Tokyo: Omotesando Koffee (Again)

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Update: Omotesando Koffee is no longer in business and is now operating as Toranomon Koffee at Toranomon Hills.

So glad to be able to drink Omotesando Koffee’s brew again.  This coffee bar was a regular feature during our February trip to Tokyo.  It is a very convenient stop as there is a direct train-ride from our hotel in Shimbashi to Omotesando on the Ginza Line.

Located in a little machiya, on a quiet street in a residential estate at the back of Omotesando Hills, the coffee bar is one street away from Maisen Tonkatsu.  We would usually stop by Omotesando Koffee for our coffee fix at around 10.30am in the morning, before strolling over to Maisen at around 10.50am to stand in line when it opens at 11am for lunch.

I hate queuing for food, but when I have to queue, I make sure that I am right at the start of the line!

 photo L1000300-150217-v2__zpsp9q3yh8q.jpgThe place is so picturesque, with a pretty Japanese garden out at the front.

 photo L1000563-150219-v2__zpsyp4jrsgl.jpgThat’s all the available sitting space in the coffee bar.  If you don’t manage to grab one of those two benches, you have to stand around to drink your coffee.

 photo L1000547-150219-v2__zpsdgmnjs9d.jpgVery simple place: one man, one counter housed in a frame that occupies all the space on the first floor of the machiya.

 photo L1000296-150217-v2__zpsdcwc1ejn.jpgThere is something mesmerizing about watching coffee trickling out of the portafilter into the cup.

 photo L1000287-150217-v2__zps1abllb6j.jpg photo L1000289-150217-v2__zpskbejujtm.jpg photo L1000292-150217-v2__zpswziqs0pc.jpgThe barista uniform – a standard lab-coat in powder blue.

 photo L1000558-150219-v2__zpsx6xcvrec.jpgCold doppio cappuccino.  I do not usually take cold, ice-blended coffee, and I do not like to try new things when I am very happy with the tried-and-tested (which in this case is their hot doppio cappuccino).  So I have no idea what possessed me to order this at Omotesando Koffee during one of our visits.  I guess it was one of those random ‘let-me-try-something-different-today’ impulse, and oh my gawd,  I am so glad I gave in to the impulse.

The cold doppio cappuccino was shatteringly good.  The barista put (what looked like) expresso, milk and ice into the blender and out came this thick and creamy beverage that was utterly delicious.  This is now my favorite drink at Omotesando Koffee.

We also like the bite-sized baked custard snacks that Omotesando Koffee sells.  The snack goes really well with coffee.  Don’t over-indulge in these tasty morsels.  They are tiny but quite filling.

 photo L1000552-150219-v2__zpsbebboegn.jpgLucky to have these very attractive customers around as subjects when I was photographing the garden.

 photo L1000295-150217-v2__zps4idylelb.jpgAll smiles, enjoying expresso in his favorite coffee bar, in his favorite part of town.

I will put up directions to Omotesando Koffee shortly. I have got the directions to the place pat down in my brain, but they won’t stay there for long.

Omotesando Koffee
Address: 4-15-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Omotesando Station (Ginza, Hanzomon, Chiyoda lines), exit A2
Open Daily 10am-7pm 


 photo IMG_0747-150220-v2__zpspm2ua38e.jpg1. Take Exit A2 at Omotesando station on the Ginza Line. You will see a huge Apple store on your right and the ITO Hospital building in front of you.  Turn right at the street and follow the Maisen Tonkatsu signages.

If you are at the opposite end of Omotesando boulevard (the side nearer Harajuku), just walk along the main road in the direction of Aoyama to get to the Apple store.  Best to walk on the same side of the main road as Omotesando Hills and you will arrive at the Apple store outside the Omotesando station.

 photo IMG_0748-150220-v2__zpscrjmldpb.jpg2. Walk along the street till you reach the T-junction at the end.  You will see a Scandinavian home decor shop called Flying Tiger on the left of the street.  Turn left at the end of the street and you will pass by a cafe called AfternoonTea Tea Stand.

 photo IMG_0749-150220-v2__zpsseyrvszl.jpg3. Turn right into another street immediately after you walk pass AfternoonTea Tea Stand, (where the lorry is turning out of), following the direction of the Maisen signage again.  Walk along the street.

