Flapped & Whipped…

I am really chuffed to learn that two of my most favourite films had won the Oscars last night! I was having this conversation with Hubbie in a cab on our way to lunch at Cafe Royal on Regent Street last Saturday, ‘Which film would you choose, Whiplash or Birdman, if you were asked at gunpoint?’ Hubbie’s pick was Whiplash and mine was the latter. Why at gunpoint? Because both of the films were neck and neck when it came to impress us, and therefore, choosing one was an extremely difficult task…

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About Whiplash, I love the intensity of the performance and the twists in the storyline.
Do you remember the scene in which the Fletcher give hearty slaps to the poor Andrew? ‘Dragging? or rushing?’ The antics has become a playful tease in my household!

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And about Birdman, didn’t you love the camera work? It was mesmerising!
The protagonist’s mental landscape was magically (& sometimes, nauseatingly) integrated into the backstage of theatre and I loved the creativity which made the film so enjoyable in all fronts. And so many funny lines and moments!.Oh, it was truly a brilliant treat. Damn all gimmicks like 3D glasses! No gadget or special effects can save mediocrity!

By the way, my friends call some of the posts in my Facebook page as “food porn”…

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And I love it!
I am not at all good at selfies but taking pictures of what I eat, I can do much better…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Kurofunetei @ Ueno

Friday night was special for me.
I got together with some of my old ice hockey teammates and watched a women’s hockey final on TV together. Oh, I really missed them. We recounted all little funny episodes we shared. I do miss hockey but I miss my lovely teammates a thousand times more. We pined for our team which had to be folded because of the circumstance beyond our control two years ago. How we wished if we could turn the clock back…

After finding ourselves firmly locked out of the NMWA, we headed back towards Keisei Ueno Station (京成上野駅). ‘At least we can look forward to our lunch, can’t we?’, I tried to cheer mum up.
The restaurant we decided to have lunch was Kurofunetei (黒船亭), one of the oldest Yōshoku (洋食) – Japanese Western cuisine – restaurants in Japan. It was located about 3 minutes walk from Ikenohata exit (池之端口) of Kensei Ueno Station…

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Contrary to our expectation, the eatery was situated above a branch of McDonald’s. We were a bit taken aback because the entrance to the reputed restaurant was rather understated to say the least – through a discreet lift hall tucked around the fast food restaurant. We alighted the lift at the fourth floor and there they were, we found a door to Kurofunetei. Once we were inside, a waiter in a crisp white shirt and a black waistcoat ushered us to a table by the window…

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Because of our unsuccessful detour to the Monet exhibition early on, we managed to miss the lunchtime rush. The restaurant was sparsely occupied by a few elderly couples.

The present Kurofunetei did not start as a western-style restaurant when the founder, Suga Sōkichi, opened the eatery in 1902. he moved from his home town in Tochigi (栃木) – northwest of Tokyo, and started a Japanese restaurant in which it had not only a dining room but also a hot bath with a waterfall and a pond. In 1917, he and his son, Toshio, renewed the restaurant as a bistro and named it Cafe Kikuya (カフェ菊屋). The new enterprise reflected the mood of the Jazz Age. All “Haikara” (ハイカラ) – anything Western was in vogue. The bistro served imported liqueurs, hors d’oeuvre and Japanese Western-style menu, such as Hayashi Rice (ハヤシライス) -hashed beef rice.
In 1937, as a change of tack, Toshio, folded the bistro and started a Chinese restaurant, Ugetsusō (雨月荘). No expense was spared in building a new premises, a three-story timber structure was all-cypress and equipped with a mechanical lift for the guests. It also sported opulent decor and a sumptuous Japanese garden. The imperial family as well as heavyweight politicians flocked to the restaurant, even Mishima Yukio gave a party there in 1944. The restaurant was a resounding success. However, it was razed to the ground by a large-scale air raid by the Allies on the 10th March 1945. After the war, Toshio resurrected his business amidst of a burnt ground by opening an American-style diner, Nissan Soda Fountain, reflecting the mood of the American occupation of Japan.
Later in 1951, the diner was turned into a cinema, Ueno Park Theatre, as movie-going became the most popular past-time in the post-war Japan. The cinema was closed in 1969 and replaced by a four-story building, housing a men’s boutique on the first floor, a ladies’ one on the second and on the fourth floor, a predecessor of Kurofunetei, Restaurant Kikuya, an eatery specialised in French cuisine and steak. The boutiques imported apparel from Europe and was reputed to rival Wako in Ginze for taste and quality in its heyday. In 1986, Restaurant Kikuya was handed over to Kōichi, the founder’s grandson and rechristened as Kurofunetei.

