Friday, 27 September 2013

Shoryu Take 4: where I had ramen you can never order on a date

My beautiful friends, G/Man and G/Lady aka The Lovely Laurels, are in the UK for a year (G/Man is doing his MBA in Cambridge) and I am super ecstatic. =) They were in London last week so I caught up with them over dinner. So many places I wanted to take them but as it was a grey and rainy Septembrrrr night, we opted for the ramen route for comfort. 

I took them to Shoryu on Regent Street because I like their food better than the last ramen place I visited. They've changed the menu a bit; they didn't have my first love (spicy pork miso) anymore but there were a few new cold ramen dishes and sides. Exciting times.

We tried the new shrimp kara-age (£5.5). I've never been so delighted to see those little shrimps again as steamed suahe has been a classic family favourite and I've not had this since the last time I was home. They were lightly battered which was great as you can still taste the sweetness of the shrimp. Good to pair with a cold pint of beer.

We had a serving of gyoza (£5) and man that other ramen place could learn a lot this. On the superficial, it wasn't dripping in oil and it came with dipping sauce and garnish. Sure, good dumplings don't need to hide under any sort of sauce but it was just nice to have that option ready for you. Also, Shoryu's gyoza is actually really good and filled with well-seasoned meat. G/Lady actually said "Ang sarap!" on first bite. I concur.

Let's talk mains: G/Man chose the karaka tantan tonkotsu which is my favourite Shoryu ramen so far; G/Lady went for the Hokkaido curry ramen; and, as I was not planning on kissing nor rubbing elbows with anyone that night after dinner anyway, I finally went for the Dracula tonkotsu (£11.9)   
Topped with char siu, nitamago egg (which I gave to G/Man), garlic chips, black garlic mayu
kikurage mushrooms, beansprouts, spring onion, sesame, ginger, nori & lots of sesame seeds.
I like the flavour profile of this ramen. The broth, albeit not as rich as Tonkotsu's, had a deep roasted flavour courtesy of the caramelised black garlic mayu and a slight sour note (I say that in a good way!) courtesy of the balsamic vinegar. The char siu cuts were thick and delicious, and I actually like how lean they were this time. The hosomen noodles were consistently springy and firm and plentiful. Ramen love, yes indeed.

I was surprised how we actually managed to stay at the restaurant for a good 2.5 hours. Normally, staff would ever so discreetly hurry you out the door especially during busy days but this time around I'm pleased nobody buggered us despite the constant turnover of punters. Made our catch-up dinner such a pleasant one.

Happy punters indeed!
We were full to the brim after our meals. Yet another deliciously satisfying dinner from Shoryu. =)

Shoryu Ramen Bar
9 Regent Street, London, SW1Y | No reservations, walk-in only
Average spend: £10pp for ramen, £25 with sides, dessert and drinks 
Shoryu Ramen on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 26 September 2013

The Delaunay: where we had afternoon tea (and a baby shower)

I've always liked The Counter at The Delaunay because they have some of the best viennoiserie around Covent Garden (particularly their almond croissants which I only get from there) and decent chicken schnitzel sarnies but I've never been to the main "grand European café' next door. My lovely friend P is expecting her first child so we thought we'd give her a nice little shower via afternoon tea there. It was the perfect excuse to wear tea dresses and indulge in cake!

Walking into the restaurant, I had a sudden urge to do a little Charleston jig. There was some sort of Great Gatsby-glamour about the place with its dark wooden panelling, its boxy masculine interiors, its marbled floors and in-the-mood-for-love lighting. I adored it.

After ooh-ing and ahh-ing over P's 4D scans, we ooh-ed and ahh-ed over The Delaunay's Viennese afternoon tea. Needless to say, we had lots of food on the table.

Let's dissect the savouries first shall we? There's smoked salmon on seeded rye, salt beef and cucumber pretzel, cream cheese viennese biscuits.
I started with the salt beef pretzel, which was pretty good except I wish they were a bit more generous with the beef (I get that it's supposed to be a mini version, but ONE teensy weensy cut of beef? Come on...) The dill-crusted beetroot cured salmon was quite tasty and I was happy that the herb didn't overpower the fish as I'm not too keen on dill. The viennese was a clear favourite though; it was cheesy, herby, puffy and just darn delicious.

