Sunday, May 31, 2015

The best yakiniku restaurant in Tokyo is called Champion. And they serve slices of shabu-shabu meat in the yakiniku style.



Today in Tokyo, living a #Travelife, we had a very nice yakiniku lunch. I was hankering for very good Japanese beef, especially after my lousy steak yesterday.

The choices for lunch today were a Western-style steak, Japanese teppanyaki steak, shabu-shabu or yakiniku.

THE CHAMPION OF YAKINIKU

I left it to someone else to decide and he booked the restaurant Champion in Ebisu.

This is a branch of a #yakiniku restaurant with the same name that became famous for the quality and variety of the meat they serve, in the same general area of Ebisu.


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A SMALL ELEVATOR TO THE 9TH FLOOR

The Ebisu branch, which is called Penthouse, isn't a great looker. It's in one of these tall narrow buildings in a street full of bars just off Ebisu station, and we had to take a rather dirty, narrow elevator up to the 9th floor.

So far, so bad, I thought, as I was forced to take the elevator up. I hate small elevators and tall narrow buildings. This was so not my type.

Someone tried to explain to me: "This is the only branch open for lunch on Sundays."

THE FAVOURITE RESTAURANT
OF TOKYO CELEBRITIES



Later on, I learned that this particular branch of Champion is also the "celebrity hangout," because it's in a relatively central upmarket part of town and the restaurant is actually a series of small private rooms.

There's no sharing of rooms here, so it's a great choice for Japanese celebrities who want privacy.

I didn't really care about the celebrity part, as I prefer large airy rooms -- even if I have to share these with other diners -- to dark private rooms.

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EXCELLENT MEAT
AT REASONABLE PRICES

But the clincher was the food.

Champion is very well-known among locals for serving very good quality beef at reasonable prices. 

There are lots of delicious, expensive yakiniku restaurants in Tokyo -- all you have to do is check the latest Guide Michelin if you want this kind -- but a reasonably-priced but seriously good yakiniku restaurant is a rarity.



A VERY SERIOUS MEAT MENU

Champion also has rare cuts of meat that other yakiniku restaurants don't normally serve. If you look at their menu, you'll know they're very serious about their beef, at first glance, if you're a foodie.

The main reason they can do so is because they buy entire cows for their restaurants, and not just parts of the cow. Then they age their own meat.

A SUNDAY LUNCH SET MENU

Today we had the priciest set lunch on the menu.

In Japanese, it said something like shabu-shabu set, which didn't make any sense in a yakiniku restaurant; but we decided to do this anyway as it was obviously the best thing on offer today.

Oh my goodness.

WHAT A LUNCH



That was so good, and I'd never ever had this kind of yakiniku before.

Basically they served us each four top quality giant slices of meat, cut thinly in the shabu-shabu style rather than in the yakiniku style.

We then grilled these one by one and dipped these into a sour ponzu sauce with a hint of yakiniku sauce in it.


WHAT A MEAL

It was just perfect for today, as today was quite hot in Tokyo and I didn't really want anything served with heavy sauces. 

What a meal.

I'll certainly never be the same again, after this shabu-shabu/ yakiniku lunch today, in Tokyo, living a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful #Travelife


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Saturday lunch at Ivy, a very popular restaurant in Daikanyama, Tokyo. And about a steak I couldn't eat.



Today in Tokyo, living a #Travelife, I had lunch with some neighbours at a very popular restaurant called Ivy in the fashionable Daikanyama area of Tokyo.

It was a perfect day and so we decided to walk to Daikanyama for a little exercise before a big lunch.


The Ivy is really popular so you need to book it in advance and there are several seatings for lunch and dinner on weekends. 

My neighbours who'd done the booking for lunch said they'd been trying to get a table here for the longest time.

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ANYWHERE WAS FINE TODAY

I'd been here before and the Ivy hadn't really registered in my mind then as a restaurant worth queuing up for.

But I'd left the choice of restaurant to the others and I wasn't really picky about where to eat or what to order today.



Daikanyama is slightly off the tourist track in Tokyo but it's among the most fashionable neighbourhoods in Tokyo these days and very popular with locals and tourists in-the-know.

