Hey, I’ve Been Back in London for Four Months Now!

Posted by Krista on October 26, 2014

Have been waiting to find you!

A photo posted by Krista (@kristainlondon) on

London, you are the best and the most beautiful. I love  you, totally and completely. I get lost in you. (Just like Mark Wallinger and Labyrinth, his London Underground art series of mazes .) But sometimes in love, there is not-so-love. Here is the bad and the good from where I am sitting today.

THE BAD…and/or the things I’ve forgotten…

Yelp London is useless! Barely any reviews for a lot of places.Where is everyone leaving their reviews? No one writes reviews on Time Out anymore. I am left with Foursquare, and even that is kinda sucky and lacking in reviewness. HELP. I want the voice of the people. Help me.

What is with hair color on women? I’ve seen a lot of washed out pink and blue hair. I don’t like it. It looks tacky. If you’re going to do it ladies, MAINTAIN IT.

Flowered trousers…perhaps a bigger thing when the weather was warmer but the patterned blousey trousers on women thing. I don’t know if I like it? Oh wait…hold on, my phone is ringing and it’s MC Hammer…

Smoking…After spending the last four years in the U.S., I have honestly forgotten that people still smoke. On the sidewalk/pavement in London as I’m walking, at work when they need to take breaks and then return to stink up the meeting room, everywhere, everywhere. Smokers are everywhere. Stop putting fire in your mouths, people. It is going to kill you a lot faster than a lot of other things.

Flats owned by people in Singapore and Hong Kong: I had no idea that this was a thing until I started flat-hunting this summer and when I would ask about the landlord, 9 times out of ten, they would tell me, “Oh, he/she is in Singapore/Hong Kong.” Apparently, people in Asia have bought up all the new construction property in east London these last few years. That’s fine, but if you’re going to do it love, hire a property manager. I’m not calling you in Hong Kong when the boiler’s out.

Taking a shower is still hard. In my new flat, I’ve got the two-and-a-half-foot bath and the shower half-glass. I have conquered the two-and-a-half-foot bath (I think) but I HATE THE HALF-GLASS. How do British people take showers?? I do not understand it. I flood the bathroom all the time, and if my bathroom floor tile is any indication, the last tenant did too.

They don’t bag your groceries for you anywhere. They just stare at you (or make no eye contact whatsoever) and then they wait for you to leave. #AWKWARD.

The importance of the past: I learned this hard during my first tour-of-duty. In my experience, British people don’t forget any sort of past. I’m not saying that Americans forget the past, but in general, my take is that Americans have a mindset that’s much more like “Ok, that happened. That was the past. Hindsight is 20/20. Let’s move forward.” Take me out for anything Japanese/Chinese/Vietnamese and I’ll tell you more.

Toasters everywhere but no toaster ovens. I just want an English Muffin pizza. Personally, I’m afraid of toaster-toasters. I’m always afraid the toast will catch fire inside. And I don’t want to fire up the broiler just for some cheese on toast.

THE GOOD…

Tethering: My iPhone came with a wifi hotspot, as opposed to in America, where you have to pay extra for that functionality. So if you’re in London and you wanna tether to my hotspot, you just let me know.

UHT MILK! I love long-life milk because you know, British milk goes bad in like less than five days. (American milk lasts a lot longer, like two weeks.) So I buy UHT milk and it lasts forever. I probably don’t want to know what they did to it to make it that way, do I? A lot of people use UHT milk to make yogurt, apparently. Me, I just use it for my morning coffee.

Charging for plastic bags: London started doing this ages ago. I believe California just started doing it. The U.S. is BEHIND.

Pizza Express Salad dressing: Haters, don’t be hating. This stuff is STILL delicious and I go through it like white wine.

The roads are smooth! I don’t know if it’s because I was unlucky enough to live in Chicago, but London roads are SMOOTH! There are no potholes! It’s amazing! I can ride my bike anywhere and not need any dental work!!

Recycling: My building recycles, we recycle at work, and anywhere I go around London, there’s one of those handy separators for recycling. Me and my empty Diet Coke cans feel so virtuous. Saving the world, people. Saving the world!

Direct debits! No checks! I’ve been here four months and I haven’t written ANY CHECKS. It’s amazing. I cannot believe that in America, people still write checks. It is crazy. My debit card is my favorite thing.

Kettles, kettles everywhere: I love my kettle. I use it more frequently than my microwave.

The weather! It’s NOT SNOWING! It’s not frigid. It’s nice. Thank God for that. Honestly, words cannot describe. On January 6th 2015, I am going to throw a “-40 degrees is where Fahrenheit and Celsius intersect” party. You’re invited.

xoxo

Where I’ve Been Eating in London Lately, Autumn Edition

Posted by Krista on October 18, 2014

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September is gone! October is upon us. My bank account dwindles…London is just too exciting! There is too much to do! Too much to see! Too much to EAT. Yet, my London restaunt blog sits ignored. Let me try to do something about that. Here’s where I’ve been eating lately. If you can’t tell, I’m on a bit of a Chinese and Spanish kick at the moment.

