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.

Website: http://www.jimbochoden.com/en/

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

Yong green food

Although gluten free and vegan foods are on the rise in Melbourne, it is surprisingly difficult to find a restaurant that offers a broad range of both gf and vegan options. That’s where Yong Green Food comes in. It caters to almost every dietary requirement under the sun, with a handy colour coded menu. The chilled ambiance and roomy tables also made it a great place to catch up with visiting out of towners and friends.

The Matcha latte was an incredibly bright green colour. Yong Green offers a wide range of milks, from dairy to soy, to coconut and almond at no extra cost! I was tempted by the almond milk but decided to play it safe. I found this to be more powdery and sweet than most matcha lattes, but perhaps that is due to the soy milk.

Ryan commented that the espresso wasn’t the best, and didn’t provide him with the caffeine boost he so desperately needed. Our friends ordered a chai tea and some of the cold drinks. These seemed to go down a treat.

yong green food

I ordered the Yin and Yang Charger. Initially, I was a bit dubious because it was one of the most expensive items on the menu. However, once this spread arrived in front of me I knew that I had made the right choice. Interestingly, the highlight wasn’t the fried mushrooms. Instead, I found the squash salad to be utterly delicious. It was cold, sweet, soft and just a touch stringy. The soup also had incredible savoury depth for a vegetarian offering.

yong green food japchae

Ryan and one of my friends both ordered the Japchae. I usually make my Japchae vegetarian so I had no doubts that this could be incredible even though it had no meat. I snuck in a bite and found it much less greasy than the usual japchae at restaurants but full of flavour. The vegetables tasted fresh and light, and noodles had good bite.

yong green chilli

My gluten intolerant friend ordered the chili. She commented that it had a good spicy kick to it that went well with the sour cream.

The Vegetarian curry was a very generous portion. It looked and smelled exactly like a beef Japanese curry.

The Katsu was a little bit more diminutive in size. I’m assured, however, that it was very tasty. Especially when mixed with the curry sauce. We all agreed that the biodynamic rice that came with a lot of the dishes was excellent.

The service was friendly if at times a bit scattered. They also pulled up tables for our group of 6, even though it would have been fine for us to squish together on the larger table!

Raw, organic, vegan, gluten free, no onion and garlic? Yong Green Food has it covered. More than that, it serves some straight up tasty food regardless of the labels.

http://yonggreenfood.com.au/

Yong Green Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

LUNE Lab

When it comes to croissants LUNE is, without doubt, the most well-known store in all of Melbourne, and perhaps one of the most well known in the world courtesy of this New York Times Article. I’ve enjoyed croissants from LUNE many a time.

From their humble cult beginnings when people line up at 5am for the chance to take home up to 6 classic and twice baked croissants, LUNE has expanded significantly. At their now, not so new, location there’s no need to get there first thing in the morning unless of course, you’re angling for a particular special flavour. There will still be plenty of traditional croissants and a selection of other treats like the ham and gyure croissants or a twice baked almond croissant ready for you to pick up or eat in even at 11am.

At this point, I think most Melbournians who are serious about pastries have tried LUNE at least once. However, LUNE Lab is a bit more of a mystery. I must admit that I was a little bit sceptical about paying $60 (plus booking fees) for what I thought was essentially just three croissants. However, it would be more accurate to describe this as a pastry degustation with all you can drink coffee and hot chocolate.

lune lab

LUNE lab somehow feels very exclusive and inclusive. Patrons sit at the counter away from the crowd and lines, but at the same time, the space is still very much shared by the croissant making cube and customers coming in and out.

It was still very early in the morning so a Flat White was in order. This was milky and easy to drink. The beans are sourced from Small Batch in North Melbourne and in line with LUNE’s ethos of supporting local small-scale producers. I could have done with a coffee that was extracted a little bit more and stronger, but I guess it’s a good thing that I didn’t start too strong, as there was still time for more drinks.

lune original croissant

The first course for every single LUNE lab is always the same. It’s a classic croissant, ten minutes from the oven, which according to the people at LUNE is the best time to have them. They offered us our choice of croissant, from crunchy to soft. It seems that most of the people preferred crunchy croissants. Whereas I picked one that was a combination of soft fluffy pastry on the inside and crispy layers on the outside. There was a distinct difference between Ryan’s crisp croissant and my combination croissant. The contrast between the soft warm buttery inside and flaky crust was heavenly. Eating the plain LUNE croissant is always a must and it’s even better served fresh.

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The rillette danish completely took me by surprise. This was described as LUNE’s take on a sweet and salty dish. The fruity caramelised jam on the side being the sweet component and the rillette the salty. In the danish was a perfect square of the most succulent pork rillette I have ever had in my life. Even though the meat was brimming with juice somehow the pastry stayed crispy the entire time. After this dish, I’m seriously considering having rillette with croissants instead of baguettes from now on!

