Cactus Club Cafe (Richmond)

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Disclosure: All food and drinks were complimentary, but all opinions are my own.

In the beginning of November, the newly relocated Cactus Club Cafe at the Richmond Centre location opened its door to the public. We were invited to a media preview to check out the space and enjoy some food and drinks. They have blocked off some parking at the mall so there is valet parking available here. However, there’s plenty of parking at Richmond Centre, so feel free to park anywhere!

 

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We were welcomed by the founder of Cactus, Richard Jaffrey, who spoke about how the original Richmond location began 25 years ago.

 

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The new location is truly a revamp from the old location. The interior is just as amazing as the other locations like the Coal Harbour location. On one side is the formal dining room, while this side pictured above is the bar area. There are high top table and small booth seats available here with a large bar counter right in the middle. Really love the lighting in this area.

 

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On the other end is the heated patio. I love this area as it feels like you’re outside near the beach even though it is fully enclosed. However, during the summer, the roof can roll away and the glass walls can slide open. Super cool!

 

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Whiskey Ginger Smash

Just in time for winter, they have launched two new cocktails. The first is the Whiskey Ginger Smash. This cocktail features a blend of whiskey, lemon, ginger and rosemary.

 

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Late Harvest Daiquiri

The second cocktail is the Late Harvest Daiquiri. This cocktail is made with a base of rum and lime and topped with blackberries and a Saskatoon berry and blackcurrant coulis. Sort of like a Bellini but a berry based one. So refreshing and the flavours are more catered for the winter time.

We didn’t get a chance to try any full dishes other than some appetizers, so I can’t comment too much about the food. However, Cactus is not for consistency, so I’m sure the food at this location is just as good as their other locations. What a great addition to Richmond Centre and I can’t wait to return to try the full menu.

 

Cactus Club Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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HJU:Z Lounge

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Disclosure: All food and beverages were complimentary, but all opinions are my own.

Last week, I attended the grand opening of HJU:Z Lounge inside the Westin Bayshore hotel. To be brutally honest, I thought the name sounded like a ticker symbol, but soon learned that it should be pronounced as “Hughes”. The restaurant is inspired by Howard Hughes, a successful film producer and leader in aviation. You will find many aviation themed decor in the lounge because of this.

 

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Before they revealed the actual lounge, we already knew it would be extravagant since they had some Ferraris in the lobby!

 

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Finally, they dropped the curtains, and we were welcomed into the space of the newest lounge. The restaurant and bar are the perfect blend of art deco inspired design with a modern flair and nostalgic atmosphere.

 

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On the menu, you can expect to find a rotating selection of cheese and meats hand selected by Chef Alex Mok. Such a perfect snack to pair with some drinks while enjoying live entertainment.

 

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Speaking of drinks, the lounge offers no shortage of drinks from wine, champagne and spirits. Most notably is the featured cocktail menu which offers 7 cocktails which have been carefully curated. Some of the cocktails on this menu include the Alaska No.2, a gin-based drink which features an iceberg and sliver of gold leaf and the Apple Jack Silver Fizz which features apple brandy, cider, and egg whites. Pictured here is the Eiffel 75 which features Hennessy Cognac, lemon juice, chardonnay lees sirup, topped with Charles Heidseick champagne and lemon oils. If you try all seven cocktails on the list, you can actually unlock the secret 8th drink!

 

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As for the food, expect to find modern, contemporary cuisine inspired by Hughes’ world tour, with inspirations from the Russian, French, and the American kitchens.

 

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The menu is expected to rotate seasonally and is curated by Chef Alex Mok.

 

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We didn’t get to try a lot of the dishes in full, but on the menu will be dishes like this Scrambled Duck Egg which features Canadian sturgeon caviar, citrus whipped cream scramble and frisée salad. What beautiful presentation!

 

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There is also the Hibachi Wagyu Beef, 28-Day Aged Striploin and Lamb Lollipops for those meat lovers. We tried the Lamb Lollipop and it was cooked to a beautiful medium rare and well seasoned.

