elsewhere.

 

Website
Hawker Chan Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Small Axe Kitchen

Isn’t it amazing how food can affect our mood? An amazing slice of cake or blissfully lazy long brunch can instantly turn my frown right around, and I know that I’m not alone!

Stumbling into Small Axe Kitchen on a Tuesday morning was an absolute blessing. We had originally intended to go somewhere else, but GPS, traffic and timing mishaps meant that we stopped by Small Axe Kitchen instead. I was not in the mood for brunch or conversation when we pulled up into the parking lot, but I couldn’t leave after laying eyes on the cute courtyard and tempting pastries. It also definitely helped that the young man who greeted us had the most soothing voice and helped us to a seat in the courtyard almost straight away.

Small Axe iced tea

Ryan was even more tired and grumpy than I was and therefore in desperate need of a coffee. The cappuccino was smooth, creamy and all around excellent drinking. My seasonal iced tea was the prettiest iced tea I have ever seen! What I originally thought was a floral incased spoon, was actually a gorgeous long ice cube with flower petals frozen inside. The actual peach tea was also the refreshing hit that I needed on the very warm Summer day.

Small axe pasta

Now, we couldn’t go to this cafe and not order the Breakfast pasta! All the individual components of the pasta are very good, from the al dente pasta to the crispy cured meat, but break the soft boiled egg on top, mix it all up and there you have it: brunch perfection. Although breakfast pasta by name, I would happily eat this for any meal of the day.

Small Axe pear

I don’t usually order sweet breakfasts, (even though I frequently eat cake for breakfast) but the Sangiovese poached pear with natural yoghurt really called out to me! Pear poached in wine sounds like a heady breakfast,  and the poached pear was definitely all soft and sweet with an almost berry-like sweetness from the wine. However, the dish as a whole struck a balance between light and decadent.  The pomegranate, honey and savoiardari crumbs topped it all off for a bit of extra sweet, sour and light crispy crunch.

Small Axe Kitchen was everything that I didn’t know I needed. The chill ambience, smooth beats and irresistible food put me in the right mood to face the rest of the day! In fact, the Sicilian inspired menu was so intriguing that made me very excited for more brunch in 2018. All I can say is I’ll be back for you ‘Mozarealla in carrozza’.

Small Axe menu

Website
Small Axe Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bien Etre Patisserie

I don’t really like rainy days. It’s hard to walk around, public transport is incredibly crowded and I’m never wearing the right shoes. However, after looking at these photos it seems fitting that we would stumble through the back entrance of Bien Etre Patisserie still shaking off our umbrellas and dodging the steady rain outside.

Although it is sandwiched between Shibuya and Shinjuku, Yoyogi is very much a residential neighbourhood. Situated up a very steep incline, Bien Etre Patisserie is a store that you have to seek out. Just as well, seeing as it only has a handful of small tables.

Bien etre tokyo

Next to the counter is an assortment of cakes, cookies and teas all ready for you to take home or gift a lucky someone. The cakes in the refrigerated counter are equally colourful and salivating.  However, Bien Etre Patisserie’s most famous dessert is never on display. The only clue you have is a tiny little handwritten placard on top of the cake display.

That’s right, Bien Etre Patisserie’s true calling card is their beautiful seasonal parfaits. The parfait for June was Hibiscus and American cherry with a caramel sauce. Fresh pastry cream, tempered chocolates, herbs and a generous amount of biscuit crumbs met with the slightly sour and bitter sorbet and caramel sauce to make each bite interesting. If I lived in Japan I would try to come back regularly to try all their monthly parfaits.

DSC03136

The berry cake didn’t reach the same fantastic highs as the parfait. However, the tart and sweet berries and soft cake was a nice light way to continue my sugar high.

Bien etre tea

Hibiscus tea was tart with just a hint of sweetness. It really helped keep me alert as the rain poured down outside and the gentle sounds of people tidying up in the kitchen made its way into the cafe. Chamomile tea was on the other end of the spectrum entirely. Sweet and soothing I would have happily fallen asleep drinking this.

