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Archive for September, 2011

Octa Hotel Cafe

I’m a sucker for pretty cafes. Antoinette is one, and now there’s one-year-old Octa Hotel. I kind of wish I wore a dress that day cuz it’s such a girly and feminine place (macho guys, beware)!

The concept is one of “an imaginary hotel in Paris’ 8th arrondissement“, though it’s not really a hotel but a cafe-cum-shop. And it’s not really from France but from Japan. The cafe menu has a small selection of light meals and desserts, while the retail area sells an interesting mix of accessories, apparels, bags and what-nots.

The fluffy egg omelette in the tri-colour sandwich ($13.90++) is good, very moist and soft. The other two fillings are merely tomatoes and lettuces, not exactly the most exciting things around. Still, this is a healthy choice before we move on to the sinful stuff!

I totally dig my rum raisin parfait ($12.50++)! No pun intended.

A tall icy glass of soft serve ice cream, rum soaked raisins, crunchy cornflakes, sweet pieces of pear, soft castella cubes, sans cream… There’s nothing I’d change about this

Love the mix berries parfait ($12.50++) too, though I wish the frozen berries were thawed before serving. Or better yet, use fresh berries! 🙂

Octa Hotel Cafe
9 Raffles Boulevard
#P1-39, Parco Marina Bay, Millenia Walk

6336 4614

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Kyoto: Gion Kinana

Only those in the know or armed with a map (or those lucky enough to stumble upon it accidentally) will find Gion Kinana (京きなな) since it’s located at a secluded (and extremely picturesque) area near Hanamikoji Dori. Behind the plain facade is a haven for ice cream lovers!

Gion-machi Minami-gawa 570-119, Higashiyama-ku

The menu is very limited but what they do, they do it well. There’s only 6 flavours available: green tea, red bean, black sesame, mugwort, roast soybean and black sugar syrup. Though it’s just ice cream, presentation is not overlooked! Each set comes with a strong pot of tea that complements the sweet ice cream nicely.

I’m here for one sole purpose: tasting the famed ‘dekitate’ ice cream, i.e. ice cream freshly made and never frozen. The ‘dekitate’ flavour changes daily and I was sooo happy when the staff told us it’s goma (black sesame) that day! Superbly soft and creamy texture, and the intensity of the sesame flavour was just right. Awesome stuff!

I also tried the mugwort and roasted soybean flavours which were average. Definitely not as good as the ‘dekitate’ sesame ice cream, primarily cuz of ice crystals in one of them (I can’t remember which), a big no-no for me where ice cream is concerned.

Besides ice cream, Kinana also serves parfaits but I say just go for the ‘dekitate’ flavour, whatever it is!

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Kyoto: Kagizen Yoshifusa

Just a few steps away from Gion Koishi is Kagizen Yoshifusa (键善良房),  my personal favourite dessert shop in Kyoto to-date! Considering how much sweets I ate during the stay there, I think that’s saying a lot, right?

 264 Gion-machi Kitagawa, Higashiyama-ku

I’m here for only one thing: the famous house specialty kuzukiri arrowroot noodles, which Kagizen Yoshifusa has been serving for over 300 years!

Opening the lacquer container is like unwrapping a precious gift.

The top tier is a shallow bowl of brown sugar syrup and the bottom section lies the star, homemade translucent cloudy-white kuzu (arrowroot) noodles (kinda look like the Chinese kway teow rice noodles, only more elegant) resting serenely among jewels of ice.

Dip the cold noodles into the “soup” and tuck in! There was a moment of silence before all the “mmmm” and “ahhhhh” started pouring out, haha. Incredible stuff this is!

It’s hard for me to describe and hard for you to imagine how amazingly subtle and special this is.

You simply have to try it for yourself!

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Kyoto: Gion Koishi

 Gion Koishi (祇園小石) is a popular stop for locals and tourists right smack in Gion. Besides the irritating P.S. Cafe policy here, all else is good at this famous candy shop!

