Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Draycott: A Timeless Classic by Sloane Square

Nestled within three beautifully restored Edwardian homes in the exclusive enclave of Chelsea and Knightsbridge, The Draycott epitomises the grandeur of old-world luxurious living. Hidden away on a leafy road in one of London’s most sought after neighbourhoods and just around the corner from Sloane Square, The Draycott Hotel is our favourite place to stay when we're in London. Steeped in Edwardian splendour, each room is private, discreet and theatrically themed, with many of the suites having their own cosy fireplace and gorgeous views of the tranquil private interior garden to which Daycott guests have exclusive access. Personal touches such as complimentary tea and homemade biscuits at 4pm, champagne at 6pm, hot chocolate before bedtime and a squishy teddy bear nestled on each bed, further add to the hotels old world charm. In fact, staying at the Draycott feels less like a hotel, but more like being a privileged guest in an elegant country home. Welcoming, sophisticated and luxuriously furnished, The Draycott is a timeless classic in a world of modern anonymity. Blessed with an enviable location, The Draycott is also just a short walk to Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Peter Jones, the fashionable King's Road, and some of London's best restaurants, making it one of London’s very best kept secrets. 

Afternoon Tea in the Draycott Formal Living Room

The formal Living Room

Complimentary glass of champagne each evening

The lobby and french glass doors to the sunny Living Room which looks over the private gardens

The lobby desk where guests comfortably sit while signing into the Draycott

View of the interior garden from our suite

Deluxe Garden View Suite

The Draycott Teddy

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Sushi Matsue Ebisu: Tokyo's Hidden Omakase Gem

Sushi Matsue may be Tokyo's best omakase without a Michelin star. Located in the trendy neighborhood in Shibuya, the Ebisu area is known for its lovely small shops, izakaya, tachinomi, and also this hidden omakase gem. Recommended by my stepson, who joined us on our last evening in Tokyo with his girlfriend Wami, Sushi Matsue was one of the highlights during our month in Japan. With Tokyo’s sushi scene filled with big names like Sukiyabashi Jiro, Sushi Matsue epitomizes why visiting local gems are more charming and rewarding, with talented friendly chefs serving impeccable sushi, and making customers feel totally welcomed and appreciated. Serving the freshest sushi, premium sashimi and superb fish grilled in front of us on a small ceramic hibachi, Masaki made our last evening in Tokyo a night to remember, with a special "Arigato" to Harry and Wami.

Matsue chopsticks

Mekabu, a sweet seaweed with a slimy texture and briny flavour,
served with citrus-based ponzu 

Healthy and delicious, Mekabu is very high in calcium and iron

Silver and gold sake pitcher and cup

Octopus from Sanriku

Little bowl of pickled ginger

Flounder (Hirame)

Wakame seaweed

Dashi broth infused with snapper, shrimp and Matsutake mushroom

First the broth is poured with a squeeze of yuzu, then the fish and mushroom are enjoyed 


Squid being slowly grilled over coals on a Japanese ceramic hibachi

Uni mixed with rice with crab and Finnish caviar

Our sushi chef Masaki "hamming it up" for the camera, while slicing the bonito

Bonito that had been smoked in straw

Rockfish being grilled right in front of us

Grilled Rockfish known as Kuromutsu

Gorgeous plump Hokkaido scallops on the grill

Buttery smooth lightly grilled scallop served on nori

Whole Tomago fresh from the oven and still hot, Matsue chefs will slice it and serve it warm

Masaki grinding fresh Japanese horseradish to make wasabi,
one of the absolute delights about eating sushi in Japan

Baby Snapper

Ika (squid)

Pacific Saury (sardine)

Otoro (fatty tuna)

Fresh squid still slowly grilling

Little bowl of Ikura 

Greenling (Ainame), a seasonal cousin of Rockfish 

Masaki preparing the Wagyu beef sushi

Raw Wagyu beef

Uni from Hokkaido

Anago (Japanese salt-water eel)

