Monthly Archive: December 2015

Fine Dining: my birthday meal at The Square, London

The Square is the favourite restaurant of my brother and his wife. For my birthday meal this year, I wanted to go back to Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road, but didn’t manage to get a booking in time, so instead remembered this excellent restaurant with two Michelin stars. We had been twice before, but it must have been at least six years since the last time so I thought it would be nice to try it again. After all, The Square served the best dessert I’ve ever eaten on my first trip there, an absolutely delicious pear tarte tatin, so it was well worth another try. Though I was jetlagged and flagging toward the end, the meal last night was excellent once again. Rich, bold flavours balanced with more delicate ones and some superb amuse-bouches. The first of these was the best: a cone filled with delicious foie gras mousse, just the right balance between crispiness and rich creamy flavour. It was accompanied by a fun little spicy prawn cracker affair. 20151219 01 A second amuse-bouche was simpler, three little canapes with rich, interesting flavours to them, though none as direct and mouthwatering as the foie gras pastry. 20151219 02 Continuing on the same theme, what followed was a generous piece of buttery, extremely flavoursome braised foie gras. It was cooked to perfection with the crispy burnt layer perfectly judged. The accompaniment was apple and pear with a meaty pastry-like strip, plus crushed almonds, but honestly I felt all of it detracted from the simple pleasure of the foie gras, so I ate everything else first and then enjoyed the centrepiece unadulterated. 20151219 03 My go-to menu is always foie gras and then beef, and I made no exception, choosing steak for my main course. And what a steak! Shame my photo didn’t come out better, because this was superb. Everything on the plate, from spinach to burnt onion and particularly the meat itself was absolutely delicious. I would eat it again in a heartbeat. I didn’t want to drink wine because it made me much more drowsy after my 15-hour plane journey, but it was worth it with the steak. 20151219 04 The third amuse-bouche before dessert was a little sorbet and meringue arrangement that surprised with rich vanilla flavours, and certainly set us up to finish the meal well. 20151219 05 My dessert was ‘tiramisu’, the inverted commas amusing us – and of course indicating deconstruction. The chocolately affair that arrived looked very pretty and tasted very rich indeed, but a few concentrated dark chocolate balls were just a little overpowering in comparison to the rest. Still very delicious, though. 20151219 06 After that, considering we weren’t having coffee, the little petit fours-style chocolates were a bit redundant, but welcome anyway and served in sweet little wooden boxes. 20151219 07 I was shattered by the time we finished eating and midnight approached, but very gratified. It was a delicious birthday meal and wonderful to spend with the family!

