JAPAN 2017 | Kyoto: Fushimi Inari Taisha; Arashiyama; Nishiki Market; Kichi Kichi Omurice

After packing up everything in the hostel in the morning, and having a quick breakfast in the kitchen, I headed out for my last action-packed day in Kyoto.

Fushimi Inari-Taisha

Snack break!

My first stop of the day was Fushimi Inari-Taisha, probably one of the most famous shrines in Kyoto, if not all of Japan.

Walking through the famous torii gates is a must-do, and the higher up you go, the less people there are, allowing you to soak up the serenity all on your own.

The total hike takes around three hours, which I decided to skip out on due to the tight schedule I had, but I would imagine it to be quite enjoyable if you’re looking to spend a whole day in the area!

Snack break round 2

Just outside of the Shrine is a restaurant that specialises in unagi don, i.e. grilled eel on rice. Although there was only two pieces of eel being given in the set that I ordered, there was a perfect amount of caramelisation resulting from the grill, and the quality cannot be faulted. The eel liver soup on the side sounded like a bit of an oddity, but it didn’t actually have any distinctive flavours.

Arashimaya Bamboo Grove

After spending another hour on public transport, I arrived at the famous Arashimaya Bamboo Grove!

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve seen so many photos and heard so much about the bamboo grove beforehand, but I actually found it quite underwhelming. I mean sure, there was a lot of bamboo, but the walk lasted for maybe ten minutes, before transforming into a regular forest, which was still nice and all, but I personally didn’t find it to be anything special.

Tenryu-ji

Tenryu-Ji was closeby to the Bamboo Grove, so I decided to check it out. But to be honest, by this point of the trip, I was pretty much templed/shrined out, being not religious myself, I found the experience to have become a little stagnant and repetitive. Although I understand that objectively the temple is built beautifully, it was hard for me to not feel like I was going through the motion and actually appreciate the temples more, which was a shame,

Snack break round 3

Nishiki Market

Knowing that I had a booking at Kichi Kichi Omurice for dinner in just over an hour by the time I got to Nishiki Market, I decided to just take a walk around, and save the food for next time.

Although significantly smaller than Kuromon Ichiba Market in Osaka, Nishiki Market had its own charm, and it seemed to be more like a local market rather than a tourist attraction. Kyoto is famous for its matcha, and I picked up a couple bottles of matcha spread to take back home, which I later found out is actually stocked at Calia for two times the price!

Kichi Kichi Omurice

Kichi Kichi Omurice has been made famous through various viral videos over the last few years, and I knew it was definitely somewhere I wanted to visit on this trip.

Bookings can be made up to four weeks advance, which means it’s something that you definitely need to plan ahead for. The restaurant is open for both lunch (weekends and public holidays) and dinner (everyday except for the holidays listed on the restaurant’s website), and only seats 8 people, which means that the one-hour-long reservations often fly out of the window. The reservation is made on the restaurant’s website, and it’s a relatively fuss free process, with every step translated in English. Reservations opens on 3pm GPT+9 Sunday, and my only tip is, be ready to book immediately after reservation opens so that you secure yourself a spot! Click here to be directed over to Kichi Kichi Omurice’s website.

the Omurice itself

So the question now is, was all that planning ahead worth it? And honestly, the answer is yes. The fried rice is perfectly separated fluffiness of the omelette is out of this world, and the demi-glace that’s poured over top ties it altogether. I did think it was slightly under-seasoned, but that’s really just me starting to nick-pick a good thing.

The omurice isn’t even the best part. Chef Motokichi Yukimura is truly one of a kind, he’s so good at what he does, loves doing it, and is definitely not camera shy. Although I saw it happen in front of my own eyes maybe five times that day, I still don’t understand how exactly the omelette is made, but he seriously made it look effortless. On top of being an excellent chef, he was also a great entertainer, and was more than happy to take photos with each of the 8 diners at the end of the hour. It was really an experience that’s not to be missed, and I’m glad that this was the final note of my short stay in Kyoto.

Snack round four

I left Kyoto with some mixed feelings. Having heard so many people rave about this city beforehand, I didn’t think I vibed particularly well with the city. That being said, there were some real highlights too, and I’m glad I paid Kyoto a visit regardless. After picking up some snacks for the road, I hopped onto the last Shinkansen of the trip, and headed back to Tokyo for my last day in Japan!