Miso Soup

Wonderfully warm Tomago

Walking home in sushi bliss through Ebisu

Monday, October 29, 2018

Kamakura: Historic Temples, Shinto Shrines & Soba

Once a sleepy fishing village, few places are entrenched deeper in Japan’s history than Kamakura. The small coastal town only an hour from Tokyo, was once the political centre of medieval Japan when Minamoto Yoritomo established the country's first military dictatorship in 1185 and became the first shogun. Surrounded by wooded hills and facing the ocean to the south, Kamakura was blessed with natural defences for the samurai-backed shogunate that controlled all of Japan for over 150 years. Once a political, economic and cultural centre of medieval Japan, the city is now filled with numerous famous temples and shrines. making it the political, economic and cultural envy of the country. Often called “little Kyoto”, Kamakura boasts hundreds of temples and shrines scattered around the hilly, green city, including the enormous Giant Buddha at Kōtoku-in that is the tallest Buddhist statue in the world, the serene Hōkoku-ji bamboo grove with more than 2000 Mōsō bamboo; Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine, a renowned symbol of Kamakura, boasting a magnificent main hall and gates; and peaceful Meigetsu-In, known as the "temple of hydrangeas." 

Arched stone bridge leading to Tsurugaoia Hachimangū used only by the shogun

Tsurugaoka Hachimangū is the oldest and most important Shinto shrine in Kamakura

Established in 1180 by Yoritomo Minamoto, the first shogun of the Kamakura Era,
the shrine is the spiritual heart of Kamakura

Shinto priest mopping away the wet rain on the Maiden (shrine stage) with zen-like concentration

Hōkoku-ji bamboo grove with more than 2000 Mōsō bamboo

The small tea house hidden away in the bamboo grove, that for 500 yen we were treated to a bowl of Matcha tea and traditional Japanese sweets

Wet moss covered stones and glistening leaves

Enjoying a bowl of Matcha tea overlooking the serene bamboo grove
with the sound of rain drops - very zen!

Little Japanese sweets known as 'higashi' are often served with matcha tea

Small pavilion at Hōkoku-ji where I got my temple book (goshuin) signed by a monk, 
who for a few yen, marks it with beautiful calligraphy and stamps it with red seals

Hōkoku-ji bellower with its original thatched roof dating from 1334

Japanese unripe wonderberries

Path leading up to Meigetsu-in with atmospheric mist covered mountains

Meigetsu-In is nicknamed the 'Ajisai Temple' because of the abundance of Hydrangea blossoms that cover the grounds each June

The main hall (hodo) of Meigetsuin Temple through the boughs of a Japanese maple

Meigetsuin Temple hall with stone lantern in the rain

Japanese purple beautyberries 

Dankozura Kosuzu is an institution in Kamakura, serving handmade soba

Side entrance of Kosuzu through its small garden

Spicy wasabi peas

Cold Sapporo beer in small Japanese beer glasses

Kamaboko: Cold Japanese fish cakes made with steamed white fish paste
which can be enjoyed on its own or with a light drizzle of soy sauce

Soy sauce in a lovely polkadot ceramic pot

Cold soba noodles (zaru soba) with julienned wakame 

Tsuyu is a soy and mirin dipping sauce for cold soba noodles

Warm soba noodles

Kamo Nanban Soba: Hot soba noodles served in a warm dashi and soy broth with slivers of perfectly cooked duck breast and green onions

Kosuzu's famous chilled warabi mochi with black honey and nutty kinakara soybean powder

The Great Bronze Buddha (Daibutsu) at Kōtoku-in is the tallest Buddhist statue in the world 

Smoke from the bronze incense burner in front of Daibotsu is to ward off evil spirits

The Sammon Gate of Hase-dera Buddhist Temple 

Beautiful ponds and gardens are one of the highest of the temple

Statue of sitting Keneo bodhisattva overlooking the pond

Wall of tiny mizuko-jizo statues honour the memory of stillborn babies is unique in Japan

Incense sticks burning in front of Hasadera Temple

Hasadera Temple with the 14th-century gold statue of the Goddess of Mercy

The 1300 year old gilded wooden statue of 'Kannon', the 11-headed Goddess of Mercy

13th-century Hasedera Temple Bell

Kannan-do is the main hall of the Buddhist Temple and houses a museum these days

The temple garden with pond full of koi