Visiting Tokyo?

Planning a trip to Tokyo? here’s our top picks for things other than sightseeing, based on our last four trips.

(this is current as at our last trip in late Jan 2017)

Getting around

Before you leave Tokyo airport, there’s a few things you should do:

  1. Get a wifi hotspot device. Tokyo seems to lack street numbers so it can be kinda tricky to find that specific restaurant/store.  However, there are heaps of kiosks selling wifi hotspots in the airport so you can rely on google maps (and our links below) to navigate and google translate to read the menu (and post it all to instagram of course).  For unlimited 4G (seriously faster than anything in Australia) you’re looking at about $12 a day.  So between two or more people, its cheaper than international roaming.  They all seem pretty similar so pick whichever one is in the terminal you’re departing from as you’ll need to return the device at the same place before your flight home.
  2. Tokyo Metro tickets. You can also purchase Tokyo Metro passes at the airport.  These can only be purchased at the airport and selected duty free stores.  They’re pretty good value and save a lot of hassle.  If you’re travelling around Japan with a JR Pass, you can activate it at the airport station.  If you have the JR Pass you won’t need the metro pass, as JR have an above ground train that does a loop around Tokyo.
  3. NEX tickets, the fast train seems to be the best way to get into town.  Buy your tickets at the counter not at the machine (it’s complicated but you need a ticket for the train, a seat reservation and another ticket to get into the station, much easier to get it from the counter!).   There’s also slower trains and bus options,  but as the airport is 60km to the city, don’t get a cab!
  4. Have a shower/nap. One of the very few capsule hotels that admit women is at the airport.  They also have good showers.  Definitely worth it if you’ve just hopped off a red-eye flight!

So on to the food…

Ramen

Ichiran is everywhere, and is always open.  It’s also amazing.  You buy tickets (ramen, extra noodles, beer etc) then sit in a study corral.  The blind will roll up and you’ll be given a form and pen to fill out (you can ask for the english version, eigo no menyuu ga arimasu ka? arigatou gozaimasu) to specify just how you’d like it (noodle softness, spiciness). Here’s one in RoppongiShibuya and another in Shibuya.

MUTEKIYA無敵家  has great pork based ramen, the Tyasyumen (Roast Pork Ramen) is amazing. It’s located in Ikebukuro, and there’s usually a decent (but fast-moving) line out front.

Nishiazabu Gogyo is also in Roppongi and does a really good/interesting burnt miso ramen.

Funnji 風雲児 does tsukemen – that’s the kind of ramen where you dip the noodles in the soup, fun times.

Sushi

SUSHI BAR YASUDA.  While other places have the Michelin stars, the food here is still amazing and the atmosphere is too. As well as being a top bloke, Yasuda was the head chef at a top sushi restaurant in New York (Sushi Yasuda) before ‘retiring’ to start his own place back in Tokyo.  He’ll tell you everything you’ll ever want to know about sushi.  It’s our favourite thing to do in Tokyo. Bookings need to be made reasonably in advance (dinner only) and ask for a counter seat (there’s only 8 seats).  The price is about Y13000-18000 for Omakase (he’ll make you whatever is best, depending on what you like) and there’s a cheaper fixed menu (not sure about it, haven’t done it). It can be tricky to find, but that’s why wi-fi and Google Maps is important.  You’ll see stairs heading down from the street.

Standing Sushi Bar (Uogashi Nihon-Ichi)  is good for a quick bite.  You stand at the counter, point out what you like and they make it on the spot.  If you are an adventurous sushi eater, it’s important you know what to ask for because if they see you are gaijin they will give you a truncated English menu.  However, the food is amazing quality for the price.  They have heaps of locations including  Shibuya and Akihabara.

Honestly, Sushi Dai (allegedly the best place at the Tsukiji Market) is not worth getting up at 4am for.  Lining up is just part of the food experience in Japan, and we’re very patient people when it comes to food, but if you’re doing Yasuda don’t bother with Sushi Dai.  Its on par with Standing Sushi Bar, in short the sushi is pretty but the rice ain’t as good.

