いらっしゃい!
...an expat libertine with a penchant for sparkly dining partners, jazz bars and izakaya.
Opinions here expressed are not necessarily shared by any with whom I associate. Fault for errors and any offense caused is entirely my own.
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Entries in Tokyodrinker (50)

Saturday
Jul232011

Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem (英国)

It’s “the oldest inn in England.” Archeological evidence supports the claim; at least in as far as Nottingham Castle’s Brewhouse was on the site, nestled close beneath the Castle Rock and connected to the bastion via labyrinthine tunnels, from around 1189 AD.

In days of old, weary pilgrims and crusading English gentleman would take their ease and get blasted at this inn before going on their way to give the Saracens a thrashing in the Holy Land. Records show that Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem was indeed once named The Pilgrim. 

Either way, it’s a Nottingham institution. World famous, often visited and now sanitized to the point of having none of the shabby charm that once endeared it to drinkers from far and wide.

In the mid-1990s, many an extended liquid lunch was enjoyed in the snug room, or sun-bathed courtyard. From what I remember, my 17th birthday was celebrated (and ended with a close encounter with cool, white porcelain) at The Trip.

In those days, it remained a favourite haunt of leather clad, hairy bikers – their metallic steeds crowding outside – and all manner of snaggle-toothed alternative types garbed in whatever ethnic tat was in vogue at the time.

The interior was worn and cozy, frayed around the edges. The cursed galleon suspended from the Ward Room’s cave-like ceiling was shrouded in centuries’ worth of cobwebs and dust; none dared touch the lofty vessel. The wooden beams and walls around the bar were plastered with fading currency, the bank notes left as mementos to the ghosts of drinkers past by travellers from all corners of the globe. Even the tidiest of its rooms was decorated with a plethora of black and white photos, signed by visiting stars and robber barons.

Sadly, The Trip is now bereft of bikers, goths, hippies and even right on real ale types these days. The currency, once scrubbed away, is returning. But even that is now an orderly return, plastic coated so as to provide a wipe-clean surface. The galleon’s curse must have been broken; its dusty shroud is gone.

What remains? Some lagers, resident ales – Olde Trip, Greene King IPA, Old Speckled Hen, Abbot Ale and Extra Pale Ale – as well as the usual tawdry collection of alcopops. The menu looks well enough, but despite the range of bar food favourites and hearty seasonal fare turned out to be mediocre. 

My dining partners’ Beef and Abbot Ale Pie was tasty inside, although the pastry lid was both dry and bland. The chive mash, braised red cabbage and gravy by which it was accompanied did little to make amends. My pie was much the same. Perhaps it was venison, I don't remember, swimming in a rich gravy sauce laced with carrots. Again, despite tasting okay, something was missing.

Both pies were not nearly rugged enough. Chunkier morsels of meat, rough-hewn vegetables and thicker gravy would have improved the meal immensely. Rather than mash and cabbage my plate came with new potatoes, broccoli, beans and carrots, of which there is nothing to say. We didn’t bother rating our experience on the card provided.

Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem remains a piece of living history; despite sterling efforts to scrub any last trace of its character away. The inn itself, no doubt much like long-time patrons, must be yearning for the past.

 

0115 947 3171 

http://www.triptojerusalem.com/

Sunday
Jul172011

Copa, Cheltenham (英国)

Lazy weekend lunching in England’s city center bars more often than not involves bulging sandwiches, chunky potato wedges and pots of mayonnaise. The classier joints go all out and supply a rough salad garnish, too. 

If this is what you are after, Cheltenham’s Copa (on Regent Street) doesn’t disappoint. Pleasant surroundings – spacious but packed with lunchtime drinkers – chirpy staff, plus a range of ales and fashionable European beers with which to wash down a selection of bar food classics ranging from nachos to Belgian waffles.

We went with the nachos – topped with Tickler Devon cheddar, sour cream pico de gallo, guacamole and jalapenos; the Loch Fyne smoked salmon and lemon mayonnaise sandwich; and a succulent, triple decked Copa Club Sandwich so packed with chicken and bacon that the thick cut multi-grain bread could barely contain them. Both sandwiches came with decent chunky chips and the wilting salad, as anticipated. Not a single pot of mayo was to be seen.

