Friday, 24 August 2012

East Street: where adobo put Philippines on the map

When I talk to friends about cities we've visited, travel guide pleasantries are usually trumped by conversations about food. More than 'Which tourist spot is the best?' we've discussed (and debated) food experiences, ie cities with the best food markets and where to find the best oysters/gelato/steak, the most unusual dessert and the best hotel breakfast spread, the perfect thing to eat on a picturesque countryside and even the most delicious bizarre eats on earth.

I've realised that some of the most exciting dishes I've had whilst travelling weren't served on fancy china, but rather on paper plates or skewers, plastic cups or serviettes. I liked the concept of food markets and street food because you have more choice, and you get a better feel of discovering a city's culture.

East Street down Fitzrovia boasts of fusion signature dishes and street food from the Far East. A friend said they served the usual South East Asian cuisine ie Thai, Viet, Japanese, Malay, Chinese but she also said they have stuff from the Philippines. Really?! Awesome! As previously blogged, Philippine cuisine is the poster child of 'fusion' food but it also has neat tricks up its sleeve (which may not be everyone's cuppatea, if I'm being frank). I was pretty curious whether East Street nailed the mark on Asian street food, although I didn't think they'd actually serve stuff like isaw or sisig. This is England after all.

I went with my friend A. We walked in and were greeted by tables laid canteen-style, plastic stools and a lot of stall signs on the ceiling. Tables are adorned with Asian condiments like Sriracha, fish sauce and ketjap manis. Unpainted walls were stamped with foreign currency, posters, cards and what not. It does have that hawker centre/food market vibe and I felt like a backpacker in work clothes. Off to a good start then?

It was only befitting that the paper mat design was a map of Asia. I remember having to memorize the world map in grade school (we had to name the countries on a blank map). I got all excited when I saw Philippines so I hurriedly checked which Filo dishes they had to offer on the menu. I immediately saw adobo which wasn't a surprise.

But then I realised that while the menu was peppered with food from our neighboring countries, adobo was the only Philippine dish they had. I was woosah-ing my disappointment. I'm glad the restaurant advertises an offering of food from the country... but they only had one, which meant they really had to nail it to absolute perfection. A, curious about Philippine flavours, was still excited to try the adobo but I decided to get something else.

We shared the BBQ Platter to start which is a mix of chargrilled satay and yakitori chicken skewers, sesame prawns and bulgogi. I wasn't really blown away by the selection to be honest (the satay sauce was a bit dry and the chicken was bland) but at £10.50, this was a bargain (and practically the most expensive thing on the  food menu, too!) You can have it as a main if you're really hungry or you can share it with someone else as a starter.

A's adobo (£7.50) didn't look like typical adobo you get in the Philippines. First thing I noticed was the garnish of sweet potato 'slices' which resembled crisps from a packet. It looked bizarre to be on the same plate. The adobo was so-so and I assume it's because they used chicken breast instead of boned chicken parts which have the best flavour. A said she liked it, but I found it rather bland. It was quite soy sauce and bay-heavy and was missing the peppery, tangy taste a good adobo should have. I promised A I'll make her better adobo at some point.

I went for the ga xe phay (£7.75) which is a Vietnamese salad of grilled chicken and shredded veggies in a lime and peanut oil dressing. I've asked them to make it spicy so I was pretty happy to see chopped chilies tossed around. It was quite a refreshing dish. The serving was massive and the salad was very filling. Flavour wise, it was just okay - nothing Sriracha can't sort.

We were too full for dessert, so we skipped.

If I'm being absolutely honest I wasn't moved by East Street. But I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt - perhaps we were let down by our choices. It's still proving to be a popular cheap eat and people have been raving about other things on the menu. Maybe next time. Maybe.

East Street Restaurant
3-5 Rathbone Place London W1T 1HJ | +44(0)20 7323 0860
Ave spend pp £20 for three courses, sides and drinks
East Street Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 16 August 2012

I *heart* LDN

"I came to London. It had become the center of my world
and I had worked hard to come to it. And I was lost." 
- An Area of Darkness, VS Naipul 

The Olympic Games have come and gone along with the tourists, the easy underground travel and the meager sunshine. News feeds are back to miserable reports on the economic and political changes replacing the Brit rah-rah parade of medals. Ah, yes. London is back to normal and I'm left in thought. Watching the opening and closing ceremonies made me feel quite proud and humbled at the same time. The world had their eyes on this city for all two weeks and the build up was just as well-played. Kinda similar to my status here.

