Oasis in Omotesando

A while back, I heard about this really intriguing concept cafe in Omotesando. It was a cafe inside a flower shop, but it wasn’t just a few tables thrown in amongst buckets of cut flowers. It went a step further and I was eager to see it for myself. Continue reading “Oasis in Omotesando”

A Taste of Oz in Tokyo

Living the expat life is fun and exciting. But living so far away from home is not without its challenges. I think it’s only natural to occasionally miss things you grew up knowing. Since moving to Japan in 2011, I’ve been home 4 times. Each time was like a trip down memory lane, and I was reminded of things I hadn’t thought about in a long time. It’s kind of like rediscovering your own country from a new perspective – for better or worse.

These days, aside from the obvious like family and friends, I often find myself missing meat pies, lamb chops and roast lamb with gravy, fish and chips, the cider-drinking culture, the coffee culture, restaurants/cafes with outdoor seating, the sound of lawnmowers on a Saturday morning and the smell of freshly cut grass, beach days, driving, and space (actual space as well as personal space). A strange mixture of things really! I wonder if any other Aussies abroad can relate.

A little while ago, I stumbled across a super chill little place called Bondi Cafe which was around the corner from a coffee shop I was visiting. It brought back all sorts of memories of Bondi Beach in Sydney, and it inspired me to keep searching for pieces of Oz in Tokyo. This is what I found.

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A taste of Sydney @ Bondi Cafe

Ahh, Bondi. Such an iconic place. I’ve only been to Bondi Beach a couple of times, but I have fond memories of sitting on the grassy banks watching the waves crash, going to the local markets, and enjoying the sunny Sydney weather. Bondi Cafe in Yoyogi-uehara was inspired by Bondi Beach, and is decked out in natural wood, surfboards, throw blankets, and TVs playing surf-related programs or movies. It’s a little sneak peak at the Aussie surf culture, and I could easily picture a few surfers coming in for a bite or to chill with some mates on the deck outside.

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A taste of Sydney @ Bills Omotesando

Possibly the most famous Australian restaurant in Tokyo is Bills in Omotesando. Mention this place to anyone, and one word springs to mind: breakfast. The whole ‘eating breakfast out’ has not caught on in Japan like it has in Oz, but luckily Bills is here to show everyone what they’re missing out on. The ricotta pancakes are what people go to eat, but I’ve had a few meals here – including chicken schnitzel for dinner and pavlova for afternoon tea – and everything has been to die for. Though, to be honest, I was just pretty stoked to see raw sugar in the sugar jar! The only thing about this restaurant is, because it’s so popular, you’re almost guaranteed to have to wait in line. My tip is to go in the evening when it’s less crowded.

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A taste of Cairns @ Cicada

Technically, Cicada in Omotesando is a Meditteranean-inspired restaurant. But sitting in the outdoor lounge area, surrounded by pillows, white umbrellas, a water feature, and the stylish decor, I was immediately transported back to the Salt House in Cairns. The atmosphere of both places are very similar, the only difference is Cicada is in the middle of a bustling city, while Salt House is in a tranquil spot on the waterfront.

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A taste of the East Coast @ Pie Face

Pies… how I’ve missed you. I was so happy to learn that Pie Face were bringing their delicious meat pies to Tokyo in 2015. The Pie Face pie is a bit different to regular pies in Oz, mainly being that they use very light puff pastry. I suppose you could say they are more of a gourmet version. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Pie Face without a face. The marking on the top of each pie signifies the filling – the smiley face is my fave. The Pie Face chain started in Sydney before conquering the whole east coast then expanding to NZ and Asia.

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A taste of Melbourne @ Frankie Melbourne Espresso

Tokyo’s coffee scene has been on the rise the past couple of years, and there was a lot of hype about Frankie when it first opened recently. This hole-in-the-wall cafe is run by a bloke from Oz, with the main focus being good coffee. A few homemade snacks are served too, like banana bread and lamingtons – major flashback! And I think it was the first time I’ve seen a flat white served in Japan. Take me back to Melbourne already!