Although my salmon was delicious, the sandwich was visually less impressive overall than my dining partner’s club sandwich – sandwich envy isn’t much fun. Beer and conversation with friends long missed, on the other hand, certainly is.

 

01242 245044

http://gkpubs.co.uk/pubs-in-cheltenham/copa-of-cheltenham-pub/

Monday
Jul112011

Zizzi, Sheffield (英国)

To take the Tokyo dining scene for granted is indeed a privilege. Quality, price competiveness, levels of service and peripheral scenic attributes that others can only dream of are so usual that their absence would be the subject of incredulous outrage.

So it was with trepidation that I ventured back into the post-industrial gloom and steel-addled nostalgia of Sheffield’s admittedly recently more becoming attractions such as the Leopold Square development in which Zizzi, a faux-Italian restaurant cum bar, is situated just a short vomit and a casual beating away from the city’s main thoroughfare. 

My dining partners and I, admittedly, arrived late into the afternoon, and no doubt the lunch staff were already weary and hoping for some down-time, which might explain the neglectful service – starting with the inability to accommodate a baby buggy and finishing with forgotten drink orders and difficulties serving our meals at the same time. It might also explain the dearth of customers.

Despite my worst fears – based upon memories of similar establishments in days gone by – and the claim that one should consider the experience akin to “Robert De Niro with a regional accent,” (Sean Bean?) the food was actually surprisingly good.

The boys went for pizza. Well-sized, decidedly large actually, and oh so authentically thin in the crust department. The Sophia provided a moist feast of spicy chicken, pepperoni and roasted sausage, mozzarella tomatoes and chili. The rosemary was an annoyance; I wanted basil. Yet when all was said and done this went down a treat, even if the over-priced Peroni, or what ever it was, left a bad taste. The Primavera – “a vegetarian feast” – was satisfying thanks to the goats cheese, artichokes and aubergine. 

The ladies had salad, which looked fine, if a little boring.

Poor service, surprisingly decent portions and tasty pizza, made all the more enjoyable when combined with the smug satisfaction derived from the strong yen when visiting faded imperial powers (as apposed to the failed imperial power we usually enjoy). 

 

0114 2787718

http://zizzi.co.uk/

 

Saturday
Jul022011

Cookpad Inc., Shirokanedai  クックパッド、白金台

Tokyoeater and I recently attended a cook-up at the HQ of Cookpad Inc., to celebrate and give feedback on their recently launched international site.

Although most Japanese are aware of Cookpad, for my foreign reader (hi mum) the Cookpad site is a place where Joe Public can upload his recipes – complete with hastily snapped photos – and share cooking techniques with all who care to listen.

The beauty of site is that it's not always beautiful. Or rather, the content is not. It’s real, raw and often unpolished. The quality of cooking, culinary creativity and photographic proficiency can at times leave much to be desired. As such Cookpad offers a real taste of everyday cooking by everyday people.

To date the new international site is a little bare, but will blossom and perhaps even become as popular as the Japanese iteration.

Anyway, back to the cook-up!

A diverse group of strangers were invited to share an evening of wine and cooking in Cookpad’s spacious multi-user kitchen. Each had been asked to bring a “secret” ingredient, and yet had no idea what they’d be cooking on the night.

As it turned out, after being put into teams, we were supplied with the basic ingredients (and instructions) for gyōza (Chinese dumplings). Each team was to create a batch of standard dumplings and another batch incorporating the secret ingredients brought be participating “chefs.”

Fun was had and a mess made. Although the quality of cooking varied widely, overall it was a good effort. My team’s “Italian gyōza,” however, were far too soggy.

When all were done in the kitchen the gyōza were sampled and a winner decided upon. The glory went to none other than our own Tokyoeater for his ketchup and curry powder infused dumplings. Bravo!

 

http://cookpad.com/

http://cookpad.it/

Monday
May162011

Wakataka, Ikebukuro  若貴、池袋

Kaitenzushi is so ubiquitous that it tends to be overlooked. I’d hazard that most diners (at least those who like sushi) have a favourite establishment or two in areas they frequent, especially for lunches or short early evening stops. 