I've printed off my visa extension application earlier this week and it dawned on me that I've been in the UK for six years now. Surreal. I still remember the day I left/arrived: how anti-climactic and comedic it was when my mom thought some cameramen were shooting our goodbye-cryfest for an actual TV special (they were there for Judy Anne Santos); the guy I met and hung out with during my layover in Dubai who was doing his MBA in LBS (turned out to be my seatmate too!); the gorgeous weather on my arrival; how lonely I felt on my first night.

Whilst doing my course I spent a year in beautiful beachy Bournemouth with family which I will always be grateful for. It would’ve been a very comfortable and easy life if I’d stayed in town after I finished but that would’ve defied the point of taking the big leap. I wanted a challenge, and as most kids fresh off university, I wanted to be in the capital. I wanted to be consumed by the labyrinth of markets, museums, boutiques, hotels, bars, restaurants and people.

In one of the summers we visited England, the family visited London and I took it all in: the pretty blocks of listed buildings, the signs of monarchy, the grand blitz of people in grey and black, the utterance of 'Oh-er hello-er, so-er sorry-er.' in queues. Something came over me that day and it was in a Maccas by Trafalgar Square that I realised what it was. I was in love, and living in the city grew into an itch I had to scratch. So when I finished all familial obligations in Manila and in Bournemouth after graduation I moved to smoky, populous London.

I got lost in London’s metropolitan haze. Alternative Camden. Artsyfartsy South Kensington/Notting Hill. Hip, urban Brixton. Cosmopolitan Shoreditch and hipster Islington. Glorious food heaven in Southbank. Ethnic and vintage finds in Brick Lane and Spitalfields. Flamboyant bars in Soho. Europe in Covent Garden. The mass focus of the West End vs the serious note of legal Chancery Lane vs the commercial interests of the Square Mile. Park life. Everywhere you turn is an adventure or an adjective on its own. It's exactly what I expected it to be.

Londoners are brilliant: from the slick-suited City Boys in their suits to the hedonistic Camden Goths; from the media savvy West Enders to the urban chic hipsters in the East End. Everyone is amazing. They care, but they don’t, but they really do. I've never seen a city embrace diversity more than any other and it welcomes new people with open arms (yes, despite Conservatives tightening immigration laws, this city still beckons the world to feast in its entirety).

They say New York is a city that never sleeps. London does, but then it wakes up and it wakes you up exactly when you need it to. You can easily get lost in all its pride and glory but this is when you realise the many ways you have been 'found'.

I love London. I’ve never been so happy to call a place (other than the Philippines) home. The city has guided me to have a sense of maturity and independence as well as a positive attitude towards life. I am so happy here: happy with a job I love, happy with the friends I’ve made, happy that I am settled quite comfortably in one of the best cities in the world.

Then again, with a little bit of a shake up in terms of my visa status and my personal life... what happens next? Well, it's all up in the air for now but nothing a little priority-setting can't cure. No space for fear here, just the unknown.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Burger & Lobster Soho - where I was shellfishly satisfied

I like restaurants with simple menus because it's easier to order. It would usually take me 15-20 minutes to decide what I want, another 5 minutes contemplating whether it’s really what I want and another 5 minutes wondering if I should change my order (even when I’ve already checked the menu online). So when Burger and Lobster opened in Soho I was pretty ecstatic because I already knew what I wanted long before I've even set a date to go. They don't have an actual menu (save for drinks) because they only have three choices: Burger. Lobster. Lobster Roll. Served with fries and salad, they all come at £20 each.

I went with my friend A, who was just as enthusiastic. We decided to dine early as queues usually go wild in their Mayfair branch. Surprisingly, the Soho restaurant is remarkably bigger so despite the place filling up with Friday post-work punters we were able to get a decent table. It's nice inside - cozy and bang on trend with the new pop up, New York-esque restaurants around Soho. Save for a few interesting paintings on the wall, it has a pretty straightforward diner/bar vibe. It's one of those restaurants who definitely say, 'let the food speak for itself'.

