Monday 6 October 2014

The Japanese Food Adventure - Days 1-3

Days 1-3, From burgers in Hounslow to yakitori in Koenji

Day 1

Having saved for 14 months for our trip to Japan we were finally on the 17.30 train to London, we were going to spend the night at Heathrow Travelodge to make the following morning less stressful. I wanted to include everything on this 2 week trip that I ate and that explains why you are looking at a Subway 6" beef melt, eaten on the train journey. The train journey was a good opportunity to read up a bit more on the places we would be visiting.

With the buffet car on the train only moments away a coffee and Danish pastry was too tempting to resist!

Our final destination this evening was Hounslow West, I don't usually feature in photos on the blog but on this occasion I just couldn't bring myself to crop the 'T' out of the photo.

Surrounding the Travelodge were a number of take away options. My wife struck gold with a tasty veggie curry, I kept things simple with this cheeseburger. I was really looking forward to trying a number of things to eat once in Japan though and top of the list was okonomiyaki and ramen.

We were disappointed with this Twix from a local Hounslow newsagents, nearly 6 months out of date! Oh well, time to sleep.. We were off to Japan in the morning!

Day 2

Once inside Terminal 3 we started with breakfast in Strada, read the full review here.

The departures board listed a number of destinations I would love to eventually visit. New York had up to now been my favourite ever destination, read my NY food adventure here. I wondered if anywhere could possibly be as good as New York City as we headed towards the departure gate.

Miss Behavin' was the name of our plane, I had always wanted to fly with Virgin Atlantic. We boarded and headed towards the rear for our 12 hour flight. we were hoping to sleep during the flight as it would be 9.30am JST when we arrived. I wasn't convinced I could sleep though, way too excited and what if I missed out on a meal or snack!

Nearly 6000 miles to our destination and this was the screen I watched for most of the journey. My wife managed to watch films but I was too distracted by the possibilty of the food on the hostess trolley approaching up the aisle.

The first thing we were given was a feel good kit, I was already feeling great but opened it anyway.

It contained a pair of socks, an eye mask with sunglasses design, earplugs, a toothbrush, toothpaste and a pen.

I immedietly got into the the Virgin spirit and put the socks on, thanks Virgin!

The next thing to arrive was far more exciting, the menu. I had read months ago on the Virgin website that a cooked breakfast would be given on this flight and confirmation of this made me realise that an interesting fry up inspection would soon be taking place.

First things first though, it was just gone lunchtime so time for a vodka and tonic, quite a generous splash of vodka left me impressed and although not a huge pretzel fan, sour cream and chive were really tasty.

Next to arrive on the trolley was the main meal, I chose chicken curry which didn't look particularly appetising but tasted pretty good. It came with a fairly solid roll and a vegetable salad. 

Virgin serve dessert after the main meal with tea or coffee. My wife didn't like her Gu passion fruit mousse so I ate hers too. It was nothing to get too excited about really and a slice of cake would been nicer with a hot drink.

After the main meal the lights inside the plane were dipped and most passengers onboard attempted to sleep. Not me though, it was mid afternoon, I was heading to Tokyo and what if I missed out on a passing hostess trolley offering. I attempted to watch a film but the engine noise was far too distracting, I only made it as far as Richards intro regarding donating any spare currency at the end of the flight before switching the screen back to flight stats.

My decision to stay awake paid off, most of the other passengers missed out on a mini fab, lucky me!

A short time later another movie snack arrived, this time a small pizza pastry. Again most of the other sleeping passengers missed out, though they will probably never realise. It was at this point when I opened the blind on the window, I had no idea if it was dark outside or not so decided to take a look. The sight that greeted me took my breath away, I quickly told my wife to take a look. The Northern Lights could clearly be seen glowing green and moving beautifully, we continued to gaze out of the window for almost an hour. A passing air hostess was equally exciting literally clapping her hands together as she told us that this was the second flight she had ever witnessed this on. I tried to photograph this wonderful display but my trusty iphone was having none of it and just couldn't pick it up through the window.

Day 3

As the sun rose the other passengers started to wake completely oblivious to missing out on Northern Lights, a mini fab and a pizza pasty. The lights inside the plane were turned on again and the smell of breakfast filled the air of the cabin.

Read the full breakfast review here.

Before landing we were given a small packet of love hearts, thanks Virgin, nice touch!

Despite not sleeping on the flight we were not feeling too tired when we arrived at Narita Airport. We were told to not take any photos until we had left the airport but I couldn't resist one sneaky shot, Welcome to Japan!!

We caught an airport limousine bus into central Tokyo and eventually ended up in Koenji, our home for the next 3 nights. Koenji was recommended to us by a friend who had stayed here, it is 5 stops West of Shinjuku and is said to be the birthplace of punk in Tokyo. The streets are lined with no end of kitsch and vintage clothes and record shops, quirky bars and eateries. The streets feel very different depending on the time of the day, most of the shops open after 2pm and many of the bars stay open till the early hours of the morning. We checked into our guest house and started to explore Koenji, a wall of tiredness started to hit us both by this point though.

