Monday, 5 December 2011

Fortnightly round-up (5 December)

Tahbilk Marsanne vertical tasting

This time next month, I will be in JAPAN! It's my first trip to the Land of the Rising Sun, and of course I'm very excited. We're thinking a night in Osaka, four nights in Kyoto and six nights in Tokyo, plus a potential daytrip out to the country somewhere (Fuji-san??). I've already been told that this book is an invaluable resource but I ask you, blog readers: what other recommendations do you have for me? Where do I *have* to visit? Any suggestions would be warmly welcomed.

Sunset over Shinjuku
(Photo by Joi, used under CC licence)


If you haven't already heard (or noticed the green buttons on my blog), charity organisation StreetSmart has launched its 2011 fundraising project DineSmart, which runs until Christmas. DineSmart in a nutshell:

"StreetSmart partners with restaurants to ask diners to make a small donation to StreetSmart on their bill. Every table is asked to add $2 or more to their bill, not even the price of a coffee or mineral water. It’s a simple idea that adds up to a big impact on the lives of people who are homeless.

So when you are planning a night out think about taking a simple action and book at a StreetSmart participating restaurant. While you are there encourage your fellow diners to dig deep and leave your donation on your bill. Be it meeting up with friends, family or an office or business function we need you to get involved.

Please remember that your donation should not replace any tip you would usually leave, we want you to consider any donation over and above your tip and support the staff and restaurants who are supporting us.

100% of your donation goes to work:
StreetSmart operational expenses are funded through sponsorship partners allowing us to guarantee to the community that 100% of your donations are distributed directly to charity recipients."

A list of Melbourne's participating restaurants for 2011 can be found here, and details of StreetSmart's charity recipients can be found here.

I've been supporting StreetSmart over the last few years, and I really like the fact that (unlike other bigger charities that have moved in and copied this fundraising model), StreetSmart focuses on small, local community groups that wouldn't always qualify for other funding. One such program funded by StreetSmart that I was invited to visit recently is The Social Studio, which provides training, work experience, employment and pathways to employment for refugee youth interested in clothing production, retail and hospitality. Their fashion studio, shop and cafe is located on Smith Street (and I can recommend the African burgers, injera rolls and zlabia donuts served in their cafe The Cutting Table).

InjeraThe Social Studio

On the specials board at Bar Lourinhã last week: migas (breadcrumbs) with suckling pig. Suit you sir!


Also outrageous: the Southern USA-style Thanksgiving lunch I had at Naked Espresso. For a mere $20 per head we were served a feast with all the trimmings: turkey, stuffing, candied yams (with marshmallow!), okra and beans, apple salad and individually baked cornbread, served with Southern iced tea and followed by some extraordinarily good pumpkin pie. My friend and I were seated on the communal table next to a kindly professor from the University of Georgia, who was delighted to have a culinary reminder of home Down Under.

Thanksgiving lunchPumpkin pie

I almost hate to give the secret away, but the fact is that the open-from-3pm tapas bar on the rooftop of The Aylesbury (brought to you by Team Añada) has quietly started opening from 1pm on Fridays. Sitting on a sun-drenched rooftop balcony snacking on Jamón and the last pimientos de Padrón of the season and drinking a 'Ping Pong at 5' (white port, lime, sugar and tonic) = PERFECTION.

Aylesbury rooftopJamon, pimientos de padron

Last Wednesday night I went along to the Melbourne launch of US-based review website Yelp. Yelp has been a useful resource on my trips to the US and I'm interested in seeing it succeed here in Melbourne - not only because I'm friends with Yelp's Melbourne Community Manager, but because I'm intrigued to see how effective their "review filter" (an algorithm that screens all submitted reviews to weed out malicious or fake contributions) is. Having to trawl through vindictive or hilariously uninformed reviews is my major gripe with the other review websites currently operating in Australia, such as Urbanspoon.

Yelp has partnered with Telstra's Sensis, which is providing Yelp with business listings and online advertisers. An interview with Yelp co-founder and CEO Jeremy Stoppelman about the Australia launch can be found here.

The Design Files Open House

Oh, and did you attend The Design Files Open House over the weekend? I went on Saturday morning. A very ambitious project, brilliantly executed. Huge congratulations to Melbourne design blog superstar Lucy from The Design Files and Esther on their success!

Links of Note:

- The very functionally titled Melbourne Cafes Photo Blog has photos of the pop-up cafe that was open on the roof deck of The Design Files Open House.

- Tickets for next year's Melbourne Food and Wine Festival are now on sale: if you missed it in Friday's Age, a copy of the 2012 Festival Guide can be downloaded from the MFWF website.

- Finalists for the Eat. Drink. Blog. 2011 Photography Competition have been announced. I think my favourites are 'Tea break', 'Vietnamese chicken salad' and 'Chopping coconuts'.

