Saturday, 10 January 2015

Kyoto travels: the unmissable Miyako Odori followed by ice-cream at Kinana and stunning wagashi at Kagizen

Tea ceremony before the Miyako Odori
If you're in Kyoto in April, you're very lucky for a couple of reasons. Aside from the abundant, but fleeting, cherry blossoms, April is the only month that the Miyako Odori takes place. Hmm, I sense an ephemeral theme. The Miyako Odoro is a unique theatrical experience with dance, music and song performed by the geiko and maiko of Gion. Its origin dates back to the 1870s and draws local and international tourists by the score. Don't be put off by this though because it's one of the most unique events I've enjoyed, and that's from someone who's typically not really that into traditional song and dance. You'll leave utterly spellbound by this unmissable experience. Just make sure you take advantage of the tea ceremony ticket which, in addition to the brief ceremony itself, gives you access to the theatre's garden. Following the performance, you'll probably feel like a treat, so check out the array of ice cream flavours at Kinana or the beautiful wagashi at Kagizen.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Kyoto travels: the best bang-for-your-yen lunch at Roan Kikunoi

Roan Kikunoi: smoked cherry trout
There are only so many meals that you feel you can do justice to with a blog post and I'm afraid time has usually got the better of me for most of them. I'm not one of those bloggers who is satisfied writing down "I went here and I ate that" and sending it out into the ether of the internet. It's boring to write and boring to read. But there are some experiences I've had that I really want to share, even if it is belatedly and with more brevity than usual (hurrah, I hear you cheer!). Anyway, my mind has recently returned to Japan, and Kyoto in particular, since I've just booked another holiday there. Japan is one of those places that gets under your skin and Kyoto, more than others, is somewhere that never leaves you. I've written of some memorable meals (noodles, tofu, unagi and Fushimi Inari) from the visit to Kyoto in April 2014, but so far I've left out the blockbuster two and three Michelin star spots that I ate in. One of the most enjoyable, and best bang-for-my-yen, meals was lunch at Roan Kikunoi - the two-star kappo sister to the flagship three-star Kikunoi.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Crocker's Folly: new kid on the block

Crocker's Folly tavern
Recently opened Crocker's Folly isn't exactly the new kid on the block - the building dates back to the late 1800s - but it certainly feels like it. It has been empty for an age and more recently boarded up while undergoing a loving and painstaking renovation which has restored the venue to glory. As you'd expect from the Maroush Group, purveyors of (good) Lebanese food up and down Edgware Road and pockets further afield, there is an element of bling in details like the impossibly-light chandelier and the well-buffed marble that greets you at every turn. It all has a shiny new feel to it. The food is polished as well, with the menu devised by a talented chef who has worked in some serious kitchens like Pollen St Social and noma. But the investment in the rooms and the food comes at a cost, with prices that I consider punchy for a neighbourhood spot. So, is it all fur coat and no knickers?

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Kyoto travels: noodling about with Ramen at Ippudo, Soba at Misoka-an and Udon at Omen

Ippudo ramen, Kyoto
I don't know about you but I reckon certain types of noodles have personalities. On my scale, soba is the introverted quiet one in the corner of a crowded room having a peaceful conversation, while in the middle of the party, ripping off its shirt, chugging beers and generally in everyone's face is ramen. Subtle couldn't be further from the truth. Udon is somewhere between these two extremes with a generally mellow vibe but is quite open to being led astray. Although I lean toward soba and udon most of the time, I was so excited to be in Kyoto that our first meal there really had to be a steaming bowl of ramen from Ippudo. On other days I enjoyed an excellent cleansing soba in the terrific machi-ya of Misako-an and a stunning udon at Omen, a short stray from the Philosopher's Path on the way to the Silver Pavillion. All come highly recommended on any trip to Kyoto.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Barrafina Covent Garden: it's flantastic

Barrafina Adelaide St: instant classic Bocadillo de Calamar
You've never really needed me to tell you to go to Barrafina have you? It's a given. When it opened on Frith St it was an instant classic. On one of my visits, Keira Knightley was in there chowing down on quail. Who'd of thunk it eh? She eats. Clearly then, that should be recommendation enough - if it's good enough for someone who probably only eats a meal a week, then it's definitely good enough for those of us who aren't perpetually hungry. The only problem with Barrafina is that it became a victim of its own success. I've seen people queue before it even opened just to score one of the stools, meaning my visits became more sporadic. I'm not good with paramilitary planning when it comes to food. Joyfully, they've decided to share the Barrafina love and open a second location, which miraculously, improves on the experience at the big sister.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Kyoto travels: Fushimi Inari shrine and Unagi at Nezameya

Nezameya - grilled eel specialist near Fushimi Inari Shrine
The Fushimi Inari shrine is one of the most iconic images of Kyoto. Row after row of vermillion Torii, tightly packed and stretching up Mount Inari draw the tourist crowds for good reason. It's a must see and was one of the reasons why I planned a visit to Kyoto in the first place. It's possible to leave the crowds behind you if you wind your way further and further up the sacred mountain but it's not an easy climb, and on a warm day make sure you take something to drink. One of the benefits of climbing the stairs up the mountain is that you'll work up quite an appetite. Walking to the shrine from Inari train station, you'll pass a number of tempting restaurants but the one that caught my eye was Nezameya - the smell and smoke from the long fillets of eel being grilled on the street drew me over.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Unforgettable Shoraian, Arashiyama Japan

Shoraian yudofu
If you're visiting Kyoto (and you really must), then Arashiyama just west of the city should also be on your itinerary. The setting by the Hozu River is tranquil once you get away from the busy, and a bit touristy, main street, even in the midst of the masses around cherry blossom season. The world famous Bamboo Forest casting its haunting green glow into the sky is there, along with the stunningly serene Tenryuji Temple. You might know that Kyoto has a reputation for some of the finest tofu in Japan, and hey presto, Arashiyama can help you out there too. Shoraian (also Syourian), nestled on the side of a mountain a short walk from the main street, specialises in tofu but it's not vegetarian. The location, food and service at Shoraian contributed to one of the most memorable meals of my trip to Kyoto.