 

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So HJU:Z has delicious food and drinks and a beautiful venue, but what really caught my attention was the live entertainment. For seven nights a week, you will find live entertainment provided by Siegel. On this particular night, we enjoyed some amazing live music along with dancers throughout the night. You will want to get up and dance with this lively music! What a great spot for live entertainment while enjoying your dinner or a late night drink!

 

St Lawrence

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St Lawrence, a sister restaurant of Ask for Luigi, opened up earlier this year. The restaurant is located next to Cuchillo, the Mexican restaurant, in not the best area in town, but once you step inside, you will forget about the exterior. S brought me here for my birthday and she had called to make reservations before the restaurant even opened to only score a 9pm reservation. Yes, this place is in high demand! We decided to go half an hour early to see if we could get a seat, and luckily were told that there was a chefs table seat!

 

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If you are into cooking or are a major foodie, I highly recommend asking if the chef’s table is available. We got to watch the chefs in action and the whole plating process. The menu offers classic French cuisine with Quebecois inspiration. The restaurant also offers some daily specials which change up daily.

 

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We started off with complimentary bread served with pork pate and grainy mustard. That pate paired with the grainy mustard was seriously so damn good. They need to give us more bread to clean that plate up!

 

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Ravigote Smoked Bison Tongue

The dishes at St Lawrence are great for sharing, so S and I decided to order a variety of dishes to share. Our server was very knowledgeable and gave us quite a few recommendations. For appetizers, we started with the Smoked Bison Tongue which was seasoned with Montreal spices and served with a ravigote herb sauce. The bison tongue was really tender with a nice sear and paired well with the slightly acidic sauce with capers.

 

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Fish Quenelle

The next appetizer was the Fish Quenelle which was served with mussels and a cream sauce. I had never had a dish like this before but apparently fish quenelles are quite the traditional French dish. It is sort of like a fish dumpling where the fish is very creamy. It was served with some puff pastry.  The appetizers here are seriously great for sharing between two so you get a good amount to taste. I think it is quite a lot and too heavy for one to finish the whole appetizer.

 

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Ratatouille

Moving on, S suggested we get some veggies, so we chose the Ratatouille. I haven’t had many ratatouille, but this was absolutely delicious! The mixed vegetables were served with a parmesan custard and when you break it apart, the creamy cheesy custard spills over the vegetables. Highly recommend this!

 

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Pork Chop

For our entrees, I suggested trying the Pork Chop since I had read good reviews about this. If you are going to order this, then you can probably skip the appetizers because this plate is HUGE. It can definitely feed two if you are going to have some appetizers beforehand. The pork chop is served with Oka cheese and a butcher sauce. The plate is $37 but given how large the portion is, this is a great deal! Normally, I don’t order pork chops because it tends to easily be cooked dry. However, this thick cut of bone in pork chop was seared beautifully with the inside juicy and tender. The pork chop sat on top of mashed potatoes which were buttery smooth.

 

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Duck Ballotine

The second entree we chose was the Duck Ballotine. The tender duck was wrapped around these leaves which gave it a very interesting flavour. Definitely my first time trying duck this way. The duck was served with crisp potato puffs and maple sauce. I loved the potato puffs! So crispy on the outside while the inside was smooth and creamy. I don’t see this dish on the current menu anymore though.

 

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Rice Pudding

To be honest, we were both beyond full becuase we definitely over-ordered. Even the chef was impressed by us and said we did a good job! He ended up treating us both to dessert which was Rice Pudding with salted caramel. At first, I wasn’t too excited because I’m not a fan of rice pudding. Clearly, I have been having terrible rice pudding though, because this was next level! The rice pudding had the perfect creamy texture with rice not clumping together at all. The salted caramel brought a slightly sweet flavour without it being too sweet. Now I know what good rice pudding tastes like!

Overall, I was very impressed with St Lawrence and can see why it is so hard to get a reservation. The meal was not cheap, but the portions are actually quite reasonable (especially the entrees). We ended up leaving with half of each entree packed up and it made a whole meal the next day for me! Definitely a great spot to celebrate a special occasion!