- My favourite food blogger in Sydney outdoes herself with one helluva review of Momofuku Seibo (vegetarian and omnivore menus) on The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry.

- Following her critical post on Melbourne's new Creole restaurant My Mexican Cousin (linked to in my previous fortnightly round-up), Burger Mary revealed on her blog that MMC has addressed her comments by inviting her to come onboard as a paid temporary consultant: she's now working with them to help produce a more authentically Creole menu. I heard from a separate source that it hasn't all been smooth sailing at MMC since it opened four weeks ago, so here's hoping it works out well.

- Adam Roberts (The Amateur Gourmet) on the hunt for great tacos in East L.A.

- A coffee guy and a camera girl from Midwest America have moved with their two young sons to Burundi in Central Africa, to be closer to the coffee trees. Follow their adventures via the Long Miles Coffee Project.

- New website Birds of Unusual Vitality features interviews and beautiful portraits of people that make up Melbourne's specialty coffee scene. Look out for my clothesline making a cameo appearance in one of the photographs!

- "I always said if I wasn't going to be a chef I would have been a footballer. But I was just no good at playing it, hence I'm a chef." George Calombaris on his career choices.
Hospitality Magazine article on Calombaris cooking for David Beckham, a handy summary of the latest court decision regarding the Matthew Evans v Coco Roco restaurant review defamation case, and other hospo snippets.

- "In the beginning was the word and the word was never questioned. This is how many specialist commentators such as myself viewed our work. We wrote the reviews, the articles, the books, and sold them to a publisher who then packaged and disseminated them to a grateful readership whose only reactions to what we wrote were to follow our advice, perhaps to mutter among themselves about what they viewed as our mistakes or misconceptions, and very occasionally to go to the trouble of writing a polite letter either to us or to our publishers to comment on what we had published." Excerpt from article by wine writer/legend Jancis Robinson on the near-oracular status specialist writers used to enjoy, the rise of the blogosphere and her thoughts on attending this year's (US) Wine Bloggers' Conference. Includes a list of her favourite wine blogs.

A reminder: Japan tips would be much appreciated!


Apex said...

I went on holiday to Japan last year for the first time and it was awesome. Would love to go back and it would be really interesting to see how things are now after the disasters earlier this year. The one tip that I would give for an amazing meal would be to visit the restaurant ‘Okada, Tori, Umi, Yamano-sachi’ in Osaka. My friend's sister was the chef there and provided us with the best meal ( that I had in Japan.

Thermomixer said...

Remember to ask Philippe Mouchel & Michael Ryan for tips.

Zingara said...

I've been twice & as far as food goes, Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Takayama & Hiroshima are must do's.

I love the place to bits and want to go back again. Hard to find a bad meal in Japan & the scenery is stunning!

Have a ball, you'll love it no matter where you go, it's an amazing country. :)

Nugmeg said...

I just came back from Osaka, Kyoto,and Nara. Foods there are fantastic.
Personally, I like kyoto style sushi at Izuju. Dango stall (petit brown wooden stall) down Shijo dori road from Izuju toward Gion Shijo also memorable. It's roasted dango soaked with shoyu sauce and topped with kinako (soy bean flour).

Anonymous said...

In Tokyo,

Check out Dons de la Nature for the perfect slab of Japanese steak.

Also try this hidden secret - Aronia De Takazawa - for a life changing experience

Vien @ We Dare Food said...

omgosh!!! Are they still serving pumpkin pie there?? I've been trying to a place that serves them for ages!!!

Clair said...

If you go to Nara, a tiny little restaurant called Okaru - traditional okonomiyaki cooked to order on a hotplate in front of you.

MildlyCrafty said...

I spent a year in Japan and the best place I visited was Hakone, just getting there was an adventure, you get a train that zig zags up the mountain, then a tram kind of thing that has stepped floor as it's so steep, then a cable car and then an amazing boat across the lake. It's spectacular this time of year with the leaves changing colour. It's stuck in my head as one of my all time favourite holidays, I'll definitely go back one day. Have a great time!

MildlyCrafty said...

I spent a year in Japan and the best place I visited was Hakone, just getting there was an adventure, you get a train that zig zags up the mountain, then a tram kind of thing that has stepped floor as it's so steep, then a cable car and then an amazing boat across the lake. It's spectacular this time of year with the leaves changing colour. It's stuck in my head as one of my all time favourite holidays, I'll definitely go back one day. Have a great time!

Nat said...

Unless going to a really cheap chain restaurant where you don't expect much, we found it hard to go wrong anywhere in Japan.

