Alice in Wonderland Restaurant – Quirky dining in Tokyo

When we were planning our trip to Japan there was one place in particular I was desperate to dine at and that was the Alice in Wonderland restaurant. I am a big fan of Alice in Wonderland, and the Disney animation was always my favourite film as a child and is still one of my all-time favourites now, so I couldn’t miss this opportunity – especially as Japan is well-known for its theme restaurants.

When I was researching into it I found that there were a few Alice restaurants in Tokyo, but we chose to go to the one in Ginza which was called Alice in a Labyrinth. As we flew to Japan on my birthday, we decided that the restaurant would be the perfect place to celebrate a belated birthday meal… or my very merry unbirthday if you prefer!

My Alice in a Labyrinth Rules:

1. Make a reservation. The restaurant is small. Ask your hotel concierge if they wouldn’t mind making dinner reservations for you, thus avoiding any disappointment of being turned away when you get there.

2. Allow extra time to get there. You don’t want to be late for this very important date! This place is difficult to find. We caught the train to Ginza and were planning on walking to it from the train station but after going round in circles, we hailed a taxi and asked the driver to take us there (we even had a printed map). I think the driver struggled a bit to find it too!

3. Look up! The restaurant is on the 5th floor of a rather generic looking building. We were all puzzled when the taxi driver pulled up until I spotted the distinctly Alice logo when I looked up.

alice-in-a-labyrinth-ginza-tokyo

alice-in-a-labyrinth-restaurant

The restaurant is decorated beautifully in a wonderland design, complete with storybook corridors leading into the main restaurant which even had a giant teacup booth for larger parties. The lighting is low and despite the colour and quirkiness, the atmosphere was quite intimate.

After being shown to our table, our waitress who was dressed up as Alice presented us with the menu. It wasn’t just any old menu though, this was presented to us in a diorama type box. She did explain it to us but sadly we didn’t understand what she was saying due to us knowing very very little Japanese, still it looked pretty cute.

Menu at Alice in Wonderland restaurant

Pop up cocktail menu at Alice in a Labyrinth, Tokyo

The menus themselves were tucked away at the back of the box and were pretty much like normal printed menus, although the cocktail menu was pop-up, so I’m not really sure what the box was all about but I liked it all the same.

Of course I had a cocktail! We also learnt that the little bell on our table was to be used for if we needed the attention of the waitress, a rather novel idea!

alice-in-wonderland-cocktail

We were brought over some bread and butter to nibble on while we waited for our main meals. I loved the little touches like the butter being in playing card suit shaped bowls and the little ‘eat me’ card that was sat on the plate.

For my main meal I ordered the Cheshire Cat pizza and my husband ordered some sort of beef dish although neither of us can remember what it was called. The food was tasty but I was a little disappointed that the dishes didn’t have much of a wonderland touch to them. They also weren’t very big – and that’s coming from someone who isn’t a big eater anyway!

Bread at Alice in a Labyrinth

Cheshire Cat Pizza

Meal at Alice in Wonderland restaurant

The desserts, on the other hand, were much more impressive – both in size and presentation. Not sure what the dishes were called but my husband’s dessert involved something chocolatey, fresh fruit, a flaming alcoholic concoction and a cute biscuit shaped like Alice’s silhouette. My dessert was ice cream (my favourite dessert is ALWAYS ice cream!) and by coincidence, like my dinner, this too was Cheshire Cat related – complete with a dusting of kitty footprints in cocoa powder and a cat face made from pastry, cream and fruit.

alice-in-a-labyrinth-waitress

alice-dessert

alice-in-a-labyrinth-sundae

I loved all the decor within the restaurant and how you felt like you were walking into a storybook. Even the toilet doors had a nod to the King and Queen (of Hearts) on them!

Alice in a Labyrinth restaurant, Ginza

Toilets for the King and Queen

I enjoyed my evening at Alice in a Labyrinth, mainly for the whimsy of it all. If you’re a hardcore foodie then you probably won’t be satisfied, but if you love everything Alice then you won’t be disappointed!


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Dining out Icelandic style

On the carnivore scale I sit a lot closer to bunny rabbit than T-Rex, infact I’ve thought about going vegetarian but I can’t quite commit to ditching a juicy cheeseburger for a mushroom burger just yet (Food fact #1: I hate mushrooms but really wish I didn’t).

