If you have ever wanted to a lick a Pikachu, I can confirm that he/she/[insert your preferred gender here] tastes of mango. Yes, that’s right. If your childhood dreams of catching them all actually involved eating them all, you now can. Except, by all Pokémon, I actually mean mainly Pikachu.
Any big city needs its fair share of big buildings. Particularly in the last decade, there seems to be some kind of giant erection competition. Even quaint London with its protected views and famously low-rise skyscapes has caught the bug, erecting The Shard, a 308m permanently unfinished structure (since when was modelling a really large building after a piece of a broken glass a good idea? And hands up if every time you look at it, you wish they’d ‘finish’ the top?)
The wonderful Tokyo has, of course, like many Asian cities, taken the high-rise approach from much earlier on. From its opening in 1958, the 333m Eiffel Tower knock-off known as Tokyo Tower eclipses its inspiration by a whole 9m – take that, France! It held the record for the tallest structure in Japan, until the 634m Skytree, erected in 2011, which made it the second tallest structure in the world at that time, after the Burj Khalifa (which is definitely not worth visiting).
Tokyo is a sprawling monster that is definitely worth seeing from a height. If you’re after a free view, I highly recommend the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings in Shinjuku, where you can gawp at the never-ending cityscape from 202m up.
I had a business meeting on the 51st floor of Roppongi Hills Mori Tower in Roppongi, a wealthy area renowned as the foreigner and expat playground in Tokyo. Here you can shoot up to the Sky Deck for 500yen and have an amazing view.
I love Greenwich market. It is crammed full of beautiful jewellery, clothing, leather bags, art and other crafts, and upmarket food produce. It basically screams “Hello, I’m a middle-class shopping haven” and I absolutely, unabashedly love it.
I am, of coruse, blaming it for making me buy loads of stuff for me instead of presents for others. In fact, it was so tempting that my sister and I had to drag ourselves away from it fairly sharpish. We settled into the adjacent Biscuit Ceramic Café for a (not so) well-deserved hot drink and cake.
Biscuit has a great vibe – always bustling and with friendly staff, it normally has a fair amount of kids covered in paint as they decorate various ceramic shapes, although there are always a fair amount of ‘grown-ups’ having a go. There are shelves lined with white ceramic items begging for colour.
My sister Macadie and I managed to quell our inner children and resist painting a whole army of Santas (although she spotted a kid with a Dalek and was looking a little too eagerly for some more). Instead we took advantage of their wonderfully reasonable offer of £4.25 for any hot drink and homemade cake.
Mac tucked into a generous slice of chocolate torte, which was very dense but a little dry. I got myself a mocha – slightly too sweet for my liking – with a toffee pecan cheesecake. Oh, this was a very good cheesecake. Not too sickly. Base perfectly biscuity. I had to pace myself.
The only slight mishap was my nut-allergic sister thinking she could get away with trying a bit of my cheesecake minus any pecan chunks. Well, as it turns out, she is slightly more allergic than she thought and sent one dedicated Phoebe running to Boots for antihistamines as her lips swelled up. Who needs implants eh?
My superhero mission did, however, earn me forgiveness from the fashion police as I was wearing eye-watering triple-patterning, topped off with a purple sparkly scarf.
We spent over two hours sitting at the back of Biscuit, sipping our drinks, munching cakes and generally have a sisterly catch-up. I have a feeling we’ve found a new favourite haunt.
Biscuit 3.5/5 – Perfect for relaxing as well as indulging any creative urges. Take advantage of their great value hot drink and cake deal for £4.25.
Scandinavian countries are perhaps more famous for design rather than their food. Yet this might be changing, perhaps led by Noma, a two Michelin-star restaurant in Denmark, consistently ranked as one of the best restaurants in the world. It’s reputation certainly goes some way to debunking notions of Scandinavian cuisine as purely meatballs and pickled herrings.
However, much as I would like to claim to weekly dine in Michelin-star places, reality is somewhat different. So for a more accessible avenue into tasty Scandinavian treats, it’s worth seeking out a bakery. I’d previously sought out semlor (Swedish Easter buns) and had been impressed by Daniel Karlsson who ran an order-only bakery, Bageriet.
Very fortuitously, Daniel has decided to expand his business and has opened Bageriet as a little café in Covent Garden, serving flat bread sandwiches and all kinds of sweet things.
The cakes are just beautiful and there is a lot of choice. As well as the classic cinnamon buns, highly recommended are the vanilla buns/ vaniljbulle as they balance cardamom perfectly with the creamy filling.