We ate at places where vividly remember our experience, but would have very little clue of location or name. I've just dug out my trip diary, where I wrote down a lot of the restaurant names (using my very vague residual knowledge of hiragana) and listed everything we ate, but even this isn't helping now!

Tips & suggestions:
- if you pick a place based on the excellence of the smell, it will mostly turn out to be eel. The first place we ate exclusively served eel and it was mind-blowing.
- eat train station bento (when travelling between cities), for fun as much as taste.
- find a place that does handmade fresh udon noodle and order with a simple broth.
- in Tokyo, go to Ueno one day for lunch. The markets are fun, and we found a downstairs place where we got an amazing whole grilled fish (and trimmings) for $11. The whole place was filled with the smell of smoke and fish. The sign outside said "Kimono-ya" but I know not more than that...
- if going to a Japanese burger chain, Mosburger is far better than Freshness Burger.

My metabolism is going crazy just writing this. Have fun!

Naila said...

I've had the privilege of living for 10 years in Tokyo and another 10 in Italy and can say that some of the best foodie experiences are there! Firstly, street names aren't really used in Japan so use this GMap service in Tokyo to help you find your way to places. Search by address or by restaurant name:


Tonkatsu Maisen
Tokyo's famous tonkatsu (fried pork cutlets) restaurant, located in an unusually decorated former bathhouse.
Jingumae 4-8-5. Open 11am-10pm

Za Watami
Delicious Izakaya (Japanese drinking establishment) with a huge menu of drinks and food. Really fun and affordable!
Close to Shibuya station

A 200-year-old soba shop in the middle of Tokyo's gay bar district, serving a full selection of soba dishes. Their hoto (hoh-toh), a Yamanashi-style udon dish with lots of vegetables, makes a very filling wintertime meal. Another specialty is deep-fried natto (fermented soybeans) wrapped in nori.
Shinjuku 2-17-1

Locanda Elio
Italian celebrities, politicians and sportsmen have all admitted that the Italian food at Elio's Calabrian restaurant is better than at home. And that's a big statement. Fantastic seafood dishes, most you would never find in Australia. Dinner is worth it and not too expensive.
2-5-2 Kojimachi
Hanzomon station

Hope this helps! :)

Clare said...

I would suggest staying in Osaka for a few more days if you can... it is the home of Okonomiyaki which are quite wonderful. And there are excellent places where they are cooked in front of you on hot plates. Also the 'American Village' is quite a interesting place to go out in terms of bars/clubs and check out the japanese party culture. Just having a beer on the street there is pretty fun!

Clare said...

This will sound really dodgy but... There is a great sushi train in the Kyoto station precinct. A few shops up from the MacDonalds and across from the shop with stuffed plastic loaves of bread in the window.

We went there a few years back and it was tasty and fresh. A cople of hefty Japanese guys ate their way through 30 plates whilst we were there.

Also, any of the sushi places around the Tokyo fish market close to opening time. The freshest and tastiest sushi lunch you will ever have!

Kymberly said...

One of my favourite Tokyo cafes is A to Z in Omotesando. It was partially designed by Yoshitomo Nara, and has a great rooftop garden and oh so delicious cocktails.

simplymortified said...

In Kyoto make sure you go to Nishiki Market. Worth it just for the sites & smells alone.

In Tokyo try Birdland in Ginza, hard to find but really good Yakitori.
Another good one is Ramen Jiro, its a chain, but still yum.
Also you have to go to a Depachika, the food halls of the big dept stores, they are AMAZING.

simplymortified said...

I just Noticed 'Naila' recommended Tonkatsu Maisen; I absolutely second that recommendation, been to Tokyo three times and always go there.

Amanda said...

There is a magnificent, tiny specialty tempura restaurant in Tokyo. It's in an unassuming quite little neighbourhood but worth the search. The chefs cook the tempura directly in front of you and it's about 10 courses of individually prepared tempura. Amazing. Like the tempura version of 'Jiro Dreams of Sushi' (if you have seen that film).
Tempura Mikawa
3-4-7 Kayabacho, Nihonbashi, Chuo, Tokyo Prefecture
+81 3-3664-9843

Loving these fortnightly round ups!

Lesley Chow said...

Japanese-style (wafuu) pasta is delicious and underrated - try a chain called Pontoiru, which uses duck meatballs, fresh-grated yams and these zingy Kyoto herbs I've never had before.

One of the best galleries in Tokyo is the Metropolitan Museum of Photography, also known as Syabi. The whole Ebisu/Daikanyama area is also great for wandering and picking up unusual food.

Tokyo Art Beat is the index for visual art. Tokyo is an arts-obsessed city - in my experience, even more so than Paris or NYC. So many innocuous-looking streets are studded with secret galleries upstairs. You can find amazing galleries in, say, a plumbing shop or a furniture showroom:

Geoff Foley said...

