Happy 2017! How is this possible already? I have no idea. Time flies when you are having fun or, uh, working all the time. Why do we work so hard? Something to ponder in 2017, for sure.
Although I did work more than I expected to this past year, I managed to squeeze in some fun too. Here are my highs from 2016 — note that this is not really food-related — I might do a restaurant post when I’m caught up…
10. Getting upgraded to business class on my London to Austin flight on my birthday!
9. Visiting Venice for the first since since I was 19!
2. My first visit to Hong Kong in 18 years: I ate all the dim sum and rode that Star Ferry back and forth across the bay all day long.
1. My all too few days in Chiang Mai. I fell in love with this northern Thai city and all its temples and expat-friendly culture — plus all the delicious food. Future early retirement destination? Possibly!
Lows (In no particular order…)
Working a lot
Having to fly to the US for work on my birthday (but see high re: business class upgrade)
Experiencing colon hydrotherapy (don’t ask)
Getting my UK taxes done (kinda similar to colon hydrotherapy)
The American I met in Bulgaria who told me that I won’t be able to learn anything after 50
The gal who I really think was just trying to be nasty when she said “You don’t look a day over 37.” (Thankfully, I was carded at Waitrose not long after that.)
Spilling a glass of water on my laptop. RIP Lenovo. Then, buying a new HP laptop too quickly without doing enough research. I liked my old Lenovo better. It was light! And it had a touch screen! And it was quiet. Now I have a honker of a laptop. Do you know they’re not making solid state hard drives in large sizes? So if you want 1 TB like I need, you’re screwed. Honker it is. 15.6 inches too! Ack. Also, the world wants you to move everything to The Cloud. I’m not sure how I feel about that.
What will 2017 bring? I’m trying to eat less, exercise more, see more of the world, and make more money off the internet. Also, romance. Let’s hope that all happens! Wish me luck and all the best for 2017!
Min Jiang, why haven’t I visited you before?? Maybe because you are in South Ken and I don’t really go west of Marble Arch BUT I may need to start making some exceptions. Because of you! Where else can I hang out with the South African rugby team (apparently they stay at the Royal Garden Hotel whenever they are in town) AND stuff myself with only two of my most favorite things in the world: dim sum and roast duck!
The views from Min Jiang over Hyde Park were stunning on the day we visited — London at its autumnal finest. In the distance, we could see all of London’s tall buildings. I could have sat in the bar forever, drinking Min Jiang’s excellent Mai Tais, and watching the leaves turn more golden and more brown.
Because the restaurant is a narrow space, it’s hard not to have a table with a view but should you book a table (and you should), make sure to ask for a table by the window because really, the views are that pretty. London, I forget how beautiful you are sometimes. (To be honest, I really don’t forget. But it’s still nice to be reminded.)
We did not choose our own food so you will have to rely on the detailed notes over on London Unattached for a complete list of everything we ate. Fiona very capably got the restaurant staff to point out what was arriving with each dish. I always find it a little odd when restaurants invite people like us in and then don’t provide us with any information about what we’re having and don’t seem to want us to take a menu either.)
Now, although I am slightly scolding Min Jiang for not being as prepared for us social media beings as they should have been, I have to say that I really, really, really loved our slightly omniscient server, who told us later in the meal that he’d been with Min Jiang for five years. He’s a keeper, that one.
As dim sum should be, our lunch started off with a veritable parade of dim sum. Soup dumplings, pot stickers, baked char siew puffs (can’t. stop. eating. them.), and an assortment of steamed dumplings. The highlight for me though was the yam croquette with seafood. I remember asking if it was taro and I could swear someone said yes so is taro yam? I had no idea! (LMGTFY…apparently, taro and yam are not exactly the same.)
While we were very happily demolishing all the dim sum, I kept wondering…where is the duck? What will the duck be like? When is the duck coming?
Our lovely server
And it came, along with a very shy chef who wasn’t too keen on having his photo taken. (That’s our server in the photo.) But suffice it to say the shy chef’s carving skills are excellent. The duck was — as duck is supposed to be — beautiful. Crispy skin, and darkly dark flavors.
While our shy chef was carving up the duck, I watched him take small choice bits that he carved from the neck and set them aside. These were presented to us along with a small bowl of sugar. If you’ve never considered dipping your duck in sugar, YOU REALLY SHOULD. It was pretty amazing. Stick a fork in me, I was done.
But we weren’t done! There was more! Was this one of the best days of my entire life? I wasn’t quite sure, but I was sure that if life on earth had ended at that moment — as it sort of had because the US election and had just happened and now Donald Trump would be the next president of the United States — I would have died a very happy woman. Tiger prawns, a beef dish, and some asparagus with lotus root completed our lunch.
And then they brought us dessert! Flaky egg tarts, cutesy sesame dumplings shaped like mice, and a little dessert wine too.
May all our meals be this delicious, this varied, and this interesting.
