[Saturday 24th October]
Started off the day withreakfast at the Regency Cafe followed by a late morning stroll taking in views of the Houses of Parliament.
In the afternoon, Chie went to Maidenhead to meet friends, leaving me to my own devices. So I decided to pop into the office for a few hours to try and get ahead on some work related stuff.
Some time after 4 I decided I'd done enough, and as there was a hint of blue in the sky by this point it seemed a shame to not be back outside again. So I went for a meandering stroll from Victoria past Buckingham Palace, from there by way of St. James's, along Jermyn Street a bit, over Piccadilly, down Saville Row, over Regent's Street and into Soho. Got the number 24 bus on the way back.
Back at home in the evening we had Japanese food for dinner, including inari sushi and some hiyayako (raw tofu with ginger, spring onions and soy sauce) along with all the usual trimmings - miso soup etc.
[Friday 23rd October]
Usual beer and pizza thing at the end of the day followed by dinner back home with Chie - had spaghetti with Loyd Grossman's rather good tomato and chilli pasta sauce, with some Quorn mince thrown in. Surprisingly nice actually, although I think I ended up eating too much.
Today I was reminded of the Flight of the Conchords "Foux du Fa Fa", and probably watched it about 10 times in total - fantastic.
[Thursday 22nd October]
Having really enjoyed Hiltl in Zurich recently I had been determined to find somewhere similar in London. So, partly to this tend, this evening I went for dinner with Chie at Vanilla Black. It's a vegetarian restaurant hidden away down a little backstreet neat Chancery Lane.
This place seems to have received quite good reviews - I had particularly liked the running theme that it wasn't like the usual "happy beansprout" brand of vegetarian eateries, which tend to be all brown rice and cous cous - not really my sort of thing. It's a tragedy that vegetarianism has been so widely conflated with healthy eating in this way - I like rich, hearty food - I just happen to not want it to contain any bits of dead animal.
Certainly in terms of decor, Vanilla Black is very much an upmarket restaurant - very nicely set tables with crisp linen - certainly not the ubiquitous plain wooden tables and tiled floors which are apparently the uniform of vegetarian cafés the world over. So that was a good start. The menu too definitely had the feel of more of a "proper" restaurant. These were all very good signals.
Maybe I just chose poorly though, but to be honest tonight's dinner just didn't set my world on fire.
I started off with a "cepe and truffle creme brulée". I probably should have known better - I guess I was brought up as a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to the dividing line between sweet and savoury, so desserts masquerading as starters really should have been a warning sign for me - and moreover I'm not even really a fan of creme brulée as a dessert. However, I can never resist the mushroomy option in any list of dishes. It was a bit weird, to be honest. I applaud them for experimenting with this slightly Blumenthal-esque creation, but my palate was just too primitive to get over the fact that this was essentially a dessert made with mushrooms. Somehow I had imagined it wouldn't be that sweet, but it was very sweet indeed. The cepes had been turned into a very smooth and fairly liquid paste, and whilst I could taste the cepes (although the truffle was lost a bit) the texture of this didn't really agree with me. On the plus side it was served with a little side salad of parsley which I had initially dismissed as a garnish, but out of curiosity tried a bit, and it was very nicely dressed. It reminded me of a Japanese dressing - possiby rice vinegar and mirin - but the sweetness here really worked.
My main course was a truffled potato "bubble and squeak" served with an assortment of vegetables (it was probably described somewhat more in detail on the menu). This was ok I guess - at least some of the potato stack had a definite aroma of truffle to it, but despite that it didn't really seem worthy of being a centre piece in itself - at the risk of sounding like a meat eater this was more of a side dish: it would make a very nice and probably quite extravagant side dish - but as a centre piece I was left somehow a bit dissatisfied. The rest of the plate was a selection of interesting vegetables, all nicely cooked - including beetroot and chicory - but I just felt like the whole ensemble was a bit incoherent. Maybe a sauce would have helped?
I guess there's a good chance it's just me - I didn't really go in the right frame of mind or something, and so maybe no matter what they had produced I would have left a bit dissatisfied.
It's possible that it's just catering to a different style of vegetarian to me. Chie mentioned the place would probably appeal more to women than to men, and as already noted it wasn't anything like the usual happy beansprout brigade, so they weren't particularly aiming at healthy eating eco-warriors either. Maybe this is more for people who just don't really like meat?
