Naka-ku, Yokohama 231-0023
+81 45 633 9199
When one goes to Japan, eating Chinese food is the last thing one is expected to do. But when one is deprived of good Chinese food on the Goldie and when one hears that Yokohama boasts the largest Chinatown in Asia, well, it’s a bit of a no-brainer. And given that Yokohama is only an hour away from Tokyo by bullet train, why the hell not?
The rain may have kept the crowds away that evening but certainly not this lass, who was keen for some Chinese dumplings. There are approximately 250 Chinese owned/themed restaurants and shops in Yokohama Chinatown so you won’t struggle to find a place that does dumplings – and the usual dishes you’d expect to find at any given Chinatown around the world. I ended up at Dalian Chukagai, a place that specialised in dumplings. Think Melbourne’s Hu Tong.
Pan-fried pork dumplings
I don’t recall how much these dumplings were – mainly because I was an idiot and deleted the photo I took of that particular page of the menu. I do know they weren’t overly expensive though and that unlimited Chinese tea was ¥600/AUD$6.10 per person.
The dumplings were beautiful – the pork filling was deliciously juicy, every bite punctuated by lots of ginger and garlic. I savoured every last bit.
Xiaolongbao (three for ¥650/AUD$6.80)
I’m not used to seeing XLBs come in threes but it was probably for the best – I ordered probably just enough dumplings for one. The skins were thicker than what I would have liked but like the pan-fried pork dumplings, the XLB filling was tasty and the broth piping hot and delicious.
I enjoyed a quick, easy and cheap meal at Dalian. Yokohama Chinatown is definitely worth a stop if you happen to be in Yokohama or if you’ve made Tokyo your base and have a couple of hours to kill one evening. You won’t struggle to find a decent restaurant but if great dumplings are what you’re after, then I’d recommend this joint.
1-1-4 Nagoya Shinkansen Street
Nagoya-shi, Aichi 450-0002
+81 52 569 1775
I was in Nagoya for only 30 minutes, not long enough for me to do some sight seeing but long enough for me to grab a nice Nagoya-style lunch to eat before sprinting back to my platform to catch my west-bound train.
Nagoya Station boasts quite a few restaurants, each offering Nagoyan specialities – we’re talking fried Cochin chicken (a special breed of chicken), miso pork and kishimen, a type of flat udon. Luckily I stumbled across Mensakedokorowa, a place that did all three.
This was the lunch set I ordered – I don’t remember how much it was exactly, but it was definitely around the AUD$10 mark thus making it a pretty cheap lunch.
So this is the famous miso pork, a bowl full of deep fried crumbed pork pieces with blobs of thick, sweet miso paste (called aka miso) on top and a handful of shredded cabbage for filler. It was a deliciously flavoursome dish, and one that I wish was more readily available in Australia.
In the background, there was a single piece of fried Cochin chicken wing. No batter, no sauce, no nothing. It was simple yet tasty; the meat was reddish and had much more flavour than the normal white chicken we’re so accustomed to eating. I wish I spent more time in Nagoya so I could give Cochin chicken sashimi (yes, raw chicken) a go but that’ll be something to aim for the next time I’m in Japan.
Then I had the kishimen, a flat udon noodle dish. I was given the option to have it hot or cold – not sure why, but I asked for cold – and the noodles came with a very pleasant dashi-like both with a hint of sweetness. Topped with shredded daikon and bonito, it was the perfect dish to end lunch on.
Mensakedokorowa might have been ‘train station’ food but it’s a good place to suss out if you’re just in Nagoya for a brief stopover and want to try some local foods without leaving the train station. I enjoyed my lunch so much that I’ve already decided I’m spending more time in Nagoya to explore more of the local food when I’m in Japan next.
+81 3 3462 0400
It’s so easy to lose yourself among the bold colours and electric vibe of Shibuya, one of Tokyo’s busiest districts.
Fellow Melburnian Joey and I spent quite some time exploring (almost) every corner of it, from the big flashy department stores on the main drag right down to the seedy sex stores tucked in the little alleyways.
