Dr John Hawkins
Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff,
home to a huge load of pictures,
and my daily blog.
My email address is as above - I've put it in an image in a vein attempt to reduce the amount of spam I get.
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Main Index (text only)
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Maison de Stuff
- Recent Entries:
- Regency Cafe and Korean Food
Mezze with Dad and Janie
Tapas with Dad and Janie
Waitrose in Belgravia
Back to Work in London
Sunday in London
Back to London
Last Day in Tokyo
Hotel Bars in Tokyo
Sunrise and Sunset in Tokyo
Yurakucho and Tokyo
Monday in Tokyo
Sunday in Tokyo
Diwana and the Euston Cider Tap
Al and Charlotte
Back at Work
London in the Evening
- Regency Cafe and Korean Food
- [Saturday 28th January 2012]
Quite a full day - started off with breakfast at the Regency Cafe with Dad and Janie. Dad has made quite a few visits to London during the time we've been here, and has for a long time now been keen to visit the Regency Cafe, and yet for some reason or other it never quite works out. So it was rather pleasing that today it slotted perfectly into the itinerary, and also made for a good way to round off Dad and Janie's stay with us, as they'd be heading on to Guildford after breakfast (although Dad was going to come and stay another night with us on Sunday). We got there before 9 so it was pretty quiet which was nice for a change, and we could be a bit more leisurely about ordering, and didn't have to worry about all the luggage getting in the way.
We waved Dad and Janie off after breakfast, and they jumped in a taxi to Waterloo. Chie and I were then at a bit of a loose end - Chie wanted to do a bit of shopping, but surprisingly some shops still weren't open. So we just wandered down Victoria Street, to where we saw a crane lifting up Little Ben, which was going to be put in storage temporarily whilst some construction work in the area took place. I found this process oddly fascinating.
I also bought a new white shirt at Hawes and Curtis - it's the first time to buy a shirt from there, although I had occasionally browsed their shop on Jermyn Street. As all the shirtmakers in London seem to have slightly different sizes and shapes I was keen to try it on when I got home to check the fit, which resulted in some silly pictures. I've developed a bit of chubby neck in recent years, somewhat disproportionately to my chest size, and as a result if I buy a regular fit shirt for my neck size it looks rather baggy and a bit daft. Consequently I've ended up buying a lot of shirts which I can't actually do the neck up properly. As I've been wearing a suit and tie a bit more recently I've wanted more shirts on which I can do the neck up, and so I tend to go for the slim/tailored fit that some shirtmakers have, where the neck size is as advertised, but the body is smaller. It's almost ironic that these shirts are called "slim fit", as it seems the main use case is for people like me , so they really ought to be called "disproportionately fat neck fit". To add to the confusion, at some (e.g. Charles Tyrwhitt), tailored is actually slimmer than slim, whereas apparently at Hawes and Curtis it's the other way round. Oh and I ideally wanted a non-iron shirt, and one with a slightly shorter arm length. Having been used most of my life to going to the sorts of shops where I just bought things in size 'M', it's a surprisingly complex process to find a shirt that fits properly.
The middle bit of the day we spent at home, doing nothing much in particular, a bit of idle Internet browsing and so on. In the afternoon though I had a sudden urge to make my own kimchi, and so I suggested we take a trip to New Malden, where there's a large Korean community and lots of Korean food shops. I was pleased to discover it's only an 18 minute train journey from Vauxhall, which is a reasonably short walk away for us, and it made me wonder why we hadn't been before since moving back to London. I think the only time I'd been to New Malden was seven years ago, back when we were living in Pangbourne.
We arrived in New Malden just after 4, and after a little consultation of Google Maps figured out where the really big Korean supermarket was, and headed in that direction. On arrival at Korea Foods I got really quite over excited, it's full of interesting and exotic foodstuffs -not just Korean but also Chinese, Japanese and other parts of East Asia - and much of it very reasonably priced compared to central London. They had a lot of exciting looking fresh vegetables too - including things like fresh green peppercorns (which I bought without any real sense of what I was going to do with them), plus of course the all important hakusai (Chinese leaf) and Korean chillis - the vital components for making kimchi. We were in there around an hour and we thoroughly scrutinised every aisle while we were there. I haven't enjoyed a visit to a supermarket as much as that for years.
We got the train back just before 6, and commenced cooking as soon as we got home. I began preparing a large batch of kimchi, which would probably take a couple of days before it was properly ready, although I couldn't resist having an early sample with dinner. The key thing to making your own kimchi seems to be having a blender in order to make the paste of chilli, ginger, garlic and spring onions. Having only recently bought a blender it still seems like a kind of magic wand to me, and I was very pleased with how the "kimchi no moto" as they'd call it in Japan turned out. You can buy this sauce/paste already made up, but regrettably it always seems to have some kind of fish extract in it, and as such it has always seemed like a bit of an unobtainable substance to me. To have successfully made my own for the first time felt a bit like primitive an discovering how to start a fire.
