Author: eatprayjade

A Taste of Hangzhou: G20 fine-dining at Zi Wei Hall 紫薇厅

When visiting Hangzhou, there is nothing more iconic than seeing West Lake 西湖, once home to many of China’s most notable literary figures. Which is why on my recent trip I was thrilled to not only enjoy a sunny boat ride across West Lake but also discover a hidden culinary gem in the area. Tucked away in the West Lake State Guest House 西湖国宾馆, past the elegant Jiangnan-style rock gardens and zigzagging corridors is Zi Wei Hall 紫薇厅. Zi Wei Hall boasts many traditional Chinese dishes to give diners a taste of authentic ‘state level’ fine-dining. Having hosted the recent G20 delegations in 2016, the State Guest House and Zi Wei Hall had been closed to the general public for a while. But since it quietly reopened last year, Zi Wei Hall is now back as one of the most coveted spots to dine in the West Lake area. While dinners are reservations-only with priority given to hotel guests, lunch is more casual and walk-ins are accepted. Each dish I tried at Zi Wei Hall was a delicious …

Where the Tokyo locals go for Kaisen-don: Tsujihan つじ半

When in Tokyo, do as the locals do and you’ll be able to find local gems serving everything from marbled gyukatsu to casual kaiseki meals. On my list of popular local spots, Tsujihan is definitely my kaisen-don pick. A Japanese staple, kaisen-don 海鮮丼 is a hearty bowl of sushi rice topped with chunks of fresh sashimi. What makes Tsujihan’s kaisen-don particularly special is their so-called ‘golden ratio’ sashimi mix. As we sat around the L-shaped bar and watched the chefs mix together chunks of fresh fish topped with uni and ikura, the attention to detail that goes into creating one bowl is spectacular. Like all beloved Tokyo gems, Tsujihan is raved about on Tabelog 食べログ (Japan’s trusted review platform for all foodies), so don’t be surprised when you’re waiting in line with a bunch of Tokyo locals also vying for a seat! Note that Tsujihan only seats 12 at once. In general, weekend waits can be 1-2 hours long but on the weekdays, you may be able to slip in and out with Tokyo’s white-collared crowd much …

Discovering a New Dim Sum Spot at Canton Table

Dim Sum brunches in Shanghai are a must-do whether you’re a visitor or local. There are famous hot spots to slurp soup dumplings such as Jia Jia Tang Bao 佳家汤包, but if you want to dim sum in Cantonese style then Canton Table in Bund No. 3 is the spot to do so. Expect a beautiful space on the Bund, an impressive view, and a dim sum menu with a couple of twists. Apart from typical dim sum fare, the fire roasted chicken & slow braised beef soup were definitely brunch highlights and must orders. We ordered these two meaty dishes to share for the table and they were delicately served on the side via a separate display table. The name ‘beef soup’ may seem unassuming, but the thick cuts of quality beef and pieces radish that have been simmered in fatty stock made for the perfect winter combination. As for the phenomenal roast chicken, it was served with a little fire show that only added to its wow factor. My Thoughts From the colorful dim sum spread we …

Coffee Wonderland at Shanghai’s Starbucks Reserve

Shanghai’s very own Starbucks Reserve finally opened this past week, and lines are out the door to get into this coffee wonderland. I do find myself intrigued by Starbucks’ unique locations around the world but this time especially, I was enamored by Shanghai’s Starbucks Reserve experience. “The complete and total commitment to the immersive experience of coffee craft” It was indeed an experience to visit, especially since Starbucks Reserve in Shanghai paired up with Alibaba to create an integrative augmented reality (AR) experience through the Taobao APP. Each step of the coffee roasting process can be seen through AR. Even better, it was amazing to listen & watch the overhead ‘Symphony’ pipes transfer roasted coffee beans to the silos. Every time the beans passed through, it sent a satisfying jingle (and a wave of applause) throughout the floor. So what was my first impression? Jam packed, beautifully designed, and full of holiday cheer. I will admit I don’t drink Starbucks often in Shanghai, as I normally opt for local coffee shops. However, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery is definitely …

