It’s painful to get up at 5am and make the trek to Tsukiji Fish Market before work. But strange as it might seem, if there’s one thing you have to see, it’s this. It’s the largest wholesale fish market in the world, and handles more than 400 different types of seafood from tiny sardines to 300kg tuna. Watching the gigantic fish prepared for sale or the auctioneers’ enthusiasm at landing their prize is a fabulous way to start the day. A tip: make sure you eat breakfast at the market before you leave.
Near the Tsukijishijō Station on the Oedo subway line and Tsukiji Station on the Hibiya subway line:
Beige Tokyo, the creation of Chanel and Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse, is so achingly hip it’ll make you take off your suit the moment you get in. Located in the Chanel Ginza Building, it is the perfect fusion of high fashion and impeccable cuisine: try the frog’s legs and akagegyu beef for orgasmic culinary pleasure.
The Conrad Tokyo’s major attraction is its location. Walking distance from the Hamarikyu Garden and the legendary Tsukiji Fish Market (amongst other tourist delights), this is the place to stay if you don’t have a weekend (go for the Hyatt if you do) but do have time to explore in the evenings. The in-house Gordon Ramsay restaurants are also a bonus. Book an Executive Room or an Executive Suite; the latter is exceptional value given its 83 square metre size.
Fukuzushi, near Roppongi is great for a quieter (perhaps weekday team) dinner. It is a dinky, gorgeous, family-run restaurant, with sushi dominating the menu. The sashimi – especially tuna and salmon staples – are irresistibly delicious and the sake deserves your full attention. Two important tips. Get there early – it gets rather empty after 9pm – and make sure you get very clear directions – it’s remarkably difficult to find.
The New York Grill on the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt is heaving every night, it serves some of the best seafood, poultry and red meat I’ve ever tasted in Japan (no mean feat). There’s also a super-high celebrity quotient.
The two XEX bars in Tokyo are wonderful insider secrets. The first, situated in the Atago Green Hills Mori Tower, is ten minutes from Roppongi and has spectacular views of the Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Tower. The second, located in Daikanyama, is irrefutably the city’s best bar for spring/summer; it features the city’s trendiest folk and also serves very stylish teppanyaki.
Upon arrival in Tokyo Narita International airport (or just before you leave!), don't just rush headlong into the city... If you have come long-haul and are tired, there's nothing better than to get your head down at one of the airport hotels for a few hours, and then use Narita as a gentle introduction to Japan/Tokyo. It is a nice small town, which is very walkable, and has many little gems including a temple, local restaurants, shops and backstreet pubs. Prices for food, hotels et al will be much cheaper that Tokyo city, and it allows you to acclimatise in a much less hectic/congested atmosphere. I have always found it a perfect way to take a breather before business in Japan and/or exploring the country on vacation.
It's talked about but not many people in the world have tasted it. It is decadent and pure luxury. I'm talking about Kobe beef - the most tender, tasty, melt in the mouth moment I've ever tasted. This delight of Japanese cuisine is of course, best tasted in the home of the beef. Kobe is an hour or so away from Tokyo on the bullet train but the journey is well worth it. Step out of Kobe's main shinkensen station and you will be greeted with posters and bill boards of places to taste this fine meat.
Check out the restaurants who offer 'nose print' certificates of the cow to prove authenticity. Lightly grilled is my personal recommendation.
On your own in Tokyo? Search out large office blocks, daytime or night time, there's usually a food court either at ground or upper level. Japan can be expensive and this is an easy and inexpensive way to eat out alone. Don't worry about the language, there are the plastic plates to point out.
All over town
When travelling in Tokyo, I would highly recommend vending machine Ramen (noodles) for the experience. The ramen is not dispensed by a machine but human contact (read the need to communicate in Japanese) is limited - so may be great for the foreign visitor. The process may look intimidating at first but in reality it couldn't be simpler. Outside the restaurant you will be faced with a vending machine with a selection of buttons, typically you need to select:
1) The size of your noodles
2) The type of noodles
3) Any extras, including egg, extra meat, etc
Simply press your desired buttons (all with pictures on for you to follow), insert money and you will be issued with a coupon. Hand this in to the staff in the 'restaurant' (usually a bar - perfect for single dining) and a few minutes later you will be presented with a piping hot bowl of ramen. Prices are fantastically cheap (no more than GBP5 a bowl) and extremely fresh. As an added bonus, you can feel smug that you've achieved to dine like a local and navigate yourself around what can be a very confusing city.
All around Japan, look for the vending machines with pictures on for a clue
For a place to stay, Shangri-la draws the suited and booted but is also the hangout for beautiful people. The Horizon Club serves canapés in the lounge every evening and there’s wireless broadband throughout.
