Monday, June 30, 2014

Afternoon Tea at The Mandarin Oriental Tokyo

Earlier this month I went to afternoon tea at The Mandarin Oriental for the second time.  Last year I went with Raku to celebrate my birthday, fell madly in love with the experience, and ended up kicking off our tour of afternoon teas around Tokyo.  This year I took my mom to celebrate her birthday while she was here visiting.

My mom never argued when I told her I was taking her to afternoon tea for her birthday, but I got the distinct impression that she was just humoring me.  Afterwards, she told me that when our tea tray arrived she wasn't even sure if the food would be very good or filling.  Ha!  She's definitely a convert now.

I chose The Mandarin because it's been the gold standard of afternoon tea in my mind that I've compared every other experience to.  While The Park Hyatt put up stiff competition (I still can't stop thinking about that rose tea) The Mandarin Oriental is in some ways more lavish, and I wanted my mom to have the most magical experience possible.

While we still had a great time, the experience was very different from 2013, so I thought it would be worth blogging about - plus I get to relieve our wonderful afternoon.  I suspect the chef has changed because the food was significantly different, and it seems he or she has a different take on afternoon tea. The Mandarin used to serve tea in three separate courses: sandwiches, scones, a palate cleanser, and then a huge dessert display.  Now they've switched to the traditional three tiered tea tray.  Traditionalists may find this more appropriate or comforting, but I was initially disappointed because I had enjoyed the uniqueness of the old presentation.  But despite my initial concerns the tea was very satisfying.

We ate our savories first, mostly to get on to the main event: dessert!  I remember being very underwhelmed by the bland finger sandwiches last time and they've now provide a much more interesting assortment.  We had a mini quiche, a finger sandwich, a salmon blini, and an open-faced chicken sandwich all made with interesting and tasty ingredients.  In the photos you may notice that the top two tiers are both devoted to desserts. We were wondering about the scones, but partway through the food we were brought a tray of hot scones. In the past we were given three types of scones and now they only offer two, but the freshness and the fact that they bring a second round after you've finished the first more than makes up for it. As always, desserts are the main attraction here and we weren't disappointed.  The mango pudding was particularly delicious and the rose tea flavored macaron was certainly the best macaron I'd ever eaten. Teas are still offered by the cup and never over brewed, though it did seem to take longer between cups to receive them, resulting in less actual tea drunk.

By the time we left we were so happy and relaxed that we both felt like we'd spent an afternoon at a spa. I can still say that The Mandarin Oriental is my favorite afternoon tea so far, but The Park Hyatt Shinjuku is only a hairsbreadth behind.

Tokyo Mandarin Oriental Afternoon Tea
Afternoon Tea Hours: 12:00-5:30
Phone: 03-3270-8188
Address: 2-1-1 Nihonbashi Muromachi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Return of Rainy Season

We've been getting away with some really mild weather this rainy season. Right at the beginning there were a bunch of rainy days but then it was sunny and warm but not too hot, but today the rain is back. Raku and I have staked out the only covered seats on the terrace at Starbucks in Azabu Juban and are enjoying our work while we listen to the thunder and watch the rain drip down on all the other tables around us.

In preparation for all the heat and humidity I cut my hair even shorter, and Miyuki at Shinka did a really wonderful job this time. Speaking of coping with the weather, Raku also showed me a Japanese moisturizer that is perfect for rainy season and summer. I never would have bought it in a million years if she hadn't told me what it was because Biore "Watery Mousse Water Base" doesn't make any sense or sound the least bit appealing. But it's actually a very nice water based moisturizer that doesn't feel heavy or sticky the way the Khiel's I like to use in the winter does around this time of year. The finish is dry and powdery which is such a relief in this weather and as a bonus it's SPF 50. I've been using it for over a week now and haven't had any breakouts from it so I'd definitely recommend it as a great Japanese summer skincare product.

Rainy Writing Terrace

Summer Haircut

Biore Watery Mousse Water Base Moisturizer.  Use it!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Recent Conbini Finds

I love poking around in conbinis (convenience stores) looking for the latest seasonal flavors of snacks, laughing at weird novelty items, and finding the newest flavor of chu-hai. I don't know why I love them so much, but I really do. It's been a while since I've posted a round-up of my finds, so here's the latest.

Pasta flavored popsicles.  I haven't tried them, but I don't think I need to.

Caramel Cinnamon Mojito in a can. I didn't try this one either, but the flavor combination sounds terrible. Where do they come up with this stuff?

Blueberry Yogurt flavored Oreo bites. Alright, I should have known better than to buy this one. It was just so weird I couldn't help being curious.  They're awful.  Like oreos mixed up with flintstone vitamins.

Melon flavored chu-hais. These are delicious! Before coming to Japan I didn't care either way about melons, but now they're one of my favorite things. I hadn't seen this flavor until recently, and I can only find it at Family Mart, but if you get a chance try one!