One of the first things I noticed was the incredibly detailed plasic food on display outside many of the restaurants. It suddenly dawned on me that I may well have an inkling as to what I am ordering and it all looked delicious!

The dish with the egg looked tempting but first things first, time for a beer.

The first bar we walked into was to hold a secret that we discovered on the last day of the trip, more about that much later. We stood at the bar waiting to be served but nothing seemed to happen, it was at this point we realised the research we had done prior to the trip was maybe not enough. Luckily for us a very jolly and drunk customer at the bar who spoke some English asked us what we would like. We explained we would like a beer and he told us we just needed to shout it out to the chap behind the bar. He did this for us and without looking up the bartender gave us a drink and we paid him. I am not a big fan of lager but Sapporo was really nice and came in giant bottles costing around £3, bargain!

We contined walking the streets of Koenji struggling with tiredness, we had been awake for over 22 hours now. I noticed that along every street, even the back streets were vending machines selling drinks.

The spokes on this bike had certainly seen better days!

In a bid to stay awake I tried an iced coffee from one of the vending machines costing around 70p. It tasted great but wasn't enough to rid me of the wave of tiredness that had set in so we decided to return to the guest house for a short sleep. We figured if we set the alarm we could get up in a few hours time, have a meal out and return for some proper sleep in an attempt to adapt to the time difference which was 8 hours ahead of GMT.

We did manage to sleep briefly but the noise of rumbling trains and station announcements from Koenji station didn't make it too easy. Our room was directly above a kebab shop which was open until the early hours of the morning. The man running the kebab shop would shout out something that sounded a bit like "egg and sausage" really loud continuously. He must have known the fry up inspector was in town!

Feeling a bit more awake we studied a map of cool bars in Koenji, we would go searching for some of these tonight we decided.

In Japan when you enter somebody's home you always take your shoes off. Just at the top of the stairs in the guest house there were little handy storage areas for each room where you could store your shoes. Many places also had umberella racks too, we had brought our own as we were expecting plenty of rain this time of year in Japan.

The Koenji Guest House was run by a lovely chap called Toshi and a double room cost just £22 per night, this was incredibly cheap for Tokyo. It was a very small place but cleverly designed making use of every space. You could cook and make drinks in this small communal kitchen and there were two shared toilets and shower rooms.

This narrow set of stairs led up to a communal sink in the corridor where you could use the hairdryer or brush your teeth. It also led to a roof terrace where you could smoke, relax on the decking or use the washing machine. This place certainly had character and it was very difficult to sleep without earplugs but at £22 a night it was well worth it, find out more about Koenji Guest House here.

Back on the streets of Koenji everything looked so different in the dark, this restaurant was one we liked the look of and we would visit later in the trip.

In every direction was something which caught our attention and needed to be photographed. This rickety staircase was part of the Kita-Kore building which we discovered more about later in the trip.

The moment I spotted this I wanted to try it, sadly after this photo was taken the restaurant was always closed whenever we attempted to visit for dinner. Typically it seemed to be open again once we had eaten so I didn't get to try it.

I peered inside a dolls house on the street, the inhabitants appeared to be having a great time inside!

Our search for somewhere to eat ended here, we had a good feeling about this place and headed inside for our first Japanese meal.

The menu on the wall was tricky to understand but the menu on the table had pictures much to our relief. We decided to order a few smaller items and share them so we got to try more things.

Each table had a bell which you rang when you needed something, great idea!

Before placing our order some garlic bread arrived at the table. It was at this point we noticed from the menu that we were infact in a Spanish Tapas bar.

We ordered 2 Mojito's, quite refreshing but not quite as tasty as we were used to. It was  Bacardi Mojito ready mixed in a bottle topped up with soda water, only about £3 though.

First to arrive was Spanish tortilla, served hot and not bad at all.

We ordered some roasted onions, these tasted amazing and had started to caramalise.

Last to arrive was the chicken on skewers, lets take a closer look.

Small and tender mouth size pieces of chicken in a crispy batter, very tasty and a real treat but we were still kicking ourselves for ending up in a Spanish Tapas restaurant in Japan. Something that really stood out at this restaurant though was how very friendly and welcoming every member of staff had been, even the chefs. As we left every member of staff in the restaurant thanked us and bowed as we passed them, we bowed back and felt deeply touched by their kindness and sincerity. We still had space for more food though so decided to look for something Japanese.

On a nearby street as we peered inside another restaurant, Yakotori Simonya, the waitress was beckoning us in. As we walked passed the kitchen every member of staff bowed and greeted us as we were shown to a seat. We started with a beer and studied the menu in Japanese, thankfully an English menu arrived at the table making choosing something far easier. This place seemed really popular and their speciality appeared to be Yakitori which literally translates to grilled chicken, it's a popular Japanese food to go alongside drinks.