Chocolate Decadence at Tokyo’s Bubó Cafe

The ‘World’s Best Chocolate Cake’ can now be found in the backstreets of Tokyo’s Omotesando area. Bubó is a Barcelona-based patisserie known for its beautifully designed cakes and artisanal chocolates. On my recent trip to Japan, I visited Bubó’s Tokyo outpost to try Xabina, the chocolate creation that received the ‘World’s Best Chocolate Cake’ mention at the 2005 World Pastry Cup in Lyon. Worth the trek? Absolutely. The Xabina cake is velvety, rich, and a chocolate masterpiece. I enjoyed the chocolate macaron on top and the chocolate mousse inside is a cloud. I’ll reserve judgment on whether it’s the world’s best chocolate cake because there are simply too many chocolate creations I haven’t tried yet. But to date, it is certainly the best and most gorgeous chocolate cake I’ve had. When you visit Bubó in Tokyo, try not to be too distracted by the amazing chocolate gallery on the first floor and head straight up to the Cafe. Once you’re seated, your server will bring you a beautifully detailed cake menu for you to peruse. Other than the award-winning Xabina we …

36 Hours in Kyoto (food+omiyage edition)

Many visit Kyoto with a lengthy list of temples and shrines, but that’s not all Kyoto has to offer. From kaiseki meals to trendy cafes, Kyoto blends tradition with modernity. I’ve always wanted to write a 36 hours itinerary so as the Japanese say when asked for a recommendation, here are my オススメ (o-su-su-me). Friday 8 a.m. Breakfast at 進々堂 Shinshindo Nothing is more comforting than the smell of melty butter and coffee brewing in the morning. Whipping up some of the freshest breads in town, Shinshindo Teramachi makes for a great breakfast stop. The original Shinshindo was founded in 1930 and is an iconic Kyoto institution located across from Kyoto University campus. Like many great cafes around the world, Shinshindo was a place for students and activists to congregate for political and social debates throughout the decades. The founder of Shinshindo, Hitoshi Tsuzuki, wanted to provide authentic French breads that were made fresh every day and his grandson operates the boulangerie chain in that spirit today. 11 a.m. Visit Ippodo Honten for some tea leaves and omiyage …

夏 in Kyoto: Hotel Anteroom and Cafe Hunting

Kyoto is charming because it’s both a place for traditional Japanese crafts, as well as trend-setting designs. I’ve visited Kyoto a couple times now, but every time I find myself discovering new cafes, traditional woodhouse machiya’s (町屋), and beautiful hideouts. This trip, I chose to not visit as many historical sites in Kyoto, mainly because I wanted to explore more of Kyoto’s growing cafe and creative scene where young Japanese artists are trying to blend modern touches with traditional craftsmanship in various fields. Japan Handmade is an example of this–you’ll see some of their creative aesthetics in the pictures of Kaikado Cafe below. FUN FACT: This time around, my dates coincided with the annual summer festival in Kyoto, the Gion Matsuri. While I didn’t participate in any festival events, a lot of restaurants I visited had special menus and tea sets for the matsuri. If you’re interested in watching the iconic float processions in honor of the festival for your visit, here’s a more comprehensive guide. There’s a 夏 in Kyoto Part II coming soon, which will …

A Brunch Affair at the Commune Social

The Commune Social is my current go-to spot in Shanghai. I love their beautifully-curated brunch menu and the restaurant’s desserts are simply to die for. Plus, it’s located in a stunning space designed by famed Shanghai-based architects Neri & Hu. Good food and a trendy vibe? Be still my heart. For brunch, the set menu is 188RMB for 3 dishes of your choice. Plates are brought out tapas style and great for sharing. I like that you can add additional plates for 68RMB, which is overall a steal for the quality of food you get. I’ve been wanting to share this restaurant for a while now because a lot of readers visiting Shanghai have asked me what are some of my favorite spots. The team behind Commune Social (led by Chef Jason Atherton with Kim+Scott Melvin) are incredibly talented and I genuinely love how well crafted each dish is. The Commune Social doesn’t take reservations, so queues on the weekend can be 1hour+. If you don’t like waiting, either go early on weekends or visit for their …