On nice weekends, everywhere is full of beautiful people in fancy European cars -- no kidding, no Japanese cars to be seen in these parts today -- and even babies in strollers and pets on leashes look perfect.

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A VERY POPULAR RESTAURANT

And the Ivy is the kind of restaurant everyone gravitates to as it's got a cool, casual, upmarket atmosphere.



Unfortunately, the food quality didn't keep up with the sleek and slick packaging of the Ivy.

For a casual restaurant, it isn't cheap, and the food was pretty ordinary at best.

UNDERWHELMING APPETIZERS



We ordered fresh fish carpaccio, a four cheese pizza, a huge tray of charcuterie and calamari to share between the four of us as appetizers.


Out of these, the pate of the charcuterie plate was good and the calamari was decent.

But the four cheese pizza was just lousy. I also had two forkfuls of someone else's order of pasta with fresh tomatoes and it was devoid of any character and taste. 


ONE TOUGH STEAK

The best part -- or maybe I should say, the worst part -- was the sirloin steak I chose as my main course.

It arrived cold, and when I called their attention to this, they were good enough to give me an entirely new steak rather than place my original steak back on the grill.

So they get brownie points for this, in my books.


NO, THANKS

But when the new steak arrived, it was just inedible.

I think I ate four pieces and then I had to leave the rest as it was tasteless and tough. But as it wasn't exactly a cheap steak, I thought I'd salvage this unhappy choice by bringing it home, chopping it up and making it into garlic steak fried rice for breakfast the next morning.


LOTS OF LEFTOVERS.
NO TAKEAWAYS.

However, surprise, surprise. No takeaways are allowed at Ivy, so I had to leave most of this steak on the table.

With this, the dessert menu didn't look at all promising. And even with my sweet tooth, I didn't feel like having any.

Fortunately we didn't get to try any as our 90 minutes at the Ivy were up, and there was a long line of people waiting to get for the next seating.



So, as we were pointedly told that time was up, we went out in search of a nice cafe to have tea and sweets in, on just another beautiful Saturday afternoon in Tokyo, living a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful #Travelife.

PS: I don't usually write about lousy meals, but this restaurant should be reviewed as I think people should re-think before booking this place. And if you do go, just soak in the fashionable atmosphere of Tokyo, order champagne and a carpaccio appetizer, and then head to another restaurant for real good food. There are too many choices in Tokyo to put up with this one for a meal.


Friday, May 29, 2015

The best massage in Tokyo is at the Aman Tokyo in Otemachi

The best massage in Tokyo is at the Aman Tokyo in Otemachi
Tea after my spa treatment
at Aman Tokyo,
living a #Travelife
This post is about the best massage in Tokyo, at the Aman Tokyo in Otemachi.

So this week in Tokyo, living a #Travelife, I booked a massage at the spa of the Aman Tokyo in Otemachi. If there's one indulgence I love in a lifetime of not too few indulgences, it's getting spa treatments all over the world.

The other indulgence is staying in a top hotel and getting a nice room.

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Staying in a very good hotel is practical, in my humble opinion, because you usually pay for an excellent location and great service when you opt to pay their premiums.

This also includes the advantages of a very good concierge, reliable security and an eagle-eyed housekeeping staff that doesn't miss a thing.

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As for the room, well, I stay in hotels almost every week of my never-ending #Travelife, so I want to ensure my room or suite has enough space and lots of natural light.

No sense living a cramped existence in a never-ending #Travelife.

In a way, the Aman Tokyo certainly hits all the marks on my checklist. More on this in an upcoming issue of Travelife Magazine, the leading travel and lifestyle publication. 



A  NICE MIXUP OF TIME


As for the massage the other day, I actually got the times mixed up and I came an hour earlier than my appointment. All well and good, anyway, as I had the best massage in Tokyo at the Aman Tokyo in Otemachi.

Initially this flustered me a bit because -- as the very nice team in my Travelife Magazine office will confirm -- I hate waiting with no purpose, whether it's at an airport or at a check-in line, or just waiting for a cocktail party or dinner to start.


