We wanted to eat sushi in Kyoto and asked Hotel Mume for recommendations. They recommended Matsudaya, a one Michelin star place that serves Edo-style sushi, and got us a lunch reservation on a Sunday. I have never tried Kyoto sushi but hear that it is on the sweet side and tastes different from the Edo-style sushi that we are used to eating.
Matsudaya, located in Gion, is about 10 minutes away from Mume by foot. We took a walk along Shijo-Dori overlooking the Kamo river, and wandered around the side alleys off Shijo-dori to work up an appetite for lunch. We were mindful that we also had a potentially huge dinner at Restaurant 245 that evening. Two huge meals in one day were a bit worrisome for my stomach.
There really was no need to be concerned about being too full after a sushi meal at Matsudaya. We did not feel overstuffed at after consuming some 16 courses and 3 carafes of sake over lunch. The Japanese have a knack of feeding you a lot of food in portions that are just right. I even had a Tsujiri parfait immediately after lunch.
We liked Matsudaya. It is a tiny place, with about 7 seats at the counter, manned by the chef (who speaks English) and a helper (his wife I think). The sushi was excellent and unlike some sushi places which tend to be quite formal and stern, Matsudaya is fairly casual and comfortable. The chef chats with the guests while preparing the sushi and you can talk with your companion without feeling the need to keep quiet and pay absolute attention to the food, and only the food.
My heart goes out to Kumamoto and the people living in Kyushu who are deeply impacted by the earthquakes. We visited Kumamoto late October last year and it is hard to imagine that many areas of the beautiful prefecture are now badly damaged by the earthquakes.
As part of our 10-day Kyushu driving holiday, we spent half a day in Kumamoto city enroute to Mount Aso where we spent 2 nights in a ryokan. We visited the Kumamoto Castle and had a lovely lunch at a sushi place in the city. We then spent the next two days driving around the scenic Mount Aso countryside and mountain plains, and one of our stops was the Nabegataki Falls.
The Nabegataki Falls is a small waterfall nestled in the Mount Aso countryside. The place is so pretty – it looks like a watercolor painting, or like a frame out of a Japanese anime.
The attraction is easily accessible by car and thereafter, a short walk down to the waterfall area via a flight of wooden stairs. No hiking is necessary but best to wear sneakers with anti-slip soles as you have to walk across some slippery boulders and stone slabs to get from one side of the waterfall to the other side. Although the Nabegataki Falls are nowhere as spectacular as some of the other more well-known waterfalls sprinkled throughout Japan, like the Kegon Falls in Nikko, I feel that it is worth a visit if you are in the Kumamoto/Mount Aso area.
Note: A small entrance fee is required to enter Nabegataki Falls.
We stayed at Hotel Mume in Gion for the first time when we visited Kyoto two years ago. I came across a review of the 7-room boutique hotel on Time’s website. I was charmed by Mume’s design around 4 nature themes of “Butterfly”, “Wind”, “Moon” and “Flower”. However, the only room that was available to us at that time was the “Moon” double room. The room was chic, intimate and elegant but we found the room a little too dark for our liking.
For our second visit, we managed to book the bright and airy “Wind” room (photo above). It is quite difficult to get a room in Mume so we had to plan our two-week Japan schedule around the availability of rooms in the hotel. That is how much we like Mume!
This is Mume’s chinoiserie-style lounge-cum-bar, furnished in dark wood accents, European and Chinese furniture, Chinese lanterns. There is always a huge floral arrangement sitting on the counter. This is where guests gather to have their breakfast, pre-dinner drinks, coffee/snack when you are back from a day out traipsing around Kyoto.
I am fairly sure that we will be repeat guests at Mume. I would say that the level of personal service shown by the owner, manager and staff is the winning factor for me. The Mume folks show an incredible amount of hospitality to its guests, always inquiring about your day and making sure that you know exactly how to get to the restaurants and attractions in Kyoto by printing out maps, train schedules and photographs of the exterior of the restaurants.
