09 July 2015

A Japanese Adventure... coming soon!

So, it's no secret that I'm quite a big fan of Japan. I've been fascinated with Japanese culture since I was a child (blame it on the Pokemon), and the fascination persisted into adulthood. I studied Japanese art as a post-graduate, and have visited the country a couple of times in the past few years. I had an incredible time there - the country was even more beautiful, quirky and fun than I imagined! If you've been following Foods for Thought for a while, you'll remember that one of my first blog posts was about the country. And my profile pic? That was taken in the beautiful port of Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan.

Basically, I can't get enough of Japan - so I'm going to go and live there for a while! I applied for a handful of seasonal jobs in Niseko, the ski resort that I've gotten to know quite well over my two visits, and which is world-famous for its incredible powder snow. To my amazement (given I have no experience in hospitality/tourism), I've been offered a job for the 2015/16 winter season! I'm so happy and overwhelmed with excitement. I don't think I've ever spent more than 20 days or so out of the UK before - I never did a gap year or anything - so this is quite a big deal for me. But I'm glad that I am doing it now; I think now that I'm a little older and wiser I can really make the most of a trip like this.

Now that I have a job offer I am going to apply for a Working Holiday Visa, which will allow me to stay in Japan for a year. After the winter season is over and I've had my fill of japow, I plan to work my way down through the islands, ending up in Okinawa for the summer. I've never been there but it looks like a tropical paradise! It's known as Japan's answer to Hawaii.

I have so much to sort out before I move to Japan at the end of October! Of course I will document my adventure on here when I get there. In the meantime, I thought I would share some of my favourite photos from my previous trips to Japan.

Fresh mineral water spring near Kutchan, Hokkaido

Canal at Otaru, Hokkaido

View of Mt Yotei from the Niseko slopes

Craft Beer at Harajuku Taprooms, Tokyo

Crab sign, Otaru fish market

An android at The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, Tokyo

A view of the Imperial Palace, Tokyo 

Shinjuku, Tokyo at night

Tokyo's Sky Tree surrounded by real trees

Japan has such a unique mix of natural beauty, ancient traditions, innovative technologies and incredible food and drink. That's why I love it so much! I can't wait to fully immerse myself in the culture.

Have you ever lived abroad? Have you visited Japan before?

07 July 2015

Restaurant Review: Barrafina Adelaide Street

I recently visited Barrafina's new(ish) opening on Adelaide Street - located just off the Trafalgar Square end of the Strand. The original Barrafina on Frith Street was opened about eight years ago by brothers Sam and Eddie Hart (who also own Quo Vadis). Barrafina serves modern Spanish tapas, whilst diners sit at high stools along a bar where they can watch the chefs working their magic. Their new opening on Adelaide Street recently won best restaurant in The National Restaurant awards (as well as picking up the award for best Spanish restaurant). 

The menu at Barrafina.

The menu at Barrafina is divided into various sections, including frituras (fried dishes), cold meats, vegetables, chargrilled dishes and seafood. There are also daily specials. The menu is based on quality ingredients that are prepared expertly but also with simplicity. You can order a couple of dishes here and there as you go along, and they arrive one by one as they are prepared. It's always a good idea to keep an eye on what others are ordering and following suit if the dish looks good!

Fresh produce and the daily specials boards

One thing I always have to have when I go for tapas is the Pimientos de Padron. I'm sure some people probably think they're boring (they are just shallow fried green peppers, sprinkled with sea salt), but they're the quintessential tapas dish in my mind so I usually go for them. Plus the mild thrill of wondering whether you'll get one of the hot, fiery ones turns eating them into a kind of edible game of Russian roulette. I got a couple of hot ones this time so I guess I got lucky/unlucky.

Pimientos de Padron

Another one of my favourite tapas is Stuffed Courgette Flowers. Eating fried courgette flowers is something I was first introduced to during my childhood summer holidays in Umbria, and now whenever I see it on the menu my heart leaps! This one still had the baby courgette attached (so cute!), whilst the flower itself was stuffed with goat's cheese and drizzled with honey. I just love the contrast of the savoury cheese and sweet honey, and the delightfully light crispiness of the flower itself.

Stuffed courgette flowers

Sometimes a small plate just isn't enough. This was the case with the delicious Arroz de Marisco. The rice was cooked in an intensely rich fish stock, had a beautifully creamy texture, like a loose risotto, and was topped with grilled squid and prawns. It was so damn good that we had to order another.

Arroz de marisco

There are some slightly unusual dishes on the menu at Barrafina... such as Milk Fed Lamb's Brain and Ortiguillas (a type of sea anemone). I wasn't brave enough to try either of these, but the Suckling Pig's Ears were safely within my comfort zone. These were deliciously savoury, with a crisp exterior and a nice bit of chew in the middle. They were topped with some deep-fried sage leaves and a mayonnaise dip on the side.

Suckling Pig's Ears

Other dishes we tried included a whole cooked mackerel, some incredibly tender suckling pig, and beautiful English asparagus on a sauce that I think is best described as a crunchy fresh tomato pesto, and topped with cheese shavings. Sadly I'm only human so I had to stop eating at some point, even though I didn't really want to! On the plus side, there are still plenty of dishes left to try next time I go back. 

Having been to both the Frith Street restaurant and now the Adelaide Street, I can safely say that Barrafina produces the best tapas I've experienced outside Spain. Visiting Barrafina always makes me think back to my trip to San Sebastian many years ago when I first experienced real pintxosI strongly recommend trying Barrafina - it's the kind of place you can enjoy sharing lots of different dishes with a small group, but you can also just pop in solo after work (but get there when doors open if you don't want to queue!) and enjoy a couple of plates all to yourself. 

I have a trip to Barcelona planned for September, so this recent trip to Barrafina has made me even more excited about it! Barrafina was very much inspired by the Hart brothers' love of Cal Pep tapas bar in Barcelona. Please comment below if you have any tips (food or otherwise) for my trip!

Have you been to Barrafina? Or do you have another favourite tapas restaurant?