Oct 11, 2015

Japan Travelogue: Transiting between Shinjuku & Tsukiji (31 Oct 2014)

After two nights in Hotel Empire in Shinjuku, it was time to move on to Tsukiji. Our itinerary of the day was less packed than usual, hence we departed from Shin-Okubo Station to Shinjuku Station around 11am.

Despite the enormity of Shinjuku Station, we had no luck in finding a vacant big coin locker in Shinjuku Station. We ended up venturing to Isetan Shinjuku and found a big coin locker to deposit our luggages.

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Locating Shinjuku Kappo Nakajima 新宿割烹 中嶋@ Shinjuku
Quietly tucked in the basement floor of one of the city's nondescript buildings, Shinjuku Kappo Nakajima 新宿割烹 中嶋, the 1-star Michelin restaurant specialising in Iwashi (i.e. sardines), was quite a tough find. If you have a pair of keen eyes, you would be able to spot Shinjuku Kappo Nakajima 新宿割烹 中嶋's white signboard near the parked bicycle on the left.

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The Lunch Queue @ Shinjuku Kappo Nakajima 新宿割烹 中嶋
There was a flight of stairs leading downwards to the establishment next to the parked bicycle on the left. By the time we found the stairs, it was already swarmed with a queue of eager lunch crowd.

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Interior @ Shinjuku Kappo Nakajima 新宿割烹 中嶋
The entrance to Shinjuku Kappo Nakajima 新宿割烹 中嶋 was nothing fancy but inside the establishment, it boasted both classy counter top dining and exclusive private room dining.

There were find 4 different Iwashi set lunches in the menu at a bargain price 800yen, each comes with miso soup, rice and tsukemono (pickled vegetables) and green tea. As Iwashi sashimi was rather experimental to us, we ordered Nizakana and Yanagawa Nabe lunch sets.

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Yanagawabe Nabe Lunch Set @ Shinjuku Kappo Nakajima 新宿割烹 中嶋 (900yen)
Yanagawabe Nabe was a variation of panko Iwashi, i.e. Japanese style breadcrumbs coated sardines deep fried in similar manner as Tonkatsu, except that it was further prepped in an eggy casserole. When it was served, the partially soaked panko Iwashi was a contrasting delight. Imagine it was both crispy and soggy, tender and juicy... Oh, and that runny egg caserole!

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Nizakana @ Shinjuku Kappo Nakajima 新宿割烹 中嶋 (800yen)
Nizakana, on the other hand, was more subtly prepared. Simmered in dashi with soy sauce, Nizakana was very flavourful on its own, and went along well with rice and tsukemono. Its flesh was so tender that it changed my perception towards sardines altogether. Yes, it was as good as any expensive fish you could get!

Needless to say, tanner half and I were utterly satisfied with our detour from the usual suspects.

Total damage for 2 pax = 1,700yen

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Aromax Coffee from the Dispenser Machines (100yen)
After fuelling ourselves, we spent most of our time wandering in malls and be astonished by the price tags. Of all the places, BICQLO was where we enjoyed hanging out most. As the name suggested, it is a flagship collaboration store of BIC Camera and Uniqlo. So the ladies get to fill their fashion needs, the gents get to fill their gadget itch.

Another thing I loved most in Japan is vending machines. You could see them literally anywhere on the street. You bet I peeked at every one of them. I usually went for 100yen drinks, like this Aromax coffee, which was okay for the price.

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Sushi Zanmai まぐろざんまい @ Tsukiji
Time flied and before long, it was time to get on a train to Tsukiji Station and head to Tsukiji Business Ban Hotel. For dinner, we found ourselves a humble fare in Sushi Zanmai まぐろざんまい, few shops away from our hotel.

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Ramen for Me @ Sushi Zanmai まぐろざんまい
I did not exactly recall what was this ramen of mine called. Its broth was thicker and murkier, which was likely made of pork broth infused with vegetables, hence a sweeter note. Heavily loaded with shredded cabbage, mushrooms and bean sprouts, it shared similar taste to Chinese ramen, which I personally enjoyed. Let's say it was a welcome deviation from the usual Japanese ramen.

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Ramen for Tanner Half @ Sushi Zanmai まぐろざんまい
This bowl of ramen for my tanner half was the typical Japanese ramen you could expect. While it might not be as famed as the other ramen shop, it was good and cheap.

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Gyoza @ Sushi Zanmai まぐろざんまい
We also ordered a plate of gyozas to share. Compared to Harajuku Gyozaro 原宿餃子樓, it was few levels short. Though with its oilier outlook and chilies condiments, it was more like Chinese style gyoza. Besides the thicker gyoza skin, I had no complains.