Pros:
– Well executed classic French dishes
– Chic ambiance and friendly service

Cons:
– Not in the nicest place in town
– Can be quite the pricey meal

Price Range: $50-100

1: Terrible 2: Poor 3: Average 4: Good 5: Excellent

Food: 4 Service: 4.5 Ambiance: 4 Parking: 2 Overall: 4

 

St Lawrence Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

[Japan Series] Day 13: Takama Soba たかま, Abeno Harukas あべのハルカス, Ichiran 一蘭, Osaka 大阪市

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The next day, we decided to stay in Osaka to hit up a few more attractions. On my list was to try Takama (たかま), an affordable one Michelin star soba restaurant.  They open at 11:30am and I’m not sure if they take reservations, but were told to arrive 30 minutes before they open to ensure we get in during the first seating. The restaurant is tucked away in the side streets near Tenjinbashisuji Shotengai, a shopping alley, but this restaurant is super low key looking so you would miss it if you were just walking by. There is no English outside, so just look for this wooden house with a sliding door.

 

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We arrived around 11am and a small line was already forming.

 

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The restaurant is extremely small, with one round table that fits around 10 diners, and then a small four seater tucked on the other side. We were the second last couple to get a seat, so we ended up having to share a table with another another couple on the side. The only downside is that you can’t see what’s going on on the other side. I’m not sure if you can see the chefs on the other side making the soba, but we were lucky enough to get a seat, so it didn’t matter.

 

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They have a small number of appetizers available, including the Dashimaki-Tamago. Of course it was pricier than the tamago we have been getting at the markets, but this was so light and fluffy! You can really see each layer of egg and it came paired with some grated radish and light soy sauce. Highly recommend getting this!

 

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S got the Ebiten-oroshi Soba Set for 2,000 yen and it came with prawn and vegetable tempura. As you can see, the tempura batter is extremely light. It came with a variety of vegetables that we were not familiar with, but overall, it was very good.

 

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At Takama, they serve two types of soba. The first style is called mori, a regular-style soba made from marunuki flour. The second is called inaka, a noodle made with hikigurumi, a whole buckwheat flour. Both flours are extremely high-quality and are from the Fukui prefecture.  S can choose either type for his set. He went with the mori style and had it cold (zaru-style). The noodles are served cold with a light sweet soy dipping sauce. I really enjoyed this as the soba noodles were super thin and had a nice chewiness. The cold soba turned out to be my favourite. With the cold soba, you will also have leftover dipping sauce, and at the end of your meal, the server will bring a pot of hot water which you pour into your leftover dipping sauce to dilute it as a drinking broth. Really tasty!

 

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For myself, I decided to try the warm duck broth and got it with the inaka style, 100% buckwheat flour. The inaka style has a more nutty flavour, but I personally like the lighter mori-style. The duck broth is flavourful with 2-3 pieces of duck inside. However, I am not personally used to have soba in a warm broth and found that the duck broth overpowered the noodles. Back in Vancouver, I think the only comparable soba restaurant would be Kinome, but I think I have to say this is the best I’ve had. At the end of the day, the meal for two probably cost around $50 in total, which is extremely good given it is a one Michelin star restaurant. There are English menus available and the servers can speak simple English. Keep in mind, they are open open for lunch from11:30 am – 2:30am.

 

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Since we were nearby, we decided to check out Tenjinbashisuji Shotengai (天神橋筋商店街). This is the longest shopping street in Japan which stretches 2,600 meters and has over 600 shops. On a weekday afternoon, it actually wasn’t too busy when compared to the famous Dotonbori. I found that many of the pharmacy shops here (if you look for the non-chain shops) were slightly cheaper so perfect if you are looking to stock up on Japanese drugstore cosmetics and snacks.

 

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After some shopping, we decided to train to JR Tennoji station. Here, we visited Abeno Harukas which sits on top of the Kintetsu Osaka-Abenobashi Station, which is across the JR Tennoji station.