After dinner we watched The Duchess on the telly, and I felt quite sleepy after a fairly full day.
- Mezze with Dad and Janie
- [Friday 27th January 2012]
Dad and Janie were in London again this evening, having spent the daytime visiting churches and museums in the city.
Like last night we again met at my office around 6, and then walked from there to where we'd be having dinner. This evening I decided we should have Lebanese food, but again wanted to go somewhere that we hadn't already taken Dad to before. So I put the old stalwart Noura out of my mind, and following a bit of research with Google Maps I decided to give one of the Maroush chain a go, and picked their branch on Beauchamp Place in Knightsbridge.
This was quite convenient from the office, so Dad, Janie and I had a pleasant stroll to there through Belgravia, with a stop off at the Nag's Head (where we actually managed to find empty seats!), wherein we read some of their copy of the 1965 Guide to London Pubs, as pictured here. Many of my favourite pubs today have an entry in there, including of course the Nag's Head itself, and pleasingly the description of it from over half a century ago is quite recognisable today.
So on to dinner, where we met Chie, and in many ways had a similar sort of dining experience to the previous evening - lots of mezze, the Middle Eastern answer to tapas. I wonder if the similarities between tapas and mezze have their roots in the Moorish Iberia period of history. Anyway, this seemed to go down rather well, although like yesterday I couldn't help but compare the place to Noura, which I think overall remains my favourite place for Lebanese food in London. The ful medames was definitely a bit of a disappointment here, although some of the other dishes (particularly the falafel) were perhaps a bit better.
Like the previous evening, we again got a taxi back to the flat, and rounded off the evening with a drink or two there.
- Tapas with Dad and Janie
- [Thursday 26th January 2012]
Dad and Janie had decided to come down to the South East for a long weekend, combining a visit to me in London with Adrian in Guildford. They arrived this evening, and came to meet me at my office at 6, from where we took a stroll by way of Buckingham Palace, St. James's and a bit of Mayfair to El Pirata, the tapas place I had chosen for dinner.
It was rather jolly in there, we managed to fill the table with tapas twice over, and I'm very glad I'd booked as the place was packed. We almost always go to the same place for tapas in London (Goya in Pimlico) and it's interesting that so many dishes on the menu of tapas places (in London at least) are the same, giving a good opportunity to compare and contrast. So the tortilla was particularly good here - really impressively thick - but the patatas bravas are definitely better at Goya. We also enjoyed a little bottle of sherry - in fact the same one they have at Goya, fittingly "La Goya". I've only in the last six months or so started to really like sherry, and it's mainly from going to Spanish restaurants. Helpfully on the wine list at El Pirata they list the "spectrum" of sherry styles, and Manzanilla, of which La Goya is an example, is at the dry end, and it's also quite light. I expect this is why I like it - it's almost like drinking sake.
We headed home after that, and rounded off the evening with a spot of Sacred Gin back at the flat.
- Bonus Day
- [Wednesday 25th January 2012]
Today was bonus day at work (they moved it from March to January as of this year) and whilst as usual nobody seemed to share my crass desire for reckless extravagance to celebrate, there was at least a bit of enthusiasm for some modest social occasion to mark the event.
So for lunch we headed out for pizza at Oliveto, which was delicious as ever - I ordered a pizza with artichokes and capers, which isn't on the menu, but I think it works rather well. In the evening this was then followed with a foray over to Holborn/Clerkenwell, where we started with a couple of drinks at Ye Old Mitre, delightful as ever, and then continued on to The Craft Beer Co., which is apparently somehow connected with the Cask in Pimlico, and just like the the Cask, it wasn't really my sort of thing. I was reminded I go to pubs much more for the atmosphere and the look of the place rather than for the actual beer, and I pretty much universally dislike modern pubs. Like the Cask it's also pretty expensive, and seemed very popular which I find a bit irksome considering the rather banal atmosphere of the place.
So I finished the evening a bit disappointed by the dearth of glamour - bonus day always runs the risk of being an anti-climax like this, but I suppose it's probably commendable that the money is all sensibly going into the fund for eventually buying a flat, rather than some fraction of it being frittered away on decadent excess.
- Waitrose in Belgravia
- [Tuesday 24th January 2012]
Chie and I decided to meet up after work today and go to the Waitrose in Belgravia together, and en route I managed to fit in a quick pint at the Grenadier. I always enjoy going to the Waitrose in Belgravia, the other shoppers there are usually quite glamorous and cosmopolitan, and I imagine them to be family members and hangers on of the many European diplomats who are based in and around Belgrave Square.
