Japan Travel Diary 2017 2 weeks in Tokyo

Tokyo

Sometimes I find it difficult to describe Tokyo. What is the real Tokyo? Is it the crowds scrambling across the road in Shibuya? The carefully tended gardens of the Imperial gardens? The frantic energy of shop girls as sales season descends upon Harajuku? The moments of reverie found in the temples and shrines dotted everywhere? Or the uniform steps of salary men and women making their way to and from work?

Although Tokyo is commonly known as a city that never sleeps, to me it is also a city of dreams. I think that I am so enraptured by this metropolis because it is all of these things that I love, all at once. Sure, I’ve had my fair share of bad experiences and I will be among the first to tell people that Japan has its fair share of seedy and downright disturbing. Even then, Tokyo has an almost electrifying magnetic pull. I know that it won’t be too long before I return again.

It took me a few visits to Japan before I eventually got to my favourite places in Tokyo. Even then I am still constantly discovering new suburbs, restaurants, and shops that I can’t help but effusively gush over.

I won’t be writing a day by day run down of my two weeks in Tokyo. Instead, this post is just the start of a long list of places that I visited and enjoyed. It’s a little haphazard, but do check back as I hope to update often.

To do 
One Piece Tokyo Tower
Imperial Gardens and Palace
Asakusa
Tsukiji markets
Ghibli Musuem
Temari no ouchi cat cafe
Koenji
Jiyugaoka
Shimokitazawa

To eat

Sweets 
Hidemi Sugino
Echire
Berry Parlour (cafe comme ca)
Patisserie Paris S’evile
Kao san
Patisserie Dominique Ansel
Salon Bake and Tea
Takano Fruits parlour
Pierre Herme
Patisserie Bien-etre
Parfait run down

Fine Dining 
Jimbocho Den
Le Sputnik
L’effervescence
La Table de Joël Robuchon
Beige by Alan Ducasse

Cafes
All C’s cafe
Potato Cream cafe
Aoyama flower market tea house (Aoyama / Akasaka)
Tolo Bakery and Cafe
Salon Ginza Sabou
Cafe du Lievre

Casual Eateries 
Sushi Midori
Sushi Zanmai
Sushi Dai
Yutaka
French Curry Spoon
Soup Curry
Seirinkan
Fuunji
Ginza Kagari
Ramen Afuri

Drinks 
Sakurai tea house

If you have any recommendations please let me know! I can’t wait to discover your version of Tokyo as well.

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Hidemi Sugino

Who is Hidemi Sugino? In Japan, he is revered as a master cake maker, famed for his mousse cakes and being the first in Asia to win many prestigious awards, but outside of the country, I’m not too sure how many people have heard of him. This may be because unlike other patissiers he has not expanded his cake empire overseas, choosing instead to have a small simple store down an unassuming street in Ginza. Furthermore, almost as an anathema to current social media trends, no photos are allowed of the cake display or dining room. Instead, the cakes are plated and eaten in a sort of sedate and hushed reverie.

In spite of this, it seems that people were in the know and ready for cakes at their opening time of 11. When we arrived 10 minutes before opening there was already a small line outside. We were each ushered into the store to pick cakes for dine in, take away or both. I highly recommend dining in because there is a selection of cakes which can only be had in the café. According to the staff, they are too delicate to be transported. Of the cakes that can actually be taken away, even then, it is recommended that most of them only travel for an hour or so, to preserve their integrity.

The cakes are well and truly tiny. Even the super slim Japanese girls sitting on either side of me ordered at least 2 cakes each. If I was feeling a little bit more ambitious I probably could have ordered up to 3 or 4 cakes for myself but for now, we stuck with 4 to share.

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The Ambroise (Left) is arguably the cake that made Hidemi Sugino famous. A dark chocolate glaze and tempered chocolate rounds cover a delicate multi-layered cake. The slick chocolate makes this cake look incredibly rich. In a way it is, the cherry taste of dark chocolate seems a little overwhelming at first. However, it gives way to a much gentler berry and pistachio flavours and layers, well suited to a Japanese palette that doesn’t enjoy things that are too sweet.