 

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The Abeno Harukas (あべのハルカス) is the tallest skyscraper in Japan at 300 meters tall. The building includes a department store, an art museum, a hotel and an observation deck. The observation deck is called Harukas 300 and provides a 360 view of Osaka from the 60th floor. Admission costs 1,500 yen so since we already checked out Osaka from Umeda Sky Tower, we decided to skip this.

 

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Instead, you can go to the 16th floor for free and enjoy the garden terrace. I really enjoyed this modern clean space and it is a good option if you don’t want to pay the admission price. Of course, I’m sure the 60th floor would offer better views.

 

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This is what you can see from the 16th floor at the garden terrace. Not bad since it’s free!

 

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After walking around the department store, we decided to go check out Amerikamura. This is supposed to be a district near Shinsaibashi which offers more American style shopping. Funny enough, we searched Amerikamura in Google maps, and ended up at Universal Studios… Yes we have no idea how we ended up here, so always be careful with Google Maps in a foreign country. Turned out there were quite a lot of brightly lit souvenir shops before the entrance, so we did get to walk around a bit. As it was late, there was no point in entering Universal Studios at the time.

 

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After our excursion, we decided to head back to the Dotonbori area and walking by Ichiran (一蘭 道頓堀店別館), I suggested we enjoy a warm bowl of ramen. There are two outlets in the Dotonbori area. One is by the canal outside, whereas the other is under the shopping area along the strip. We went for the latter because we heard this location has 3 floors and way more seats. Of course, there was still the usual crazy line up, but this one is super organized for the tourists. You will still have to purchase the ticket at the vending machine, but you will also be asked whether you want to sit at the traditional individual booths, or if you want family seating arrangements. If you have never been to Ichiran, then I suggest trying the unique individual booths. However, since we have already tried it, and the line up for family seating was quicker, we went with family seating. Definitely not as interesting, but this is perfect for large families or families with kids.

 

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Be sure to check out the bathrooms! How many rolls of toilet paper do you need?

 

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We ended our night with a delicious bowl of Ichiran and it did not disappoint. Consistent with the other locations we tried and service was quick.

Takama Soba
Address: 7-12-14 Tenjinbashi, Kita-ku, Osaka

Ichiran 一蘭 道頓堀店別館
Address:

 

[Japan Series] Day 12: Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion 金閣寺, Nishiki Market 錦市場, Gion 祇園, and Chao Chao Gyoza 餃々 三条木屋町店 in Kyoto 京都

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On day 12, we took the bullet train from Osaka to Kyoto again. Our first stop was to see the famous Golden Pavilion or Kinkakuji (金閣寺). The downside of many temples in Kyoto is that you can’t reach them by train and require a transfer to a bus. After a 30 minute ride to Kyoto Station, we switched to the Karasuma Subway Line and got off at Kitaoji Station. From here, you can take a bus (bus numbers 101, 102, 204 or 205) which takes around 10 minutes. Get off at Kinkakujimichi Bus Stop and you will see many other tourists walking towards the pavilion. Be warned that the buses get really crowded with tourists because many temples are only accessible by bus! Admission is 400 yen, but most temples require admission. You will receive this cute admission ticket!

 

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Kyoto was once Japan’s capital city and therefore has many historic value and has preserved many famous temples. S and I both love the city life, so we personally aren’t too intrigued by temples. However, I suggested we visit at least one, and Kinkakuji was the one I decided on. This beautiful golden zen temple definitely did not disappoint. Even on a gloomy day, the beautiful gold against lush green trees reflected on the pond surrounding the temple. It was seriously like a painting!

 

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The top two floors of the temple are covered in gold leaf and really shines. The temple is formerly the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu but became a zen temple after his death based on his will. We were surprised to learn that we were actually not allowed to enter the temple. Instead, we had to crowd around the walkway path among all the tourists to snap a picture from afar. This attraction is extremely touristy but I did really enjoy it. It makes a nice light walk in the garden. However, other than the temple itself, there are not that many attractions in the garden. Near the end, you will find the Sekkatei Teahouse as well as some souvenir shops near the exit.

