Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Barbecoa: where you can steak it easy

Barbecoa is Jamie Oliver's collaboration with steakhouse/barbecue legend Adam Perry Lang. It's pretty much a celebration of traditional cooking from all over the world using fire. Think smoking, grilling, tandoors and everything barbecued. Sounded like my kind of restaurant so we decided to give it a go.

Located at One New Change opposite St. Paul's Cathedral, the L-shaped restaurant is designed by Tom Dixon nonetheless. Walking into the restaurant, we were greeted by red sofas surrounding tables that reminded me of diners and fast food chains. I had a flashback of Gladiators and those kiddie gyms my mother used to put me while she shopped around the mall. But I thought this is fine dining? Thankfully we were escorted to a better looking area with an amazing view of the church and its famous dome. This is more like it. Further down, two caged booths waited for their VIP 7.30 special occasion diners. Very much a date place.

Our server was called Aute who looked half-Finnish, half-gift from God and 100% yum. He went on about the night's specials which included fish and poultry. I couldn't care less because he had me at 'Would you like some wine?' prime rib. I let my friends order everything as I was too busy giggling like a schoolgirl. Ew.

We had two starters to share, the calamari (£10) and the roast baby veg salad (£8). The calamari was so-so. Understand that squid is one of the relatively pricier ingredients in the market but ten quid for a measly piece feels too much. I could've gone to a Chinese takeaway, paid half for triple the quantity and enjoyed it more. The veg salad was heaps better. It seemed simple but the ingredients were well thought of. Every forkful was pretty exciting. You get sweetness from carrot and beet, boldness from salsify, creaminess from avocado and curd cheese, and punches of freshness from mint. I wish we had two of these instead.

Lamb leg, zolfini beans, rocket, tomato sauce
I didn't like how C's lamb was presented because I'm not a fan of stacking meat on soft/mushy sides. However, the sear on the meat looked great and when she cut through, it was a beauty to look at. The smell wafted towards me and though I'm not a fan of zolfini beans, I think I'd try this one next time for myself (beans on the side).

Specials that night included prime rib (market price). My friends P and T decided to share 900g (apparently good for two people) of British born and bread beef. I was really excited about this meal because I love my steak.
Steaking it easy on me.
The steak came in a big plate which made it look like a small portion. It looked like an easy feed until I carried it for a photo op and realised we were in for a feast. It came sliced which isn't usually how I like steak served (unless carved tableside!) because I enjoy seeing the juice ooze out when I cut it myself. Nevermind - we were sharing anyway and perhaps they thought about this. I like steak plain and lightly seasoned and this one was quite good. The meat was tender and was already delicious on its own that I really didn't care much for the sides (mashed potatoes, creamed spinach at £4 each). It's not the best steak I've ever had, but it did hit a spot.

There was so much of it! The server told us it's usually good for two people so I thought P, T & I would easily devour the whole thing, but we did leave a little bit because we were getting full. My excuse was dessert...

Desserts come at £8 each and we had two - the banana split (caramelised wafer, butterscotch praline, chocolate sauce & vanilla ice cream) and the vino santo rose cake (with candied vanilla lemons, crystallised rose petals, creme fraiche). The banana split came with a slice of walnut cake which was a surprise. I wish they'd put it down in the description because I'm not a fan - plus if people had nut allergies, they'd be dead by now. It was just okay, over all. I don't remember getting excited about this dish, even if it was all so chocolatey.

The vino santo cake was more exciting. The cake itself wasn't so bad although it was a bit dry. But when you eat it with all the components it comes alive beautifully. The candied lemons were really yummy and I wish they had more of those crystallised rose petals. Yum.

The whole dining experience was pretty cool. The food could be a tad bit better for what you pay, but to be honest the ambience kinda makes up for it. The first hint of 'Oooh this is pretty schwankey...' subsides after seeing the red sofas, and once you're at your table the good old 'laidback Jamie restaurant' feel comes back. Our servers were all friendly (and *cough*goodlooking*cough*) and knowledgeable about which wines to pair our food with. There's an intimidating amount of lovers on dates but it's also a decent place for friends to hang out too.

20 New Change  City of London, EC4M 9AG | 020 3005 8555
Average spend £60 pp for starters, mains, dessert & wine
Barbecoa on Urbanspoon

Monday, 16 January 2012

Fries, hot fudge and grandma.

Forgive the platform knee-highs and the mullet of hair.

