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
An icon for Singapore is the ultra-hygienic eating stalls. Nowhere else in the world do they have such hawker food stalls with freshly cooked foods of all kinds - for example, chilli crabs, shark's fin soup, mee goreng, fish head curry and many more. You can even get a fantastically cooked steak to your liking, or oysters with eggs all cooked in front of you within minutes. All ingredients are fresh and very hygienic - carefully and strictly monitored by the Singapore government.
The best place for lunch or dinner with an exotic feel is Newton Place Hawker Centre, where it's easy to park and even easier to get a cab. It is only a stone's throw from Orchard Road (Singapore's famous shopping street). If you are feeling a bit peckish at 1am Newton is the place to go for some Taiwan porridge which is served from 9pm till 3am at their Coffee Lounge. The Goodwood Park hotel is one of the oldest on the islandand is considered a national monument to the British colonisation of Singapore dating back to 1900. It is splendid for business and families alike. If you would like something to do, go to East Coast beach where you will see a number of seafood restaurants on the beach - about eight of them side by side to choose from.
If you are feeling more adventurous go on a boat ride to the Indonesian Island of Batan for the day from the Pier - right in the financial district. You can obtain the timetable of departure times from the tourist board - it is pretty reasonable. Serangoon (Singapore's little India), where you can find lots of Indian cafes and restaurants, has excellent Indian food where you can also find the famous 'teh tarik' (literal meaning is 'tea pulled'). It is sweet milky tea that is cooled down by pouring tea from one glass to another from about two or three feet apart depending on the skills of each waiter.
Whilst at Serangoon go to MUSTAFA's shopping centre. It is the Indian version of Debenhams but you will find almost everything exotic there and pretty reasonably priced. Whilst there also visit Tekka Market. It is the first wet market in Singapore where you will find more hawkers' stalls, shopping and local restaurants. It really is fascinating.
It is very very safe as crime is low and the people are very sophisticated and highly educated. You can find almost anything in Singapore. It is a multicultural country and more and more westerners are opting to live and work there, and they are well catered for.
If you fancy a bit of waterskiing go to Ponggol (along the coast) and hire out a boat - they will offer an instructor/driver with the hire of the boat with the gear (at a fee of course). You certainly do not have to worry about the weather. Fancy some original Malay satay - then the Esplanade is the place to go to. Depending on the time of the year you may even be lucky enough to get some Malay entertainment along the way. Want to hit the nightclubs but don't know which ones? There are about 20 nightclubs from samba to R&B, disco, blues, jazz, Chinese etc. all side by side at the World Trade Centre (or rather right next to it). They are open seven nights a week and some close at 5am. If you fancy a blues night out then try The Crazy Elephant at Clarke Quay, where you can sample a lychee martini. How exotic is that! I could go on - just do a bit of research or ask around at your hotel concierge and they will tell you. I am sure you will be spoilt...
Please be aware that no chewing of gum is allowed in Singapore and travellers are not allowed to bring in more than a cigarette packet of 20s into Singapore or there is a hefty fine.
If you are feeling pretty brave or have lost all sense of smell, then why not try durian fruit on your trip to Asia. This soft yellow fruit is considered quite tasty (well why else would anyone eat it) but it is most famous for its strong and pungent smell. Note, public transport systems will not allow you to board with this fruit! If you can get over the smell, then you discover a soft creamy texture with a unique taste (just try holding your breath whilst swallowing). Buy pre-prepared durian from market stalls and eat with caution!
More details online en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durian
Singapore's Mandarin Oriental is a destination in itself. Located on the waterfront, this premium property benefits from high quality rooms, delicate decor and an excellent breakfast buffet. Singapore's Mandarin Oriental differs from other hotels in this luxury chain in that it is a lot cheaper than others in Hong Kong or Japan. My recommendation would be to go for the breakfast buffet. A huge selection of Western and Asian cuisines will delight all taste buds. Many visitors come to the hotel just for the breakfast itself. Try out some local favourites including the fresh dim sum, congee (rice porridge) and freshly baked pastries.
