Tokyo Tea Party

19 05 2010

I am so excited to be blogging about this!  I am far too obsessed with food (^-^)v

and with Tim Burton’s Alice, but that’s something completely different… (Mad Hatter… Tea party… get it???)

Tea

Tea!

The Park Hyatt in Shinjuku is by far most famous for its New York Bar, which was featured in the movie Lost in Translation.  However, the hotel has another gem in the Peak Lounge, where you can enjoy the view of the Tokyo skyline, and dine on a fantastic English Afternoon tea.

The menu doesn’t have a vast array of eating options, but more teas than you can poke a tea strainer at.  The best option on the menu is one of the two Afternoon tea sets they offer, either desserts only, or sandwiches and desserts.  Each feature seasonal treats and unlimited tea, coffee, petits fours, and finger foods.

On the day we went we chose the sandwich and desserts option.  Firstly you will be served your beverage.  To begin with I had an English tea.  Shortly after that, they will bring a three-tiered stand (pictured below).  On the top are the sandwiches, in the middle the scones, and on the bottom some cakes.

the setting

the setting

The sandwiches of the day were ham, lettuce and radish, a sun-dried tomato based sandwich , and another one that I have completely forgotten… , all lightly toasted.  I have to admit, I was a little surprised with the ham, lettuce and radish, as it’s a combination I wouldn’t have thought of, but it was quite tasty with the radish giving the sandwich a bit of a tang.

Sandwiches

Sandwiches

The scones were a real treat. Being the start of April and cherry blossom season, one of the scones was sakura flavoured.  The other scone was plain, but the clotted cream and fresh berry compote that accompanied it was divine.

Sakura Scone

Sakura Scone

Scone with clotted cream and berry compote

Scone with clotted cream and berry compote

The cakes that came on the tiered stand were strawberry profiteroles, pistachio tarts, and almond cake.  The profiteroles were quite nice, the filling wasn’t overly strawberry flavoured and was made with real vanilla beans.  The tart base for the pistachio tarts was a little hard, but it’s possible we ate them after they had cooled down a little too much.  The almond cake is something you don’t see too often in Japan, so it was nice to have an old favourite for me.

Strawberry Profiterole

Strawberry Profiterole

Pistacio tart

Pistachio tart

Almond cake

Almond cake

While you are eating from the stand, the staff also come around and offer other petits fours and finger foods.  The petits fours offered were a cherry jelly, chocolate profiteroles, and the best berry panna cotta that I have ever had (I think I even had seconds of this).

Cherry Jelly

Cherry Jelly

Chocolate Profiterole

Chocolate Profiterole

Fresh Berry Panna Cotta

Fresh Berry Panna Cotta

And for finger foods, there were mini quiches, caramelized onion on french bread, pesto penne, and chilli mixed nuts.  Both the caramelized onion on french bread and the pesto penne were my favourite, and a lovely savoury counterpoint to all the sweet dishes.

Mini Quiche

Mini Quiche

Caramelized Onion on French bread

Caramelized Onion on French bread

Pesto Penne

Pesto Penne

Chilli mixed nuts

Chilli mixed nuts

By now we had finished our first cup of tea, and were sampling some of the green teas.  I had the green tea with orange peel (pictured), and Lauren had the green tea with lemongrass.

Green tea with orange peel

Green tea with orange peel

And all the while we were enjoying the changing colors of the sunset over Tokyo!

Sunset

Sunset

Details: Afternoon tea is available at the Peak Lounge on the 41st floor of the Park Hyatt Tokyo from 1400 to 1700 on weekdays, and from 1200 to 1700 on weekends and public holidays.  The price is 3,000 yen, inclusive of tax and a 10% service charge.

edit may 19: woops, who forgot to spellcheck…





To all those twitter naysayers…

11 05 2010

You know who I’m talking about…  Yes, you!  Now, how many of you have won something off Facebook eh?  *crickets chirping* Yeah, I thought so….

I am a bit of a twitter addict.  I tweet a few times a day, and I read my feed far more often than that.  So, when Lauren and I were in Hakone, of course I was checking my feed on my iPhone.  And I saw tweet from @jtbjapanican with details of a competition to win a trip to the snow.  This competition was a first-in-wins kinda deal, so Lauren and I were quick smart to get down the hotel’s computer room to apply.  And the next day, well, we were some of the happy winners!