 

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After visiting the temple, we decided to bus back to the Kyoto station area. If you are interested in temples, then the Ginkakuji and Kiyomizudera are also very popular. near the Kyoto station, you will find a bridge over the Kamogawa River. Many tourists and locals will take leisurely walks along the river and you can catch people fishing here as well.

 

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Getting hungry, I suggested we walk to the Nishiki Market (錦市場). This is a 5 block alleyway filled with hundreds of shops. You can find tons of local goods, like pickled vegetables, dried seafood, fresh seafood, produce, dessert, and cooking ware.

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We decided to get some Honey Soft Serve! At Sugi Bee Garden, they specialize in honey and you can sample many flavours here. We ended up leaving with a soft serve and this was really smooth and creamy!

 

 

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After grabbing some food at the market, we headed to the Gion (祇園) district. This is the famous area for geishas as you will find restaurants and teahouses where the geishas entertain here. You will also find wooden machiya merchant houses which make a great backdrop for photos!

 

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We had no interest in attending one of the performances by the geishas, but I did want to see a geisha in real life. I did some Googling and found that the best time to spot them is around 6pm-7pm because this is when they are making their way to their engagement. Luckily, we did spot one and we subtly got a picture of her. We read online that we should be respectful of them and avoid acting like a paparazzi as many tourists have gone too far and I can imagine how uncomfortable it would be for these ladies. They even have police in this area to control the amount of tourists! Another tip we learned during our hour here is to look into the taxis that drive in this area. Many of the geishas now take taxis to their engagement, so chances of seeing them walking around is slim.

 

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After our hunt for geishas, we headed to Pontocho (先斗町). This is a narrow alleyway filled with restaurants. Prices range from affordable to high end fine dining which require reservations. A good spot to drop by if you are looking for dinner.

 

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Our destination was Chao Chao Gyoza (餃々 三条木屋町店). The restaurant is basically at the end of Pontocho alley and is a huge tourist spot. When we arrived, there was already a long line that had formed. And to be honest, I was a bit skeptical because everyone lining up looked like a tourist. We ended up waiting for almost an hour but this was well worth it. The restaurant has actually won the countrywide gyoza competition twice!

 

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What are they famous for? Well gyozas of course. The gyozas here are actually all strung together in a row. The wrapper is thin and each gyoza is quite small, but filled with juicy meat. The most popular is the Chao Chao Gyoza which is filled with pork. 600 yen will get you 16 pieces, but as you can see, 16 pieces is quite small. We ended up getting another order of this after because they were so good!

 

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We also tried the Shrimp Gyoza which is 480 yen for 5 pieces. Really good as well, but the pork was still my favourite. They also have some unique fillings like cheese, curry, and even ginger. They also have a large option of drinks so we did enjoy some beer and plum wine. Beer and gyozas definitely make a perfect pairing! Not the cheapest meal you can get in Kyoto, but quite affordable and we had a great time sitting at the bar watching our gyozas being made. Plus, the restaurant is English friendly!

That wrapped up our last day trip to Kyoto as we trained back to Osaka after dinner!

Chao Chao Gyoza
Address: 117 Ishiyacho Kiya-Machi Sanjo Kudaru Nakagyo-Ku, Kyoto

[Japan Series] Day 8: Dotonbori 道頓堀 in Osaka 大阪市

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On day 8, we headed to Tokyo Station so we could catch our shinkansen (bullet train) to Shin-Osaka station. We had purchased the JR pass since it was a better deal given we were going to visit Hiroshima as our last stop. I only recommend using the JR pass if you are visiting over 3 cities and doing some calculations on whether the individual tickets are cheaper. For example, if you are visiting Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto only, then I don’t think the JR pass is that worth it. Anyways, because we had the JR pass, we were able to reserve our seats in advance at the Narita airport (or you can even do so on the day of or just take the non-reserved seats). The Tokyo station is huge and was a bit overwhelming at first, but we arrived early to give ourselves enough time and were able to find our platform. Then we headed back inside the station to see if we could grab some lunch. There are lots of bento boxes available, but to be honest, the items in the boxes didn’t really appeal to me. Instead, I got a quick sushi box that was already prepared ahead of time. Not the most amazing, but this was still fairly good for the price (around $15).

