What I ate in Japan – part 2

This is the second instalment of What I ate in Japan – read the first one here.

Traditional Ryokan food

After a spectacular rope-way trip over a volcanic valley, overlooking a bare mountain with thick steam rising from the surface, we made our way to our ryokan in Hakone, in the lush Japanese countryside. A traditional hotel, with tatami floor and sliding doors, the hotel also had a beautiful onsen (a natural thermal pool by a river, enveloped by nature) and a very gorgeous dinner served in our rooms and eaten on your knees (cramps).

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As much as the food was strikingly beautiful and perfectly constructed, it was bland. So, so bland. There was some sort of very delicate soup with chewy noodles and pheasant, squares of sweet omelettes and taro dumplings, boiled prawns, edible flowers, and pheasant sashimi. Yes. Raw poultry.

Raw poultry dressed with radishes so thinly sliced they were transparent and edible flowers, but raw poultry nonetheless. I had all sorts of alarms going off in my head. I’m sure it’s fine, I told myself. Be adventurous. You eat raw egg all the time. You’ve had raw pork. What’s the worst that can happen?

Curious to know what it tasted like? Me too. Because I did not have it.

In fact, scarred by this near-raw-poultry experience, when served the phaesant table barbeque I cooked the hell out of it, until it was tough and barely edible. Sorry, phaesant, you died in vain. This barbeque course (below), also involved some unseasoned leeks, some unseasoned mushrooms, and a single unseasoned slice of pepper.

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There were some lovely pickles and rice, but you catch my drift – there was no oil, no salt, no soy sauce, no yuzu, no ponzu sauce. Ingredients were left alone to shine and fell flat. That being said, looking up reviews online I seem to be the only person in the world who strongly disliked this, so I believe it’s my fault. My palate is not quite delicate enough to appreciate a single warm (did I mention unseasoned?) leek.

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Breakfast was considerably better, with some grilled salmon browned and caramelised, a salad with juicy prawns, and warming miso soup and rice. We took a bath in the enormous stone bathtub, hot water coming directly from the onsen, and enjoyed the view below.

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Bentos

I thought I was familiar with the concept of a bento – essentially, a packed lunch. But bento boxes come in so many shapes and price ranges: homely portions of just-sticky rice with creamy curry, or beautiful wood-like boxes with a myriad of tiny bite-sides dishes each occupying their perfect little square. There are bento shops in every station, and the choice can be overwhelming, but they quickly became one of the highlights of our Shinkansen trips.

The one below, which costed about £10, featured chewy taro dumplings, crunchy tempura prawns, savoury mussels on seasoned rice, a sweet, fluffy pillow of omelette served with fresh lotus root, and a variety of geometrically shaped elements which I could not quite recognise. But to me, bentos are all about the symmetry, the care for the detail, the dignity given to a train lunch. A world away from a ham sandwich and a packet of Quavers.

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CoCo Curry House

Japanese curry, the mild, sweet brown gravy often served with pork cutlet and chubby chunks of carrot, bears such little resemblance to its South East Asian homophone, that it never occurred to me that they could even be related.

In fact, curry was introduced in Japan by British Navy officers, who had adopted the dish from India. In its current form, it’s one of Japan’s favourite dishes and can be found pretty much everywhere.

A few people had recommended CoCo Curry House, a curry-dedicated chain whose brown sauce is close to addictive. Their motto is “good smell, good curry” and you will not get it until you realise that a CoCo Curry joint mysteriously projects an enticing smell which betrays it every time. Once you recognise it you will always know whether you are in its proximity.

The curry can be made of chicken, pork or beef, and can be served with anything from traditional fried cutlets to frankfurters, fried cuttlefish, natto and even just cheese (it is a very, very long menu). Most aspects, such as sweetness, spiciness, and toppings, are customisable.

Let’s talk about spice. I had never had a Japanese curry that was actually spicy before. Sure, it was spiced, but never hot. When choosing the heat level, looking for a hint of warmth more than anything else, we went for 2 out of 10. It was hot. Not painfully hot, but runny-nose teary-eyes swollen-lips hot. I’m not quite sure what a 10 would taste like, but I decided to keep that a mystery.

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As toppings, I particularly loved the soft-boiled egg, a quivery cloud of barely cooked egg, so borderline-raw that I wondered how they even managed to break the shell. I loved how the creamy yolk mixed with the dark pork curry sauce. I also liked the potent garlic bits, and the sweetcorn (a local obsession I unabashedly embraced during the trip).

