Wednesday, July 28, 2010

TOKYO---And now for the entry you have been waiting for. The restaurant guide to Tokyo. Well, not exactly. More like Hiro-O and vicinity since I don't like to go very far. I am proud to say, though, that we have 2 Michelin star restaurants in our 'hood. But I'm not reviewing those.

My favourite, which I have lunch at twice a week before I go to the supermarket is GINZA DAISHIN (in fact, I'm going there later), a restaurant (if you can call it that) the size of my bathroom in Tokyo which seats SEVEN--as in seven people, not seven tables--along a sushi counter. They are open for lunch everyday during the week. For dinner and weekends, you have to call a day ahead. Tempura is cooked one at a time for freshness. Sometimes I feel bad when I'm sitting there reading the paper and the guy has to wait until I find out how the British NHS is going to survive.

There is no 'sizzling'sound when the tempura is frying because get this---'sizzling'tempura, except for scallops, means there is a lot of water in the produce which is not a good thing.
phone: +81(3)3443-0314, (03)3473-3280
address: 5-16-11 minami azabu next to post office, near 100 yen store, fruit market and spa/beauty shop

Two restaurants that debunk the vegetarian reputation of rabbit food are EAT MORE GREENS in Azabujuban and J Restaurant and Bar which has a French-trained Japanese chef who specializes in preparing vegetables.

Eat More Greens has a seasonally-based menu and believes, in true Japanese hippy manner, áll you need is love and vegetables.' (Did Yoko Ono say that?) I has a great Indian red curry with black (not red) rice and chocolate cake. But going to Eat More Greens does not limit you to healthy living. You can always sit on the terrace, drink and smoke like the two Japanese salarymen I saw who smoked an ashtray-ful of cigarettes in the hour that I was there.

J is in my 'hood and surprise, down the street from the tempura place (above wine store Enoteca)! With a fish marinade with green tomato gazpacho at 2400 yen (close to 30USD) to Gastroback Duckling in Orange sauce at 4600 yen, this is not exactly where you would bring 'the kids'or eat at everyday (but they have lunch plates for 1500 yen which is cheaper than the tempura place at 2200 yen). But it's a great gastronomical experience especially for the vegetarian simply because of they way veggies are prepared and presented (Like the way they do meat and seafood at what-we-think-is-naff-but-what-our-parents-thought-was-classy ''old people' restaurants with wood and green chairs. You know the ones).

I love how the Japanese are the Frenchy-iest of Asians in that they 'know how to live." ENOTECA has a very charming terrace and patio where they have 'Happy Hour' during the week from 2-4Pm when you can sample their wines and champagnes. It's an excellent marketing scheme and for the customer, a chance to engage with the staff and try new wines. Unfortunately I have not tried it yet because grocery shopping and their speedy delivery always get in the way. The way they present, market (and of course price) wines is certainly worth a look--"on tap", in cold storage by year and by price, 'samplers'' on jumble sale, etc..

Meanwhile, at the Tokyo American Club, there is a "wine buffet'' every week where they offer wines by theme or terroir such as Öld World", New World, Western Australia, etc..You get to drink as much as you want (or can) for 2 hours for 3000 yen and and extra 1500 yen for every additional hour.
J : phone +81 (3)5798-9070;
Enoteca: +81(3)3280-3634

HOMEWORK'S (with an apostrophe S no less) is my go-to restaurant after yoga and after I get my hair done (at the place that uses cold water and mint shampoo) or if I am just lazy and want food delivered. It is known for its burgers and sandwiches. I order either the vegetarian or falafel burger. They also do great fries and yummy onion rings. Forget the coleslaw. They also have a branch in Azabujuban and they own The Pantry (I'm told same menu) in Marunouchi and Roppongi Hills (I hate going there but we usually take the airport bus from Grand Hyatt...prefer Midtown).

