Tuesday, 16 September 2014


Here I am again at my favourite monthly spot at The BackBench - this time for the lunch seating. 
For those of you that have been following my past posts, you will know how much I love coming here.
Held once a month, The BackBench menu is especially created by the talented Chef Junya, utilizing the freshest ingredients in season. Limited to only five seats per seating, it enables him to present diners with exciting dishes that go beyond the Specials board.


As much as I love sake, I didn't go for the sake flights this time - probably a bit too early in the day for me to be drinking, and I must say that I've been pretty good at abstaining from alcohol these days.
Instead I stuck to the healthy green tea option...

| Quince, Hojicha and Ginger |

Autumn season is supposed to be the best time to enjoy quince - British quinces are usually in season from October through to December.
Subtle sweet taste, and soaked in hojicha, which is a Japanese green tea, with a slight hint of ginger.


| Aubergine and Myoga |

Small baby aubergines packed with delicious smokey flavours, topped with myoga, which is Japanese ginger. I also really liked the sauce that was served with it - a mix of sake, kombu, soya and bonito.

| Eel Nanbanzuke with Shimonita and Manganji |

Usually consumed in August, the eel makes a surprise appearance on the menu - lucky Chef Junya managed to obtain the eel that was accidentally caught in a prawn fishing net. 
Lucky for us, although maybe not so much for the eel...
Cooked perfectly as always, with that nice crispy bit of bone, it came served with Shimonita, a type of spring onion, and manganji (red pepper).


| Karami Daikon and Mallow Zaru Udon |

The udon dish is always one of my favourites from the menu - basically I love anything that has noodles in it. This time we were served cold udon noodles with dashi dipping sauce. The karami daikon is a hot radish which is much more pungent compared to ordinary daikon. It had a bit of a wasabi-like heat, and went really well with the dashi and udon noodles.
The leaf was so thin and crispy, it easily cracked with a slight nudge of the chopsticks - such a beautiful translucent green colour  as well!

| Crab Apple Tempura |

The tempura dish is always very different each time I visit. This time we had little crab apple tempura - the flesh was nice and soft and had a slight sour taste to it.


| Maple Leaf Roasted Wild Mushrooms and 2nd Cycle Herbs |

Delicious wild mushrooms in a sweet paste and light smokey flavours - I greedily tried to scrape up every last bit from the leaf. Served on the side were some stream herbs that were foraged from the wild. Herbs tend to die as the weather gets colder towards the autumn/winter months, but sometimes a sudden surge in temperature gives life to new herbs - hence the term '2nd cycle'.


| Monkfish, Turnip, Edamame, Shungiku Flower |

The monkfish had a firm succulent texture and was served with a lovely warming broth - the kind of dish that I would happily eat throughout the cold winter months.

| Mallard, Hawthorn Berry and Sichito |

Mallard, the most common of the wild ducks, and less fatty meat as compared to their farmed counterparts. A stunning deep red colour and full of flavour, perfectly accompanied by that sweet hawthorn berry sauce.


| Mallard Broth |

And after that rich dish of meat, we washed it down with this sweet mallard broth.

| Kabocha, Honey Cured Egg Yolk and Wild Fennel Seeds |

The kabocha, an Asian variety of winter squash, has a sweet and pleasant texture. And topped with that delicious yellow honey cured egg yolk - firm on the outside, but still oozing with liquid egg goodness when broken into.
Very bright and vibrant colours that appealed to the eye as well.


| Sake-Kasu Ice Cream and Sake Steamed Fig |

And finally for dessert, the much loved sake-kasu ice cream which has become a regular dish on the menu since the second BackBench. Made from the lees left over from the sake production, it has a nice boozy punch to it - this time served with a tasty sake steamed fig.

My sixth BackBench experience, and still very much loving it.
Thank you to once again to Chef Junya and the Koya team - looking forward to the next one in October.

For my previous BackBench posts, click on the links below:

The Cheekster, signing out x

Sunday, 7 September 2014


My second visit to Canada - this time headed towards the West! It was another one of my last minute travel plans, and I'm glad that everything seemed to fall into place, enabling me to have another reunion with my bestie, Harpreet!