We also stumbled across a kebab store amongst all the bars and nightclubs, something that I did not expect to see in Shibuya. But hey, I guess post-clubbing kebab cravings are universal after all.
Working up an appetite (but not for kebabs), we decided to indulge in a bit of sushi train for lunch. They’re very easy to come by in Shibuya – there’s practically one every five or so minutes. We ended up going to the Shibuya branch of Gansozushi, one of the bigger sushi train franchises in Tokyo.
It wasn’t too busy when we got there, but there was a steady stream of diners coming in and out throughout our meal. We sat at the back, served ourselves some soy sauce, a shitload of ginger and fresh wasabi before getting to work.
Every now and then, some specials will appear in front of you.
Scallop, salmon roe
Salmon nigiri mk 2
Crab, ginger, salmon roe
Each plate was about ADU$3-5 each, which wasn’t too bad at all (and we did double up on a few dishes). All the dishes we tried were generously portioned – I also loved the rice to salmon ratio in the salmon nigiri (i.e. big ass pieces of fish covering little balls of rice). The dishes were also delicious, but my favourite one would have to be the scallop nigiri – I just loved the combination of sweet succulent scallop meat and creamy mayo, punctuated by bursts of salmon roe. I do have to admit though, there was quite a bit of mayo used on a lot of the dishes which led me to think that Gansozushi was the sushi train Maccas equivalent. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed my lunch – even the crab sushi at the end, which turned out to be seafood extender, found a soft spot in my stomach and heart.
The bill was around AUD$35-38 for the two of us (I can’t remember exactly), making it a reasonably priced meal given how happy we both were.
+81 3 3842 7373
One of the highlights of my Japan trip was meeting a fellow Australian (thanks Tinder), doing drunken karaoke with a bunch of random Japanese people at a karaoke bar and getting locked out of my hotel in Asakusa. Okay, the last bit wasn’t exactly a highlight but at least it made for a funny story to tell.
Prior to getting our drinking (and Britney Spears singing) on, our night started off relatively quiet. We must have walked around Asakusa for 20 minutes, looking for somewhere cheap and decent to eat before deciding to stop at Tatsumiya. I can’t remember why we chose this place – it was no more remarkable than the other establishments on the same block, not far from where Senso-Ji temple sits. I think we just couldn’t be bothered walking any further.
I wasn’t terribly hungry but I was happy to nibble on some kingfish and squid sashimi. After having super fresh raw fish at Tsukiji a few mornings back, it was hard not to be (unfairly) critical tonight. The fish was fine, but just not OMG WOW FRESH.
Tatsumiya also happened to have whale on the menu; it was the first time I had seen it being advertised on a menu in Japan. I know it’s not something that the Japanese would casually eat on a daily basis but I was expecting to see if featured on more menus – either more and more restaurants stopped serving it due to social pressure or peoples’ tastes are just changing. And I may get crucified on social media for this but I actually did consider ordering a small serving of it just to see what it tasted. In the end though, I didn’t – my companion was giving me the judgey eyes.
Beef hot pot
The beef hot pot was generously portioned, the perfect serving size for my 6’0 companion who hadn’t eaten in hours. I didn’t find the hot pot supremely delicious – the stew had too much sweetness and a shitload of soy, making it very overpowering. My companion, however, had no complaints but did say that it was something he wouldn’t order again – there were Japanese dishes he liked better.
The owner of Tatsumiya was a lovely gentleman and the service was pretty good throughout – our dishes came out within 10 minutes of ordering and when it came to serving us our drinks, he was as quick as lightning. That said, he was a bit pushy in making us leave the closer it got to 10PM which was a bit of a turn-off (but on the other hand, totally understandable so, wash).
Tatsumiya is not a place I’d happily recommend to friends or return just for the fact that the food is just okay – there are probably better restaurants in Asakusa for a casual Tinder meet-up.
Dogenzaka Kratos Building 3F
+81 3 3770 1328
As a dog person, I walked into my first cat café with a bit of trepidation.