Anyway, when we were in Iceland, my husband was keen to try some of the unusual meats they had there. While I wasn’t that bothered, but still a little curious, we decided to go for Icelandic tapas – a taster of the local cuisine without the full-on commitment of an entire meal of something unfamiliar. As they say, when in Rome do as the Romans do.

We dined at Tapas Barinn in the centre of Reykjavik, a cosy little Spanish-inspired restaurant. We decided to share a tapas set menu – the Icelandic Gourmet Feast – good for curious tourists and indecisive folk like us. The Gourmet Feast consisted of a shot of Brennivin (Icelandic spirit) followed by 7 courses, the first being smoked puffin with blueberry brennivin sauce.

puffin-dish-icelandic-tapas
Smoked puffin

I tried puffin. I can’t remember much about the taste but the texture wasn’t great. And I felt guilty eating it… puffins are kinda cute.

Following the puffin we were presented with some assorted seafood dishes, unsurprisingly seafood is big business in Iceland. We had Icelandic sea trout with peppers-salsa, lobster tails baked in garlic and blue ling with lobster sauce.

Lobster tails
Lobster tails

Next up was the lamb dish, another popular meat in Iceland. Now, I don’t actually eat lamb but, as I said before – when in Rome (or Reykjavik). I must admit it was really tasty!

The last of our savoury dishes was minke whale with cranberry sauce. I was quite wary of eating whale but I was reassured that the minke whale is not an endangered species. Whale to me was a bit like steak but really salty, I was more interested in the ginger mash it was lying on a bed of (Food fact #2 I love ginger – I think it’s hereditary!).

Minke whale
Minke whale

Saving the best for last, the dessert course! I do have a bit of a sweet tooth so the white chocolate Skyr mousse with passionfruit coulis was of course my favourite dish. Skyr is an Icelandic yogurt that is a big part of Icelandic cuisine, you can’t go to Iceland and not eat Skyr, although it is pretty much just thick yogurt, it makes for a good breakfast or dessert!

Dessert!
Dessert!

So that was our tapas with an Icelandic twist, but what else?

Well in England, where I’m from, fish and chips is a popular dish so we thought we might as well try what Iceland has to offer! The restaurant we ate at was called, unimaginatively, Icelandic Fish and Chips. The fish is so fresh that the menu varies day to day so I can’t quite remember what I ate (I chose it from the menu on the blackboard) but it looked like this-

Icelandic fish and chips
Icelandic fish and chips

The chips were more like potato wedges but were pretty good. We also ordered some dips to go with our dishes, including Skyronnaise (it’s that Skyr again!) and of course, the obligatory pot of tomato ketchup.

So if you’re ever in Reykjavik, why not try Spanish style tapas with a twist or British inspired fish ‘n’ chips – all served with fabulous Icelandic flair!

Quirky restaurants in Costa Rica

Looking for a slightly unusual dining experience in Costa Rica? Well I’ll tell you about two quirky restaurants I visited.

Tree House Restaurant – Santa Elena, Monteverde

quirky restaurants in Costa Rica
Quirky restaurant in Monteverde Costa Rica

We spotted this place on our way to our hotel in Monteverde, hard to miss really given that it has a blooming great big tree sticking out of the middle of it!

We were told a few days before by a taxi driver that Costa Ricans don’t like to chop trees down so instead build around them – roads, restaurants, whatever. The Tree House Restaurant was built in 2004 and in the middle sits a huge ficus tree!

Tree House Restaurant - a quirky dining experience in Santa Elena

We stopped at the Tree House for lunch after a morning at Selvatura Park. There’s plenty of choice on the menu. While my husband went for fajitas, I opted for a more traditional Costa Rican dish – Casado. Casado means “married” in Spanish and the dish can be best described as a marriage of food on a plate. Mine was a vegetarian version which consisted of rice, beans, tortilla, salad, veg, cheese, avocado and plantain. I quite enjoy meals where I can try lots of different things, variety is the spice of life after all!

Casado - a typical Costa Rican dish

Dining in a tree house

I don’t know how the casado fared against other restaurants, but I enjoyed it! And if I ever went back to Santa Elena I’d be sure to stop by the Tree House again.

El Avion – Manuel Antonio

El Avion - quirky restaurants in Costa Rica

I thought I’d seen it all when I visited a McDonalds in an aeroplane in New Zealand but no, Costa Rica has a restaurant with a plane too. At El Avion, the plane is the bar area and the restaurant is just behind it.