DO NOT go to Priya, the Indian place near Homework's. It was not only the worst Indian meal I've ever had, the most expensive if 'pro-rated' (980 yen including 4 beers) but the worst meal evah!! (but there were LOTS of Indians--maybe they don't have a choice in Tokyo) ANY Indian joint in London would have done better, hands down, at half the price. Plus the dryer in their Toto toilet didn't work and we didn't get any change (no tipping in Japan, remember?). A bad sign for me amidst Tokyo's perfection.

Being 100% vegetarian is very difficult in Japan because a) they have such great produce and b) it's a pain to go thru watashi wa vegetarian-u and only order tamago (egg) and takwan (yellow radish) and cucumber. The only place that I did not feel bad about ordering quail was at LACHERIR, a tiny French restaurant that seats at most 20 people. It is secreted on a residential street in Shirogane. Menus are only in French and Japanese yet the couple who run the place don't speak French. Husband is the chef and wife the hostess. The French menu (since I don't read Japanese) seemed pretty correct except for the use of selon for seleccion (?? selection?) but what do I know since my French ain't great either.

There is hardly any info on this place in English. The only review I read was written by someone who found it while ''jogging' which is exactly how my husbanmd found it.

The amuse-bouche of mint and carrot "soup"" and ávant dessert of something like an affogato were very pleasant surprises but we are certainly going to be back for the food---quail and leeks for me. I forgot what my husband had but I remember he paid the bill which was---95000++ yen (okay, 10x more than the Indian place but look!!!)---ncluding fizzy water and Chateau Gloria 2002. Obviously not a 'family restaurant.''
phone +81(3)5789-4450

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


TOKYO---Although there are many cheap and cheerful things in Japan such as discount drug store Matsumoto-kiyoshi and 100 Yen shops, as a rule, Japan has moved away from its dark days of manufacturing when 'Made in Japan' meant cheap. Today, what they achieved as a nation would be called a successful re-invention or a spin-job.

Cheap is such a bad word in certain places like mobile phone provider, SoftBank who hired Cameron Diaz as a local image model.

This was what happened last week at SoftBank:
Me: (who is a techno-phobe and would rather spend on clothes) I would like a cheap phone, please. The CHEAPEST. No roaming, only call and text. No internet.
SoftBank salesgirl: Ah, hmm. Soh des, unfortunately we have no cheap phone.
Me: WHAT!!?? You can't make me buy an i=phone or any of those that can do tricks, walk the dog, call Saturn and internet. I don't know how to use those things. What is your CHEAPEST. Most yasui.
SS: We don't have cheap phone. Only free. Only call, text only to other Softbank.
Me: That's better. I'll take that.
SS: Do you need charger?
Me: (thinking: I know Japan is high-tech but....What do you think I'm going to charge this phone with? Brainwaves?) YES!
SS: Charger not free. It is 1500 yen.
(So I guess the phone ain't 100% free)

Meanwhile, hair salons don't come cheap (or free). My husband said that a gauge of how wealthy a neighborurhood is, is by the number of hair salons. And Hiro-O has tons! (So do many expensive neighbourhoods around the world if you will only notice)

I tried a hair salon on top of a supermarket, not exactly the most glamorous of locations. No one in there was under 65. No service in there was under 65 USD, either! A shampoo and blow dry was about 60, the cheapest service. Half leg wax was----get this Hotel Crillon of the 200 USD manicure--100 USD. But the shampoo was great!! They covered my eyes (all Japanese salons do) maybe so I don't see the prices and they gave me such a good head massage, I fell asleep.

I found another place that charges about 10 USD less, luckily next to the 100 yen shop so I can spend money on my hair and save on kitchen supplies. Aside from the usual shampoo and blow dry, the guy gives you a little trim just to keep your hair in shape.

