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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Jiyugaoka

Jiyugaoka is described as a place where every day feels like the weekend. No, that doesn’t mean that there are party goers and revellers around all day and night. Instead, it’s perennially filled with young couples and families on dates and people slowly enjoying their day.

Patisserie paris s'eveille

Jiyugaoka is also a hotbed for some of the most highly ranked cake stores in all of Tokyo according to tabelog. As soon as we got out of the station we made a beeline for Patisserie Paris S’eveille. 

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Patisserie Paris S’eveille is well known for their chocolate cakes so I couldn’t go past ordering this decadent chocolate slice for breakfast. The fig and chocolate cake is what dreams are made of. Usually, I’m not the biggest fan of rich and heavy desserts but this was probably my favourite of the cakes we tried. The cake was dense and moist and the chocolate ganache sandwiched chopped up bits of fig adding to the fruitiness of the dark chocolate.

The berry cake was a much lighter affair. Hidden inside the light fluffy centre were even more berries. I could have cried at just how sweet the raspberries were. These two cakes actually complimented each other perfectly, as the fruity taste of the dark chocolate naturally fed into the berries of the lighter cake.

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We didn’t go all the way to one of Tokyo’s best bakeries to only get two slices of cake. This beautiful eclair looks like a perfect little garden with the green choux and edible flower petals. This was probably the weakest of all the cakes we tried. The pistachio flavour was perfectly pleasant and the fruit exquisite but as I find is often the case with eclairs I found it a touch too soggy.

Cakes aside there is also a sizeable assortment of bread, pastries and biscuits ready for take away and eat in. Whilst we were savouring our sweet breakfast, a small group of French mothers and their children came in to partake in some sweet pastries and croissants on what looked like a regular mummy date. If nothing else, I feel like having French natives come and partake in these baked goods must attest to their quality.

Mont St Clair, m.koide and Bloom’s were also on my list of cake stores to check out. Sadly I only managed to walk past half of them and peek into the windows because I was already too full!

 

Potato Cream Cafe is probably one of the cutest and carby-est (that’s not a word, but I’m going to use it anyway) holes in the wall anywhere in the world. The potato wreath decoration speaks to me (and probably all other potato lovers) on a spiritual level. As the name suggests this quaint store sells nothing but potatoes. Mashed potatoes to be precise.

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For the most part Potato Cream seems to do takeaway business. However, there is a small counter where you can stand and enjoy your mash! There are 5 toppings to choose from, and you can make it a set with some toasty baguettes as well. I picked the fresh tomato and Ryan had a more adventurous mince lamb. The mash was a little different to what I’m used to. It was smoother and more watery than the creamy and buttery mash I make for myself. However, it worked here since most of the flavour came from the toppings and the soft mild mash just padded things out to make each mouthful smooth and easy to eat.

 

Jiyugaoka is sometimes called the Europe of Tokyo. I’m guessing the reason for this lies with La Vita, a tiny little block of shops that has a mini canal and gondola in it. Sadly on the day, I went the water was drained and the gondola covered, making for a bit of a sad sight. Therefore, there are no photos. On the other hand, I might have audibly gasped when I laid eyes on Puppily Hills. I had a quick peek into this store, and it was everything I imagined and more. The most pampered dog was having a bit of a groom and photoshoot in clothes that cost more than some of mine!

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Don’t think that Jiyugaoka is just trendy cafes and cute stores though. Kumano Shrine
appears almost out of nowhere, hinting at a history beyond the Jiyugaoka that you can see now. Being the idiots that we are, we actually spent more time horsing around on the slightly run down playground equipment in the park leading up the shrine than actually at the shrine!

Playing around on see-saws that are too small is thirsty work! Luckily, one of the most charming traditional Japanese tea houses was just a stone’s throw away. Aside from a small menu outside, there is nothing to indicate that Kosoan is anything but another residence.

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Walk up the path and into the garden and soon you’ll see groups of people lounging on the tatami, contemplating their matcha and chit chatting away. I desperately wanted a seat by the window, so that I could enjoy the pretty garden and slight breeze, but alas they were all full so we settled for a spot in the middle of the room. We were given the menu, which is in Japanese only with a few Japanese sweet options.

