Osaka: Pablo Cheese Tart

 photo IMG_0450-160222-v2__zps4t4bhpfa.jpgOriginally 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. 🙂

 

Kyoto: Matcha Parfait At Tsujiri Honten In Gion

 photo IMG_9491-160228-v2__zpsf6hch68m.jpgI 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?

Tsujiri Honten
Address: 573-3 Gionmachi Minamigawa, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0074

Crocheting: The Angie Bunny Amigurumi

 photo IMG_0216-160404-v2__zpsjpwzfj0g.jpg 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.

 photo IMG_0223-160404-v2__zpsq90tjuzw.jpgIn 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.

 photo IMG_0258-160406-v2__zpsqu1l7xtc.jpgTa-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.

Osaka: Duck Udon In Dotonburi

 photo IMG_9226-160223-v2__zpsckp2wonn.jpgWe 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.

 photo IMG_9225-160223-v2__zpsbfcn6y1a.jpgOh 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
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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.

Kyoto: Ristorante 245 Gion At Shinmonzen Dori

 photo IMG_0233-160405-v2__zpsqyi081ij.jpgWe 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.

 photo IMG_9496-160228-v2__zps3mkjqvxm.jpgThere 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.

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Ristorante 245 Gion
Address: 245-1 Nakano-cho, 2-chome, Chion-in Shinmonzen Yamato-oji-higashi-iru, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Tel: 075-533-8245
Opening Hours: 12:00-14:00, 18:00-21:00

Tokyo: Motoya Express In Daikanyama

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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.

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The barista is friendly, always bantering with his customers.  Even with foreigners, he attempts to converse with them in English.

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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.

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My usual cup of flat white.  The husband goes for a double expresso.

Tokyo: Sandwiches At Hamanoya Parlor In Yurakucho

 photo IMG_9678-160304-v2__zpsag7awzmy.jpgI 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.

 photo IMG_9680-160304-v2__zpszdg4eoa3.jpg photo IMG_9679-160304-v2__zpsar8bbjjw.jpgThe 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.

 photo IMG_9689-160304-v2__zpstkh67bw3.jpgWalking 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.

 photo IMG_9687-160304-v2__zpsehxcuwpz.jpgAfter 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.

Hamanoya Parlor
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.

Tokyo: Otafuku Oden In Asakusa

 photo IMG_9088-160221-v2__zpsycwkvgek.jpg The husband loves oden. So do I.

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.

 photo IMG_9086-160221-v2__zpsalnieo7g.jpgAt 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.

 photo IMG_9084-160221-v2__zpshcjnk92t.jpgThe 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.

 photo IMG_9094-160221-v2__zpsrklarwvk.jpgFrom 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.

 photo IMG_9092-160221-v2__zpsrq8hlamn.jpgSince 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.

Otafuku
Address: Taito-ku, Senzoku 1-16-2
Tel: 03-3871-2521

Tokyo: Cafe Kitsune In Omotesando

 photo IMG_9631-160303-v2__zpswjmzkewx.jpg 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.

 photo IMG_0141-160303-v2__zps4jnh7a6g.jpgFashionably-dressed baristas.  Not surprising since the cafe is linked to the Kitsune boutique.  Love seeing men dressed in a preppy cardigan-and-tie outfit.

 photo IMG_0143-160303-v2__zpsq5yttn4y.jpgI 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.

 photo IMG_0142-160303-v2__zpsuyfxoeon.jpgAll in all, quite a nice quiet cafe to hang out at if you are in that part of Omotesando.

Crocheting: Vintage Popcorn Stitch Cushion Cover

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I have been seeing this lovely popcorn stitch pattern around a lot on Pinterest, and I finally found the pattern online.  The final product has a 3-dimensional, vintage look that gives off a whimsical feel to the cushion cover.  Also, I like crocheting popcorn stitches (I make them using 6 double-crochets which unfortunately ‘eats’ up quite a bit of yarn.)

There is a lot of flexibility in the pattern.  To make a bigger or smaller piece, you could adjust the number of rows of popcorn stitches.

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For the back piece, I decided to use a fabric in a cheery yellow and blue Scandinavian print that I bought in Japan recently.  The problem is that I do not know how to machine-sew the fabric to the crochet piece.  So I sewed both pieces together by hand.  I have not sewed anything for at least 2 decades, and it took me ages to complete this task.

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The result was rather satisfactory, though the stitching is obviously untidy if you look very closely. I am toying with the idea of taking up sewing classes (noooooo, I shouldn’t take up more hobbies), but in the meantime, I should just enlist my aunt’s help if I need to complete another cushion cover.

Osaka: Sushi Dokoro Isshin Hanare (鮓処一心はなれ)

 photo IMG_9190-160223-v2__zpskaac7zbb.jpgA friend recommended us to Isshin, a small local sushi joint that is yet to be discovered by foodie-tourists.  She tells me the food is excellent and the price is beyond reasonable for the quality.  I always trust her food recommendations in Japan – they have all been spot on for us.