Situated in the touristy town of Manuel Antonio, the plane is kind of what initially draws the tourists attention but on further inspection its actually the beautiful sunset views you get from the restaurant that makes people want to dine here. If you’re planning on watching the sun set here then get here early as everybody else has the same idea!

El Avion - a place to watch the sun set

Sunset is a popular time to visit El Avion restaurant in Manuel Antonio

We both opted for fajitas which were nice but something didn’t quite agree with me and spoilt the evening. I don’t blame the restaurant though as hubby had the same and he was fine. Having said that though, I think if I ever come back to El Avion it would be for the cocktails!

Bit of a tourist trap but I can’t deny the sunsets were beautiful and it was lovely to spot a toucan in the distance.

Sunset view from El Avion in Manuel Antonio

Toucan in the distance


If quirky restaurants are your cup of tea then you might enjoy reading about the Alice in Wonderland Restaurant Tokyo or some of my other foodie adventures.

Quirky restaurants in Costa Rica

Moroccan and Lebanese Cooking Class - Alphabet Dating Idea

Alphabet Dating – M is for Moroccan Cooking Class

Moroccan and Lebanese Cooking Class

Although the blogging has taken a bit of a back seat to other parts of my life right now, hubby and I are still managing to carry on with our Alphabet Dating, even if it is a little haphazard (much like this blog really!).

April was our ‘M’ date which saw us attend a Moroccan cooking class. Ok… well to be honest, it was mostly Lebanese but we had already done our ‘L’ date so I’m calling it Moroccan!

Based in Surrey, our cooking class was held by a lovely Lebanese-born lady named Mona – the founder and owner of Samara Cuisine, a Lebanese and Moroccan catering company. When we arrived at her house, we were greeted with mint tea and delicious spicy smells emanating from the kitchen. We sat at her large dining table and waited for the other guests to arrive. There were 10 of us, plus Mona, and we were to be making four dishes that day.

Samara Cuisine - Moroccan and Lebanese cooking class

The Moroccan and Lebanese cooking class began with Mona showing us how to make Bistilla, which is a Moroccan chicken pie using filo pastry and an assortment of spices.

Bistilla - Moroccan chicken pie
Bistilla – Moroccan chicken pie

We also made muhamara – a pepper and walnut dip not too dissimilar to hummus and batata harrah aka hot potato salad using lots of tasty ingredients such as garlic and paprika. The last dish was called sfouf, a type of cake using semolina.

Muhamara and flatbread
Muhamara and flatbread
Batata Harrah
Batata Harrah

Although the class was mostly demonstration based, we did get involved in laying out the pastry and chopping peppers, and other people were hands on measuring out ingredients.

Of course, at the end of the class we got to eat what we had made and it was delicious! We had some flatbreads to go with the muhamara and we helped ourselves to the batata harrah. The bistilla was amazing and had a sweetness to it where it had been dusted in icing sugar and cinnamon. I think the only dish I probably wouldn’t make again is the sfouf as it was quite thick and I prefer something a little lighter, sweeter and creamier!

Sfouf - Lebanese cake
Sfouf – Lebanese cake

We had a lovely few hours, our fellow chefs were very chatty and friendly, and Mona gave us all a parting gift of some baklava. I would definitely recommend if you’re looking for something a little different!

Our class was the last class of the year due to wedding season etc, but Samara Cuisine’s classes will be back next year. Click here to book your own Moroccan and Lebanese cooking class, or click here for more alphabet dating adventures!

For an alphabet dating idea why not try a cooking class?
Bon Appetit!

A Japanese Ryokan Experience

No Japan bucket list would be complete without a stay in a ryokan, so here is my guide to a Japanese ryokan experience.

What is a ryokan?

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. You may have seen them on tv or in books, they’re the ones with paper screens, low tables and futons instead of beds.

Japanese Ryokan Experience

How do I choose which ryokan?

Ryokan aren’t cheap and the ones that are cheap are most probably not that authentic. We started by looking on Tripadvisor at some of the best ryokan in Kyoto but found many were fully booked for the time of year we were looking at (April – Cherry Blossom season). One of the most famous and historic ryokans is the Hiiragiya which was slightly out of our budget, so in the end we opted for Hiiragiya Bekkan (annex) an authentic but more wallet-friendly option.

Hiiragiya Bekkan Japanese Ryokan in Kyoto
Outside Hiiragiya Bekkan

Other things to note when choosing your ryokan, is whether it includes a private bathroom or any meals, as of course this will affect the price. Our room at the Hiiragiya Bekkan included a private toilet and sink but shared bathing facilities (more on that later) and it also included a kaiseki meal (Japanese haute cuisine) in the evening and breakfast the following day.