286-2 Gion machi Kita gawa, Higashiyama-ku

Mega love the gorgeous muscovado sugar parfait with chiffon cake and chestnut paste! Puts all the so-called parfaits in Singapore to shame.

Super soft and jelly-like warabimochi (bracken rice cakes) with muscovado sugar~

Another muscovado sugar dessert: jelly in milk, simple and good. Notice the kokutomitsu (brown sugar syrup) trend here? Trust me, the stuff is awesome!

The iced green tea may look artificially green but it tastes fabulously refreshing, the perfect antidote for a hot summer day in Kyoto!

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Kyoto: Izuju Sushi

As if the tofu lunch was not filling enough, we had to have sushi barely an hour later too! And not just any sushi, it has to be Kyoto-style sushi at Izuju, a 100-year-old specialist in said sushi.

Kyoto-style sushi is very different from the Edo-style sushi we are more familiar with, i.e. raw fish + cooked vinegared rice. As Kyoto is a landlocked city, it ain’t easy to get fresh fish in the past. Solution? Preserve the fish so that it can be kept for a long period of time!

292-1 Gion-machi Kitagawa, Higashiyama-ku

Izuju is famous for its saba sushi, made by wrapping vinegared kelp and a whole cured mackerel fillet around rice before cutting the oval shaped “loaf” into individual pieces. The inari sushi was unavailable (boooo) so we tried the hamo sushi, a.k.a. grilled pike conger sushi (in the background) too.

I feel unappreciative/unlearned/uncultured as I type this but honestly, both the saba and hamo sushi didn’t impress me. Don’t get me wrong, they ain’t horrible. They are merely okay (the worst word ever) imo, nothing fantastic. Though now that I think about it, that conger was rather good, really soft. I just wish there’s more of it. Me being the “love fish so much more than rice” kind of girl, I couldn’t agree with the 4:1 rice to fish ratio.

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Kasagi-ya is a gem near Kiyomizu Temple. Diane Durston’s “Old Kyoto: a Guide to Traditional Shops, Restaurants, and Inns” described it as an “one-room shop (that) seats not more than ten people”. I count ourselves lucky that we dropped by on a quiet afternoon and there was only a lone tourist at the other table.

349 Masuta-cho, Kodai-ji, Higashiyama-ku

Kasagi-ya has been serving refreshments to pilgrims en route to the famous temple since 1914. Old and serene with an “old Kyoto” atmosphere, this small teahouse is a world away from the touristy street of Ninenzaka.

You gotta try the o-hagi here! Essentially glutinous rice balls with a coating of azuki red beans, these are made fresh and served warm at Kasagi-ya. I’m not big on rice cakes or rice balls but these are a delightful treat. Surprisingly light and soft, slightly chewy but not rubbery, sweet but not cloyingly. Very special indeed.

The annoying P.S. Cafe policy (a.k.a. one minimum order per person) comes into play here so we had the Shiruko shake too. Another winner, this smooth icy “red bean frappuccino” topped with shiratama dumplings is somewhat like frozen oshiruko (red bean soup), ahhhh the perfect drink for summer in Kyoto~

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Tofu is a big deal in Kyoto.

There’s a lot of history behind it but I won’t dwell on the details. Just know that the high quality spring water (a.k.a. soft water) produces excellent tofu unlike any others. And there are many traditional specialist “tofu restaurants” in Kyoto, Okutan (奧丹) being one of them. Founded more than 350 years ago as a vegetarian restaurant serving Buddhist monks, Okutan is one of the real McCoys around, very old and very authentic.

3-340 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku

We sat in the tatami rooms with gorgeous views of the gardens and soon, our tofu feast began!

All of us had yudofu (tofu set meal), with a choice of either cold tofu or boiled tofu as the main course. We tried both and I love how the silky tofu was so ridiculously soft and delicate. The side dishes were outstanding as well, like the sesame tofu, the grated yam soup (an acquired taste which the guys didn’t appreciate, haha) and the brilliant grilled miso tofu~

I’ve got to admit though it’s good, that’s a lot (and I mean, really a lot) of tofu in one meal. The guys are probably scarred for life now, lol.

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