Back at home we had dinner involving one of the jars of "taberu rayu" (a kind of chilli oil) which Tanaka-san had given me. One in particular contained some olives as well, and lent itself very well to making a simple pasta sauce. So we had some sauteed shimeji mushrooms with the olive and chilli oil served with some rather nice fresh parpadelle we'd picked up in Waitrose. Very simple but rather tasty.
- Back to Work in London
- [Monday 23rd January 2012]
Woke up before 6 thanks to jetlag and spent the time usefully sorting out my pictures and getting this blog up to date before work.
Back in the London office today after my week's trip to Japan, and consequently most of the afternoon was consumed with debriefing meetings with various people on my project. Whilst I'm slightly unsure of the value of last week's "summit" in itself, somehow I find I have come back to London with a renewed enthusiasm to get things done.
In the evening my specification for dinner was simply that it had to use some of the "taberu rayu" that Tanaka-san had given us, so we went for the most obvious choice and made ramen. We usually only have ramen at lunchtime on the weekends so this felt a little odd, but I guess it's not a million miles from the traditional Chinese food we often end up having on Mondays, a habit I picked up from Mum. We normally start with some instant vegetarian ramen that Chie buys online, and augment it with "gu" - essentially a stir fry that acts as a topping. Today's "gu" was garlic, onion, ginger, carrots, broccoli and some leftover Quorn from Sunday's roast dinner. We also added some spinach at the last minute, and of course the all imoportant rayu, which I am pretty sure I have now caught Tanaka-san's addiction for.
I've slept really well the past couple of nights since coming back from Tokyo (although have woken fairly early) but find myself falling asleep after dinner in the evenings. This evening was particularly a challenge as I had some work I needed to finish off, and I was literally nodding off as I was trying to type.
- Sunday in London
- [Sunday 22nd January 2012]
It was rather lovely to be back in London and have a day together with Chie with no specific agenda today.
We had a Japanese breakfast to start the day - I surprised myself a bit having definitely started to suffer rice fatigue in the last week, but realised I wanted to have everything the way we make it. Miso soup in particular has a lot of variation in it, and I always prefer ours (or Chie's Mum's) to anything else. Also I wanted to make a dent in the "taberu rayu" that Tanaka-san had given us seven jars of. It's rather nice on rice.
We headed out towards the end of the morning, and got the tube to Oxford Circus to do a bit of shopping. Chie looked around the sales a bit, and I reluctantly forced myself to buy a couple of new pairs of trousers - always the most irksome form of shopping. We also shared a pizza at a place called Soho Joe's, as I'd found myself craving pizza during the last week (probably as a reaction to all the rice).
We walked some of the way back, and stopped off at the Sainsbury's on Victoria Street (not our normal Sainsbury's, so it always feels a bit weird and alien whenever we go here) to buy things for dinner. As it was Sunday and I'd been out of the UK for a week I was determined to have a Sunday roast for dinner this evening.
- Back to London
- [Saturday 21st January 2012]
With irksome predictability the only time on this whole trip that I managed to sleep past seven was the one morning when I really needed to get up early. Somehow I had managed to set the alarm on my phone for 7pm rather than 7am, and so I was awoken by a phone call from reception to ask whether or not I was still planning to get on the 7:40 coach to the airport I'd booked, since it was 7:35 and I hadn't checked out yet.
Fortunately there was a coach an hour later which they booked me on instead, and would still be in time for my flight at midday. The coach is advertised as taking nearly two hours - it does the rounds of several hotels before leaving Tokyo, and Narita is a bit of a trek from there - but it actually ended up taking more like an hour and a half or thereabouts. So that was a relief.
After checking in I did the now traditional visit to Lawson, the conbini (convenience store) in the airport where I stocked up on various Japanese snack foods, not really having had much of a chance to do shopping earlier in the week. I then headed through security to the Virgin Clubhouse, which was unsurprisingly a much smaller affair than the flagship in Heathrow, but still more pleasant than the usual experience of hanging around in airports.
The flight was tedious, but not entirely unwelcome in that regard - given that I was nursing a bit of a hangover I certainly wasn't keen on a repeat of the outbound flight. I watched a couple of films etc, and read a fair chunk of the first instalment of Noel Coward's autobiography which I'm quite enjoying. I definitely find flying a less harrowing experience in Upper Class - something about having less people crammed in around me, and the staff being more attentive and referring to me by name makes me feel a lot more like a human being and less like an anonymous bit of cargo.
The flight arrived a little after 3pm, and Chie very kindly came to meet me at the airport, partly because we'd ordered some boxes of food to be sent to my hotel in Japan, and I had rather a lot to carry. It's always really nice being met an an airport.
We got the tube back to London together, and in the evening had a simple meal of spaghetti with some of the chilli oil Tanaka-san had given me (he'd gone a bit crazy and given me about seven jars of the stuff, bless him). I then spent the remainder of the evening trying to pretend I wasn't falling asleep in front of the telly. Which of course I was.