A view from the window…

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It is hard to imagine how the ground below was covered with cindered houses after the war. I was happy to learn that they managed to weather a cataclysmic event such as WWII and the business stayed within the same family. A seemingly ordinary scenery from the window did not reflect a dramatic twist & turn this particular patch of land went through.

A small salad arrived prior to the main course…

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This bright orange dressing over my salad is quintessentially Japanese. At any old-fashioned yōshoku eatery, the salad has to come with this sweet and sour dressing. A plenty of grated onion is the key to making a dressing flavoursome. And a dash of orange juice sweetens the condiment.

Ta-dah! My Omuraisu (オムライス) – Omelette rice, is here!

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If there were a national contest for nostalgic food memories in Japan, this Omuraisu would be a victor if not within the top fifth in popularity. Omuraisu is simple. The short grain rice cooked in chicken stock is flavoured with ketchup and wrapped in a large 3-egg omelette. Once omelette with rice is transferred to the plate, it is garnished with yet more tomato ketchup or demi-glace, French-style rich brown sauce. I must say the charm of omuraisu lies in its predictability. It’s soothing, gentle and benign – no sudden surprise by spice or chilli. And the colour, yellow and red, it’s uplifting and cheerful. A perfect nursery food I can carry on eating forever.
In my omuraisu, I found large prawns and they were very tasty. By the way, mum ordered the same dish and she enjoyed hers very much too. The omuraise at Kurofunetei definitely saved our day and we headed towards Shinōkubo (新大久保), our next destination with renewed vigour…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Taste Of Nagano

When it came to starting her days, my mum loved nothing more than a thickly sliced bread, toasted, buttered lovingly and jam being spread, corner to corner.
While I would have liked to eat Japanese style breakfast of rice, grilled fish & miso soup any morning, mum was adamant that her breakfast had to be consisted of toast, coffee, a small bowl of salad and a large bowl of yoghurt.
Since she was a kingpin of the house, there was no point in arguing with her.

A jar of jam in the fridge went soon empty because it had to be spread over one extra toast. So I bought a new jar at St.Cousair, Daimon…

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St.Cousair is a winery and farm located in Iizuna, a beautiful field only 30 minutes drive from Zenkō-ji. Their products, wines, jams and bottles of dressing & sauce are available through their outlets all over Japan. And they have one outlet right by the Zenkō-ji entrance.

Upon my visit, I found the shop teeming with shoppers and tourists picking up treats and souvenirs for home…

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I loved their jams because they were free from added sugar. We found their blackberry jam and pear jam especially tasty…

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Opposite St.Cousair, there was a noodle bar specialised in Soba – noodles made from buckwheat flour…

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It is alleged that Soba in the form of noodles – Soba-kiri (そば切り) was originated in Nagano. The oldest written record of the cuisine is from the 16th century. However, the history is believed to stretch back beyond the 15th century, being served to samurai warriors during the Sengoku Jidai – the Warring States period. As noodles became a popular way of consuming this hardy dark-grey grain, soba, it gradually became known as Shinano Soba or Shinshu Soba – “Shinano” & “Shinshu” are old names of Nagano…

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The balance between buckwheat flour and plain wheat flour affects the taste and texture of the noodle greatly. Ni-hachi (二八, two-eight) soba, consists of two parts of wheat flour and eight of buckwheat; Juwari (十割, 100%) soba, the finest (and usually most expensive) variety, consists entirely of buckwheat. With more wheat flour blended, the colour of soba noodle appears paler and the texture becomes smoother. However, 100% buckwheat one is more flavoursome. As a child I did not like Juwari because the string was thicker and felt coarse when it was chewed. But as I grew older, I started to appreciate more distinctive aroma of Juwari soba and in the end, became a huge fan. It’s funny, isn’t it?

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Soba is eaten hot or cold throughout the year. However, the most popular time to slurp it is on New Year’s Eve as Toshikoshi soba (年越し蕎麦), year-crossing noodle. This custom, typically the noodle is eaten as a part of late dinner, is believed to have started around the 17th century. There are a few theories regarding the origin of the custom. The most popular one is that a long strand of soba noodles symbolizes a long life and also buckwheat plant being well-known for its hardiness in a harsh climate, Soba represents strength and resiliency.

If any of you ever have a chance to visit Nagano, how about taking home a box of refined taste of Nagano as a gift? Soba or jam, both of them are wholesome and very good for you!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Street Foods @ Daimon, Zenkō-ji

Tents, which are selling hot foods & sweets, are indispensable parts of the scenery when it comes to the temple festivals of Japan.
And it was no exception that colourful canopies of street food vendors lined along the lower promenade of Zenkō-ji and the main street of Daimon during New Year’s holiday.

The worshippers, who finished their annual visit to Hondō, u-turned and headed back to downtown…

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Even though it was cold, the day was windless and the streets were filled with the smell of freshly cooked food…

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Japanese-style savoury pancake, Okonomiyaki…

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Small savoury pancake balls with chopped octopus pieces, Takoyaki…

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Various parts of meat barbecued on skewers, Kushiyaki..