 photo IMG_0750-150220-v2__zpshlfknesu.jpg4. Keep walking along the street and you will eventually see this blue building.  This is Maisen Tonkatsu.  To get to Omotesando Koffee, turn left at this junction.

 photo IMG_0751-150220-v2__zps71ba03lo.jpg5. You will see this big open-air carpark on your left.

 photo IMG_0753-150220-v2__zpsemvkcbca.jpg6. Keep walking for a little while more and you will see a small cross-junction with this building on your right. Turn right immediately at this building and Omotesando Koffee is about 20 steps away, on your left.

Tokyo: Under The Yurakucho Tracks

We had a reservation at Shin-Hinomoto in Yurakucho on our second night in Tokyo. It was a rainy day, and the rain continued into the night. We were 30 minutes early for our 7pm reservation and had to wander around the vicinity because the izakaya was mobbed and could not yet give us a table. There are many restaurants and eateries tucked under the Yurakucho train tracks and Shin-Hinomoto is one of them. This is another place worth exploring in the evenings if you have no idea where to go for dinner.

 photo L1000333-150217-v2__zpslbclg6mu.jpgThat’s the front of Shin-Hinomoto, looks kind of scruffy on the outside, but it serves amazing food at very affordable prices. The shop may be difficult to spot in the dark, but the tip is to look out for the red lantern hanging outside the shop.

 photo L1000335-150217-v2__zpsxijtdvqi.jpgHuddle spot for smokers.

 photo L1000337-150217-v2__zps4d35mitl.jpgIt was cold and rainy, and we decided to seek shelter at this concourse just 2 mins away from Shin-Hinomoto, where I killed time by taking photos. 

 photo L1000341-150217-v2__zps4kciowue.jpgJuxtaposition between the old and new.

 photo L1000346-150217-v2__zps1lrlmpnv.jpgJapanese plastic food samples that make my stomach growl.

 photo L1000348-150217-v2__zpsn8fqq47g.jpg photo L1000350-150217-v2__zpsfpj7xkkh.jpg photo L1000351-150217-v2__zpslxrghr58.jpg photo L1000355-150217-v2__zpshfx2nb01.jpg photo L1000356-150217-v2__zpseh6vcjya.jpgTime for dinner! I was tempted to pop into this udon-ya for a quick bite. I was so hungry and cold but was damn glad I held out for what was to come at Shin-Hinomoto.

Tokyo: Morning In Shimokitazawa

I have read so much about the lovely Shimokitazawa neighborhood located not far away Shibuya, I told myself that I must visit it on this trip. Besides the indie vibe that Shimokita is known for, I also wanted to visit it for Bear Pond Expresso and Shirohige Totoro Cream Puffs. Both shops are residing in the Shimokita neighbourhood.

Shimokita is easy accessible via the subway. We took the train to Shibuya station where we switched to the Keio Inokashira line which stops at the Shimokitazawa station, about 4 stops away from Shibuya.

 photo L1000383-2-150218-v2__zps3dkd9l8v.jpgOne of the things I like best about strolling along the streets of Japan is turning a corner and being greeted by a burst of colors from a flower shop. Turn a corner in any neighborhood and you are bound to encounter several flower shops.  It is a joy to poke around in these shops and admire pots and pots of botanicals that we hardly see in our tropical climate.

 photo L1000386-2-150218-v2__zpsxxpemyxa.jpg photo L1000394-2-150218-v2__zpsawuxxe3r.jpgWe were in Shimokita a little too early in the day.  Most of the shops were still closed!  And the streets were empty and quiet.  Which isn’t a bad thing for me, because I got a chance to see these beautifully painted shutters of the closed shops.   I had quite a lot of fun snapping photos of shop fronts and their colorful shutters.  

 photo L1000397-150218-v2__zps8eozlnh3.jpgThis reminds me a little of the house in Hansel & Gretel.

 photo L1000407-150218-v2__zpslk01wvaa.jpg photo L1000401-150218-v2__zpsa2txzw8g.jpgThis is my favorite.  Love the cheery sunflower/daisy motifs.