Despite my perfectly timed departure from home, knowing how OCD I am about punctuality, I had a little glitch in my travel plans as a tube disruption occurred just a couple of minutes before I arrived at the station... 
After multiple calls and a half an hour wait, my taxi eventually arrived. I noticed another girl with a large suitcase who also happened to be heading to Gatwick airport, so I offered her to come with me - my good deed for the day! We also split the cost of the £60 taxi ride, so I guess it worked out well for the both of us...

After 9.5 hours of sitting in a cramped seat and feeding on horrible plane food (I was too hungry to be a fussy eater), I finally landed in Calgary.
My phone played up and I was not able to call the hotel for the shuttle service, so I just jumped into a cab, with a driver who couldn't speak English - I was so tired that I also almost jumped into the driver's seat, forgetting that I was no longer in England... 
Mr. taxi-driver-who-did-not-speak-English also short-changed me, but I was too tired to argue, maybe he needs it more than me.

With the 7 hour time difference, I tried really hard not to doze off so that I could give Harpreet a big hug when she walked through the doors! 

| 22nd August 2014 |

After a good night's rest at Lakeview Signature Inn, we started our journey in our rented Ford Edge - Shiv taking on the role of official driver, Harpreet as navigator and organiser, and I as the food manager!

We planned to go on the gondola ride in Banff, but unfortunately due to the rain, it was really cloudy and misty, and there wouldn't have been much of a view to look at.


We then moved on to Lake Louise, which was one of the highlights of our trip - beautiful scenery and such a stunning turquoise lake!
We did a little wander round and rented a canoe for an hour, taking in the beautiful surroundings as we paddled round the lake.

Canoeing Selfie!
We also stopped by Lake Moraine, a glacially-fed lake in Banff National Park.


The water was undoubtedly freezing cold, but that didn't stop us from dipping our legs in.
Although Harpreet did need a bit more persuading than I did...

This isn't cold at all!

Smile and look calm!

Looking for more photo opportunities, I rolled up my trousers and ventured into the shallow end...

Testing...testing...must not fall...
Ditched the jacket and tried to stretch higher without tipping over...

Mr. director, Shiv, then gave instructions to 'look up into the sky'...
Which I managed to hold for a few seconds...

Hurry, take the photo!

Before I lost balance and clumsily fell into the water...
Cold and shivery, but definitely worth it!

Unintentional (not-so-sexy) wet-white-top look.

We spent the next two nights in Palliser Lodge, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden BC.

| 23rd August 2014 |
The next day, we went whitewater rafting with Alpine Rafting on the Kicking Horse River - renowned as the Whitewater Gem of the Canadian Rockies.
Dressed in our wet suits (we looked like star-troopers!), we took a bus up to the starting point where we were given a briefing and then split up into groups. When asked who would like to sit at the front of the raft, Harpreet and I excitedly threw our hands up and volunteered - the front seats are always the best after all!

Group shot before we all got wet!
Riding the rapids!

Photos courtesy of Alpine Rafting

 Our adventure was split into two parts, and we were provided with water, watermelon and biscuits to recharge in between! Plenty of men were also seen (discreetly) running into the bushes...teehee.

At the calmer parts of the river, we were allowed to jump out of our rafts and float along with the rapids. Despite my lack of swimming skills, I wanted to experience it for myself, so I decided to jump out - I mean, I've got a life-jacket on, what could possibly go wrong... 
The water was slightly choppier than I expected, and I seemed to have drifted away quite fast from our raft! After a slight wave of panic (and quite a few mouthfuls of water), I waved my hand to signal to our guide that paddled to my rescue and pulled me back into the raft. 
Probably not the best idea for non-swimmers, but sometimes it's good to step out of your comfort zone...at least I can now say that I have ridden the rapids!

After a quick(ish) shower back at the hotel, we went out to do a quick little hike.


Meeting Of The Waters

| 24th August 2014 |

Earlybird Breakfast at Double Blacks

Before leaving Golden, we stopped to take some photos with the inukshuk (stone figure built by humans) close to our hotel, or 'stone henge' as according to Shiv (?!).



Okay, you can ride on the doggy with me too

And another beautiful lake on the way towards Jasper...

Bunny ears

Squirrel tail...Hey!

Photo-bomb teehee


And land gracefullyyy...

Jump higher!


Team Water!




Whilst driving along the highway,  we stopped to take some photos with some goats, which were apparently sheep...oh, I'm so confused.