 

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We took the Hikari which is included in the JR pass and it took roughly 3 hours. The Nozumi is another bullet train which only takes around 2.5 hours but is not included in the JR pass. Finally we arrived in Osaka (大阪市) and we had booked an Airbnb in the Namba area. I highly recommend booking accommodation in the Namba/Umeda area as this is the central station for your trains, especially if you are planning on visiting Kyoto or Nara. Plus, there is so much to see around this area. Our accommodation was unfortunately a 10 minute walk from the station, and the streets in Osaka are not as luggage friendly, so it took a bit of effort to lug our huge luggage to our Airbnb. Finally, we arrived and this was the view from our apartment. Not the most amazing view, but we weren’t expecting much.

 

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Our Airbnb was actually closer to the Nipponbashi area also known as Den Den Town. Here, there are lots of electronic shops, similar to Akihabara in Tokyo. It was actually a pretty safe and quiet area and only a 10 minute walk to Namba station which we often took. Our flat was simple with a double bed, small kitchen, and a comfortable sized bathroom. Nothing really to complain although we wished we had lived slightly closer to the station as walking home can be tiring after a long day.

 

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By the time we settled in, it was getting dark and we were hungry for dinner. I suggested we take it chill and check out the nearby famous Dotonbori (道頓堀).

 

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Dotonbori is probably one of Osaka’s most visited tourist spots. It is best visited during the evenings as the neon lights are a sight to see and reminds me of a night market. It seems that the evening is focused on food, whereas the afternoon is more for shopping, although I believe both restaurants and retail stores are open day and night.

 

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I mean, look at the restaurants signs? Aren’t there already a sight to see?

 

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Love the 3-D type of signage they use here, which I felt like Tokyo didn’t really have much of.

 

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Pufferfish (fugu 河豚) sashimi is famous to eat here. This is a delicacy because it takes skills of a highly trained chef to prepare this fish. It has a toxin that if not correctly prepared can kill you! If you are going to try this fish, then Osaka is likely the place for you as they are rather famous for it. As S does not eat much sashimi, I didn’t want to eat this on my own, so skipped this.

 

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After wandering the streets for a while, I decided to try the grilled scallop. They prepare this to order and it involves some large flames!

 

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This was actually quite average as the scallops was slightly too chewy and it also had some sand in it. I guess it was not washed well.

 

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Continuing on, we tried Osaka Ohsho (大阪王将 道頓堀本店). They claim themselves as the king of gyozas and you will not miss this shop as there is a huge gyozo signage (a sight to see itself!).

 

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They seem to cater to tourists as there is English on the menu, but at 6 pieces of gyoza for only 240 yen, it is a deal of itself. As you can see, the shop is a standing gyoza bar though, and you must stand on the left where there is a bar table with some condiments to eat. The good thing is people eat this quickly, so you will find a spot easily.

 

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I wasn’t expecting much of these gyozas, but we actually found these to be really good. They are made fresh and there is a generous amount of filling. The bottom was fried crispy and along with the gyoza sauce, it was a perfect snack.

 

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Given Dotonbori has more street food, we had to give the Takoyaki a try. There are quite a few stalls but we settled on Kukuru (たこ家道頓堀くくる 本店) just because we saw a huge line up. Turns out, this is a spot that has been featured on TV. The line actualyl was quite long and we waited probably almost 30 minutes. They make batches at once but there are so many people, so we still had to wait a while. You can also sit in where you can try other flavours of takoyaki, but I believe the take out box is cheaper.

 

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We got the minimum order of 8 takoyakis which cost around 600 yen. Not super cheap, but I like how they make them fresh. It is topped with some japanese mayo, bonito flakes and seaweed powder. There was octopus in every ball and the inside was a nice gooey chewy texture. My only complaint is that I wish they were more crispy on the outside as I found they sort of stuck together. Would I line up for it again? Probably not. But if the line is short, then these are not bad.