We found the custard bun was way too skimpy on the filling, but the espresso cake was fabulous – it was like a firmer version of tiramisu.
There are a couple of small tables inside and one tiny table outside. Rose Street is fairly quiet so it’s a good escape from what can be a hectically busy area. At £2.45 for a cinnamon bun to eat in, prices are edging towards Scandinavian levels but we can’t fault the quality. So venture forth, go Swedish, and get some attractive cakes to adorn that Ikea coffee table 😉
Just a quick post for today. I’d bought a Groupon voucher for Zaza Gelato as it offered cake, ice-cream and a hot drink for a bargain of £4.
Unfortunately, the “bargain” was somewhat marred by the fact that it was probably one of the worst ice-creams I’ve ever tried. I think I had stracciatella. I can’t quite remember because the gelato had actually no flavour. It was nothing more than cold sweetness. Mushy, sickly slush.
We were recommended the chocolate chai. Which was wonderful – if you like drinking hot watery milk. Eugh.
However, I can’t even begin to describe how intensely chocolatey and gooey this cake was. So if you’re in Westfield Shepherd’s Bush, pick up one of these for a chocolate kick to get you through your shopping 😉
Sometimes life throws people together in unexpected ways. Or maybe the world’s just too small. Whatever your perspective, I recently stumbled into the path of someone I hadn’t seen in ten years.
At school, I was a language fanatic, if a poorly-skilled one. I studied French, German, Spanish and Latin in my lunchtimes for good measure (or good geekery). I did a French and German exchange. My French penfriend and I kept in touch. Last year, I went to her wedding.
My German penfriend and I got on very well. But I did a useless job at staying in touch, something which I always regretted but made no move to rectify.
Imagine my surprise when I found a Facebook request from her on a Sunday morning. Scanning her profile, I noticed the same university as mine listed. Then I found her message, which went along the lines of “OMG It’s been years! I found you through our accommodation Facebook page – we’re living in the same building!”
If not for my post on Facebook about wanting to dress up for the James Bond movie, we might have passed the whole year never having met (over 350 live in our accommodation block). As it happened, we met that same day in the stairwell.
Time for a catch-up. Time for cake. Time for hot chocolate.
I am on a quest to find the best hot chocolate in London. First stop…
It opened in 2011 and has built itself a reputation as a trendy place to get coffee. It was certainly packed out on a Saturday afternoon and could really benefit from a larger seating area. The chairs aren’t comfy, but the bustling atmosphere meant we could happily sit there for 4.5 hours of updating each other on 10 years of life.
Organisationally, the café loses a few marks. When we ordered our cakes, we were told, “All the plates are dirty, so would you mind having a take-away box?” Coordinating the washing up is not rocket science and should be second nature if you work in a café! Plus at 2pm on a Saturday there was no sign of the extensive pastry and sandwich menu splashed tastily across their website, but rather there were a few sad-looking beef bagels. And nothing else savoury. As a result, my friend and I had cake for lunch.
Now, I must confess I’m not a big coffee drinker and I was on my hot chocolate mission. But my friend thoroughly enjoyed her cappuccino, which came complete with heart decoration and her mystery berry cake was pretty scrummy too (“It tastes better than it looks!”)
The brownie was not as gooey as I normally like, but it was extremely dense and chocolate-y, so it got a stamp of approval. According to their website, it’s not just any brownie, it’s a Valrhona chocolate brownie. But as I’ve never had Valrhona chocolate, I can’t really validate these claims. (Anyone know anything about Valrhona chocolate?!)
As for the hot chocolate, it was weak, insipid and more milky than chocolatey. It wasn’t too sweet but it wasn’t memorable. And £2.50 for a small cup of poor quality contents?
Although childhood can sometimes seem like the golden days of one’s life, I’m sure there are things that everyone is happy to leave behind. For me, one of those things is school dinners.
I was in school way before Jamie Oliver’s Turkey Twizzler revolution. The result is that I have vague memories of a square, grey block of “roast meat” being sliced by a crumple-faced, bad-tempered woman.
“Want some meat?” she crowed.
“What meat is it?” I innocently asked.
“It’s meat! Roast meat!” was the impatient response.
Senior school was no better, slopping up dishes that, quite frankly, resembled vomit. These “meals” were made by people who cared so little about food that they, either accidentally or intentionally, made quiche using sweet pastry. Cross contamination was common – we’d often find unidentifiable objects floating in the baked beans or custard.
