Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Sapporo Cafes: Smooch Coffee Stand

Smooch Coffee looks like a company that has been around for a while in Sapporo, roasting beans and providing coffee to cafes, and since May this year they have there own lovely little coffee shop right next to Nakajima Park. Smooch deals in organic coffee with a link to a Santa Cruz, California based coffee supplier (I think...) and their aesthetic in general is one of sun-bleached, easy-going California chic.

The cafe is in a really nice location. There are only a few seats in there, at a front counter that runs along the window, and it's right across from one of the leafy parts of Nakajima Park. It's a pretty nice, chilled view having a big green park right across from the cafe, and one that you don't get often in Sapporo.

Normally at any independent cafe I wouldn't want to give my opinion on the coffee without trying a real, hot coffee. But hell, I'm wrapping this blog up soon and it's sweltering summer at the moment, so I only got an iced coffee I'm afraid.

But I think iced coffee can tell you a lot about the place too. Most iced coffee tastes terrible, like a cold mockery of that wonderful drink, and it's only very rarely that I find a good iced coffee. But Smooch goes into the very short list of places that do an iced coffee that you might order for a reason other than Japan's hideous summer heat. Also, it's served in a hipster-friendly jar, as you can see.

You can buy all sorts of beans there, the coffee was good, the food (including little cornbread rolls) looked very nice (I want to go back and try it), and if you're looking for a coffee shop around Nakajima it's worth checking out. It's on the map, so go take a look!

Public Service Announcement

Hey there, hello there, how are you doing? If you happen to follow this blog, or if a search for something in Sapporo leads you here then thanks for checking the place out. Here is the news.

I've been living in Sapporo for just over six years now, and I love it here but for the time being I'm leaving. Updates here have been sporadic to non-existent for a while now because things have been super busy for me. Possibly hyper busy. I've applied for a post-graduate course, been accepted and so I'll be moving to Europe this month to study. So long for now, Sapporo! It's been a blast.

Originally this blog was just a way to make me write everyday, and over time I decided to turn it away from whatever I was digging that day and towards being some kind of useful site for people living in, or visiting Sapporo. I don't know how successful that was, but I think I helped a couple of people out so it was probably worth it. I eat out a lot and love finding new places to eat, and I hope that a few people found places because of this blog.

Also, blogs are dead too. Everyone knows that.

So I'll go through the map and some old posts and clear away any shops that I know have been closed down. I'll try and write a few more reviews and recommendations and maybe finish the independent cafe list-post thing I was working on a while back. And then I'll leave the blog here with the disclaimer that I don't live here any more, and maybe someone can miss that information, find a cafe they want to check out, and then get pissed off when they turn up and it doesn't exist any more.

Oh, and I'll probably be back here someday because my wife is from here. So I reckon I'll pick things up again then!

You're all alarmingly attractive, talented people. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Sapporo Food: Tozai Russian Restaurant

In my absence from blogging I went to a whoooooooole bunch of places and took pictures intending to blog about them. I then proceeded not to blog about them. Where was the flaw in my plan? How did things go wrong? Perhaps we will never know. Perhaps we will never care. Almost certainly we will never care.

So in most cases this means that I don't feel right writing a proper account of my meal there since it was a while ago and memory is a funny thing. I do want to say something about those places though, so I'll just do some little short things.

Tozai is a Russian restaurant/bar in the basement of the haunted Norbesa building. Please note: Norbesa is not really haunted, it just feels that way sometimes. I went there a while back, but my impression was that the atmosphere wasn't all that great and the food didn't look all that amazing, but that everything we ate there was really good. I honestly don't remember what anything was called except for the piroshiki (sp?!), but I'd really like to go back there sometime and try some of this again. The slice of fish/beet tart/pie thing was especially good. Remember that I know nothing about Russian food, and it was a while ago, but I liked the place. Also the lighting was pretty dim so the photos don't really do the food justice. Anyway:

It's on the map, and it's in the basement of Norbesa which has a sodding great Ferris wheel on top so it should be easy to find.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Sapporo Food: Beans Happy Home-made Meat Pies

NO! No you did not read that wrong! A meat pie shop in Sapporo, Japan where most people take their pie cues from the USA where pies are all sweet and stuff. Sigh. For Brits and Antipodeans this is an injustice that has gone too long unchallenged.

