After work finished, we had most of a day free in Nagoya; that night, we were going to take the shinkansen to Tokyo to spend our last few days in Japan there. Our original plan was to try an onsen in the morning, followed by a visit to Nagoya castle and then back to the hotel to pick up our luggage and head for Nagoya station to catch the train. That plan didn’t really materialise, especially when we realised what an amazing, awesome, fantastic, magical, relaxing place the onsen was.

Only I’ve just discovered that there’s a major difference between onsens and sentōs. Onsens refer to public hot spring baths in Japan whilse sentōs are public bath houses that don’t use waters from natural thermal sources. Both have the same strict set of rules for their use. Ours, the Yu-no Shiro Ōsone onsen, is called an onsen but is in the style of a supersentō, a large scale bathing facility with multiple pools and facilities.

This was the onsen we visited near Ozone station in Nagoya. We entered and removed our shoes where we store them in provided lockers. We then traipsed upstairs along tatami lined stairs and floors to the main reception where we had to wait for an English speaking receptionist to help us work the Japanese-only vending machines. We all bought tickets for entry and tickets to rent towels and a pajama-like outfit to wander around the public areas – the total was about 1000 yen for each of us.

The Supersento

Our small group then split up (male/female) and were guided to the changing rooms and shown how to use the lockers and where the showers were. There were plenty of signs with rules all around. One must wash before entering any of the baths. No one with tattoos allowed. Children must be accompanied by adults. One must be fully naked in the baths (this was a confidence booster)!

Of course, I have no photos of the actual baths themselves! There are lots of photos on their website though (my favourite had to be the carbonated bath, with all the little bubbles accumulating on your body!).

After a couple of hours trying each and every bath and sauna (there was a huge TV in the sauna!), we regrouped for lunch in our pajama-like outfits at the self-service restaurant downstairs. It was then that we decided that we’d much rather laze around all day in this magnificent place than go visit a castle. Ahem.

Anyway, here was the self-service restaurant, one of the extra facilities at the onsen.

Self-Service Restaurant

Meals had to be purchased via vending machine. You’d select your meal (we ordered by matching up the words and prices in the picture menu and on the vending machine), pay your money and get a ticket that you’d then pass to a lady in the kitchen. She’d prepare your meal, shout out your number and you’d go and collect it.

Buy your tickets here for your meal

I wanted just about everything on the menu – there was sushi, sashimi, noodles, stuff on rice, etc, etc. I eventually chose the miso katsu lunch set (only 650 yen!) which included the miso katsu, a massive salad (and a whole range of amazing Japanese salad dressings to try), rice and a bowl of hot udon noodle soup. Oh, and pickles. Gotta have the pickles.

Miso Katsu Set

This was another Nagoya specialty, the deep fried cutlet covered with a very thick and very rich red miso sauce. It’s very strong in flavour and I loved it!

Miso Katsu

I wish you could have seen the tea dispensing machines! All the free hot or cold toasted or green tea you could drink!

We were looking for dessert after our meal and the lure of this ice cream vending machine was just too much for us.

Ice Cream Vending Machine

Squeezy cider sorbet!

Squeezy Sorbet!

Apart from the restaurants and vending machines, there were multiple rest and sleep areas and this was one of the rest areas – each sleep bed had its own personal TV screen!

Rest Area

While the boys chose to snooze off their lunch, I headed back up to the baths for another hour.

Just before leaving the onsen though, I managed to get a massage in one of the ridiculuosly high-tech massage chairs (just visible at the bottom of the restaurant photo). Sure I could have scheduled a proper massage (that facility was also available) but this 10 minute massage only cost me 200 yen. And with that massage, I also had a coffee milk from this Meiji milk vending machine.

Milks Vending Machine

Awww yeah, that’s some tasty coffee milk.

Delicious Coffee Milk

What a fantastic and relaxing day that was. We still talk about it and dream about opening up a bathhouse in London! We were the only non-Japanese people there that day and they clearly don’t get many tourists but don’t let that put you off! They’re very welcoming and it really is one of the best things to do in Japan.

Yu-no Shiro Ōsone onsen
Ozone-Cho, Higashi-ku
Nagoya 28-7 Higashiozone
(within the Ozone Castle Town)

I first heard of Can Kenji over on gourmet traveller and immediately looked into it; to my surprise and to Blai’s also, it was situated only about a 10 minute stroll from Blai’s parents’ flat and we (I, Blai and Blai’s mother) found ourselves strolling over to try their Japanese-Spanish/Catalan fusion food for dinner one night. It was no surprise that it was a tiny unassuming place that they must have walked by many times before without realising there was a restaurant there. I myself would never have looked into dining at a fusion restaurant but it’s got a few excellent reviews online and our need to book a few days in advance confirmed its popularity.

Their menu was full of things you want to eat and we set about selecting what we thought was a nice little range. We started with an Assortit de sushi, sharing by somehow choosing the bits that pleased us most. The tuna maki rolls were made with tuna belly which melted in the mouth; the fish we had at Can Kenji was all beautifully fresh.