 photo L1000402-150218-v2__zpssdxluzq2.jpg photo L1000412-150218-v2__zpsir5bpcpe.jpgThat’s the grumpy husband, who isn’t a fan of these indie neighborhoods.  He prefers Omotesando.  

 photo L1000414-150218-v2__zpsywctk08a.jpgI wonder if the shop owners paint these shutters, or do they hire someone to do the job.

 photo L1000416-150218-v2__zpsiyz9rlnp.jpgI like the shadows of the messy street wires.

 photo L1000417-150218-v2__zpsw7dousxt.jpg photo L1000418-150218-v2__zpsvhupvbrx.jpgRetro-chic gate.

 photo L1000421-150218-v2__zpszdbm46pr.jpgTrust the Japanese to jazz up a boring lock with a cute Snoopy ornament.

 photo L1000424-150218-v2__zpspwfogn8z.jpgThat’s the shop front of Bear Pond Expresso, a coffee bar that we did not like very much.

 photo L1000426-150218-v2__zpsxsae4qus.jpgUseful trolley to transport young kids around.  No risk of losing control of a bunch of rambunctious kids on the streets.   

 photo L1000429-150218-v2__zpsosrg0hrs.jpg photo L1000409-150218-v2__zpscdjdvaxi.jpg photo L1000431-2-150218-v2__zpsmt8sv9y5.jpg photo L1000436-150218-v2__zpsxu2roa5k.jpg photo L1000403-150218-v2__zps1kjxjdbn.jpgIt is amazing how many hair-salons there are in the neighborhood. Look at that owl-shaped door! 

 photo L1000441-150218-v2__zps5ubgvdsc.jpg photo L1000443-150218-v2__zpshoknuk2i.jpgThe Japanese are really good at visual merchandising.

 photo L1000447-150218-v2__zpslzw1shhk.jpg photo L1000449-150218-v2__zpsrauct6e4.jpg photo L1000451-150218-v2__zps9ow5whji.jpg photo L1000453-150218-v2__zpshlfazgnt.jpg photo L1000457-150218-v2__zpsvzrleljg.jpg photo L1000459-150218-v2__zpsekrcwino.jpg photo L1000460-150218-v2__zpssopvzeud.jpgBefore we left Shimokitazawa, we dropped by Ichiran for a bowl of tonkotsu ramen.  Our first visit to Ichiran, and it was quite an interesting dining experience. You eat your noodles in individual booths, separated from your companions by a divider.  A rather anti-social way of eating.

I would have loved to spend more time exploring the cute shops in the neighborhood.  If I was on my own, I would have spent the entire day in Shimokitazawa, but not when you have a husband like mine in tow.

Tokyo: Awesome Bara-chirashi At Sushi Sho

 photo L1000516-150219-v2__zpsnyedq6wb.jpgI have not been to Jiro.  Or any of the other famous sushi restaurants in Tokyo like Mizutani, Sushi Saito, Sushi Dai.  It is just too difficult to get a reservation.  Most of them accept reservations only one month before your intended visit and even if you do call up exactly one month before, my experience is that the restaurant is most likely to be fully booked.  

So I was not terribly disappointed when my hotel’s guest relations officer wrote me an email to say that they were unable to get me a dinner reservation at Sushi Sho for the entire duration of my 6-day stay in Tokyo.  I was just trying my luck.  Like buying lottery.  But I was surprised that the hotel managed to get us a lunch reservation at Sushi Sho, and asked if we were fine with their bara-chirashi lunch set, as that is the only thing that Sushi Sho serves at lunch.  Of course we said yes!  Sushi Sho makes only 20 sets of bara-chirashi a day.  

Sushi Sho is located in Yotsuya, on a side street that is a short walk away from the Yotsuya station (on the Marunouchi line).  The Zen-looking entrance to the restaurant looked rather intimidating.  I was wondering if lunch was going to be an uncomfortably serious, stern, austere affair.  I hear that some of the famous sushi places are like that.  I have to remember to be on my best behavior.

 photo L1000519-150219-v2__zpsj9xctol8.jpgAt exactly 12.40pm, we opened the wooden sliding door and was warmly welcomed by one of the chef assistants.  In contrast to the stillness outside the restaurant, it was quite noisy inside!  Lots of laughter and banter between the chefs and guests.   The place was full, and many guests (mostly elderly Japanese men and women) from the first seating were getting ready to leave.  We were shown to our seats, at the end of a 10-seat counter.  I took a quick photo from my seat (above), and that is the entire restaurant.  It is tiny!  