To go with this I helped myself to the filter coffee. Usually, my heart lies with milk coffees, but the filter was LUNE was excellent. It was distinctly fruity and just bold enough to carry the flavour of the beans without being overpowering.

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I think everyone left out a collective gasp of amazement when we saw the towering ice cream sandwich. Apparently, ever since LUNE Lab started, the owner has wanted to put an ice cream sandwich on the menu. This certainly looked the part. Buttermilk ice cream is sandwiched between two identical rounds of sticky, sugary, crispy pastry. Saying that this was messy to eat is an understatement! Everyone on the table took a slightly different approach to digging in.

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I found that the easiest way was to cut it in half and then eat with my hands with reckless abandon. Puffed rice added a little bit of crispness. The slightly sour raspberry and mild ice cream melted into each of the layers of pastry. Personally, I could have done with a more assertive tasty ice cream, but this was a whole lot of fun.

Mork hot chocolate rounded off the sweet course. I had a soy hot chocolate whereas Ryan ordered a standard milk. Ryan actually started drinking the soy hot chocolate and was none the wiser until the second cup arrived and we were told that was actually his. I was shocked at how satisfying and creamy the soy hot chocolate was.

While dining you can order as many LUNE croissants as you want for take-away. There’s something satisfying about being able to grab the last few limited edition or new croissant offerings without ever having to wait in line.

Despite my initial reservations, LUNE lab delivered on all fronts. Sitting in LUNE for an hour and a half really gives a very unique perspective on the whole croissant making process. The staff are more than happy to answer any burning questions you might have and you get to observe the meticulous process of croissant making all the while you fill your stomach.

lune lab fresh

Website

Lune Croissanterie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

P.S It’s been a while since I posted about the food scene in Melbourne. You might have noticed that I’ve also been blogging less frequently. These past few months I’ve been very busy, but hopefully I’ll be able to post a lot more during the Christmas break!

All C’s cafe

Did you notice that there’s a lot of tasty things that start with the letter C. For example, cake, cookie, chocolate, coffee, crepe and cafe? The people behind All C’s cafe were smart enough to pick up on this and run with it.

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Located on the second floor of a fairly non-descript building in Koenji, All C’s cafe also brings another C word to mind: Cute. The interior looks like the candy covered house in Hansel and Gretal bought to life. Every corner is covered in cute candy decor. You don’t need to go on this adventure alone either because there’s also plenty of cuddly bear friends. I named my new friend Alberto, even though I’m sure he already has a name.

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Ryan’s chai latte is one of the cutest drinks I have ever seen. The smiley boy surrounded by frothy milk was almost much too cute to drink. Ryan showed much more fortitude than I did, and tucked right in. It was pleasantly spicy, sweet and milky.

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For some reason, it seems like my standard tea order in Japan was almost always apple tea. This cup was so large it almost seemed like a bowl. Although it came with sugar, the fragrant apple lent the tea enough sweetness already.

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After some deliberation, we settled on the pudding trio. I was a little disappointed to see that they were using frozen fruit on the fruits pudding. However, this feeling quickly faded when I tasted the actual pudding. It was shockingly smooth, silky and just eggy enough to be full of comforting flavour, but not too much so that it tasted like scrambled eggs. My favourite was the slightly bitter walnut and shortbread topped pudding. The caramel was slightly more bitter and the crunchy biscuit and nuts provided a really good contrast to the soft pudding.

All C’s cafe also offers cookie decorating classes and party plans. I have a feeling that if I lived in the area I would be tempted to check them out! For now, I think it suffices to say that no matter where you are in Japan it’s possible to stumble into a cute corner like this one!

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Website

Aoyama Flower Market Tea House

Aoyama Flower Market Tea House could be the most photogenic cafe in all of Tokyo. As the name would suggest Aoyama Flower market is actually a florist. They have locations all over Japan, but the tea houses are found only in Tokyo.  Every surface is adorned with fresh seasonal flowers that change weekly.

Aoyama

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From the outside, the original Aoyama Flower Market Tea House looks like any other florist. The only way you can tell that it’s a cafe is from the line of Japanese girls waiting to get in. I’ve heard that the line can be somewhat excruciating, but I was determined to wait it out and see this cafe for myself. Perhaps it was because we visited on a weekday, but a short but very warm 20-minute wait later we were promptly seated.

 

The weekly theme was delphiniums. Each table had at least one cute little pot next to or on the table itself.

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I felt like something light so the  Tea House Salad was my choice. Initially, I thought that the entire sprigs of herbs would be too overpowering, but after making my way through this plate I found the whole thing very well balanced. The creamy but tangy dressing really brought everything together. I do still question the inclusion of the biscuit pieces in the otherwise fresh salad.