LIVING ON THE EDGE,ALWAYS CUTTING IT CLOSE


This is why I usually show just up before the airline check-in counters close and in the middle of events and never at the beginning. 

There are just too many other things I can be doing with my time, so seamless travel is my specialty, and so far I've been very lucky.

WHAT TO DO WITH MY EXTRA TIMEAT THE AMAN TOKYO SPA



So faced with an extra hour before my massage the other day, I was quite sore with myself for getting the times mixed up. 

I didn't have my computer and I had a hundred emails to answer, and I only had my phones and my iPod with me at the spa.

And, of course, there's a limit to how many photos you can put on Instagram or Facebook without making people think you're suddenly doing spam.


So instead, I sat at the vanity table area of Aman's spa and tried out all their new Aman-labeled beauty products like mud cleansers and moisturising spritzes.

I hardly ever get any time whatsoever to sit in front a mirror primping myself, so this was quite entertaining.



MY SKIN CARE REGIMEN


In fact, I'm so time-poor where beauty regimens are concerned that my typical routine every morning, no matter where in the world I am, is very basic.

I start with a sparkling facial wash from Korea's Etude House, followed by an SK II toner from Japan, and then an organic SPF 50 sunscreen from Innis Free, a cult brand that has grown global from the island of Jeju in Korea.

If I have an extra time, I massage a little brightening serum from the Greek beauty products cult line Apivita, made entirely from organic products, which I picked up in Athens last year.



MY FAVORITE NUXE OIL FROM PARIS


Then I spritz myself with Nuxe beauty oil from Paris which I'm fanatical about as it's a good moisturiser and it's the best and probably the most expensive detangler in the world I've ever used.

I say it's expensive as a detangler because it really isn't meant to work as one. But once I spray Nuxe on my hair, I don't even need to comb it.

Nuxe Oil is a product available in European pharmacies. It is neither cheap nor unspeakably expensive, but it's a cult product in France, and I love it.




It's really an all-around moisturizer, but, as mentioned earlier, it works miraculously as a hair detangler as well. I stock up on bottles of this whenever I'm in Europe as they sell Nuxe Oil in pharmacies in France, Spain, Greece and Morocco.

And between Nuxe Oil and Pascalain, this fantastic Frenchman who comes to my house in Manila every six weeks to give me a precision haircut in my own living room, my hair is wonderfully maintenance-free now.

I just love it.

MAINTENANCE-FREE HAIR


I was in Africa for three weeks earlier this month, and I don't think I put on makeup or combed my hair even once. 

Literally a wash and dry affair.

Nothing else as far as a "beauty regimen" for me, wherever in the world I happen to be, living a #Travelife. No makeup, just sunscreen and I'm out the door.

BEAUTY AND RELAXATION,THE AMAN TOKYO WAY




But back to the new Aman beauty products, which I tried at the Aman Tokyo.

The Aman beauty product line was very nice, and I especially liked the cleansing mud, which comes in a lotion-type bottle and doesn't at all feel like mud.

And when it was finally time for my 90-minute massage designed to adapt to the changing of the seasons using Japanese ingredients and oils, a young lady appropriately named Hikari (light), who also seemed light as a feather, came to fetch me from the spa lobby.


FIRST IMPRESSIONS DON'T COUNT


When I saw her I have to admit I was a little disappointed.

I like very strong massages and the shiatsu sensei who has been doing house calls for me in Tokyo for 15 years now is very good and powerful for a way less pricey rate. I could have had three hours with him for the price of one 90-minute sessions with Hikari.

But, wow. There's a saying often repeated by upmarket travelers who try to justify maxing out the credit card on a pricey trip, and it's "you get what you pay for."

In this case, it was certainly true. My shiatsu sensei is great, but Hikari was fantastic.



THE BEST MASSAGE IN TOKYO


Hikari -- that whip of a girl -- gave me one of the best massages I've ever had in recent memory, and in a #Travelife chock-full of great spa treatments at some of the best hotels and spas all over the world.

Later on, I learned Hikari is the best therapist they have at the Aman Tokyo spa right now, so you should make sure to book her if you find yourself at this minimalist luxury spa sometime sooner rather than later.