On to the cakes. =)
We had some Austrian raspberry shortbread topped with caramelized nuts. I found this a bit too sweet for my liking. My friends P & H enjoyed the mini berry tart which I thought resembled a Linzertorte sans lattice crust top. It was a slightly tart tart and I was surprised to taste a bit of cheese inside. The clear winner for me on this round however is the sachertorte; it was rich, moist, bittersweet... exactly a lot like love. (Admittedly as it was chocolate I kinda knew I loved it before digging my fork into its very soul.)

The rosewater and almond battenberg looked as pretty as most battenberg cakes, but no one touched it as we were all quite averse to marzipan. I enjoyed the caramel glaze on the coffee and Stroh rum cake which P declared her favourite. The best one from this set for me though, is the pistachio and poppy seed cake. It was so good with the creme fraiche and lemon rind topping but it was illegally tiny!

It doesn't stop there. Aside from the mini savoury sarnies and assortment of cakes you also get a choice of either poppy seed gugelhupf or scones. I initially wanted the gugelhupf but decided to go for scones the last second.
I'm SOOOOO glad I did. The scones were very, very, very good. As they were revealed from under the cloche, an awesome sense and smell of buttery warmth just spread around the table. They were freshly baked, firm and crumbly in all the right parts. I slathered mine with clotted cream and a bit of jam. Darn, darn, darn it. Nothing beats a good ole buttery scone.

After my first scone I had to pause for a bit as I realised we've eaten quite a lot! I took in the surroundings and I fell in love with the interiors more (the table cloths were a different story though). Service was very attentive and they scored three extra points for 1) offering P a cushion for comfort upon arrival, 2) constantly asking us if we wanted more hot water for our tea without being too intrusive/annoying, and 3) the head server allowed us to take photos and even took photos of us himself.

I wouldn't say it was the best afternoon tea in town, but I think for what you're paying it's actually pretty decent and very, very reasonable. My goal next time though is to actually have brunch here and try one of their schnitzels. Or something I can't pronounce.

Congratulations again P! You'll defo be an awesome mommy! Can't wait to see your little Pepperoni soon!

The Delaunay 
55 Aldwych, London, WC2B | T: +44 (0)207 499 8558
Viennese Afternoon Tea: £24 (they do champagne tea for £33)
The Delaunay on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Tonkotsu: where we had the first ramen of Septembrrrr

The 10-degree drop in temperature marked the official end of Summer; the 'Brrrr! months are definitely back. An exciting thing about this is that you always end up eating something hearty, warming and comforting. Screw that salad, it will never quite hit it right like a stew or a soup. It's an awesome excuse for that extra bit of pudge. If you know what I mean.

I was feeling cold the other day and wanted a bit of comfort food. Scenes from Tampopo and Ramen Girl sporadically flashed in my head throughout the working day. I was raring to try another type of ramen at the usual joint but my date suggested we "give others a chance". Skeptical but determined to not be too much of a creature of habit, we ended up at Tonkotsu Dean Street. We've heard good reviews about this place anyway, often challenging Shoryu as the best ramen place in town. Finally, we get to have our own verdict.
We started with some prawn gyoza (£5). I thought it was neither hit nor miss and may have been slightly on the oily side (nothing a little serviette patting can't fix). Tasty, but I've had better.

The soft shell crab kara age (£8) was great, and what's not to love? Deep fried battered crabby goodness that didn't bathe in nor drip with expected grease. It was the meatiest soft-shell crab I've had in ages. I could easily eat five servings of this, if it weren't for my J.Lo abs project fear of excessive cholesterol intake.

And then came our steaming bowls of ramen.
Ate T ordered the eponymous tonkotsu (£11) which came surrounded by horn-blowing cherubs. The broth, a shio based pork stock, looked rich, creamy and just about exactly what traditional tonkotsu must look like. I had no shame in asking if I could have a bit of her soup to try and when I had that first spoonful, the Hallelujah's came steaming off my ears. The pork belly was melt-in-your-mouth and that soft-boiled egg looked so pretty and made me want to eat egg for the first time in ages. I was almost ready to give up my own order for hers.

I had the Soho ramen (£11) and it looked rather, uh, sad in comparison.

