Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Sapporo Food: Soup Curry King

Soup Curry King is a popular place. It's not all that small a restaurant, but when I went in there for lunch I was lucky to get a seat, and people were arriving all the time and having to wait, or simply being turned away. And that was in the middle of a blizzard!

It looks like Soup Curry King hasn't been open all that long in the grander scheme of things (thinking geologically perhaps, it only opened in 2007) but a lot of people seem to like it. I've seen it mentioned in various places, and last year at Autumn Fest (the big foodie festival in Odori park) they had a special soup curry stand with a rotating line-up that featured King several times. That, and of course the swinging door this freezing lunchtime speaks for itself.

I got the lamb and vegetable curry, and I could taste straight away why the place is so popular.

It's a very light-looking soup, but the flavour was smooth and very satisfying. It's always tough to really nail down the differences between soup curry places in writing, but the soups really are so distinct once you've tried a few. King's soup was a little oily, but a really nice consistency - not too thick and not too thin. The spice levels are named, cutely, after a suit of cards (up through Jack, Queen, King to Joker) and I got a number 4, which the menu called your basic hot taste. 3 is recommended but I could have gone hotter than 4, and others will be able to take a lot more.

The vegetables were vegetables, nice but I've had sensational vegetables at other soup curry places so this wasn't the best. The lamb however, was sensational - so soft and juicy. You can't really see it in the picture there since it was buried under the veg, but there was plenty of it and it was great.

Soup Curry King is near Minami Hiragishi station on the Namboku line, and it's well worth a visit. It reminded me of Medicine Man, another really popular soup curry restaurant with the quality to support its reputation.

I'll mark it on my map, of course, and here's the address and opening times coz I'm nice like that:

Soup Curry King

Open for lunch 11.30am to 3pm.
Dinner is 5pm to 11pm (last order at 10.30pm).
Saturdays, Sundays and holidays it's open 11.30am to 10pm all day (last order at 9.30pm).
And it doesn't have any regular closed days.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Sapporo Food: Maruyama DRiLL

I guess I was thinking about burgers a lot recently or something because when I realised I had a couple of hours free to go somewhere interesting for lunch I remembered Maruyama DRiLL. I tried to go there a while back, but although  their schedule said they ought to have been open, they were closed. It's no big deal, that kind of thing tends to happen with small, independent places in Japan, but I never got around to going back. Today, I half expected it to be closed too, but while it was freezing bloody cold outside, it was toasty warm inside.

That's the freezing cold exterior. It was only walking up the stairs that I deciphered the logo, which I'd seen a bunch of times before: the circle = maru; the triangle is a mountain = yama; and the triangle with lines is a drill. Obviously! I didn't snap any photos of the actual cafe inside, but I really should have since it's a super-stylish place. If you head to the website, you can check out plenty of snaps, of both the bar and the lovely staff. Here instead, just imagine a stylish bar arranged around this gorgeous burger.

The menu here looks really good, and I really want to go back and try some different things. Their main things are burgers and curries, both of which look great. It also looks like they recently added pasta to the lunch menu as well. I'd like to say it was hard for me to choose, but really if a place says they do good burgers then 99% of the time that's what I'm going to get. I chose a cheeseburger, and the plate up there was 800yen (I got the orange juice lurking in the background for an extra 150yen). They've got a pretty big range of burgers, nothing too revolutionary, but they did have a ridiculous looking triple-decker for about 1800yen. Considering that this was a tall burger to start with I can't imagine how that stays upright but still. You can add extra patties as a topping too actually.

It was a good burger. The patty especially; I'm not sure if it was 100% beef but it was juicy and delicious. Again, not the best in Sapporo, but worth your time if you're a burger fan and of course a cut above your average fast-food joint. I'll definitely be going back there, and even though I'll try and be strong, try and break my mold... I'll probably just end up getting a burger again.

It's about two minutes from exit 1 of Maruyama Kouen station, and I'll mark it on my map.

maruyama DRiLL
北海道札幌市中央区北1条西27丁目1-7 2F
Lunch is from 11.30 to 4.00 (last order at 3pm)
Dinner is from 5.00 to midnight (last order at 11pm)
And now I notice that they don't have any fixed days off, hence I was disappointed the first time I went. Might be worth phoning ahead? Think on't.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Sapporo Cafes: Sarou Houmura

I half-expected Sarou Houmura, a wonderful cafe and gallery in North-East Sapporo, to be in some secluded little glade outside the city. In fact it's about ten minutes from Kanjodori Higashi subway station, in a perfectly normal suburban neighbourhood. The smart architecture of the place though is such that inside you completely forget about the mundane surroundings. Even walking up to the place from the direction of the station it looks just like a pair of anonymous warehouses, and you have to be right on top of the place before you realise what it is.

It's those windows that are the genius point. By setting them all around the cafe part of the building the designer has let plenty of natural light shine in so you don't feel completely cut off from the outside world. At the same time, all you can see is the garden immediately surrounding Houmura, not the more bland buildings of the neighbourhood. It creates the fascinating illusion that you are somewhere far more remote than, in reality, you are. The entrance adds to this feeling as well, that long, winding, high-walled ramp cuts you off from the outside world even before you enter the cafe.

And once you're inside, the cafe part of Sarou Houmura is just the kind of perfect, super-stylish cafe that you can absolutely lose yourself in.

I loved the tables here. I have an unhealthy love of broad, heavy wooden tables, and the ones in Houmura felt like solid, immovable slabs - there for the duration. The chairs too were, I'm pretty confident, the heaviest damn chairs I've ever dealt with in a cafe situation. Holy crap, thank God they were so comfy, because once you were ensconced in one, you couldn't really shuffle it to a more comfortable position. You can probably tell that the whole place was perfectly designed on every level. The toilet was one of those hybrid lavatory/zen retreat deals. Incredible.

All of which is down to the place being owned and run by an artist, Mrs. Houmura, who we recognised from photos as we were browsing around the place after we ate. Connected to the cafe is a gallery space which was showing a range of art by different artists from a local studio when we went. Art is clearly at the heart of Houmura, and there's another building - Shinajina Houmura - just around the corner. That place may be closed for now though, since it looked a little deserted when we walked past. It looks just as cool as the one we went to though, but in a completely different way (there are lots of great photos on the site I linked to, so check it out).

We got a lunch set, ginger pork and lots of great Japanese dishes for 1200 yen including coffee afterwards.

Everything was great, those pickled beansprouts at the top especially, and it was very, very healthy. They do just coffee and drinks too of course, and a 900yen cake set that we saw a bunch of people order, and which seemed to be served on a tile. Painfully cool, which is all the better since the place is run by a little old lady.

I'll mark the place on my map, of course. Like I said it's close to Kanjodori Higashi station on the Toho line, and there's a clear map on the website too.

It's open from 10am to 6pm and closed on Tuesdays.

If cool cafes are your thing it's definitely worth a trip, and it's always nice to find interesting things on the Toho line because, I'll be honest, I don't know many. Perhaps I should challenge myself to find some more.