Can't believe that no-one has mentioned it yet but the world famous Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo is a must for breakfast and a wander. It is stupendously wonderful.

Make sure you go to one of the little cafes a bit further down the strip away from the Metro station entrance though (towards the shrine)- will be much better value.

Akiko said...

As a native Japanese, I have a lot of places to recommend!

In Tokyo, Tsukiji Fish market is a 'must visit' place as a food lover - not only seeing famous Tuna auction in the main wholesale market area (you may have to register), you can enjoy shopping and dining in the JYOGAI market area. There are lots of eateries and specialty shops. Tsukiji is surrounded by old and new tourist places, so it will be a good fun to walk around on a nice day.

Also, visiting gourmet sections in Department stores will be fabulous experience -you can buy and sample all sorts of Japanese delicacies, lunch boxes, and gougeous sweets etc., like shopping at Gallary Lafayett in Paris.

Try variety of restaurants - from top end Japanese restaurants to little eateries. Especially small eateries, majority of them are cheap and good quality, just believe your gut feeling!

Ren said...

Skip Tokyo, it's busy and loud. Stay in Osaka which is brilliant and Kyoto which is sublime. There's a gorgeous Persian restaurant in the Geisha area.

Sylvia said...

I was in Japan this year shortly after the earthquake. The earthquake happened 2 days before our wedding and we were booked in to go 2 days later so we braved it out - in the end all this meant we had to forgo Tokyo and stay in the south but that was ok.
I had an amazing time and would definitely go back :)

Visit Daimaru food section in Kyoto just for the experience!

You will love Le Bouchon in Kyoto if you'd like a change from Japanese fair - simple French food done well at a really decent price, we went during the week and the place was full with locals.

And also make sure you have a Kaiseki style meal in Kyoto - many restaurants do them, the one we went to was Manzara Honten, a little bit touristy but really good value for money and the quality was brilliant.

There are many great french style patisseries and bakeries dotted all over Kyoto, the only thing I did miss was decent coffee - that was touch and go.

Enjoy, I'm sure you'll have a brilliant time :)

Anonymous said...

I recently lived in Tokyo for 3 years and you can't go past this AMAZING gyoza restaurant. That's all they do.... gyoza. Steamed or Fried are the only options. Check it out here -->
This is in the main shopping / freak watching area Harajuku which is a must visit anyway! Enjoy!

noel bayley said...

If you are after a good melbourne style coffee , Dean and Delucca ( a number of sites in Tokyo and maybe elsewhere these days) are quite good.
Try to take in a ryokan in the hills outside Kyoto , and do the Kaseki thing..quite remarkable.
I can recommend a specific place if you wish

Michael said...

Obviously our Japan advice will be of only limited use for you, but I can't recommend Bon in Tokyo enough. Just an amazing experience - if you have only one veg meal on your trip, find a way to make it at Bon.

Pictures etc are here:

Adski said...

hey claire,
I defintely recommend checking out Omoide Yokocho in Shinjuku (AKA Piss Alley) for the most authentic Tokyo Yakitori experience. If you're interested, I'll send you a photo of the place there that I'd recommend. There's no names on most of the places, so you'll have to go by a photo to work out which it is!
In Osaka, there is an amazing Tsukemen restaurant, which puts a 300c red hot rock into your broth when you finish your meal. One of the best things I've eaten in Japan! I'll see if I can get their name for you if you're keen on that too - I kept their card somewhere.
Accomodation-wise, Citadines in Kyoto and Tokyo and SO damn good and cheap. It was recommended to me by michael from Provenance. We've stayed at both on both visits to Jpn. The one in Kyoto is literally next door to a famous SOBA noodle place, which is a great lunchtime visit.
Hire bikes to get around Kyoto. You can ride on the roads, footpaths, etc, and it's by far the best place to get around. It's relatively flat, so you dont need to be too fit.
A good day trip from Osaka/Kyoto is Nara, where you will see deer wandering the streets and the Giant Buddha.
Get to Gion whilst in Kyoto for some geisha spotting in the early evening. You'll also spot them wandering around the laneways of Pontocho. A must visit! I even got the Pontocho logo tattooed when I was in Kyoto - a Chidori bird.
Dont forget to check out the weirdos down at Harajuku on the weekends, on the bridge next to the station. There's also a cool temple to visit just behind the station, which is a nice shady walk, if it's warm.
If you have a spare day and want to visit an amazing spa town, check out Kinosaki. A long winding beautiful train trip up mountains, along rivers and waterfalls and rapids until you get to this magical little onsen town, where you can walk around in your traditional wooden thongs and japanese dressing gown wandering to and from the 7 onsen. The food here is primarily seafood and is famous for Crab.
If you need any other ideas, let me know!!