I've psyched myself the whole day for dinner. I was excited to see A and I heard the lobster roll was pretty special. I came to the restaurant with a decision to check how it compares to Hawksmoor's but then I saw a chap wolfing this ginormous, medium rare burger by the bar. He seemed so content and so happy with his choice which made me doubt mine. Shit.

Our very friendly server gave us a few minutes to skim the drinks menu. They had 'B' or 'L' cocktails which I presumed complemented the dishes. They all sounded amazing, but I didn't know which one to get as my head played a tug-of-war between the burger and the lobster roll. When the server came around our table I was still undecided. A said she wanted the lobster roll and an elderflower-based cocktail. Pressure's on me. Burger? No, lobster roll. Which cocktail to get? B? L? What to get?! Lobster roll? No, burger. Yes, I want the burger.

I ended up saying 'Gin and tonic, and uh.. the lobster. Finished off the grill please.'

Don't ask me where that came from because that was way off the plan and at that point I felt like there was no turning back. Except I did - literally - turn around and saw a lady making O-faces with her burger. I wondered if I should change my order. Should I, shouldn't I? I should, right? But before all 5 minutes of decision-making was even through, our orders came. Well that was really quick, I thought. So lobster it is.

A's plate looked like a ménage à trois of diner goodies but quite rightly, the roll stood out. The brioche bun looked golden and buttery soft and the lobster-wasabi-mayo filling looked delicious in its abundance. Mine, on the other hand, was Destiny's Child on a plate. The crustacean took all left, right and centrestage, outshining everything else; you couldn't care less about the other two things on the side. That said, the simple salad had a nice balsamic glaze and the fries added a nice crunchy texture (they do get soggy after a while though. Should've been triple-cooked, maybe?).

Let's get down to business. I usually prefer steamed lobsters but the charred spots on my grilled order made it so visually appetizing. Ignoring the bib, I attacked my plate and it was love(ster... har har) at first bite. The lobster, imported from Canada, was delicious from head to claw and was a mini smorgasbord of flavour and textures. The meat was creamy and nutty, the head rich and silky; the meat from the claw bursting with premium seafood flavour, the tail with a bit of smokiness from the grill. It came with a boat of delicious lemon-garlic butter sauce too, but I didn't use it much because the lobster was flavourful enough and I really wanted to just taste the seafood.

We were really really stuffed after our mains so we skipped dessert (some sort of chocolate mousse and raspberry cheesecake, £4 each). That's a first.

Burger and Lobster was a really awesome experience and despite it being a testament to my indecisiveness (when it comes to food), I was shellfishly satisfied with my grub. The simplicity of the menu seemed to have done the restaurant well. If you judge how awesome the food is by looking at punters around and hearing satisfied belly rumbles, then you know you've got a winner. Instantly my favourite new London restaurant this year.

Burger & Lobster Soho
36 Dean Street  London W1D | Tel: +44(0)20 7432 4800 | Bookings available from tables of 6
Ave spend pp: £40 (including drinks, dessert and service)

Burger & Lobster on Urbanspoon

Monday, 6 August 2012

Discover your scent at Jo Malone

I've always played it safe with perfume because I really like my staples and I'm quite paranoid about trying new ones and getting allergies. Also, I've always had this idea that changing scents often just makes you smell... strange. Ironically, I'm always trying out new scents, in search of something different, so when Ate T invited me to join her pre-birthday treat at Jo Malone I got excited. It's a British apothecary/perfumery that celebrates national heritage in its range of luxury fragrances and scents. I actually like their products but I've only really purchased the home stuff as I thought their colognes were for, um, mature women; I've stayed clear of their eau de whatevs.

We went to their Sloane Square branch for arm and hand massages. Our therapist was a lovely lady called Natalie who led us to the 'tasting bar' and served us some bubbly and fairy cakes. Yum!

Jo Malone has a number of base scents divided into six categories: citrus, fruity, light floral, floral, spicy and woody. All of them are actually lovely on their own but the fun thing is that you can mix the scents to create your bespoke signature scent.

