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.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Sapporo Food: Curry Shop 'S' (soup curry)

Soup curry again everyone!

Before we get into this let's get the disclaimers out of the way. Soup curry is a really personal thing. Different people like different places, so it's probably best for everyone to take my recommendations as places worth checking out that I really like. Not that any of that really applies this time since I'm not all that fond of S.

But S is famous, and popular with a lot of people including my girlfriend. Famous enough to have signed autograph cards on their walls from celebrities based outside of Hokkaido (there are quite a few soup curry places around with autographs from local newscasters, sports-people and members of the local TV comedy group TEAM NACS). Famous enough that in an episode of a TV show I saw, when a bunch of really famous comedians came to Hokkaido, S was the place they went to try soup curry. Hell, famous enough that in the new video game Ryuu ga Gotoku 5, apparently you can go to S in Sapporo and have soup curry. They even have a collaborative line of soups! I really want to try that game but sadly don't have the hardware... Or the cash... Oh well...

In fact, instead of posting a real photo of the outside of the place, here's how it looks (outside and inside) in the game. In tiny pictures I found on the interweb:

There's no alleyway there in real life.

He's huge!

Recently the aforementioned TEAM NACS guys made a TV drama series called Soup Curry about a group of friends living in Sapporo, that was tied together with a general soup curry/spice of life theme. They filmed in some real soup curry joints and featured one or two places over the end credits every week. S was one of the ones that showed up there and that was what spurred me into finally trying it out.

S does soup curry and also a thicker, more standard roux curry, along with some tandoori-style chicken. The place is good, and I do like it, but it's not amazing and I'm pretty mystified as to why S is one of the more famous soup curry restaurants in town. The soup is delicious, I mean, it's really, really good, but it's just so thin! I've eaten a lot of soup curry, and for S to be one of those places that folks from outside of Sapporo go to try the dish just seems weird because it's really unlike the majority of soup curry places. Maybe they're just really, really good at self-promotion.

Here's one of their standard soup curries, with their Sapporo-style ramen noodle topping (which is a really nice idea, served with the ramen spoon too, another nice touch) and - c'mon - that just looks like ramen with extra veg.

Here's a half-and-half dish they do of their soup-curry and their roux curry.

For me neither one was satisfying and I didn't really feel like I got my money's worth on the quantity side either. I didn't really like the roux curry, didn't think much of the chicken, and the soup curry was basically a side-serving.

In general I haven't been impressed with the vegetables or the meat there, and the menu is pretty limited. Jesus, looking back at this it reads like I'm basically trashing the place. I'm trying my best not to, and since I started sticking to just basic soup curry with that good noodle topping I've left pretty satisfied a couple of times. But while the soup flavour is wonderful, I find everything else about the place just 'ok'.

S's soup is really light, and that's probably one of the reasons my girlfriend really likes the place. And god knows that it's good to have a range of soup curry places to choose from. You don't always want the kind of thick, heavy flavour-fight you can get at nearby Samurai. So if you want a light, delicious, spicy soup then you should go. But I don't think I'd head back if I didn't eat so often with someone who loves the place. That said, it's certainly no hardship to eat there. That broth is really tasty.

S is really centrally located, about two minutes walk from Susukino station on Eki-mae Dori. It's south of Tanuki Koji, down in the same basement as Hendix Art Cafe, whose sign is pretty visible when you're walking down the street. I'll mark it on my map of course, and would encourage everyone to check it out. You're not kids any more! You've got to make up your own minds about these things.