- Last Day in Tokyo
- [Friday 20th January 2012]
Last full day in Tokyo of this trip. In the morning a colleague had proposed an expedition out to Shimo-Kitazawa to have what he considered to be the best espresso in Tokyo (and possibly the world) at a place called Bear Pond Espresso. It was snowing this morning which, in addition to disrupting the trains a bit, on arrival at the coffee place turned out to be more of a problem than we'd anticipated. The rather eccentric owner had decided because of a combination of the humidity and the cold that the espresso wouldn't be at its best, so was reluctant to serve us any. I never cease to be amazed by the crazy extents of coffee snobbery, and found this very entertaining - especially given how long we'd spent getting there. So I just had some "french press" coffee (what we'd call a caffetiere).
I was keen to see Tanaka-san again this evening as I'd been half asleep last time, and so we arranged to meet up in Asakusa in the evening, to revisit some of my favourite places around there.
I took pity on a couple of colleagues from the US and invited them along too, thinking that they'd otherwise end up stuck in foreigner trap bars in Roppongi.
We started out at Bar Kamiya, which apparently dates back to 1880 (although presumably the current building is much newer than that) and is one of my absolute favourite places in Tokyo. Whilst we normally just have one quick drink when we come here - partly because of the unusual ordering system that requires you to order and pay on your way in - this time I was enjoying it so much that I decided we should linger a bit longer. I particularly love the fried potatoes they serve here, which are reminiscent of the "roast" potatoes I had in school meals.
Tanaka-san is a very sociable type and didn't seem to have any problem fitting in with my US colleagues, although I did have to fend off a bout of him saying how he felt intimidated being surrounded by such smart people. The appropriate "herikudaru" counter to this in Japanese culture is for me to then belittle my colleagues - which I did by calling them lazy and stupid. Given that neither of them are intimately familiar with Japanese culture they were a trifle bemused by this, but I deemed it important that they learn.
Unusually for me, ever craving variety, I could happily have lingered in Bar Kamiya all evening, but eventually I decided for the sake of my guests we should move on to another venue. Tanaka-san suggested we go to his friend Kobayashi-san's place, wherein our group of predominately foreigners were thoughtfully hidden away in our own private room, presumably so as not to peturb the other customers.
- Hotel Bars in Tokyo
- [Thursday 19th January 2012]
Like the last trip to Japan, I had again for no particularly good reason decided to bring my suit, and so this evening I decided to go and visit a couple of hotel bars to give me a chance to use it.
Before that though there was the matter of dinner, so I decided to try "Sofa vegestyle and kitchen" in Shibuya, an entirely vegetarian cafe. Again I really struggled to read the menu, exacerbated by the fact it was in a weird font and really faded. Given that five of the seven customers that were there when I was there were foreigners (by coincidence mostly British in fact) it was odd that they didn't have an English menu, or at least a Japanese menu that was printed properly in a sensible font. Anyway, after a while of struggling I ordered the "veggie katsu", although in hindsight I should have ordered something else as this was pretty similar to what I'd had at Rohlan last night, and obviously they Rohlan version would be the better of the two. This place seemed to err on the side of health food and as such my veggie katsu was served with brown rice (of which I'm not really a fan) and the sort of side salad that would be familiar in vegetarian restaurants the world over. So I wasn't exactly bowled over by the experience, but I guess thankful that it existed nonetheless. I also enjoyed being ridiculously overdressed for a vegetarian cafe.
The first hotel bar of the evening I wanted to try was the bar in the Cerulean Tower Hotel, mainly as a result of meeting Manabu Otake at the Savoy a few months ago, who is the head bartender there. Unfortunately it turned out he wasn't working this evening, so I just had a quick Martini and left.
From the window of the Cerulean Tower bar I could see Northwards to Shinjuku, and particularly the Park Hyatt building, which reminded me of some fun nights out there back when I was living in Japan. I thought it would be a shame to just go home as I was wearing my suit, and so instead purposefully headed in the direction of Shinjuku.
The New York Bar at the Park Hyatt wasn't really as fun as I remembered it, for a start I had forgotten how awkward it was to get to, being quite a trek from Shinjuku station, which was particularly irksome as it had just started to rain, and I didn't bring an umbrella with me. Once inside I was reminded it was really just expensive and touristy, and nobody makes an effort to dress up at all like they do at the nicer hotel bars in London. So again I just had one quick drink - a Negroni - which I had a hard time ordering as the waiter didn't seem to know what it was to begin with - and there was me thinking it was the International benchmark cocktail. This turned out to be a rather expensive quick drink as they have a really steep cover charge at the New York Bar. This combined with having to get a taxi afterwards as it was raining still made this a very extravagant little diversion, which I wouldn't have minded if I'd actually enjoyed it particularly.