Elderflower and Lemon Peel Sparkling Water. Sparkling water isn't a very big thing in the US is it? Or maybe just not where I grew up. I've really come to appreciate it. 7-eleven grapefruit and lemon sparkling waters have long been my favorite, but I just found this flavor today. The carbonation doesn't last quite as well as 7-eleven's, but the flavor is very floral and refreshing.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Ms. Bunny Cafe in Roppongi

You may remember that a month ago Raku and I were having a Week of Fun to celebrate reaching major milestones in our writing. By now, after my mom's visit and getting into the overwhelming amount of editing I need to do, it's hard to believe that was only a few short weeks ago.

One of the best things we did (well, honestly every day felt like the best) was going to a bunny cafe. If you're not familiar with this amazing concept, a few years ago shops where you could go and play with cats became very popular in Japan, and by now the concept has spread to a number of animals and even an Owl Cafe, if that's not an urban legend. I think this probably stems from the fact that pets are so expensive in Japan, and that so few apartments allow pets. 

Being allergic to cats I was never interested in a cat cafe, but bunnies intrigued me. We went to Ms. Bunny in Roppongi, mainly because it was within walking distance, and we had a great time but if you go, be aware that their pricing isn't totally transparent. They charge by the half hour, and after the first 30 minutes we were asked if we wanted to leave or extend. We asked to do another 30 minutes, but when that time ran out we weren't notified, and when you've got a bunny in your lap it's hard to keep an eye on your watch or phone. We ended up spending about 40 minutes longer, so we had to pay for a full hour (we could have stayed for those 20 additional minutes, of course). We were also given little dishes of straw to feed the rabbits, and those cost 300 yen, which we didn't realize until the end.

Despite spending more than we intended we had a lot of fun. Being called a cafe I was worried there would be food or drinks all mixed up with the animals, which made me a little nervous, but there was none of that, which was a relief. There were a number of seats and a wall of bunnies in their cages. You could pick any one you wanted, and swap them out for other bunnies during your time. They'll place a blanket in your lap, and then hand you the bunny.

The bunnies are also for sale, and if you're interested in testing it out, you can take a bunny home overnight for 5000 yen. Just try not to fall head over heels in love. I had expected the experience to be a little stressful but I actually had a great time and would encourage anyone that's interested to try out an animal cafe.

Ms. Bunny Cafe
Hours: T-F 2:00-10:00, S-S 12:00-9:00, Closed Mondays
Phone: 03-3404-1182
Address: 6-7-2 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Look at all those bunny cuddles!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Starbucks Coffee Jelly Frappuccino

I spend a lot of time at Starbucks. It's one of the few places you can reliably get free wifi, there's always enough space that I can stay and work all afternoon without feeling guilty, and it keeps me away from all the distractions inside my house while providing just enough distraction when I need a short break from writing.  

I've become so familiar with their menu that sometimes it seems like I mark the passing of time by their seasonal offerings. I usually stick to unsweetened tea because it's healthier (and it costs less) but every once in a while I splurge on a fun seasonal drink (and let's be honest, I drank Cool Lime Refreshers every day last summer, but those only had 50 calories anyways so who's counting?)

I hadn't been interested in the past few seasonal drinks, but at the beginning of June they introduced the Coffee Jelly Frappuccino. Jelly is just what they call jello over here.  It sounds weird, right? Except I was immediately intrigued. With the super intensive week of editing Raku and I have been having we decided to treat ourselves this afternoon to keep our spirits and our energy up, and OMG they are delicious! It's really cubes of black coffee jello with a frappuccino on top, almost like a milkshake with gummy bears in the bottom or maybe more like bubble tea. Yum! They're certainly a splurge, and the tall size was plenty, but if you have the chance to try one you won't regret it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Back to Real Life

I can't believe how quickly my mom's time here came and went!  It seems like just a couple days ago I was going to the airport to meet her, but in reality she's already been home for several days.  It was a busy week with lots of crazy weather, but we had a wonderful time!

There were several picnics, beautiful temples and shrines, afternoon tea, lots of delicious Japanese foods, and fun with some friends.  My mom was such a champ she even tried sushi without even freaking out and didn't make a fuss about the weather even though the temperature went up to 33c one day (that's over 90f!) and rainy season started right on schedule just before she left.  I can't believe I didn't write a single post while she was here, but now I've got a huge backlog of things to write about, so hopefully this blog will get back on track.

It made me so happy to show her so many of the things I love about living here and spend so much time together.  We'd only seen each other once in almost two years!

Now that she's home it is time to get serious about writing.  Raku and I are having an intensive week of critiquing each other's writing.  I've been terrified of this for a long time, but it's actually been really good.  Being a writer is wonderful and lets me have a very luxurious lifestyle a lot of the time, but it is hard work!