But hey, didn't someone tell us to never judge a ramen by its bowl and colour? Here it is a little bit closer...
In truth, my ramen was actually pretty decent. It was a sea-salt based ramen with pork and chicken broth, smoked haddock fillet and lumpfish caviar. You can definitely taste the smokiness off the fish, but you can also taste a different flavour off the broth. Not sure the caviar made any difference but it was interesting enough; I quite liked it.

The noodles were quite sufficient and filling. They were pretty springy as far as noodles go but some of mine were a bit dry and stuck together (like when you forget to oil your pasta on the boil?). Nonetheless, they were tasty and stood firm even after a good soaking in the broth off my deep bowl.

I always seem to have ramen with this lady. =)

I'm genuinely pleased to have finally tried Tonkotsu. I'd go back to have a bowl of tonkotsu and two servings of the crab all to myself, or maybe try the chicken kara age which looked great and a different type of gyoza next time. The place definitely brought a sense of comfort and definitely hit the spot when it needed exactly just that.

63 Dean St, London, UK W1D 4QG; No reservations
Ave spend pp: £20

Tonkotsu on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Six tracks for September 2013

I'm still on a high from the whirlwind that was August, but here's the September issue. =)

Misun - Coffee
September beckons the last of Summer and early Fall. Walking to the station this morning, I couldn't help but feel confused about the thick fog, the orange coloured trees at the park, the fallen leaves on the sidewalks. The 10°-drop in temperature felt heavier by the second. If there's anything I could ask for at this point in time it would be for Summer, like a long lost lover, to stay a little bit longer.

from Sebastian Carrasco on Vimeo.
Colplay - Atlas
Here’s Coldplay’s new offering hot off that new Hunger Games film.You don't get the same goosebumps as you do with hits like Fix YouIn My Place, or Yellow, but you do get the standard Coldplay formula: gutsy balladry, simple lyrics, dreamy build-up, heightened guitar riffs and playback to finish.  

Bear Attack - The Backpack Song
I heard this tune last year whilst watching my guilty pleasure series (don't judge!) and it just reminded me of my long distance relationship with Plaid Boy. Go have a listen and have your heart melting a wee bit too,  especially when they sing "I'll hold you close when I see you / There's no way I could let you go."

Carousel - Stay Awake
Ahhh yes. Because we need another electropop band to add to the collection.
A little dreamy, a little hopeful, a little reminiscent of our early days.
"I never pictured 'You & I' / My new addiction: you."

from Adam Heleniak on Vimeo.
Yppah - Never Mess With Sunday
What's not to love about Sundays? It's that time of week where I wake up extra early to say grace, then crawl back to bed to have 'proper' ME-time. I put up Spotify clicking on to random playlists, checking out new artists, listening to old favourites. Sunday mornings are sacred; it's for worship and tunesing.
Never. Mess. With. Sunday.

Arctic Monkeys - Knee Socks
This year's Glastonbury headliners deliver an awesome album that's perferct for lazy tunesing sessions and crazy dancing-on-my-own-in-my-bedroom nights. From the very sexy Do I Wanna Know to the probing Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High, AM suggests that the band's definitely back in full form. Definitely nails the mood and good of the kind of rock that hits.
I hope your September plays out well. =)

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Port of Manila: where home felt like a K Lighter Day

Internationally acclaimed foodies may have written about proper Filipino food but it's still the Atlantis of Asian cuisine waiting to be discovered; you're most likely to find a flurry of Asian restaurants anywhere in the world but rarely anything Filo. I've often been asked about Filo restaurants here in London but I've not exactly found one I liked enough to recommend. And because I come from families who can - and I quote my cousin D - "burn a salad", I've not been able to offer my cooking either (I can cook adobo, but that's about it).

D told me about Port of Manila ages ago. She said it was decent but a bit of a trek. I've forgotten all about it until the Filo Supper Club had a special occasion to celebrate and it floated in our pool of suggestions. When someone mentioned the magic words (lechon kawali) we knew we had a winner.

True enough the restaurant was in the most obscure place: a residential road off Hammersmith tube. It was indeed homey and cosy inside with an estimated capacity of 30 for comfortable sit-down meals, but you can probably push to 60+ for a full house reception. 

