Doutor Cafe, Japan

Just before my birthday last month, I jetted off to Sapporo, Hokkaido, for a week to take a short break. It hasn’t been that long since I visited in Tokyo in April, but I just felt like I needed a break. Even if time is passing by so fast, particularly this year it seems, holidays are like an oasis in the desert. Although I have been to Japan so many times over the last few years since my first trip there in winter of 2007, I have never set foot on the northern territories of Hokkaido. It was an opportune time to visit even if summers in Japan can be mercilessly hot, because summer is the period when flowers bloom in Hokkaido, and temperatures there are generally more forgiving and bearable than in Honshu itself.

So because we needed to transit in Tokyo to get to Sapporo, we decided to take a red-eye flight to Narita with a short hour-plus transit stop, where we had to collect our luggage and re-check it in, due to security concerns, before hopping over to the domestic terminal at Narita to catch the flight out to Sapporo. The queues at the custom was not too long, though there was still a fair bit of arriving tourists and foreigners waiting in line. We managed to have sufficient time to clear the arrival immigration, and still queue to deposit our luggage for the domestic sector.

By the time we arrive in Sapporo, it was probably around noon. We went to the tourist information counter, or the JR office, I can’t remember the exact name, where we bought ourselves a 5-day JR Rail Pass, as well as a ticket that would take us to the city, which is just about half an hour away on the limited express train.

Our hotel, Century Royal Hotel, is located not far from the JR station. There is an underground walkway that could lead us to the hotel, but with the luggage it’s easier to walk above ground, wheeling our luggage from the station, out onto the street and across a road, where the hotel stands. Hotel Gracery is also nearby, in the adjacent street, and its exterior facade somehow looks nicer. However, I think it either cost more when we were booking or it wasn’t available anymore because this is travel peak season and ours was a fairly last minute trip.

Finally, we settled for a late lunch, more like a tea break, after checking in. We were exploring the area for food options, feeling slightly zombie-fied from the lack of sleep in the flight. This was what we picked eventually, me wanting to have a coffee badly. As it wasn’t that far off from dinner time, we ordered these to share – a sandwich and a pumpkin tart.
Here’s a closer look at the tart. There are lots of such tarts being sold in the cafes all over Sapporo, mostly cheese tarts. Probably because it is Hokkaido after all, where milk, cheese and dairy are the thing to have! The texture of this cake was a little mousse-like and not really too sweet or heavy. Or maybe my taste buds had fallen asleep. But overall, it was a pretty good tea break!

Over the next few posts, expect to see more of these cafe shots and also food! What’s a holiday without savouring the gastronomical offerings of the destination?!?

The Clueless Goat, Novena

It had been a while since I discovered The Clueless Goat in the Novena area, one day while I was traipsing towards United Square from Novena Square / Velocity. It is located in the row of shop-houses next to the exit from the tunnel that leads from Novena MRT station, or rather behind it. The official address is 189, Thomson Road, but to me, Thomson sounds like somewhere far away, or maybe it’s just an impression.

Nevertheless, it is really within walking distance of Novena station! It is a fairly small and cosy cafe, probably seats 20-odd to 30 persons max, with a few small tables and one large communal table that can take about 8. I finally got myself to pop in one late Saturday morning for brunch, but I think it isn’t the best time to visit. It was quite packed with the brunch crowd, although I managed to find a seat, at a corner of the communal table no less. However, turnover was also brisk as some of the brunch crowd were really there for brunch and after eating, they promptly cleared off, mostly Caucasians living in the vicinity I suspect. With these brunch peeps, it also means families and young kids or toddlers. I actually do not have an issue with kids, even though I am not exactly fond of them. But if they are adorable and quiet, ok, as long as they are quiet, I don’t have a problem with them. But these kids were all screaming and crying, and that got me really annoyed as I was looking for a place where I could comfortably have brunch while reading a book or something. That was not to be, unfortunately, so I didn’t stay long too.