Other Japanese Food

まい泉 青山本店(Maisen) does all kinds of fried pork, every way possible.  Also buy their packed sandwiches for the ride home (we do).

Matsurokuya 御曹司 松六家 – An A5 Kurogewagyu-beef lunch set for Y1500! but you need to get there early and line up (no reservations) as there’s only 30 meals. Much marble.

Gyukatsu Motomura is fried kobe beef, like schnitzel, only more awesome.  There was a pretty decent wait for lunch as it’s a tiny restaurant, but totally worth it.

Shabu-Shabu is the Japanese version of fondue or hotpot, you get some thinly sliced beef and veggies and cook them in a hot broth, Shabuzen is a chain with all you can eat options in Roppongi and Shibuya.

Takoyaki is more of an Osaka thing, but Gindaco is a chain offering  a range of takoyaki options and whisky highballs – standing room only.  They are everywhere!

Japanese Department stores have amazing food halls, they usually also have a place to eat all your purchases too.  The fruit is amazing, its perfect and huge.  Ginza is a good neighbourhood for such adventures.

Coffee

You’ll also find good coffee in Tokyo (even by Melbourne standards).  In particular we like Sarutahiko Coffee (also here) and the Roastery by Nozy Coffee.

Beer

Tokyo has a thriving craft beer scene, for Japanese beer:

A lot of our favourite international brewers are also represented:

Not Japanese food

If you get sick of ramen and sushi you can also pretend you’re in New York:

Dominique Ansel Bakery The guy who actually invented the Cronut opened a Tokyo branch.  We recommend the DKA, the magic souffle and the frozen s’mores.

Luke’s Lobster has a simple menu, Maine lobster, crab or prawn rolls.

ECHIRE Not from NY, but it’s a french butter store with amazing croissants.

Onsen

Toshimaen Niwa-no-Yu is an a proper onsen that also has co-ed facilities.  There’s the usual single-sex areas but also two co-ed (bathing suit) areas (one massive indoor baden type spa and three outdoor spas).  Definitely read up on onsen etiquette before you go and cover any tattoos (tape, I guess?).

Shopping

Ginza

Ginza is full of Department Stores and flagship stores, its worth a wander.  In particular:

  • Muji Yurakucho  The Muji mothership, so much awesome.  The Loft next door is also good times.
  • G Itoya (pen) there’s actually two stores, with every kind of stationery ever.  The pen floor is a amazing.

Akihabara

Mandarake, have died and gone to nerd heaven.  Akihabara is great, and on Sunday afternoons they close the street to traffic and the cosplayers come out.  Hit up Yodobashi Camera for all sorts of amazing camera gear and electronics (3DS games only work on Japanese 3DS consoles booooo!).  Super Potato is good for vintage/retro stuff.   There’s heaps of stores selling action figures and and cosplay supplies in this neighbourhood.    Don Quijote is hilarious, it’s like a discount store with high end goods, also good for souvenirs.

Harajuku

Takeshita Dori is a bit of nightmare (it’s always crowded) but if you want Lolita clothing, its the place.  There’s also amazing cheap shoe stores, but only if your feet are smaller than a size 8/39.  Korean cosmetic brand Etude House has a store here.

But you can find some cool places wandering the back streets between it and around Omotesando.  Kiddy Land has a great range of toys (loads of Ghibli if you don’t get tickets to the Ghibli Museum). Cat Street also has good shopping.  Yoyogi Park is gigantic, and checking out Meiji Shrine and wandering the forest is nice break from all the crazy.

Tokyo Sky Tree Town

Tokyo Sky Tree has a Pokemon Center and a Studio Ghibli store – so many plushies!

Hotels

Here’s some places we’ve stayed that we liked:

Sunroute Ginza

Shibuya Granbell Hotel

Flying home

If you’re flying back with Jetstar we have some recommendations:

  1. Buy food at the train station or department store food hall before you get to the airport.  In particular get the amazing pork tonkatsu sandwiches from one of the many Maisen branches.
  2. There’s tonnes of vending machines past security, so stock up on water and Pocari Sweat.  It’s a good place to use up all those Y100 coins, particularly as Jetstar flight attendants don’t do laps with trays of water like other airlines do.
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Quick bites: Ladro Greville (Melbourne, Australia)

What?