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Ryan loves sandwiches. The Roast beef sandwich on the lunch menu jumped out at him. Perhaps it’s because western style sandwiches tend to be meatier and more substantial but Ryan wasn’t all that impressed with the actual sandwich. Instead, he really enjoyed the carrot salad on the side! No mean feat considering Ryan isn’t usually one to order salads.

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Vacation tea tasted of tropical fruits. Although no sweeteners were added I found that the fruity flavour didn’t need anything else to bring out the flavour. I can imagine myself sipping this iced or hot, leisurely by the beach in a tropical country. The Iced House Tea helped cool us down on a hot day but otherwise wasn’t as remarkable as the other drinks.

 

 

 

Flower Parfait is the piece de la resistance of the whole cafe in my opinion. Delicately flavoured rose jelly sits atop crunchy biscuits and granola. The top is liberally sprinkled with even more flowers and a scoop of ice cream plopped on top. This struck the golden ratio for parfaits. Each mouthful was a contrast of textures, flavours and temperatures. The somewhat unusual addition of jelly really made it stand out.

Akasaka

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Unusually for Japan, Aoyama Flower Market tea house in Akasaka has an abundance of alfresco seating. When the weather is good you can lounge around outside, in amongst the beautiful flora and watch businessmen and trendy Tokyoites pass on by. Whereas the Aoyama location is dominated by girls chatting, I feel like this could be the right place to go on a date. The almost European feeling outdoor seating and hushed interior warmed softly by a couple of street lights and recycled lamps are positively romantic.

Unlike Aoyama, this location also has a couple of more substantial dinner offerings and a dinner menu that offers a main, drink, mini dessert and a small bag of flowers to take home!

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Farm Bowl or perhaps more accurately translated as a field bowl. I would describe this as a healthier version of taco rice. Spiced minced beef with tomatoes is placed on top of a generous serving of rice. The real stand out of this dish was actually the vegetable leafs! They tasted incredibly fresh and provided a crisp and refreshing bite when mixed with everything else.

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Vegetable gratin or more literally, baked pasta. Ryan was super happy with this dish because it was covered in delicious melted cheese, which can sometimes be a bit of a rare commodity in Japan.

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One of the most popular choices at Aoyama Flower Market Tea House is the French toast. The Mini French toast is a good way to try it without having a whole serve. Although the small size doesn’t have the same fruits and flowers scattered atop the dish, the actual French toast is still a winner. It’s soft, slightly eggy and sweet enough even without lashings of syrup.

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Mini shortcake is much more normal as far as desserts go. The cherry on top was delicious as was the cream, but I expected a little more from the cake. It was soft and easy to eat but was a little bit bland.

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Fresh Herb Tea is one of the signature drinks at all the tea houses. To my understanding, it’s really just a combination of herbs steeped in hot water. I was a little surprised at just how much the minty lemongrass taste came through. Ryan had another tropical tasting tea with mango flavours. This was also another great choice.

As part of the dinner set menu, we got to take home a small bunch of seasonal flowers. I was so happy to get a cute bag of hydrangeas, as they really encapsulate the rainy season and are some of my favourite flowers. It was a real shame that we were flying back home the next day and couldn’t take them with us! I passed them on to the girls at the hotel reception desk instead, and they were very thankful!

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The decor and menu of both cafes are different enough to warrant a visit to both locations. However, if I had to pick just one I would recommend Akasaka. The late hours and spacious outdoor seating mean that you probably won’t have to wait in line for a table. The lack of other people also made for a much more subdued and relaxing atmosphere.

Tokyo has no shortage of themed cafes and restaurants. After going to a few you’ll see a trend. The more overt the theme is, the worse the food. In all honesty, I wasn’t expecting much from Aoyama Flower Market Tea House culinary wise, thinking that it would be more about the pretty decor. However, the food was almost as beautiful and tasty as the flowers were gorgeous.

English Website

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Ramen Trio

You would have thought that after eating ramen every day in Fukuoka we would be sick of it, but such is the variety and depth of ramen culture that even in Tokyo we managed to down a couple bowls. In fact, I think ramen ended up being our most eaten meal during this whole trip. Between us, we had 19 bowls of ramen over the course of 5 weeks! So, let’s get stuck into the final 6 bowls we had in Tokyo.

Fuunji
Tabelog

 

Fuunji serves ramen, but its specialty is actually Tsukemen. That is, thick al dente noodles are dipped into a hot broth.

On any given night (or day) there is bound to be a line of people waiting outside. However, rest assured this moves rather quickly. The main chef is very charismatic seems to be something of a minor celebrity.

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The noodles are much thicker than your normal ramen. Each strand had a good bite and springy chewiness to it that made it a real pleasure to eat.