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Or, fried stuff on rice with a barely-cooked egg (Japan really does not fear raw egg). This was from a small counter-only lunch restaurant full of people eating on their own while reading papers. I picked at random and received some huge, juicy prawns, pork and beef (yes – deep fried beef). The man next to me observed me for a little, a sceptical look on his face, then pointed to the jar of pickles, which I obediently added to my bowl. The acidity really lifted what is essentially, did I mention, fried stuff on rice.

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Sake

The perfect accompaniment to delicate flavours, sake is like a supremely clean-tasting white wine – a delicious palate cleanser between bites. We had an incredible experience at Osaka’s Sake Bar, a beautiful standing bar with an impressive selection of huge sake bottles and an English-speaking bartender who asked if we wanted it dry or off-dry, medium or full bodied, and offered us glasses upon glasses of the stuff. It was delicious, and I discovered I was partial to an off-dry sake as a nightcap.

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This is not, of course, everything we ate and drunk. We had disgustingly sweet matcha beers and whiskey highballs. We ate fatty chicken skin yakitoris in the Golden Gai, drank beer in smoky hole-in-the-wall bars, had takoyaki in markets, thick sashimi in izakayas with ice-cold dry sakes in a wooden box. And we loved all of it.

 

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What I ate in Japan – part 1

Not to blow my own horn, but I am normally quite good at planning where to eat on holiday. I study guidebooks, blogs, websites; I plan itineraries around this fried fish joint in Malaga or that Souvlaki place in Rhodes. I go back home comforted by the thought that yet again, I have eaten and drunk everything worth eating and drinking.

Of course, in a city like Tokyo, this is impossible. Not only because the city itself stretches over  a surface of over 2,000 square kilometres, but because it has the highest concentration of eating venues I’ve ever experienced. There are no-frills counter seating eateries, Michelin-starred restaurants, bakeries, yakitori joints where beer and sake are drunk around the griddle, izakayas where the food complements the drinks, noodle places with their little vending machines from which you order, performance restaurants, street stalls, markets. And all these seem to all sit on top of each other, there to confuse you with enticing smells and Japanese-only menus.

On top of this paralysing choice, Japanese addresses are near-impossible to understand and Google maps can be a little useless. At times, we would circle a road for a while before giving up, baffled at the fact that Google Maps had promised us that the restaurant would be there, on that very road, but was nowhere to be found. Some of these places remain a mystery; others, we realise, where simply inside buildings: there seem to be a number of buildings which only house eating and drinking places. Finding what floor the place you want to go to is, is a whole different story.

So there was a lot of improvising, and a lot of restaurants whose names I could not note down, where we stumbled upon hungry and frustrated after not been able to found the supposedly great okonomiyaki place round the corner. They were all truly great.

Convenience stores and bakeries

Kombinis, convenience stores, adorn every street corner and they are so wonderfully Japanese, you could forget they are American chains. The ready-to-eat foods are cheap and lovely: fat onigiris filled with anything from grilled salmon to fish eggs to sour salted plum (umeboshi, my favourite). Katsu (cutlet) sandwiches, in the whitest, crust-less bread, and ready-to-eat soft boiled eggs. You can also buy all sorts of snacks and crisps and bakery items. Sweet melon pans (covered with a cookie crust which makes them look like melons), buns filled with red bean paste, airy baked cheesecakes, chewy chestnut mochi. The drink section also features pretty much everything you can think of: cold green teas, sugary milk teas, flavoured milks, sodas made to taste like yogurt, cold beers and cans of sake. If you’re every hungry and confused, a kombini will see you through.

Japanese bakeries, the takeaway kind, are very similar to the ones you get in Chinatown in London. You take a tray and a pair of tongues at the entrance, and fill your tray with all sorts of cakes and buns. I noticed that a lot of them appeared to claim some from of Frenchness: they had French flags or were called something along the lines of “vie de France”, but were about as French as I am Japanese. This is where I made a first discovery about Japanese food: there seems to be little interest for authenticity. Foreign food is broken down to its elements and re-built to look and taste decidedly Japanese. A buttery, flaky croissant is chewed and spat out looking like a shiny, horn-shaped brioche filled with chocolate cream. This gives life to little treasures: buns filled with thick custards, but also turnip tops, matcha cream, chestnut; pancakes that are really soufflés and cheesecakes that are also really soufflés. Below, a little pumpkin-shaped bun, filled with slightly sweetened pumpkin puree. Flavours are not overly sweet and often nutty and toasted, never particularly sharp. Seasonality also seems very important, as pumpkin, sweet potato and chestnut were colouring all foods and dessert in November.