I got back to my hotel - the Ritz-Carlton in Roppingi (which I was rapidly growing tired of) and as it was still early, I thought I'd give the hotel bars of Tokyo one last chance by going for a drink here. I like to think I've become pretty accustomed to expensive venues in the last few years, but when I looked at the cocktail menu here I was really shocked - the cocktails all seemed to be 9800 Yen. That's EIGHTY POUNDS at the current exchange rate. Eighty pounds, for one drink. Absolutely insane. So I flicked through the menu to the cheaper pages, and ordered a modest glass of campari, which cost a less terrifying 1700 Yen (although that's still more than the price of the entire bottle in a shop).
So all in all an expensive but just very disappointing evening. I wouldn't have minded the increasingly ludicrous prices if there had been any real sense of glamour, sophistication or high society in these places - but there wasn't. People were just dressed the same way they were anywhere else in Tokyo, and the decor was just the same standard issue in every venue - tediously dark and dimly lit, with the ubiquitous night time view of Tokyo that I quickly tire of.
- Sunrise and Sunset in Tokyo
- [Wednesday 18th January 2012]
Jetlag had prompted me to wake up every morning before sunrise so far, but somehow or other the first two mornings I'd either gone to have a shower, or tried to get back to sleep, while the actual sunrise was happening. Given that my hotel room was on the 48th floor, despite not quite facing East, it seemed like a good vantage point from which to watch it. Better still today was a fairly clear day.
As a nice compliment to this, towards the end of the afternoon, one of my colleagues at the Tokyo office suggested we go up on the roof of the Mori Building in Roppongi Hills and watch the sunset from there. I suspect we might have been a couple of minutes late to catch the best bit of it, but it was still quite impressive nonetheless, and more so to be able to actually see it in the open air for once, rather than through glass.
In the evening I had decided it was the time of the week for the obligatory pilgrimage to Ikebukuro. I started with Rohlan, which, following our visit last September, seemed to confirm my suspicions that it was under new management, as again I didn't recognise any of the staff, although thankfully they've kept at least some of the vegetarian dishes on the menu. They always used to have an English version of the vegetarian menu, and it hadn't occurred to me that last time I went I was with Chie, who had read it for me. This time I was faced with a page full of kanji to decipher all by myself. I fairly quickly identified the all important vegetarian tonkatsu, but for my other dish ordered somewhat at random from the mock chicken section, and ended up with something involving cashew nuts. I am pleased to report the tonkatsu is excellent as ever, but the vegetarian menu has definitely shrunk, and I rather miss the Taiwanese lady who always used to work there, who once told me I look a bit like "Diana no musuko" (by which I think she meant Prince William).
Quercus was of course next on the very tried and tested agenda. I had given Watanabe-san a bit of advance warning that I was coming, and was pleased that a couple of the other regulars from when I used to live there were also in attendance, including Toyota-san who we visited Chichibu distillery with. I ended up staying quite a while, as some of the guys from the office had tracked me down using Latitude, and in the absence of knowing where else to go asked if they could come and join me. I'm not sure they particularly enjoyed it - none of them are really into whisky, and for me a lot of the charm of Quercus is sitting at the counter and chatting with Watanabe-san and the regulars which is somewhat lost when you're a group of mostly non-Japanese speakers sitting at a table.
- Yurakucho and Tokyo
- [Tuesday 17th January 2012]
With Chie's help I had done some research prior to this trip to find vegetarian compatible eateries in Tokyo, and so this evening set about going to find one. This led me in the direction of Tokyo station, which I headed for by way of Yurakucho, where I was keen to go to a funny little bar oddity I'd actually seen a short feature about on TV in the UK a while back. It's a tiny little bar - more of an alcove on the side of the street really - where all the drinks are sold from vending machines. Whilst this vision of an entirely automated drinking establishment might evoke futuristic notions, the fact is that vending machines have been widespread in Japan for decades, and in fact this "bar" is pleasingly old and really quite grotty. So I rather enjoyed a very quick drink here, more so as it was so cheap. A strong yen has made just about everything else feel very expensive on this trip.
So next up I walked to Tokyo station, and attempted to find the vegan ramen place I'd read about in this rather vast sprawling complex. I incorrectly started my search in the North of the station, and was amused to discover that the maps inside the station only really tell you about the section of the station you're in - because if you're in the North West quadrant it's of course completely inconceivable that you could have any interest whatsoever in any amenities that exist in the South East. Big stations like this in Japan often serve lots of different lines, often owned by different companies, and often there are multiple clusters of shops, bars and restaurants associated with the different lines. So I imagine regular commuters typically just stick to one little area of the station, and are probably blissfully unaware of what shops etc exist in some of the other bits.