Singaporeans can be brusque but they will warm to you if you take an interest in their fantastic food. We seemed to be eating round the clock when we were there. Kopi Tiams (coffee shops) open until the wee hours and it's not uncommon to go out for a meal after a midnight film in Singapore.
Singaporeans often greet each other by asking "Have you eaten?" and you will endear yourself to the locals by enquiring if they have had their "makan" (food) as well. We visited a great restaurant called The Rice Table, where Indonesian Dutch rijsttafel was served. There'll be no awkward silences because everyone is too busy stuffing their faces with the never-ending stream of satay, otak, and curries that arrive. The moment one dish is finished, just ask for another at no extra charge. And the price is incredibly reasonable.
The Rice Table. 360 Orchard Rd., #02-09/10 International Building Tel: 65/6835-3783Lunch set S$15 (US$9.80/£5.05); dinner set S$23 (US$15/£7.65)
I've pulled together some of my top tips for Shanghai - I've categorised each tip into time periods so that you can pick and choose depending on how much free time you've got.
0-2 hours: Avoid! Bund Tourist Tunnel - 10 minutes
Crossing the Bund can be done by boat, car or underground, but don't waste your time on the rather retro (read tacky) Bund Tourist Tunnel. The name is apt as only tourists would be crazy enough to spend their money on a underground fair ride that is more likely to cause an epileptic shock than any degree of amusement. It is however, the quickest way to cross the river if you are on the banks on the Bund (and it's rush hour so the tunnel is blocked). Give a try... if you really must.
Xian dan di - 1-2 hours
Ironically housed in the former offices of the Communist party, this beautiful refurbished part of town could be accused of being rather faux in terms of its connection with real China life... but it's there and it exists and it is part of Shanghai ex-pat life. The clean streets, the trendy restaurants and the outrageous prices probably tell you that you are in a place for tourists and expats, however, it's worth a look around and for a pitstop.
Go to Starbucks - 30 mins to 1 hour
I kid you not, some would accuse me of sacrilege but there is a reason... please bear with me. A lot of the Starbucks in the city benefit from sitting in the most prestigious and ideally located positions in the city for great panoramic views. My personal recommendation would be the Starbucks situated on the East bank of the river overlooking the Bund just opposite the Shangri-La hotel. Grab yourself a Chinese tea and watch the sunset over the river. The glowing fuzz of the city ahead will warm you before you retreat to your hotel.
Enjoy drinks over the Bund - 1-2 hours
A visit to Shanghai will not be complete without a visit to the historic 'Bund' district, the colonial waterside developed on the west bank of the Huangpu River. Many of the bars/restaurants (I recommend 'M on the Bund' - www.m-restaurantgroup.com/) offer expansive views over the Bund and the tall skyscrapers in the Pudong district. The food's not bad either! English and Chinese menus are available. Other nearby highlights include the old HSBC building (no longer housing HSBC) and Huangpu Park.
Stroll along Nanjing Road (to buy the other half a gift) -
Home to Shanghai's main shopping street so be prepared to be greeted by tens of thousands of people. The shops range from the local to international with department stores dotted along the way. Be sure to stop by one of the many snack stores to take on board some of the delicious buns or dumplings that make China famous. Be sure you check the custom regulations for transporting goods though, be particularly careful with any foodstuffs.
Enjoy a river cruise along Huangpu River - 1-3 hours
One observation you will undoubtedly make whilst travelling in Shanghai is that the river is bustling with life. Container ships, tankers, passenger boats all zip up and down the river at a hectic speed. Board a river cruise boat from the ferry terminal at the south of the Bund district. Here you will be able to enjoy a one, two or even three hour river cruise. Take care though... Shanghai like many other Chinese cities is prone to a spot of smog. Try and pick a clear day. Try Huangpu River Cruise (239 Second Eastern Zhong Shan Road, Shanghai - tel +86 21 6374 4461). Nearest station - Wai Tan
Sleep in the clouds - 8 hours
Nope, I'm not talking about your business class flat bed on the way back home, I'm talking about the ever impressive Grand Hyatt Shanghai. Based in Pudong it's close to the financial centre and closer to the airport. Ask for a room overlooking the Pearl TV tower or over the park.
Send your feedback or queries to firstname.lastname@example.org