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Sushi

There were things I already knew to expect about sushi in Japan: it’s mainly nigiri and rolls are simple – the idea is to let the fish shine. Wasabi is in the nigiri and it’s not served on the plate for you to add. There is more emphasis on fish other than salmon and tuna.

Then, there were things I really had no idea about. Tuna, especially medium-fatty and fatty tuna, seems to be one of the most popular sushi items on the menu. It’s much fattier than the purple maguro we’re used to in Britain, paler in colour, with a melt-in-your mouth texture. It’s dreamy. Salmon does feature in sushi menus, but it’s more often consumed grilled than raw.

Here’s another thing: affordable sushi places don’t always look particularly nice. Used to the simple sleekness and abundance of wood of places like EatTokyo, some of the very popular sushi places I ate in were gritty, with servers wearing wellies, and chefs (politely) shouting at each other. There was often more of a fish-market atmosphere, and these places tended to normally have a queue and happy regulars wolfing down sushi with their hands (yes).

Kizuna Sushi, Tokyo

We stumbled upon this 24-hour sushi restaurant after discovering that a very good-looking izakaya had no English menu or pictures, which would have made ordering impossible. Kizuna sushi did a very good job of consoling us; it’s an airy restaurant with both table and (infinitely more fun) counter seating. The sushi was delicious and good value, and the atmosphere busy and buzzy. Their tuna set is excellent value and features tuna, medium-fatty tuna and fatty tuna, as well as scorched tuna and tartare. We also had slightly stranger rolls (slimy natto, of which I enjoy the nuttiness but was not quite as popular with my boyfriend), ume and shisho, unagi, ikura.

The tuna was my favourite, draped over rice and so soft it was about to fall apart, it was delicious and a great showcase to what the simples of foods (fresh fish, rice) can achieve. Washed down with some dry sake, it was pretty perfect.

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A lot of the other sushi we had in Tokyo was in hole-in-the-wall places whose names I could not read. The one below was our first ever sushi experience in Japan. A tiny eatery in a subway station tunnel, where there was no menu and no English was spoken. The owner just asked if we wanted sushi, and we said yes. This lunch sushi set came to about 1,500 yen each – that’s about 10 pound. Locals were eating chirashi and miso soup and laughing at footage of Trump’s visit in Tokyo.

 

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My absolute favourite sushi, though, was in Osaka.

Kuromon Market, Osaka

An energetic, bustling market frying up takoyaki, grilling scallops, selling wasabi roots and luxury fruit packaged like boxes of chocolate truffles. There is also a corner sushi stall specialising in tuna. There was lovely sashimi, but their rolls have set a standard forever impossible to meet back home: a never-before-seen ratio of fish to rice.

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Harukoma Sushi, Osaka

Thick slabs of fish on a tiny bit of perlescent rice. Clam miso soup which comes poured over a mountain of clams. The freshest uni I’ve ever had – bright and creamy, a delicate taste reminiscent of the sea. The tuna and salmon belly nigiris were maybe the best sushi I’ve ever eaten in my life. They have a (sticky, dirty) English menu, the floor is wet, and it has a buzzing, fish market energy. For better pictures, have a look at: https://migrationology.com/osaka-food-guide-japan/

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Ramen

I thought I wasn’t a big fan of ramen – I’m actually not a big fan of tonkotsu (pork bone) ramen. Its intense richness is a little off-putting to me, the way it coats the tongue and the vaguely animalic smells.

But hey! There is more to ramen than tonkotsu ramen. And even when it comes to tonkotsu, some restaurants will allow you to choose the level of richness, or to have your broth blended with miso or soy sauce.

Ebisoba Ichigen, Tokyo

This place specialises in prawn ramen. The broth is intense and seafood-y, almost like a lobster bisque, and can be blended with simple soy sauce stock (my choice), or tonkotsu (the boyfriend’s choice). The ordering is done via a vending machine at the entrance (this is entirely in Japanese but a lovely couple helped us ordering after seeing how lost we looked). You then quietly sit on a bench and when seats are free at the counter, you’re called up by the waiters – the slurping can then begin. I can’t quite explain how delicious this was – so intensely savoury, but also a fatty broth, thick chewy noodles, every bite as satisfying than the one before.