Well what do you know, it's Monday and I'm having a grand D-Day. The ultimate therapy for days like today would be a large serving of fries and a hot fudge sundae from Maccas. Oh, and a warm comfy hug from my grandmother.

When I was in third grade, my grandmother visited from England. I couldn't take days off school so my cousin J and his then girlfriend JR would pick us up after class and we'd all catch up over snacks at the local Maccas. I'd always order a large portion of fries with a side of  hot fudge sundae for dipping, a combination my grandma didn't understand. I tried to feed her some and though she said it tasted fine, she never had any more.

Forgive the sweaty hair and suspenders that scream camel toe.

During one of those runs, J and JR told us they were no longer together. This was bad news. They were my first window to teenage relationships and I was a huge fan of their partnership. I loved them as a couple, more than I loved Ethan Hawke and Winona Ryder or Sailormoon and Tuxedo Mask (it was a big thing then!). They'd been going out for seven years and I looked up to their relationship thinking (and secretly hoping) one day I'll have what they had. JR had been a steady fixture in my life and was like a sister. The thought of her being gone was a stab (and three twists) to the core of my  heart. I had a proper tantrum, bawled and started throwing fries off the table. *hic* Why *hic*hic* did *ohuhuhuh* you *hic* breakuppp?!?! Whyyyyy?! I was an inconsolable mess and people started looking.

Grandma took me back to the car to calm me down. She held me and gave me a proper talk about love and relationships. She said there were a lot of things I wouldn't understand until I actually experience them myself. But they HAVE to be together, I cried. She gently stroked my pigtails and said that sometimes all we had to do was accept how some things are just not meant to be. That every time a heart breaks it would feel worse but it would heal better, especially when you pray for it. But what could be worse than this?! I wailed. She looked pensive for a bit and then she went on to tell me it hurts how her husband passed away before having the chance to meet her wonderful grandkids, but she gets by because seeing us makes it all better. I didn't get it then. But it felt like a good time to hug Grandma, so I did.

Glastonbury 2011.

J and JR stepped in the car and as we drove off I prayed they'd get back together (they did, but they ended it for good years later). On the way home, U2's Bad blared through J's speakers. I was too young to understand that it was actually about heroin addiction, but something about the song and the afternoon moved me. And as I snuggled deeper in my Grandma's arms, everything felt a bit better. Except I wish I didn't throw my fries away.

18 years(!!!) later J's happily married to a wonderful woman and I've had my fair share of lessons on love/relationships. Everything seems to be where it should be. Grandma was right. Some things are not meant to be but it will always be better when you find which ones are. And though it can be difficult to move on from routines and accept endings, you can always start anew by finding comfort in people who love you unconditionally. And a serving of fries and hot fudge sundae.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012


Still hungover from the Filo NYE revelry and i'm absolutely loving the Philippine Department of Tourism's recent #itsmorefuninthephilippines campaign. It makes me miss the motherland more than ever, but seeing photos with the tag line makes me want to do cartwheels and fist pumps all over. My friends here are so amazed and are now very curious about the country. Filos are so creative and so much fun! Haha! Ang ganda naman kasi talaga ng Philippines e!

Here's a few homemade ones from old photos when I was at home:
The Farm at San Benito
Mt. Samat Shrine, Bataan

Legendary spotting: Greenhills, San Juan

Nasugbu, Batangas
Mariveles, Bataan
Dampa sa Libis, Quezon City

Mariveles, Bataan
SM Megamall, Manila
Musicapella '07, UP Diliman Theater
Malate, Manila
Dampa sa Libis
I'm really excited about this campaign. I do hope this can finally put the Philippines in one of the favourite travel destinations in Asia.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Mixed Tape Series: Angus & Julia Stone - Chocolates and Cigarettes

Living on a diet of chocolates & cigarettes
I wanna call you again

Heya. Just wanted to chat. I'm so tired. I've had a really bad day and I'm in the mid-
Hello!!! You're line's cracking.
Hello?! Can you hear me? I said I've had a bad day and I'm so tired.
I can't hear you! Hello?!
*sigh* Don't worry about it.
Have you had dinner yet? Hello? Hello?

I'll drink tea sometimes when it's cold
This is getting old

My sun rises when yours sets. There are fleeting moments in between when I feel like we're on the same side of the world, traipsing through the dormancy of coincidence like bloody geniuses discovering a cure. For a while I let contentment consume me. Until we're on different poles again.

And then I realise we're both where we should be.