It’s not like I hate cats – I’ve just never really been into them. When you’re away from home, however, you tend to do things that you don’t normally do. Like sleep in love hotels, buy used panties from a vending machine and willingly spend half an hour in a room full of cats.
I was spending the morning with Joey, a twenty-year-old Melburnian who I had never met until this trip. He is a cousin of a friend of mine so when she messaged me, asking me to contact him if I was ever bored, I decided take her up on the offer. We explored quite a few random places together and one of them happened to be Hapineko Cat Café in Shibuya.
When we arrived, we were given a long list of rules to read before going in; they included no picking up of cats, no feeding them with your hands and no touching collared cats. We also had to wash our hands with sanitiser, leave our shoes at the door and change into slippers. That was totally fine with us, although I wish the lady in charge smiled every once in a while – she was so grumpy, which was surprising given that this was Japan.
As for the no touching of collared cats thing, Joey said that it was because these cats scratched and bit humans when they get touched because they get distressed. This kind of begs the question: WHY THE HELL HAVE THEM IN THERE FOR?
For the most part, people were happy just to sit and chillax while taking photos and letting the cats come to them.
Sometimes the cats would wander off and climb up onto shelves, cubicles and scratching poles.
Included in our ¥1060 (AUD$11ish) fee was tea, chocolate and a mini donut biscuit, hardly the stuff that Michelin stars are made of but hey, it’s a ‘café’ after all. I think there was also the option to order extra stuff.
Being around humans can be exhausting, I know the feeling (no, I really do).
Okay, this dog person smiled when she saw this. Aw.
Hapineko was a fun place to kill half an hour and experience a quintessential Japanese tourist activity. While I’m glad I went, I don’t think I’ll go again – cats just ain’t my thing.
Shinkokusai Building 1F
3-4-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku
+81 3 5293 2800
A short walk from Yurakucho Station led me to Sadaharu Aoki Patisserie, one of the best places to get macarons in Tokyo. There are currently four branches in Tokyo – I was at the Marunouchi branch – but the main boutique is in Paris, along with a few little sister branches there.
Created by Sadaharu Aoki, the eponymous patisserie franchise is famous for using traditional Japanese ingredients and flavours in French pastries, especially éclairs and macarons. I was due to leave Tokyo the next morning and needed to grab some more gifts for friends back home in Australia so I decided a few boxes of these specialty macarons would do the trick.
This photo was taken just before the lady at the counter told me off for whipping out my phone to take shots. Grr. Apart from that though, the service was pretty tops.
For example, they asked me how far I was from the hotel. I said that I was an MTR ride away from Shinjuku (which, from memory, required a change of trains at some point) – she said that it was too long a trip for me to be carrying boxes of macarons without ice. So she chucked some ice packs into the paper bag to keep my goodies cool. Although the macarons would then hop on a plane to Melbourne with me sans ice pack (thus rendering the packs useless), I really appreciated the gesture.
Matcha green tea éclair (¥460/AUD$4.40)
I ordered a matcha green tea éclair for myself to enjoy for afternoon tea. Unlike a lot of éclairs I’ve had in Melbourne, this one was soft rather than dense and doughy while the icing was perfectly balanced – it had the right balance of gentle sweetness and bitterness.
Macarons (four for ¥1100/AUD$10.80)
I bought a few boxes of macarons, all containing the same flavours: matcha, genmaicha (green tea combined with roasted brown rice), lemon and strawberry. I can’t remember how much they were individually but a box was just a smidgen under AUD$11, which doesn’t make them expensive at all given their quality. They were all perfect – crispy shells, creamy ganache centres and soft chewy biscuits. Best of all, they were overloaded with sugar like a lot of macarons you get in Australia. My favourite one was the genmaicha in all its glorious nuttiness, followed by the beautifully tangy lemon one.
My macaron boxes survived the flight from Tokyo to Melbourne – well, except for one box – I may or may not have eaten its contents during the flight. The remaining boxes were then presented to my recipients the next day, still in perfect form sans ice packs.