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Ichiran Ramen, various outposts (we ate in the Osaka Namba and the Tokyo Shinjuku ones)

Let me tell you a story. Upon our Airbnb host’s recommendation, we went for what claims to be the “best tonkotsu ramen” in Japan. Apparently people fly in from Hong Kong and Taiwan for a bowl of the stuff. The whole experience was surreal and slightly baffling. Unassuming from the oustide, this was a four-floor restaurant organised like a factory production line. You are asked if you want table or individual booth seating (more on that later), given a sheet on which you can choose every element of your ramen, like the richness of the tonskotsu, the strength of the fish stock base, the softness of the noodles, amount of their proprietary dry hot spice blend, garlic, and any add-ons. You are then ushered towards vending machines in which you have to make a ridiculous amount of decisions in a split second. Do you want a noodle refill? An egg? Sides? A beer? A matcha beer (don’t make this mistake)? Once we picked up our tickets, we were pushed towards a lift and somehow ended up on a different floor. We sat at our table and the ramen magically showed up minutes later.

It was probably my favourite tonkotsu ramen, a perfect blend of richness and savouriness, slices of chashu pork soft and trembling, marbled with fat, and a salted egg. The hot spice mix provided a very subtle kick, but you can go all out and transform this into an eye-wateringly spicy soup.

The following day, on the train to Tokyo, I couldn’t stop thinking about this ramen. Apparently simple, it clearly has an addictive quality and suddenly flying in from a neighbouring country for a bowl of the stuff seemed very reasonable. Ichiran is luckily a chain, and as soon as we got to Tokyo, we had it again.

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The Tokyo Shinjuku branch is smaller and less manic, which translates to a much longer queue. It also doesn’t have table seating, but individual booths only. It’s counter seating, but you have a panel separating each diner, and a panel separating you from the kitchen on the other side. This is raised while you’re been served, so you can see the waiter’s hands while they place your food on the counter – and then quickly pulled down to ensure absolute slurping privacy. Which you will absolutely need.

A review of Hangmee, Berlin

If there is one thing Berlin has that London so miserably lacks is space. Berlin seems to have buckets of space. Its peaceful, quiet Allees, lined by rows of trees, are so spacious that if you were to open your arms, as if to hug an imaginary friend, you probably would not cause an accident that would later be featured on BBC News. And I believe that all this space, the simple ability to walk from A to B without having to elbow and huff and puff and tut, makes everyone just so much more relaxed.

As I sat in what my friend kept referring to as “the yellow restaurant” (it is indeed quite yellow), I was trying to grasp the essence of these Berlin restaurants – relaxed, buzzy, cool, non-pretentious, sleek but never too sleek – and I decided that space played an important role in it. Now, I love the dinky Soho spots with wonky tables and a handwritten menu that is just a list of ingredients, but there is just something about a spacious restaurant, filled enough for the atmosphere to be warm but not so much to have a queue outside.

Hangmee is all primary colours, yellow walls with red accents, neon-signs like those on the streets of Thailand, big murals of food on the walls. Its fun decor very carefully treads the line between cool and corny, but there is simplicity to a very extensive menu of, well, “Thai-Laotian tapas”.

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Here is where I stand on the “everything-turn-tapas” trend. I love the idea of being able to try more by having smaller portions. I don’t love it as much when it becomes an excuse to overcharge for tiny portions on immaculate plates that you couldn’t share even if you wanted to (erm, shall I cut this asparagus in two?). Hangmee does tapas so, so, right. The portions are generous and come on a rotating dish to ensure that no one hoards any of the food (you will try).

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We chose a long list of dishes and every single one of them was excellent. There were supple bites of chicken wrapped in aromatic pandan leaves and their thick, addictive sauce; bright papaya salad with savoury dried shrimps; a mind-blowing dipping sauce with mince and lightly steamed, thin slices of broccoli and cabbage; crispy slices of juicy chicken bathed in a mild curry, chewy rice noodles stir-fried with egg and vegetables; pink, thick-skinned juicy dumplings with a creamy beef filling and a celery kick. Everything was bright, aromatic, filling, in generous portions to be scooped up with copious amounts of rice. The sort of tapas you can actually share – although you won’t want to.

 

Hangmee

Boxhagener Str. 108, Friedrichshain

Berlin

2016 Food highlights, pt. 2

Here is part 2 of my year in food. You can find part 1 here.