Gourmet San, Bethnal Green. My friend JP and I did a little Szechuan crawl one night, inspired by our mutual love of Sichuan Folk off Brick Lane. We had high hopes, but Gourmet San let us down. It was dirty and smelly and the service was distracted. Everyone told us to order the lamb skewers. They were off. Very off. No desire to go back, like ever.

Gourmet San on Urbanspoon

Ba Shu Fang, Bethnal Green. The red velvet chairs make it feel a bit like Valentine’s Day, but our Szechuan lobster was outstanding. I have been dreaming of this place ever since and might actually make the trek over for lunch today. Also great, the sea bass. Check out the photo gallery for pics of these two dishes. Best quote: “Our new chef is from Chengdu. Our old chef was Hainanese. Our new chef…he is more….professional.” Ask the staff for their recommendations. The menu is a bit tough going for the unadventurous among you!

Yipin, Angel. Somehow, this place got a Bib Gourmand. I want to like it more than I do, so I keep going back. (It’s convenient.) But no, I just don’t like it. Like Gourmet San, also dirty. Everyone tells me this place is great so maybe I need to give it a third try. But my first two attempts have been less than stellar. Ah, but they do bring you peanuts to start your meal.

Yipin China on Urbanspoon

Jose, Bermondsey. I will happily eat here every day. Love everything. The jamon! You can taste the acorns! The boquerones! The croquetas! ALL of it. Go go go go go.

José on Urbanspoon

Pizarro, Bermondsey. I liked Pizarro, but I like it’s sexy busy sibling Jose better. Pizarro is more serious, more sedate. Jose is a party. Still delicious though.

Pizarro on Urbanspoon

Iberica, Farringdon. I really like the space here more than anything. Maybe whoever did the decor can come over and do my flat. I also really like the staff. They are very happy and helpful people. Ah, and their pinxtos at happy hour are a great value. But given the choice, I would still go to Jose. (Just in case that’s not clear or anything.)

Iberica Farringdon on Urbanspoon

More to come…I’ve also been to Mission in Bethnal Green and I am about to go have a big bowl of ramen on Upper Street. Good times!

Bob Bob Ricard, I Love You

Posted by Krista on October 12, 2014

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When people would ask me what I missed most about London, I would tell them honestly, “Waitrose. And Bob Bob Ricard.” American supermarkets were fluorescent nightmares, and American restaurants were full of cheap chairs and limited sparkling wine choices. I ran away from the Jewel’s and Dominick’s of the world, and started doing most of my shopping at the very tiny Green Grocer, which had everything I needed, really. (But still, no Waitrose.) And I found myself spending more and more time in the velvet and brass lobby bars of the grand hotels — The Four Seasons, my preferred choice — chasing that sense of escape and other-worldliness I had found in London at the all plush and all lovely Bob Bob Ricard.

So when Leonid (one of the Bobs of Bob Bob Ricard) invited me over last weekend for BBR’s “Hey look now we’re open for lunch on weekends” grand affair, there was no hesitation. Yes, Leonid, YES. I will be there. And it was just as beautiful as I remembered. One day, when I make the millions I deserve, I will paper my home with Bob Bob Ricard’s wallpaper and install “Press for Champagne” buttons in the most unexpected of places. I will smother myself in caviar, eat everything off of blinis and stamp all my toast with the BBR logo.

Bob Bob Ricard is an escape, a journey to a place you do not want to come back from. Where the sommelier Jeremiah, who you haven’t seen or spoken to in over four years, remembers you and the photography course you were taking in 2009, and you have to wonder if there’s a file on you somewhere, a photograph, a list. (“Prefers tap water, known to break glasses…”)

At the end of my meal at Bob Bob Ricard — caviar, sea bass, filet mignon — when the dining room was quiet again and the staff were gearing up for dinner service, I wanted to hug every single employee. I wanted to cry. I couldn’t stop saying thank you — thank you! — because if there was anything that confirmed to me that I was back in London, it was being back at Bob Bob Ricard. So thank you, Leonid. Thank you!

OK, now off to Waitrose…

I had lunch at Bob Bob Ricard with four — and then five — friends, as a guest of Leonid’s. He was — and is — extraordinarily gracious. And while I am no Tom Parker Bowles, I hope you read this and make yourself a reservation at Bob Bob Ricard’s soon. Tell them I sent you.

Please Help Me Fix My WordPress Site…

Posted by Krista on September 29, 2014

***UPDATE: Thank you to the Internet and @cayloe for pointing me to this post, which explains the song “this is what you want, this is what you get” playing on your site. After 10 years as a loyal Sitemeter subscriber, I have removed their code from my website.***

After a frustrating few hours under the hood of my website yesterday, I am ready to throw in the towel. But maybe there is someone out there who can help me.

A few months ago, I noticed that occasionally, when I loaded my WordPress site, it would play a song. The song goes something like “This is what you want, this is what you get…” The song doesn’t play all the time — it seems to be the first time I load my site each day — so I thought maybe it was an ad or something. Well, three months later and it is still happening. I can’t for the life of me figure out what it is, so I suspect it is malware. Here is what I’ve done during my investigations:

  • Updated WordPress to the most recent version. Performed a full backup of everything just in case.
  • Updated all active plugins to latest version.
  • Deactivated any plugins I don’t use.
  • Run a free malware scan on Scuri. (Negative.)
  • Paid money for SiteLock and had them run a more comprehensive scan. That turned up three outbound links to sites with spam to I removed those. The next scan turned up perfectly clean.
  • Wrote a post on the WordPress forums and asked for help. (The three responders suspect an ad.)
  • Researched whether Google ads ever play anything with sound. They don’t, according to my research.
  • Searched my home page code for any mentions of .avi, .wav, .mp3, .m4a. Negative.