We booked the place for lunch on our second day in the city.  As the restaurant is away from the main tourist areas in Osaka, I figured that we might have difficulty getting there and back if we had opted for a dinner reservation.  It turns out that the restaurant is located in a very convenient place (next to a Japanese shopping arcade) that is within walking distance from a subway station.  Isshin is a typical Japanese restaurant.  Tiny, beautifully decked out in light wood, it has a calming effect on the senses.  Manned entirely by the chef (and his wife chips in too), Isshin has space for about 7 persons, all at the counter.

The one thing that I enjoy most about eating in Japan – be it a simple ramen joint, or a more formal sushi restaurant – is the interaction with the chef.  You sit at the counter, watch the chef prepare, cook and assemble your food, perhaps have a chat with him about various topics, then have him serve you your food with a brief explanation of what it is all about.  The Isshin chef cannot speak much English but we managed to plough our way through the entire meal without too much difficulty in understanding each other.

We ate and drank our way through some 13 courses (excluding fruit) of appetizers, sashimi, sushi and 3 carafes of sake for approximately ‎¥‎10,000 per head.  For the amount of food that we ate and drank, the cost of the meal was very reasonable.  Isshin accepts only cash.  I am sure dinner will cost a lot more money but even then, we will be happy to fork out money for.    It would have cost us double, or even triple the amount to eat that quality of food in Singapore.

 photo IMG_9175-160223-v2__zpsn8yh7tq1.jpg photo IMG_9173-160223-v2__zpst5vpp3px.jpgOf the 13 items that were served to us, the kaisen donburi and shirako ponzu were my favorites.  It is wonderful to be in Japan during shirako season.  The kaisen donburi had all the stuff that I loveuni, ikura, ika, and the shirako was fresh and creamy.  Even the usually shirako-squeamish husband ate up all his shirako.  The chef served us more shirako in a sushi later on.  I was in shirako heaven.

There are tons of good restaurants in Osaka which we did not have a chance to try given the limited time we had in the city.  We were really glad to have gone to an excellent local sushi omakase place that is clearly off the tourist track..

Rest of the food photos are in the gallery below.

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Sushi Dokoro Isshin Hanare
Address:〒530-0041 Ōsaka-fu, Ōsaka-shi, Kita-ku, Tenjinbashi, 3 Chome−5−9
Telephone: (81) 06635217077

Directions: Take the subway to Minami-Morimachi station. Leave the station via exit #5 and walk straight ahead along the main Tenjin-bashi Suji road. Walk on the RIGHT side of the road and watch out for this restaurant called BUFF at a corner. At the next street after BUFF restaurant, turn right and walk straight ahead. You will cut through one of those traditional Japanese shopping arcade. Keep walking and you will spot a small park and some residential housing. Isshin is at the corner on the left of the small street. See Google Maps below. Enlarge the Google map and you will spot the Japanese name of Issin where the red marker is.

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Tokyo: Toranomon Koffee In Toranomon Hills

 photo IMG_9055-160221-v2__zps5ymqye7w.jpgAt Toranomon Koffee (previously Omotesando Koffee) at the swanky Toranomon Hills tower.  Pity that the charming machiya at Omotesando has been demolished.

 photo IMG_9046-160221-v2__zpsjqajutyn.jpg photo IMG_9047-160221-v2__zpsutlttwhe.jpg photo IMG_9048-160221-v2__zpsnazfcjug.jpgThe ambience of Toranomon Koffee has a slightly different vibe compared to its predecessor, but no less charming, I like their new digs at Toranomon Hills.  The building is gorgeous, the cafe has plenty of sitting space and there are two barista counters instead of one (so the waiting time is shorter).

I ordered one of the iced cappuccino even though I was so cold from walking to Toranomon Hills from our hotel in Shinbashi.  I love their double iced cappuccino.  It is so rich, creamy and intense.  In addition to their famous baked custard cube, I also ordered an almond financier and a matcha financier.  Oh, they were so yummy.

Fabric Shopping In Japan & A Candy Bag Of Handmade Fabric Buttons

 photo IMG_9728-160306-v2__zpsexejswkt.jpgJapan is a haven for crafters.  Their stationery shops, fabric shops, handicraft shops are places where I can spend all day wandering around in.

With the husband in tow, I had to exercise restraint in the amount of time I spent in these shops.  Despite the limited time that I had, I managed to get some pretty good fabric buys.  I bought most of the fabric in ABC Mart in the Q’s Mall in Osaka (Tennoji), Hankyu Department Store in Osaka, Nomura Tailor in Kyoto and Yuzawaya in Takashimaya Shinjuku.  Pity that I did not have time to visit the Nippori Fabric Town in Tokyo.

 photo IMG_9792-160309-v2__zpsomjze5mx.jpgMade a bag of cute little buttons (11mm) with the fabric!

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