Total damage for 2 pax = (Oops I think I missed this!)

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Night Exploration @ Ginza
Little did we know that Ginza is located right opposite Tsukiji. You bet we spent hours walking around this happening city with neon lights and colourful billboards of luxury brands one after another.

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BIC Camera @ Ginza
To our delight, we found BIC Camera in Ginza and went in without hesitation. It was always an enjoyable experience to window shop in BIC Camera. In fact, this was where we bought our G-Shock watches at great discounts too!

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Seiko Tower Building - The Symbol of Ginza
Hours after Ginza hopping, we brought our tired feet back to Tsukiji Business Ban Hotel and had an early rest, as for few hours later, we would be heading to Tsukiji Fish Market!

IN SUMMARY,

My personal dining ranking (5 being the full score) based on following criteria are:
  • Ambiance
    • Shinjuku Kappo Nakajima 新宿割烹 中嶋 - 5/5 (it is to be expected from fine dining restaurant)
    • Sushi Zanmai まぐろざんまい - 4/5 (quiet and homely)
  • Price
    • Shinjuku Kappo Nakajima 新宿割烹 中嶋 - 5/5 (cheaper than 1,000yen ramen!)
    • Sushi Zanmai まぐろざんまい - 5/5 
  • Food
    • Shinjuku Kappo Nakajima 新宿割烹 中嶋 - 5/5 
    • Sushi Zanmai まぐろざんまい - 4/5
  • Verdict
    • Shinjuku Kappo Nakajima 新宿割烹 中嶋 - If you have not tried sardines in Japan, here is my personal recommendation
    • Sushi Zanmai まぐろざんまい - A random find which serves decent food

My personal attractions verdicts for:
  • Malls around Shinjuku Station - Definitely not for the faint hearted like myself
  • BICQLO - I totally loved the collaboration store - so convenient for shoppers!
  • Ginza - Heaven for high end shoppers. 


DINING INFO:

Shinjuku Kappo Nakajima 新宿割烹 中嶋
3-32-5, Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0022
Operation Hours: 11.30am - 2pm, 5.30pm - 10pm (all days except Sundays)
Tel: +81 3-3356-7962
Credit Cards: Cash

Sushi Zanmai まぐろざんまい
Tsukiji 4-7-5 (Tsukiji KY Building 1F), Chuo , Tōkyō , 104-0045 , Japan
Operation Hours: 11am - 9pm (all days except Sundays and public holidays)
Tel: +81 3-5148-5414
Credit Cards: Cash (if I remember correctly)

Oct 4, 2015

Japan Travelogue: Hopping between Shinjuku & Harajuku (30 Oct 2014)

Despite the limited space in our double room in Hotel Empire Shinjuku, it offered reasonable comfortable stay: blasting air conditioning, piping hot water heater, bath tub etc, though TV, cabinet, stool provided were unnecessarily crowding the space.

After a quick freshen up, we took a train from Shin-Okubo Station to Shinjuku Station to Nagi Shinjuku Golden-gai for some niboshi ramen.

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Finding Nagi Shinjuku Golden-gai along the tiny alley
Finding Golden-gai alley where Nagi Shinjuku Golden-gai is located was not hard, telling which shop was Nagi Shinjuku Golden-gai was harder. We googled for images of the restaurant for some tell tale signs aiding our search. However, it was not easier for the reasons which I would disclose shortly.

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Steep stairs leading to Nagi Shinjuku Golden-gai
Based on their address, the shop is located at 2nd floor. That was easy, just look upstairs, so we thought. Standing below their signboard, we saw a discreet door with barely any indication if it is indeed belonged to Nagi Shinjuku Golden-gai. Nonetheless we opened it and what welcomed us was this flight of steep stairs, barely sufficient for two to go abreast.

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Ramen Bar @ Nagi Shinjuku Golden-gai
Despite the odd, the tanner half went up to check out the place. To our utter disbelief, it was indeed Nagi Shinjuku Golden-gai! I simply could not believe how small was this establishment! You saw the ramen bar, now imagine the whole shop was only double of that, with seats less than 10.

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Tokusei Niboshi Ramen (970yen) @ Nagi Shinjuku Golden-gai
The specialty of Nagi is none other than its unique sardines broth, with dried sardines being boiled for 12 hours. With most ramen featuring pork and/or chicken broth, I thought Nagi would be a fresh breath of air and I was not wrong at all: their soup had a very distinctive and bold flavor! At first taste, it was too much to handle but eased as I plowed on. It had a slight bitter end note, which was rather unusual.