I really want to get rid of this annoying song so I need some help. I should note the song has changed a bit since I originally discovered it. It used to do the lyrics followed by broken glass. The broken glass sound seems to have disappeared.

If you are good with code and can help me get to the bottom of this, I will treat you to Sunday lunch at Hix Smithfield. (Roughly £60 value, plus the invaluableness of my scintillating company.) And if you are good with WordPress and code, there could be some smaller projects in it for you.

Please help!

***UPDATE: Thank you to the Internet and @cayloe for pointing me to this post, which explains the song “this is what you want, this is what you get” playing on your site. After 10 years as a loyal Sitemeter subscriber, I have removed their code from my website.***

Little London Obsessions

Posted by Krista on September 27, 2014

It's Shardtastic

My obsession with London knows no bounds. Some of you will get tired of me talking about this, but…I am not sorry. Waitrose!! Double-decker buses! Pubs! Men in suits! Tuxedos on the tube! Cheap flights to everywhere!! Life is good. It’s nice to be back, and in a way, to be reunited with my London restaurant blog, which I am stretching and changing. Here’s what else I’ve been obsessed with lately.

Orla Keily’s collection of shoes at Clark’s. I’ve written before about my obsession with Clarks in London. Some people — the ones not in the know — laugh at me because they think only nuns and old people wear Clarks. Smart people know to get themselves to Clarks immediately. Inexpensive, comfortable AND cute (although they do still have a lot of ugly stuff). I’ve bought two pairs from the Orla collection already. And I am still so sad that I had to throw away my old Mary Portas Clarks last year after an overzealous shoe shiner scuffed all the pony hair off my shoes. (#firstworldproblems)

Peri-peri wings at Marks & Spencer. OK, I can’t link directly to these because M&S apparently doesn’t sell them online except in party platters. But I love these wings so much that sometimes I have them for breakfast. Haters, don’t be hating.

Dresses from Boden. Hey listen, I’m a woman of a certain age. I like Boden. I now own this one, along with a few others.

Cashmere sweaters from Uniqlo. Super great value. Especially the cardigans! Who doesn’t love a cashmere cardigan?? (OMG I feel like such a tw*t as I write that.)

Modern Touch Nails off Chapel Market in Islington: So yes, no matter where I am, I still have the New York obsession with grooming. Must have a manicure and a pedicure. After revisiting some of the places I used to go to in London during my first tour and finding that they’d all gone downhill (dirty, grubby, too crowded, etc.), I’ve found the very clean and very neat and tidy Modern Nails off Chapel Market. They are very nice, even though they don’t let you combine frequent customer cards. (Grrrr.) Recommended.

Spotify Premium: OK, not a London thing but I remember the halcyon days when Spotify was a European thing and not available in the U.S. I love Spotify Premium. Particularly the playlists. These days, I’m digging these lists:

Good for a party…

Good for taking a nap…

For a little reggae…

Happy days, indeed. I love you and everything in you, London.

Where I’ve Been Eating in London Lately, Summer Edition

Posted by Krista on September 14, 2014

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Yeah, bitches! (See picture.) Time goes too quickly. How long have I  been here already? Almost three months. Give me my time back, please, someone. I grow old, I grow old. (Not into the trousers rolled.) Where have I been eating lately, while the clock has been a-ticking? Here, in no particular order.

Lyle’s, 56 Shoreditch High Street, Shoreditch. I like the feel of Lyle’s. The older I get, the more clarity I want. I want clean, I want simple. And Lyle’s decor delivers on that. It is an oasis of calm, albeit with terrible acoustics. (There’s something to be said for soft furnishings.) Lyle’s takes all choice away and give us a set menu for the table. I’m fine with that, but for reasons unbeknownst to me, I am now, in my later years,  allergic to raw carrots and celery. (Actually, I do know why. It’s a pollen allergy.) Just to be clear, I do not want to be allergic to either of these things. I like raw carrots, particularly with hummus. While I don’t mind being allergic to cats (vile creatures), I do mind being allergic to carrots. (Celery…I’m not so bothered.) Anyhow, Lyle’s is pretty good about my allergy but I misjudge the level of cookedness of the carrots in the broth that starts us out and spend the next 30 minutes hoping that if I die at Lyle’s, someone will take care of my Louis Vuitton bag. I drink a lot of Crozes Hermitage to make things better and only have hazy memories of the rest of my meal. The Verdict: Would go back because I vaguely remember it was nice. But next time, I’m getting an Epi Pen.

Arabica, Borough Market. I want to marry a Lebanese man. Someone find me one. I also want to drink Lebanese beer all the time, but Arabica’s Lebanese beer has been caught up in customs so there is none to be had. I eat a lot of bread — it’s my farewell tour to carbohydrates — and stuff my face with lamb and beef tartare (kibbeh nayeh). It’s all very satisfying. And the loos are clean and tidy. The Verdict: Go now while Arabica is new and fresh. I’m sure it will be a chain soon.