Everybody's wishing for no more mistakes
And all that I can think about is you

Hello. Can you hear me?

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Guilty as pop

Taking a break from expanding my house/dubstep/indie library as I've been called a music snob by a dear friend (who remains dear, even though she has judged me on my musical taste). We had small talk about Promise This; I said the original was Adele's, she insisted Cheryl Cole's. Of course she was right, but I can't help but chuckle cos the cover was heaps better. I went on to download Cheryl's version (for archiving purposes!!!) and realised I only have 16 pop tracks after getting my hard drive fixed. I've never been a massive fan of pop but even for archiving purposes, 16 tracks = shameful. I mean, I do get how the stuff evokes a certain feel of cheer and, in some ways, a sense of belonging. And for crying out loud I watch (and enjoy) Glee! So now I'm on a mission. *teehee*

Thank God DJ Earworm's provided us with a starting platform. He's a mashup maestro and he makes listening to mainstream/Top 40 tunes rather fun. Here's the 2011 release of his annual United State of Pop called World Go Boom:

I like it heaps better than the 2010 one, Don't Stop The Pop:

And I think it's miles better 2009's super cheesy Blame It On The Pop:

It's noticeable that the same artists seem to dominate the pop charts for the past couple of years, aye? I wonder if that's a good thing, or if it's time for some new blood. *cough*

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Countdown 2012: A Filipino Party

The last time I've been to a Filipino party outside the Philippines was in 2007 when my dad & I attended a family friend's party. Most of the guests were Filo, but as it was a Fil-Italian household with Mediterranean/Hispanic/Eurasian children it wasn't the same as the ones we have at home.

What's a typical Filo party abroad like though? You'd expect:
  • At least three dashes to the dining table. Full meals each time.
  • A lot of hyperactive children.
  • Drinks of all sorts. Including exotic flavoured fruit juices and 'special' punch.
  • 'Drunken uncle' jokes.
  • Dancing dancing dancing.

C invited me to her family's New Year's Eve party to celebrate and I was happy to come because I missed out on the Filo warmth this year. Her boyfriend B was around too. B's Chinese and had his first Noche Buena with them last Christmas and he was spending Media Noche with them too - good fun!

We started off with bubbly and nibbles at her new flat in South Wimbledon which was pretty. She moved in late 2011 and it's all coming together. So proud of her!

Before driving to her parent's home C told me that there would be heaps of people as her 'extended' family would be there. When she opened the door my jaw dropped as the living room was packed with kids, teens and adults. I was immediately introduced as 'Auntie' to the kids who gave me proper warm hugs while the adults acknowledged me with smiles that really lit the room up. In less than five minutes my jaw was hurting from smiling so much.

C grabbed me to the dining area where I almost jumped in glee. The spread was amazing and lo and behold, the centrepiece was a proper LECHON! She explained that everyone cooked and literally brought something to the table. Media noche involved kare-kare, bistek, menudo, mixed seafood, garlic prawns, tokwa & baboy, arroz caldo, leche flan, ube halaya, bibingka, lasagna (for kids). C & B made banoffee pie (yum) whilst I brought wine (yikes! Next time I promise to cook something).

The kids were so adorable. They were all born here so they all have Brit accents. I particularly loved the youngest kid who was so meek and so cute! Holding the kids and chatting to them made me miss my sister, my niece and my nephew in Manila. 

We watched the fireworks on telly and had our own. The kids had sparklers while the ladies had horns. Loud!

No - we didn't have karaoke which was a relief because contrary to what people believe, not all Filipinos can sing (*points to self*). We did, however, had a riot when the adults let loose and turned the living room into a dance floor - rotating disco lights and all. The ladies had steps for tunes like Price Tag, Doncha, Smack That etc. There was a showdown between one of C's mom's gay friend (s/he was really really good!) and the men. Laughtrip, super but it was really good seeing them have fun. Most of them work with C's mum in the hospital so they don't really get to go out as much because they have busy shifts and kids to look after.

It was the first time I've spent a holiday like this as a guest in someone else's house so I didn't expect to feel at home the way I did. I was surrounded by strangers but they were so welcoming that I almost forgot I've only met them that night. I was filled with memories of how I enjoyed NYE parties with my own family and friends in Manila. My jaw had a massive hangover from OD-ing on smiles and laughs.

You may call me biased when I say that NOTHING seriously beats Filo hospitality - but I suggest you hang out with Filos before you do. ;)