The prize included bullet train tickets from Tokyo to Echigo Yuzawa, and one night’s accommodation at the Takahan Ryokan (Japanese Style Inn) including dinner and breakfast.  Now I have been to Yuzawa before, and it really is a great place for Tokyoites to take a quick trip to the snow.  It’s about 60 minutes from Tokyo by bullet train, but, the only problem I had was finding tour packages in English.  It makes me really happy that JTB seems to be looking towards offering tour packages in English.

So, on a Sunday morning, we dragged our sleepy (and slightly hung-over) heads out of bed to catch the train.  We arrived in Yuzawa shortly after 11am, and rang up Takahan to have their shuttle bus pick us up.  Takahan, like most places in Yuzawa, was only about a 5 minute drive from the Station.  Yuzawa Town is really easy to get around.  It’s quite small, but well geared for skiers and boarders, with a free shuttle bus taking you to hotels and ski fields.

Takahan Ryokan

Takahan Ryokan

Since we were far to early to check in, we caught the free shuttle to Yuzawa Kogen to play in the snow.  Unfortunately neither of us ski or board, but as we come from a place with no snow, it’s a bit of a novelty to play in it.  We bought a pass that allowed us to ride the ropeway to the summit, and enter the play zones to do a bit of tubing and tobogganing.  At the summit there is an Italian restaurant and food hall, along with all the ski slopes.  We had a lovely lunch at the Italian place, before building a snow-kangaroo.  After playing about a little more, it was time to head back to the ryokan.

Snow-kanga!

Snow-kanga!

Takahan Ryokan is actually a little famous, as it has a history of about 800 years, and a famous novel ‘Snow Country‘ was written there.  There is also a natural hot spring and a small museum about the novel’s author in the building.  Staying in a ryokan is quite an experience unto itself.  After signing the register you are given a quick tour of the public areas before being taken to your room.  Once you have settled in a little, an attendant comes and serves you tea before confirming what you are having for dinner.  We were asked whether we liked natto, if we wanted our fish fried or salted, and if we prefered sake or beer.

Tea service

Tea service

After that we were able to relax for a little before heading down to the restaurant for dinner.  A lot of ryokans will serve your dinner in your room, however as Takahan is quite large, dinner was served in private rooms in the restaurant.  And dinner was quite lavish, with a selection of regional and seasonal foods.  Here’s what we had-

Salmon Sashimi

Salmon Sashimi

Raw salmon with fresh asparagus, devils tongue, and wasabi

Tofu and mountain vegetable

Tofu and mountain vegetable

Green tea tofu with fresh mountain vegetables and dipping sauce

um....

um....

Not quite sure if this was cold chicken or raw fatty tuna, served with greens

Rice pudding

Rice pudding

Sticky rice pudding with seafood

Crab nabe

Crab nabe

Crab nabe (steamboat or one pot)

Salted fish

Salted fish

Salted freshwater fish

There was also a small bowl of zarusoba (cold buckwheat noodles), pickles, warm sake, and a digestive drink which I haven’t shown.  Overall, a really yummy dinner, of which the crab was my favourite.  A small dessert with tea was also included, but it wasn’t anything special.

After dinner, once you return to your room the futons should be laid out.  We sat and watched TV for a while, before I decided to see what the hot spring was like.  Takahan’s hot spring is a clear sulphur type, which dries your skin out a little, but also makes you feel very very soft.  In the lady’s bath there was a rotenburo (outside bath) that looked down at the Gala Yuzawa station.  So I spent some time admiring the lights and watching the snow fall.  Nothing beats sitting in a piping hot bath outside in the snow!

oyasuminasai~

oyasuminasai~

The next morning it was down to the dining hall for breakfast.  Breakfast was a far more casual affair, with everyone dining together.  It was also a very big!  We had rice, miso soup, grilled salmon, natto, mushrooms, tofu, tea and orange juice.  After that, it was time to check out.  Unfortunately the weather had taken a turn for the worse, and it was snowing pretty heavily.  So, we decided to go to a strawberry picking farm, which is open in all weather.  I’m not a huge fan of strawberries, but these were really sweet and tasty.

Echigo Ichigo!

Echigo Ichigo!

It was still morning, and the weather had improved, so we decided to check out Gala Yuzawa, a ski resort where the bullet train stops right at the base.  Gala is actually very foreigner friendly, and if I have the chance to learn to ski next season, this is where I’ll do it!  We caught a gondola up, and up, and up to the summit where we had lunch looking down on Echigo Yuzawa.  It was freezing cold, so we opted to stay inside and watch other crazy people skiing and boarding.