I was completely won over by her power and technique, so much so that it took the greatest effort to stand up from that state-of-the-art massage table and get back to real life, and to my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful #Travelife.


Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Japan's best hotel for 2015 is the Aman Tokyo in Otemachi. And about my own private office in Tokyo.


So this week, in Tokyo, living a #Travelife, I've literally been living at the Aman Tokyo, which is currently Japan's best hotel, hands down.

Yes, I've stayed everywhere in this country, and for 2015, Aman Tokyo is definitely the best hotel in Japan. It's not cheap either, but you certainly get what you pay for in this case.



It's understated luxury and quiet service, although everyone is extremely friendly for a Tokyo hotel. As for the design, it's stark, severe and minimalist, though, so it's a very unique visual treat.

Don't expect the usual fancy trappings of a Western hotel.

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THE AMAN TOKYO SUITES
ARE LIKE MODERN APARTMENTS

And the suites are huge, which is why I say I'm "literally living at the Aman Tokyo."

The suites are more like apartments, with a palatial foyer and bathroom, a decent kitchenette and enough space even for a private office.



MY OWN PRIVATE OFFICE 
AT AMAN TOKYO

I love using this private office as this means I can assemble all my gadgets in one place, with proper chargers and all, and not create a mess elsewhere.

There's also a very nice workstation in the bedroom so you don't have to share electric outlets and workspace if you're sharing the room with someone.

That's always a minor problem, isn't it, when you're two people in a room and there are way more gadgets than there are people, even with room service in the room with breakfast.

And both of you always have to be on your Blackberrys. Or on Viber.


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NO NEED FOR DISTURBANCES
IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT

Then, if you wake up in the middle of the night and you want to check Facebook or write a blog, you can do so in your private office without disturbing anyone else, as this private office is just off the living room in the other wing of the suite.


How nice is that?

The other night, I didn't even open my computer. Instead I read the FT Weekend in my designated private office, and tried to think about a couple of decisions I have to make soon.

This set-up is certainly perfect for a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful #Travelife.

Read more about the Aman Tokyo 
in an upcoming issue 
of #Travelife Magazine.

No one travels like us.
Or writes like us.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A really big house in Shibuya, Tokyo


So last Saturday, I had dinner with one of Tokyo's Masters of the Universe and we all had a very enjoyable time.

But here's the interesting thing.

We were at a bistro in our neighbourhood for dinner when he mentioned that he'd bought a piece of land in our same neighbourhood to build a house.

He has lots of houses all over the world, so this wasn't any particular news to me.

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CALIFORNIA IN TOKYO
VIA A PHOTO ON HIS IPHONE

But then he showed us a photo on his iPhone of a home he was planning to model his new project after.

This was when I thought that -- in spite of being a Big Fish -- he was actually exaggerating, as the photo on his phone looked like one of those big and beautiful villas in Santa Barbara that you might see featured in Architectural Digest.

A CALIFORNIA HOUSE
IN THE MIDDLE OF TOKYO

So, California, yes. Tokyo? You must be kidding. Size is always an issue here no matter how wealthy you are.

But after dinner at this small bistro, we decided to walk to a fancy French restaurant in our neighbourhood for champagne and dessert.

And on the way to this French restaurant for dessert, we walked past this piece of land he'd just bought.


PRIME LAND IN TOKYO

I hardly ever use swear words, but this time, absolutely nothing else would capture my feeling of surprise. 

When I recovered, I said to him: "You can fit a whole neighbourhood into this plot of land."

There we were in the priciest neighbourhood in the entire Japan, right in the middle of the city but completely residential that it's so quiet you can hear a pin drop, and Mr. Master of the Universe had just bought enough land to build an entire neighbourhood.


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A RHETORICAL QUESTION

"So you think it's a good buy?" He asked me.

Oh my goodness. I didn't even want to start computing the value of that land in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

But what impressed me even more was how he got it. Land of this size doesn't ever come on the market anymore, especially not in this very residential part of town.

And that's exactly what I told him.

IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT THE MONEY.
OR THE BRAINS.

And in typical condescending fashion for a Master of the Universe, he said: "Hmmm. You're smarter than I thought."

