Tokyo Food - Brunch at Two Rooms Aoyama

On my continuing quest for great brunches in Tokyo, I headed to Two Rooms in Aoyama to try the set brunch menu. I often come to Two Rooms for a late night cocktail on their balcony, which looks out to Yoyogi Park and Shinjuku. On this balmy summer Sunday I couldn't help try Two Rooms' signature brunch specials, the eggs benedict and bloody mary (which I discovered is also wonderful out on the balcony during the day).

The crisp white linen on the tables, suited waiters and open stainless steel kitchen set the scene for quite the decadent Sunday brunch. The brunch menu, only served on weekends, is around 3000 yen and comes with choices from breakfast-style bircher muesli and french toast, to later-in-the-day burgers, sandwiches, meat and fish dishes. Keeping with the brunch theme I went for the sweet corn fritters and eggs benedict.

Despite being warned by one friend of the tiny serving sizes, I did not see this as a problem. The two small, round sweet corn fritters with a mango sauce accompaniment were the perfect start to the meal. And as the mammoth plate of eggs slathered with sauce made its way to our table, I was glad that the starter's were so small.

watching the chefs at work

sweet corn fritters
fruit salad
eggs benedict

signature bloody mary

Two Rooms really is a great spot day or night. Whilst the food is good, what I really go for is the balcony (hard to come by in Tokyo), the bar and the cocktails (they also do a fantastic dirty martini).

Two Rooms can be accessed easily from Omotesando station.

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Trump Room Shibuya - Chandeliers Not Drinking Beers

Yes, you will not find many beer drinking patrons at Shibuya's Trump Room. Through the unmarked door, and beneath the chandelier covered roof and mirrored walls are the electro / techno / hipsters of the Tokyo club scene. Behind the bar stand two doll-like Japanese women with long flowing hair and great free-pouring techniques. And up in the DJ booth, anyone from local DJ's to visiting global guests, who blast heavy based tunes to start your weekend. If you are looking for chart topping hits or a version of Roppongi in Shibuya, this is not the place for you. Come for the atmosphere, the fun and the sometimes crazy fashion.

Weekly events are listed here.

Trump Room is located in Shibuya in the backstreet behind TGIF restaurant. On first glance you won't see it, but keep an eye out for the bouncer close by the door.

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Falafel Fantasy at Ta-Im Ebisu

Ta-Im is the latest cafe to the Israreli food scene in Tokyo, and good news for me, is it lives over in the West Side, Ebisu. Sometimes sushi, a bowl of udon or even katsu, just doesn't cut my weekend food cravings, and as a person who drewls over warm fluffy falafel's I could not wait to get to Ta-Im and give it a try.

A ten minute walk from either Ebisu or Hiroo Station, Ta-Im is set back from the main road on the corner of a quiet street. The green glass bottles and bold blue writing on the shop window make this place unmissable. The small shop fits a bench which seats about 6 people, behind which the owner Dan Zuckerman freshly prepares the tabbouleh, warm pita and falafel to order.

The lunch set, at 980 yen, truly was a feast. Warm pita bread with fresh hummus drizzled in tahini and olive oil comes out (including an amazing spicy coriander accompaniment), followed by tabbouleh, chips, and the king of the set, six freshly fried falafel's. Every part of the set lunch is packed with flavour, and leaves you wanting more and more. Another favourite Middle Eastern dish of mine, sweet halva, was also on the menu, but did not dare try fit it in my overly satisfied belly.

I have been gushing about this place, and despite the myriad of restaurants and cafe's I am dying to try in Tokyo,  I am tempted to return to Ta-Im this weekend.

Delightfully crisp balls of felafel
Lunch set menu 

Ta-im website can be found here (In Japanese but good pictures).


Fuji Rock Festival 2011 - Tips and Highlights

It is impossible to describe in a single blog post the balance of harmony and chaos which is Fuji Rock. The setting amongst the mountains and rivers in Naeba is ridiculously beautiful, the multiple stage set up, not to mention hundreds of food and drink stalls, is awe-inspiring, and of course, the music is unmissable. I therefore will share just a few tips and highlights for those who want to venture on the Fuji Rock adventure in years to come.

Before heading to Fuji Rock I did some research on how to get there and where to stay, and was a little disturbed by people's comments that I would be lining up for hours to get on buses, and having to camp kilometers up on one of Naeba's slopes. Being sufficiently freaked out, my friend and I decided to take a Thursday night Shinkansen to avoid the crowds and get a decent camping spot. This was really the beginning to a flawlessly smooth weekend away. Leaving Tokyo Station around 7:30pm, after some initial tent-set-up confusion we were settled and ready for the first drink of the weekend by 10:30.

It is possible to stay at nearby hotels and b&b's, and despite at times wishing I had a proper bed, and more so a proper bathroom, I highly recommend camping within the festival grounds. There is a thick air of excitement around the campsite, and you are also a lot closer to the action of the festival. Each day in fact, I took a quick power nap around 4pm in the tent to prepare myself for the night ahead. Whilst the portable toilets and showers leave little to be desired, the campsite does have a good onsen where for a small fee you can wash yourself efficiently and revive your sore legs in the steaming hot bath.

