My lovely wife and I went to our first Tokyo Comedy Store Improvazilla night at the Crocodile in Shibuya and it was really great. Such a fun atmosphere, clever performers, and lots of laughs. It’s in English too. Looking forward to returning next month. I also went to see The Danish Girl film and thought it was far better than the reviews I read suggested. Hooray.
It's been a week of park explorations, and the pick of the bunch was probably the Meguro Institute for Nature Study. Completely unlike any gardens we have visited so far in Japan, this place feels like a proper forest! (albeit one with a nice clear path going round it). What a beautiful morning out! There’s a fancy-looking coffeeshop opposite but sadly it was closed the day we went… We also visited Koishikawa Korakuen near Iidabashi which was quite lovely, Hama Rikyu Gardens which were nice but big and busy and perhaps a bit overrated… and finally Kyushiba Gardens, about 500 metres south of Hama Rikyu, and small and charming and lovely.
Art (seeing and doing)
As for art, this week’s highlight was the National Museum of Modern Art. The building is rather staid for a modern art museum, but some of the art was really great – certainly worth a visit. We also inordinately enjoyed a charming little photo exhibition at Ricoh Imaging Square in Ginza of romantic couples from classic films. It's on til Sunday. Though my favourite art thing of all was PauseDraw where a group of about 30 people gathered with their sketchbooks in the park in Daikanyama for two and a half hours of drawing and fun – what a delight! Note: this is a monthly thing.
Cocktail bars reviews
We tried two this week, with very different experiences:
Bar Trench in Ebisu feels like it has been lifted from the ‘So You’re Designing a Hipster Bar’ book. From exposed brick to moustachioed bartender, I loved this place before I even took my first sip. These cocktails were outstanding: balanced, imaginative, delicious. What a treat. The only downside was the smoking.
Gen Yamamoto in Azabu Juban is listed in many must-go cocktail bar lists but having scored a reservation, I was personally underwhelmed. The bar seats up to eight people, and serves either four or six cocktail sets. There is no music and the ambience veers between awkward silence and crassly loud conversations echoing around the otherwise silent room. What an odd experience! We were there to see several groups come and go, and everyone was a tourist, which again created an odd atmosphere. But to the important thing: the cocktails. Beautifully, meticulously created with fresh, locally sourced ingredients… but the cocktails just didn’t do it for me. The best way I can describe them is as rather tasty fruit juices in little glasses. A real let down.
Quick reviews from most to least favourite of those we tried this week:
Rose Bakery has a few branches in Tokyo. We went to the Marunouchi one, inside a clothes shop on a charming French-style avenue. And the food was amazing! Lunch/ café style, and apparently all vegetarian, I loved their vegetable tart with salad, their avocado toast with egg was also delicious (though not as good as Dominique Ansel’s), the cake selection was a treat but what made me really swoon was the sourdough bread.
La Bretagne is a French-style galette/crepe restaurant in Kagurazaka, down a charming alley in this French area. Reminded me of other French bistros around the world with the classic décor and ambience, but the galettes were particularly delicious, and it was all very convivial.
Teyandei is a nice izakaya in Nishiazabu. Despite their disappointment at us being vegetarians, they rustled up quite a few really delicious plates. The sesame tofu was unlike anything I’ve had before: outstanding. The fried yam was super. And the ice cream baguette made a perfect dessert.
Bill’s is the famed, long-queue breakfast venue perched on top of Tokyu Plaza between Harajuku and Omotesando. We turned up at 9:30am and only had a 20 minute wait. The avocado toast was excellent (though not as good as DA’s!) and the pancakes were delightfully fluffy, though the star of the show for me was the honey/toffee-infused butter on top. Amazing.
Crisp Salad Works is a fresh custom salad café based on the US chains Sweetgreen and Chop’d. Not seen many places like this in Tokyo so I loved my salad bowl fix! We were in the Ebisu branch, which is small but bright and attractive in a US hipster style.
Lauderdale is an American-style fairly ritzy brunch venue in Roppongi. All rather posh and elegant, and the food was good, with a very vegetarian-friendly Eggs Benedict-type menu.
And Khumbila is a Nepalese restaurant in Ebisu which lacked both ambience and taste.
We really only had one out of town adventure this week because we were overwhelmed with how busy it was. Mount Takao was beautiful but my first experience of queuing to walk up a mountain trail! It was unfeasibly busy. Veering off Trail 1 helped a lot though, and we had a lovely little hike for a couple of hours. And I was a big fan of the chairlift too. Later in the week, we went to Odaiba. While technically not out of town, it felt like a seaside resort. Perhaps Children’s Day was the wrong day to venture there… it was extremely busy. But also cheerful and nice, with all sorts of activities. And we got to do our main motivation for going: stand up paddleboarding! Our very favourite activity. It was so lovely to be out on the water on our paddleboards. It was also really nice to walk around the little green park with the fortress ruins. And afterwards we walked across Rainbow Bridge which was entirely fun!
Brit About Town picks of the week 6th – 12th May
English-language cinema picks out in Tokyo this week:
The Danish Girl, The Lobster and Hail Cesar are three quality, quirky, star-studded films that will make you think.
- The Danish Girl is the most interesting and complex, about relationships and love and identity as a husband struggles with gender identity.
- Hail Cesar is the jolliest, a Cohen Brothers film, with an impressive all-star cast, about the golden age of filmmaking… and disgruntled screenwriters.
- The Lobster is a bit darker, and loses its way in the second half, I thought… but it’s an interesting dystopia about what happens when you don’t find love in time.
Fri 6th – Tonight there’s Gamuso comedy at 8pm.
Sat 7th – Two Dogs Taproom in Roppongi hosts the Comedy Sumo Slam at 6, then Craft Beer and Comedy at 8. I can’t wait, especially for the first one.
Sun 8th – It’s Tokyo Rainbow Pride, so watch the parade then head to Yoyogi Park for all sorts of Pride fun!
Tue 10th – It’s stand-up comedy new material night at Double Tall Café in Shibuya.
Wed 11th – Your very own Brit About Town, Layla, takes control of the @beingtokyo Twitter feed for a week. Tune in to hear about a week in the life of, well, me. Oh, and there’s a Stand Up Tokyo open mic comedy night at Good Heaven’s bar in Shimokitazawa.
Any other great events on this week or in the future? Let me know!