And just like that, another interesting day ended in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful #Travelife.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Dinner with a Tokyo Master of the Universe at a French bistro and then desserts in the garden of one of Tokyo's fanciest restaurants.


So last night in Tokyo, living a #Travelife, we had dinner with my neighbours. The husband is one of these Masters of the Universe guys, and it was lots of fun, as always.

It's really a different and interesting world with these types, and my neighbourhood is full of them.

The Lyonnaise salad
at the French bistro last night

These Masters of the Universe think big, talk big and act big, so that some people might think they're being quite boastful -- when they're actually not.

For example, I've heard him discussing whether to put one waterfall or two waterfalls in a corner of one of his weekend houses in Japan, and whether the stereo speakers in this particular property should be extended all the way to the gate instead of just around the main house, guest houses and pools, so that you can hear George Michael on the CD, for instance, as soon as you drive through the gate.

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A STEREO SYSTEM
WIRED THROUGHOUT THE ESTATE

No kidding.

He has a massive estate by the beach, and you can hear the music he plays on a system so nicely that it's like you're in his living room, when you're actually having drinks and barbecue by one of the swimming pools.

In fact, you can hear the music from everywhere on the estate via state-of-the-art speakers, hidden underground with some fantastic technology. 

So you're walking through his private forest, and you can hear George Michael everywhere. It's all rather surreal, actually, especially when you realise you're in Japan, 45 minutes from Tokyo.

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And last night, his wife mentioned how she was thinking of putting out an IPO in Tokyo for her own very successful company; and in front of us, he'd said: "Why would you want to do that? We certainly don't need the money."

But in reality, they're not really trying to impress anyone because most people around them talk and act this same way in Tokyo.

DINNER AT A HOT BISTRO




Last night, we went to a very popular but inexpensive French bistro for dinner.

It's almost impossible to get a reservation here  and especially as we had decided to go at the very last minute, but he was able to swing a table for four at 6 PM.

That's very early of course, but it wasn't a big deal and we had a nice time.

DESSERTS IN THE GARDEN
OF ONE OF TOKYO'S FANCIEST FRENCH RESTAURANTS


And then, more characteristic of everyone at dinner last night, we then walked over to one of Tokyo's nicest French restaurants.

It's in a very old house with a lovely garden, and we all wish this house would be put up for sale as we would all be falling all over each other to get first dibs at it. 
It used to be an ambassador's home during the Taisho era and it's the only restaurant in central Tokyo with a garden of this significance. 

But right now and for many decades now, it's a Michelin-starred restaurant that's relatively under the radar with foreigners.

AN EXCELLENT 
UNDER-THE-RADAR FRENCH RESTAURANT
IN TOKYO



I've lived in this same neighbourhood ever since I can remember and it's been there since the very beginning.

Every time I go, the food is excellent so I don't know why it's not more on the radar of all these foodies visiting Japan from overseas, because it certainly is on the radar for us locals.

And the few times I've taken friends from Manila to this restaurant, they've loved it and they can't believe such a place exists in Tokyo.


HIS KITCHEN IN TOKYO


Well, last night, Mr. Master of the Universe decided that we should all go there for champagne, port, cheese and dessert after our cheap-ish bistro meal.

We were all in casual clothes and two of our party were even in shorts as it was already a cool summer kind of evening and we'd just gone to a bistro down the road from our neighborhood. 

Interestingly, this French restaurant is quite formal -- the type of place you'd go to for your 50th birthday or your 25th wedding anniversary -- so shorts are definitely out of place.

MASTER OF THIS RESTAURANT


It's also an incredibly snobby place as the Who's Who of Japan have been going there for generations; but as Mr. Master of the Universe considers this his kitchen, we went straight into the garden, shorts and all, and no one stopped us.

And as soon as we sat down, he started ordering the waiters around as if he'd hired them himself. 

He's probably their best customer anyway. Frankly, I don't think the rest of us could have sat in the garden in shorts and loafers just for dessert and drinks if Mr. Master of the Universe hadn't been around.

It was a beautiful night, and we had such a nice time in the garden of this fancy French restaurant, talking about Travel and Life, and living a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful #Travelife.