Anyway, this was what I ordered. The Granola (S$6) – Honey Nut Almond Granola with vanilla infused yogurt & fresh berries, and an add-on of Toast (S$1.50). If you would like to have some spreads, you could order Toast with Butter and Jam (S$4) but of course, for that you could choose Sourdough or Multi-grain bread although I am not sure if it’s also just a slice of toast cut in half like this. I don’t use spreads much so I opted for just plain Toast, and as it could get a little dry, I just plopped some yogurt on top. 🙂

The cashier suggested that the Granola was a rather small portion that wouldn’t be sufficient when I asked about its size, which was also why I ordered the add-on. Looking at its price, I also considered that which was why I asked in the first place. But I think it would have been enough for a small brunch, and for someone like me who feels peckish all the time, it might have been better for me to just order the Granola and have something else later on for tea-break!

Recently, I have been into ordering Yogurts with granola or muesli when I visit cafes, because I really like eating these, and I would like to think that they are a healthy option to have as compared to my usual muffin or cake. But granola or muesli are supposedly sugar-laden too, so I’m really a little unsure. I guess as long as we enjoy what we eat, that should be good enough, after all life is too short to worry so much! The fresh berries were actually one strawberry and perhaps 5 blueberries, haha.
Their coffee is supposed to be good, and I would say that it fits the criteria of gourmet coffee, from its acidity that is reminiscent of all the places that serve good coffee. Again, I would say that I have cheap taste buds because such good coffee to me is bitter, without any sugar or milk. It leaves a really bitter, sour after-taste at the back of my throat, so sometimes I don’t enjoy it as much. I probably have to really make myself go attend some coffee appreciation workshop to learn how to savour good coffee!  And the book that I was trying to read, recommended by a friend recently. I think I would roughly know the gist of the book from its synopsis, but I wonder if there’s any plot twists in it. Let’s find out as I read on when I make some spare time by detaching or disconnecting myself from the digital devices!

The Clueless Goat has quite an alright menu in terms of variety, but many of their brunch items feature eggs, though I suppose if you don’t fancy eggs you could always order their sandwiches, which actually look pretty good when I eyed what other customers were having. I’ll be back next time, but probably at a different timing so that I can have some respite in the cafe and stay a little longer. But take note that they are closed on Mondays and on Tuesdays to Thursdays and Sundays they open only until 6pm.

Pâtiserrie Francaise Colombin, Tokyo

On one fairly chilly and drizzly day in Tokyo, my friends and I popped into this cafe/bistro that instantaneously seem to transport us in a time capsule back to a couple of decades ago. Even as Patiserrie Francaise Colombin, with its French name and located along the glitzy, upmarket street of bustling Omotesando, the interior felt like a world of difference. Perhaps it being a weekday afternoon played a part, as there was this huge group of patrons who were well into their golden years, chatting boisteriously and merrily over coffee and cakes. There were other scattered pairs of patrons but this group who were seated in the midst of the cafe had about 10 or more in their party.

We were given a corner table and although what drew us in originally was the delectable-looking and creamy Swiss roll, it didn’t seem to be offered on the menu. Poring through what was available that afternoon, we decided to order a Matcha Mont Blanc and a serving of Pancakes. I would admit that I have never really had a Mont Blanc, or that I could remember because of the way it looks that somehow it didn’t seem like something I would like. I am not that into creamy mousse and that is how a Mont Blanc appears to me, but we decided on this anyway and it was a pleasant surprise. Now I know that Mont Blanc is actually made of pureed, sweetened chestnuts, the latter of which is something I like (not so sure about ‘sweetened’ though). But the part of it being ‘topped with whipped cream’ is probably the off-putting part. As much as I love cream cheese or clotted cream that comes with scones sometimes, I don’t fancy cream cheese frosting because it is too sweet and whipped cream… just because. It just does not compare up with clotted cream which is more dense and richer in texture and therefore more enjoyable, though with a definitive higher fat content I suspect.

Our surprise in this Mont Blanc derives from its taste, which isn’t too sweet despite my initial misgivings. Perhaps the matcha that was used in making it helped to counter and balance the original sweetness of this cake. And it was what was contained within that also drew slight exclamations of surprise from us.   Besides what you see inside here, the creamy white blob of something which I can’t now recall but which isn’t something very sweet, deeper in the core was another green-tea flavoured blob of cream that was quite yummy. Pardon my lack of recollection of the details, and also my limited vocabulary in describing the taste. That’s why photos are important in capturing moments to remember, and in this case, I have not taken an adequate number of them, especially in the face of bad memory. On the whole, we gave this Mont Blanc a thumbs-up!