Bentley’s, 11 Swallow Street, Piccadilly: The internet says I need more niacin in my diet. Guess what has niacin?? OYSTERS. So I go to Bentley’s and eat six of the largest oysters I have ever seen. They come from a styrofoam container that our barman has just emptied out in front of me. Classy. He is a slow man. He is a Lean Six Sigma project waiting to happen. He is a nice man, but only capable of handling one task at a time. Low throughput. A Herbie!  The Verdict: No because my wine…my wine…it’s right there…I can see it…just give it to me…please? Also, I did not think my chili clam linguine was anything specials.

Camino Blackfriars, 33 Black Friars Lane. St. Paul’s. Two tapas for £6.50 at lunch. And somehow, they’ve given me like 40 pimientos de padron. Now that’s a good value. The Verdict: Cheap and cheerful. Why not?

Jin Kichi, 73 Heath Street, Hampstead. Sometimes I go to Hampstead to get my nails done at California Nails. Even though California Nails is rather dirty. I’ve actually recently decided to stop going there because of how dirty it is. But hey, I still like Jin Kichi. It is super clean and nice and they will barbecue all the quails’ eggs for you. The Verdict: Go for the barbecue.

40 Maltby Street, Maltby Street Market. Maltby Street Market is my new favorite place. (Remember, I’m new here.) I’m kinda obsessed with it. I keep trying to convince all my non-Internet friends to go and they all sort of look at me funny because really, who wants to go to Bermondsey? Well let me tell you, as someone who lived in the general vicinity of Bermondsey between 2004 and 2005 until my landlord kicked me out because of non-payment of rent  — TOTALLY NOT MY FAULT —  I love Bermondsey. I will go there all the time. In fact, now I kinda want to live there so I can go to Maltby Street Market and 40 Maltby Street all the time and eat all the food and drink all the wine while the rest of you suckers talk about how you don’t go south of the river. Terrific good times. Tomato jelly particularly good which is a big deal coming from me because of my hatred of cold wet tomatoes. The Verdict: Go.

Polpo, Cowcross Street, Smithfield. Ah Polpo. How I want to love you. Because I do love Russell Norman. (One day, I’ll tell you all a good story.) But I had lunch one day at Polpo during my halcyon days of unemployment and the meatballs were flavorless and not hot and the staff were distracted and it was so goddamn boiling inside that I actually had to leave. I’ve never left a restaurant before because it was hot. (In fairness, it was during the heatwave.) The Verdict: Meh. But I am sure I will go ahead. Because it is Russell, after all.

Yo, what else bitches? I’ve got nothing. It’s Sunday. I’m chilling with some Spotify, checking out all the London restaurant blogs, and doing the laundry. Good times.

Things I Miss about Chicago

Posted by Krista on August 31, 2014
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Some Vitners chips/crisps at the entrance to Oak Street beach, Chicago. Vitners are a Chicago institution.

It’s been two months and a few days since I decided to hop on a plane in Chicago and relocate myself to London. The time has gone quickly — way too quickly — to say the least. (Tip: Next time you quit your job, take three months off before you start your new job.) And while Chicago was never really my kind of town (sorry, Chicagoans), after living there for a grand total of 12 years (!!!) between my two stays, there are some things I still pine for occasionally. Here’s what I’ve been missing about Chicago lately.

Around Town

  • Forgive on sidewalks: Sometimes I would be walking around Ukrainian Village in a bad mood for various reasons — thinking f*ck this shit, if you really must know. And then I’d see  Forgive. And I would change the direction of my thoughts.
  • CLS and his/her sculptural street art. Chicagoans, you’ve seen CLS’ stuff around town. Scraps of wood, together, in an art piece. (This Flickr user has a number of photographs of CLS’ pieces if you’re not sure who I’m talking about.) I like CLS’ stuff. It’s natural but architectural and yet random.

Mexican Food

  • Cemitas Puebla: Mexican sandwiches. They deliver to Weegee’s in Logan Square! Now that was an exciting discovery! I want to know how they get their pork chops so thin.
  • Mexican in general…Mexican like the place on the corner of Chicago & Ashland, Taqueria Transpasada. Not the commercial burrito chains. London is full of burrito chains now. I just want some tacos. OK, I really want some tacos at Big Star even though I am not hipster enough for Big Star. (I realize I am, in some ways, contradicting myself. What I want is tacos from the corner shop and on weekends, tacos at Big Star, along with some Johnny Cash and bourbon.)
  • Tamale guys. Magically appearing in bars around town in the wee hours of the morning, just when we all need some carbs. GENIUS.

TelevisionWGN morning news. Seriously, these guys crack me up. (Check out some of their best bits from 2013.) I love that they’ve been doing what they do for so long together. London breakfast news programming is terrible. They repeat themselves every 12 minutes. (I’m gonna time it.) And no jokes! And they don’t have enough human interest stories. And the news is so DIRE. Someone help me. I need something to watch in London between 6 am and 7 am while I am trying to become fully functional.

