Friday, 15 November 2019

Noodle in a Haystack

I’ve been asked for Japanese restaurant tips a few times recently. There's so much variety in Japan you could say finding the right restaurant is like trying to find a noodle in a... never mind, here's the list.


Nakiryu - 創作麺工房 鳴龍 (for Michelin Star Ramen)

There are three times as many Ramen houses in Tokyo as there are pubs in London, so picking one is basically impossible. Luckily, the Michelin Man devised a restaurant rating system and has awarded his coveted star to only a select couple. One of them is Nakiryu. 

Nakiryu only holds a handful of people and doesn’t take reservations, so queuing is inevitable. We arrived well before opening and still queued for over an hour on the street. It’s about 25% more expensive than the average Ramen house but the slurp-tastic noodles and broth are well worth the price (and the wait).

Tsukiji Market - 築地市場 (for sea food)

There’s a bit of confusion because the fish market famous for its wholesale auctions has moved somewhere else. But you’re probably not hungry enough for 100 kilos of tuna anyway. 

The open-air market is still there and is a great place to wander around, eat sushi and get freaked out by weird-looking things on sticks (this is a common occurrence in Japan actually - they love weird things on sticks).

Omoide Yokocho - 思い出横丁 (for more weird things on sticks) 

This narrow aroma-filled alleyway is the epicentre of eating weird things on sticks. If you’ve ever wanted to try pig testicals, chicken innards or pickled wasp then this is the spot.


Nikomiya Rokken - にこみ屋六軒 (for Japanese tapas)

All of our absolute favourite restaurants in Japan were izakayas. These are basically Japanese pubs that serve tapas. Some just offer drinks and snacks, but others concentrate more on the food, and some of those ones are incredible.

Nikomiya Rokken was our favourite in Kyoto. It’s slightly off the beaten track, but well worth the detour. Look out for the white lantern and good luck trying to pick a sensible amount of things to order.

Kaiseki (for tradition, innit)

Kyoto is the place to experience kaiseki: a multi-course set menu (up to 15 courses!) served by impeccably presented kimono-clad waitresses in traditional Japanese surroundings. There are several kaiseki places and they’re all eye-wateringly expensive, but some offer cheaper afternoon sittings. I can’t whole-heartedly recommend the one we went to (Gion-Nanba) but that might be because I’m still scarred by the sixth course (turns out I’m not a massive fan of leaves dripping in cod semen).


Onegiya Fukuromachi - おねぎや 袋町店 (for Japanese tapas)

You have to duck through a tiny doorway and then find a cubbyhole for your shoes, but once you’re over the excruciating cultural awkwardness you’re in for a real treat. Especially if you like leeks, because this izakaya specialises in them.

Akamaru - 大手町酒場赤まる (for drinks)

This izakaya is more raucous dive bar than tapas restaurant, but they do serve food if you want a snack. Go for a few pre-dinner drinks, soak up the atmosphere and then go back again later for a night cap or three.

In this and all izakayas across Japan make sure you tuck into the bowls of salty edamame beans. They're great for chopstick practice too.


High Spirits, Fujikawaguchiko-machi (for Japanese tapas)

If you happen to be in this part of Japan then this izakaya is well worth a visit. It's the definition of a fusion restaurant.  Try and reserve a table though because it gets busy. 

And I’ve saved the best until last… Kobe beef!

Holy cow. A medium-rare Kobe beef steak washed down with a glass of red is utterly life-changing. You don’t have to go to Kobe for legit Kobe beef, but why not? If you have a rail pass it’s pretty easy to get to.

There’s a strict Kobe beef grading system from C1 to A5. Make sure you choose a place that does A5 (if budget allows). 

After a lot of research we went to a steak house called Sai-Dining, which was excellent (although they’re probably all excellent in Kobe). We couldn’t quite bring ourselves to drop over £100 each on an A5 fillet, but were more than delighted with our A5 sirloin at almost half the price.


Wednesday, 24 April 2019

The Battle of Waterloo Bridge - in pictures

© Ryan Chapman

It was Day 7 of Extinction Rebellion’s occupation of Waterloo Bridge - one of several London sites targeted by the climate change protest group. The sun was shining, the atmosphere was radiant, but the authorities’ patience was wearing thin.

© Ryan Chapman

While the media can’t settle on whether to deride XR protesters as soap-dodging hippies or middle class do-gooders, the fact is they include both and everything in-between. They are teachers and children; nurses and lawyers. A diverse bunch. United by desperation and motivated by the undeniable urgent need for action.

© Ryan Chapman

Somewhat ironically it was the hottest Easter on record. TV weathermen could barely contain their excitement as they relayed news of soaring Bank Holiday temperatures. And what kind of twisted psychopath doesn’t love a long weekend in the sun? For the literal future of life on earth however, yet another temperature record being broken isn’t exactly news worth celebrating.

© Ryan Chapman

Several hundred people were congregated at the Waterloo-end of the bridge. Slogans were written on the asphalt with multi-coloured chalk and a mini seminar was underway, advising the gathered crowd on what to do in the event of arrest.