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Fried chicken, Karaage…

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Fried noodle, Yakisoba…

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And for anyone with sweet-tooth, bananas dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with coloured sugar…

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Toffee coated fruit pieces on skewers, Frutsu Ame…

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My favourite, Obanyaki cakes, came in different flavours, such as yoghurt, coffee, chocolate, cheese, custard, pumpkin, green tea, Azuki red bean, etc…

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The vendor was busy flipping and turning rows of small pancakes in front of him…

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This stall was selling bags of boiled sweet…

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Assorted candies were roughly broken into pieces and stuffed in the bags…

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Amongst cheery families and couples, a lone monk stood in the cold motionlessly…

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Apart from chiming some instrument in his left hand time to time, the monk uttered no word and his gaze was fixed to the ground a few meter ahead of him. And most of the passers by acted as if he wasn’t even there. They ignored his existence completely. As the traffic light nearby turned to green, they simply walked on towards the temple. Still, the monk stood there like a statue in the cold afternoon sunshine unflinchingly…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Girl’s Dinner @ Patara Soho

Yesterday, a bad weather descended upon Britain and even though London escaped from its fiercest might, the heavy rain drenched evening commuters and Christmas shoppers, including me. I was there to meet up  with my dearest girlfriends, Fei, Letizia & Alex, for our pre-Christmas feast at Patara on Greek Street, Soho.

Around 7pm on Carnaby Street, the sky started to spit tiny raindrops but no one was yet to anticipate that it would turn a proper downpour shortly…

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Fei and I met up at Topshop first and scouted the shop floor for her headdress and cape for her office Christmas party. Upon leaving the store, we were confronted with a stormy rain and a herd of shoppers taking shelter. Why there is no cab when I want one? We gingerly unfolded our umbrellas and headed towards Soho. Oh my, what an epic journey it was! Our folding brollies were too flimsy to brave the elements and we could hardly see where we were walking into. Therefore, it was a great relief when we had a sign “Patara” glowing on the facia in our sight.

Once all of us got together at their bar, we were ushered to our table…

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The Magnificent Four!
Our appearance was slightly dishevelled by the elements…

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Year 2013 had its ups & downs for all of us. However, we stuck together and weathered it very well. Without them, my year would have been a much dimmer one because of my unforeseen health problem. I am truly thankful for their love & support. I love you, girls!

For our feast, we ordered three starters to share as well as a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc…

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Kong Nueng Ruam…

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Assorted steamed handcrafted dumplings with prawn, chicken and pork fillings.
The purple one had pork filling and tasted sweet. Very interesting flavour for dumpling. It was non-spicy and Hubbie would like it.

Kamon Bueng DIY…

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Do-It-Yourself Thai tacos of chicken and prawn with cucumber tomato salad. My apology for an out of focus pic. The taco filling in the bowl appeared deceptively benign but it was fiery! I was caught completely off guard.

Then, we favoured this Yum Nua Yang the most…

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Grilled sirloin beef spicy salad with rocket and onion. The beef was tender and dressed exquisitely.

For main course, I ordered Gae Yang Somtam…

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Grilled herb-marinated tender rack of lamb, accompanied with sweet rice rolls, spicy salad & chilli sauce. The lamb was succulent and flavoursome. And the rice roll, its delicate sweetness was a perfect accompaniment to the meat.

Letizia & Fei had Pla Hima Tod…

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Grilled black cod, accented with savoury ginger and pickled yellow bean sauce.

And Alex opted for Pia Yang Bai-tong…

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Sea bass fillet char-grilled with herb curry in banana leaf.

In the middle of main course, our wine ran out and we ordered another bottle.
Then, for dessert, Fei picked Tart Sangkaya…

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It was coconut custard baked pudding with ginger flavoured ice-cream. Again, the flavour was delicate but far from dull.

And the rest of us had Chocolate pudding with mango sorbet…

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Normally, I would opt for more tangy fruits such as berries to eat with chocolate pudding. But their fresh mango as well as the sorbet added the  sweetness and depth to the otherwise bitter chocolate pudding. The marriage was quite successful.

In spite of the restaurant being busy, the service we received was attentive and pleasant. Therefore, I highly endorse this beautiful eatery in Soho.

After lots of hugs, kisses & holiday wishes to each other, Alex & Letizia headed to Tottenham Court Road station and Fei & I beelined to Piccadilly Circus.
At Piccadilly Circus, we saw the Eros in a gigantic snow-dorm…

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Then, a cheeky intruder jumped in the frame!

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A complete stranger! Still, the mood amongst the crowd was buoyant and good-natured. This must be another Christmas magic…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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