I have a thing for two places; one in Nishi Shinjuku – just behind Yodobashi Camera – the other in Nakano on the Sun Mall. They may belong to a small chain, but the quality of the fish is excellent. Fresh, delicious and served in more than ample portions, their sushi simply rocks. Prices are rock bottom, too – hence the queues, at the Nakano store at any rate. 

Wakataka, however, deserves to be ignored.

I’ve known it as long, but frequented it less. Never great, it’s certainly become worse. Cheap, but not that cheap. The sushi itself is poor. I remember the place being packed in the past. No more.

My dining partner and I did a range of “classics,” from salmon to hamachi, none of which inspired. You know you’re in trouble when the mayo-covered options taste best. 

Monday
May022011

Jidori-ya, Nakano  ぢどり屋,中野

That Nakano has plenty to offer besides the otaku “delights” of Mandrake is well known, especially to those who enjoy izakaya. Out of the station's north exit, the labyrinthine area sandwiched between the Sun Mall shōtengai and the Fureai Road is home to a bewildering – and of late changing – array of izakaya and bars of various persuasions. 

Jidori-ya (spelt with a ぢ) is a little place specializing in simple free-range chicken izakaya fare and other classics reminiscent of much that is nowadays touted as cuisine peculiar to Miyazaki-ken.

Prices are reasonable; beer, Hoppy and cheap shōchū plentiful, and the service friendly, informative and a little over-concerned...

“Can the honourable foreigner eat chewy chicken?” Yes, he could, and so too could his honourably indigenous dining partner. So it was that we tucked into an admittedly chewy, but thoroughly delicious dish of firm, charcoal grilled momoniku. The smoky flavour rich enough to be interesting, without becoming burdensome. In fact, as we lingered over this and other dishes, it was quite delicious even after becoming cold.

The potato salad was poor, which is to say sloppy – the easy way out is always to rely on the mayonnaise too much. Certainly not as good as the perfectly humble variety served at Isukura. The edamame, too, failed to impress.

The interior was fun though. Packed up front (the space is L-shaped), we’d entered because the crowded counter and side tables suggested that either the food was at least okay, or the prices were very, very cheap; or perhaps a nice combination of the two. The mix of simple tables, 1950s (?) television set and a kind of tobacco/ sweet shop façade seemingly rescued from the set of Always added to the neighborhood Shōwa feel of the place.

There was nothing tired or musty about the gyūreba teki however. Again, the staff were concerned about the esteemed visitor’s ability to eat liver, let alone raw liver – from a cow of all things – but such niggles aside it tasted great. Both the sesame oil and grated ginger complimented the dish perfectly. The potato wedges went down a treat, as they tend to after being silly with the beer. 

 

03-33887447

http://r.gnavi.co.jp/b089200/

Tuesday
Apr262011

Harajuku Gyōza Rō, Jingumae  原宿餃子楼、神宮前

Recently the old side street off Omotesando in which Harajuku Gyōza Rō resides (next to Kaffir Lime) has become much changed. Back in the day my dining partners from the old country and I wasted inordinate amounts of time in the bars and tabehōdai shabu-shabu joints that once lined the opposite side of the street. Alas, they are no more. Replaced with “enterprise spaces” of glass and steel – still vacant – for some time now.

After a hiatus of several years, a recent visit to Gyōza Rō, was somewhat disappointing.

My dining partner and I queued for twenty minutes or so, as is customary. Once seated we become duly excited, took in the bold, brash menu, downed a couple of beers and enjoyed watching the bustle and steam in the open kitchen around which we were seated.

By the time our lunch arrived – sui and fried gyōza stuffed with Chinese chives and garlic, rice (poor) and soup (uninspired) – our expectations had been raised to such levels that, truth be told, the ensuing disappointment (the dumplings being neither bold nor brash) should have been expected.

The draft beer was as usual, but these days anything over ¥400 seems like robbery. The food was cheap, “no frills” and tasty, but if memory serves (which it most likely does not) has suffered a serious decline in terms of volume over the years. The dumplings' filling was less robust and meaty than I remember.

It's still worth a visit, and a place to show visitors. Ultimately, however, the gyōza here are not a patch on those prepared at Ueno’s Shoryū 2, and to one for years spoiled with homemade dumplings, barely worth reporting.

 

03-3406-4743