Ladro Greville

162 Greville Street, Prahran

http://www.ladro.com.au

Why?

An Italian restaurant near my apartment,with one hat from the Good Food Guide, I dropped by for a quick dinner on my way home from work.

How was it?

Delectable.

The garlic bread was a perfect focaccia straight from the pizza oven and lathered with olive oil, garlic and oregano.

Meanwhile, I was very happy with my decision to choose the pasta of the day: perfectly al dente cavatelli and grilled baby octopus smashed together with roasted baby tomatoes, garlic, chilli and capers.

The service was quick and friendly but it was not until I finished my meal that I realised I had not been given any water, which was annoying.

Still, I will definitely eat there again.

Where are the photos?

Garlic and herb bread

Garlic and herb bread

Pasta of the day

Pasta of the day

 

Quick bites: Movida Aqui (Melbourne, Australia)

What?

Movida Aqui

500 Bourke Street, Melbourne

http://www.movida.com.au

Why?

A Spanish tapas restaurant, with one hat from the Good Food Guide, I dropped by for a quick bite on my very late lunch break because:

  • tapas is quick; and
  • photos of the calamari burger were chasing me on the internet.

How was it?

Pretty good.

The olive oil accompanying the bread was divine with the sardines equal parts salty, rich and filling (the fact that they are served in a tin was pretty amusing as well).

I would say equally positive things about the calamari burger, which was more accurately a “slider”, but I thought there was way too much mayo compared to the calamari – however, I will still give it a second chance next time.

Where are the photos?

Bread, olive oil and salt

Bread, olive oil and salt

Bocadillo de calamares (calamari sandwich with Basque guindilla and mayonnaise)

Bocadillo de calamares (calamari sandwich with Basque guindilla and mayonnaise)

Sardines with sourdough and lemon

Sardines with sourdough and lemon

 

Gazi (Melbourne, Australia)

What and where?

Gazi, a Greek restaurant in the Melbourne CBD.

2 Exhibition Street, Melbourne.

http://www.gazirestaurant.com.au

Why?

Awarded one hat in The Age's Good Food Guide, I was always going to visit this restaurant eventually. However, photos of the duck souvlaki (shown below) kept taunting me whenever I was searching for good food options in Melbourne, helping it skyrocket to the top of my list.

How was the food?

Perfect.

The duck souvlaki was a revelation and might've been the best thing I've eaten in terms of a single item since the first time I had a pork bun at Momofuku in New York. The duck itself was perfectly roasted and plentiful, and the mayonnaise and pear provided a nice companion to the meat. The souvlaki wrap itself was the right balance of thick and chewy. And the chips thrown in with the souvlaki? Well ,the perfectly fried chips just made a great dish perfect.

Duck souvlaki

Duck souvlaki

 

The prawns were pretty good too. Cooked on the grill, the prawns had that nice smoky flavour and chewy texture. I don't know what the prawns were marinated in but it worked.

Grilled prawns

Grilled prawns

How were the drinks?

As it was lunchtime and boiling hot outside I decided to go with the non-alcoholic house made watermelon and blood orange soda. It was really good and refreshing, the strong watermelon flavour helping to ease the richness of the food itself.

House made watermelon and blood orange soda

House made watermelon and blood orange soda

How was the venue?

Fine – a relatively big venue with options for bar and table dining. I've only ever sat at the bar but the tables seem reasonably spread out. The bar seats are quite comfortable and spaced apart enough that you're not rubbing elbows with the people next to you (unless that's what you want!). I appreciated the contemporary music, which was not too loud when sitting at the bar, and I thought the empty flowerpots covering the ceiling provided an interesting touch.

How was the service?

Again fine – I sat at the bar on my own so there wasn't much need for intensive service from the staff. Drinks and food orders were taken promptly, which was appreciated, and everything came out relatively quickly. I appreciated the staff giving me an extra prawn, even though I'd only ordered two pieces, because they thought the others were too small. A nice gesture that showed the restaurant was paying attention to ensuring customers got what they paid for.

Would you go again?

Definitely – in fact, I have been twice in the last fortnight!