I eventually found T's Tan Tan Ramen in a little shopping precinct called Keiyo Street (presumably known only to users of the Keiyo line), and after some initial hesitation went in, spent a while struggling to read the menu, and eventually ordered the shoyu ramen. The soup was perhaps a bit too simplistic in flavour for me, and it was my first time to have tantanmen, which are a bit different from normal ramen noodles, being somewhat softer and more elastic. So I didn't enjoy it as much as the ramen Chie and I make at home (usually a modified version of some vegetarian instant ramen Chie buys on the internet), but still it was interesting, and I'd definitely go again to try something else on the menu.
I went back to Roppongi (where regrettably my hotel is) a fairly circuitous route by way of Ueno. I wanted to revisit an izakaya called Daitouryou, that I'd been to with Chie on the last night of our previous trip, and I'd found to be rather lively and fun. It wasn't quite the same the second time round, perhaps partly because of the time of year. In September they'd had tables spilling out into the alleyway, particularly fun as said tables were rather cheap and not very sturdy, and would routinely collapse, littering the floor with broken bottles and glasses, and prompting a pleasingly sardonic member of staff to trudge over with a dustpan and brush. Unsurprisingly in January it was a much more indoor venue, and the jolly carefree revellers of the late summer had given way to the rather grizzly chainsmoking hardened drinkers of mid-winter. I sat on a tiny stool sandwiched inbetween two such types at the counter, and somehow didn't think they were particularly delighted about my presence, so I had one quick drink and left.
On the way back to the hotel I had a mail from a colleague inviting me to join a few of them at a "craft beer" bar in Roppongi. It just seemed very expensive to me - I had the "regular" size beer, a rather cloying and unpleasant Japanese IPA, which was 900 Yen (£7.50 at the current exchange rate), and less than a pint in volume. The "large" size, which I assumed to be a pint was 1200 Yen (£10). Roppongi is known for being expensive even by Japanese standards, but that was just insane. I was not compelled to linger.
- Monday in Tokyo
- [Monday 16th January 2012]
First day in the Tokyo office of this "summit". Woke up early as always when jetlagged, and made it in before 9. Actually didn't spend the whole day in the office as we had a sort of tour of the city in the afternoon, ostensibly to highlight the challenges of the area we're working in for users in a "megacity" like Tokyo.
By early evening we were in Shibuya, where the afternoon's tour blended into a few drinks and dinner. Our host proposed a visit to "Nonbei Yokocho", an alleyway of tiny little old fashioned bars, each with on average about five seats in. The plan was for our large group to split up into four or five smaller groups and each go into a different bar. Never having been a fan of mass group dithering I led the first charge with a couple of colleagues from the US, and our arrival seem to terrify the old lady running the bar we picked, more so as everyone else was standing outside and continuing to dither. As the only Japanese speaker in our little sub-group I spent the entire time we were in there apologising to the old woman for our presence and our general existence and assuring her we were only going to have one very quick drink and disappear before any of her regular customers arrive. As promised, we paid up and departed swiftly as soon as out first hastily consumed drink was finished. So that was not very successful.
We meandered towards the place we were having dinner by way of the old Shibuya stalwart "Cafe de Ningenkankei Copain", which is definitely a lot more foreigner friendly, and one more bar where we rejoined the rest of the group, called Tasuichi.
Dinner was not a particularly successful affair, despite having said earlier in the day it would be far easier if I just did my own thing (having much experience of the difficulty of me finding anything vegetarian in Japan, which somehow seems even worse with big group meals) the organisers in the Tokyo office seemed fairly insistent that I come along, and that they'd find somewhere suitable. We went to an okonomiyaki place, and the waitresses' surprise and confusion when the issue of vegetarian options was raised suggested very little thought had been put into the venue on my behalf and I really should have stuck to my guns and gone somewhere else alone. Particularly irksome was one of the people from the Japanese office, who didn't realise I could understand Japanese, telling the waitress words to the effect of "oh don't worry it's not like he's going to die or anything", at which point I interjected and suggested that I would in fact die, violently and messily. The situation was only exacerbated by one other person in our group who had claimed to be vegetarian, but turned out to be somewhat half arsed about the whole thing, which seemed to lead to an air of "well if he doesn't mind, why should you?".
So I had some crap yakisoba there (which my colleagues then consumed more than half of as it was ready before their okonomiyaki), and left rather irritatedly not long after, as it seems they were all going to order second and even third batches, and I was aware my clothes were increasingly reeking of food I wasn't eating.
To cheer myself up I headed over to Gaienmae to visit a bar I rather like called Office, which, as the name suggests, is and office themed bar. I then headed back to my hotel from there, having made up my mind I would just do my own thing for the rest of the evenings this week.
- Sunday in Tokyo
- [Sunday 15th January 2012]
My flight landed at Tokyo Narita around 10 in the morning, I got the Keisei skyliner to Ueno, and the metro from there, and was at my hotel - the Ritz-Carlton in Roppongi - not long after midday.