1-9-1 Daimaru Tokyo
Tokyo Station, Marunochi
+81 3 6638 6871
One of my favourite things to do in Tokyo was to spend an hour or two in supermarkets and department stores. Personally, I think you can learn a lot about a society just by spending some time in a local supermarket and it’s also fun to discover all sorts of interesting products that you wouldn’t find at a say, Coles or Woolies back home.
Tokyo’s department stores also come equipped with an impressive array of things that will get you salivating if you happen to be a hardcore foodie – and Daimaru in Tokyo’s main railway station was one of the more impressive ones I visited during my trip (not that I visited that many because I’m not much of a shopper). Growing up, I remember going to Melbourne Central’s very own Daimaru store every other Sunday and thinking it was the coolest place ever, even I found their book section pretty basic. Of course, the now-defunct Melbourne Daimaru has nothing on this Tokyo branch. So you can imagine how happy I was to spend the next hour or so gawking at all that was on offer in the food hall.
Some really cute pre-packed lunch sets.
All the sushi combinations you can think of.
They even had a wonderful selection of foodstuffs.
I was delighted to find that this particular Daimaru had a Maisen Tonkatsu kiosk. They’re the guys that supposedly do the best tonkatsu (fried crumbed pork) in Tokyo so I was keen to give them a go. Due to the size of the kiosk, there’s no space for a kitchen so your pork won’t arrive all fresh and hot – your meal is pre-packaged. There is the option to get a staff member to heat it up for you but I think most customers (predominantly office workers) don’t bother because time is money, okay.
However, the coating will still arrive crispy and the box will still be warm enough for you to eat its contents on the go. I happily ate my delicious tonkatsu with the accompanying rice and pickles – it was simple, tasty and filling. And all for ¥777(AUD$7.80) too, which made it a bargain.
+81 3 5772 7500
Okay, I promise this is the last French restaurant I’ll talk about in this Japan instalment of my blog. In fact, it’ll be the last fine dining restaurant too. Funnily enough though, this restaurant – L’ATELIER de Joel Robuchon – calls itself a ‘casual dining’ establishment. I compared to the other Joel Robuchon restaurant in the world (there are heaps), the L’Atelier ones are considered less formal.
The Tokyo one in particular gets diners to sit at the long counter so they can watch the chefs prepare their meals and chat with them. Sure, the overall atmosphere is still pretty refined and up there (you can’t rock up in bum clothes, for example) but it was definitely the most relaxed Michelin-starred restaurant I’ve been to so far – and L’Atelier has two stars.
I had a pretty big one the night before, involving lots of drunken karaoke with random Japanese folk at a bar, sharing a bottle of whisky with a fellow Australian from whisky and getting locked out of my hotel room and being forced to spend the night in a love hotel (don’t ask). So when I rocked up to the lovely Roppongi Hills restaurant, I was still feeling a little seedy; ordering that wine was probably not my best idea to date.
For lunch, there is the option of going two courses for ¥3050(AUD32), or three for ¥4050(AUD42). You also get to choose from three different dishes for each course. Again, my decision to go for three courses was not my brightest given my state at the time.
Amuse bouche: pork rillettes
Still, I managed to act respectable and finish everything I was given – it wasn’t too hard, the meal was delicious. First up, I had some lovely pork rillettes served on crackers.
A bread basket was placed in front of me and if I wanted more bread, I was told to help myself. I liked this idea – it saves the waiter from having to be all like “any more bread, madam?” five times during the meal. I love bread like the next person but I didn’t want to fill precious stomach space so I just stuck to the one piece of delicious warm white bread.
Creamy autumn mushroom soup with small croutons
My entrée was a very generously sized (and filling) cream mushroom soup. I wouldn’t say it was anything special; it was just a really, really good bistro-style mushroom soup that ticked all the right boxes – wonderful smell, great flavours and depth – and not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Sautéed sea bream served with white wine butter sauce
My main was another rich one, a beautifully cooked sea bream drizzled in a sauce made with white wine, champagne and butter. Ooh yeah, baby. The sauce was also infused with clams from France, giving it that lovely extra depth while the potato wafers on top provided a lovely crunch.