The Sous Bois (Right) was Ryan’s favourite. Embedded into this cake are more berries! The sourness of the berries offset the sweetness of the mousse, making each mouthful a surprise. It also goes without saying but each of the fruits on all of the cakes tasted exceptional. In particular, the raspberries weren’t tart, and instead the flowery, almost perfume like taste of raspberry exploded in my mouth.

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The Everest (Right) was more to my tastes. It’s easy to see where this cake gets its name from. The peak of white cream at the top was sweet and soft. In fact, I would hazard to say that eating this was akin to eating a cloud. Every bite, soft and airy, with a little bit of juicy berry flavour from the hidden juice inside. Ryan commented that it tasted like a very soft and subtle cheesecake.

I thought that it would be impossible to top but the Sicily (Left) was even softer than the Everest! A strong pistachio flavour permeated the outer layer of green mousse. This is tempered by the peach and raspberry mouse inside. The texture was halfway between cream and panna cotta. I think I detected a light alcohol taste in the sponge at the bottom that made me smile a little. The taste of pistachio and alcohol definitely reminded me of southern Italy.

The beverages come at rather eye-watering prices. My single cup of apple tea was 780 Yen and Ryan’s tiny cup of espresso set us back 540 Yen. Thankfully, they were both well brewed. After dining at a number of Tokyo cafes, this beverage pricing, although shocking for an Australian is very much in line with most other premium cafes. I suppose these prices are part of the air of exclusivity and luxury that is inherent in dining in the hushed back room of the café.

Although I was ready to make the pilgrimage to Hidemi Sugino, I was also ready to be disappointed because I find that I simply don’t like mousse cake all that much. However, the delicate balance of flavours and soft set mousse at Hidemi Sugino has well and truly made me a convert. I only wish that there were more places which had such stringent standards for their own mousse cakes.

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Padre Coffee East Brunswick

Padre Coffee is a big name in the Melbourne coffee scene. After a little bit of research, I also learnt that Padre means father in many languages. It seemed appropriate to be visiting their East Brunswick store where it all began with my very own father (and mother). As soon as I entered the store the heady smell of coffee beans filled the air. It all makes sense as soon as you see the coffee roaster on premise.

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The large latte arrived in a bowl! This is my mum’s favourite cup of coffee, smooth and strong without a trace of acidity. On the other hand, a regular cappuccino comes in a normal cup. The froth on top is just as beautiful as that of the latte!

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I had a Yunnan green tea instead of coffee because I was still feeling a bit unwell. I appreciated how they took the time and care to brew a proper pot of green tea, instead of just filling a pot with boiling water like some cafes are wont to do. It was a touch too cold, on the lower end of 70 degrees perhaps due to not sufficiently warming the pot or cup.

For such a large venue there’s not much in the way of food, but that’s just fine because the real focus is on the coffee. That’s not to say that the small selection of pastries isn’t delicious. We shared a flaky ham scroll that went perfectly with the coffees.

Adjoined to the cafe, there’s also a veritable cornucopia of coffee making supplies. If you’re in the market for anything coffee related or even just a cup (or bowl!) of coffee this is the place to go.

padre coffee

https://shop.padrecoffee.com.au/
Padre Coffee Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

By Josephine

I’ve never been to Paris before. However, if it is anything like By Josephine I can see why so many others are enamoured with it. It somehow manages to be effortlessly classy and whimsical all at once. The interior would look perfectly at home in a shabby chic Pinterest inspiration board. The pastry display is offset with a beautiful glow of light. I daresay it would be impossible to walk in and leave empty handed. In fact, I also bought a canele and pistachio and raspberry croissant for later!

By Josephine high tea

On this occasion, I was partaking in a leisurely high tea with friends. The high tea offers a wide selection of drinks, from tea (hot or cold), coffees and even juice. It’s hard to go past a traditional pot of hot tea when sweets are involved. The Detox Tea was pleasantly somewhere between green and herbal tea.