I decided not to stick to my usual policy of trying to stay awake for the whole of the first day, and instead decided to have a nap for a few hours in the afternoon. So I slept until about 5:30, and headed out a little while later to meet up with Tanaka-san. We were going to go for dinner at some place near Ebisu, but that turned out to be closed, so instead we went to Gaya, the macrobiotic izakaya not too far from Shibuya, where I'd also been on my previous visit to Japan. Whilst macrobiotic food isn't all vegetarian, these places often do seem to dabble in vegetarian food a bit. Gaya in particular has a whole page in the menu of vegetarian dishes, most of them quite interesting vegetarian version of meat / seafood dishes made with soya. So we had the veggie fish and chips (the "fish" being made from millet), soya kara age, and gluten derived fried "oysters". Particularly enjoyed the kara age this time (although I think I also had that last time).
Despite my afternoon nap I was pretty sleepy still, and so we didn't stay out particularly late - just had one more drink in a fairly non-descript izakaya after than then I headed back to my hotel.
- [Saturday 14th January 2012]
I was off to Tokyo for a week from today, for work this time - people from various of my company's offices around the world were converging on Tokyo for a week long "summit" which was quite relevant to my project.
I managed to get myself into Upper Class on Virgin Atlantic both ways for the first time, having only previously managed to upgrade for one leg. It was also my first time to see the Clubhouse at London Heathrow (both times I'd been in Upper before had been on the return leg from San Francisco), which is rather large and impressive. I availed myself of breakfast and a couple of pre-flight cocktails while I was there, which coupled with the fast track through security made for a significant improvement over the usual drudgery of waiting for a flight in Heathrow.
I spent a fair chunk of the flight availing myself of the onboard bar in Upper as well, and got chatting to three entrepreneurs who were off to Japan for a few todays to find new products to bring back to Europe. They were quite an unruly lot, and a couple of times during the flight we (mainly they, I'd like to think) were asked to keep the noise down as apparently there had been complaints from Premium Economy.
- [Friday 13th January 2012]
I'd be flying off to Tokyo tomorrow for a week's business trip, and for once I actually managed to be organised enough to do the bulk of my packing the night before.
Other than that not really much to report.
- [Thursday 12th January 2012]
Met up with Robert, a former colleague, for a quick drink this evening at the Antelope, and caught up on what he's doing these days. We were also joined by Iain.
Didn't stay very late as I was mindful I had some laundry to take care of ahead of my upcoming trip to Tokyo.
- [Wednesday 11th January 2012]
To make up for the disappointing lack of vegetarian Chinese food last night, tonight Chie propose we go to old stalwart Kym's in Pimlico, where they have a few decent vegetarian dishes made with mock meat on the menu.
The sizzling "beef" with black bean sauce was good as always, but I think we made a resolution not to order the kung po "chicken" again, as the flavour is far too bitter and salty and a bit overpowering. Oh and we also had a vegetarian version of ma po tofu which wasn't bad, and some fried rice.
- Loving Hut
- [Tuesday 10th January 2012]
Didn't feel like cooking today, and instead wanted to have some really good vegetarian Chinese food. So after some dithering we decided to trek all the way up to Archway, and go to the "Loving Hut" (formerly known as the somewhat less silly "Peking Palace"). Rather disastrously though on arrival we found it was closed for the evening - not really sure why, it said it would be open on their website. Ho, hum.
As a backup plan I decided we should go to the other branch of "Loving Hut" (I really despise that name) in Camden, which we hadn't tried before. This turned out to be a very different style of eatery, and was much more like a fast food cafe than a Chinese restaurant. I had their burger which was OK I guess, and Chie had the chow mein which she seemed to like slightly more, but I then had a bit of a stomach ache later on, so that'll probably be the last time we go there.
- [Monday 9th January 2012]
I'm writing this just over two weeks hence, and don't remember anything. Latitude History doesn't give me any clues either.
I wonder if as a late New Year's Resolution I should try and get into the habit of taking at least one picture every single day, that way I might find this process a bit easier.
- [Sunday 8th January 2012]
We decided a walk in the country would be a good idea today, and Chie suggested going to Windsor which turned out to be very accessible (just 45 minutes and no changes from Vauxhall station, which is only a short walk for us), and made me wonder why we hadn't been before since we've been living in London.
Our walking route ended up somewhat based around where we could have lunch, and to my slight embarrassment I have to admit some enthusiasm on my part when I discovered there was a Toby Carvery in Old Windsor. We had been to the one in Reading once or twice many years ago, and I remember being impressed by how good they were for vegetarians like me, who absolutely loathe the idea of going to a pub for Sunday lunch and being palmed off with a mushroom risotto or something equally unfitting. They actually have proper vegetarian options served with, most importantly, roast potatoes, and also proper brown vegetarian gravy.