Spending Tracker

Public transport: 210JPY ~ 2.6AUD
Beef skewer: 500JPY ~ 6.3AUD
Yam omelette: 300JPY ~ 3.7AUD
Eel rice set: 2100JPY ~ 25.9AUD
Tenryu-Ji ticket: 500JPY ~ 6.2AUD
Ice cream: 300JPY ~ 3.7AUD
Drugstore: 5655JPY ~ 70AUD
Sesame: 600JPY ~ 7.4AUD
Green tea lollies: 1230JPY ~ 16.2AUD
Green tea jam: 2500JPY ~ 30.9AUD
Omurice: 2700JPY ~ 33.5AUD
Loft: 1128JPY ~ 13.9AUD
Green tea waffle: 151JPY ~ 1.9AUD
Total: 17874JPY ~ 228.5AUD

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Ribs & Burgers

American BBQ was all the craze a few years back, and Ribs & Burgers was one of the first few restaurant that introduced the cuisine to Melbourne. A lot has changed since then, and Ribs & Burgers is a fully fledged chain restaurant at this point, with four joints sprawled across Melbourne.

Pork Baby Back (Large) – $34.90

The full rack of baby back ribs smelt amazing when it landed on our table. The meat was falling off the bone, and the sweet caramelisation from the grill added an extra layer of flavour to the ribs. This was definitely worth the inevitable sticky fingers.

Chips

The chips were nothing to be scoffed at either, golden and crunchy, this may push the meal from being rich to decadent, but hey, you’ll never find me complaining about chips this good.

Beef Ribs – $23.90

The beef ribs were basted in the same signature BBQ sauce of Ribs & Burgers, but the result was completely different. The meaty flavour was a lot stronger in this case, and although it lacked the tenderness of the pork baby back, it would be ideal for someone who is a serious carnivore.

Apple and Cabbage Salad

Balance is key, and the crisp and light apple and cabbage salad was the logical counterpart to the rich beef ribs. Eating bites of the salad between the ribs ensured that your arteries aren’t too overly clogged by the end of the meal.

Compared to some of the more upscale steakhouses, Ribs & Burgers is a no-frill sort of deal, and the ribs remain tasty after all this time. It may not be an ideal setting if you’re trying to seriously impress someone, however, the laid-back vibe makes it perfect for a quick weekday dinner, and that’s clearly been working out for Ribs and Burgers.

How to get here:
I visited Ribs & Burgers at its Hawthorn location, which is located on Glenferrie Road, about 10 minutes walk from Glenferrie Station.

Ribs & Burgers Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Enter Neighbour

Enter Neighbour has recently celebrated its first birthday, being situated in Camberwell, where there are plenty of cafes, it certainly takes something special to stand out. In an attempt to do so, Enter Neighbour revamped their menu to focus on high quality produce, while also jumping on the boozy brunch train, where for $35, you are able to have an unlimited number of cocktails with your food.

The space may initially seem small, however, there is also another room as well as courtyard, allowing the cafe to accommodate both smaller and larger groups.

Soy Flat White – $4.30

I’ve recently changed my coffee order to soy flat white, purely because I enjoy the nuttiness from soy milk, but also not enough to have it in the fridge at home, not being a soy milk drinker myself. Although there was no fancy rosetta present due to the difficulty of creating decent foam with soy milk, Enter Neighbour uses quality beans from Axil Coffee Roasters, and the resulting drink is full and robust.

Summer Passion

Onto the boozier side of things, we had the cocktail special called Summer Passion. This was seriously Summer in a cup, or rather, a cute jar in this case. A mix of passionfruit, pineapple, gin and spritz, it was light, refreshing, and easy to drink without being overly sweet.

Nanban Chicken – $18.5

The Nanban Chicken at Enter Neighbour has all the essential elements that are present in the traditional Japanese dish, however, the changes made by the chef meant that it was a lot lighter and healthier. From the light batter of the chicken to the use of black rice, which also added a ton of texture to the plate. The gribiche sauce, which is typically found in French cuisine, went surprisingly well with the dish, offering some acidity to brighten everything up, and tied it all together nicely.

Benedict Cumberbatch – $19.00

The benedict featured pulled lamb, which was tender and flavoursome, and I also really enjoyed the contrast between the pickled cabbage and the rich hollandaise. Although the hollandaise did lack the sweetness from the saffron which was promised on the menu. The pumpkin puree also felt like an afterthought, which I don’t think matched particularly well with the other flavours on the plate. However, each element was executed well, and with some small changes, this has the potential of being a winning dish.

