Sunday, 29 March 2015

Adelboden, Switzerland

You may have noticed it's been over a month since I Iast posted anything remotely related to the London dining scene. I'm afraid I'm still out and about. Moreover I've recently ended my 7.5-year relationship with my MacBook, yes that's the black plastic one as seen on Season 1 Sex and the City. And yes a MacBook does last that long, obviously some pretty-pleases and fluttering eyelashes at the Genius Bar helped. This means I have found some good drafts that I never got round to posting... 

But this one is hot off the press - I'm writing this as I sit at the boarding gate on my way back to London. 

There is a list of things I'm trying to get through before end of next month and a ski trip with Cynthia is very much near the top. Without this lab partner I would not have got through the practical exams; she was smart enough to task me with labelling eppendorf tubes, while she dealt with the calculations, actual lab work and ultimately dictated my lab reports... I'm forever thankful for her not losing her shit when I couldn't even label and count from 1-100. I got confused after 75... Anyhow I have much admiration for her and she deserves a proper goodbye before I go. The girl is always a step ahead and moved to Basel in November last year, from there we took a 2.5 hour journey to Adelboden, a cute little Swiss village that serves a good base for skiers.

It's been 6 years since I took the Chan clan here to Switzerland for my graduation trip. Adelboden is slightly off the tourist track, most of whom have been drawn west to Interlaken. Like any other ski town, the main road is lined with chalets and hotels, simple restaurants and bars. After gearing up in town, we took the small cable car across to Oey, and swapped for the gondola lift that took us up to Sillerenbuhl.

The pistes are brilliant:

After a hard day on the slopes, we made full use of the Finnish sauna in the garden, jacuzzi pools and steam room to start the blood flowing through our legs again. So so good....

As Cynthia braved the winds and snow on the slope on the last day, I decided to take the day off. One of the keys to happiness is to accept what you can't do, because there is so much more you can do. It had nothing to do with my aching muscles and bruised bum. *Ahem*. Instead I went on the sunny slope trail  along Hornliweg. Unfortunately sticking to the well signed-posted trail isn't quite my forte, I ended venturing a little further up and a little further out. The 2-hour trek ended up being a 4-hour brisk walk down unmarked paths, snow piles and muddy lanes... Well... Yolo right?

At least the mulled wine at the end of the trek was well-deserved. I don't drink mulled wine in London because it's usually loaded with cinnamon, that awfully intrusive spice. But mulled wine everywhere else tastes completely different. It's sweet with a refreshing citrusy fragrance, spices are gentle on the nose with floral notes, none of that acidic nonsense which resembles boiled off-wines.

Food was surprisingly good. The suisse aren't usually known for their culinary expertise, that said the restaurants we have eaten at proved to be very capable. 

We had a gorgeous cheese fondue recommended by the hotel, just opposite the cable cars to Sillerenbuhl. A very old joint that offers nothing else but variations of the melted cheese pot. We risked stinking of cheese and enjoyed a massive fondue infused with mushrooms, plus a cold meat platter to share. 

The second evening we wanted to try Alte Tavern, but it was fully booked - always a good sign for good food. Alder Restaurant opposite the bus station managed to squeeze us in. An extensive menu with comfort options, made even merrier with super friendly staff.

Thank you for a wonderful weekend, Cynthia. More importantly, thank you for being wonderful.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Chubu: Nagoya, Takayama, Shiragawako, Okuhida, Osaka (Japan)

Japan and I have a love-hate relationship. Let’s focus on love.

The original plan was Hokkaido for snow king crab and outdoor hot spring in the snow. He said November, then December and by January I knew it wasn’t going to happen. There is only so much disappointment one could handle; one could only lie to oneself for so long, so fuck it. Mama Chan and I changed plans; she wanted to visit Shiragawago, so I planned for Chubu (Central Japan) instead.

We landed in Nagoya and made a stop for Maruya, which is renowned for their Hitsumabushi (grilled eel rice). Located on the 9th Floor of Meitetsu department store directly above the station, it was the only restaurant with chairs lined up for the usual queue. 
The grilled eel rice was phenomenal. There are 3 steps to enjoy this bad boy, as illustrated in the menu:
  1. Mix the grilled eel with rice
  2. Then mix in the wasabi, chopped spring onion and seaweed
  3. Pour the soup into the rice and condiments into the rice

The eel was so soft, cooked with the smoky and sweet sauce, mingled with round and bouncy rice - it was the most perfect start of a trip. 

Deeply satisfied with a full stomach, we took the Wide View Limited Express train from Nagoya to Takayama - 2.5 hr.

Our hotel in Takayama was a short 3min walk from the station, about 10mins to the old city area. I couldn’t fault the hotel in any way. We booked a Japanese style room, which was spacious by Japan standard. The onsen (hot spring) facilities were brilliant; a large indoor pool with sauna plus a smaller outdoor onsen that overlooks the city. There were also 3 private onsens at no extra cost.

We visited Shiragakwago the following morning - a 50min bus ride from the Nohi Bus Terminal right next to the train station. It was snowing pretty hard on the day, the small UNESCO village had a distinctive charm.

When we got back to the old city in the Takayama, we tried a few hida beef dishes, including hida beef don, ramen and sushi. The main eats are along the old streets: 

Hide beef sushi:

There were 2 kiosks that sell hida beef sushi, we tried both. The more expensive one was a thousand times better; beef melted in mouth as the rich bovine grease fused into the bouncy rice… 

Matcha ice cream and matcha/red bean eclair:

Steamed Hida Beef Bun:

From Takayama we took the bus to the Okuhida region to the Shin-Hotaka near the Japanese Alps. Hot spring in the snow was still on my agenda even if it wasn’t going to be in Hokkaido. 

The hida beef sukiyaki was delicious, the sweet soy sauce started softening the marbling fat, and a quick dip in the fresh egg before the thin slices melted away in mouth.

We took the Shin-Hotaka Ropeway to the Alps. The view was breath-taking.

I skipped Kanazawa and head straight to Osaka from Okuhida via Takayama. We know Osaka well enough since our last trip. Instead of spending all our time in Namba and Shinsaibashi, we spent some time in Umeda and KyoBashi. I prefer these regions where it’s not flooded with tourists emptying all the shelves in every pharmacy along Shinsaibashi. 

Mama Chan and I had breakfast at Endo Sushi in the Kyobashi branch. The original sushi bar near the fish market was a little off-track. The quality of sushi was out of this world:

Mama Chan and I went all out with the shopping….we even made a pit stop at Rinku Shopping outlet before the airport. I targeted all the Japanese causal brands; Moussy, Sly, Beams, Merci Beaucoup and Tsumori Chisato etc….