Many of the chef assistants could speak English so I could make some small talk with them while waiting for lunch to be served. They were quite friendly and chatty, and assured me that it was okay to take photographs in the restaurant.

 photo IMG_0785-150220-v2__zpsjgs2ygpf.jpgThis beautifully presented bowl of bara-chirashi was incredibly delicious, and it came with an equally delicious bowl of asari soup.  This set cost us Yen 2,000 per person (approximately US$20).  It is such a steal and worth every penny, given the high quality of ingredients.  That’s only a little more then what Teppei charges for its takeaway bara-chirashi here in Singapore.  

When I next visit Tokyo, I am definitely trying to get another lunch reservation at Sushi Sho.  

Sushi Sho 
Yorindo Building, 1F
1-11 Yotsuya Shinjuku-ku
Tokyo, Japan
Tel: +813 3351 6387

Tokyo: Bear Pond Expresso

 photo L1000424-150218-v2__zps1oyznvu7.jpgWe visited the famous Bear Pond Expresso in Shimokitazawa on our recent trip to Tokyo. Google ‘coffee in Tokyo’ and this tiny coffee bar will definitely turn up in the search results. I went there with pretty high expectations given the rave reviews that I have been reading online.

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We ordered a cappuccino and an expresso.

Nope, we didn’t like the coffee one bit, and the service even lesser.  The people behind the counter (who looked like they belonged to the era of John Lennon) were gruff, grumpy and unwelcoming.  

The coffee was acidic, and not really how we like it.  We gulped down our coffee as fast as we could and ran out of the place.  That was our first and will be our last visit.

 photo IMG_1102-150219-v2__zpsowqkfc8c.jpgOur experience at this place was on the opposite end of the spectrum compared to Motoya Coffee Express and Omotesando Koffee.  Both these places have baristas who are friendly and look genuinely happy to be around people and their coffee machines.  

S$10 Headshots For Charity

I decided to run a simple photo project for charity this year that involves me taking a photo of you, in return for a donation of $10 (people are free to give more if they wish) to any of the four charities that this project currently supports.  The four charities are: SPD, Bone Marrow Donor Program, the APEX Rehabilitation Centre For The Elderly and the Children’s Cancer Foundation.  I am thinking about adding a fifth charity – the Cat Welfare Society.  (I like cats, that’s why.)

This is not a new idea.  I read about this project on ShootTokyo a while ago and have been toying with the idea of doing something similar, but I have always been caught up with dealing with various work and personal issues so the idea stayed as an idea.  It is only recently that I decided to do something about it.  Perhaps the thought of entering  mid-life spurred me on as I suddenly feel that more of my life is behind me than it is in front of me.  There is no time to hem-and-haw about the things that I have always thought about doing.  Let’s just do it.  

This charity project is fairly to kick-start.  It does not require much planning or financial resources, just a camera and Lightroom!  Since I like taking photographs, this will be fun, and I get to do it all at my own time and pace.  It also forces me to reach out to friends to meet up.  It is also fun for them,  since they get to pose for a photo and chip in a small token for charity.  

How does one donate? Donations can be made on the GiveAsia website here, using your credit card.  The photo is basically a headshot of you – a photo of your upper body and face, and a copy will be emailed to you.   I have also set up a Facebook page to share these photos; if you want to contribute to this project, please reach out to me on the Facebook page!  

Not sure how this will turn out, but at the very least, I know I am gonna have fun doing it.

Black&Ink Cafe In Changi Road

 photo IMG_0419-150208-v2__zpsc3e6a0c3.jpgEvery weekend, we find ourselves looking for a place to have breakfast or brunch.  Inevitably, we end up at the usual tried-and-tested places – Starbucks, Assembly Cafe, Beach Road Prawn Noodles or roti prata at Jalan Kayu.  Once in a while, we check out a new cafe for brunch and most of the time, we walk out feeling ripped off.