Hand Cut Chips w/ Sriracha Aioli – $7.5

The chips at Enter Neighbour were of the rustic variety, and while they were cooked well, and the centre was quite fluffy, I did find the portion size to be on the smaller side, especially considering the price tag, which was surprising considering that everything else we’ve tried by this point was quite well-priced.

Being away from the hustle and bustle of Camberwell means that Enter Neighbour has the benefit of holding the charm of a local cafe, but with a menu that is much more sophisticated than your average brunch hotspot down the road. The offering of boozy brunch gives it another edge, and is something that will be especially enjoyable for a birthday celebration or the like.

If you are feeling like avoiding the crowd, why not venture out a bit further and give Enter Neighbour a go?

How to get here:
Enter Neighbour is located on Camberwell Road, catch tram #75 and get off at Summerhill Road/Toorak Road, and the cafe is just two minutes walk away.

I dined as a guest of Enter Neighbour.

Enter Neighbour Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fukuryu Ramen

It’s crazy to think that not that long ago, it was near impossible to get a good bowl of ramen in Melbourne. The situation is definitely a lot loss dire now, with ramen joints popping out all across town. Fukuryu Ramen was, however, one of the first decent restaurants that specialises in ramen, and I was interested to see how it fares against the newcomers some years later.

Red Dragon Ramen – $15.90

Wanting something with some kick, I went for the Red Dragon Ramen, which is said to be the spiciest ramen on offer. The noodles were slightly curly, and had a good bite to it. The soup was indeed, quite spicy, definitely capable of making you sweat as the heat builds up. Besides the spiciness though, the soup base was also full of umami, and quite thick, benefiting from a long and slow simmer of the pork bone broth. The trimmings of chashu were fatty and satisfying, and the egg was also cooked perfectly.

I’m happy to report that Fukuryu Ramen has stood the test of time, and is a reliable place to visit for a good ol’ bowl of ramen, especially now that we’re finally getting some cooler weather!

How to get here:
Fukuryu Ramen is located on Corrs Lane, which is just off Little Bourke Street; a short 7 minutes walk from Melbourne Central.

Fukuryu Ramen Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The White Elephant

Since opening its doors just over a year ago, White Elephant has become a local favourite for authentic Sri Lankan food. I don’t have too much experience with the cuisine myself, and was excited to try it out.

Lamb Curry – $18.90

The aromatic lamb curry may seem small, but the large chunks of lamb and potato meant that it was actually quite substantial. The lambs were cooked until tender, and the fluffy potatoes really took on the creaminess of the sauce.

String Hoppers Set – $18.00

We ordered String Hoppers out of curiosity, having never seen the dish elsewhere. It came with coconut sambol, which had a strong coconut flavour from the use of both coconut flesh and coconut milk, and added some crunch to the curry too.

String Hoppers Set – $18.00

The chicken curry was also part of the set, and I was surprised to see chicken on the bone being used. Although this meant that it was slightly more difficult to eat, the meat was extremely flavoursome, especially when you drizzle some of the sauce on top, which had quite a thin consistency. We thought that this was similar to a Malaysian curry, although the sauce consistency was quite different.

String Hoppers Set – $18.00

The string hoppers themselves turned out to be pancakes that were made of rice noodles akin to vermicelli. Although unusual, I did find this to be a little salty, especially when eaten with the chicken curry.

Eggplant Moju – $15.00

Our vegetarian dish of the night was eggplant moju, and this was unanimously voted best dish of the night. The pieces of the eggplant were first pan fried to result in great caramelisation, before being finished off in the pan with a mix of spices including cinnamon, making this a light and refreshing contrast to the heartier meat curries. The cooking method actually reminded me of Yuxiang eggplant, a Chinese dish of eggplant cooked in a soy-based sauce, although the flavours are quite different.

Godamba Roti – $3.50

We originally wanted to try out the Pol Roti, but were told by the waitress that that it is not to everyone’s taste, and were talked into getting the Godamba Roti instead, which was essentially a plain roti. This did set a good benchmark though, the roti was fresh and flaky, and was perfect for dipping into all of the curries.

Cheese Roti – $4.00

The Cheese Roti is the much more indulgent cousin of the Godamba Roti, and the stretchy cheese meant that this was good enough to eat on its own, but even better when eaten with the curries.

Yellow Rice – $10.00

We were not going to try the yellow rice given the number of other carbs we had already ordered, but this is a signature side dish at White Elephant, and the waitress insisted on serving us with a smaller portion to try out, which we happily obliged with. The subtle creaminess of the coconut milk meant that this was mild and fragrant, and again, great for soaking up the curry sauces.