I have an idea for restaurants everywhere. Maybe, just maybe, you should do some analysis. How long does your average party of two take up a table? Your average party of four? Your tables that make reservations? Your tables that don’t make reservations? If you do this type of analysis, you will avoid treating your customers poorly.
Like Chick ‘n’ Sours did to me when I popped in at 12:20 pm on a Sunday, hoping for a quick lunch. I knew I’d be in and out in 45 minutes. I know myself well. I don’t know if you can believe this, but I’ve been feeding myself for over 40 years! Unless there was a problem in the kitchen — the restaurant’s fault, not mine — I would be quick. Very quick.
So I walked in off the street and asked for a table at a restaurant that doesn’t really seem like the type of place where you need a booking. I was led downstairs to an empty dining room. I lie. There were maybe two tables seated and it’s a pretty small dining room so it wasn’t empty. The host asked me “Where would you like to sit?”
“Well,” I responded, if you’re not too busy, I’d love a table.” (I prefer not to perch.)
Immediately, she responded. “Well…I don’t know…we have a lot of bookings today…I’ll have to check.”
Restaurants everywhere, don’t ask the question if it’s a false choice. And don’t make a big deal about this if your restaurant is still going to be half empty an hour later when I leave. (And for the record, I’d be the first person to take the bar if the restaurant were full.)
Why do restaurants prefer mysterious unknown **future** business over mysterious unknown business sitting **right in front of them**? Money, I know. But if they did the analysis I suggest, they would not freak out about these situations. I imagine a world in which they instead think, “Ah party of one. She’ll be done in 45 minutes. We’re usually pretty quiet between 12 and 1 pm. We’ll be fine.” I’ll chalk this one up to inexperience and move on.
I liked my fried chicken at Chick ‘n’ Sours (unphotogenic as it was) although maybe the xian xian spice was a little too subtle. I also REALLY liked my fried aubergine. And the wall of print blocks from an old printer in Manchester on the wall. And the light fixtures. Hipster central! And the music! I really liked the fun music.
The Verdict: Go, but make a booking and sit where they tell you to if you want to maximize their utility and forget about your own. Even when they are empty.
Guys, why didn’t we buy flats in Elephant & Castle years ago? We’ve been mocking it all these years BUT…have you been there lately? I think I want to move there. I mean, convenient transport links, a great name, AND a new awesome Italian supermarket with a mostly Italian food court that’s open every day but Monday! Oh, for it to be 2010 again…or maybe 2008 during the financial crisis. Why didn’t I buy property then?? Why???
So yeah, if I lived in Elephant & Castle, I would live at Mercato Metropolitano. It’s like Eataly, but without the bad typography (seriously awful use of white space) and stacks and stacks of panettone. I was about to ask when London was getting its Eataly when I found this article, that says that Mercato Metropolitano was started by one of the founders of Eataly. Oh, and that the Eataly/Selfridges deal has fallen through. So yey for Mercato Metropolitano! Long may it prosper. Maybe if we go there enough, Eataly will finally open a central London foodhall.
After a short walk from Elephant & Castle tube, I entered through MM’s grocery store, which is a long, narrowish space with seemingly no real place to check out except at the entrance. It’s like they really don’t want to take your money! Very odd. I thought for a moment that this was all Mercato Metropolitano had to offer until I made my way to the back yard and into the warehouse behind it. Oddly, a vegetarian stand, a Vietnamese stand, and an Argentinian grill greeted me. This was not what I expected. And there was no coffee…very very odd. (Although there was a little stand with a guy selling Sicilian pastries.)
I turn the corner again, and there it all it. Aha! Now I get it! There is wine and beer and fried things and cheese and more wine and paninis and all sorts of great things. There’s a stand with nothing but tuna! And they have a fat fresh big tuna with eyes so clear he (or she) must have just been plucked out of the Atlantic that morning. (Or well, have been frozen immediately two weeks ago.) They are sawing the tuna open and I peruse the menu while I watch and well, I want to eat everything but I can’t really so now I have to go back.
I order a pizza because…pizza. It’s the Pizza Fresca, which very clearly says that it has salume on it, but yet is also very clearly labeled as vegetarian. The pizza is a hot, bubbly delight although perhaps a little too much crust for my liking. I wish I had some olive oil or something because crust is just a little bleh otherwise. Also, I can confirm that pizza was definitely not vegetarian, unless laboratories worldwide have made amazingly meaty strides with tofu and seitan. It’s a very good pizza though.
I order a wondrously well-priced (5 quid) glass of white in the Enoteca, and snuggle in for a bit in the wooded Tirolean space. The seat covers are sort of like like those wooly rugs you buy at Ikea, but they will look dank and gray and matted in another three months so please, Enoteca, replace them regularly.
I take another wander around Mercato Metropolitano. I love it here. I want to come back. I will come back. It’s a great addition to London.