We always look forward to chatting with the owner or the manager at the end of the day. They speak good English so that makes for easy conversation. Twice, I have left behind something in Mume after checking out, and both times, they called me at my next hotel to let me know that they have forwarded my things to the hotel through the Japanese delivery service.
I love Mume’s breakfast (which is included in the room price). They serve a daily continental breakfast set comprising fruit juice, homemade yoghurt, fruit, homemade soup, breakfast rolls, soft-boil egg, assortment of jams and coffee from the Nespresso machine. The food is simple, clean, fresh and delicious. I usually skip the breakfast rolls and soft-boil egg because too much food in the morning ruins my appetite for lunch.
Another reason that we like Mume is its location. It is conveniently situated a couple of streets behind Gion, and within walking distance to the Kamo River, the Gion-Shijo subway line, the shopping districts in Shijo-dori and San-jo-dori, as well as the Kiyomizu Temple, Yasaka Shrine and Maruyama Park.
Just a short walk away from Hotel Mume is the pretty Shirakawa-minami-dori, an old street lined with machiyas, plum and cherry blossom trees. We walk past this lovely street everyday, to get to Shijo-dori or the Gion-Shijo Keihan subway station.
The Shirakawa river runs parallel to the street, with stone bridges connecting the pavement to the restaurants housed in the machiyas. We were here at the start of spring two years ago and it was particularly scenic with the spring-time foliage. This is a popular place for Japanese bridal photo shoots and to see maikos.
Another stretch of machiyas that is very popular with bridal shoots. It is a lovely spot for a morning walk, before the crowds turn up.
I love Korean food. Whenever I visit Korea, I have it for breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner. This is the reason why my husband rarely travels with me to Korea on my annual trips – he does not enjoy spicy Korean food, or the BBQ meats. If we went together, we would have to eat our meals separately. I will eat yukgaejang and gamjatang for dinner while he goes off and finds himself a Japanese curry place, or an Italian restaurant.
To get him to agree to go with me on my next trip to Korea, I agreed that we would have at most one Korean meal a day, and preferably, in a restaurant that serves contemporary Korean cuisine. (Gawd, I should just leave him at home.) I eat street food and the local eateries in Korea, so besides Paul Gagnaire’s restaurant in Lotte Hotel, I have no idea which are the fine-dining restaurants in Seoul that serves modern Korean cuisine. I set out to find some.
I did some research and came across a review of Jung Sik Dang‘s modern Korean cuisine in NYC. The review was very positive and it also touched on the restaurant’s second branch in Seoul. So I decided to make a lunch reservation during my last trip to Seoul in November. The Korean branch is also on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list (if such accolades matter to you).
I like the interior of Jung Sik Dang. Modern, classy, tasteful. It is clearly a place where corporate executives and ladies-of-leisure meet for lunch. I was the only single foreign woman in the restaurant and for someone who is used to eating alone in restaurants, felt strangely out of place.
I ordered the 8-course tasting menu and a glass of Chenin Blanc from Domain Huet Vouvray. The white wine, recommended by the sommelier, was delicious! The staff spoke English and like any fine-dining establishment, explained each course clearly when serving me.
First course – espuma and snacks.
The rest of the courses. Mushroom soup. Some kind of fish from Jeju. Fillet mignon. Octopus. Pan-fried tuna. Sea urchin with kimchi. Desserts. Every course was well-made and delicious. I could not decide whether the octopus or the sea urchin was my favorite.
I had a trio of desserts: sujeonggwa sorbet (I love sujeonggwa.) to clean the palate, followed by a pretty dessert (I cannot recall what it is now) which they call the Rose of Versailles. The last and the best of all, a Korean ginseng ice-cream cone to accompany a cup of ginseng tea.
I was so happy I decided to go with the 8-course tasting menu. The portions were perfect and I did not feel too full at the end of the meal. I enjoyed myself so much that I am definitely going back the next time I am in Seoul. I am going to try their Choice Menu next. I see some items (such as the pork belly and croaker) on this menu that look exciting.
The ambience was good, the service was great, and the food was excellent. However, it all came with a fairly steep price tag. This is a place that I am pretty sure the husband will enjoy.