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A selection of macarons accompanied the tea. The flavours were pistachio, chocolate and salted caramal. In terms of flavour the pistachio was my favourite, but it certainly doesn’t beat the black sesame that By Josephine also puts out. Impressively, all the macarons at By Josephine are made by hand rather than machine!

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As always savouries were on the bottom tier of the stand. The chicken & tarragon pain au lait looked incredibly inviting, with a glistening sheen to the pain au lait bun. I liked the bursts of tarragon but found myself wishing that the bread was a little bit warmer and softer. Palmiers remind me of my childhood. I loved going to the bakery with my parents and picking out the largest and flakiest palmier covered with sugar crystals to snack on. Biting into the tapenade & sundried tomato palmier was just like revisiting that joy but as an adult. The cheese gougère is definitely one for cheese lovers. The rich goat’s cheese sat neatly in the light choux pastry. I don’t entirely remember what the square pastry was, but I will say that it reminded me of a pizza in the best way.It wouldn’t be a French high tea without a buttery quiche to help round off the savoury plate.

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The top most tier contained a small pot of lavender infused crème brûlée and cubes of grapefruit marshmallow. I am a bit of a sucker for home made marshmallows and lavender so it was a nor brainer that I would love both of these. Thankfully the crème brûlée was flavoured with a light hand so it didn’t taste soapy.

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That just leaves the middle tier of even more sweet treats! Pistachio bread and butter pudding with raspberry coulis and custard on top was a wonderful twist on an old classic. I imagine this would be even better served warm straight from the baking tray. Spiced biscuits were a surprise hit! Crispy and full of warm cinnamon flavour, I could have easily eaten a handful. The raspberry and chocolate tartelette was probably the richest part of the whole tea. I struggled to finish everything else after eating this. So much so that I ended up taking the rose & raspberry tea cake home to give to my mum.

The 3 tiered stand was so full that our madeleines didn’t fit on! Sadly this means that I forgot to take a photo of them. You’ll just have to trust me when I say that they were small, cute and perfect dipped in tea.

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By Josephine also offers a vegetarian and gluten free high tea menu. The gluten free set that my friends shared looked likewise plentiful and delicious.

At $42 this high tea a real bargain for the incredible selection of food! In eschewing the usual scones and sandwiches By Josephine makes every item in the high tea seem exciting and different. My only real gripe is that it only includes one drink. In typical French style, there is plenty of butter and some of the foods are very rich so it’s a bit difficult to finish them without a drink to offset the heaviness. I found myself ordering another pot of peppermint tea halfway through tea service.

By Josephine display

P.S. On the website it states that high tea is only for the duration of 1.5 hours, but this doesn’t seem to be strictly enforced if the store isn’t busy.

http://macaronsbyjosephine.com.au/
By Josephine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tina’s Noodle Kitchen

Although it’s still Autumn in Melbourne it feels like we’ve suddenly been plunged into Winter. It’s such a shock to the system to go from an unbearably warm March to the biting cold in April. I must confess it has got me a little down in the dumps and also a little bit sick.

When it’s sick and cold there’s nothing better than a warming bowl of soup. Even better if there are noodles in the soup as well. It seemed like a few other people had the exact same idea as me, as there was a small line outside Tina’s Noodle Kitchen when I arrived. Not one to wait out in the cold I went window shopping in Myer for a while before coming back and being seated instantly.

Ordering and payment are done the same time at the counter. If you look Asian the staff will probably also speak Chinese to you.

Tinas noodles fish and mustard

Fish Slices with Pickles was exactly what I needed. Tender slippery pieces of fish and mustard greens were a great bite. Hidden in the soup were crunchy pieces of black fungus and soft beancurd. The rice noodles are very soft and consequently easy to slurp up.

Tinas noodle kitchen

Spicy Beef Noodles with added mushrooms are really very spicy. The layer of oil helps seal in the heat and makes for a flaming hot mouthful, heat and spice wise.