Beans Happy is a little take-away/eat-in Pie shop that opened up very recently (read: last week) near Nishi 18 Chome station on the Tozai line of the underground. Long story short: it's pretty good. They say they do Australian-style meat pies, although I don't know if any foreigners are involved in the place, and it's not really going to satisfy you if you're after big hearty meat pies like they do back home. It's located in an area with lots of small, fancy cafes and plenty of affluent families so bear that in mind - it's not really aimed at ex-pats who miss meat pies. It was good though, and I thought that the basic meat pies (of which I had two, didn't have a chance to try anything else yet) tasted like meat pies do back in England, and what more can you ask?

They even put a dollop of tomato sauce there on the side without me asking. That shows some fine cultural understanding from my point of view. The pies aren't huge, but they're only 300 something yen each so I thought they were just fine for the money. Gravy and minced meat filling. The pasty and filling are good, nothing earth-shattering, but better than the pretty crappy pie I had when I was in Sydney recently.

I went in the second day they were open on my lunch break and they had a sign up on the door saying they'd already sold out of all the pies they'd made that morning. I stuck my head in and asked and it turned out they'd just finished a batch of the regular meat pies, so I lucked out and got two piping hot from the oven. The place was quiet when I went in, but I'm guessing it's been pretty busy at peak times, and a friend of mine had a pretty terrible experience. He actually went there the first day they opened, ordered seven pies to take out and when he got home found that they'd only given him four. And they were all completely different from those he ordered. By the time he got back to the store they'd sold out so they could only refund him, but even that was a trial (by his account) so it sounds that they're going through some teething problems while they work out some regular routine. Perhaps bear that in mind, though I'm sure they'll iron things out. They're only a week old after all!

I'll put it on my map. It's between Nishi 18 Station and Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art so it's not that hard to find. I also found this page from the company that did all their designs, which are really pretty cool.

Sapporo Food: Spicy Soup Curry Legon

First! If you check this blog sometimes then I'm sorry for the lack of posts. Explanations will be forthcoming at some point or another.

Second! Let's get back to the soup curry!

Spicy Soup Curry Legon was recommended to me by a commenter a while back and checking the place on the web I found a few favourable English language comments. However it is absolutely nowhere near where I live, so it took me forever to actually make the trip out there. It was worth it though!

Legon's soup was really nice, and pretty unique. The closest place to it that I can think of would be Gombei Spice, since they both have pretty strong, forceful curry flavours and a consistency where you can almost feel the spices on your tongue. I'd say Legon was more delicious, but then Gombei Spice isn't for everyone anyway.

I had the buta kakuni (slow cooked pork) with extra chicken meat-ball topping. Yuki had the chicken meat-ball soup, which was why I got the topping: to stop myself stealing any of hers. There's a lot more on their menu that I'd like to try too, some really nice looking chicken and a melty-cheese-egg topping that looks pretty special. I hope we can head back soon to try those too.

The kakuni was great, really soft and delicious, and the meatballs were good too. The vegetables were well cooked, which is always important for me, and overall I have no hesitation in recommending the place to anyone who happens to be in the area. Which is at the Western end of the Tozai line... so, perhaps it'd be better to say that it's worth a trip? It is, and thanks to whoever recommended the place to me! That said, it was delicious and I had a great meal, but it doesn't replace any of my favourite Soup Curry shops in my affections. Bearing in mind that I reckon the idea of a 'best' soup curry place is pretty stupid, this place would be top ten if I were inclined to making lists. Which I ain't!

I'll mark it on my map. We drove there, but it must be about ten minutes walk from Miyanosawa station at the end of the Tozai line.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Sapporo Food: Garaku Soup Curry

Garaku is another one of the more famous soup curry shops that I've been meaning to go to forever. In fact, I have actually tried to go there on a number of occasions only for there to be far too long a waiting list, or for the soup to actually have run out. The place was full while we were there and people were constantly coming and going so it's clearly a very popular place. Plenty of celebrity autograph cards on the walls too.