Needless to say, at the age of 23, I never thought I’d be opting to eat school dinners again. But due to a lack of time, effort and creativity on my part, I’ve decided to eat schools dinners with the kids. At elementary schools, it’s supposed to be quite good and I’m supposed to enjoy the communal eating experience. I’m nervous about the meals at junior high schools having spoken to the teachers. I’ll update you when I know.
But, it just so happens that recently, I had a school dinner experience OUTSIDE of school.
The evening had not been going well. Our friend Anthony was visiting and so we decided to go to the special exhibition at Kyoto International Manga Museum – “Eshi 100 – Contemporary Japanese Illustration in Kyoto.” We arrived just after 5pm, which gave us just under an hour before the place closed. It was going to be tight, but we could do it.
Marching purposely in, we found ourselves in ….a library. Because, the museum turned out to be little more than a large library. In disbelief, we climbed the stairs to the main exhibition.
It was obviously not designed for foreigners. The only thing I remember are signs that went along the lines of “Who decided the reading order of the boxes?” and “Who decided that a comic had to have pictures?”
We then found a small saviour of the visit – an exhibition called “Magnitude Zero”, a collection of artists’ responses to the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. There were pieces from artists all over the world, in a variety of styles – not all to my taste – but interesting nonetheless. I recommend visiting the exhibition and attending the book launch event on April 22nd.
This ray of sunshine aside, we stumbled upon the exhibition we’d actually paid extra to see. With 15 minutes to go, we raced in to the hall to explore contemporary illustration in Japan.
Now I was expecting illustration that portrayed a contemporary Japan. The artists were, after all, working with the theme “Japan.” However, it didn’t take a lot of examining to see that this exhibition wasn’t about contemporary Japan – it was about young girls waiting to be violated. Unless contemporary Japan is solely constituted of horny, not-so-innocent schoolgirls (which if you’ve ever seen an anime or Japanese adverts, you’d be more than prepared to believe).
From the walls, teenage girls gave us coy looks of desire combined with modest blushes as they tried to suppress their urges. A friend of mine encapsulated their “voices” perfectly: “Oh, oh [moan] ….my age is dubious and my panties might be showing…”
Yep. There was nothing sophisticated about this exhibition, even if they did throw in some traditional garb for good measure. I enjoyed the art for the pop culture flick it was and laughed at the increasingly ridiculous representations and their balloon-sized boobies. For the record, there were two male manga characters in the whole exhibition – both of whom were lurking far away in the background.
The souvenir postcard selection was limited but I bought this more tasteful one, of a young school girl, listening to her IPod at a rural bus stop, because rural Japan really does look like this.
I also bought the picture below, because, supernatural manga-schoolgirl aside, I’m pretty sure that’s Fushimi Inari in the background and it brings back good memories.
Feeling more than a little ripped-off at our 1000円 entrance fee, we set off in the direction of home, hoping to discover dinner along the way. It began to drizzle. Shivering we discounted place after place until we were almost at Teramachi, the main shopping arcade in central Kyoto.
That’s when we spotted Café Reims, a faux-French cuisine café. It seemed popular enough and offered a Dinner Plate set at 950円, which is extraordinarily reasonable.
We should have known. It didn’t even make it to the bog standard faux-Western Japanacised food we were expecting.
I asked the waitress what the Dinner Plate included.
“Pie. Beef pie. Wrap. Pie. Pie!” She became more insistent, miming the wrapping of the beef in the pie. She explained that it also included duck, salad, and “fresh tart.”
I am very fortunate that I don’t have any photos of what was served to me on a large metal tray-plate. Just remembering it makes me feel ill.
Firstly, the beef pie wasn’t a pie. It was some poor quality piece of meat, with the thinnest layer of pastry over it, so thin that it was impossible to taste. It was slowly sinking into mashed potato sludge, which had clearly been made by the classic technique of adding water to powder.
The salad tasted like a Big Mac. Now, I haven’t eaten MacDonald’s since I was maybe 6 years old so this salad took me on a long trip into my memories. I thought I must have been mistaken when my friend Anthony piped up, and confirmed my suspicions. There were also some dried-out looking sardines on the plate, also covered in MacDonald’s sauce. I couldn’t bring myself to touch them. The duck could have been any kind of meat and was doused in sickly sharp and sweet sauce that tasted as artificial as the salad.
The fresh tart, apparently, was pretty poor too. I say “apparently” because it was one of those “death on a plate” moments for me, where I was served a double-whammy of kiwi and strawberry (I’m allergic to both!)
It was meal that made me want to rip out my insides and even my teeth, and start all over again.