After a few mouthfuls of soup noodle, you will notice that both of the broths are very salty. They serve more as noodle flavouring than as a soup that you should drink up. I think this reflects the fact that heavy seasoning a la salt, pepper, pickles and probably a bit of MSG are used as opposed to the laborious process of stewing bones and vegetables for a particularly complex broth. Despite this, Tina’s Noodle Kitchen fills a gap in the city for Chinese style soup noodles. If you’re craving something warming on a cold night, it will probably hit the spot.

Tina's Noodle Kitchen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Operator 25

How do you keep in touch with people who you no longer see regularly? A sad part of adult life seems to be losing touch with friends. Sure, you can see what they’re up to on facebook, instagram or other social media but there’s nothing quite like catching up in person.

In a similar vein, how often should you touch base with a good cafe or restaurant? I’ve admitted time and time again that when it comes to food I’m not one for commitment. I can’t bring myself to visit the same places again when there are so many new ones to try. Even so, sometimes I feel that from time to time I should check up on places that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. Perhaps it serves me right when after a year, they’ve totally changed the menu and replaced all the old favourites.

I didn’t have any of this in mind when I re-visited Operator 25 after a long absence. However, upon reflection, it seems appropriate that I would finally go back here with a good friend who I had also not seen for too long.

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Not only was it unseasonably warm, but I had also power walked over to the train station in order to get to brunch on time. As a result, I chose to eschew my usual warm tea with an iced elderberry tea with chia seeds and orange slice. The tea had a pleasant citrus taste and wasn’t too sweet. I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of the chia seeds was, but they added an interesting if somewhat unnecessary textural element to the drink.

Orange Juice was ordered by both my dining companions. It was freshly squeezed, so if you let it sit for too long it would seperate a bit, but a quick stir and the taste isn’t really affected at all.

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I dithered between the chia pudding and the Japanese open omelette, before eventually settling on the omelette. What arrived was more of a thin pancake of egg with a generous dash of many of my favourite Japanese ingredients. I found that the octopus was a bit too tough and toothsome and the sauce a touch overpowering, but that aside the flavours were on point.

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As for the teriyaki benedict, the mizuna leaves weren’t a sell but the soft brioche and yuzu hollandaise definitely won hearts.

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My friend polished off the Balinese pork burger first. After the last bite, he paused and commented that it was ‘good, real good actually’. In my books that’s high praise. Although Operator 25 no longer serves this burger with a side of sweet potato fries, I’m not sure if you need them considering how indulgent this already looks.

Even though I hadn’t been to Operator 25 in years it’s funny how I trusted that it wouldn’t let me down. This visit was everything that I had hoped it would be; somehow striking a balance between the new and familiar. I’m inclined to hope that my friendships will be the same, even if time and distance keeps us apart.

http://www.operator25.com.au/
Operator25 Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Two birds one stone

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for many reasons. It helps kick start your metabolism, sets the tone for the rest of the day and just helps you refuel. More importantly for me, without breakfast, I get real hangry, real fast. By the time I arrived at Two Birds One Stone, it was a little past 2 pm. I had already had a mini tantrum in the car ride over and was ready to eat almost everything in sight.

Never mind the beautiful high ceilings, large glass windows, and spacious booths, I only had one thing on my mind when I walked in: food.

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I get the feeling that Two birds one stone is not bringing their coffee making A game on a quiet Tuesday afternoon, but even so, the Flat white was rather ordinary. The Earl Grey Tea fared a lot better and instantly perked me up. A touch of milk and sugar helped round out the over steeped cups as the pot was almost emptied.

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Rare yellow fin tuna, with potatoes, green beans, olives, tomatoes, aioli and a crispy fried poached egg was really just a rather upmarket salad nicoise. Not that you’ll catch me complaining, seeing as I love salad nicoise. Biting into the fried poached egg was s bit of a pleasant surprise, as the crispy crust was well seasoned. You can’t really go wrong with so much fresh produce on a plate. As expected the vegetables were bursting with flavour if a touch too oily at times.