So we got off the train at Datchet, and did a not particularly attractive section of the Thames Path, which took us to Old Windsor, by way of the Windsor Farm Shop, wherein we contributed to the royal coffers and bought some presents for Tanaka-san's family to take on my upcoming trip to Japan.
We arrived at the 'Carvery some time around 2, but then had quite a long wait for a table. Whilst we were waiting we popped into a little antiques fair across the road to help pass the time. Eventually our buzzer went off and we were seated, there was however then more queueing, and given that I had a vegetarian option but Chie didn't (which meant a lot more queuing for her) it was a bit difficult to coordinate to eat at the same time. It was pretty much at the opposite end of the spectrum to the eateries of Belgravia etc, to which we've become accustomed in the last few years, and I didn't particularly care for the surroundings, but despite that I rather enjoyed the food.
Our stomachs filled with hearty bargain priced stodge, we then set off in the direction of Windsor, again to begin with a fairly uninteresting stretch along a road, but then after that we joined The Long Walk, which was much more scenic. Albeit that it was quite a grey day. This took us up to Windsor Castle, and into the town of Windsor, where we had a quick look around the shops before getting the train back to London.
- Diwana and the Euston Cider Tap
- [Saturday 7th January 2012]
Stayed in for the daytime, and just left the flat in the evening, to go for some Indian food at Diwana on Drummon Street. Every time we go I try to order less food, but still end up ordering too much. So this time we just ordered one of each of the two daily specials - one sag aloo, one mutter paneer - but fatally also ordred a start to share. Anyway, although we had too much to eat it was tasty as ever, but we did both experience some, errr, repercussions the next morning.
While we were in the area, I was keen to try out the new Euston Cider Tap, which had opened in the funny little lodge building opposite the Euston Tap. They claim to be London's first dedicated cider bar, although I am keen to point out they're in fact London's first dedicated cider bar since the 1960s when the last of the Westons Cider Houses in London closed, a little known fact I had discovered by chance last year. Whilst the actual venue is a tad weird, they do have an interesting range of ciders and I was delighted to see this very strong symbol of the cider resurgence first hand.
- [Friday 6th January 2012]
Latitude History tells me I went for a burrito at lunchtime at Piccante Mexican Grill. Other than that I really don't remember much.
- Al and Charlotte
- [Thursday 5th January 2012]
Went out this evening in the vaguely Holborn area with Al and Charlotte. I got the tube to Temple, and met them in the Cheshire Cheese (not to be confused with the old Cheshire Cheese), and from there it was decided it would be better to eat sooner rather than later, so we headed to La Porchetta, which had been on my to do list for a while. It wasn't bad, but wasn't great either.
George joined us at the end of our meal, and together the four of us decamped to the Queen's Larder for the remainder of the evening, after which we all got a taxi back together.
- [Wednesday 4th January 2012]
Again, not really much to report. Seems like I went to Saisnbury's on the way home from work again.
- Back at Work
- [Tuesday 3rd January 2012]
Not much to report really. Back at work after the long Christmas break, and thankfully everyone else at work seemed to have taken a good long break, so my inbox was not particularly full.
Latitude history tells me I left work relatively early (just after 6) and went to Sainsbury's on the way back home. However I'm writing this three weeks hence and aside from that I don't really remember anything in particular about today.
- London in the Evening
- [Monday 2nd January 2012]
Chie went to a New Year's party this afternoon with some friends of hers, but I decided to leave her to it and instead have a mostly lazy day in, punctuated by an afternoon stroll for which I set out around 2:30. I walked through Westminster, across St. James's Park, along St. James's Street and to Jermyn Street. On Jermyn Street I bought a new shirt in Charles Tyrwhitt, and was briefly beset by blurry peripheral vision in one eye - after reading about this on the web I think it was probably a gentle bout of migraine. From thee I walked over Piccadilly, through Soho to Charing Cross Road, and then down there to Trafalgar Square, and back home by way of Westminster again. On the way back it was just starting to get dark, but the moon was already present in the sky, which prompted me to take a few pictures of some familiar London landmarks in the interesting early evening light.
- [Sunday 1st January 2012]
I guess technically the fireworks display in London started on January 1st, being on the stroke of Midnight. This year we secured a vantage point on Vauxhall Bridge, which gave us a clear view of the London Eye, albeit at a distance. Had I realised there were going to be fireworks launched out of Big Ben this year as well we would have stood on the South bank by Vauxhall Bridge - there's in fact almost a "beach" that some people were standing on, and I think that would have given a fairly good view.
In the daytime (the next day - now I've confused things by writing about what I'd normally put in the night before on the same day) we popped out to Harrod's. There seemed to be general confusion about which shops would or wouldn't be open, but this was more or less the only one that we were fairly sure would be.