Our bowls of Tokusei Niboshi Ramen came laden with 3 slices of chashu pork, menma, scallions, nori seaweed and a soft-boiled egg, and with a mix of curly and wide, flat noodles. Akin to dumpling skin, the wide, flat noodles was smooth and slurpy. I thought it was a clever play of textures.

Total damage for 2 pax = 1,940yen

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Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings @ Shinjuku
After our scrumptious bowl of niboshi ramen, we continued our 1.4km journey on foot to our next destination, i.e. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings. Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observatories is located at the Main Building No. 1, where visitors can enjoy the bird eye view of Tokyo city at 202m without any charge. You can also enjoy a cup of coffee in the cafe and bar too!

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La Foret and Tokyu Plaza @ Omotesando, Harajuku
After an hour or so in Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observatories, we took a train from Shinjuku Station to Harajuku Station, where we then began our exploration in two famous streets of Harajuku, i.e. Takeshita Dori and Omotesando (a broad, tree lined avenue sometimes referred to as Tokyo's Champs-Elysees). Omotesando generally caters to an older and wealthier clientele than Takeshita Dori.

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Elise @ KiddyLand (108yen)
The key attraction to us at Omotesando, Harajuku was none other than Kiddy Land, featuring a fantastic selection of toys for kids of all ages, including a Snoopy Town and Hello Kitty Shop, on a total of five floors. Being a avid Lego fan, the tanner half was in heaven. Even myself felt like a big kid all over again! I also bought this unique choco banana flavored Apollo-like snack from the store too!

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Harajuku Gyozaro 原宿餃子樓 @ Omotesando, Harajuku
By the time our tummies growling, we had been in Kiddy Land for two hours. Without much hesitation, we headed to famous Harajuku Gyozaro 原宿餃子樓, located at back alley running along Omotesando.

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Steamed Gyoza @ Harajuku Gyozaro 原宿餃子樓 (290 yen)
As their name indicates, Harajuku Gyozaro 原宿餃子樓 sells gyozas 餃子. Their menu was a simple one pager, made up mainly gyozas, rice and side dishes. We ordered both steamed and pan fried gyozas for our quick bites. Being Japanese, you would not find chilies in the restaurant. So we had gyozas with soy sauce with vinegar.

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Pan Fried Gyoza @ Harajuku Gyozaro 原宿餃子樓 (290yen)
Both steamed and pan fried gyozas were equally yummy. While the steamed version boasted silky smooth skin, the pan fried version featured crispy texture on one hand, chewier texture on the other. Filing wise, it was flavourful to even go on its own. Personally I liked the steamed version more.

Total damage for 2 pax = 580yen

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Hipster Dude and His Dogs in Tow @ Harajuku
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La Fee Delice @ Harajuku
Now that we had checked the famous gyoza place in Harajuku, what else to do but to hunt for some yummy desserts! FYI Harajuku is definitely the place for some yummy crepes and for that, I had my eyes set on La Fee Delice.

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Interior @ La Fee Delice
Showered in warm tungsten light, its interior was compact yet homely. By the time we arrived, tables were almost fully occupied.

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Chocolate Caramel Crepe and Chocolate Butter Crepes @ La Fee Delice (1,100yen each)
We ordered chocolate banana and caramel banana crepes to share. While it wasn't the prettiest crepe you have seen, it was heavenly. The crepe was so thin that it was crusty yet fluffy. Its vanilla ice cream and house whipped cream were dense yet not too sweet, making both good spread to the crepe.

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Close Up on Chocolate Caramel Crepe @ La Fee Delice (1,100yen)
For my caramel banana crepe, it came with slightly seared banana, which was of the right species and right ripeness. Its sweetness well complemented the crepe. Oh, and that dollop of caramel added the necessary complexity and kick to the overall package. I was in bliss!

Compared to mine, the chocolate banana crepe was slightly more predictable, served with vanilla ice cream and house whipped cream.

Total damage for 2 pax = 2,200yen

After satisfying our hunger with yummy gyoza and crepe, we continued our exploration in Takeshita Dori, which is a narrow and 400m long street lined by shops, boutiques, cafes and fast food outlets targeting Tokyo's teenagers. It was here at Takeshita Dori we bought plenty of delicious Alfort chocolate and Kit Kat at discounted prices and visited the one of the largest 100 Yen Shops in Tokyo, i.e. 4-story high Daiso Harajuku.

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Minoringo 原宿 みのりんご @ Harajuku
Before long, it was time for dinner and we made a pit stop at Minoringo 原宿 みのりんご for some Japanese curry. Directly opposite Harajuku Station and a stone throw away from Takeshita Dori entrance/exit, it was not hard to locate this humble establishment.