Last Sunday morning, I came across Black&INK in one of the local food blogs that I visit whenever I need some new ideas of where to go for breakfast or brunch.  It mentioned Black&INK as one of the latest cafes to set up shop here.  I was drawn to its address in Changi Road, which means that I do not have to drive very far to visit the cafe, and I would feel less ripped off should it turn out to be a dud.

 photo IMG_0413-150208-v2__zps9be73cd9.jpgThe cafe is quite tiny, styled in black and white tones, with only one barista holding the fort.  Very affable chap – turns out that he is a food blogger known as Eat With Roy.

 photo IMG_0414-150208-v2__zpscc358864.jpgI ordered a flat white, which came in a Bodum glass.  It was very good.   Full-bodied and very balanced (in my dictionary, that means that the coffee was not too bitter or too acidic).  Yummy.  I am probably too used to drinking flat whites which are all milk and hardly any hint of coffee, so this came as a pleasant surprise.   Roy tells me that he uses his own roasters.

 photo IMG_0416-150208-v2__zps974a1f7a.jpgWe were very hungry, and wanted some food.  Black&INK does not serve cooked food, only cakes.  We ordered three slices of cake – carrot cake, cheesecake and orange poppy seed cake.  I was not expecting much from the cakes, except a sugar rush to kick-start the morning.  Another pleasant surprise – all the cakes were very very good.  The barista tells us that the cakes were baked by a friend of his, who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu.  Some people may begrudge the small portions but they were just nice for middle-aged folks like us.  

I walked out of the cafe feeling satiated, and more importantly, with a happy husband who was not scowling at me for giving him a less than satisfactory breakfast experience because of my poor choices.

This place, if they keep to their current standards, merits weekly visits.  Finding parking may be a little of a problem though.

168 Changi Road
(Located in the Fragrance Building)

Crocheting: Daisy Vintage Purses

Despite feeling lethargic during the weekends (all I want to do is to lie down on the sofa with a glass of wine), I managed to find some time to crochet a new purse, in July 4th colors of white, blue and red.

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I learnt how to sew a simple daisy from one of my Applemint crochet books.  And sewed a pearl bead onto the blue part of the purse.  

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Fairly simple design.  I just didn’t have the energy to do more.

Crocheting: Jar Covers

 photo DSC_0693-150104-v2__zps59b6a600.jpgI received a Japanese crochet pattern book called “Kyuuto! Japanese Crafts” for Christmas which contained loads of cute, lovely crochet patterns – coasters, square and round dollies, tissue box covers, coin purse, phone covers, jar covers, baby shoes, pot holders, etc.  

I have been wanting to try my hand at crocheting jar covers because I have a number of empty jam jars that I would like to recycle to use as holders by dressing them up with a nice cover.  The pattern for jar covers in Kyuuto looked easy – just repeating rows of double stitches and single stitches.  You can easily increase or decrease the number of rows for the base to accommodate varying jar sizes.

 photo DSC_0692-150104-v2__zpscc89acb4.jpgA bright and cheery cover for a small Ikea glass that I use to hold a little pot of succulent.  I concealed the ugly joining stitches of the cover with two big wooden buttons that I bought at one of the shops in People’s Park Centre.  This is a good crochet craft to make while watching a Korean drama because I do not have to keep referring to the pattern, or count stitches. 🙂

 photo 760_0Image_zpsa240224b.jpgThis is a really good crochet pattern book, with easy-to-follow patterns in English. It was on my to-buy list, and was so glad to receive it as a gift! So this jar cover went to my friend who gave me the book.

Nunsongyee: A Korean Dessert Cafe In Burghley Drive

 photo IMG_0198-150124-v2__zpsd7e8d7b5.jpgToday, I visited this Korean dessert cafe called Nunsongyee tucked away in a corner of the Serangoon Gardens residential estate at 45 Burghley Drive.  From the vibe of the cafe, to the trendy Kpop music playing in the background, to the Korean lady manning the cafe, I felt as though I had been transported back to Seoul.  All that was missing were the loud voices of Korean girls speaking in Korean. 

 photo IMG_0216-150124-v2__zps29305854.jpgSpacious, high-ceilinged and fairly empty at noon, it was a comfortable space  for me.  I don’t like crowded places – they give me a headache.   