I was wandering around Shoreditch this past Saturday when it got to be lunch time and guys, it’s been a long since I had one of my old days of wandering. I love wandering around London. Everything is always changing! Curtain Road??!! Who’s been down Curtain Road lately? Can you gentrify gentrification? Because if so, it’s a-happening on Curtain Road.
So I had this idea in my head. I’d go to Tramshed. They’ve been closed lately (a fire?) and I figured I’d check out what’s new at Tramshed. But I never got there because I was walking down Rivington Street when I passed Santo Remedio, the Mexican place, and noticed that IT WAS CLOSED. Which is super sad. Because I liked Santo Remedio and I would have gone back for some tacos. Social media says they closed because of things outside of their control. What does that mean?? Stingy landlord? Council problems? In the absence of information, people start to make things up, don’t they? I was imagining all sorts of worst-case scenarios.
Santo Remedio wasn’t the reason why I never got to Tramshed, though. (Although I did stand there for a bit, wondering.) The reason why I never got to Tramshed was a guy named Munur, who was standing in the doorway next to Santo Remedio while I looked at the menu for a new looking place I was pretty sure was not there a month ago.
“We just opened three weeks ago,” he told me, and then launched into a very thorough explanation of all things Popolo.
“Great! Honestly, you don’t have to convince me! I’ll come in!” I said, as I took a place at the counter. (Cement counter, interestingly enough. Sorry, I notice these things.)
I was quickly introduced to everyone within eyesight. We talked about Santo Remedio. We talked about Instagrammers with 90,000 followers. (12 years people! 12 years and all I have is 900 Instagram followers!) I went back and forth on what I wanted for lunch. Pasta? More pasta? I’d just been to Italy! I’d just eaten at Frescobaldi! Who cares? I wanted more pasta. Butternut squash and sage ravioli, thank you. Also, did you say anchovy something? I’ll take that too. Perfect.
The squash ravioli, warm, comforting, autumnal.
The anchovy something (sorry), green, bitter (in a good way), and anchovy (in a very good way).
Delicious. Throughout, Tony the Spanish Bulgarian was there for everything I needed. Including that second glass of white wine, which I probably didn’t need.
And then…after I pretty much told everyone in the entire Popolo how much I did not like grouse, they brought me — surprise! — grouse cappelletti. And it was good. It was very good. Life was good. Popolo was very good. Shoreditch was good. And maybe I’m okay with grouse now. As long as it’s wrapped in pasta.
And no, I didn’t tell them that maybe their name was a little too close to Polpo. I thought about doing it. But I didn’t. And then my friend Lee told me she saw I was at Polpo earlier and I thought again about telling Popolo their name was too close to Polpo. But you know, choices people.
The Verdict: Go. And go soon! I think you will like it.
After a summer of working, working, working — where do the days go, my friends? — I am finally free for a bit. Hence my trips to Thailand and Venice, and hence my leisurely lunch with my friend John last Friday at Ristorante Frescobaldi off of Regent Street. Because you know, I haven’t eaten enough Italian food lately. Oh my goodness, the carbs.
John and I both made the same mistake at Frescobaldi — we tried to enter the restaurant from a corner of the building that is definitely not the entrance. So scan carefully as you approach. The entrance doesn’t seem to be where you might think it is. But once inside, everything is exactly where you’d expect it to be and THE CHAIRS. The chairs are amazing. I am immediately distracted by the chairs, they are so beautiful. Tables are spaced, well, spaciously, and you really get to see the chairs, which look Danish in their form. I spent a lot of time eyeing the chairs at Frescobaldi.
While I waited for John, I tried to order tap water. I tried three times before they actually brought me tap water and not bottled still water. I’m not into the miles or the price on bottled water when London tap water is totally a-ok.
The lunch special! That’s why we’re here. 25 quid for two courses from the very succinct lunch menu. Some lovely, lovely beef carpaccio for me to start…soft and delicious. And then the autumnal tagliatelle with mushrooms which I swear got more autumnal with every bite. Every bite. Many carbs were consumed — i.e., the entire bread basket — in making sure that tagliatelle plate was clean before it was returned to the kitchen. This was all washed down with a very affordable bottle of Frescobaldi’s own attractively-priced Chardonnay, a bottle that never seemed to end. Either that, or I am losing my ability to make half a bottle of Chardonnay magically disappear.
For a Friday afternoon, Frescobaldi was strangely empty during our visit. With the exception of the “Tap Water Incident,” service was prompt and friendly, although don’t mention Monica Lewinsky to them. (I, for one, am a fan of her anti-bullying agenda.) Ah…strangely amazing was the array of candy that was delivered to our table at the end of our meal. It’s like someone had run down to Sainsbury’s and picked up all the Halloween Candy they could. We ate it all, plus the homemade mini meringues and biscotti. I stumbled out of Frescobaldi in a glassy-eyed sugar coma. (John’s words, not mine.) Fascinating.
The Verdict: I like it here. I like the space, I like the chairs, I like the food, I like the wine, and I like the service. I don’t understand why there weren’t more people there. You should go.