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Inside Minoringo 原宿 みのりんご @ Harajuku
Similar to most Japanese restaurants, Minoringo 原宿 みのりんご was a cosy little space sufficient for a dozen diner or so. Without much hesitation, we chose our seats near the counter top.

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Keema Curry Rice @ Minoringo 原宿 みのりんご (900yen)
Among half a dozen items on the menu, we picked the medium hot Keema curry, i.e. minced beef and pork meat curry, which was the specialty of Minoringo 原宿 みのりんご. Moist and fragrant, I believed the rice at the base was buttered rice, topped with minced beef curry and poached egg. The curry, as expected, was not very spicy like Malaysian's though it did have its own personality. Overall, it was quite good but I felt that the flavour was too consistent and lacking some accentuation.

Total damage for 2 pax = 1,800yen

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Hakutsuru Sake for the Night (1,324yen)

Having ticked off Japanese curry from our list, we left Minoringo 原宿 みのりんご and took our train from Harajuku Station to Shin-Okubo Station to go back to Hotel Empire in Shinjuku. On the way back, we stopped by 7 Eleven and ended up grabbing this bottle of Hakutsuru Sake.

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Avocado Cream Cheese Chips from Daiso Harajuku (106yen)
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Green Tea Biscuits from Daiso Harajuku (106yen)

For supper, we had avocado cream cheese chips and green tea biscuits, to go with Hakutsuru Sake. While the concept was interesting, the avocado cream cheese chips was lacking in flavor. Green tea biscuits on the other hand was really enjoyable. Smooth and easy on tongue, Hakutsuru Sake was unexpectedly a good buy. Given another chance, I would buy it again!

IN SUMMARY,

My personal dining ranking (5 being the full score) based on following criteria are:
  • Ambiance
    • Nagi Shinjuku Golden-gai - 2/5 (too small for comfort but it does have its own unique atmosphere)
    • Harajuku Gyozaro 原宿餃子樓 - 3/5 (almost feel like high class hawker food restaurant)
    • La Fee Delice - 5/5 (romantic and warm, good for couples)
    • Minoringo 原宿 みのりんご - 4/5 (simple western setup and environment)
  • Price
    • Nagi Shinjuku Golden-gai - 5/5 
    • Harajuku Gyozaro 原宿餃子樓 - 4/5
    • La Fee Delice - 3/5
    • Minoringo 原宿 みのりんご - 5/5
  • Food
    • Nagi Shinjuku Golden-gai - 4/5
    • Harajuku Gyozaro 原宿餃子樓 - 5/5
    • La Fee Delice - 5/5
    • Minoringo 原宿 みのりんご - 3.5/5
  • Verdict
    • Nagi Shinjuku Golden-gai - Given another chance, I would come to this 24hours tightly packed ramen shop again!
    • Harajuku Gyozaro 原宿餃子樓 - Now, here was some delicious and cheap snacks at a strategically located shop in Harajuku
    • La Fee Delice - A splurge that was well spent and justified :)
    • Minoringo 原宿 みのりんご - A must try dishes for all

My personal attractions verdicts for:
  • Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings - Here's your chance to have a bird eye view on Tokyo for free
  • Omotesando - Luxury street for the rich people
  • KiddyLand @ Omotesando - Whoever comes here will feel like a big kid all over again!
  • Takeshita Dori - Totally recommended for shopping, for hours (if you know what I mean)

DINING INFO:

Nagi Shinjuku Golden-gai
2F, Shinjuku Golden Gai (G2 Street), 1-1-10 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Operation Hours: 24 hours
Tel: +81 3-3205-1925
Credit Cards: No

Harajuku Gyozaro 原宿餃子樓
6-2-4 Jinguumae Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Operation Hours: 11.30am - 4.30am
Tel: +81 3-3406-4743
Credit Cards: No

La Fee Delice
5-11-1, Jinguumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Operation Hours: 11.30am - 11pm
Tel: +81 3-5766-4084
Credit Cards: No

Minoringo 原宿 みのりんご
1-22-7 Jingumae Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Operation Hours: 11.30am - 3pm, 6.30pm -9.30pm (weekdays), 11.30am - 7pm (holidays)
Tel: +81 3-6447-2414
Credit Cards: No


ATTRACTIONS INFO:

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings
2 Chome-2-8-1 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku, Tokyo 163-8001, Japan
Operation Hours: 9.30am - 11pm
Tel: +81 3-5321-1111
Fee: No

KiddyLand @ Omotesando
6 Chome-6-1-9 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0001, Japan
Operation Hours: 11am - 9pm (Mon - Fri), 10.30am - 9pm (weekends & holidays)
Tel: +81 3-3409-3431
Fee: No

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