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A must see in Dotonbori is the Glico running man sign! Head towards the center of the Dotonbori streets where you will find a bridge above Dotonobori river and you will find all these advertisements. The Glico man ad has actually been around for 70 years (longest standing ad, although there have been many versions of it).

 

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There are seriously so many eateries in this area. Even if you stray further away from the crowds, you will find many stores and restaurants.

 

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As we headed back to our Airbnb, we saw a fried chicken stall, and of course S wanted this. It wasn’t very busy but S craved it.

 

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We got a bag of Chicken Karaage which was piping hot. Chicken was moist and batter was crispy. Not bad.

 

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Heading back, we actually wandered into the Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade. It is a covered area with boutiques, retail stores and restaurants. A less quiet area during the evenings, but very busy during the day time. With our tummies full, we headed back to rest and prepare for our next day!

Dotonbori
Address: Dotonbori, Chuo Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 542-0071, Japan

 

Osaka Ohsho (Gyozas)
Address: 1-6-13 Dotombori, Chuo-ku, Osaka 542-0071, Osaka Prefecture

Kukuru (Takoyaki)
Address: 1-10-5 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture

[Japan Series] Day 6 Cont’d: All You Can Drink at Yakitori Marukin やきとりまる金 新宿本店 in Shinjuku

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While we were on the train heading back from Hakone to Shinjuku, I decided to look for a place to eat dinner. Did some searching and ended up coming up with the idea to go check out an all you can drink spot. Actually, I was craving yakitori (Japanese grilled skewers) and this spot just came up. Yakitori Marukin is located just in the busy streets of Shinjuku and is popular among locals.

 

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It took a while to find the place because you actually needed to take an elevator upstairs. Actually, many of the good restaurants are often upstairs, so if you’re looking for food in Japan, look up! Anyways, the restaurant was filled with locals and when we arrived I think we got some curious looks. The staff could barely speak English but they were still very accommodating and welcomed us in. Luckily, they have an English menu, so I’m guessing they have a lot of tourists here still. With some pointing and nodding, we were good to go!

 

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I read online that this may be one of the cheapest all you can drink restaurants in the area. Plus, they have an English menu, so it really helps. For only 598 yen + tax, you can drink as much as you want for an hour! My understanding is that you need to do a minimum of one hour, but we chose to stay 90 minutes as it gave us more time to eat. Honestly though…that is dirt cheap! We can only get a beer…sometimes not even for this price back in Vancouver!

 

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So when you think of all you can drink beer, you must be thinking that the restaurant will just serve your drinks super slow so that your time is up. Well, not a problem here, because it is self serve! I was pretty mind blown at this concept! Along a wall in the restaurant, there are a bunch of bottles that dispense your liquor. The waiter will give you a beer mug and you just head over to the drink station and fill it up with whatever you want. The majority of the drinks were sochu (tastes sort of like vodka), plum wine, and I believe there were some whiskeys. There are also flavoured syrups that you can pump into your sochu so that it’s not straight liquor and gives it some more flavour. I suggest filling only a quarter or half a mug each time so that you can try other drinks if that’s your liking. Otherwise, you’re sort of stuck with that drink until you finish it! This was seriously lots of fun and the liquor is quite high in alcohol content, so you will for sure have a good night! No beers here for you beer lovers though!

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As for the food menu, they had one menu which listed all the yakitori items which had English on it, but there was also a menu for appetizers and other izakaya type food. Unfortunately, this menu was all in Japanese, but there are some pictures to help. As you can see, the yakitori is also relatively cheap here compared to other yakitori shops. The quality is not amazing, but it comes with this dipping sauce which is really tasty! There is a big jar of sauce on the table which is left there all night… Kind of sketchy since you have no idea if the previous diners did anything to the sauce, but they state on the menu that you are not allowed to dip your food in the sauce twice. Let’s really hope no one does that!