When we finally made it to the Icefield Centre, we bought the package deal for the Glacier Explorer and Skywalk. 
We were brought onto the surface of the Athabasca Glacier by Ice Explorer, where we were then allowed to roam around the designated area and take some photos.



Moving on to the Skywalk, which was probably the least exciting part of our adventure - over-commercialized and swarmed with annoying tourists.
I also forgot to mention my great fear of heights, which suddenly dawned on me as I stepped onto the see-through glass floors...


Feeling a huge wave of panic rise inside me, I held on to Harpreet's arm as I tried to do a quick scurry to reach the opposite end of the platform. Annoyingly enough, some mother decided to let her toddlers run wild and lie right in the middle of the walkway, obstructing our path. I felt a huge urge to just step over (or on!) them, but instead tried to stay patient and calm. Until I felt the platform shake beneath me, and I dragged Harpreet to make a quick dash to the other side.
To sum it up, it was NOT a very pleasant experience, but at least I made it all the way across...whilst staring up into the sky! I saw an equally terrified girl who didn't dare walk on it even when her boyfriend offered to hold her hand...
Acrophobics will probably understand the feeling...
There should really be more control over the traffic going across that Skywalk.

These aren't quite the most flattering photos, but has anyone else noticed how the SAME guy has photo-bombed my photo THREE times?! 


Back on sturdy, solid ground and not hanging above freakishly high you-will-fall-to-your-death cliff - I'm happy once more!
We've made some new friends!

We spent the night at The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, where we stayed in a cosy chalet with a beautiful lake view.

| 25th August 2014 |

We woke up early the next morning to go for a walk around the misty lake.

Still slightly groggy and puffy-eyed

No real bears, these guys will have to do!

After a satisfying buffet brunch and a casual swim in the pool, it was time to get back on the road.

We stopped by Maligne Lake which is apparently famed for the colour of its water, the surrounding peaks and the visible glaciers in the distance...
 Well, it didn't turn out to be quite a pretty as we had imagined, and we kept wondering whether we were at the right lake. Maybe it would have been more spectacular on the boat ride...or maybe not. Who knows.

Anyway, it just left us with more time to do crazy jumping action poses...

A quick stop by Medicine Lake...

Harpreet, SAVE ME!

| 26th August 2014 |

 And on the way from Kamloops to Vancouver, you guessed it...another beautiful lake!

Wonky arm hehehe

I have been obsessed with beavers since the start of the trip, so we stumbled upon this little dam (?), which I then claimed as my Beaver Kingdom!
Obviously no beavers in sight, but still plenty of good photo opportunities... 

I hereby proclaim myself Beaver Queen!

I then realized that I had to defend my Beaver Kingdom from enemies...

Defending Beaver Kingdom is hard work...especially when the enemy is bigger and stronger...

After multiple stops and endless photo-taking, we finally arrived at Whistler - the Host Mountain Resort of the Vancouver Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games.
It was too late to go on the gondola ride and get the full experience (it seems that I haven't had much luck with gondola rides on this trip!), so we just had a little wander round the town centre.

Whistler was also the place that I 'adopted' Mousse (yes, as in chocolate 'mousse' - my spelling isn't that bad...).

Mousse, say goodbye to your homeland, you're coming back with me to London, England!

The next three nights were spent in Vancouver, where we bid farewell to our trusty rented Ford Edge and checked in at The Westin Bayshore.
We didn't take that many photos during our time in Vancouver, but here are a few snaps taken over the next few days... 

| 27th August 2014 |

All fresh and ready to explore Vancouver

Quick little snack at Voyage Cafe

Lunch at Cactus

Gelato time at Bella Gelateria - 2014 International "Gelato Master" Of The Year

We bought matching rings! #friendshiprings

Strawberry shortcake and mango smoothie at Breka Bakery & Cafe

| 28th August 2014 |

For the Disney Frozen fans, teehee

Breakfast at Twisted Fork Bistro

Lunch at Cardero's in Coal Harbour

Last night in Vancouver - Japanese dinner at Miku

And that pretty much sums up my trip to Canada!
It has been an amazing holiday, traveling and catching up with my best-EST friend in the whole world.
Thank you both Harpreet and Shiv for being great travel buddies, and I look forward to our next reunion! 

And just in case you were wondering, Mousse did get a warm reception from the family back home and has now settled in very well indeed...

The Cheekster, signing out x