Next up was the pancakes, which were really small discs of caramelised flour cakes whose taste reminded me of creme brulee. The huge dollop on top is whipped cream but in this case, it goes well with the fluffy pancakes, that aren’t too heavy and dense, and their size helps to make us feel that we aren’t overindulging. It may be a case of self-delusion but who cares right, since we were on holiday!    This place is like a hidden gem amidst the bustling Omotesando shopping belt but I believe there are many of such places all over, whether in Tokyo or even right here in our own backyard, evidenced by the multitude of cafes that are sprouting up island-wide, many of which I have never had the chance to visit before they close for whatever reasons. Well, as with all F&B establishments, there are always hits & misses and not all cafes in Singapore are good, whether food or coffee or just the cafe experience in itself. 

Yakitori goodness

I can’t remember the name of this restaurant, but it’s an eatery located at one of the upper floors of Tobu Department store in Ikebukuro. It resembles an izakaya of sorts but then in a very different setting, as it doesn’t have your usual “salary man” drinking and smoking, it being a department store where I suppose smoking isn’t allowed indoors. It feels more like the typical Japanese restaurants that we might expect to see in Singapore, with spacious seating arrangements and the use of wooden furniture.

There was some misunderstanding in the reading of the menu that led us to ordering more than what we could finish. It just goes to show that my level of Japanese proficiency isn’t too fantastic.

So these are the grilled vegetables that we ordered – leek, cucumber, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes.These were the minced chicken balls (tsukune) that we ordered, coated with different choice of sauces. Among yakitori, this is one of my favourites, aside from the veggies. I can’t appreciate most other yakitori such as chicken skin, innards or what-have-you.  The whole lot of yakitori sticks we had. The plate on the left-hand side were the mis-ordered ones. They were also minced chicken balls but coated with a pre-determined set of 3 different sauces. We couldn’t finish all of them eventually because it was just too much food.Reason why we couldn’t finish… because we ordered other things too. My friend and I shared the Oyako-don, which was really yummy as the egg was so smooth and fragrant, it’s almost like extremely creamy scrambled eggs.  Another of my friend ordered this dish, which I don’t really know what it was. There was breaded chicken slices on top of some rice, but I have no idea what the yellow bits were. He didn’t seem to enjoy this as a sizable portion was left behind, or maybe it was just the rice and carbs that he didn’t want to have. The 2 mains were part of a set that came with dessert, a very interesting type of mochi coated with soy bean powder, topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a syrup of sorts, probably honey or maple syrup?  On the whole, the dinner was pretty ok I guess, as yakitori is a type of Japanese food I enjoy, though I hardly have them these days and the variety I consume is rather limited. Nevertheless, most of the food in Japan are good; it is hard to go wrong regardless of the type of establishment and the corresponding price of the dish. Perhaps unless there is some preconceived expectation that isn’t met, but for me so far, I don’t think I have been much disappointed by food that I have in Japan. 🙂

Asanoya, Tokyo

These days, it seems like all the famous brands, be it bakeries, fashion chains, restaurants or anything… are making their way onto local shores. From Paul, Paris Baguette, Laduree, Tin Ho Wan, etc., to H&M, Uniqlo, Goyard, Sephora, Lululemon, many have found their way here, even if not all manage to remain sustainable. There were some that have come and gone, and whether or not it is good or bad that they have come here remains debatable. We would rejoice that we do not have to travel several thousand miles just to taste the well-known macarons of Angelina (another famed French patisserie) that would be opening here soon, yet some turn their noses up at these, preferring instead to only have these when they visit the home-ground of these brands. For myself with a tight travel budget, I think I would not mind having them here, if not for the apparent  differences at times, when they are imported into Singapore. Despite that it is inevitable that they would cost more here than compared to their place of origin, there are times when the quality just does not match up.