Chinese: Mon Lung: My Sunday routine when I lived in Noble Square was Szechuan green beans and chicken from Mon Lung. Me and all the cops and the fish tank. I loved that the multi-generational family was so in evidence here. This is really a family-run business, and they are all so super nice. (Sometimes, they run out of green beans. Just to warn you.)

DinersThe Pittsfield and Beef & Brandy: I love a good diner. The Pittsfield is my absolute favorite; it’s a triangulation of beautiful building decor, friendly service, and good food. Breakfast for dinner! At The Pittsfield, I like the Mr. Gyros Omelette, which is on the old menu, not the new menu, but they will still make it for you. Make sure you ask for some tzatziki. $10 (or less) for lunch and you get table service…really nice table service. They do what they do better than a lot of expensive restaurants I know. I also like Beef & Brandy on State Street, mainly because they let you pay at the table. (At The Pittsfield, you have to pay at the counter and then walk back to your table to drop off the tip.) I also love how Beef & Brandy’s website calls it the best restaurant in downtown Chicago. I normally go for the grilled cheese at Beef & Brandy.

Beer: Zombie dust!! All the Three Floyds! All of it!

Vietnamese Food: Han yen on Argyle. After my trip to Vietnam in March, I got a little addicted to pho for breakfast. So once I sold off Noble Square and moved away from Mon Lung, my new Sunday routine became a trip up to Han Yen on Argyle for a big bowl of pho for Sunday lunch.

Cheap Manicures and Pedicures. Particularly New Age Nails on State Street north of Chicago Avenue. So clean and white and nice.

Drinking: Pops for Champagne & The Watershed. London did something to me. It made me drink champagne a lot. I arrived back in the US and everyone kinda looked at me funny when I would ask if we could order a bottle of champers. So I would take myself to Pops and drown my sorrows. Champagne is not cheap in America. Champagne in London is a bargain in comparison. (There’s something to be said for being across the channel from France. ) Also, I love The Watershed, downstairs from Pops, which specializes in midwestern beers and wines. I like focus. And the banjo player on Thursday nights.

What am I forgetting? I am sure there is something!? Help.

My Best Non-Food London Discoveries since My Re-re-partriation

Posted by Krista on August 21, 2014

London is amazing. My friends Gerry & Ben say it’s the best of the best of the best and I AGREE. London is amazing. Sure, the toilets are poorly ventilated and sure, sometimes the customer service is the absolute PITS (see my epic tweet about my most recent experience), but otherwise, London, you are the best and the most beautiful. Here are my favorite finds while I haven’t been eating…

The Great British Bake-off. (TV show.) Love it. I love the colors. (Greens, whites, pinks.) I love the characters. I love the cakes. I love Mary Berry. (Bet she wishes now she never smoked before.) Love love love.

CityMapper App: Love it for getting me places in ways I had never considered. For example, I generally rely on the 55 bus or the Central Line to get me to Soho. I never ever consider the Piccadilly. Thank you, CityMapper, for reminding me that sometimes, Soho is closer to Piccadilly Circus than it is to Oxford Street.

Zapper App: I arrived in the UK with five boxes of CDs. It is time for the CDs to go. Zapper lets me mindlessly scan them while I’m watching episode after episode of Law & Order. (Yes, the UK does this too…Law & Order marathons all the time!) You can get anywhere from 10p to about £2 for a CD. (Average is probably about 25p per CD.)

JustEat App: Yes, I’m a sucker for getting dinner delivered. Love it. Love how it’s basically all Indian food or nothing. Says something about a country, no? Seriously, there is other food on there. But there seems to be A LOT of Indian food. I’m totally cool with that.

HelloSign App/Web site: Moving to another country means signing A LOT of paperwork. A lot. (Download, print, sign, scan, return. You know the drill.) Hello Sign is a Google Chrome plugin that let’s you open, edit and sign most docs and PDFs online without printing anything. (Except the super fancy PDFs that have code/navigation built into them, by my experience.) Seriously, this app is making it onto my list of favorite discoveries of the year because it has made my life so much easier. Get it NOW. It is seriously awesome.

The Cloud!! Not the Amazon one, but rather the London Cloud! Free wifi at random spots around the city! (Especially tube stations.) I love it! It’s the future! The future is here! The future is now! London is amazing. The Cloud works in New Cross!!

Uber: OK, not a new one to most people but Uber in London is different! It’s not regular taxis. It’s MINICABS. And they are nice cars and they are CHEAP. I took one last night from The Culpepper on Commercial Street to the Wenlock Arms and it cost just £6! SIX QUID. I love Uber!!

Kirstie’s Fill Your House for Free: These days, I am obsessed with not throwing things out but rather recyling them. (Or freecycling them.) I love that Kirstie Allsopp is promoting salvage.

I could, of course, go on and on and on. I’ll stop now because I don’t want to get distracted and tell you too much about how I’ve been outsourcing my life lately. That’s for LATER.

The “London, I Came Back for You” Update Part II

Posted by Krista on July 22, 2014

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Guys, I have a problem. I have an addiction to the Internet. And do you know what’s been going on since July 10th? I have been living without a home Internet connection. That’s right. New London flat and a TWO WEEK wait for Internet connectivity. (VIRGIN MEDIA, you slay me.) I die a little more every day. I wither. I crumple. I am nothing. I know nothing. I am lost. (Literally, lost. We are no longer in the A to Z world.  If you don’t have a hard-copy A to Z and you don’t have an Internet connection…you are lost. You will always be lost.)