And, to vindicate the age-old adage “It never rains but it pours”, it started pouring with rain as I cycled home alone.
I was so distraught by this nauseating dinner that I demanded that Calle and Anthony brought me a cake home. On their arrival back to find me still dripping, they presented me with a “chocolate mousse cake”.
“She said it’s chocolate mousse all the way through. Lots of chocolate!” Anthony claimed excitedly.
On a rather miserable January day, my friend Mimi and I decided it was time for some exploring, super-cold weather or no. So we headed to the Nazenji temple complex in Eastern Kyoto. I haven’t visited the main temple yet but this is on my to-do list and I recommend anyone visiting Kyoto to investigate this area.
Sitting at the foot of the eastern Higashiyama mountains lies a remarkable aqueduct. I say remarkable because it’s architecturally dissimilar to anything I’ve seen in Japan so far. Maybe it’s just because it reminds of Victorian railways bridges in England, but I want to cuddle up to it as if it’s a precious relic from my past. I also associate it with the graffiti on the bridge between Junction 16 and 17 (clockwise) on the M25. Anyone know the one? See below.
Regardless, it makes for really fun photos through the arches.
And there’s a delightful, if dangerous walk, along the channel to the south (there’s a sheer drop behind me).
We also visited Nazen-in where you can wander a small garden for 300円. I absolutely adore Japanese gardens because, even out of season, they manage to charm with their intricate layouts and twisty trees. I imagine this garden really comes into its own during spring and autumn.
Lastly, no outing is complete without food or cake of some kind. So we stopped at Kyoto City International Foundation (KCIF / Kokoka) and got a coffee and cake set for an incredibly reasonable 500円. This cake is pleasantly chocolately – if a little dry – and was definitely satisfying after my adventures.
I felt the title should be capitalised, as if to shout royalty’s name. For this could be a palace. A staggering four-storeys high, this white-walled cake-castle has more lights than a town square Christmas tree (you can see a photo at night here).
The palace is actually a café. And when we saw it, we were hooked: we absolutely had to eat cake there. When we saw that a cake and coffee set was only 650円, we returned post haste.
The Food: A variety of European cakes; cake and coffee set (with home-made ice cream)
As this is a food blog, I should probably start with the food. But for once in my life, I was more taken with the interior of a café than the menu.
The owner was inspired by European architecture and style, particularly Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and collected artefacts accordingly.
Here are some photos so you can the idea of the wooden planes, hot air balloons, cherubs, rocking horses etc.
Now it wasn’t too long before our cakes and coffees arrived. I chose chocolate cake and Calle chose cherry chocolate cake. Both came on beautifully old-fashioned ornate tea crockery.
I went straight for the home-made vanilla ice-cream which had the lightest of flavours and was an absolute delight.
Sadly, “light” flavours aren’t always a good thing and when it comes to chocolate cake, I want HEAVY chocolate flavour. My cake just merged into a mush of sponge and cream in my mouth. It was almost like eating air – not enough substance. Calle’s cherry cake suffered from a similar affliction – it was fantastic when you came across a cherry, but without, it just evaporated. It wasn’t unpleasant – it just didn’t touch the sides of a cake craving. It left me wanting more – it left me wanting stodgyness.
Visit for the fantastic décor and an amazing value cake set.
Food quality 2.5/5 – The cakes were of good quality but they lacked taste. The home-made ice cream saved it.
Value for money 5/5 – cake sets are normally from 650円 upwards, with plenty at the 800円 mark. With ice-cream included and amazing crockery, the value was incredible
Atmosphere 4/5 – Although the shop was well-frequented, we were the only people in the café. It didn’t matter when we had two little men popped out a clock to announce 5pm. In essence, the ornaments will keep you company.
Service 4/5 – Prompt service plus a brief explanation about the history of the place.
How to find it:
There are two but I recommend going to the main one (as the other is just in a department store ie. no big fun palace)
Copy and paste this into Google maps:
As you come out of Yamashina JR station, walk down towards the main road. Just before the giant Racto department store building, turn right. You will be on a small road which runs parallel to the main road, Sanjo Dori. Carry on walking straight for about 10 minutes. The cake palace will be on your left. You can’t miss it.
Final note: Why are there purple smiley faces hanging from the outside? That doesn’t look very European – it looks more Japanese.
Well done, careful observer. You’re absolutely right. Those aren’t purple smiley balloons or plums as I assumed. It’s the Yamashina-ku Aubergine Festival! And every shop is covered in them. One even found its way upstairs into the café….