Anyway that is not the point of this post. Asanoya, a well-known Japanese bakery, opened in Singapore late last year, and although I have read about it and saw lots of photos of their breads on local social media, Wilby Central at Queen Street is still a tad out of the way for me, especially when I consider the potential crowds or queues that I may be faced with. I don’t know how the crowd situation is like now but I still have not tried it in Singapore, to be able to make a comparison to this outlet and the one in Tokyo.

I had actually been past the Tokyo store that is located at Mid-town Roppongi, but that time when I was there I didn’t buy anything because I just took a look and went somewhere else. This time, I decided to go there for breakfast one day since I was craving for their Karuizawa green tea bread, which looked really good from the pictures online. Unfortunately, on both days that I dropped in they didn’t have it. 😦

The first instance when I went as I wasn’t able to buy any of the bread, I just ordered my breakfast, which is some bread baked with dried orange slices atop with a sprinkling of icing sugar. I don’t remember what it’s called but it has a texture that felt like a cross between croissant and bread. Major love although the icing sprinkled on top made it a bit sweet. I have a sweet tooth but it is a moderated sweet tooth that I have.It goes well with coffee of course. Black coffee goes well with almost anything, except perhaps yogurt, though that shouldn’t be the case since creamers and dairy stuff are added to milk too.  A closer look into the pastry, which contains thin layers of custard, making it less overwhelming than if the entire inside was filled with the whole chunk of custard. I spent a nice quiet morning enjoying this citrusy bread with the morning coffee.  On the second occasion there on my final day of the trip, they still didn’t have the green tea bread, so I left with a slice of the Karuizawa Blueberry bread. I love how fragrant this bread is, and I actually brought this back to Singapore, where I had it for breakfast the next day when I went back to work. It probably isn’t the healthiest bread to eat, considering that I have been told to cut out all these bread, flour, whatever stuff, but once in a while I suppose it is still ok to indulge. After all, where carbs are concerned, I can cut out the rice and noodles, but breads, pastries and things like potatoes (sweet potatoes or regular potatoes) are just something that I can’t seem to live without.I should make it a point to pop by Wilby Central at Queen Street one of these days!

it’s all about the convenience of coffee 

It is no secret that I am a big fan of cafes. I wanted to say that I am a coffee fan but then again I think I can’t really lay claim to that because as a friend rightly pointed out one day, to my dismay, that despite me being a self-professed / so-called aficionado of coffee, I did not know the difference between an Americano and a Long Black. I now know the difference, thanks to that episode, so I shall just say that I love hanging out at cafes because they are convenient for the lone ranger who is out to seek some caffeine boost and nosh to keep the energy going.

Despite that there are tons of great cafes out there with a uniqueness that chains like Starbucks can’t ever emulate, I seldom check them out, whether locally or abroad. Locally, their locations frequently are prohibiting for me because I do not want to caught in a situation of taking a taxi all the way to some Ulu Sembawang place to look for a cafe only to find out that it’s full, with patrons not seemingly likely to leave anytime soon, or worse, that it is no longer in operation. The latter could be a very real predicament, considering that businesses in Singapore do come and go quite easily due to the competitiveness of the scene. Even overseas, there are times when I stick to the tried-and-tested places because I know I can hang around for a fair bit of time without being ‘chased’ out of a small cafe, and they are easy to locate for someone who might have been walking for hours and just need to get some sustenance.

So anyway, these were some of the ‘convenient’ places that I grabbed my daily coffee and bites at when I was in Tokyo recently.