Oh well - it probably deserves a second chance at some point, so I might try it again one day - but I'll definitely steer clear of the creme brulée next time!
[Monday 19th October]
Chie came and met met at my office and together we walked to the Waitrose in Belgravia to do a spot of shopping.
Following on from yesterday's inability to find anywhere doing a decent vegetarian Sunday dinner, today I seemed to be completely uninspired by everything in the usually-very-good Waitrose. We ended up having some fresh pasta which was OK... I guess.
[Sunday 18th October]
Similar sort of format to Saturday - stayed in all morning and most of the afternoon, enjoying home comforts - lots of tea and cake. Specifically we ate some of the Baumkuchen I had brought back for Chie from Japan. It was surprisingly delicious.
Towards the end of the afternoon we thought we should head out, and at the back of my mind I was thinking it would be nice to find somewhere for a Sunday roast for dinner. Alas it seems nowhere in London we could find really makes any kind of effort on Sunday roasts when it comes to vegetarians, so after a very long stroll we ended up in Holborn and decided to just cut our losses and head home.
[Saturday 17th October]
Having spent the last couple of weekends in an assortment of other countries (Japan, Switzerland and briefly France whilst en route to Switzerland) we very deliberately planned very little whatsoever this weekend, as it seemed like I could probably do with a good rest.
Stayed in the flat all morning and the large part of the afternoon, just generally slobbing about and occasionally tinkering on the computer. Added a feature to Cheese to do "auto rotation" as my new camera has a sensor which records which way up a picture was taken, so with a simple feature like this in Cheese I can get it to run through and automatically rotate all the images to the right orientation. Which is nice.
Eventually towards the end of the afternoon we decided we probably ought to go out, and with no plan in mind whatsoever headed into the centre of Reading. I decided I'd like to take a stroll down Saville Row, and spent a good few minutes drooling over the utterly splendid tweed suits in the window display at Huntsman, marvellous.
We also made a stop off at Princi the Italian bakery/bar/cafe for some bready treats and a quick drink. I really liked this place - fantastic baked goods and a very fashionable group of customers (so naturally I felt a bit out of place!).
Back at home in the evening we had kimchi nabe for dinner, having stopped off at the Korean Food shop near Tottenham Court Road on the way back.
[Thursday 15th October]
First full day in London so far this month! Nice to have my feet back on the ground again for a bit.
Alas though the day had a twinge of sadness about it - my colleague, good friend, and reliable drinking buddy Al was leaving the company, and although tomorrow was his last day, the leaving do was organised for tonight.
We started off with a quick pint at the Cask and Glass, before heading onto the main venue - a cocktail bar called Zander.
There was a really good turn out, and despite the slightly sad note to the proceedings it was a really fun evening - everybody seemed in high spirits. The drink du jour was very much the Sidecar (although I didn't actually have one of these myself) which seemed to enjoy a spontaneous vogue throughout the evening.
We rounded off the evening, perhaps unwisely, with an assortment of late night kebabs etc from Flames, a little kebab kiosk next to Victoria station.
So it's kind of the end of an era really - but Al's new job will still be in central London, and as part of his leaving gift we got him membership to the whisky society (not entirely my idea!) so hopefully there will still be lots of opportunities to go for a drink or two.
[Wednesday 14th October]
Started out the day with a mad rush to throw all my things in my bag and get to the station. The corporate housing I was in was inexplicably some distance from the station (and the office) which meant a fair tram ride, and my train was at 7AM, but somehow I just couldn't bring myself to set my alarm for much earlier than 6AM. Plus of course as always I hadn't bothered to pack the night before.
Anyway, I made it on time, and soon I was on the TGV headed for Paris. For this leg I had only been able to get 2nd class (on the way there the fares had been barely any different) but it was still fairly comfortable, albeit just that there were a lot more people in the carriage. The scenery seemed nicer than on the way there - I think partly because there was very nice and clear morning light, but also because I was on the other side of the train, facing North rather than South, and it seems all the nicer scenery is in that direction.
Arrived in Paris at 11:30, giving me an hour or so before I needed to get on the Eurostar. I had a bit of a wander around the streets between Gare De L'Est and Gare du Nord trying to find something other than the ubiquitous filled baguette for an early lunch. I eventually found a kebab place which also did pizzas. The French do seem to struggle to make decent pizza somewhat, but it wasn't bad I suppose - it filled a hole at least.