Apple compote and maple syrup mousse served in a chocolate shell
I chose this dessert, not knowing what to expect (and the only reason why it was chosen was because it sounded like the least richest dessert on the list). Imagine my delight when I saw it plated up so beautifully and whimsically like this.
The pale pink quenelle is an apple sorbet and the white blobs are bits of coffee mousse. As for the toffee apple-looking thing?
Why, it was a pink chocolate shell filled with frozen maple syrup mousse and apple compote. The playful presentation and the taste of all the elements (not too sweet, yet the flavours were still pronounced) made this baby one of the better desserts I had on this trip.
After such a rich (yet delicious) meal, I was ready to call it a day. However, I still needed enough energy to get my ass from Roppongi Hills to my hostel in across town so I accepted the offer of a black coffee. It didn’t taste any better than a Starbucks long black but that was to be expected.
I don’t remember exactly how much I paid for the meal but factoring a glass of wine, service charges and taxes, it was still less than AUD100 which I thought was pretty good given the high quality of service and food being presented. And although I’ve never been a big fan of chain restaurants, I enjoyed my first experience at a Joel Robuchon – in fact, it left me wanting more.
+81 3 3348 1234
The second French restaurant I visited in Tokyo was Cuisine[s] Michel Troisgros, perched on the first floor of the Hyatt Regency. This was actually a last minute addition to my list of restaurants to visit and the only reason why I ended up booking there was because I just happened to be staying at the Hyatt Regency the previous night so it wasn’t like I was going out of my way for lunch.
Michel Troisgros happens to be the son of French haute cuisine great Pierre Troisgros, whose restaurant Frères Troisgros won the first ever Michelin Star. Frères Troisgros has since been a three-Michelin star winner since 1968 and Michel is no stranger to success either having opened a few of his own restaurants in France in addition to this baby right here in Shinjuku. The Tokyo restaurant itself received two Michelin stars in 2015.
Cuisine[s] Michel Troisgros, like most fine dining restaurants in Japan, is elegant and refined. So far, it’s been interesting to compare the fine dining experience in Australia and Japan. Back home, things are much more relaxed at even the most expensive restaurants. Here, there’s a strong level of formality that’s to be expected regardless of whether you’re a diner or staff there. At the same time, service is still friendly no matter where you go and during my time in Japan’s fine dining restaurants, I’ve never experienced a server who’d acted like a wanker – in Australia on the other hand…
But anyway, I digress.
I was given a lovely table by the window. We were in the government district so it wasn’t like the view was amazing but I do love my window seats.
Cuisine[s] Michel Troisgros do set menus for lunch; a few different options are offered with the shortest (and least expensive) menu starting at ¥6000 (AUD62). I decided to go al cheapo by going for the ¥6000 option. For certain dishes in each menu, there’s also the option to have a white truffle supplement for an extra ¥4800 (AUD50). I was going to have the veal with gnocchi for my main and figured that a few slices of truffles would bring the dish to another level. After all, it was white truffle season in Europe so why the hell not?
Côtes du Jura Blanc 2008 (¥2000/AUD20 a glass)
My wine for the meal was the very lovely Côtes du Jura Blanc 2008, a Chardonnay that was more peachy and caramel-y than oaky and, in fact, shared similar flavour profiles to a port. To me, it was almost like drinking a dessert wine (hell, it paired well with the coffee I later consumed) but strangely enough, it also matched with all the dishes I ate.
Taro chip with salmon roe, sesame rice ball filled with curry sauce, tuna on sesame bread.
Even though we were at a French restaurant, the nibbles took on a very Japanese flavour; a lovely array of textures and flavours to whet one’s appetite.
I also enjoyed some warm corn and buckwheat bread along with some plain ol’ white bread with French butter.