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The Reuben: corned beef, swiss cheese, and sauerkraut with seeded mustard mayonnaise on rye. This is one of the better Reubens that I have come across. The cheese was perfect with the sauerkraut. In fact, I happily ate the crusts of the sandwich with just the sauerkraut and rye and didn’t miss the beef at all. Each bite was a great balance of flavours, so much so that the gherkins weren’t needed for palate cleansing. Instead, they were just pleasant to munch on.

Both these dishes were on the pricier side for relatively small portions. It’s almost to be expected when you consider that Two Birds One Stone is located in South Yarra. I’m sure that if I was a local, who could afford the houses or the rent in the area I would be happy to make Two Birds One Stone my local cafe. For now, I’ll just bookmark it as a place that serves tasty and satisfying brunch fare, but there’s nothing that’s urging me to revisit.

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www.twobirdsonestonecafe.com.au/
Two Birds One Stone Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hash Specialty Coffee

Hash is actually a cafe that I have brunched at many a time. This is pretty unusual considering that my ever growing list of brunch venues is always pulling me to unexplored places. On my first two visits to Hash I was rather underwhelmed with the food and service; but the last two times I was fairly impressed with everything on offer.

On one visit my mum ordered a Latte in a large cup. She was a bit miffed that a large coffee only comes in paper cups, but it would have to do! She commented that the coffee was not bad; nothing to write home about but not bad either.

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English Breakfast Tea is served in a very cute iron tea pot and with a timer. I find that sometimes the staff will tell you how long to brew your tea, and at other times they will just leave you to your own devices. I really appreciate the timer, but I wish that they would give you somewhere to put the leaves so that it doesn’t oversteep after the perfect first cup.

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No visit to Hash is complete without ordering their famous Hot Chocolate. Drinking this is a whole lot of fun. The fluffy cloud of fairy floss is quickly dissolved into the warm chocolate. The hot chocolate isn’t actually all that sweet, with most of the sweetness coming from the fairy floss. It is very chocolatey and rich, but not particularly creamy.

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Chorizo and Scallops. The Chorizo was smokey and slightly spicy whereas the scallops were soft sweet and tender. The herbed bread that sat underneath everything was a real surprise. It was soft but toothsome enough to hold the flavour of the egg and chorizo. This is the sort of bread I would buy loaves of, diet be damned. That said, although the individual components were great nothing in this really came together to form a cohesive dish.

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The Spiced Pumpkin Salad was a veritable mound of pumpkin, greens, pearl barley and pepitas. The sesame dressing really completed the whole dish, complimenting everything from the barley to the cherry tomatoes. It was a bit too early in the morning so I didn’t finish everything, but I’m sure that this would make for a very satisfying lunch.

Back when Hash first opened I actually had one of their first iterations of this salad. It was just large wedges grilled of pumpkin with little else of interest. The salad that I had on my latest visit really shows just how far they have come. The menu and dishes are a far cry from those early days.while the famous drinks have stayed largely the same.

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If I was the sort of person who was looking to learn lessons from my dining experiences, it would be tempting to conclude that I shouldn’t knock people or places back to a few bad first impressions. Even if the first few visits to a new cafe are a bit off, with some time, they may well have ironed out the kinks and been polished into a gem. Seeing as I seem to be rather resistant to life lessons, I’m just happy to conclude that Hash is another place that I would be more than happy to brunch at again.

https://www.facebook.com/hashcoffeeroasters/
Hash Specialty Coffee Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mina no ie

With a name like Mina no ie (meaning everyone’s home) this unassuming venue seems to have lofty aspirations. Although mina no ie isn’t exactly what my ideal home would look or feel like, the large windows, wide tables and open space invite relaxation and lingering. You would be forgiven for thinking that Mina no ie is far away from the inner city crowds, but this quiet, contemplative space is merely a short stroll away from the main Smith Street drag.

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Before I get into what we ordered, I’ll just say that I was completely smitten with almost all of the cutlery and tableware used. If I had my own place and all the money in the world, I would probably buy a set of everything. Just as well I don’t, because there’s also an adjoining store that sells some of their wares. If you’re a little bit more cashed up than me I recommend that you get a little bit of everything, or at the very least a set of knives, spoons and cups.