After lunch, I headed off to the Hangang River Park for a looooong walk.
Originally from Osaka, I have never heard of Pablo until a friend mentioned its popularity to me. When I spotted a Pablo shop in Dotonbori, I joined the queue to get some tarts.
I bought a box of 3 mini plain cheese tarts and 1 chocolate cheese tart. The plain cheese tarts were very yummy – the crust was light and flaky, the cheese filling was light and moist. I did not find the chocolate cheese tart to be as tasty as the plain cheese tarts.
When in Osaka, look out for Pablo! I read that the Hokkaido BAKE cheese tarts will be opening in Singapore this month. Ooooh, I cannot wait to try. 🙂
I am not a fan of matcha-anything but I love Tsujiri’s matcha parfaits. Their matcha ice cream is smooth and creamy, with a touch of bitterness. I have always been satisfying my Tsujiri matcha parfait craving at the 100AM outlet at Tanjong Pagar.
During our stay in Kyoto this time, I made it a point to visit Tsujiri Honten which is conveniently located at Gion. I had my usual Tsujiri order that is a matcha parfait that comes with shiratama dango and azuki. I am glad to report that the matcha ice-cream sold here is as good as the one in Kyoto. At least, I could not tell any visible difference between the two in terms of taste and texture.
Isn’t it typical of Japanese thoughtfulness to provide an ice-cream cone stand for dine-in customers?
I fell in love with this cute Angie Bunny amigurumi designed by CrochetObjet. She also designed a wardrobe – sweater, pajamas, ski boots, shoes, a dress – for the bunny. Every time I see a new photo posted by her of the bunny in a different outfit on Instagram, I feel like making a bunny immediately.
Which I eventually did.
In addition to the bunny, I also wanted to make the set of pajamas for the bunny but the pattern proved too tedious for me. I made one leg of the pants and decided to ditch this set of pajamas for a one-piece dress, using another pattern from CrochetObjet. The pajamas pattern is not difficult to follow, just time-consuming, and on this occasion, I needed the gratification of completing the bunny to come sooner.
Ta-dah. Pink dress. Pink ballet shoes. Purple crochet flower with a fabric button that I had made myself. 🙂
Using a 2.5mm hook, this bunny measures approximately 24cm in length. I should have made the dress a little longer.
We were walking along one of many covered shopping arcades in Dotonburi when we came across this duck udon shop. It is the quintessential local Japanese eatery – you buy a meal ticket at the machine outside the shop, hand over the ticket to the staff in the shop, find a place at the counter and wait for your food to be served.
Duck udon sounded absolutely delicious, having had duck nabe in Kyoto a couple of years ago. There were several duck udon combinations on the menu, eaten tsukemen style. It took me a while to decide on whether I should order standard udon, or thin udon or soba to eat with the duck broth. I ordered the standard udon set in a medium size serving while the husband ordered the thin udon set in a small size. I am usually the greedier (and hungrier) of the two of us.
Oh gawd, the duck udon was delicious! The broth was so good, that the husband ordered another set (udon + duck broth) while I ordered just another serving of udon as I still had plenty of duck broth left from the first set. This is simple comfort food at its best. I cannot remember the English name of this shop but I think it is called Kamokin. It looks like they have several outlets in Osaka. We are going back there again when we next visit Osaka! It is so conveniently located in Dotonburi.
Kamokin Duck Udon
Address: Not sure
Directions: Walk along Dotonburi (in the opposite direction from Midosuji Dori) until you spot this shopping arcade (the entrance is directly opposite one of the Kinryu ramen shops – the one with the dragon signage). Enter the shopping arcade and walk ahead till you see the duck udon shop on your left.
We were introduced to Ristorante 245 Gion by our Kyoto hotel, Hotel Mume. The restaurant is conveniently located on the same street as Hotel Mume on Shinmonzen Dori (several streets behind Gion) which meant that we could get ourselves totally tipsy and still be able to make our way back very easily on foot.
We did not make any dinner reservations during our 4-night stay in Kyoto, to give ourselves some flexibility around our dinner options. The restaurant recommendations given by Mume have always been spot-on (Kichisen on a previous trip; Sushi Matsudaya and Ristorante 245 during this trip).