The restaurant Forty One at the top of Chifley Tower has private dining rooms. You can enjoy breathtaking views of Sydney Harbour and the city’s impressive skyline, and the food is also excellent – there's a six-course dinner menu with wines chosen by the sommelier.
Singapore loves to do champagne brunch on a Sunday, and it has become something of an institution with most of the big hotels serving it. You get a buffet selection that includes seafood, sushi, cooked breakfast, roast dinner, dim sum, cheese and several deserts and the champagne is free-flowing. Set aside at least three hours and make sure you haven’t got anything to do for the rest of the day. I had a fabulous brunch at the Fullerton, which has wonderful views across the river. They serve from 12pm until 3.30pm with unlimited champagne until 3pm and a total cost of about £60 per person.
Until very recently, Singapore was your quintessential Asian city in accommodation terms. Everything had to be big, big, big: every fixture grand, every room opulent. The Raffles though was (and still probably is) the very best of that bunch; in fact, it’s the stuff of legends. Since opening in 1886, the last Singapore tiger was shot underneath the Bar and Billiards room (1902), the first Singapore sling was mixed at the Long Bar (1915), and, like Chateau Marmont in LA, a series of film stars have called it home. All the writers that you might associate with the waning years of the empire – Joseph Conrad, W Somerset Maugham, and Rudyard Kipling – have lived here. English colonels gathered here to sing “There Will Always Be an England” after Singapore surrendered to Japan in 1942. In short, Raffles embodies all that was glamorous about the Far East in colonial times. Nowadays, it’s still a glamorous bolthole. Its near-perfect Victorian imitation décor now looks a touch naff, but, with 2.5 staff per guest, you’ll be pampered like Gardner and Taylor were half a century ago. Its own Indian food is brilliant but so are the vendors outside the hotel – try the curries, noodles and satays safe in the knowledge that no food in Singapore makes you ill. And its rooms are perfect for relaxing in after a 13 hour flight. You can even stay in a Personality Suite, named after Conrad, Kipling, Chaplin, Wayne and others.
1 Beach Road Singapore 189673
Tel: +65 6337 1886
Fax: +65 6339 7650
If you think that going to dinner in a hotel is tantamount to some kind of defeat, swallow your pride, and go for it in Singapore. Morton’s in the Mandarin Oriental is a genuinely great hotel restaurant. It may be an American chain but, when every guide book tells you that it will be one of the finest dining experiences of your life, they’re not lying. Its atmosphere is vibrant, the beef extraordinary, the service flawless and the wine list award-winning. Steak fans are kept very happy, and the menu also features veal, chicken, seafood and fantastic sides: fresh green asparagus with hollandaise, creamed spinach, sautéed mushrooms, and several versions of the humble potato are all perfectly prepared and plentiful.
Dessert is a must, particularly one of the soufflés or the hot chocolate cake.
Mandarin Oriental, 5 Raffles Avenue, Marina Square, Singapore 039797 Tel: +65 6338 0066 Fax: +65 6339 9537
If Japanese is your cuisine of choice, then try Nogawa at Le Meridien on Orchard Road. Named after legendary chef Yoshio Nogawa – who has delivered a production line of talented Japanese chefs on the island – his eatery serves the freshest, scrummiest sushi, sashimi, tempura and teriyaki in the region. The menu varies with the seasons but the quality is consistently high. His other restaurants in the city – Akane and Nogawa at the Sentosa Golf Club – are also brilliant.
Le Meridien, 100 Orchard Road, Singapore 238840
+65 6733 8855
For a less mainstream dining experience – and one outside a hotel – try IndoChine Waterfront at the Asian Civilisations Museum. It’s located in the most romantic setting in town, with lovely views of the river; has an amazing décor with oriental antiques and modern furniture; and its Vietnamese-Laotian-Cambodian-French fusion cuisine is just gorgeous. Things to try: seafood galangal soup, black pepper beef, grilled scallops and basil chicken. The service can be slipshod but the food’s good enough to forgive them. After dinner, stop by the adjacent Bar Opiume; a super-stylish spot that's popular for cocktails and celebrity sightings.
Asian Civilisations Museum, The Historic District, 1 Empress Place
Two great Chinese restaurants are Hua Ting – in the Orchard Hotel – and Iggy’s – inside the Regent Hotel. Both have won a host of international awards. The former specialises in rare Cantonese dishes - bird's nest, preserved egg, fish maw and other dried seafood may sound hideous but they’re actually delicious. The latter has a German chef and his mastery of the art of Chinese cooking is impressive – his sea scallop topped with foie gras purée and yuzu juice is divine.
Hua Ting, 442 Orchard Road, Singapore
Iggy's, 1 Cuscaden Road 249715, Singapore
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