But of course, you do not go to Fuji Rock just to camp. You go for the music. Each year Fuji Rock draws huge international acts; this year headlining were Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys and the Chemical Brothers. Their elaborate stage shows were fantastic, but what really excited me were the smaller indie bands and international acts from places like Congo and Sudan (which generally played in the Red Marquee and Orange Court). It was at these shows that people would get out of their portable seats, stop politely clapping and swaying to the music, and start going crazy. One late-night act, Congotronics vs Rockers , really exemplified this to me. There is something drug-like to the African beat which forced everyone to scream and jump around for the whole two hour set.

And after two hours of jumping around there is nothing better than to get a vodka with fresh squeezed grapefruit juice and a tasty cheeseburger from one of the international food stands, relax by the river and take in the atmosphere. Around the many stages, amongst the forest and within the river are various art and light installations which come alive at night. Huge eyes adorned one of the tallest trees, and 10 pointed fluro stars hung from the canopies, amongst the disco balls which glittered from within the forest.

My final tip is bring wet weather gear. It rained almost the full three days we were at the festival, and I survived in my flimsy poncho and cheap Muji rain boots, but learnt a good lesson from the Fuji Rock veterans around me; bring proper wet weather gear. Likewise, if camping, it's good to be prepared for the wet weather with some tarps, and preferably a mattress which is raised off the ground.

Whether you are a music fanatic, or just someone who loves to be outdoors and try new things, there is really no better way to spend a 3-day weekend in summer.

Tent city - better than any hotel in town

A river installation of colourful, friendly-faced rocks

Australian band - The Middle East

Spectacular light show, and bouncy balls at Coldplay

Some Doraemon's enjoying the one hour of sunshine


A Weekend at the Beach - Shimoda Japan

As I mentioned in a previous post, escaping the summer heat is a must in the mid-year months, and as always, nothing cures summer stickiness better than a weekend by the sea. Until I lived in Tokyo, I never appreciated so much the cool sea breeze and proximity to a beach where you can wash you sweaty limbs.

Whilst the beaches of Kamakura are closer to Tokyo, if you are happy to venture a little farther you will be well rewarded. Rather than blackish sand and muddy waters, at Shimoda you will find predominantly fine white sand, and gorgeous clear rolling waves in which you can swim. The beaches are surrounded by Minshoku (B&B's), and various places where you can eat, and relax the weekend away. As a side note, Shimoda was the original gaijin (foreginer) entrance point to Japan, where Commodore Perry sailed in, in 1854. Purposefully or not, Perry's legacy must pull a lot of Tokyo foreigners, who swarm the beaches on the summer weekends.

On a recent visit, my friends and I opted to stay at the foreign owned White Beach Hotel rather than a local B&B. Although being slightly overpriced (the rooms and bathrooms are tiny), it is a good option for those who do not speak Japanese. The hotel sat right on Oohama beach, provided towels, sunscreen and bug spray, and had a great joining Italian restaurant.

From Oohama it is nice to walk around the mangroves and watch the hundreds of crabs scurry in to their holes as you approach, as well as hold bbq's and rent kayaks from local businesses. This time I didn't make it in to Shimoda town, but I have heard there are also some nice onsen's and restaurants to try. I am dying to get back there before the summer months are out, so will hopefully have more updates soon!

Oohama Beach

Catching some rays

White Beach Hotel
Pizza from the restaurant

The fastest way to get to Shimoda is to take the Tokaido Shinkansen from Tokyo Station. Other travel options can be found here.

Beautiful photos courtesy of Evan Blaser.


White Water Rafting in Minakami

As summer envelopes us in Tokyo, you start to become use to the trickles of sweat down your brow, the taste of warm water from a recently purchased bottle, and the feeling of relief when hopping on an airconditioned subway car. The lack of easy access to a pool or beach in Tokyo thus sends people off in search of some cooler, water-based activities. One such activity I undertook last month was white water rafting amongst Japan's beautiful mountain scenery in Minakami.

Minakami is situated in the Gunma prefecture, around one and half hours from Tokyo. We decided to do a rafting tour with Canyon's, who supplied us with wetsuits, rafting guide, and hot post-raft showers. We rafted about 13km down the Tone River along the gorgeous clear water, passing impressive cliff-scapes, onsen towns and river banks along the way.

Canyon's website says the best time to raft in this are is April - July. We went in June, when the rapid were around a grade 4, and it was a lot of fun. Each boat held 6 people, and Canyon's provides both Japanese and English speaking guides. Despite our guide being slightly crude (Australian humour) at times, my friends and I had a great time maneuvering through the rocks and rapids, as well as taking a couple of cliff jumps off surrounding rocks.

Minakami can be accessed via Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo station, or is a great road trip if you have / hire a car. The surrounding area is famous for it's traditional ryokan's along the river, and other sports such as canyoning and bunji jumping.

Suiting up
Photo courtesy canyons.jp

A well deserved post-raft beer on Canyon's deck