Helmed by a young Chef Masakazu Yoshioka, Ristorante 245 was described as an Italian-style restaurant that serves a fixed menu at dinner around a 10-seat counter. Having been there, I would describe it as European kappo style dining – an open kitchen concept with counter seats, where the chefs cook and plate your food right in front of you. Each dish is cooked using Western techniques but with seasonal Japanese ingredients. Elegant food in a casual setting. I like kappo dining, mostly because I enjoy the seeing the chefs cook my meal.
There were five of us in the restaurant on a Sunday night. The chef helmed the kitchen with only one assistant who was responsible for topping up drinks, serving wine, plating the food, serving the food, removing plates AND washing the dishes! You will never find someone who is willing to do all of that in Singapore.
Over 2.5 hours, we ate 10 courses (including dessert) and had several glasses of wine each. Every course was impressive. The Japanese-influenced flavors were delicate and the ingredients (such as Japanese squid, octopus, shishamo, unagi, pheasant, hotate, kumquat) were mostly what was in season then.
I did not come to Kyoto expecting to eat European-style kappo food and then going away thinking that it was my favorite meal in our entire 2 week holiday. I want to go back again on our next trip to Kyoto, and see what new creative dishes the chef will make for us.
Motoya Express is another favorite coffee joint of ours. We would always drop by for a cup whenever we are in Tokyo. Motoya does not operate out of a brick-and-mortar shop but out of a little mini bus. It is unbelievable how the barista can manage his coffee machine, coffee supplies and pastries at the back of the mini bus. But he does, and does it very well.
You can find Motoya Express parked outside the Daikanyama train station. I read that there are several Motoya Express mini buses around Tokyo but I have only been to the one at Daikanyama.
The barista is friendly, always bantering with his customers. Even with foreigners, he attempts to converse with them in English.
Parked at a shady spot with potted plants and shrubs, Motoya provides benches and chairs for its customers to rest their feet while waiting for their coffee.
My usual cup of flat white. The husband goes for a double expresso.
I do not eat much bread in my diet but whenever I am in Japan, I find myself eating bread almost every day. We usually go to a kissaten close to our hotel (you can usually find one along the streets or in a train station) for our Japanese-toast-slathered-with-butter fix in the morning.
I like how the Japanese slice their white bread thick so I get a nice deep bite of soft, fluffy and fragrant bread in each mouthful. The texture of the Japanese bread is completely different from what we get in a loaf of Gardenia or Sunshine bread. The bread baked by our old-school bakeries come close, but still not quite.
I first came across Hamanoya Parlor in my Instagram feed. The Instagram photo was a uber delicious-looking egg omelette sandwich served at Hamanoya. According to TimeOut, Hamanoya is an old-school Japanese cafe located at the basement of the Shin-Yurakucho building that serves a selection of sandwiches, and they are particularly good with egg sandwiches. Off we went to go pay them a visit, especially when Yurakucho is just one stop away from our hotel in Shimbashi.
The Shin-Yurakucho building is quite easy to find. It is just across the street from BIC Camera which you cannot miss coming out of the Yurakucho train station. Take the escalator down to the basement of the building and you will see Hamanoya Parlor on your right.
Walking into Hamanoya Parlour takes you back to the 1980s, with its red vinyl seats and brown paneled walls. They do not have an English menu which meant that I had to slowly make out the Katakana characters on the Japanese menu. Luckily, an English-speaking Japanese lady seated at the next table heard me asking for an English menu and offered to help us with our orders. She explained to us what was on the menu and also offered her recommendations (she is a regular at Hamanoya) as to what we should try.
I have always wanted to eat a Japanese fruit sandwich and when she told us that Hamanoya makes one of the best fruit sandwiches in town, I had to order it. She suggested the ham sandwiches and if we still had space in our stomachs, to order the egg sandwiches too. Also, Hamanoya charges a little bit more money if you ask for bread to be toasted.