So I do everything on my new UK mobile phone. I have used 5.5 GB of data on my phone already. 5.5 GB! In two weeks. I blame The Twitter. And because I am still in that weird in-between phase of needing to use both a US phone and a UK phone, I have racked up over $600 USD in phone charges on my US mobile — and that’s WITH all the fancy international add ons to help alleviate the costs and my constant repetition of “Can we make this quick? Do you use Skype?” to anyone who calls.

I am disconnected, and I am cash-poor.

So restaurants with wifi are my very best of friends. Here are some of the best places I’ve eaten at lately, roughly in order of deliciousness, with a special shout out to the wifi, where it exists. London restaurants everywhere, heed my call. You all need wifi. Think of your international guests! And, well, think about me, alone, lost and without an Internet connection…

Hix Smithfield, Smithfield/Farringdon. 36-37 Greenhill’s Rents, Cowcross Street, EC1M 6BN: Sunday lunch last weekend — a sirloin roast — was so good, I was back again this past weekend. Cheerful staff and a JAZZ BAND. I don’t know why no one is here — Farringdon on a Sunday, I suppose — but this is really absolutely fantastic. I nearly wept over my tomatoes on toast . I honestly almost don’t want the world to know about Sunday Lunch at Hix Smithfield because maybe I can have the jazz band all to myself. Wifi: FREE. The Verdict: GO. Particularly on Sundays. But shhhhhh.

The Palomar, Chinatown/Soho 34 Rupert Street, W1D 6DN: I thought for sure I would never get in here because it’s so super hot (as in cooler than cool) but I snagged a seat at the bar for a Monday lunch and instantly fell in love with all the men behind the counter, including the elder statesmen of the group, Papi. My Polpo a la Papi was zingy and made me want to buy all the octopus and all the chickpeas in the hopes of replicating this at home. (Not a joke!) And the pork belly and couscous! Fantastic. Even the bread — puffy, dotted with sesame seeds — was good! (And I just opted for the house bread, not the Yemeni pot bread.) The only downside? The Paloma was HOT. (As in sweaty hot. I was dripping.) Wifi: To heck with the wfii. Connect with the chef with the crystal blue eyes instead. The Verdict: Go! But go for lunch when you have a better chance of getting a table or a seat at the bar, where you can stare into the eyes of the chefs forever.

Moti Mahal, Covent Garden, 45 Great Queen Street, WC2B 5AA: My friend Barry McCaughley is amazing. He proves that if you really want to do something in life, YOU CAN DO IT. He decided a number of years ago to leave the corporate world behind and start his own wine business and get into restaurants and not surprising to those of us who know him, he did it. He totally did it and he is now amazingly successful at it, while the rest of us are still working for the man. He invited me over to Moti Mahal to check out some of the things they are doing with champagne — Gosset champagne in particular — and we had a lovely evening in their cool (as in cold) basement, out of London’s heat.  I absolutely loved our starter of stuffed courgette flower with masala shrimp and tomato jaggery chutney. Also excellent, the red mullet baked with masala crab meat in banana leaf. I also liked the downstairs room with our own dedicated bar — great for a corporate hire. (Sorry, I keep track of these things.) Absolutely fantastic to catch up with Jeanne tooWifi: Who needs wifi when you have Gosset Grande Reserve? The Verdict: Go. (I did not pay for this meal or all the Gosset Grande Reserve I drank. Also, I am not sorry.)

Green Man & The French Horn, Covent Garden, 54 St Martin’s Ln, London WC2N 4EA: While I have the leisure of unemployment, lunch is my main meal of the day, not dinner. And lunch specials are EXCELLENT values. My two courses at Green Man & The French Horn (thank you to new Internet friend Fran for the recommendation) were French and lush and well, I cleared my plates and so will you. A super generous portion of beautifully porky pork rillettes and tiny crisp and copious gherkins to start, followed by a fried egg with mushrooms and broadbeans as my main. I left very happy, even though they told me I couldn’t sit where I wanted to sit and even though they totally ignored me there for a while. Wifi: No. The Verdict: Go for the lunch special! Or if you like French food! Or if you’re close by!

Coya, Mayfair, 118 Piccadilly, Mayfair, London W1J 7NW: I had another leisurely lunch of unemployment at this trendy Peruvian on a sultry Monday afternoon and I loved it. My server was sweet and attentive, the food — the ceviche in particular —  was sharp and bright, and the vibe was so very very bossanova chill. I went back with friends on a Saturday night and hated the experience, even though I still loved the food. We spent 95 quid per person — table of five — and our server just did not seem very happy with us. She was pushy, aggressive and visibly disappointed in our ordering. I don’t know who these other guests at Coya are, but if I am going to spend 200 quid on dinner, there better be some Michelin stars and a lot less shouting of “Are you sure you don’t want anything else??” involved. That being said…Wifi: FREE WIFI!!! The Verdict: Go, but not on a Friday or Saturday night.