The orders were coming into the kitchen at quite a fast rate, the food was cooked over charcoal and sent out to the tables. The bill's for each table were hung around the edge of the counter area and added to when something else was ordered.

Whilst in Japan I had promised myself that I would be adventurous with trying new things. Chopped gullet and throat was something I was a tad nervous about trying though so I played it safe on the first night!

I gave up smoking tobacco in Febraury and have since got my nicotine fix from electric cigarettes, I have not smoked a cigarette since and feel much healthier for it. The reason I mention this is because the rules on smoking in Japan are very different to the rules in the UK, almost opposite infact. In Japan you can't walk along the street in many areas whilst smoking or you will be fined. It is perfectly ok to smoke in nearly all pubs, restaurants and certain carriages on trains though. It took some getting used to and the general rule here is to go inside somewhere to smoke rather than to go outside like you would in the UK. There are smoking areas on the street in some places, sometimes small rooms you have to stand inside with the other smokers. Electric cigarettes are allowed in Japan but the sale of liquids containing nicotine are banned, thankfully bringing your own liquids into the country for personal use was perfectly ok though which was quite a relief.

Anyway back to Yakatori, each skewer cost just ¥100 (just under 60p) and the first to arrive was chicken and spring onion. It was a good plain Yakatori to start with, the chicken was tender with skin left on and the spring onions accompanied it beautifully.
With a pint of beer costing under £3 and accomodation working out at £11 per person per night Tokyo wasn't working out anywhere near as expensive as we had first thought!

Next we tried the mushrooms, big and juicy at 100, bargain!

My wife spotted the plum wine on the counter, we had never tried it so ordered some.

It can be served with soda or on the rocks as we ordered it. We both loved plum wine and this would not be the last time we would be trying it, so delicious!

When it comes to chicken my favourite part is the skin so we couldn't resist ordering some which arrived nice and crispy. I couldn't leave without trying something new so I also ordered chitterlings (the small intestines of a pig) which I thought although quite tough tasted great.

We finished off with asparagus served with mayo, again really nice.

I was going to mention this earlier but now we have eaten it seems more appropriate. There are some amazing toilets in Japan, many of them have no end of features that appear to make life that bit more easier. I planned to explore this further during our stay in Japan!

Having studied the map of cool bars in Koenji we found the first one, sadly it was closed though so we continued searching..

This place caught our eye and my wife is crazy about cats so we headed inside.

Feeling in the mood to try something else Japanese we shared a sake, my wife didn't like it but I thought it was fairly nice, quite strong though! The only other people in this bar was the owner and another customer, they were curious about our tattoos and my electric cigarrette so we did our best to make conversation with them, both lovely people!

It was here where we learn't about the cover charge some places have in place, here it was
500 per person so the sake costing ¥500 and both cover charges came to ¥1500. This seemed to be the price charged for taking a seat inside a place (as bars are tiny with few seats) and is possibly to encourage customers to stay for more than 1 drink. We were given a small plate of bar snacks including a cube of cheese spread though.

Our next bar to find was October, we had almost given up searching for it when two young men approached us offering to help. We showed them what we were looking for and they started searching online and calling their friends on their mobiles trying to find out for us. After sometime we insisted it was ok and thanked them for offering to help but they were not about to give up the search even if we were! Eventually they found it for us, shook our hands and walked away with us thanking them repeatedly. We were both so touched at how helpful and lovely everyone here was and this level of kindness continued throughout our stay in Japan.

October Bar was very dark inside with seating for only about 15 people, there were boxes of records everywhere and everyone inside seemed very friendly. This time we ordered vodka and tonic (my favourite drink)

This was such a simple but excellent idea! In Japan the toilet/sink combo has been around since the 1960's, the water is used to rinse the hands and fill up the tank. Something else I had noticed since arriving was that there appered to be very few paper towels or hand driers, everyone seemed to be washing there hands and shaking them dry.

Feeling slightly drunk we called into a 7-11 store for some late night snacks. This looked like it was some kind of corn dog, only one way to find out!

It was a strange comination of a sausage inside a thick fluffy donut. I wasn't too sure about the sweet/savoury combo but finished it anyway.

These large dumplings looked interesting and cost under £1 each.

The pork variety on the left was the better one, both fairly nice but the casing was not what we were expecting, way to thick and fluffy. Not a wise purchase at all but you have to try these things!

The final thing we ate today was some Galbo mini's, a thin layer of chocolate with a chocolate cookie filling, delicious!

Click here for Day 4
The Ghibli Museum, Tokyo Dome and a hearty meal.


  1. Hmm some interesting items on that menu...but the stuff you chose looked good, and cheap too! Sapporo lager I like, maybe a bit dry, but sake...don't get drunk on it, worst headache ever the next day!

  2. Thankfully I only had one sake so no major hangover, potent stuff though!!

  3. Was interesting to see how helpful the locals were. In London if someone goes to that much effort for their fellow man its usually a distraction while their mates rifle through your pockets.

  4. Wow,the toilet/sink is such a great idea.