 

Despite the warmth of the day, I couldn’t go past a traditional matcha. This was served with a cute little-cubed wagashi. The matcha was smooth with just enough bitterness and the right temperature to drink almost all of it straight away. Ryan’s first anmitsu was a bit of a revelation for him. Fresh fruit, crisp kanten and chewy mochi coated liberally with kuromitsu syrup is always an absolute winner. I wish more places served this back home because it really is the perfect summer snack, especially when topped liberally with soft-serve (which was also an option here!)

 

Simply, Jiyugaoka is the perfect place to simply stroll around. If you get too far from the station, it quickly starts getting residential, but a few more twists and turns back and you’re bound to stumble upon an adorable zakka store or charming homeware and food mega stores like Today’s Special.

Maybe my tastes are changing as I get older but Jiyugaoka is one my favourite suburbs in Tokyo. I love the cute homeware stores, stylish cafes, open streets and leisurely people. I can easily see why so many Tokyoites want to make this charming neighbourhood their home. If you’ve got a few days in Tokyo and are in for a bit of a change of pace away from the crowds this is the place to go.

Links

Paris S’eveille
Potato Cream
Kosoan

Salon Ginza Sabou

Under normal circumstances, in Melbourne, if someone told me to visit a cafe produced by and located in a clothing store I would be sceptical. However, this is Tokyo and past experience has taught me that unlikely food collaborations often exceed expectations.

Adam et Ropé is primarily a smart casual fashion retailer but also dabbles in a variety of other ventures. From interesting concept stores to a number of food outlets and three separate restaurants it’s safe to say that this brand is keeping itself busy.

Located in Tokyu Plaza Ginza, Salon Ginza Sabou is kept tucked behind the Adam et Ropé storefront. The rather modern building and Scandinavian decor of the store almost hide the very traditional Japanese fare that is featured in the cafe.

salon ginza sabou

I chose something very simple and light in the form of the vegetable inarizushi. I actually usually don’t like inari very much because I find the flavours a bit too cloyingly sweet and samey. After all its usually just inari and sushi rice. However, the thick tofu skin and fresh vegetables made this an inari that I would happily eat every day.

salon ginza sabou teishouki

The Karaage set was a lot more substantial. Ryan and I were both surprised by just how juicy and crispy the fried chicken was. I loved dipping it in the salty matcha powder provided but it was excellent on its own as well. At Salon Ginza Sabou the rice is cooked the traditional way in a donabe as opposed to a rice cooker. This is meant to produce better tasting rice. Personally, I will vouch for the deliciousness of almost all Japanese rice. However, this really was a cut above the average stuff you find at any regular coco curry!

salon ginza sabou parfait

I would be lying if I said that Instagram photos of their famous matcha parfait weren’t the reason I was so interested in Salon Ginza Sabou. Beneath the zen garden like chocolate layer were mouthfuls of soft matcha mouse, sweet red beans and crisp jelly and rice puffs. My only qualm with this is that it started melting a little bit too much too quickly. By the time I got to the end it felt like there was a whole lot of matcha liquid at the bottom of the cute wooden container and no way to get to it without looking like a pig!

If you’re after fresh and premium tasting Japanese meals without spending a fortune I can’t recommend Salon Ginza Sabou enough. Since I’ve visited they have also introduced seasonal parfaits! As a sweet tooth, I would go back just to have more parfaits all to myself.

Tips 

There was a bit of a line to get into the store when we arrived at 11:30 on the weekend. It took us around 30-40 minutes to get a seat, but the food arrived very promptly when we sat down. I would suggest trying a weekday so that hopefully the lines are a little shorter. It also helps to wait with someone so that you can take turns browsing the store.

Website

Kasai Rinkai Park

I know it’s pretty obvious given the name of this blog, but I really love Ferris Wheels. I’ve also already admitted that I am a tragic for the manga Honey and Clover. The Diamond and Flowers Ferris Wheel at Kasai Rinkai Park combines both of these loves into one giant… diamond and flower wheel?

Honestly, I’m not too sure who would be that interested in a giant Ferris Wheel in reclaimed parkland. Especially when the next stop on the train is Disneyland bound. However, with one day left on our Japan Rail Pass but tuckered out from all the travelling a visit the giant Ferris Wheel that featured in Honey and Clover was about all we could manage.