Tabelog
Website

Frances Food & Coffee

I’m thankful that these past few years have seen the rise of more quality brunch places in the city. There’s the usual inner city suspects that almost every self-respecting brunch-loving Melbournian has tried. However, sometimes I’m not feeling baked eggs, madeleines, hot cakes or matcha anything. I just want to go somewhere a little different, less trendy and less crowded. That’s where Frances Food & Coffee comes in. Located close to the iconic Victoria markets, this is a bit of a walk away from the rest of the brunch heavy hitters.

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Green salad with hummus and halloumi. The greens were actually still warm and coated in dressing. They were actually a touch too well seasoned, towards the end of the dish it started to get a little bit too oily and salty which isn’t entirely what I had n mind when I ordered a salad. I must admit that I usually find halloumi in large doses far to salty for me to handle, so that may have contributed to me finding the whole thing a bit too much. I would say that this is the perfect salad for people who actually don’t usually like salads because it was warm and the flavours so full on.

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The chicken sandwich could have easily fed two people. This would have been a pretty good sandwich with just the juicy chicken, salad and crispy bread but the apple slices, walnuts and balsamic really took things to the next level. This is a combination that I’m looking forward to trying out myself at home next time I’ve got all these ingredients on hand!

Frances Food & Coffee won’t be winning any awards for innovation or setting Instagram afire with the hottest new thing. The tables and chairs are a bit squishy and the view is one of construction. However, the food is generous and hearty. It is comforting without being boring and definitely worth a try.

As an aside, my mum who is rather discerning when it comes to her coffee really enjoyed the brew at Frances Food & Coffee. So this might be a good spot to stop by to get an afternoon or morning or afternoon pick me up.

Website

Frances Food & Coffee Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

TOLO Coffee and Bakery / Shirohige cream puff

I have a confession to make. The first time I watched My Neighbour Totoro was two years ago. In fact, it’s only rather recently that I’ve really started watching a lot of Ghibli films and enjoying them for their artistry and storytelling. My relative lack of knowledge has never stopped me from loving the cute and very charming looking characters though. At Shirohige cream puff shop you can get a literal mouthful of Totoro.

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tolo and shirohige

You can always pick up the cream puffs and homemade cookies to go or enjoy them on the small patio just outside. However, upstairs is Tolo Coffee and Bakery. This is a cafe and restaurant in its own right, cream puffs downstairs aside. If you want to enjoy the cream puffs straight away at Tolo there is a small surcharge on each plated Totoro and a minimum drink order per person. I managed to nab a cute little spot out on the balcony all to myself. So, I decided to have some me time and order a pasta and a sweet.

tolo pasta

I chose the most interesting and Japanese pasta on the menu. Whitebait, bamboo, chilli and tomato pasta. The combination sounds strange on paper, but it really worked. There was a real savouriness to the sauce thanks to the tomatoes and fish but the bamboo kept things texturally interesting. Even though it was an oil pasta it still felt very refreshing, summery and not at all heavy. The pasta at Tolo changes seasonally, so I think you’ll be in for a treat no matter what you pick.

The bread was a bit too soft and flavourful to be much good at mopping up leftover pasta sauce. Instead, it served as a bit of a carby starter!

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Now onto the main event: the adorable cream puffs. These are almost too cute to eat. I actually felt bad when I stuck my fork into this adorable tottoro and cut his face in half. The flavours also change with the seasons. I lucked upon strawberry custard. This was surprsingly filling. The custard cream is lightly flavoured and not too sweet. I was impressed with how they managed to fill the Totoro with so much filling!

tottoro cream puff

The shop and cafe is located in a rather residential area of Tokyo. The closest station is Setagaya-Daita but it is also very walkable from the bustling Shimo-Kitazawa. In fact, right after this meal, I meandered over there to do some shopping.

Tolo Coffee and Bakery is somewhat overshadowed by the more famous shirohige cream puff shop but both are absolutely worth a visit. Even if you’re not the biggest Ghibli fan, the pasta is excellent and the atmosphere wonderful.

tolo bakery and pasta

Shirohige cream puff shop
TOLO Coffee and Bakery