Japanese matcha ie powdered green tea. The tea is slightly bitter but the Wagashi (Japanese traditional sweet) 和菓子 that accompanies it counters the bitterness of the tea perfectly; and the Wagashi is invariably exquisite and of course, delicious on its own. At times I pause and wonder if I was drinking matcha for the sake of eating the Wagashi.
In Tokyo, I found the perfect place to ruminate freely with a cup of matcha in hand. Right in the midst of modernity, in upscale Jiyugoaka, a modest, solitary old house resides. Kosoan serves traditional matcha tea with Wagashi, green tea latte, and modern-day desserts and coffee in a spacious tatami room with low tables. It is a lovely place to induct friends into the matcha clan or just to have intimate conversations about life in general, if you will.
Remove your shoes at the door, select your low table of choice, sit down and make yourself comfortable, wait for one of the ladies to show you the menu, make your order then sit back and admire the scrolls, crafts and such hanging on the walls.
Kosoaen: 1-24-23 Jiyugaoka Meguro Tokyo
The first time I read about and had souffle pancake was at Hoshino‘s somewhere near Shimokitazawa. A huge poster was stuck on its door, advertising it brazenly. Oh, how good it looked. Even though I was not hungry, I felt I needed to get acquainted with this special pancake immediately.
It was truly as good as it looked and the perfect dessert to go with coffee. Imagine my joy when I saw this in Hoshino in Singapore. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t the same. I’m sure, it must have been a really really good day when I ate it in Shimokitazawa.
Hoshino: Kitazawa 2-12-12 Kuwata Building, B1f Setagaya, Tokyo 155-0031
Mont Blanc, that revered mountain in the French alps and Mont Blanc the cake, its Pâtisserie counterpart. Know that the Mont Blanc was first made by the Italians then made popular in France. In asia, the Mont Blanc gained a wide following in Japan and then spread to the rest of Asia. I have reason to believe that this was the work the Mont Blanc Cafe at Jiyugaoka, the one that introduced Mont Blanc the cake to Japan. It’s an institution so there’s no way we were going to pass it by and not go in, even if we were already stuffed to our chest.
The cakes were good but not that good for me to go running back there anytime soon. But then again maybe I was too full. Still, I recommend it, simply for that piece of nostalgia.
Mont Blanc: 1-29-3 Jiyugaoka Meguro Tokyo
Sometimes, you just want to try something else besides the usual suspects, even though there are good reasons why Ginza, Shinjuku, Shibuya are must-sees on every tourist’s itinerary. Hence, Jiyugaoka/ Shimokitazawa/Kagurazaka.
Kagurazaka is a neighbourhood in central Tokyo, near the Imperial Palace area. It was pleasantly local, with far less tourists, felt less harried, exudes a very laid-back charm. You get lost wandering in its many small alleys and then out of the blue you see an interesting/cute/quirky shop. Like the one known as Cafe Skipa, an Indian-themed cafe. There were many of ladies relaxing inside, either alone with their books or with friends, eating curry chicken and drinking Chai tea.
Don’t be fooled by the shop next to Skipa. Tonboro may look like an old medical shop but is actually a cafe. If I didn’t have coffee already at Skipa, I would have stepped into Tonboro too.
Besides cafes, Kagurazaka has a large number of french-themed restaurants and an equal number of traditional houses from the Edo-period which have been converted into shops and eating houses. Kagurazaka’s previous life was an entertainment district (think pleasure houses, F&B, theatres etc) by virtue of its advantageous location: right at the outer moat of the old Edo castle.
Cafe Skipa/Tonboro: 6-16 Kagurazaka Shinjuku Tokyo
Kagurazaka Saryo is an extremely popular matcha cafe/restaurant, so popular there’s a long queue at any time, particularly on weekends. When I got there at 3pm on a Sunday, the queue was still going strong (and long). With a face as long, I turned and then I saw it: a thickly foliaged building 2 blocks away. Nothing draws curiosity like an old house almost completely covered by creepers.
That old house, Mugimaru 2, was famed for their Manjus but I didn’t know it. Green tea latte was what I was craving for so green tea latte was what I ordered (probably to the proprietor’s consternation). The main seating area is upstairs: you remove your shoes/boots, climb up a steep flight of stairs, look for a space in the living room like area and try to make yourself comfortable. Of course, there would be strangers already seated around. Be sure not to talk at the top of your voice or make a nuisance, as this will disturb the peace of other patrons. It may be quite a fun place to explore together with friends.
Mugimaru 2: 5-20 Kagurazaka, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 162-0825
To step into an Izakaya, you need to muster an attitude of sorts first, or so I’ve always thought. But it was easy with Sumire. Sumire is an Izakaya very close to the Aomono-Yokocho station. We ordered a ton of stuff (mostly chicken) to go with the beer but the highlight was its specially-sourced chicken sashimi.
My brain balked at eating raw chicken but my taste-buds couldn’t help noticing how good it really was (better than beef!). I don’t mind going back to eat it again.
Interestingly, they’ve just set up a branch here in Singapore (Bugis).
Sumire or Smile: 3-5-3 Minami Shinagawa Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo 2F Yamazaki Building
I’ve been staying at Shinagawa for a few days but have never thought to look inside Shinagawa station, until one evening, in need of drinks near the end of the trip and lazy to stray too far, I walked into The Zen. By then, I’d already I discovered there were soooo many restaurants in the station.
The Zen actually serves dinner and specialises in Shochu but has a wide selection of sake too. The sake was good and the finger food that came with it was wonderfully delicious. if I stay in Shinagawa again, I’d definitely head back there for a proper meal.
The Zen: 2-18-1 Konan Minato Tokyo AtreShinagawa 4F
And so, this wraps up my list for now. Hopefully when I have accumulated enough materials from my upcoming trips, I will do a part 3.
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