Natalie asked us about our preferences. I told her I've always liked scents that remind me of aqueous freshness and of the beach, like coconuts (summer olfactory stimulant!), showers and fresh cotton linen.  I didn't know which category that scent profile falls under so I told her I wanted to try something different but nothing too floral nor too sweet. She smiled confidently and started prepping for our massages. Ate T, who likes floral and fruity fresh scents had an Orange Blossom créme du corps base layered with their limited edition Plum Blossom perfume. P, who liked fruity and heady scents had a Blue Agave & Cacao base layered with Nutmeg & Ginger cologne. They both smelled amazing after. I was super excited to have mine.

Natalie slathered my arm with the Vanilla & Anise créme du corps and I really liked it, which was interesting as I'm not a fan of anything aniseedy. Whilst massaging my arms she showed me two of the limited edition fragrances: the Plum Blossom (which was what Ate T had) and the Velvet Rose & Oud (from their cologne intense range). She said that both may be floral (the former was light and reminded me of spring, the latter a bit more autumnal/wintry and reminded me late nights in the metro) but they work perfectly with my base. I chose Plum Blossom as it was still early (the other one seemed better for a night out) and I was so surprised by the effect. The floral/sweetness element was somehow mellowed by a creamy undertone which resulted into some sort of fresh, sweet, dreamy deliciousness. Seriously, it smelt like I've just woken up on a nice spa by the beach and got lei'd. Har, har.

All three of us felt so pampered and relaxed after our massages and we couldn't stop smelling ourselves. That moment I was sold on their products, so much so that I decided to buy a bottle for my starter Jo Malone scent. I was contemplating on getting one of the perfumes Natalie used on me but then I went back to the scent spread I chanced on Wild Bluebell (light floral). Wow. IT. WAS. THE. ONE. It's slightly more floral than what I'd wear but it was also very powdery, fresh and almost aquatic. I did want something different without steering far from what I usually wear. I've applied it on my wrist and after a while it still smelled glorious. SOLD.

I was really pleasantly surprised that I liked it that much. As usual, the old saying 'You won't know unless you give it a try' proves to be true. Oh, and I found out that they do more than candles, body and facial products and perfume. Some shops actually have therapy rooms where you can have proper body massages and facial programmes. How awesome is that?

Go grab yourselves a bottle or two. I'm sure there's a scent for you, too. ;)

Jo Malone 
Sloane Square Boutique
150 Sloane Street, London SW1X 9BS, Tel: 0870 192 5121
Find other branches here.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

K is 8!

I was talking to a friend last night about how this English summer, despite bountiful nimbo-stratus clouds hovering, has been quite memorable so far. I then remembered the last summer I spent in Manila before moving to the UK. My days were spent playing with my sister and my niece, exchanging childlike trickery and learning about the wild adventures of an explorer called Dora and a purple dino called Barney; my nights were spent with old and new friends, talking shop and making promises of never drifting apart over sunrise, good food and awesome tunes. Overall, one of the best summers I've had.

It was also one of the scariest summers for the following reasons: a friend and I almost died - thrice; an old love resurrected and the timing was off because I was newly single; my cynicism for all things love-related went above par; I was about to embark on a new life on the other side of the world, leaving family/friends behind; and lastly, while my peers seemed so settled/sure about everything I still didn't really know what my purpose was. It was all happening, but it wasn't happening at all. Go figure.

That said, the most memorable - and by far the scariest - moment that summer was the time I dropped my baby sister. Surely most of us have been dropped as kids before (I've been dropped twice as a baby by both my grandmothers, one of them rolling down a flight of stairs and landing on my head) but my sister has Down Syndrome (DS) and had hypotonic muscles so we were all extra careful of her. Anyway, she came out unbruised (thank God!) but that cry-fest afternoon felt like an epiphany of all sorts. It made me realise that one of my life goals is to protect her and to protect people who have DS too. I hope I get to serve my purpose soon.

Years on, K's become a healthy, happy, bright little girl who just lights up the room and makes everyone fall in love. Some of you would have seen me flaunting her photos across old blogs/sites. For the longest time, I've gushed everything K-related: her birth, her first birthday party, her big and small milestones, her impact on our family as people and as a solid unit. I hope she's inspired you to learn more about DS and I hope she continues to inspire us to see the world differently and be better people.

Thank you also for your encouraging words, for being a part of her journey, for being a part of our family's journey. Can you believe she's eight years old now? Yeah, neither can I.