I’ve got more! Stay tuned! Come visit me again. Unemployment is the gift of the burden of time. It is time to say hello to old friends and new, time to eat and drink — which I really shouldn’t be doing after four years in America — and time to watch many episodes of Couples Come Dine With Me (WHEN will this show exist in the US??) But I will stop writing for now. Because you know…I don’t have any Internet at home and the people at this bar are starting to look at me funny.

I Want to See All The Restaurant Analytics

Posted by Krista on July 11, 2014

Long-term readers will know that I love math. I have always loved math. If I could do anything all over again, I would have been a math major. BUT…when I went into math in university (sorry, maths for my UK readers), I was the ONLY GIRL. And forgive me but I wasn’t ready for tthat. (I would like to slap my 18 year old self around sometimes.) And I just wanted to do math. I didn’t want to do Chemical Engineering or anything like that so the purity of my inclination made me a bit of an outlier. Even worse…all I really wanted to do was statistics and probability. Not calculus. I love me some mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive phenomenon. And I love to design experiments. Let’s go test us some hypotheses!!

So I love this video of Nick Kokonas, the owner of Alinea in Chicago, talking restaurant data. (And this makes me feel guilty about writing just the other day that I left Alinea hungry and went for tacos after. But it’s true. I did. The taco stand on the northeast corner of Chicago & Ashland in Chicago is quite delicious.) Also what I love about this video is that I can tell that whoever created his slides has some training in Lean Six Sigma…I love Lean in particular. Even more than tacos. Let’s go eliminate some waste, why don’t we? (And not in the scatological way.)

It all just makes me want to get my masters in statistics online…

Things I’ve Learned in Moving to London the Second Time

Posted by Krista on July 10, 2014
Just because

Tower Bridge

Logistics and operations continue. I am busy placing orders with JohnLewis, Ocado, VirginMedia, setting up standing orders, organizing parking permits…seriously, I can keep someone busy all day long. Who wants to be my personal assistant? Here’s what I’ve learned so far upon my return.

Bank Accounts
It was a lot easier (but still hard) to get a bank account this time. In 2004, I recall being in tears on many an occasion. You had to call banks back then and they would send you their application packs in the mail. And they would rarely if ever arrive. I remember Citibank promising me that everything was all sorted — my account was set up — and then weeks went by and still nothing and then the local branch guy stopped taking my calls. Not sure what ever happened there. This time around, here’s what happened. I was staying in Hither Green with friends and…

1. HSBC wanted me to bring my friends’ council tax bill along with a letter from them saying that I was their friend and I was staying with them. NEXT.
2. Barclays said that they thought they might be able to give me a bank account — maybe — but their appointment books were full until Wednesday. (It was Saturday.) NEXT.
3. NatWest had a little machine where you pulled a number. I walked in around 4 pm and pulled a number and it was 30 numbers away from the number they were currently serving and I knew they would close (as in close-close) at 5 pm so NEXT.
4. Halifax: I showed up at Halifax at 9 am on Monday morning and luckily there was a no show. I had a bank account by 10 am. Halifax wasn’t my first choice for a bank but sometimes, you will take what you can get. (I really wanted HSBC because I think — and I could be wrong — that they don’t charge me for withdrawals from HSBC banks abroad.)

You know what I am super mad about?? Last summer — the summer of 2013 — I finally closed my old UK account because I was all like “Sad, I will never live in London again.” That mistake cost me about eight hours worth of time and aggravation in June of 2014. I coulda been at the pub!!

Flat Hunting
I tried the estate agent offices I knew with no luck.(My constraint was that I needed something with immediate occupancy.) Then, in a fit of desperation, I used that “email all” feature on RightMove.co.uk and emailed every estate agent in Islington with my needs. My phone hasn’t stopped ringing since. Which was great originally because it meant I got to see some places. But one week on and now that I’ve found a place, the phone calls are really getting annoying. Also annoying…I saw a lot of crap. Part of me wants to start a business: “Let me turn your rental flat into a showplace” because really, I am really kinda good at this sort of thing. (Seriously…who wants someone else’s manky MATTRESS PAD??!!! GAG.) In hindsight, I wish I had included “high spec” as one of my requirements. That being said, I did include “I need a flat immediately” in my request and people still wanted to show me things available in August.

Also, real estate…London is more expensive than ever. My current flat is about 1/2 the size of my last flat, and it’s the same price.

Mobile Phone
I had a bank account when I originally went to O2. I just didn’t have a debit card yet. (It was in the proverbial mail.) O2 wouldn’t give me a phone without a debit card. And then I had a debit card but no credit history. (Damn you, Krista, for closing your old UK bank account last summer!) So I had to pay a huge deposit of £450 quid JUST TO GET A PHONE. But!! I am in awe of how cheap UK phone contracts are! Unlimited calls! Unlimited texts! 5 gb of data!!! 25 quid a month. (Before the phone.) Unbelievable. I am very happy. And I am also looking forward to getting my £450 back. (As a comparison, my US mobile account with AT&T cost me $130 a month for 400 minutes, 200 texts and 2 GB of data.)