Echigo Yuzawa

Echigo Yuzawa

And then finally, it was time to head back to the station, buy a few souvenirs, and catch the train back to Tokyo.

I would like to send a big thanks to JAPANiCAN for such a great trip.  Although nothing truly is for free, and we had to fill out a short survey, who wouldn’t mind that when you get train tickets and hotel accommodation at no cost.  I would be glad to be a guinea pig for JTB any day!

And again, Lauren made a video, and you can check out her YouTube channel here!





Yokohama Ramen Coma

4 05 2010

Continuing on with the Australian Invasion (of one), the next day trip Lauren and I took was to Yokohama.  Our main reason (my main reason?) for going there was the Ramen Museum, however no trip to Yokohama is complete without a visit to Chinatown.  The Yokohama Chinatown is one of the largest in the world, and its a very bright and lively shopping and restaurant area, with a couple of shrines thrown in. 

Chinatown Shrine

Chinatown Shrine

So we wandered around there for a while, and I stocked up on Chinese pork buns and egg noodles.  Since we were going to the Ramen Museum later we didn’t have lunch at Chinatown, and we made our way along the bay side to the Minato Mirai area.  There we took a ride on the ‘Cosmo Clock 21′ ferris wheel. 

Cosmo Clock 21 Ferris Wheel

Cosmo Clock 21 Ferris Wheel

It really struck me how much the Minato Mirai district has changed since my first visit in about 2002.  It’s a much more international tourist friendly place, and there are more things to do.  From the ferris wheel we spotted a couple of things I want to try next time I’m in Yokohama, like the foot bath at the Manyo club, and putt-putt at Vivre.  Both of which are on top of the buildings! 

 

From Minato Mirai it was finally time to get our late lunch (or early dinner) at the Shin Yokohama Ramen Museum.  The Ramen Museum is one of my favourite places to go in Yokohama.  Once you enter the Museum and walk downstairs into the basement, you enter a mock-up of what Japan was like in the early to mid Showa era (1925 and onwards). 

Shin Yokohama Ramen Museum

Shin Yokohama Ramen Museum

At any one time, there are about nine different restaurants showcasing different varieties of Ramen from all over Japan.  You can buy large or small bowls of ramen, and traditional Japanese sweets.  We were only able to fit in two small bowls of ramen, so we had Tonkotsu ramen (broiled pork bone soup) from the Kumamoto shop ‘Komurasaki’ 

Tonkotsu ramen

Tonkotsu ramen

and Miso ramen from the Hokkaido shop ‘Eki’  

Miso ramen

Miso ramen

 Both were very delicious, but pretty heavy.  I love trying different types of ramen, and tonkotsu still remains my favourite.  Alas, living in Kanto, the regional flavor of ramen is soy sauce, so I don’t get to satisfy my craving very often. 

And, after rolling ourselves home, that was our day in Yokohama! 

Once again, Lauren made a video, and you can check out her YouTube channel here





Hakone – Princes, Pirates and black eggs!

27 04 2010

About a month ago, my best friend Lauren came to visit.  We had a really busy schedule because this was probably the last chance she will have to visit me in Japan.  One of the first things we did was to visit Hakone using a package from JAPANiCAN.

I’ve been to Hakone so many times that I’ve lost count, but this was Lauren’s first time.  The package from JAPANiCAN was really really good value.  For 11,900yen we had bullet train tickets from Tokyo to Odawara, and one night at the Hakone Prince Hotel.  Using the bullet train to get to Hakone was really quick, cutting a 5 hour journey from my house in half (I live in the sticks!).  Once we were in Odawara we bought some Odakyu Freepasses and we were off!

Hakone Checkpoint

Firstly we caught the bus to Hakone-machi were we had some lunch at a restaurant overlooking Lake Ashi.  This is also the start of the Ashinoko hike, but this time I wasn’t there for hiking.  Our next stop was the Hakone Checkpoint Museum.  This is a recent (2007) replica of the Checkpoint along the Tokaido Highway, and it’s pretty interesting because it illustrates how difficult it was to travel in the Edo period.  Only people who had documents and legitimate reasons were allowed to travel from Tokyo.  And anyone caught trying to sneak by the Checkpoint were arrested and tortured in some very gruesome ways.  Although the Checkpoint buildings themselves are new, the attached museum is a bit…  aged…  and doesn’t have much English signage.  But its pretty easy to guess things like ‘this instrument was used for torture’, etc, etc.

