Sunday, 30 December 2012

Sapporo Cafes: DxM

DxM is one of a chain of quite ridiculously stylish coffee shops in Sapporo run by Morihiko Coffee. These include the beautiful cafe converted from an old wooden house in Maruyama (which I cannot recommend highly enough, even if it is so small it's hard to get a seat a lot of the time) and Atelier Morihiko on the street-car line in West Odori, where I once had an almost transcendentally delicious pear tart. Seriously, I had no idea anything made with pears could be that good.

DxM's concept is to pair the same amazing coffee that Morihiko serve everywhere with luxurious doughnuts by  David (which is, I think, a bakery rather than just some dude named David). The coffee is wonderful and the doughnuts are really fancy, expensive doughnuts. And of course the interior is just excessively stylish, a minimalist collision of industrial trappings and an old school house. That makes it sound a little messy, it's not. The place is a gorgeous combination of metal and wood, and it's not until you look at the chain-link fence and industrial lights, then notice the blackboards and school desks that you realise they've gone for some crazy factory/school approach. But not scary and fascistic like Pink Floyd's The Wall. Y'know, the cool industrial schoolhouse approach.

If you like super-stylish, somewhat expensive coffee places then you have to pay the place a visit. I don't really have a whole lot more to add, except to reiterate that the coffee is really good (they roast their own coffee, and note the hourglass they gave me showing how long to let it brew before pouring it) and that the doughnuts really are fancy.

To be completely honest I don't need my doughnuts this fancy, and just nice hearty Mister Donut doughnuts are fine by me, but it was certainly no hardship at all to eat these ones.

It's pretty close to Sapporo Factory shopping mall and I would guess that the closest subway station would be Bus Centre Mae on the Tozai line. Perhaps a fifteen minute walk from Sapporo Station? Let's say so. I'll put it on my map, so go and try the place for yourself!

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Welcome To Sapporo!

Welcome to Sapporo! Or appropriate sentiment if you already live here!

A while ago I decided to drop the personal side of my blog and just use it as a guide to things in Sapporo (mostly cafés and restaurants) for English speakers living or coming here. There are similar things out there, but every little helps when you're in a country whose language you're not all that comfortable in. Recently I've been far too busy to update regularly, or in fact check comments and messages, but I've heard from people who find this thing useful and I'm really glad I could be of some help to somebody. Getting comments and the like makes me want to pull my finger out of... wherever it was stuck and at least post a little more. So I will be trying to send out a few more dispatches in case anyone finds them of any use. Don't call it a New Year's Resolution! Ha ha, but seriously I wouldn't trust myself to keep it if it were.

If you're moving here or have just moved here I hope you can find some info here you can use too, and I'm always happy to answer questions and try and help out. But there are other places I'd recommend too.

For jobs, local information, sales of belongings and more you should really check out The Hokkaido Insider. There's a free mailing list to get local news and details of people with items for sale, and for a small charge you can sign up for an extremely useful mailing list with jobs available in the area.

After I finished working full time and was looking for work I went to the job centre Hello Work a few times. They weren't at all set up to help out foreigners though, and would generally recommend I check the big Japanese Jobs for foreigners site Gaijin Pot Jobs or The Hokkaido Insider. Since Gaijin Pot never seems to carry any jobs for Hokkaido (in my experience) The Hokkaido Insider is an invaluable resource for people looking for work up here.

Also worth checking out is Best of Sapporo Japan a great general site about Sapporo run by a friend of mine. Food, events, general living advice, he covers pretty much everything.

More links in the sidebar over there, so go click.

This year in Sapporo we're having a freezing December with a bumper load of snow. Earlier in the year the beloved local baseball team Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters won the Pacific League, but lost out in the Japan series to the cursed Yomiuri Giants, champions of the Central League. Nonetheless, there was a massive parade in the city centre and everything was covered in confetti for a while. My favourite Japanese album of the year was Stories by Zazen Boys, but take that with a pinch of salt because they've been my favourite Japanese band for years and I didn't find much new Japanese music I really liked this year.

So, are we all up to speed? Then let's continue into the new year! Boys Be! And so on.

Sapporo Food: Voyage Soup Curry

Ok! It's the holidays and I am finally on holiday. Therefore I should be able to find the time to post something, right? Well here is something, and this something is long overdue.

Soup curry, that glorious and uniquely Sapporo fusion of 'curry' and 'soup' is a great love of mine. That said I know a lot of really great soup curry places but I wouldn't go so far as to label any of them 'the best'. No one soup curry place is exactly like any other and subjectivity has a huge part to play, as you can see from some old comments I got saying they didn't like the place I liked, and recommending a couple of places that I really want to go to, but still haven't been able to since I neither live, nor work, anywhere near them.

The best soup curry I can remember having was at Lavi Lavi in Kita 24 Jo, but it was their monthly special and so it was gone almost as soon as I found it. After that I found Lavi Lavi to be a great place, but one day I went and it just wasn't as good for some reason, and it's never reached the heights it used to since. Oh, but the new branch in Sapporo Station's ESTA mall is a really convenient place to get a decent dish.

So soup curry shops vary wildly in quality, style and reliability, but the place that I would recommend to pretty much anybody is Voyage in Kita 24 Jo.

I'm sorry, soup calyi, my mistake.

Voyage is run by the same people that run Xysa nearby and Picante, which has a couple of locations now. All three are similar I think, but not exactly the same, and I like Voyage, possibly because I've been there much more often.

The food at voyage is great, and it seems to be consistently great. I've never had a lousy curry there, and I always leave glad that I made the trip. Their vegetables and meat are delicious and well cooked (something which seems a little hit and miss with some places) and they don't skimp on the veggies too, which is something I'm always happy to see. You can always choose a basic soup or a rich soup (the rich soup varies by day of the week too, just to keep things interesting) and both are delicious. It costs more to take your curry above spice level 2, but spice level 2 seems just perfect so I never bother. Add to this the tremendous toppings they do and while Voyage might not be the best I really find it hard to believe anyone would be disappointed to go there.

Oh look! Photos!

Crunchy herb chicken with  fried gyoza and potato dumpling with cheese toppings. That potato and cheese thing... oh my God.

Herb Lamb with... um, the same toppings.

Basic vegetable with just the gyoza topping. They also do a deluxe vegetable curry just crammed with stuff.

The menu at Voyage seems to change pretty regularly, but some things, like the crunchy herb chicken above are always there. Voyage soups are served in these unique bowls with this big raised section in the middle. You can't see them in those photos but imagine that the actual soup is in a donut shaped section, while the middle acts like a kind of table for you to cut things up on. It's interesting, and pretty useful when you get used to it. A cynical man might say it makes it look like you get more than you do, but I am not that man, and I always leave sated so I have no complaints.

I'll say it again, I'm not promising that Voyage will blow you away but in my experience it is always very, very good. I've been meaning to blog about it ever since I started this thing and it comes strongly recommended. It's a three or four minute walk from Kita 24 Jo station on the Namboku line of the subway, and I've marked it on my map.