The focus of Nunsongyee seems to be a large variety of bingsu (I call this the Korean ice kachang) and toast.  They also have a drinks menu that includes coffee, smoothies and soft drinks.  I have tried bingsu several times in Seoul, and I always walk away feeling disappointed.  I like the texture of the ice shavings – powdery soft and smooth – but I find that the dessert doesn’t have much taste.  But since I was at the cafe, I decided to order a bingsu.

 photo IMG_0206-150124-v2__zpsc68fca54.jpgAfter dithering between the black sesame bingsu and the injeolmi (a type of Korean rice cake – not the same as tteokbokki) bingsu, I ordered the former (about $19.00 – quite pricey!).  Better to go with the familiar.  In Korea, bingsus are usually served in fairly sizable portions.  I guess that’s because the dessert is meant for sharing, and not eaten alone.

The black sesame bingsu at Nunsongyee came in a big bowl, accompanied by almond flakes, black sesame pounded into a powder, a generous helping of red bean paste, topped with several pieces of injeolmi (this has a texture similar to that of muah chee).  The cafe also gave us a small serving of a milky syrup to pour over the bingsu.  

I liked Nunsongyee’s bingsu much better than the ones that I have eaten in Seoul.  The texture of the cafe’s ice shavings was as good as the ones in Korea, and it was very tasty without being syrupy sweet.   Who knows, I may just become a bingsu convert. I want to go back and try their toast!  

Tokyo: Kissako Kaiseiken In Ningyocho

One of the first Japanese words that anyone learns in a beginner Japanese class is ‘kissaten’ – meaning ‘coffeeshop’, or ‘tearoom’, or ‘cafe’. In my mind, I have always associated ‘kissaten‘ with a modern (the popular word nowadays being ‘hipster’) cafes that have been popping up like flies in Singapore, or one of the chain cafes like Starbucks. Nope, nothing like that.

I visited a kissaten located in Ningyocho for the first time when we were in Tokyo last year. It is an old-fashioned Japanese coffee-shop that transported us to a somewhat different world when we entered it. 1960s jazz music streams out of an LP record player. Red vinyl chairs. Brick walls. Dark paneled walls. Grandfatherly Japanese men wearing hats, and smoking with their friends over cups of drip coffee. Smoky.

I felt like I had walked into a Murakami-ques coffeeshop described in one of his books.

 photo IMG_5430-140401-v2__zps6374bf77.jpgWe chanced upon this kissaten when we were waiting to join the lunch queue at Tamahide Oyakadon.  The kissaten was just two doors away from Tamahide, on the same street.  Being the typical ‘kiasu‘ Singaporeans, we had arrived an hour before Tamahide’s opening hours, and decided to get a cup of coffee in this kissaten, called Kissako Kaiseiken

Feeling a little hungry, I also ordered a plate of toast with marmalade.  I have no idea what sort of bread they use but it was the most delicious toast that I have ever eaten.  I gobbled all of it up, and immediately ordered another portion.  

Finishing that, I walked to the counter to find out how the kissaten toasts its bread.  I was expecting to see some sort of special equipment, or a special toasting-bread technique.  Alas, they used a simple pop-up toaster, coupled with typical Japanese precision timing in toasting the bread.  The guy who was toasting the bread was using a timer, and concentrating so hard on getting the bread toasted with the right timing.

 photo IMG_5438-150120-v2__zpsf68656d7.jpg I am definitely going back to Kissako when I next visit Tokyo. Coffee – drip coffee – is not great, but drinkable. But oh, I scream for the toast.

Kissako Kaiseiken

1-17-9 Nihonbashi Ningyocho,Chuo-ku (1-17-9, 中央区日本橋人形町)

Bara-chirashi At Shinzo

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Ended my Japanese dinner at Shinzo with a simple bara-chirashi. I am usually not fond of eating rice at the end of a long Japanese meal, but this beautiful bowl containing cubes of marinated fish artfully scattered on top of lightly vinegar-ed rice was irresistible.  The colors were so pretty.

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