Moshi Moshi Nippon Festival, Tokyo 2015

20151201 02Last month I attended and participated in the Moshi Moshi Nippon Festival in the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. A three-day event, it’s essentially a gig with the theme of cultural promotion. Thus, there are food stalls all around the venue, some fashion and entertainment brands with stalls near the entrance, and non-musical performers related to other elements of Japanese culture. I was there for all three days, and very happy to be a part of it! Friday’s theme was ‘Moshi Ani’ – the anime-themed day, and also the day I was onstage. I was part of the World Cosplay Summit’s performance slot, essentially one of several token foreigners there to highlight the ‘World’ part of WCS. I arrived early and already in cosplay, and there was no rehearsal, so I got my backstage wristband and went to watch what was happening onstage. Unfortunately only caught the very end of the Tempura Kidz’ opening show performance, but would see them several more times over the weekend, so that wasn’t a big issue for me. Also managed to wave at Pi-chan backstage, which was a nice moment! 01 After the opening show was Hachioji-P, a Vocaloid producer who’s been pretty successful. I watched about half his set before being called backstage again – I enjoyed what I saw, but I’d have been more interested to see OSTER Project, KID-P or Kikuo…though I guess Kikuo’s dark songs wouldn’t be all that appropriate for the bright, happy setting! Backstage we were given lots of free snacks and some tasty bento. It was fun seeing the other performers, though the bigger bands had their own dressing rooms. Eventually our time came and we took to the stage, striking poses and then lining up together. The stage was much bigger than I’d expected, and it was a thrill to have huge screens with our faces behind us – basically I feel I should have put in a bit more effort for this event than just borrowing a cosplay and using my real hair even though it wasn’t quite long enough to style like Ace and had visible roots! 20151106 05 Hey ho, it was great fun and I met some very lovely people who were also cosplaying. It’s a nice little community and I do hope to do more. For a while I was worried no photos would appear, but we got good ones in the end! 20151201 01 As with the similar event on Hallowe’en, Japan’s current WCS representatives, Mariko and Mahio did their impressive performance as Kouen and Hakuryuu from Magi, and I took the opportunity to tell them how jealous I was of their skills! 12274587_863764813722531_1768715188181182408_n Returned to the audience area to watch Livetune+. The DJ, KZ, is another popular Vocaloid producer, best known for ‘Packaged’, though my favourite is ‘Last Night, Good Night’. I didn’t recognise much, including the song with May’n, but it was a fun and energetic set. The day 1 headliners were SID. I didn’t know who they were when I saw them – a pretty standard-looking hard rock band who apparently used to be much more Visual Kei – but as they played more and more I realised why they were closing the anime-themed day. ‘Oh, that’s the ending for Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Oh, and that’s the latest Kuroshitsuji opener. Ah! And I love that opening song for Magi!’ They were a polished and accomplished band, and while I wouldn’t go to see them elsewhere, I’m glad I got to see them perform and was impressed in particular by the singer’s voice. On day 2, ‘Moshi Pop’, there was a bit of confusion for me. A group of us went thinking we would be in some fashion event representing foreigners interested in various Japanese brands, but as it turned out, they just wanted us to go in a ‘Challenge Runway’, which was basically open to anyone to sign up and walk on the stage with. I would have been the only person with a Y chromosome in the whole show and there was next to zero coverage for it, plus I was wearing something pretty odd (Alice and the Pirates kodona-style cutesiness), so I bravely chickened out. Image24 I watched my friends take part, though – and some of the little nihon buyo performance afterwards. Then we did our own little mini photoshoot outside, which I was quite pleased with. After a diversion to Harajuku to eat pizza, I returned to the venue to watch some free music! 20151107 05 I got back in time to see a bit of Silent Siren, a cheerful Harajuku-kei girl band. That was followed by a slightly odd reveal of a competition for, as far as I could tell, providing the voice for a big bald miso soup mascot. Next came a performance from a DJ who seemed to like electroswing and broken beat, backed up by dancers from the Kawaii Monster Café – best of which was a big ole pink cat. Afterwards came the Tempura Kidz once again. Adorable as ever, with their precise dance moves and silly gurning. Compared with when I saw them in Harajuku, this event had the advantage of having a section of the audience reserved for us gaijin (slightly odd to be segregated, but I didn’t mind) so I could see everything from as close as it was possible to get! And with the day’s performers very much based on visual impact, that was a distinct advantage. DSC2611 Oddly enough, the next segment was an advert for a television, but it made a degree of sense when it was revealed that Kyari Pamyu Pamyu had just filmed the CM for the product and was being interviewed for it. Was fun to see her, especially in a much more eccentric outfit than she wore for her actual performance the next day, but still felt a bit odd to have her flogging a TV in the middle of what was essentially a gig. japanese-fashion-model-and-signer-kyary-pamyu-pamyu-promotes-sharp-f5rg71 Back to the music next, with girl group 9nine, who had some very enthusiastic fans in the audience. The hardcore fans’ genders switched for poppy visual kei boyband Kameleo, who I wanted to see earlier in the year. They only played three songs, the best of which was ‘Dame Otoko’, and they’ve reached a curious and unique situation where they’re half actual band and half boy-band, so that some songs have them on instruments and others don’t. I still really like the band and their silly, goofy way of having fun – including making everyone in the audience shout about nose hair. 20151119_kameleo_01 Next, after an impressive parade of fine kimono, was solo singer Natsume Mito, with a fun dance using traditional paper fans with a Fuujin and Raijin masked dancer on either side. She was cute with her Sarang-chan hairstyle and obviously had a lot of love from her fans, but maybe needs more catchy songs. Next, rather killing the momentum of the show, we had some live hairstyling, which I confess largely left me baffled. However, by then a huge crowd had gathered for the day’s headliner – who perhaps fit the Sunday theme better than Saturdays and could have swapped with Kyari. I had of course heard of them as they’re pretty ubiquitous in Japan, constantly appearing on variety shows, but this was my first actual exposure to the music of Golden Bomber. 18 I had no idea what to expect, so initially I was baffled. They came out miming very, very badly to the track playing. The guitarist kept stopping his miming and the drummer didn’t even bother to hit the cymbals with his weird thick sticks. My first thought was that this was terrible – and looking at all the girls headbanging as though they were listening to Pantera, I wondered if they could possibly think this was a real band and be so clueless about music. Then of course it became very obvious that, in fact, that was the joke. I didn’t realise that Golden Bomber were not only a joke band, but a band that exists to poke fun at the clichés of pop-rock and the lack of substance in visual kei. The concept is actually quite an ingenious one, and the fact that these guys get to have an absolute blast while they skewer the bands around them who take miming to other people’s music oh so seriously. The singer actually performs, and has an impressive voice, and two of the other members have the bodies of professional models, which of course helps with the appeal to the ladies. Essentially, the band’s concept is attractive men pissing about pretending very badly to play music while decent if generic rock music plays in the background – interspersed with some very funny comedy skits usually revolving around making the drummer show his bum or wear a dress. It’s refreshing, very silly indeed and extremely fun to watch. I was won over very quickly and think they’re brilliant. On Sunday I had to work and also get some writing done, so even though I wanted to watch the brilliant synchronized dancing of World Order, I had to skip them. Instead I arrived for Capsule, who were loud. I only know their song ‘Starry Sky’, because it was in the ‘Nanairo no Nico Nico Douga’ medley, but I certainly enjoyed that. c-nishida-moshi-moshi-f-20151111-870x489 Then of course came the headliner, who had drawn a far bigger gaijin crowd than anyone else over the weekend – Kyari Pamyu Pamyu. Her set wasn’t an obvious one – no ‘Pon Pon Pon’ or ‘Mondai Girl’ – but seeing her perform ‘Ninja Re Bang Bang’, I think that became my favourite song of hers. Kyari has a very interesting charm. She’s clearly not a consummate musician. Nor is she a dancer. She mimes her lyrics as she does simplified versions of her backing dancers’ moves. She’s almost lazy in her delivery and her songs are known for being childish and simple. But that’s part of the complete package, which works very well. Essentially, she’s an aspirational fantasy, not for those who want to work hard and meticulously perfect their craft (which isn’t to say behind the scenes Kyari has not done these things) but for the fantasy of lazily drifting into an incredibly cute world where everything revolves around you with very little effort on your part. Which is actually a common and compelling fantasy! The music is superbly-produced, her new Hallowe’en song was daft and adorable – par for the course – and though I would have quite liked a Tempura Kidz reunion dance, there was no faulting the enthusiasm and expressiveness of her current dancers. I enjoy that facial expressions are very much part and parcel of that Harajuku-kei backup dance scene. 012 Overall, Moshi Moshi Nippon’s weekend was a pretty remarkable event, an impressive mini-festival with a lot of variety, prominent musicians and an extremely high entertainment factor. I would absolutely go again – and was honoured to have taken part in my small way! Pic sources: