Monthly Archives: July 2008
Last night I went to the London Bloggers’ Meetup Group’s Summer Social at Doggett’s Coat & Badge. The room we had overlooked the Thames, giving us a great view of the City’s skyline, from St Paul’s to The Gherkin, and the boats travelling up and down on the river below. Quite a few of us found ourselves leaning out the windows, snapping the great views. Peter, trusty camera in hand, even snapped the couple glued in sticky embrace on the other side of the road. (We’re pretty sure they didn’t notice.)
Stella Artois were the kind sponsors of the Social, providing us with ample free drinks and special Stella glasses with Stella USB sticks popped inside – just what a blogger needs in this sort of heat: something to drink from and something with memory. Andy Bargery announced the winners of the Stella Artois Star Over London airship trip… and I was one of them! Jason Mical of Edelman Digital then had a chat with the winners about the trip, which is booked for Friday 1st August – this coming Friday. Unfortunately, I will be in France with the in-laws, and I don’t think they’d understand if I cancelled them for an airship. Luckily, Jason is trying to find me an alternative date so I can still have that Indiana Jones moment in an airship above London, after all.
There’s so much more to tell, like the moment when I tried to introduce Paul to his girlfriend, Barbara, or the sharing of free alcohol tips… but I have a plane to catch.
Epicurienne is now officially on holiday. See you all next week!
When Monsieur and I returned to London after our holiday in Malaysia, it didn’t take long before we were craving Malaysian food, so off we went in search of good Malaysian eateries in London. Before too long, we found ourselves eating at Nyonya, a restaurant in Notting Hill.
Nyonya is a word used to describe Peranakan women, that is, women who are the offspring of Chinese and Malaysian parents. The Nyonya culture is prevalent in Melaka, with food rich in distinctive spices such as tamarind, so we were keen to try it out.
Nyonya sits at the busy junction of two roads, within easy walking distance of Notting Hill Gate tube. Patrons can see the traffic and passers-by from their seats behind the floor-to-ceiling windows and passers-by can gawp back at them, if they have time to be interested. The wipe-clean tables and simple stools inside are not conducive to leisurely meals, however. This is an enter-eat-pay-and-leave type of place, but as it doesn’t pretend to be otherwise, you can’t be offended by the brusque service. Nyonya is a restaurant which has absolutely zero atmosphere with a decor so incredibly practical that everything even FEELS a sterile white. So why do a pair of atmosphere-seekers like us keep going back?
The menu is one reason. From deep-fried dumplings to satay sticks of chicken with a delightful peanut sauce that has that ‘je ne sais quoi’ about it, or the coolness of the Kerabu prawns with a sweet chilli-imbued sauce. (‘Kerabu’ means ‘salad’ in Malay). The Hainanese chicken rice is a typical Nyonya dish, which arrives looking typically white and uninspiring, but transports us back to Malaysia in one taste. I usually go for a laksa or mee soup, using my chopsticks to fish for noodles and other ingredients in the steaming broth, whilst watching my neighbours consume their choices and making mental notes to order what they’re having on our next visit.
The freshness of the ingredients at Nyonya is a huge plus in its favour, as is the laid-back vibe (even if it is a bit bland). We also appreciate the speed with which the bill arrives once it’s asked for. We hate that moment where the table is cleared and you ask for the bill but suddenly the wait staff abandon you to twiddle your thumbs. It can be a case of the invisible patron the instant you stop ordering food. Well, there’s definitely no risk of that happening at Nyonya. Masses of warmth and engagement, no. Speed and efficiency, yes. So much so that we often combine a quick bite at Nyonya with a trip to the cinema because we know won’t be kept waiting.
Monsieur and I still haven’t tried the kuih-kuih, a traditional dessert made from a family recipe, but we’ll give it a whirl next time. For now, I remember the driver who took us to our hotel in Melaka. “what do you like to eat?” I asked him. His reply was a veritable menu of dishes made with pineapple. I know he’d approve of Nyonya. They use pineapple in at least two of their mains.
2A Kensington Park Road, Notting Hill, London, W11 3BU, T 020 7243 1800
Monsieur and I didn’t take long to unwind at the Pelangi Beach Resort, but we can’t sit still for long so soon we found ourselves reading the large, wooden activities board near the Horizon Pool. On the board hung signs bearing the names of the various activities that were available that day, with start time and meeting point information.
The list included windsurfing, kayaking, feeding the eagles for which Langkawi is known and named, and a kiddie club. There were also details for a number of tours including island hopping and a kayaking trip through the mangroves to visit a real, live bat cave.
I later found that the windsurfers were either broken or mismatched with ill-fitting sails, but that didn’t worry us as we’re not exactly World Champion windsurfers. Monsieur’s eyes had brightened at the thought of the bat-cave kayaking adventure, so we booked ourselves in, only to cancel at the last minute because we would have had to leave at the crack of dawn one morning, which defeated the purpose of winding down. In any case, the idea of puddling about in mud with mosquitoes aplenty and a visit to a cave full of scary bats with their ammonia-stinking urine was not particularly alluring, so I wasn’t exactly sorry, as it was already clear that boredom wasn’t to be an issue at Pelangi.
Monsieur booked a golf outing at one of the island’s courses while I bought a ticket for an island-hopping excursion. About a dozen of us squeezed onto a smallish boat with canopy and the skipper instructed us to put on life jackets. Then out to sea we went. The sea was calm until we were a reasonable distance out from shore and that’s when the motor revved and we started skipping across the choppy water like an unwieldy pebble. It was the sort of bouncing that pushed your breath out of you each time the boat thudded downwards and being a prepare-for-the-worst sort of person, I started to watch the current in case we capsized and I had to swim for shore. This didn’t feel safe at all. Even the lifejackets were faded with age. I thought of Monsieur and how wise he’d been to select a landlubber activity today.
After around fifteen interminable minutes we entered a large bay on our first island destination, slowing down as we approached the pier on Pulau Dayang Bunting. This name means ‘Island of the Pregnant Maiden’ and, although it’s the second largest island in the Langkawi archipelago, it is uninhabited. Only day-trippers visit here as there is nowhere to spend the night.
As we walked up a hill through the island’s jungle, an Englishman chatted to me. Sixtyish with a shock of short, white hair and the tan, lean body of someone who enjoys the tropics, he gave me a travel tip:
“I don’t bring a proper bag on these days out,” he began, shaking his white plastic bag at me,
“Just a towel and some basics in my wallet, like my room key and some cash. I leave everything else back at the hotel. That way, I have very little to lose.”
Hmmm. So much for the smug smile at the end of that statement. It would seem that the monkeys of this island were listening to my new English companion because, just as we reached the top of the hill overlooking the Lake, a light-pawed macaque jumped out of nowhere, grabbing the plastic bag out of the Englishman’s hand and carrying it deftly up a tree. Once on a branch safely out of our reach, he turned the bag upside down, spilling the Englishman’s few items all over the jungle floor. All, that is, except for the wallet. This monkey was smart.
The entire group stopped to help retrieve the towel, a spectacles case and a water bottle, but there was no hope of getting the wallet back. The monkey was now assessing its contents with the concentration of a seasoned thief. Receipts tumbled out of the tree, but no cash and no room card. Nope, he was keeping those. The monkey’s next trick was to nibble the wallet with relish. He wasn’t giving back his tasty new prize. No way. We waited some time to see if the macaque would grow bored of the wallet and let it fall to a place where we could retrieve it, but in the end the Englishman gave up.
“At least there’s nothing of importance in there,” he sighed, “just fifty Ringgits. The hotel can always make me a new room key when I tell them what happened.”
Down at the Lake of the Pregnant Maiden, people were already swimming. To one side of a timber platform bordering the dark green water was a small snack shop filled with soft drinks and plastic inflatable toys, providing a splash of synthetic colour in an otherwise natural haven. On a short pier, a man was hiring out canoes and pedalo boats, which looked like fun. All I wanted to do, however, was swim off the trickles of sweat coursing all over my body. First I had to get my clothes off without attracting too much more attention from my New Best Friend. The Englishman made me feel a bit uncomfortable but there was no shaking him off my trail. It was my fault. I’m not rude enough. It seemed he’d adopted me for the day and the lack of a Blatantly Direct gene in my DNA meant I found it impossible to tell him to go away. Luckily I already had my swimsuit on under my shorts and tee shirt as the way he was looking at me and the other girls in their swimwear was just a tad too interested. Trying not to attract any more attention, I whisked off my outer garments and jumped into the water without hesitation. For the moment was safe from pervy old eyes. Then I remembered the legends of the Lake.
The first concerns its magical properties which apparently make barren women fertile. The guidebook said that one couple finally conceived after nineteen years of trying, once the woman had swum in the Lake. The second legend says that a giant, white crocodile lives here and as the water wasn’t exactly transparent, I suddenly wanted out because I couldn’t see my feet and my feet couldn’t touch the bottom. I needed desperately to see my feet.
Hauling myself up a ladder and pulling a towel around me, I sat on the edge of the platform, chatting with some of the other island hoppers. As we shared our experiences of this fascinating country, I looked across the Lake at the dense foliage wrapping itself around the water. The tree shapes looked familiar, but why? Suddenly it hit me. They were exactly like giant florets of broccoli.
In the afternoon heat, I soon dried off and we returned to the boat to hop across to another island. This time, we wouldn’t be going ashore; we stayed floating still in the bay, watching a large group of eagles feeding. The skipper threw some food out into the water near our boat and suddenly the sky filled in a Hitchcock-esque way, with formidable, circling birds. Then, one by one, they swooped down to the water to pick up some food before swooping upwards again.
These were eagles, which have a special relationship with Langkawi, for the word, ‘Langkawi’ means ‘red eagle’. From the looks of things, these were white-bellied fishing eagles, not red eagles, but I wasn’t about to nit-pick. Seeing these intelligent birds in action was quite something.
The last island on the hopping list was known for its beautiful, white sandy beach. I wanted to read, but the Englishman wanted to tell me all about his life in England as a language books publisher. I went to the bar for beers. As the Englishman wasn’t going anywhere and had no money on him following the macaque attack, I shouted him a drink in the interests of anaesthetising myself against his drone.
It was hot on the beach. Having exhausted his life-story for the moment, the Englishman invited me to swim with him, but I declined, watching my companion with amusement as he stripped down to his shorts, sucked in his belly and strutted in the most macho fashion he could muster down to the water. He turned to flash an appraising grin at every girl he passed. Obviously, this was a man with the hormones of a teenager.
Eventually we made it back to the resort and I was relieved to bid farewell to the Englishman. On the final leg of our boat trip he’d been chattering away inanely about his ‘friends’ who sing each night in the Pelangi Lounge, suggesting that Monsieur and I might like to join him one evening to watch their act.
“Yes, of course!” I nodded, “that would be fun!” I lied, cursing my inability to tell him that never, ever would I knowingly inflict his superior inappropriateness on Monsieur.
On the way back to our chalet it struck me that there’s a live one like the Englishman wherever you travel: a bit lonely, a bit leery and a bit too full of Heinz baked beans. It’s impossible to put your finger on exactly what’s wrong with them, but there’s a vibe that goes with a whiff of testosterone, and instinct says that they’re travelling alone so they can take home a different sort of souvenir: a wife.
They’ve also challenged us to describe our local watering hole in 150 words or less, stating the reasons that keep us going back, sooooo I wrote a poem. No one said the competition entry couldn’t be in poetry… then again, none of the other entrants has waxed lyrical about a pub throughout their entire entry. So far, that is. The closing date is Friday 25th July, so perhaps there’ll be more poems by then.
Below you will see my entry, referring to Gordon Ramsay’s Warrington Pub, which is located altogether too close to our home. I love it there. It has an amazing polychromic front porch decorated with stunning art nouveau tiles, and a beautiful old double-sided bar in carved mahogany. Thank heavens it didn’t go All Bar One on us. We should treasure our old beauties like the Warrington. There’s altogether too much sanding of pub floorboards going on.
Before you find out what the competition prize is, I must now subject you to my first ever attempt at poetic pub reviewing:
The No-F-Words Warrington
The Warrington Pub down on Warrington Crescent’s
The local I frequent for R ‘n’ R.
The specialness lies in its Olde Worlde presence –
So different from cloned and identikit bars.
Last year it closed for some renovation,
As stellar chef, Ramsay, acquired the deeds.
For patrons whose interest is mastication,
The Warrington’s back feeding everyone’s needs.
It hasn’t gone posh with pretentious infection;
Builders swig next to the girls wearing Choos.
The staff will advise on your beverage selection
Whilst fielding your questions on Big Gordon’s news.
From dressed Cornish crab to a Casterbridge Ribeye
The Warrington should seldom disappoint.
The fishcakes are gourmet, they surely ain’t Birdseye
And old-fashioned bar snacks help add to this joint.
The only thing marring my Warrington visits –
A lack of expletives directed at chefs.
The atmosphere calm, there are no flying trivets
Or verbal abuse freely peppered with effs.
THAT’s precisely why I decided to enter this competition. I’ve always wanted to travel by airship. There’s something so Indiana Jones about it.
Following a week of city crowds, adjusting to the time difference and constant movement, the Pelangi Beach Resort offered us some relaxation before returning to ever-chaotic London. It was perfect and soul-soothing to be there. Gone were the honking cars and traffic jams, there were no throngs of people to contend with and the surrounds were stunning at worst. The relative silence of Pelangi was only broken by birds cawing for tidbits of food or the surf meeting the white sand of the beach.
The breeze from the sea was just right, too; not too strong, but cooling without being cold. The days were pleasantly warm but never overbearingly hot or humid. The resort staff were pleasant to deal with and as we walked about the grounds, not a single hotel employee hesitated to greet us with a cheery hello and warm smile. They answered any questions we may have with efficiency and genuine interest and we experienced no pressure to buy when asking about local trips and tours. For once, commission was not king.
From our beach loungers we watched planes coming and going from the nearby airport, but even they seemed to lack their usual peace-disturbing repertoire of engine thrust noise or the sounds of landing gear going up or down. Altogether, Pelangi was impressing peace upon us.
Following our first dinner by the beach, we decided to try out the mini-bar rather than sit in the hotel bar. This way, we could sit on the lanai overlooking the lake and take further advantage of the quiet here. The beer in the mini-bar cost a mere 4RM each so we settled into our chairs on the balcony to sip on a Tiger or two.
The soft light was a magnet for a family of lizards. I observed them, entranced, remembering a childhood home where there were lizards to play with. I’ll never forget the day my parents pulled up an old carpet, ready for replacement, only to find the skeletons of lizards that had found their way under it but perished there, unable to escape. Luckily, the Pelangi lizards stayed on the wall. If they’d come any closer to us, Monsieur would probably have sent them to lizard heaven with one clomp of his shoe. He has no time for cold-blooded creatures, preferring mammals, like me.
In the night air around us, black shadows flitted about at some velocity. These were the dreaded bats of the region, well, dreaded by me at least. Then strange splashing sounds floated up from the lake itself. They must have been fish rising to the surface for a gulp of air, but it was too dark to see. By day, the splashing sounds continued, although I never saw any fish myself, as the opaque green of the water hid them too well.
One morning, Monsieur and I decided to forego the breakfast at the restaurant in favour of room service on our lanai. As we were splurging, I chose pancakes with maple syrup and plates of watermelon and pineapple. Well, when the tray arrived the fruit plates were loaded up with massive quantities, not at all representative of the modest prices on the menu.
As I set the table for the breakfast banquet, a family of ducks spotted me from across the lake, speeding across the water to quack at us with what I imagine were duck-ese demands for food. Meanwhile, cheeky yellow-billed birds squawked as they jumped with their trampoline feet on and off the balcony.
Of all the lanais around the lake, ours was the only one being used for breakfast so it felt as if we had the entire place to ourselves. As for our neighbours, they were definitely missing a beat. How could breakfast elsewhere be more peaceful that on this beautiful little lake? It’s hardly surprising that Pelangi is the Malay word for rainbow, and this place is surely the pot of gold.
This post is dedicated to Wise Woman of Wandsworth, who recently moved to career pastures new.
Thursdays are Farmers’ Market days in Hammersmith, where my day job is situated, and that means falafels for lunch. Former colleague, Wise Woman, may have left sunny Ham-Wham behind, but she hasn’t forgotten Falafel Thursday. Yesterday she signed off an e-mail with “Enjoy the falafel stall today.”
So here’s what all the fuss is about:
Believe me when I say that this is a short queue. People wait for ages for one of these delicious falafel wraps, the line of patrons snaking around Lyric Square. Some of my colleagues fetch their falafels at midday, to avoid the lunchtime rush. I wait until 3pm to pick mine up. You see? Our Thursday afternoon schedules are now dictated by falafels. In case you’re wondering, they are worth every moment of queuing or inconvenience.
So what’s in these wraps to make them so special? A warm flatbread is topped with fresh lettuce, tomatoes, chopped green chillies and cucumber before being drizzled liberally with mayonnaise and chilli sauce. Then the falafel balls, straight from the fryer, are squashed around the rim. Rolled together tightly in a twist of paper, they’re fresh and healthy with a mini-explosion of heat from the sauce and chillies. They’re also satisfactorily filling considering they cost £2.50 for a small or £3.00 for a large. Mind you, even though that’s inexpensive for a healthy lunch in London, yesterday a man behind me in the queue said “gosh, falafels are a lot cheaper in Iraq!” Yes, well they would be, wouldn’t they?
Every so often on a Saturday, I’ll trek across town (and the Thames) to shop at Borough Market, always returning with enough food to feed a small European state and cursing at the lack of space in the refrigerator. If you love food, it’s a great day out. If you don’t love food, it’s still a fascinating experience, but honestly, who doesn’t love food?
Apparently, Borough Market in its first incarnation was already in existence when the Ancient Romans built the first London Bridge. That makes me scratch my head in absolute wonderment. The Borough Market of today has existed on the present site for the past two and a half centuries. Let’s work that out… So people have been shopping here at the ‘modern’ Borough Market, since Robert Adam was alive and well, with his buildings popping up all over the place, and when George III was on the throne, only not quite properly bonkers yet.
On a recent visit to Borough Market, we bought bread from the bread stall that sells everything from baguettes to heavy, round loaves baked with rosemary and rock salt, olives, sundried tomatoes and other delicious flavours.
Then we moved on to a chocolate stall where massive blocks of pure wickedness stood in ultimate temptation as crowds pushed their way to the front of the queue.
Next door we found truffles in all sorts of exotic varieties, including vodka and orange and pink champagne.
Through the crush of foodies and tourists we found a friendly Cockney shouting out deals on his strawberries “Two for a pound!” (that’s punnets, not individual strawberries. If London ever gets that expensive, it’s definitely time to move).
Our noses twitched as we moved towards the seafood stalls where fresh fish, prawns and scallops in their shells sit on cooling beds of ice.
Next it was time to pick up some Belgian beer at the shop where shelves groan beneath a library of both imported varieties and English ales. I love Kriek, so a couple of bottles went into the bag.
As we rounded a corner, there was a busker singing incredibly badly into a microphone. His spot under a railway bridge echoed the already deafening assault on our ears so we walked quickly away, in search of lunch. En route, the busker’s straining voice was replaced by the tinkling jingle of an ice cream van.
Behind the van stands Southwark Cathedral, home to the Bad Bishop who got a bit confused after a few Christmas drinks, inadvertently stealing a car on his way home but conveniently unable to remember everything due to an alcoholic haze. (Do read the Bad Bishop link. For a story regarding a man of the cloth, this is too funny…)
Then, fatigued from the crowds and our now heavy shopping bags, we retreated for lunch at Fish.
For first-time visitors to Borough Market, be warned: it heaves with visitors. But all that crush is worth it for the atmosphere and friendly stall-holders who’ll talk for ages about their organic ostrich steaks or unusual spice blends and how to use them. It is, however, a costly excursion so unless you can afford to get carried away, it’s probably wise to stick to a budget and remind yourself that no, your fridge is not the white-wear equivalent of a tardis for food storage.
Nearest tube: London Bridge (make sure you take the Borough exit)