Japanese garden view at our ryokan
Japanese garden surrounding our room

The initial experience

When we arrived at Hiiragiya Bekkan we were greeted by friendly and enthusiastic staff and as is custom in Japan, we were asked to remove our shoes at the door and wear the slippers provided.

We were shown to our room which overlooked a pretty Japanese garden and then we had to remove our slippers. I can’t quite remember how many different pairs of slippers we had, but if you’ve been to Japan you’ll know how much they love their slippers!

Matcha and sakura teas
Matcha and sakura teas
Japanese tea served at a traditional ryokan (Japanese inn)
Japanese tea

We were shortly served three different types of tea – matcha, sakura and Japanese. The Japanese tea was nice but the matcha and sakura are a bit of an acquired taste.

After tea we changed into the yukata (cotton robes) provided and spent some time relaxing and soaking up our surroundings!

Wearing yukata (cotton robes) at a ryokan
Looking dashing in our yukata

Kaiseki dinner

Upon arrival at the ryokan we chose a time we would like to have dinner and promptly at this time we received a knock on the door from our maid (for lack of a better word) bringing us the first course of our meal.

The April menu at Hiiragiya Bekkan
Menu

Some ryokan have communal dining areas, but the other thing that attracted us to the Hiiragiya Bekkan was being able to dine in the privacy of our own room.

Dinner at the ryokan was a seasonal menu and brought to us course by course. I didn’t really know what much of it was so I took a photo of the menu. It started off ok and I enjoyed the first few courses but I’m so glad we had this meal as part of a ryokan experience rather than at a kaiseki restaurant as I really struggled with a few of the courses. Sadly the bamboo shoots and the deep-fried bean curd with sea urchin weren’t to my taste.

Slideshow below.

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Bathtime

In Japan, bathtime is a bit of a ritual. So after dinner we were ushered off to the communal bathrooms. Similarly to pre-booking a dinner time slot, we also had a bathroom time slot too. A friendly old man had prepared our steaming hot bath for us and then gave us our privacy and left us to it. Basically in Japan, bathing etiquette dictates that you perch on a little stool and then soap and rinse yourself with a handheld shower before getting into the tub. The tubs are then for soaking once you are squeaky clean. Our tub was wooden and square, which was different but we had already had previous experience with onsen (hot springs) bathing which I will write about another time.

After our hot, relaxing baths we toddled off back to our room where our maid (who may or may not have been a ninja) had switched our room around from a dining room with low table to a bedroom with futons! The futons themselves were fairly comfortable, however the Japanese pillows, which I believe are filled with buckwheat, weren’t the most comfortable pillows I’ve ever slept on, but they certainly weren’t the worst!

Room at the ryokan set up for bedtime
All set for bed!

In the morning

The morning routine was almost like a reverse of the night before. We awoke early and went for our shower/bath and while we were soaking ourselves, our room was being whipped up from a bedroom back into a dining room, ready for breakfast.

Breakfast included an assortment of Japanese nibbles, the fish was delicious, however I struggled to stomach the rest of it. As I’m not much of a breakfast person anyway (yeah yeah I know it’s the most important meal of the day!) and by this point in our trip I just fancied something quite boring like toast. I know. I am a terrible travel blogger for saying that.

We checked out fairly early as we were due to travel on the Shinkansen back to Tokyo and upon check out we were presented with a gift – a neat box with chopsticks inside! Very sweet and thoughtful!

Japanese breakfast at a ryokan
The bit that looks like a nice apricot yogurt is actually raw egg >_<

Top tips

  • Advance booking is recommended as the ryokans are quite small and have limited availability.
  • In order to not have to worry about lugging our big suitcases with us for our one night stay in the ryokan we used a luggage forwarding service, quite a common thing to do in Japan and something that can be arranged at your hotel. We used this service a couple of times during our trip, so we had our luggage sent from our Kyoto hotel (where we stayed before our ryokan visit) to the hotel we would be staying at after departing the ryokan. Very efficient and helpful!
  • Follow ryokan etiquette regarding the removal of shoes, showering before bathing etc. And be sure not to place anything in the sacred alcove (pictured below with the wall hanging and flower arrangement).

Inside a Japanese ryokan

If you enjoyed this then you might like 10 foods to try in Japan or some of my other Japan adventures!

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Our Japanese Ryokan Experience in Kyoto - what to expect.