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Other notable mentions

A few other things/places which have reminded me of Australia are 1) the excessive amount of Australian wine sold everywhere from supermarkets to convenience stores to department stores, 2) Max Brenner – even though it’s headquartered in America, the majority of its stores are in Oz. I have many memories of sipping hot chocolate with uni friends at QV in Melbourne, 3) Ugg boots – the brand has been bought out by an American company, but uggies, as we call them, are still very much Australian. Though perhaps we don’t wear them out of the house as much as people in Japan do!

It was fun to discover these little pieces of Australia in Tokyo. If I’m ever feeling homesick, I know where to go! What do you miss when you are travelling or living overseas?

It’s Always Sunny in Jiyugaoka

A dash of luxury on a Sunday afternoon? Why not! Jiyugaoka is known for its chill but cool vibe – every day of the week – and is often referred to as one of Tokyo’s most desirable neighbourhoods to live.

As I explored the streets around the train station, I couldn’t help but kick myself for not visiting this area sooner. It had taken me 3 years to get around to making the half hour journey from my house, and just a couple of hours to fall in love with it. I finally understood why Jiyugaoka was so popular.

Every corner was full of surprises. Brick-paved streets, dog friendly shops, fancy boutiques, a Peter Rabbit cafe, an 800-year-old Shinto shrine, super cool murals, leafy green walkways, and a mini replica of Venice. With a mini canal, florists, outdoor seating and French flags flying high, I felt like Jiyugaoka was more of a ‘Little Europe’ than Kagurazaka. Everyone – kids, teenagers, adults – looked happy and relaxed. The mood, in one word, was ‘sunny’!

I love that Jiyugaoka is only an 8-minute train ride from hectic Shibuya, yet the pace is completely different. It’s the perfect getaway without having to leave the city, and I’d have to agree, would be a great place to live.

 

Good Brews: Fuglen

Warm and cozy. This was the first impression I had of Fuglen Tokyo, a coffee joint considered to be one of the best in the city. Even when the weather’s on the chilly side, people sit outside on a long bench that wraps around this corner shop, chatting and enjoying their cups of coffee. Inside, there are several tables, sofas and counter seats – almost always full of coffee enthusiasts. The varnished timber and soft lighting interior has created the perfect relaxing ambience, making it easy to get in the zone if you’re reading a book or doing some work. But it’s what happens behind the counter that keeps the people coming.

Fuglen, or The Bird, is an import from Norway. The original shop was established in 1963 in Oslo and in more recent years the business has started to spread its wings. The Tokyo branch, tucked away behind Yoyogi Park, was opened in 2012, and continues the unique concept of coffee shop by day, cocktail bar by night.

The first sip of a coffee is always full of anticipation; is it going to be bitter or fruity or too heavy or too hot? The first sip of my Fuglen latte revealed one of the lightest, smoothest cups I’ve ever tasted. It was very good and the delicious taste lingered long after I’d finished the cup. That first sip was all it took to hook me and I know I’m going to be recommending it to all of my coffee loving friends from now on!

 

Quirky Corners of Shimokita

Shimokitazawa, or Shimokita for short, is Tokyo’s current “it” place. It’s laid back and unpretentious with a completely different vibe to the hectic streets of Shibuya just a few stops away.

This neighbourhood has an arty, alternative feel to it and is full of second-hand stores, cafés, bars and live houses. During the week, the streets are pretty quiet, but come Friday night, it is inundated with hip 20-somethings most likely from the nearby Tokyo Uni and Meiji Uni campuses. Throughout the weekend, it’s a great place to hang out for young and old!

The streets and laneways in Shimokita twist and turn in all directions, making it so easy to get lost here. But that’s all part of the adventure. Taking a wrong turn could lead you to discover something you would otherwise have never come across. Like a hole-in-the-wall bookstore, or a small temple housing a giant ‘tengu’ mask.

In particular, Shimokita is home to some of the most unique cafés and bars I’ve ever come across.