 

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First up, we got the Chicken Thighs. Pictures are really dark as it was very dim inside, but these were definitely not as charred as I’d like. However, I really enjoyed the dipping sauce and when you’re a bit tipsy, anything tastes great!

 

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There were a lot of intestines for yakitori on the menu, so we weren’t really a fan of that. Instead, we decided to try the Grilled Wing Tip. This was not bad but a bit difficult to eat as there is not much meat. I would stick to the chicken thigh next time.

 

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Then came the funny story… So we ordered off the all Japanese menu and I pointed at the picture thinking they were popcorn chicken. Turns out…we ordered a plate of Grilled Garlic! Yup…we did not finish this.

 

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Some other appetizers included this Squash Croquette. This was really yummy! And great with drinks!

 

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The Gyozas were also one of our favourites. I think we ended up with two orders of this! I love how in Japan, they cook all the gyozas together and the skin becomes super crispy.

 

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Finally… we got it right and ordered the real Chicken Karaage. Chicken was moist and batter was crispy.

 

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What a fun night at Yakitori Marukin! We probably spent around $25 each in total for the food and unlimited drinks. What a steal! After dinner, we wandered the streets of Shinjuku. It might have also involved taking some shameless sticker pictures… Last day in Tokyo next!

Yakitori Marukin
Address: Shinjuku 3-34-16 | Ikeda Plaza Bldg. 4F, Shinjuku 160-0022, Tokyo Prefecture

[Japan Seires] Day 1: Marugame Seimen Shinjuku Gyoenmae, Tokyo

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Almost a year later… I’m finally getting to my Japan travel posts. Last September, S and I did a 3 week vacation in Japan. Our first stop was in Tokyo and we booked an Airbnb in the Shinjuku area. Accommodation in Japan is expensive, so I highly recommend using Airbnb if you want to save some money. Hotels are obviously covenient, but can cost almost twice as much each night.

Our Airbnb host, Yopey, had a nice flat nearby Shinjukugyoenmae station. The station is 2 stations away from Shinjuku station, and around a 10-15 minute walk from the busy Shinjuku area. It is a residential neighbourhood, so not noisy at all. However, because it is a bit further away, we found that it was not as convenient, as we always had to walk at least 10 minutes after a long day or take the extra stations back. However, you definitely can save some money by living a little further away. The flat was also much larger than I expected for Japan, and everything was clean and modern. From past experiences, I would recommend staying in the Shibuya area if you enjoy shopping and the young lifestyle. Shinjuku felt more like a business district and shops were more high end.

From the Narita airport, it takes roughly an hour to get to the city center. Therefore, I actually recommend flying into the Haneda airport, if possible, as it is only 30 minutes or so away. However, most airlines fly into Narita and it is also usually cheaper as it’s their main international airport.

 

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By the time we got to our Airbnb, it was already around 8pm. And by the time we settled in, it was getting late. We decided to walk around the neighbourhood to find some quick eats. We ended up finding Marugame Seimen, which I later learned is a chain restaurant, known for quick, value and decent quality udon.

 

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You get to choose cold or hot udon, and you just let the chef know. I think there are more options, but clearly I couldn’t read all of the menu. The chef was very accommodating even though we spoke English. He then gives you your udon and you move down the line to the tempura station, where you can choose already prepared tempura to add to your udon. Then, the cashier will add up what you’ve got on your tray and you pay.

 

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S got a hot udon. They also provide a station where you can add green onion and tempura batter on top.

 

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For myself, I got the cold udon, which comes with a light soy dipping sauce. We were both surprised with the quality of the udon for such a quick convenient shop and low price. The udon itself is below CAD$5 and was extremely chewy!

 

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The tempura though, is quite average. The batter is rather thick and the oil is old from reusing it. The tempura is also lukewarm as it has been sitting around. I would probably skip the tempura next time, but you sort of want something to go with your udon, hence people will still purchase it.

Overall, the spot is great if you need a quick cheap meal. We found lots of locals here, many of which were businessmen who had just gotten off work.

 

Address: 1-4-13 Shinjuku, Shinjuku 160-0022, Tokyo Prefecture