Inside the Hakone Checkpoint

Inside the Hakone Checkpoint

Old Tokaido Highway

Old Tokaido Highway

From the Checkpoint Museum we walked along a small section of the old Tokaido.  The old highway was lined with cedar trees to give some shade to travellers, and even though it’s right beside a roadway, you can still get a feel for what it must have been like to walk from Tokyo to Kyoto.

Certainly something that didn’t exist back then is the Pirate Ship Cruise we caught across the lake.  I had high hopes that while in Hakone we would have fine weather, but we were not lucky, and there was no views of Mt Fuji that day.  But despite that, the round trip from Hakone, on the Pirate Ship, then ropeway, and finally cable car is still fun, and an interesting view of Japan for those who have only really seen the cites beforehand.

Lake Ashi

Lake Ashi

Egg Ice Cream

Egg Ice Cream

Of course, our next stop on the round trip was Owakudani, an active volcanic area.  From the ropeway station we were lucky to catch a glimpse of the top of Mt Fuji, and then it was up the trail to try some Kuro-tamago, black eggs that have been boiled in the sulphurous hot springs.  Each egg you eat is said to add another 7 years onto your lifespan, and if that’s the case I managed to add another 17.5 years to my life that weekend.

What got me really excited, however, was Egg ice cream!  I’ve mentioned before how there is a lot of variety of ice creams in Japan, but this was the first time I had ever seen Egg flavour.  Thankfully the ice cream didn’t really taste very eggy, but more like pudding.  I truly think it was pudding flavor, but re-named so that they would sell more….

Owakudani

Owakudani

As we were staying at the Hakone Prince Hotel, we backtracked on the ropeway to the lake, and caught a bus around to the hotel.  The Hakone Prince is kind of like a resort style hotel.  It is on a large piece of land (there is even a golf course), and all buildings and attractions were owned by Prince.  But unfortunately the isolation ment there wasn’t even a convenience store to be had, and dining options were either the two restaurants at the hotel or room service.  As we had a late-ish lunch and eggs, we weren’t starving, so we decided that room service was the best option for us.  It also gave me a bit of a thrill as I had never ever ordered room service before.  I had the seafood curry, and it was the best seafood curry I had ever had.  Plus it was really novel to have my dinner wheeled in for me (^-^)

Seafood Curry dinner

Seafood Curry dinner

The next day the weather had turned bad.  It was 3 degrees C and raining, and being in the mountains, the clouds had set in.  We had already decided to go to Yunessun, a hot spring theme park, so the turn in weather wasn’t so bad for us.  Yunesun, although a little expensive at 3,500 yen, is really great for people who don’t want to bathe naked, because it has a swimsuit zone with many different kinds of baths like wine, sake, green tea, charcoal, and more.  Although, the outside area is a bit trying when you are running from bath to bath and it’s only 3 degrees!  The most interesting bath for me was the Dead Sea bath, it has a very high salt content which makes you float very easily.

By the time we finished at Yunessun it was time to head back to Hakone Station and on to Toyko on the bullet train.  So, the goals of 1- see (a bit of) Mt Fuji, and 2- go to an onsen were achieved.

Lauren also made a great video of our trip – you should also check out her YouTube Channel!  (er, also, language warning!)





Yaki and Age and Ice! (oh my!)

22 04 2010

So, festivals (or matsuri) are pretty common in Japan, but some how I had managed to avoid them for the last 6 months or so.  Not intentionally, it just happened like that.  Anyway, at festivals there are always heaps of little stalls selling the standard foods like yakisoba, yakitori, takoyaki, okonomiyaki and chocco-banana.  So when you see something new, it’s pretty exciting (well, for a food geek like me).

When I went to the Mito Plum Festival there were two new stalls that I had never seen before -

Yakiniku Onigiri

Yakiniku Onigiri

Firstly we have Yakiniku-Onigiri, basically a rice ball wrapped in thinly sliced barbecued meat served with cheese, mayonnaise, lettuce and sesame seeds.  The line for this stall was really long, but well worth the wait.  At 300yen or so, they are slightly expensive, but they are really good!  Kinda taste like a burger actually.  And since the Plum Festival I have also seen stalls at my local Cherry Blossom festival, so hopefully they are catching on!