Internet
I remember back in 2004, I called BT and they said they would show up and they didn’t. And then I called them again and they said they would show up but they didn’t. Well this time, I didn’t even have to talk to someone. I just went online to Virgin and picked my package and scheduled everything online. It was super awesome. My only regret is waiting until the first day of my lease to do this. I should have done it as soon as I knew I had the property. Because now I seriously have to wait two weeks for Internet. Let’s hope they show up, but for now, I am optimistic.

Movers
Back in 2004, I packed up my belongings in April. They arrived in July! I remember they took forever to clear UK customs, and that was with half a container. It’s possible that I was in a container with some sketchy stuff but seriously. Painful. I spent a lot of time on an air mattress.  This time around, my belongings left the US on June 26th and arrived on July 7th. And I could track my ship — the Singapore Express — online! The movers have already told me that my stuff will be out of UK customs within 7 to 10 days of July 7th, which is great. but you know what is killing me? ISLINGTON COUNCIL. Apparently, they now need two weeks’ notice for a parking permit for the movers. I should have requested this when I signed my lease on Monday but I only just requested the permit today so the earliest I can get my stuff is July 23rd. This assumes that Islington grants the permit. I am waiting for their response…patiently. (If you are curious, I used Allied on the U.S. side and although they assured me that it’s Allied all the way through, it’s Brittania on the U.K. side. I was familiar with Brittania from 2010 so I felt good about this.)

JohnLewis
Only more awesomer than ever before. Delivery, click-and-collect, anything. Love John Lewis.

My Name
No one gets my name right. I mean, it’s sort of unusual in the U.S. but then there was Christa McAuliffe so at least people are somewhat familiar with Christa. But here, even when I spell my name slowly, I am still very likely to end up with “Kirstie” or “Kristina.” It is kinda driving me crazy because it is so predictable that whoever I am talking to will get it WRONG.

I’m sure there’s more but that is it for now.

I am exhaustedly yours and this really isn’t a London restaurant blog anymore, is it?

Krista

Saying Goodbye to Chicago…My Last Suppers

Posted by Krista on July 9, 2014

011Too many people asked me “Where are you going to eat before you leave?” before, I, uh, left Chicago. And then they would look at me strangely when I would say “Oh, I don’t know…I’m probably just going to order some curry from Rangoli and maybe some twice-cooked pork and string beans from Chengdu Impression.” What they wanted me to say, I do not know. (Don’t ask the question if you’re not going to like the answer.) I had no desire to hit Alinea again. (Sorry, left hungry and stopped for tacos that one time.) I was a little sad that I never visited L20 because I do love seafood more than most Chicago people. But well, other than that, I wasn’t really dying to try anything in particular.

So you know what I did before I left Chicago? I ate A LOT of chicken wings. At Jake Melnick’s downtown. I LOVE Jake Melnick’s! I love Pancho’s wings! Pancho, whoever you are, I love you. I sat at the bar at Jake Melnick’s and I ate a lot of chicken wings and drank a lot of beer. (They have A LOT of different types of beer to drink.) Sometimes I ate chicken wings with friends, sometimes I ate chicken wings by myself. But most of all, I ate chicken wings.

I also ate a lot of Chengdu Impression. It’s a very long story how I ended up in Lincoln Park during the last few days in Chicago, but I had to go to Home Depot a lot and going to Home Depot meant a trip to Chengdu Impression. The staff at Chengdu Impression are super sweet. Ask them for their help in ordering. I hope they do very very well because everything they have is all pretty delicious.

Ah, and Chicago Bagel Authority! My friend Jen’s English husband Leigh LOVES the Chicago Bagel Authority so while I was in the neighborhood, I had to check it out. I did. Many times. Although the New Yorker in me died a little every time I ate one of their **steamed** bagels, they were very tasty. And I kinda liked the intensely flirtatious bagel maker. He had nice eyes.

What else…I finally went to Longman & Eagle and it was very good but in hindsight, I don’t really remember anything we ate. I suppose that was my “cross it off the list” moment.

I did spend a lot of time at Scofflaw, drinking all the Temple Destroyers with Ben & Gerry and then Antonia. (Antonia says she’s now obsessed with verdita and is going to attempt it. I will be there.) I don’t remember much about my time at Scofflaw either, but that was obviously for other reasons. (And remember, I am not a big mixed drink person.)

Other things…Binny’s has a new wine tasting room, so I spent a lot of time there. Ah, and I had a nice lunch at Ramen San, although I hated their stools. Hated. I really need to start that “comfortable restaurant seating” business I’ve been thinking about.

My last meal in Chicago was at Nico Osteria. I stayed two nights at the very lovely Thompson Hotel. ((My stay at The Thompson Hotel was another Hotwire bargain!) I found it easier to camp out at Nico for the afternoon after me and my five suitcases checked out of the hotel. I ate a lot of Nico’s delicious focaccia olive bread. You should too.

So…I think that about sums up my last few days/weeks in Chicago. I’m sure it’s not the last time I’ll visit the city. But hopefully when I do, it won’t be MINUS FORTY DEGREES FAHRENHEIT. (Which also, coincidentally, is equal to minus forty degrees Celsius.) So goodbye Chitown. Thanks for all the beer.

P.S. That photo is from the Chicago Distilling Company in Logan Square. You should visit!