On the Eurostar to London I got chatting to an Australian girl, who was in the UK working as a nanny, and was taking the opportunity to travel around Europe while she was here. It occurred to me she'd be a good person to introduce to my Australian friend at work, whose criticism of most women seems to be "she's not Australian enough" (an optimisation problem with a very obvious solution!) but alas when I suggested this it turned out she was already attached. Oh well, were this a movie it would have panned out differently.
I was in London by 3, and being the diligent sole that I am, headed straight to the office to put a few hours work in before heading home for the evening. I'm quite proud of the fact that despite all my travelling over the past couple of weeks, there hasn't been a single weekday when I haven't at least checked in at one of our offices somewhere (be it London, Tokyo or Zurich).
Back at home in the evening Chie made Japanese curry for dinner, which was particularly nice tonight (although perhaps partly because I had barely tasted any home cooking in the last two weeks!). Having got up before 5AM in UK terms, by 9 o' clock I could feel myself falling asleep, and so an early night was very much called for.
[Tuesday 13th October]
Today fared much better at the Zurich office than the previous day, it was a completely different theme entirely unrelated to my current project and again I guess I shouldn't really write anything about it here, but I ended the day feeling very satisfied with the results.
I didn't fancy another boring night in at the corporate accommodation, and disappointingly none of the people I had been to see at the Zurich office had invited me out for a drink in the evening. So instead I headed out for the evening by myself, to try out a bar I had found simply by typing "whisky bar zurich" into the ever excellent Google Maps.
So I spent the evening at the excellent Widder Bar sampling malts from their impressive selection. Highlights included an old Signatory bottling of Brora (shortbread and demerera sugar), a Swiss single malt - a 4 year old Rugenbrau (dried fruits; reminiscent of a Karuizawa) and the piece de la resistance was undoubtedly the Widder Bar's own Laphroaig bottling (less of the characteristic medicinal notes but huge raw elemental peat, yet surprisingly refined and feminine - more like a Caol Ila). I also tried the renowned Ardbeg Mor there which alas I couldn't really appreciate as at that point an inconsiderate American had decided to stand right next to me at the bar and smoke a cigar. Ho hum.
Spent a while chatting to the bar manager who was very friendly and really knew his whisky - a lovely chap. I ended up leaning on him for recommendations towards the end of the evening and he exhibited that impressive trait of a real whisky expert; analysing what I had been drinking so far and choosing whiskies that were sufficiently similar to be to my taste, but equally sufficiently different so as to keep things interesting. The atmosphere was also really nice in this place - very sophisticated and upmarket but also very friendly - a couple of the other customers started talking to me at various points during the evening (including a Canadian guy who proclaimed that whisky was invented in Canada - yes, ok whatever you say). Oh and there was a piano player too. All very nice indeed.
A very pleasant way to round off my trip to Zurich.
[Sunday 11th October]
Started out the day with a late morning stroll around Zurich. I had always got the impression it wasn't generally considered much of a tourist destination, but in my opinion at least it really is quite an attractive city. I took quite a lot of pictures today, and I hope based on these you'll agree with me.
There seems to be some sort of beer festival or something going on inside Zurich station (it has a cavernous main hall), so for lunch today we went to a kind of miniature beer garden on the periphery of this, where I had a pretzel, Chie had a bratwurst, and as it would seem rude not to we each had a beer as well. This was surprisingly fun - there was rather manic traditional Swiss/German music playing, and there were dogs barking at each other and some sort of alarm going off and it was generally all rather endearingly manic. Plus the pretzel was really rather good indeed.
We spent most of the afternoon in Baden, the main reason for going being the hot springs, but we also had a bit of a wander round the town while we were there, and this too is not an unattractive place. Visiting hot springs in countries outside Japan has become something of a hobby of mine and Chie's, and whilst the place we went to today was somewhat basic and not particularly aesthetically outstanding, it did still make for a very pleasant and relaxing hour or two, lounging around in the just-about-right 35 degree water.
We headed back to Zurich around 4 (it's only a short train ride away) and then went for another stroll around Zurich, with an eye to finding somewhere to have dinner. We eventually settled on going for as Swiss as it gets - a fondue restaurant. The service was a bit patchy but the food was pretty good albeit that fondue gets a bit overwhelming pretty quickly. Ours had morels in which was a nice touch.
Chie had to fly back to London in the evening, as she had a seminar to go to early the next morning, so not long after dinner we headed back to the station, from where she got on a train to the airport.