– Food at Som Saa because it was genuinely some of the best I have ever eaten. Ever. I was so keen and so worried about the legendary queue that I was the first one to show up – an hour before they even started serving food. They do luckily have a bar where you can knock down cocktails while you wait in trepidation. The whole-fried seabass, evil eyes and all, was a feast of spice, aromatics, tang and happiness on the flaky, buttery fish. And the prawn floss on the aubergine! Stroke of genius.

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– Another one of my favourite restaurants this year, Oldroyd, and its life-changing croquettes. I don’t use the word “life-changing” lightly. Actually, I do. But they were seriously noteworthy.

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Fabrique’s cinnamon buns, a life-saver for indulgent breakfast and comfort pick-me-ups, very conveniently located just by my office. Sticky and cinnamon-y beyond belief. Also everyone working there appears to be incredibly beautiful and blond and Swedish, which figures.

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– Brunch at Chinese Laundry Room. So many colours. Fluffy, pillowy mantou. Eggs as a side. Eggs should always be offered as a side.

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– Egg and bacon naan at Dishoom. True breakfast of champions – served with warming bottomless chai.

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– In June, I managed to relax with this view:

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And eat beetroot casunziei and venison ragù in little mountain lodges in the middle of nowhere.

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– Venetian bacari and 60p wine drunk on a square. Seriously considering moving.

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Mr Lyan’s truly brilliant cocktails were a perfect way to welcome my 26th year of life – especially the beeswax old fashioned.

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Avgustinos, Rhodes. In Rhodes, roughly 40% of our meals consisted of this souvlaki. The rest was incredibly buttery octopus and fried sardines and fresh tomato salad but the souvlaki 40% was strong.

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Electric Elephant Cafe. Our local. They truly know how to fry an egg.

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Osteria Bonelli. Sometimes you discover a somewhat renowned, delicious Roman restaurant you had never heard of, which was just behind your high school. It had been there all along, while I had my first kiss and gushed about boys and wore cropped tops with low-rise jeans. I must have walked it past it a billion times with my backpack and died dark hair. And yet I only discover it years later, when I don’t even live there anymore.

I loved this place. The lack of paper menus, a list of dishes on a blackboard,  the staff, friendly but so quick at taking your order you will most definitely panic-order (i.e. ordering the first thing you recognise) – this place served some of the best Roman food I have ever had. You could be adventurous and go for creamy fried brains, pajata, livers. Or simpler cacio e pepe, carbonara, gricia. A pile of savoury carbs to see you through the day.Processed with VSCO with s1 preset

– One-pound oysters at Wright Brothers. Quickest way to travel to the sea.

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2016 food highlights, pt. 1

New Year’s day. Time to try out that new smoothie maker you got for Christmas. Have you been to the gym yet? Me neither. But yes, definitely tomorrow. Definitely. Kale juice?

Before I get into New Year’s resolutions, I have taken the chance to reflect on the food highlights of my year, every meal a part of a story, forever weaved with conversations, views, trips, IKEA furniture building sessions. If I ever wrote an autobiography, it would probably be a recipe book.

Here’s a list:

– Tea. I’ve always loved tea, but 2016 was the year in which I truly unlocked its powers. Something rather magical happens after a few years in Britain. Uttering the question “Tea?” becomes a sort of bizarre reflex and you find yourself repeating it whenever entering a room, sitting down on a sofa, or when trapped in an uncomfortable conversation or an awkward silence.

I’m referring to the English concept of tea here, the humble cuppa, a label-less bag of black tea dropped in hot water and then violently bashed around in the mug for a few seconds before being drowned by a generous helping of milk. Pale, weak, a lump of sugar to offset any residual bitterness – tea is a beverage that can comfort you beyond any other, and I am including wine in this statement. Tea is what you have when you get home after a long, bone-chilling winter day, the windows clouded and a pot bubbling on the hob. It’s what you sip on while you catch up on Gogglebox or flick through a glossy magazine. Tea is your rock when you wake up and cling to your duvet, dreading the very thought of leaving the house in the darkness. Amber-liquid courage. Also, great help for serial procrastinators. “Sure, I’ll do [insert task here]. Just going to make myself a tea first”.

– Tetote Factory‘s buns. I spent New Year’s Day eating my weight in these shiny Japanese buns and watching Mozart in the Jungle. It was probably my favourite day of the year.

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Sticks’n’sushi. Forever my celebration restaurant, forever a place that gives me bank statement-induced panic. Their scallops are just ridiculous. You can ready my review here.

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–  Scrambled eggs. 2016 is the year in which my boyfriend mastered scrambled eggs. I look away when he makes them to remain blissfully ignorant of the amount of butter that goes in them, but they are perfect.

