February 27, 2012

Japan - Shinjuku (Tokyo)

Our first destination in Japan was Shinjuku, Tokyo. What did we think of the place? We sure did like it there! We had met up at Narita airport and took the bus out to Shinjuku station, our hotel was a mere 8min walk from the station. Well... that's if you start from the correct station exit! It took a little longer than expected and by the time we had found the hotel everyone was ready to eat. We were so excited, we were about to have our first meal in Japan!

Although we later realised that this place was a) a chain and b) a Japanese take on Chinese food (the sign seems to indicate chinese style noodles), it was still a great start to our two week culinary bonanza in Japan: simple, good food at very reasonable prices (around $6 a bowl) with friendly and efficient service. We all enjoyed a delicious bowl of harusame ramen (all except Dave who I think ate something different) and shared some tasty pan-fried gyoza which were delicious. Such a simple 'average' meal but very satisfying indeed!

Ok.. so it's a chain and it's Chinese style noodles...

But there's self pouring tap beer, tidy counter seating and a compact little kitchen which all speaks Japan!

Harusame Ramen (490yen) was delicious and Gyoza (200yen for 6)

Our first dinner was particularly exciting for Jack who had obsessed over Street Food's post featuring Piss Alley (omg! Jack just revisited Street Food's awesome post and they went to the same chinese-style chain, how cool is that!). So we arrived at Piss Alley and did a quick tour to see which places looked good. They all looked good, some were packed full including one place which even had a lady sitting on top of her suitcase at the doorway, enjoying some yakitori.

We finally settled on a place and were seated upstairs with a view of the lines above the railway tracks. Food is simple but flavoursome, perfect accompaniments for beer - skewers of chicken, pork, liver, mushrooms, eggplant and tofu. Hiyayakko tofu is chilled tofu topped with grated ginger, eschallots and bonito flakes needed just a draping of shoyu, whilst salt-seasoned salmon with grated radish needed only a squeeze of lemon juice. The non-complimentary starters ("otoshi") were light and refreshing salads - a mix of vegies and tofu served cold. But the most interesting translation on the English menu was "crab guts lightly" recommended to go well with beer. It's a strong crabby-tasting paste which we picked at in turns.

Piss Alley - yay!!!
Love the atmosphere of Piss Alley. Love luggage-lady even more!
Our chosen dining destination.
Otoshi, Crab Guts Lightly and crisp, fresh  Japanese draft beer.
Hiyayakko Tofu.

Skewers galore - chicken, liver, fried tofu, pork, mushrooms, eggplant...drool...
Back on the first day when we were still trying to find the hotel, we noticed a modest looking tempura place which had a queue of local Japanese outside, convincing us that we had to try to this place. We made it back to Tsunahachi Tempura a few days later for a tempura menu set lunch which was so good we weren't sure if we could bring ourselves to eat tempura again (thinking about it makes my mouth water). Except for Dave, we all had the "Hiru Zen" set menu for 1260yen which included tempura of 2 prawns, whitefish and 2 vegetables, shrimp kakiage and osoroi (rice, miso soup, pickles). Dave went for the "Special Tempura Zen" (2730yen) which from memory had about 4 additional pieces of tempura including shellfish and conger eel.

The osoroi was brought out first and ooh! the miso soup had tiny little clams in their shells. Then came the tempura, freshly made and so light. Then the shrimp kakiage came, a crispy clump of prawny goodness. The full set is both satisfying and filling, definitely value for money. We don't know how Dave managed to squeeze in the extra pieces that came with his set! We did add one extra item from the a la carte menu - I think it was eggplant wrapped in shiso leaf and then given the tempura treatment. It was indeed "とてもおいしいです" (it's very delicious), something we found ourselves saying about every meal and snack in Japan.

Tempura Tsunahachi - lucky for us there was no line at this brunch hour (who eats tempura for breakfast?)
Tempura masters at work!
Pickles, grated radish.... makes one excited about the upcoming meal...
Eggplant in shiso leaves tempura, miso soup with tiny little clams.
Our lovely waitress serving fresh tempura, and to finish - shrimp kakiage.

Shinjuku served us well as our base for exploring Tokyo and surrounds, but more importantly for some good food options as you can already see from our first few meals. It was a sign of more good food to come so watch this space for more Japan blog posts!