So we started off with a platter of ham sandwiches and fruit sandwiches. The ham was good but the fruit sandwiches were absolutely divine. Mikan and cubes of sweet pear in a delicious (and not too sweet) thick whipped cream filling sandwiched between two slices of soft fluffy bread. I was glad that they gave me mikan and pear instead of strawberries ‘cos I do not like strawberries, not even the very sweet Japanese ones.
After devouring most of the fruit sandwiches in super-quick time, I was quite full but I had to order the egg omelette sandwiches. Well, they were the reason why we went to Hamanoya. The egg sandwiches were excellent. Thick, fluffy and still warm, having come straight out of the kitchen. I would have enjoyed the egg sandwiches even more had I eaten them on an empty stomach. As you can see from the photo, the egg sandwiches are thick and very filling.
Address: Basement 1F, Shin-Yurakucho Building, 1-12-1 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-Ku, Tokyo
Directions: Take the train to the Yurakucho station and leave the station by exit #D2. You will see BIC Camera in front of you. The Shin-Yurakucho building is opposite BIC Camera.
It is simple comfort food, best eaten in cold weather (for me) with a mug of beer. Usually, we eat oden in an izakaya in Japan. This time, I wanted to visit a traditional oden restaurant. After some research, I picked Otafuku in Asakusa because of its long-standing history and also because it is located in Asakusa which makes it a convenient dinner stop after visiting the Sensoji temple.
Cutting through the food alleys at the back of Sensoji, Otafuku is about a 10-minute walk away. We took quite a bit longer because Google Maps led us on a merry walk through a labyrinth of food alleys and a shopping arcade, backtracking many times before we found the restaurant. Well, Google Maps navigated us to the back of Otafuku which was why we could not find it until we figured out what was wrong and made our way around a street to get to the front entrance.
Otafuku is located in a traditional Japanese house with a pretty garden out at the front. We did not make a dinner reservation and were lucky that they had a table for us.
At Otafuku, you get to pick what you want to eat from the menu (and they have an English menu). Each table gets a large oden pot set over a fire, so your oden is always nice and warm throughout your meal. We ordered piles of oden and then spotted a blackboard with more food items written in Japanese. Good thing that I could make out gyu suji nikomi (stewed beef tendon) on the board ‘cos that is one of our favorite things to eat.
The oden was fabulous. We loved all the beancurd things that we picked and above all, the very tasty broth flavored with lots of mustard. The stewed beef tendon was very good too. So good that we polished off two plates. The meat was soft, flavorful, melt-in-your-mouth tender.
We had such a simple yet satisfying (and relatively inexpensive) meal that I would definitely want to go back to Otafuku again on our next visit to Tokyo.
From Otafuku, it was a 20 minute stroll back to the Asakusa subway station. We were glad to be able to walk-off the huge dinner that we had just consumed.
Since we had to walk pass Sensoji on our way back to the subway station, we decided to visit the temple. We have never gone there at night, only during the day, and were amazed at how beautiful the temple looked at night. The crowds had thinned, and many of the shops along the Nakamise-dori were preparing to wind down for the day. It is a much nicer place to visit at night than during the day when the place is packed to the brim with tourists.
Despite a belly full of oden, I could not resist scarfing down a deep-fried mandu filled with azuki purchased from one of the shops at Nakamise-dori. It was the perfect sweet ending to a wonderful day out in Tokyo.
We visited Cafe Kitsune for the first time on this trip. The cafe is located at Omotesando – not Omotesando Hills but across the Aoyama main road, on the side where the Prada, Chanel and other branded boutiques are situated. We had our morning cup of coffee before heading to Maisen Tonkatsu for lunch. I make it a point to be at Maisen Tonkatsu 10mins before the opening time at 11am so that we are right at the front of the queue. Very kiasu.
Fashionably-dressed baristas. Not surprising since the cafe is linked to the Kitsune boutique. Love seeing men dressed in a preppy cardigan-and-tie outfit.
I could not resist the French toast baguette. Coffee was good too, and I bought a bag of beans for a friend whose current interest is trying out various coffee beans on his coffee machine.
All in all, quite a nice quiet cafe to hang out at if you are in that part of Omotesando.