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– Shackfuyu and its super instagrammable Kinako French toast with matcha soft serve. Damn you, Shackfuyu. You get me every time.

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– Roamers. In March, I flew to Berlin and my friend Hedda and I brunched our way to Berlin like there was no tomorrow, seamlessly knocking down smashed avocado and French toast in one fluid continuum. She showed me new corners of a city that, to me, is the one that got away. I taught her that if you wake up before 10, you may not have to queue for brunch. It was an enlighting trip but also, brunch at Roamers has me dreaming about it almost a year later.

– Pane frattau at Tiramisu. If comfort was a crispbread based egg dish, it would be this one.

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Beigel Bake’s bagels in all its juicy, spicy, starchy glory. Need I say more. Daytime friend, late-night friend, find-that-extra-bagel-in-your-bag-the-following-day friend.

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Takeaway Temakinho eaten in the sun. Man, I don’t know what it is about Temakinho, but its perfect blend of Japanese simplicity and unlikely flavour pairings which miraculously work make it so much fun. Salmon tartare and almonds. Bright lime and coriander on scallops. Even crushed nachos make it in there somehow. Fun.

It’s also opening in Soho which is very dangerous.

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– Maltby Street  Market, destination of many Saturday morning trips.

– The Athenian. In March, I moved. Their souvlakis fuelled many IKEA furniture-building sessions.

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  • Silk Road. Simple, unassuming, reliable Silk Road. Always there with its deliciously fatty lamb skewers, laced with cumin, gigantic chewy belt noodles swimming in savoury broth, simple long tables, cold beer. Kind of perfect for a bigger group (5-6 people) but if you’re not fussed abut sitting next to strangers, go. Now.

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A perfect trip to Maltby Street Market

It all starts before twelve, just before most Londoners will show up, sluggish from too many drinks the night before and seeing the early hours of the day, and crowd the narrow ropewalk.

My perfect trip to the market starts when it’s still relatively quiet, so I can grab a thin, somewhat fragile jamon sandwich from the Tozino stall, a gentle reminder that the simplest food can be the most perfect, the bread crusty but soft and chewy; salty, marbled slices of jamon iberico, so thin they’re translucent, and a fresh, bright tomato puree. I could choose to sit inside, a sultry Spanish bar, and pick at plump green olives while sipping on sweet, thick sherry, but when it’s too nice a day to that, I eat the small sandwich standing. I also get some jamon for later, and on that note, I pop into St John’s to buy a perfectly round sourdough loaf, and of course a a couple of doughnuts, the vanilla-speckled custard almost spilling out.

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At this point, my mood normally decides the next stop: it could be a Stilton, Pear and Bacon Toastie, impossibly rich and decadent, sharp with blue cheese and sweet with pear chutney; I could have hearty tartiflette, cheese oozing on soft potatoes, especially on a cold day. Today, a warmer day, Hansen&Lydersen‘s jewel-hued smoked salmon on sourdough somehow hits the spot, again as uncomplicated as a Saturday afternoon. The small tamales stall also offers the most plain-looking, comforting little rectangles of warming corn husk and bright tomatillo chicken, spicy enough to keep things interesting.

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It’s now past 1 o’ clock and I can just about squeeze through the crowd, and that’s how I know it’s time to grab a coconut coffee from the Asian coffee place, handcrafted, which I’m not entirely sure what it means as I normally tend to steer clear of coffee – but the deep richness of their take on it, spiked with coconut milk, creamy, sweet and somehow exotically scented makes it the perfect companion for a rainy day.

It’s a short walk to Druid Street market, much smaller and quieter. There’s a stall selling Japanese knives with a man proudly telling stories from his trips to Osaka. A girl is arranging painfully beautiful pottery, hand thrown bowls and mugs painted in muted hues of blue and grey.

A bearded man is char grilling oysters when someone from New Orleans approaches him to tell him of how he knows the family that invented the round barbecue he’s using. They discuss grilling techniques as he shucks the Oysters, with their marbled, knobbly shells. My favourite way to have them is still raw, their mineral taste reminiscent of sea water, childishly pretending to be at the seaside, but I’m in awe of the way he competently places them on the fire, a generous slab of butter on them, a spice rub, some bright red hot sauce. A squeeze of lemon and it’s time to go home.

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Maltby Street Market

Ropewalk, London SE1 3PA

Open Saturdays and Sundays