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We both got the special tsukemen with extra egg. The special elements comes from the powder sitting atop the thick dipping broth. This is almost concentrated bonito umami flavour. To be honest, this would have already had plenty of flavour even without the special flavour bomb, but this just took it to the maximum level. Perhaps I would have done better finishing my bowl if I had chosen to pare back the salt and intensity a little!

Tsukemen is one of those foods that you need to be able to eat ASAP to get maximum enjoyment. The noodles are served cold, to capture the perfect bite. The cold noodles and aircon mean that the broth can get rather cold if not slurped up straight away. This tends to make it a bit too salty and cloying to fully enjoy.

Once you’re done with the noodles you’re invited to add warm soup to the broth to thin it out and drink the remaining liquid. I actually liked this part best, because it added another dimension to the broth and warmed me back up all the way to my toes!

As a word of warning, DO NOT, get extra noodles and meat. It may not look it, but the tsukemen is incredibly filling. I think the noodles somehow expand in your stomach and take up more room! The normal tsukemen with no extra toppings is already a very generous serving that most people will struggle to finish. That said, somehow Ryan managed to finish his extra noodles, egg, and meat and helped me with mine. We staggered back home, literally weighed down by all the noodles and soup we had just consumed.

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Ramen Afuri
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Ramen Afuri is known as a popular spot for ladies. The airy white walls and locations, which are located in stylish shopping meccas like Shinjuku, Roppongi, and Harajuku, are worlds away from the somewhat brusque and masculine spaces inhabited by salary men and mostly male clientele.

It’s not just the way the restaurant looks that make it a popular choice with Japanese girls, but also what it serves. For the diet, conscious Ramen Afuri serves konnyaku noodles which are almost zero calories, and offer lighter more refreshing options.

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I picked the Yuzu shio ramen, hoping for as much yuzu flavour as possible. The yuzu wasn’t immediately apparent. The first sips revealed a comforting chicken broth taste. It was only after a couple of slurps that I got the fresh citrusy yuzu taste.

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Yuzuratanmen was Ryan’s choice. We’re both not sure how much the spicy chicken oil and yuzu worked together, but this is definitely a much more flavourful bowl. It’s got a little bit of a kick but would probably still be pleasantly spicy to those who don’t regularly eat hot foods.

Props to the charcoal cooked chasu in both bowls. It was full of rich smokey flavour and gave the otherwise light broths an extra something.

Ramen isn’t the most healthy of foods. As much as I loved the fatty and rich lip smacking tonkotsu ramen of Fukuoka, I struggled to finish it. The ramen from Ramen Afuri was on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. The freshness of Yuzu and light-handed seasoning meant that I probably could have had two bowls. Although lack of richness prompted Ryan to comment that this was his least favourite ramen on the trip, I have to disagree. This is a ramen that I could eat regularly, guilt-free!

As an added bonus Ramen Afuri one of the few places where you can get a vegan ramen!

Ginza Kagari
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I’ve saved the best for last. In my mind Ginza Kagari is to ramen, what high-end sushi-yas are to sushi. Much like kaiten-sushi, the local run of the mill ramen-ya is a great fuss-free option. However, to really get a greater understanding of the true depth and artistry of ramen, visiting a place like Ginza kagari is essential.

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Down a rather obscure and narrow alleyway in ritzy Ginza, is a small sign with the word ‘soba’ on it. This is Ginza kagari. In keeping with Japanese courtesy, there’s an umbrella rack outside offering parasols for the sun and umbrellas for the rain while you wait. Considering that it was sweltering hot the day we visited, this was most welcome.

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There’s no vending machine in sight. Orders are taken while waiting and everyone is seated at the counter at the same time for the same sitting. It’s a little bit cramped with big bags and not much elbow room but we all made it work.

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Ginza Kagari’s tori paitan is something else entirely. The broth is thick and creamy.  From the first mouthful, there is an incredible depth of flavour. I’m not sure how else to describe this other than chicken tonkotsu. The chicken bones lend a less fatty taste to the both but don’t sacrifice anything on flavour. Tender chicken pieces and fresh seasonal vegetables sit atop the noodles. This is some of the most beautifully plated ramen anywhere.

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It doesn’t stop there either. The extra plate features the gooiest and golden eggs and a side of roast beef and shisho on a charming wabi-sabi plate.

One taste of Ginza kagari was enough to completely blow away Ryan’s skepticism about chicken ramen. Days after we got back to Australia, he was still waxing lyrical about this place.

For the most part, all the diehard Japanese fans seem to tout ramen stores in far flung and obscure suburbs as the best of the best. With limited time on our hands, we ended up in places that were much more central and rather well visited by other tourists. That said, these places were miles ahead of anything back home in Australia. If you’re ever stuck for a meal, hopping down to the nearest ramen place with a line outside is almost guaranteed to give you a good meal.

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