The park is actually only around 20 minutes by train from Tokyo station. We made sure to pick up some dessert first before hopping on the train. We were looking forward to having a picnic next to the Ferris Wheel, but somewhat surprisingly there weren’t all that many options once we arrived at Kasai Rinkai park train station. We made do with some of the more unusual McDonald’s items and the limited selection from a nearby convenience store and settled in for some lunch and extended lounging around.

Once the second tallest Ferris Wheel in the world, and currently the second tallest in Japan, the views from the top of the Diamond and Flowers Ferris Wheel span across all of Tokyo. On clear days it is possible to spot Mt Fuji. It was a touch too bright and smoky to see much beyond the immediate cityscape, but I still enjoyed spotting the bright red of Tokyo tower and looking over all the revellers and attractions at Disney.

The 17 minutes actually passed by incredibly quickly, and I was tempted to go for another round especially since there was hardly anyone riding the wheel. In the interests of saving a bit of money and doing a bit more exploring, we decided to walk around the park instead.

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Along the way, we encountered families picnicking, groups training for sports events and a few joggers. Some clever people had also set up the perfect tends and bbq spots for the hot and windy weather. At the end of the park is a man-made beach that’s a bit more stone than sand which we didn’t entirely get to. The park also has a large aquarium, seabird sanctuary and an observatory.  If you were so inclined I think that it would be easy to make a day of visiting the park and all its attractions.

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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

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
Website

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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Berry Parlour by cafe comme ca: Ikebukuro

On previous visits to Tokyo, I’ve always liked staying in Ikebukuro. It’s on the Yamanote line, connected with a lot of major train lines, bustling with activity but not as overwhelming as Shinjuku or Shibuya. In some ways Ikebukuro is a perfect crossroads for tourists, it’s full of shops, themed cafes, entertainment and anime and manga goods.

More importantly, there’s also plenty of good food. It’s well serviced by heaps of casual eateries and ramen stores, but this time I had something sweeter in mind. Most people who are are familiar with the area will immediately think of Milky Way Cafe for cute and colourful parfaits. As much as I enjoy the galaxy themed cafe I was on the search for something a little more refined.

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Berry Parlour by Cafe Comme Ca isn’t the sort of place that you can just stumble upon while looking for food. It’s located on the 7th floor of the Seibu department store. In amongst a floor of expensive glassware and tea ware is a rather inconspicuous cafe.

The atmosphere is hushed. Most of the noise comes from the soft classical music in the background and the chit-chat of the sophisticated looking ladies enjoying their leisurely afternoon. If it weren’t for a single High School student and her mum also tucking into a parfait, I probably would have felt entirely out of place.

There’s a small selection of cakes, but I think everyone knows that the main drawcard is really the parfaits. These are some of the most beautiful fruit parfaits I have ever seen. Each piece of fruit is sliced meticulously to create an impression of blossoming flowers when looked down from above. The mango parfait, in particular, was almost too perfect to eat.

Perhaps as an Australian I’ve been spoilt. The mangos didn’t have the same fragrant sweetness as the mangos I’m used to eating by the boxful in the height of Summer. However, mangos are pretty rare for Tokyo, so for most Japanese people just being able to try this parfait would be a bit of a luxury.

That aside, each delicate piece of fruit was so consistent. There wasn’t a single blemish and each differently cut slice was so similar in texture it was almost crazy. The soft slightly sweet cream was a good addition that didn’t overpower the fruit or the crunchy cereal. The sour passionfruit coulis on the side was a pretty addition but not necessary.

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I’m going to admit that Mont Blancs are one of my least favourite cakes. They seem to be ubiquitous in Japan but something about the sugary chestnut paste usually puts me off. The strawberry mont blanc seriously made me reconsider my stance. The fresh berries and cream cut through the chestnut. This was especially good with the cereal, as each mouthful was crunchy, sweet and juicy all at once. The raspberry coulis could be added if at any point it got a touch too sweet or dry. As beautiful as the mango parfait was, I’m going to have to concede that this really was the standout parfait of the day.

Berry parlour is just one of the many Cafe comme cas in Japan. Whereas the other cafes tend to focus on tarts and cakes, Berry Parlour’s short menu has parfaits front right and centre. Sophisticated but not unapproachable, Berry Parlour is the perfect introduction to high end Japanese fruit, high end Japanese parfaits and fancy knife work.

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