The place I went to yesterday (conveniently located on the same street as my yoga studio and neighbourhood bath house) was yet another 10 USD less and they washed my hair in cold water with a minty shampoo then put a hot towel on my head. Before the blow dry using both dryer and curling iron, I had a head and back massage. (Plus in the land of service, they put my jewelery on a tray)

Now you know what I've been up to in Tokyo all week.
Tomorrow we will be back in the uncivilized world of Hong Kong for a few days. Thank God for a life of contrasts. Too much perfection can kill you.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Good and the Bag (or no bag)

Now I know why Tokyo is every fashion pouf's idea of heaven...Konichiwa, Tom Ford and Tyler Brulee.
Perfection in Japan is not an art form. It is a lifestyle. It starts with grocery delivery within one hour of purchase. (ONE HOUR! I better get home before the truck arrives. Or maybe..I can hitch a ride with my groceries) Fish and meat wrapping is already impressive but they top it with delivery packed so well ou don't even know all perishables are packed with dry ice when suddenly, your hand is glued to a plastic bag that is steaming.

In HK, which was always good enough for me, you choose a delivery time for later in the day or the next day if you shop late in the afternoon. Then the delivery boys bang on your door then dump everything inside your doorstep if you are lucky. In Tokyo, they ring the bell POLITELY then bring everything in. Of course, I don't have to tell them to remove their shoes because that happens everywhere including in some toilets.

Where else but Tokyo do you get a USD 300 bottle of wine as a 'gift'with purchase of a wine cave ? Or where a plumber takes photos of a leak that is NOT causing a flood. In any other city, esp. New York or London, no one will show up. Maybe the police when you start flooding your downstairs neighbor.

It is funny that a city so keen on recycling, still doesn't 'get it'' in some ways. I went to Tomod's for toothpaste (but as usual ended up with over 200 USD worth of useless but extremely kawai merchandise such as key/phone chain lipgloss from Bourjois) and said , 'No bag.'

They wrapped everything in a small bag and said, "For your security..." (From what? In a country where people at McDonald's return your i-phone?)

It was for my security that the stuff doesn't fall out into the rest of my handbag.

Their idea of "No bag' is 'no bag with handles."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

In the Black

Today's quote:
"....You think you cannot go on: you find that you have no alternative but to do so. You have to live. Caring about what you wear is one small but not entirely insignificant dimension of existence."
-from "The Thoughtful Dresser: The Art of Adornment, the Pleasure of Shopping, and Why Clothes Matter" by Linda Grant (this is a great book!)

Hong Kong --- One fashion belief that I have held since I stopped being a rebellious teenager is: All -black ensembles and black bags are not for the tropics. The colour is heavy on the eye and makes you feel warmer than you already are.
However, since I returned to HK from Europe in April, I wore nothing but black even in the scorching heat. Normally I would wear colourful Indian kaftans with light cotton trousers and vibrantly hued patent Roger Vivier shoes.
Not this year. It was Yohji black all the way. So determined was I to wear black that in Tokyo, I insanely bought three new Yohji black #9 jackets and a pair of trousers in March plus, as if I was dressing for a funeral, a black shirt. Everytime I laid out colourful clothes I would change my mind and pick one of the new or old Yohjis.
I thought it was my "homage' a Japon. Indeed it was but in a bad way.
I discussed this subconscious change in colour choice with my meditation teacher and she said that someone like me who usually wears colour then radically changes to wearing all black needs 'emotional support.'
She didn't say I was mourning or that I was depressed but she did say that in colour theory and therapy, black or white is worn at funerals for a reason. It is because the wearer is undergoing an emotionally difficult time.
Okay--I was depressed. AND in mourning. For leaving Hong Kong. That was then, when I was told we were leaving on 3 July and had no definite return date. Even in a suicidal state, I had to dress well.
That was then. Two weeks ago, my husband told me we were coming back on 14 July. My clothing choices gradually changed. I started wearing dark multi-coloured kurtas (healing has to start somewhere) with black trousers. I don't normally like to talk about what I buy but I bought the paint splattered denim Alexander McQueen jacket pictured above. I also went overboard and bought two identical sparkly grid-embroidered Dries van Noten silk tops (gold and emerald) and several sets of Agent Provocateur brightly coloured underwear.
But the rainbow of fashion joy will be short-lived. Everything I packed for Tokyo is Yohji and black. Except for the new McQueen jacket and a new Rick Owens t-shirt which is grey.
BTW--I got an email. Yohji is on sale.