I then spent the remainder of the evening back at my corporate apartment place, given my rather hectic travel schedule over the past few days an early night was definitely called for!
[Saturday 10th October 2009]
I spent most of the daytime today on the train to Zurich today (Chie, who would also be joining me for the first night, cheated and just flew instead). It was a very pleasant trip as before, including a brief stop off in Paris for a quick spot of lunch.
Met Chie at Zurich station just after 5, and then spent a while picking up the keys to the kind of corporate apartment thing I'd be staying in for the next four nights, and then headed over there to drop off my bags etc.
In the evening we had a very nice meal at Hiltl - a vegetarian restaurant in Zurich that has been open over a hundred years!
In the space of less than 48 hours I had passed through 4 different countries speaking 4 different languages - I was very confused by the end of today whether I should be saying "excuse me", "sumimasen", "pardon" or "entschuldigung".
[Friday 9th October]
Checked out of my hotel this morning, and got on the Narita Express to the airport to catch the 11:30 Virgin Atlantic flight to London.
Flight wasn't too bad I suppose, albeit quite boring - I had already watched most of the films I had wanted to see from the selection available on the way here.
Anywho, landing at Heathrow just before 4PM UK time, and got on a coach to London.
Managed to catch the tail end of my company's Friday beer-and-pizza thing which was nice, so had a chance for a quick chinwag with some of my friends at the office. Met up with Chie there, and after a quick drink we headed back home, to start unpacking and then immediately repacking for my trip to Zurich the following day.
[Thursday 8th October]
Last full day of this business trip to Japan. Pretty uneventful really - in the evening went out for dinner with people from work again, the only remarkable aspect of dinner was the large cockroach that was wandering about in the otherwise somewhat upmarket restaurant.
Didn't really take any pictures today, other than a couple of the sunset over Tokyo, taken from my company's Tokyo office.
[Sunday 4th October]
Quite a full day - spent the afternoon on a boat trip around Tokyo bay with my friend Aoki-san and his wife Kirilke-san. In the early evening met up with Yuka-chan and Yuta-san in Shinagawa for a quick drink, and then spent the remainder of the evening revisiting a couple of my favourite places in Ikebukuro - Rohlan and Quercus.
[Saturday 3rd October]
Slept in until about 2 in the afternoon today, and then headed over to Chofu to meet my friend and former colleague David, his wife Megumi-san, and their lovely baby daughter. We spent the afternoon having a very long, late lunch at Grazie Gardens, a former haunt of ours from when I used to work in Tokyo (my office was in Chofu). Was great to see them both again, and also to meet Chloe for the first time.
In the evening headed back to Shibuya for dinner with my manager and his wife. We started out with a pre-dinner drink at Pronto, a chain of slightly Italian themed cafe/bars which I'm rather fond of (they serve beer in bronze cups which is an interesting novelty), then followed that with tempura for dinner. We then rounded off the evening with a visit to Cafe de Copain (or something like that) - a place I'd been to a couple of times before and was quite fond of.
[Friday 2nd October]
Arrived in Tokyo Narita airport at 9:30 this morning, and after a bit of a wait, from there got on a coach to Tokyo. Conveniently the coach would drop me off almost directly outside my company's Tokyo office. Spent the afternoon trying to get some work done, but having not slept for around 24 hours at this point really didn't make this easy!
I popped out mid afternoon to get some fresh air, and a much needed espresso. Whilst ought I also popped into a "Bic Camera" (a ubiquitous Japanese electronics store) and bought myself a new camera. I had deliberately not brought my old barely working one with me as a way of forcing myself to get a new one as soon as possible. I went for a Panasonic Lumix this time. I have heard good things about these.
At 6 o' clock I met with my very good friend Tanaka-san, who I used to work with when I was living in Tokyo. It was fantastic to see him again. It turned into quite a busy night out - we went to about five different bars in total - starting off with a very vegetable oriented restaurant, which Tanaka-san had proposed as it was quite well geared to producing vegetarian food. After that we went to a series of different bars before finishing up a Hub - a chain of supposedly English style pubs - this was Tanaka-san's suggestion, not mine! I think part of the reason was that this place opened late, and some other places we'd tried were already closing. Anyway it turned out to be a surprisingly good choice - there were lots of very friendly people there - both Westerners and Japanese people, and I actually hung on there for a couple of hours after Tanaka-san went to catch the last train.