The food did take a while to come out at White Elephant, given that it is a mother-daughter operation. With only the daughter being the floor staff also meant it could be difficult to get her attention, especially when the restaurant was busy.

Living in the other side of town means that I don’t have the luxury of dropping by White Elephant to grab some takeaways for dinner, but the enticing and unique combination of flavours of Sri Lankan food has guaranteed my return.

How to get here:
White Elephant is located on Barkly Street, catch bus #220 and get off at Clarke Street/Barkly Street, and the restaurant is a minute walk away.

I dined as a guest of The White Elephant.

The White Elephant Sri Lankan Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

NL House

NL House is a small shop that has a succinct menu that features Malaysian classics. Bright and modern, it’s mainly a place where people seem to be picking up takeaways, but there are a few seats available both in and outside of the restaurant if you’re choosing to dine in.

Fried Chicken Nasi Lemak w/ Traditional Sambal – $12.80

Being the namesake for the restaurant, it would be remiss of me to not order a plate of nasi lemak. I went for the fried chicken version, and before long, a plate that held all the components of nasi lemak was placed down on the table. The chicken was dry and crispy on the outside, encasing a tender and juicy inside. The traditional sambal had just enough of a kick to it to make me sweat while mixing it through with the rice, and did a terrific job of tying everything together.

Although nothing fancy, NL House is certainly promising when it comes to delivering authentic Malaysian food. Word on the block is that it also serves a killer chicken laksa, which I’m definitely keen to try out once the weather cools down.

How to get here:
NL House is located on Grattan Street, catch any of the trams on Swanston Street from Flinders Street or Melbourne Central heading towards Melbourne University and get off at Melbourne University, and the restaurant is a short three minutes walk away.

Nasi Lemak House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

JAPAN 2017 | Naoshima: Benesse Art Site

Breakfast on a Shinkansen

Benesse Art Site is a collaborative project by Benesse Holdings, Inc and Fukutake Foundations, and aims to be a space where nature, art and architecture are able to interact, creating an unique experience depending on the time of the year you visit, and the time of day you see each art piece.

Today’s agenda is short and sweet – to spend a day on one of three islands that forms the Benesse Art Site – Naoshima.

You would definitely benefit from spending the night on the island, having a lot more time to explore, but unfortunately I couldn’t fit it into the trip this time round.

So knowing that it takes just under four hours to get to Naoshima, I got up nice and early, and got on the Shinkansen after making a short stop at 7/11, which ended up being where I picked up all of my meals on the day. The trip is outlined in detail on the website of Benesse Art Site, and although time consuming, it was all quite straight forward.

Once you arrive at Naoshima, there is a local bus that you can catch right next to the port. But it is much easier to rent a bike and ride around the island to get to the various art projects and museums. Unfortunately for me, someone who somehow never managed to learn that skill, I had to use the bus. And then next thing you know, I somehow got off at the wrong bus stop, and the next bus wasn’t going to come for an hour, so I decided to just walk around and see what I could find.

There are definitely worse places to get lost in than Naoshima though. Everywhere you turned, there was something worth stopping for, and I actually really enjoyed just taking my time and soaking up the serenity of the island.

A couple of hours later, I made my way to Chichu Art Museum, one of the most immersive museums I’ve visited to date. The architecture by Tadao Ando really compliments the limited number of art pieces that are in the museum, and the fact that the museum is built underground really lends itself to take on the changes in the weather throughout the season. It really is something that I think you have to experience to appreciate fully.

Yayoi Kasuma’s signature pumpkin was another one of my favourites on the island. Deceptively simple yet stunning in person, especially against nature as a backdrop.

I really enjoyed taking things slow and having a somewhat unplanned day in Naoshima. There was a lot to see and explore on the island, and I’m definitely going to plan an overnight stay next time! I managed to get back to Kyoto just after 12am, and was excited for my last day in Kyoto!

Spending Tracker

Ferry ticket: 540JPY ~ 6.7AUD
Breakfast from 7/11: 840JPY ~ 10.4AUD
Lunch and pens from 7/11: 1525JPY ~ 18.8AUD
Chichu Art Museum ticket: 2040JPY ~ 25.2AUD
Souvenirs from Chichu Art Museum: 1020JPY ~ 12.6AUD
Shinkansen bento box: 940JPY ~ 11.6AUD
Snack from 7/11: 400JPY ~ 4.9AUD
Total: 7305JPY ~ 90.2AUD