Some of my friends are coffee snobs, and they turn their noses up at Starbucks’ coffee. Since I used to can’t tell an Americano or Long Black apart, it is also safe to assume that I can’t really distinguish between good or bad coffee. Wrong. If it’s very bad, I certainly can taste it, but my body is not accustomed to very good coffee, which I often associate with strong, acidic coffee that leaves a bit of a bitter/sour after taste at the back of my tongue. They also leave me feeling a little light-headed or high thereafter. So a tall or even grande sized brew coffee or Americano from Starbucks does the trick for me on days when I want to have more fluid in the cup rather than the usual smaller cup of coffee that I would otherwise get from these standalone small joints.
A short-sized Americano with some Cranberry Granola Toast. I don’t think the toast is that healthy, but then I love breads in several, scratch that, many forms, so this makes for a nice morning snack.  A short latte with a cup of Granola and Cranberry Yogurt, something I had just before I took the Airport Limousine Bus to the airport on my way home. These days, we are also starting to see Starbucks Singapore offer more of such options, but they already pre-mixed the granola or whatever else fruits or compote they have into the yogurt. I would have preferred if they were separate because otherwise the crunchy/crispy bits would have lost all the crunch and become too soggy.   On one drizzly evening, before I went for Bikram yoga class, I killed time at Excelsior Cafe with a cup of Americano and a slice of Sakura Tea Cake. Somehow, butter/tea cakes that come in plastic packaging like that creates a preconceived notion in me that the cake won’t be that great, as compared against buying tea cakes that are displayed in a sliced loaf, encased in a glass container. I know it’s weird, but I always get that kind of feeling, and have yet to ascertain the veracity, if those cakes are really not as nice. Who knows?  The weather in Tokyo during the week that I was there was on the overall, great. But there were still moments when the city was shrouded with drizzle. There was just one day when the weather was bad because it rained almost the whole day and made us feel lethargic and tired, but otherwise it was generally ok. I am always spoilt for choice whenever I pop into Dean & Deluca in Tokyo, where the array of pastries and breads available all scream at me to buy them. Their muffins are really good but they are huge, and I am quite wary of these sugar bombs even if I still do give in to the craving sometimes. But then again, this slice of Caramelized bread probably isn’t much better, except that the interior didn’t feel/taste as sweet as a muffin would, and I kind of tore off the sticky parts. :p And lastly, on my last morning in Tokyo, I finally found Mister Donut! I didn’t have this when I was in Bangkok last year because the donuts on display then looked kind of sad, so I made sure I went there to have my favourite Pon De Ring. But I was a little disappointed, and started to wonder if this was my usual because the glazed ring didn’t taste as good as I recalled. Perhaps the one I used to have wasn’t this variant.. Hmm. Oh well, at least I tried it and maybe the next time, I can give it a miss already.

Coffee Assembly, Hong Kong

Took us a while to locate this quaint and cosy little cafe situated somewhere in the mid-levels, or actually I don’t really know which area of Central that is considered. Its address said Elgin Street, but we were not able to find it despite walking to the end of Elgin Street and seeing a unit number that was larger than what the cafe is. Turns out the street continued further down, not directly across from an intersecting point but a little off the main Elgin Street that we were walking on. Talk about being confused by the myriad of criss-crossing streets in the SOHO area!

So anyway, it is on a second level, and there is a small signage that you could easily miss if you are not keeping a lookout for it. Turns out, this cafe opens at fairly weird timings. The day that we decided to pop by, which was a Thursday, it supposedly only opens its doors for business at 1pm. It was just about 1pm when we knocked and a lady, presumably the boss, opened the door to greet us and welcomed us in, but informed us that there was no food available.

We were fine with that since we thought about getting food later on, post-coffee that is, and since we were all still quite full (except me perhaps) from the morning’s food.

These were our drinks. Flat white, soy latte and cappuccino? Or perhaps there was a mocha instead of the cap. The latte art showed the painstaking effort put in by the lady boss to make it good. But our only gripe was that it took a little too long. The interval between two beverages could be 10 minutes, or perhaps more. And we were the only customers. At least when we arrived it was just us, then another two pop in and one lady got really frustrated waiting for her coffee.IMG_1468

I suppose maybe the main intent of this cafe wasn’t for the sake of profiteering but probably it grew out of a passion for coffee and managing a cafe? Although it was stated that they open at 1pm, it was pretty evident that nothing was really ready at 1pm. It took a long while to set things up, to prepare the coffee and froth the milk for the latte art. For holiday-makers like us without an itinerary and a rush for time, we were quite alright with waiting as we chatted and caught up with each other. But for people who are there for a post-lunch cuppa, I think the pace here would take a toll on the customer who may be strapped for time in needing to get the coffee and head back to the office.IMG_1469Nevertheless, we still enjoyed ourselves, basking in the enjoyment and idyllic wait of people on vacation, so this would be a good spot to visit if you have time to spare and wouldn’t mind just sitting and waiting as you tuck into the selection of magazines available.