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The scent of Genmai Cha always reminds me of walking down Kawagoe and passing by tea stores roasting brown rice for this tea. The genmai cha at mina no ie had a pleasant roasted flavour that didn’t overpower the more delicate green tea. It also had the bonus of being presented in this charming teapot and cup set.

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I was feeling a little under the weather so the House made lemon ginger tea seemed like an obvious choice. It was everything I wanted: sweet, comforting, warming and full of good things.

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Soba with onsen egg and kake tsuyu was Ryan’s choice. The tsuyu was strongly flavoured. When accompanied with the buckwheat noodles, it was a real umami hit. The onsen egg also managed to make me wonderfully nostalgic for my student days in japan, and the onsen eggs that I would crack atop of almost everything.

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The Monthly lunch plate lets you pick a chicken, red meat or vegetable main to have alongside two side dishes and rice. I reasoned that more vegetables would help me fight off my cold, so I went with the vegetable option which was a grilled eggplant. Although the eggplant was soft and delicious the real highlight was the nutty sesame dressing on the broccoli. There were actually candied nuts which added a crunch and sweetness to the side dish that I never would have thought could work! Perhaps the dish would be better completed with a meat option or I was just feeling envy over Ryan’s egg but I felt that this could have done with a little bit more, something, to complete it.

After a morning of gorging ourselves on pastries, this light lunch was just what we needed. The servings aren’t very large, but it felt good to walk away from a restaurant satiated rather than completely stuffed for once. Mina no ie may not be anyone’s home, but it certainly is a homely place to visit.

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http://www.minanoie.com/
Mina-no-ie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
 

P.S apologies for reposting. I had some issues when I first uploaded this post.

Hardware Societe

Melbourne has no shortage of cafes and brunch spots. However, ever since I’ve been brunching one name always come to everyone’s lips when they talk about cafes in Melbourne: Hardware Societe. At this point in time, I think it’s safe to say that it is an institution. Almost every day of the week there’s people waiting outside for a seat, but on an overcast Tuesday, there was no one milling around.

My mum and I had originally been intending to go somewhere else for brunch, but upon seeing that there was no wait for Hardware Societe we decided that it was too good a chance to pass up. Our timing was also just right, as it just started raining and we managed to snag a beautiful round table at the front of the cafe. After ordering our drinks, the line started forming.

I always appreciate how Hardware Societe offers a little sweetie along with all their beverages. The mini donut that came with the Cafe latte and Oolong and orange blossom tea was a cute little bite, covered in cinnamon and sugar. The drinks were on the weaker side, but I’m a sucker for the tea cosy and mismatched vintage tea cups.

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The Baked eggs with chorizo is probably one of the most famous dishes on the menu. Almost every table had some version of baked eggs and we were no exception. The high-quality baguette was great to dip into the hot and slightly spicy eggs. Although baked eggs are a fairly common brunch item, the addition of almonds was pretty interesting and unexpected. Also credit to the kitchen, my mum doesn’t usually like potatoes but she happily had the potatoes in this dish!

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Fried Brioche is just French toast by another name. This rendition had lavender syrup, raspberries, and passionfruit curd. The tart and creamy curd was probably my favourite part of the dish.  I usually love the Fried Brioche from Hardware Societe because it is a winning combination of crispy and soft, but this morning it was just all soft. Perhaps we had let it sit for a little too long while we ate the eggs, but more texture and a little less sauce would have made this the perfect dish.

After all these years Hardware Societe still delivers. The menu is constantly changing with the seasons but old favourites still stick around in slightly different forms. As a local, revisiting Hardware Societe is like meeting a friend again for the first time in a while. Sure,  it might be difficult to organise the perfect time to catch up, but once you see them you remember everything that drew you to them! Although you may not get together again for the longest time you know that they will still be there for you. It’s no wonder people constantly recommend it.

That said, if I had to wait outside in the rain for a table as some people did that morning I would just as happily go somewhere else for a quality brunch!

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The Hardware Societe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato