Opulence in Osaka
St. Regis Osaka
Not enough time, take me back! When Japan was my next big destination, I knew it was important to explore more of the country than just the metropolitan city of Tokyo if I was to get an authentic feel for the “Land of the Rising Sun.” Being the gourmand that I am, many of the destinations I choose to travel to are based on my food and drink cravings, and I heard that Osaka would satiate my ravenous appetite. Having read over the years about its many famous food districts, I knew Osaka was the perfect destination for a trip outside of Tokyo, and I sped off–literally.
Okay, so we know I chose this destination based on the food, but the need for speed got me to Osaka. I had heard of Japan’s famous “Bullet Trains,” and I was almost more excited about the journey than the destination (well, until I got there and started eating). The Shinkansen is a network of high-speed train lines that reach speeds of 200 mph (320 km/h). Knowing this was my mode of transport, my first words at the ticket counter were, “First class window seat, please!” Overall, this trip was sure to be a splurge, so why not travel two and a half hours in style? The first class car is called Green Class, and that extra comfort in this sleekly-designed train will make it easy to settle in. As Maverick said, “I feel the need for speed” (Top Gun, duh).
I came for the food but stayed for the bed.
Having traveled the world for too many years, I’d put myself in the “expert” category when it comes to an understanding of what a luxurious hotel really is. I knew exactly where I would be laying my head while staying in the “Big Hill” (the meaning of “Osaka” in Japanese) as I wanted to be as close as possible to the epicenter of food and shopping. The St. Regis Osaka is located right in the heart of Midōsuji Boulevard, also known as the Champs Elysées of Osaka (that was the first sign I would love this city). After I settled in and met my butler–yes, I said butler, a signature experience for each guest at every St. Regis worldwide–it was time to hit the streets and begin the food and drink binge in Osaka.
Time for a REAL drink! After spending a few hours at Osaka Castle, a vast 61,000 square meters and one of Japan’s most famous landmarks, I seriously needed to rest and unwind (in other words, have a drink). Since my personal and professional lives revolve around alcohol (#enjoyresponsibly), I had whiskey on my mind. While Japanese whiskey’s popularity is soaring, I’ve been a fan for over a decade-plus, as it is truly an art in the Japanese culture, and they cultivate some of the best in the world. I loved how no matter if you take a left or a right, you will find yourself near a bar, commonly called a standing bar, which is precisely what it sounds like.
The Bond Bar was my first stop; as usual, I made a new friend–the bartender. He saw the twinkle in my eye, and we went straight for the best. If you haven’t tried Hibiki Whiskey, a range of products by Suntory, you must. Hibiki 21 was my splurge for the evening. It has the mark of serious craftsmanship and has been named the “world’s best-blended whiskey” numerous times. Across the street was a Johnny Walker bar, and on every corner was a place to imbibe well-crafted Japanese whiskeys, a taste, and experience not to be missed when in Japan.
Shopping in a straight line
It never stopped: one straight street, miles and miles long, just people and people! It was pretty overwhelming and exciting at the same time. I visited two shopping areas, and they are a must for anyone visiting Osaka. Dōtonbori is a great shopping mecca that lights up like a mini Times Square at night and boasts many restaurants featuring modern and traditional Japanese dishes. You can also shop to your heart’s content from local and chain shops. Grab yourself some takoyaki, a traditional Japanese snack, easy to eat as you stroll this famous quarter. Next is Tenjinbashi-suji Shopping Street in the Tenma neighborhood, featuring Japan’s longest street at 2.6km. If you want it, it’s here. Expect more local flair and average-quality goods, but this is the street if you want some exercise between your eating excursions.
Happy Happy Happy Hour!
Yep, another story about another drink, and this one has a kick! Every St. Regis hotel around the world has its signature Bloody Mary since the “Red Snapper” was created in 1934 (now known as the Bloody Mary). The St. Regis Osaka’s signature “Shogun Mary” is fantastic, especially with its trademark zest for wasabi! If that doesn’t click your heels, check out the Beer Garden during the summer months with an all-you-can-drink “Champagne Special.” Le Veduta is also a must when Italian food strikes your fancy, and you want to be surrounded by a romantic ambiance and stylish chandeliers. The fireplace enticed me to end every evening in the bar as the grand piano relaxed me and my tired tourist limbs until another day of food and drink excursions.
St. Regis Bar Osaka
What’s it called?
You’ve probably realized by now that I have not named one restaurant or food place, aside from my hotel, for you to keep as a reference for your future trip. Honestly, I couldn’t understand, read, or write the names of most of the places I dined. I understand if you are a person that needs to know precisely what you are eating, but I promise, Osaka is the place to step out of your food comfort zone. The best restaurants in locations like Osaka are those corner dives or hidden gems. Note that many restaurants have photos of their food choices, which is expected, so it’s pretty easy to navigate your dining experience using visuals. (Or, look at your neighbors’ dishes and point!)
Oasis in Osaka
Chill time is a must on any vacation where walking is the main form of transportation. There’s only one cure for a tired, aching body. Hello spa, here I come! The Iridium Spa on the 14th floor of the St. Regis surpassed my expectations and was a sanctuary of relaxation. When I heard they used Sothys products from Paris, I knew it was a sign that my skin needed pampering. After ninety minutes of Sothys signature experience, my body was rejuvenated and ready to tackle Osaka for another 24 hours.
As my journey ended, my belly full and my sightseeing list only half-covered, Osaka sent me back to Tokyo wanting more, but it will see me next summer when I return for the 2020 Olympics. My last memories are of walking through the majestic lobby of the St. Regis as the traditional “Champagne Sabering” was taking place. That blissful “popping” noise from the cork was a sign–Osaka, I’ll be back!