Agemonja

Agemonja

Next we have Agemonja, which is Monjayaki in a fried pastry shell.  Monjayaki is the Kanto region version of Okonomiyaki, a savory pancake made with cabbage, however Monja is… well… runny.  So I guess in order to make it a hand held food they needed to put it in a shell (as opposed to Okonomiyaki, which they just wrap around a chopstick).  Once again, the line for this stall was quite long, however this time it was due to the time it took to put it together and fry it.  It priced at about 500yen which, considering the size, is quite standard.  However..  it tasted kinda funky.  When Monja is good, its good.  When its bad, it pretty gross.  I think the ingredients were turning bad, it had a slight bitter taste.  But great idea!  I think if you had this made well it would be tasty.  Plus they should add some cheese.  Cheese goes with everything!

Here’s a view of the insides, to give you an idea of the consistency -

Inside Agemonja

Inside Agemonja

And finally, although not a stall, what festival is complete without ice cream!

Ume Icecream

Ume ice cream

And at a Plum Festival you have to have plum ice cream!  It tasted like Umeshu, which is plum liqueur with a sweet and sour flavour.  It was a little strong, and I think it would have been nicely toned down if you could get a mix of ume and vanilla ice cream, but yum none-the-less!

More ice cream adventures are coming next when I write about going to Hakone with Lauren!





Kubikiri Koala

8 03 2010

yes, that’s right… A decapitated koala…

Bwhahahah…. Now that I have your attention…

So, Lotte’s Koala March has come out with a special flavor, Custard Waffle. Don’t really get why it is touted as waffle flavored, but whatever sells I guess.

Overall, not bad, but not special. Not all that different from white chocolate I thought.  But any Koala shaped snack is alright by me.  Plus they do donate towards the Save the Koala Foundation!

KitKat has also come out with a new seasonal flavour – Sakura Green Tea (Sakura Matcha). But there is no way I’m trying that. Green tea flavoured items just taste off to me…





not that I *like* Valentine’s Day…

13 02 2010

but this was sooooo cute that I had to share it!

a cake...

yes, a cake.  A cake…  with my name on it!!!! (it says ‘Micchan’, my nickname at work)  OMGosh! isn’t it sweet?!

Courtesy of one of the girls in my English club…  awwwwwww!





Baking – Almond and Raspberry Tart

13 02 2010

This week’s winning recipe is from the December issue of Woolworths Fresh magazine (and despite the snazzy website, I can’t find a link for the recipe).  The original recipe has directions for making your own raspberry sauce, however, as I was unable to find raspberries near me (fresh or frozen) I substituted raspberry jam instead.

Almond and Raspberry Tart

Almond and Raspberry Tart

Time:

30 minutes cooking

Makes 2 tarts

Ingredients:

1 jar of raspberry jam
2 pastry flans
125g of butter
3/4 cup of sugar
1/4 tsp of almond essence
3 eggs
3/4 cup of almond meal
1/2 cup self-raising flour
thickened cream or ice cream to serve
shaved almonds (optional)

Method:

1) Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.
2) Cream the butter, sugar and essence with a beater, and then beat in the eggs one by one.
3) Stir in the almond meal and flour to the creamed butter and sugar, until well combined.
4) Spoon the jam over the base of the flans, then spoon the almond meal mixture over the top.  Use a knife to spread the mixture evenly.  If you want, sprinkle shaved almonds over the tart.
5) Bake for 30 minutes until golden.





Yokohama Bike Ride

9 02 2010

JAPANiCAN ran a free bicycle rental day in Yokohama last Saturday.  It was actually a survey for the Yokohama government in trying to improve tourism and road traffic in the area, so after riding around we had to fill in a survey (but we were also paid 2,000 yen).

I asked a friend to go with me, and we met bright and early on Saturday to get our bikes.  The bikes were really interesting.  I was my first opportunity to ride a powered bicycle, and while fun, I don’t think I could live with one everyday.

We spent the next few hours cycling along the waterfront in Yokohama.  Both of us had been to Yokohama a number of times before, so we had seen most things already, but as this was my first time there with my SLR I took some photos of the buildings.

Here is the Red Brick Warehouses, which are now a shopping mall -

The buildings nicknamed King, Queen and Jack (respectively) -

Jack (the bottom one) is my favourite.

The girl with red shoes on -

And of course, what’s a trip to Yokohama without stopping in Chinatown to have some eats (^-^)v My pick of the day was Chilli Prawn Buns -





KitKat win!

9 02 2010

So, the latest seasonal flavour in KitKat is Raspberry and Passionfruit

It’s been released in time for Valentine’s Day, and even has a gift card on the back if you want to give it to that special someone (^-^)o

It’s more raspberry flavour than passionfruit, and its covered in dark chocolate, so it’s perfect for when you want a little treat.  I certainly wasn’t going to share!








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