© Ryan Chapman

The sounds of acoustic guitars and bongos drifted across the bridge, as various protesters staged singalongs and trays of homemade chocolate cake were passed around and greeted with the kind of smiles only homemade chocolate cake can muster. 

© Ryan Chapman

Arrests were made once every ten or so minutes. There was no aggressive resistance but each protester went floppy like toddlers refusing to be carried, requiring a team of officers to take them away. Each arrest was met with warm applause for the dedication of the individual, and songs of support to the police. “We love you, we’re doing it for your children, police”.

© Ryan Chapman

Here is Waterloo Bridge's very own recycling centre. “But I thought Extinction Rebellion left places in a mess” I hear you grumble. Well, as they say, a lie gets half-way around the world before the truth has even brushed its teeth, or something. And guess what: that photo circulating online of Hyde Park strewn with litter was actually taken after a completely unrelated event and has nothing to do with climate change protesters. Fake news! Big shock!

© Ryan Chapman

In a somewhat surreal turn of events, Chris Packham - of The Really Wild Show fame - was met by cheers as he clambered on top of a bus shelter to give a speech of gratitude. My 8 year old self would be very disappointed to hear that Michaela Strachan was nowhere to be seen.

© Ryan Chapman

Chris Packham’s injection of renewed positivity signalled the start of the police’s fight-back. In their first move to clear the bridge they began the task of removing the jumbled array of pop-up tents and pot plants.

© Ryan Chapman

The police dismantled gazebos to complaints from those sheltering beneath that they would be exposed to direct sunlight. “You shouldn’t have glued yourself to the bloody bridge then” one policewoman snapped back, in the first hint of animosity I’d witnessed from either side all afternoon.

© Ryan Chapman

As more police moved in and it became clear that XR’s week-long occupation of Waterloo Bridge was coming to an end, some protesters swapped placards for brooms to begin the clear-up.

© Ryan Chapman

Whatever Extinction Rebellion’s next move, there are some certainties. 

The lazy, disingenuous and cynical attacks will continue from people with their heads in the sand. You know, the ones that try and claim you can’t possibly care about the future of humankind and go on an airplane.

The other certainty is that the problem will continue getting worse if nothing is done. And while certain lifestyle changes are important, the radical change has to come from the top. And fast.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

The 12 ironies of Brexit

When Alanis Morissette wrote her song about irony she clearly didn’t have much to draw on. If only she’d waited a couple of decades for the gluttony of ironies that have accompanied the Brexit debacle (Some are even more despairing than rain on your wedding day).

Brexit Irony # 1 

The very same people who recoil at the idea of Europeans meddling in our affairs are calling on Italy and Poland to veto any attempt UK Parliament makes to delay Brexit. You either want us in control of our own destiny, or you don't.

Brexit Irony # 2 

Londoners, who wanted it the least, would likely suffer the least. Northerners, who wanted it the most, would likely suffer the most. 

Brexit Irony # 3 

Slogans don’t come much more meaningless than ‘Brexit means Brexit’. It’s still in common use, even though Gove and Johnson - the two key figureheads of the official leave campaign - don’t even agree on what Brexit means, let alone voters.

What do you want for breakfast? Breakfast! What kind of breakfast though? Breakfast means breakfast!

Okaaaaay, get this guy some plastic cutlery and a bib.

Brexit Irony # 4 

Prominent Leave campaigner and British inventor James Dyson has moved his headquarters to Singapore. Curiously, Singapore had just signed a free trade agreement with the EU, affording Dyson all the benefits he encouraged the British electorate to ditch. What a snake. 

I have no doubt that Tim Martin would follow suit and take Wetherspoons to Asia, if only there was a market for pubs that smell of sick. 

Brexit Irony # 5 

A massive part of the Brexit campaign was about tightening up our borders, but the whole thing relies on keeping the Irish border soft. ‘We want to control our borders - but not that one!’ 

Brexit Irony # 6 

The same fervent ‘Rule, Britania!’ flavour of nationalism that fuelled the Brexit campaign has, in turn, increased the chances of the United Kingdom breaking up. Well done, ‘patriots’.

Brexit Irony # 7 

Brexiteers claimed that we must leave the EU because our parliament is no longer sovereign. Today, they bemoan Parliament as it continues to exercise the sovereignty it had all along.

Brexit Irony # 8

The infamous blue passport - one of the only tangible 'benefits' of Brexit - will be... wait for it... made in France. 

Brexit Irony # 9 

The referendum was called by David Cameron with the primary purpose of uniting the Conservative Party. How’s that gone for you, Dave? 

Brexit Irony # 10

Immigrants pay more into the system than they take out. Ergo, they’re literally paying the pensions of the xenophobic retirees who voted Leave hoping to kick them out. 

Brexit Irony # 11 

And if we can’t attract as many EU immigrants we’ll have to find people from further afield to support our ageing population. In fact, to replace all the doctors lost since the referendum we may have to relax visa restrictions. How’s that for taking back control? 

Brexit Irony # 12 

And finally, to bring us bang up-to-date, Theresa May now wants to bring the her deal back to Parliament for a third meaningful vote. She’s hoping enough MPs will have changed their mind, whilst simultaneously ruling out the option of checking to see if the public have changed theirs...