They also offered me some books to read while I was waiting for my meal. Granted, the books were blatant endorsements of the chef and his restaurants but still, I wished more restaurants offered reading material for solo diners.
Pumpkin tortellini with hazelnut and ‘strong juice’
The first course was a playful twist on the tortellini. The little shells you were are potato ‘skins’ that are sliced so thinly that they almost felt like rice paper. They were filled with pumpkin soup, lovingly perfumed with chicken stock. I did have a bit of a giggle when I saw ‘strong juice’ on the menu – that term referred to the parmesan-infused white sauce you see on the plate. It was a beautifully presented dish and a creative way to enjoy ‘pumpkin soup’ without feeling too full.
Veal fillet, buckwheat and gnocchi
So this was my main: veal topped with a salty buckwheat crumb (which you can barely see because of the truffles) and well, two pieces of gnocchi and greens.
The veal was so succulent and tender while the two gnocchi were beautifully fluffy. The dish would have worked well even without the truffles but I really did think they added a nice earthy element to the dish. It was a fantastic main and I guess my only complaint was that there wasn’t more of it, dammit.
Meringues, muscat grapes
I’m not much of a meringue fan so I did grimace when I saw that meringue was being served. It wasn’t a bad dessert though – perfectly formed meringue tubes were filled with a smooth walnut ice cream and muscat combination while a single pear added a lovely visual contrast on the right. It was a nice strong finish to what had been an excellent meal but it’s not a dessert I would have picked if I had been given a choice.
I was left to browse the rest of the book with some mediocre coffee (this is a fine dining restaurant in Japan after all) and petit fours to nibble on.
Of course, my meal ended up being over AUD100 given the truffle supplement, service charges and taxes so don’t let the ¥6000 fool you into thinking that you’re getting a bargain. However, the high quality of ingredients, execution of each dish and fantastic service made it worth every yen.
+81 3 6450 5755
Being in Japan helped me kick my coffee habit. Not that it was a terribly nasty one – I usually drink two cups a day, which is relatively fine – but the less coffee I drank, the better I would sleep. And if I was going make myself be less dependent on the liquid gold, a good way to do this was to be in a place where good coffee is hard to find.
Japan may not have much of a coffee culture but like many big Asian cities, it’s slowly gaining legs. And by the last week of my Japan trip, I had a craving for coffee. After a quick social media search on where to find better-than-Starbucks-Coffee, I decided to give The Roastery by Nozy Coffee a spin.
Situated on a Shibuya street where quirky boutique stores lure Tokyo’s fashionistas and western tourists, The Roastery isn’t exactly easy to find – I myself walked past it twice. But here’s a tip for you guys: look for the massive Denim & Supply Ralph Lauren store; The Roastery will be tucked away underneath.
The staff here are really friendly and know their coffees; they try to push the single origin thang here but a lot of customers were happy to stick to the lattes. Meanwhile, the setting is very Melbourne warehouse chic (it reminded me of Seven Seeds) but with the lights dimmed down to give it more of a refined feel. Props for a mad soundtrack too – I heard a really sexy acoustic mash-up of Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ and Billy Joel’s ‘Just The Way You Are.’
New York ring ¥350
Haha! They call cronuts ‘New York rings’ here, which I thought was really cute. They were just like the ones I’ve had back home in Australia – crispy, flaky, buttery and sprinkled with a motherload of sugar. In fact, I struggled to even eat half of mine and had to save the remainder for later. At less than AUD$3.50 though, it was cheaper than a plain cronut from a good bakery in Melbourne or Sydney (where you’d be paying around AUD$5).
I had the single origin espresso from Costa Rica (Salaca red honey) which, strangely enough, came in a champagne flute. The coffee itself was very chocolate-y and punched a punch just like Campos’ Superior Blend but there were also grape notes, giving it more acidity than I would have liked. Personally, I think this coffee would have worked better as a latte (the milk would have evened it out, I reckon) but hey, it was still a good drop to try and definitely the best coffee I had during my Japan trip – which isn’t really saying much considering the only other coffees I had were at fine dining restaurants.