Up first is Tolo Coffee and Bakery. In one word, I would describe this place as ‘cosy’. Tucked away in the residential part of town, this café is just like a tree house. A giant Japanese cedar tree stands at the entrance and from the second floor of the building, it feels like you’re in amongst its branches! The interior of the café features a lot of natural wood and there’s even a fireplace upstairs. On the ground floor is a bakery called Shirohige’s Cream Puff Shop that makes delicious Totoro-shaped cream puffs. It’s all just super adorable.

In one word, I’d describe this next location as ‘colourful’. Flower Bar Gardena is a store that you’d probably not think twice about when walking past. But unexpectedly, this florist also doubles as a bar! It’s only when you look closely through the window that you realise there’s a shelf of bottles behind the counter. Flowers and alcohol is definitely a unique mix; it seems like such a simple idea, but I’ve never seen anything like it before.

In this next store, I was transported into the ‘wild’. As I sipped on my cup of tea, I could feel the eyes of something burning into the back of my head. The Darwin Room is home to toucans, a zebra, warthog, otter, penguins and a bunch of other stuffed animals. And yes, there were all alive at one point in time. With Charles Darwin as the inspiration, this store is like a fascinating natural history museum where everything is for sale.

Lastly, we are going ‘underground’. Mother’s Ruin is often likened to Indiana Jones or Middle Earth or somewhere medieval. Only distinguishable at street level by a small sign, this secret bar is in the basement of a building. Grabbing onto the dragon-like door knob, it’s hard to know what to expect on the other side. In the dungeon that awaits, the tables and chairs have all been carved beautifully from wood and the walls are covered in old, rugged bricks. But the star attraction: a giant lizard snaking it’s way over the ceiling. It has to be seen to be believed.

Although I’ve visited Shimokitazawa bunch of times, I still discover something new every time. It’s ever evolving and always so much fun!

 

 

 

Fab Coffee at Fab Cafe

Another café hunted down. Another successful cup of coffee.

I can’t remember where I read about FabCafe in Shibuya, but it’s been on my to-do list for a while. I finally had some free time this past weekend to track down this little beauty.

It was a little bit of a hike up the hill from Shibuya Station, so I was bound to get distracted on the way! I got about half way when I noticed a deceivingly ‘hip’ looking café/restaurant, with its chill, beach style; wooden boarding; and a poster promoting all the different styles of coffee they do. I sat down in a cozy counter stool, took one sip of my cappuccino and knew I should have known better than judge a café on its looks. The coffee tasted far too bitter and burnt for my liking. It was a struggle just to finish it.

It’s amazing how a bad coffee can make you appreciate a good one so much more! After finishing up at the ‘bad’ café, I decided to keep going to the one that I had actually set out to find. And I’m so glad I did.

FabCafe is trendy. It’s cool without trying to be. Actually, it’s right next to / under a massive expressway, but that doesn’t seem stop coffee lovers from frequenting this place. Almost everyone in the café had their Apple MacBooks out – I guess that’s a good indication of the crowd. There’s even a “Fab Lab”, where there’s a laser cutter machine to make 3D artwork (like the animals in picture #3 below). In fact, the ‘fab’ in FabCafe comes from both fabrication and fabulous. The décor is raw and simplistic. The interior walls are bare cement, and the exterior ones are glass from top to bottom, with a lovely view of the bottom side of the expressway (more cement!). The warmth comes from the wood furnishings and two eye-catching feature lights at the back of the room.

But let’s not forget the most important thing, the coffee.

I took a sip of my latte, and almost let out an ‘ahhh’. It was just what I wanted. The bitter taste that had been left in my mouth from the previous coffee was replaced with deliciousness. The latte was smoooooth and creamy and light-bodied. The foam was just right. The temperature was exactly as it should be. All in all, it was just so easy to drink. There’s not much more I can say other than ‘Go try for yourself’! I also have to mention how delicious the salmon and egg bagel was. A perfect combo.

I’m definitely looking forward to going back soon to try other drinks on the menu and introduce this fab place to my fellow coffee-loving friends. I might even have a go at that laser cutter!

Fab Cafe Fab Cafe

 

Fab Cafe
Small coffee roaster on display

For more info, please visit their website >> http://tokyo.fabcafe.com/en/