Assortit de sushi

A Tataki de bonítol amb salmorejo was topped with fried garlic chips, enhancing the garlic already in the cold tomato and bread soup. This dish made fusion proud, the thick slices of seared fish and the sweet yet acidic soup together making for a happy mouthful.

Tataki de bonítol amb salmorejo

I was originally skeptical about the combination of cheese and prawns in the Broqueta de llagostí, espàrrecs, tomàquet sec i formatge Idiazábal (skewer of prawn, asparagus, sun dried tomato and Idiazábal cheese) but again, to my surprise, they were fabulous.

Broqueta de llagostí, espàrrecs, tomàquet sec i formatge Idiazábal

Less impressive were the Mandonguilles de xiitake i llagostins arrebossats (battered shiitake and prawn meatballs). They were the letdown of the night as the battered prawn stuffed mushrooms soaked up the dashi broth in which they sat and became soggy lumps that fell apart at the touch of a chopstick. They were tasty but could have improved in texture.

Mandonguilles de xiitake i llagostins arrebossats

This was made up for by the Hamburguesa Can Kenji. What I initially mistook for melted cheese turned out to be a fried egg, its oozing yolk gooing all over the tender beef patty. Covered in beefy, oniony gravy, the Japanese style hamburger was served with a cold potato puree and a dressed salad. I could have just eaten this with rice…. and you can for lunch as it’s on their menú del dia. Optional at dinner time is topping the patty with a slice of foie gras. (Does any place in London serve these Japanese style hamburgers? I know they are quite popular in Japan.)

Hamburguesa Can Kenji

Oozing Egg Yolk

We’d left plenty of room for desserts and chose three to share between us all. A Pan cake Japonés “Dorayaki” de Xocolata (yup, a chocolate dorayaki!) was two homemade pancakes sandwiching a rich chocolate filling; the traditional version with red bean paste was also available if you need to stick to the classics.

Pan cake Japonés “Dorayaki” de Xocolata

The Flam de boniato (sweet potato flan) was silky smooth and gorgeous. I love the use of those orange sweet potatoes in desserts.

Flam de boniato

Absolutely delicious, and the most interesting, was the Gelatina de fruita amb shiratama, a bowl of crushed up jelly and fruit topped with chewy boiled sticky rice cakes and a brown sugar syrup. Their desserts were definitely worth ordering.

Gelatina de fruita amb shiratama

It was quite the bargain too – with green tea for us all, our meal at Can Kenji came to a little over €50. I’d love to return for lunch and I believe Blai’s mother will definitely be back for it – they offer both a bargainous menú del dia and even a small tasting menu then. We were warned that reservations were even necessary then, so yes, do book ahead if you’d like to dine there.

Can Kenji
Rosselló 325
Barcelona
Spain

I finally made it to Koya, that celebrated Japanese udon restaurant on Frith Street in Soho. I’d not found time to make my way there in the year and half since it opened and I’ll be honest with you, the knowledge of queues to get in every day really put me off. I sucked it up one Saturday though, roped in my good friend Roxanne and we met in front of the restaurant just before it opened for lunch. Moments after we sat down on one of the wooden benches out front, a queue started to form behind us. Whoa – this was serious. All the early queuers were rewarded with tables and everyone who arrived after they opened found themselves in that queue. We had a table! And we were hungry – of course we would try their homemade udon but we also greedily ordered two of the side dishes.

From the specials menu chalked up daily on the blackboard, Roxanne chose the Baby clams and Girolles steamed in sake (£8.20). Being quick to cook, these arrived first and we dripped the clammy juices down our arms while slurping them down. An extra spoon wouldn’t have gone amiss here as we were sharing.

Baby Clams and Girolles Steamed in Sake

I wanted to try their tempura and so ordered their Yasai Ten Mori, assorted vegetable tempura (£8.30). It may not have been cheap but it was excellent – light, non-greasy and crisp.

Yasai Ten Mori

I was very pleased with my Buta Miso (Atsu-Atsu – hot udon in hot broth) (£9.40) – the thick brown paste dolloped on top of my noodles was porky bits in a salty, savoury miso paste. I stirred this through and it made for a most comforting bowl of noodles. The udon noodles had that wonderful bite that you only seem to get from being freshly made and were just amazing.

Buta Miso Udon Soup

Roxanne also enjoyed her Tempura (Atsu-Atsu) (£9.90), which came with a large tempura prawn. If I have this next time, I’d ask for the prawn to be served on the side, keeping it as crisp as possible.

Tempura Udon Soup

An Onsen Tamago (£1.80) (hot spring egg) on the side was beautiful and surprisingly reminded me of the soft boiled eggs of my childhood. I had expected it to be slightly more cooked but it was still good.

Yolk

It was quite a bit of food between us and we could have ordered one less side dish and still have been comfortably full. I don’t regret overeating that day however – it really was all excellent. What in the world had been stopping me from visiting before though?! Oh yes, that queue but you can show up just as they open, like we did, and avoid it altogether. I’ll be back (I can’t wait to have the cold noodles next time!).

Koya
49 Frith Street
London W1D 4SG

Koya on Urbanspoon