 

Review: Spice Temple (Melbourne, Australia)

What and where?

Spice Temple

Crown Complex, Southbank, Melbourne

www.spicetemplemelbourne.com

Why?

Owned by Neil Perry, two stars in the Good Food Guide and a yum cha menu on the weekend – do I need another reason? Well, there was also the fact that I had eaten at the Sydney version twice and always enjoyed myself.

How was the food?

Overall, the yum cha menu provided a good meal even if it was not the same standard as the dinner menu.

The dim sum menu was technically quite good – the wrapper had the right texture, the meat was plentiful and some of the flavours in the accompanying sauces were delicious (and quite spicy, as one should expect from a restaurant called Spice Temple). However, at the time I remember being slightly disappointed because I was expecting something more from a two-hat restaurant – something closer to the marvellous dim sum at Man Wah in Hong Kong. But looking back at the prices, which were quite reasonable for high-quality dim sum, I think I was being too harsh. I think people will like what Spice Temple is doing here at lunch provided one is looking for classic dim sum flavours done well rather than for something exceptional.

However, I was quite disappointed with the two buns offered at lunch. Both were clearly homages to the Momofuku pork bun, and in this regard the meat components of both buns were quite successful. But I am not sure why Neil Perry felt the need to differentiate his pork belly bun by using a slider – it didn't add anything, and in fact I felt like it took away from the umami of the pork belly itself. In saying that, the bun that was used for the char siu wasn't that flash – it was not light and airy enough for my taste. In fact, after finishing both buns my wife exclaimed to me that we could make better buns (and we have!). I would not order either of these again.

On the other hand, the main menu items – the tofu and noodle dishes – were excellent. I would definitely eat these dishes again and I suspect that they provide a better indication of the quality of the main menu than what is offered only at lunch.

Jade scallop and crab dumplings

Jade scallop and crab dumplings

Boiled pork dumplings with Sichuan sauce

Boiled pork dumplings with Sichuan sauce

King prawn wontons with aged black vinegar dressing

King prawn wontons with aged black vinegar dressing

Pork slider (left) and gua bao (right)

Crispy Guangxi pork slider (left) and Gua bao with char siu pork and hoisin

Fried salt-and-pepper silken tofu with spicy coriander salad

Fried salt-and-pepper silken tofu with spicy coriander salad

Handmade wheat noodles with chilli paste and capsicum

Handmade wheat noodles with chilli paste and capsicum

How were the drinks?

We ordered a Pig cocktail, which featured a carafe filled with Zubrowka vodka, sake, nashi pear juice and green tea. It was very, very good.

How was the service?

It was professional yet personable enough when the staff were at our table. But the time it took to order our drinks, then our food and then collect the bill seemed like an eternity. While delays can happen when a restaurant is busy, Spice Temple seemed to be only half-full; in any event, it should never happen at a restaurant of this standard (and charging these prices).

Would you go again?

I will certainly be back more than once for the main menu at dinner. But I may not return for the yum cha menu until I have sampled what else Melbourne has to offer.

 

 

Lunch @ Momofuku Ssam Bar

Momofuku Ssäm Bar

207 2nd Avenue, New York, NY 10003 USA
(corner of 13th street and 2nd avenue)

http://momofuku.com/new-york/ssam-bar/

The Review

Of the Momofuku family, Ssam Bar is the best.  Pork and duck team up to create the ultimate meat.  Ssäm does the most amazing pork buns and rotisserie duck, and pretty good sweetbreads too.

The Meal

oysters with kombu mignonette

Pork Buns

Fried Duck Dumplings with sriracha mayo

Sweetbreads with Watermelon

Rotisserie Duck over rice – duck scallion, ssam sauce, crispy shallot with chive pancake

Lunch @ Shake Shack

Shake Shack

691 8th Avenue (8th Ave and 44th St)
New York City, NY, USA

Overview

Burgers! Cheese Fries! Concretes!  Even food for dogs ?!

This ever reliable chain provides a grease fix, perfect for getting over jet lag.

The Meal

SmokeShack

Shack Burger

Cheese Fries

Concrete (Frozen Custard)