The place smelled great and the menu looked so good it was hard to choose. But sadly in the end Garaku was just 'good'. I wouldn't put it up there with the best soup curry I've had in Sapporo. It was, however, absolutely soup curry. I was griping about Soup Curry S being really popular while not really looking or tasting much like 99% of the soup curry shops out there. Garaku is a perfect example of soup curry, it's just that the soup is not that amazing.

What is amazing though? Everything in the soup.

I got the kakuni (slow cooked pork chunks) which I tend to get at a lot of places, and which lets me compare between places pretty well. On their menu it was marked as being the most popular dish. I got it with extra broccoli as a topping, which was great as was everything in the soup. The meat and the vegetables were all wonderful, the pork was soft and juicy and everything was cooked to perfection. The big let down for me was that the actual flavour of the soup was... just ok. It's a shame because it looked so good, but from the first spoonful to the end of the soup I wasn't really digging it. When I was eating the ingredients in the soup... oh that was great.

Yuki got a vegetable soup with a sausage topping and her opinion was exactly the same as mine. Everything was amazing except the soup. Which, I stress, wasn't bad, just wasn't great.

So I think we'll go back if the place isn't too busy, but it's another of the more famous Sapporo Soup Curry places that didn't impress me as much as I'd hoped. It's very centrally located in Odori though, which is good, and if you're in town visiting then I'm sure you'll like the place. And as always with Soup Curry, your mileage may (probably will) vary wildly so you should go check it out yourself. It's just south of Tanuki Koji and I'll mark it on my map. Oh! I just noticed that you can use google streetview to go inside the place, so check that out too.

Sapporo Cafes: Hammock Base Cafe

Hammocks. Do you like hammocks? Talking about this place with my sister I discovered that she has an irrational hatred of hammocks in cafes. I think it comes from living for too long in areas with a high concentration of cafes that are trying just a little too hard, and, for her, the hammocks have become tainted by their association with annoying people. If, however, you harbour no ill will towards swinging seating then Hammock Base Cafe near Sapporo TV Tower is worth checking out.

In one of those like-attracts-like occurrences, Hammock Base Cafe opened just over a year ago in the basement of the same building that houses the ultra-stylish Fabulous Cafe. Hammock Base Cafe's concept is hammocks, but it's a very cool looking cafe all round with a small menu of handmade dishes and a well stocked bar to boot.

Here's where the good shit is:

Hammocks, son. I think we were actually expecting more traditional... reclining hammocks? Slung-between-two-trees hammocks? These are more like chair things, but if you get yourself properly positioned you can stretch right out and swing around a bit. Just try not to knock over your coffee.

There aren't all that many hammocks so I think that pretty often you'll have to wait before getting to sit in one of those low-slung things. We waited sitting at the bar, which is also impeccably cool. Here it is, through the strings of a hammock.

When the hammocks are free you can go climb in, but if there are people waiting you can only dangle for an hour and a half. We got a slice of meat and potato quiche as a snack. It was good, but small. The guy kept telling us it was small, but when it came it was actually smaller than we expected. It was warm, which I think is possibly a mistake about quiche that is commonly made in Japan, but one for which I am grateful since I don't really like cold quiche.

The drinks come in these cool two-tone light plastic mugs. Almost camping style, which I guess goes with the hammocks and the fake grass underneath them.

The coffee was fine. Nothing to write home about, which I kind of guessed because they only had the one coffee drink on their menu.

Hammock Base has all the other trappings of a creative cafe too: handmade crafts for sale, a weirdly eclectic bookshelf to browse, flyers and posters for all sorts of stuff. It's a good place and I'll head back, even if I'm a little worried about trying to eat while sitting in a hammock. Oh, and motion sickness is a possibility.

As I said, Hammock Base Cafe is under Fabulous Cafe, along with another few cool looking places. The closest station is Bus Centre Mae, and we got there, avoiding the snow, by walking along the long underground passage from Odori Station. I'll mark it on my map, and if you don't hate hammocks it's worth checking out.