February 6, 2012

Greece - Part 5: Oikonomou

This is the last post of the Greece series and I have saved the best for last: a traditional meal in a proper, local Greek taverna.  Coincidentally, this was also our last meal in Greece and a perfect way to end our holiday.  We had walked for almost half an hour from Lykavittos Hill through the suburban streets to find Oikonomou,  nestled amongst other local tavernas and apartment blocks.  The area around the main street of Troon had a lovely local feeling, especially on Sunday when families were out for a meal or a stroll in the neighbourhood. 

Oikonomou doesn't have a sign and is so plain and simple you would miss it if there weren't so many people eating there.  We were lucky to get a table outside under a tree, although there were some free tables inside.  There are no menus and we were sent the youngest waiter to speak to us in English which confirms just how traditional this place is.

There are the usual basics and daily specials which they read out to you.  We made the most of our last meal, sticking with the local favourites:  fava bean dip with a splash of lemon and olive oil to add smoothness and taste to the lovely yellow bean taste.  This was served with some lovely fresh bread and went well with stuffed cabbage leaf rolls which were so delicious, I considered asking if they would hire me as a waitress so I could stay in Athens.  It was surprising that we hadn't come across the cabbage rolls as much and quite a shame that we hadn't discovered Oikonomou earlier although it wouldn't have been very adventurous to eat there every day. 

Fava bean dip - rabbit stifado - Greek salad - stuffed cabbage leaves

Our main dish was Stifado - traditional Greek rabbit stew made with lots of pearl onions in a tomato sauce.  This was hearty and was just the thing to have in a traditional taverna like Oikonomou.  And of course, our final meal in Greece would not have been complete without a Greek salad which had become a staple during our trip.

All washed down with Mythos beer and sunshine, what a perfect way to end our trip.  Oikonomou is the perfect place for a traditional, hearty taverna meal.  It's simplicity and great value add to the charm of the place and we recommend it to anyone who wants to experience the real flavours of Greece.

What:  Oikonomou
Where:  Corner of Troon and Kyndantidon
How much:  Can't remember the details but the dishes were reasonable local prices

February 3, 2012

Jack Snacks!... La Roulade cakes

Two posts in one day - it's almost too much considering how busy things have been. But! I was walking through the cbd after work on thursday when 2 things in QVB caught my eye. First is that one of my favourite shops is opening in February, yay! Nearby was the second - recently opened La Roulade cake shop.

It's a tiny little space with just enough room for a little service counter and a glass display holding the cakes. The description says that each Roulade "is a rich blend of Belgian chocolate mousse, rolled in a delicate sponge, enrobed with  a silky chocolate ganash". They looked cute and the chocolate tempting. Furthermore there's currently an opening special which convinced me (details below).

So I took home a Raspberry and Black Forest to try. The chocolate ganache is silky indeed with a flavour. The Raspberry was a little too sweet and could do with a stronger berry taste. The Black Forest was better balanced with a tartness from the cherries that are mandatory to realise the cake's name. Next time I'm likely to steer away from the sweet flavours and try mango or lemon.

La Roulade - thankfully not another cupcake place...

Raspberry on the left, Black Forest on the right.

What: La Roulade
Where: Shop 11 Lower Ground Floor, 455 George St, Sydney
How much: $4.50 for 1, $8.50 for 2, $16.50 for 4 or $24.00 for 6. Opening specials apply if buying more than 1 piece - $6.75 for 2, $12.75 for 4 and $19.50 for 6.

Jack Snacks!... Meiji Rich Maccha Chocolate

Happy Friday everyone! It's been a couple of months since I got back from Japan (and many posts still be written up, must work on it, must work on it...) but I'm still suffering from post-Japan blues. So it's no surprise that I've been stalking all things Japanese, not least the Japanese snack sections of Japanese/asian supermarkets.

And oooooh how good is Meiji Rich Maccha Chocolate! I've eaten this range many months before, but it's been a while since I saw the Maccha flavour on shelves. So, does it pass the awesome-Japanese-green-tea-snack test? The packaging is cute and pretty, though somewhat environmentally unfriendly. And the taste? Oh so good, soooo good. I caught a whiff of maccha when I opened the wrapper. Promising. The chocolate starts to melt as soon as you hold it. It's totally creamy and the maccha taste is indeed rich. It passes the test with flying colours as I start reminiscing again. Oh Japan... how I miss you!

Now this is a pack-a-day habit I'd willingly take up..

It looks the same as the photo on the box! How often does that happen aye..

What: Meiji Rich Maccha Chocolate
Where: I got this at asian supermarket Citi Super, it's likely to be at other asian shops
How much: $4.65 for six little sticks