Remember our little angel Keith? We were celebrating his birthday. A supposed dinner turned out to be a surprise birthday party for his mom Ate T. It was indeed a K Lighter day for her.

So what did we have?

One of my favourite Filo starters, is the ensaladang mangga (£4.5). It's made of chopped green mangoes (the raw type), onions, tomatoes and shrimp paste. I usually prefer the mangoes raw for the extra tang and crunch. PoM's version used mangoes that are slightly on the ripe side but the flavours were still good!

I have the highest standard when it comes to laing because this is hands down my favourite Filo dish ever. PoM's spicy laing (£8.95) is impressive as it was proper laing. The taro leaves were super flavourful, seasoned and soaked in the creamy coconut milk. Also, despite the inclusion of actual taro, the texture was smooth and not starchy at all. We all loved this, although I wish they put a bit more chili. I actually ate the big chili pepper on top. We had two servings!

We ordered three plates of the lechon kawali (£9.95) and boy did it start a war of forks. We pierced our way through the cuts as if the lot was going out of style. The pork belly was tender juicy delicious and seasoned well; it wasn't oily either considering it's a deep fried fat piece of pork. Oh and just to confirm your thoughts... that deliciously crunchy looking cracker of a rind? Yes. Mind blowing. 

Of course we had to have the unofficial national dish of the Philippines. The adobo has heaps of recipe variations depending on preference and region. The one we had at PoM is called adobo sa gata (£9.95). It was cooked in coconut milk and I was really excited as I've never tried that variant. Fascinating how one ingredient can change the flavour profile of a dish; it was creamier and sweeter than usual and it didn't taste like adobo at all. It was pretty yummy as well - but admittedly I'm still a sucker for the semi-dry, garlicky, tangy adobo I’m used to.

Kare kare is a dish I always request when I go home. It's usually made of oxtail, tripe and veggies (aubergine, string beans and bok choy) but our angels would always cook it with more meat. PoM's kare kare (9.95) was more traditional so I only picked the veggies and a bit of the meaty parts but the peanut sauce was actually very tasty, I didn't have to put much shrimp paste on it anymore.

We also had a plate of pansit bihon (£8.95) which was pretty good (although I'm not much of a noodle fan) and two plates of camaron rebosado (£9.95) which is battered prawn with sweet and sour sauce. Didn't get to take a photo because this was quite a hit straight to our bellies. The thing is, I didn't find it any different to Hong Kong Style prawns from Chinese restaurants but everyone else said that's how it's supposed to look like. The camaron I'm used to looks like this though:
Photo from Philippine Daily Inquirer

Of course we had all of this with rice. Two MASSIVE bowls full of steamed white rice.

Starters, salads, mains done, it was time for dessert. I don't think any birthday should go without cake so we brought in this awesome white chocolate marquis cake from Euphorium Bakery. Imagine rich chocolate fudge encased in tempered white chocolate, topped with cream and white chocolate florets. YUM!

Post dinner, we lit up some sky lanterns so we can send our messages and well wishes to Keith in heaven....

But it was way too windy so the lanterns rolled DOWN THE ROAD instead. We all rushed to grab the blazing lanterns before they ended up setting cars on fire! Haha!

We ended the night speaking to the owner and main chef, Tita Tess. She was quite friendly and very proud of how PoM has evolved in the past four years. I'm glad to know that they are passionate about Filo food and that they are educating London in their own way. We found out that their market stalls around West London are a huge hit, not just to the Filo community but also to the locals!

All filled up with great food and warm hearts... everyone had an amazing time thanks to PoM's amazing spread and homey service, and of course to Keith, who will forever be remembered and loved.

Port of Manila
129-131 Brackenbury Road, London W6 0BQ | +44(0)20 8741 2099
Ave spend pp: £20 
Port of Manila on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 1 September 2013

On the road with Plaid Boy (an awesomely amazing adventure)

I had to pinch myself a few hundred times over when I agreed to be in a relationship with someone who lived far away; I've been (quite vocally) anti-LDRs for so long that some of my friends didn't believe me when I said it was serious (they all do now). I knew it would be quite an adventure or some sort of tough journey and that doesn't only translate to the literal; the lack of physical proximity can't compare to immediacy of action nor the need to nourish intrinsic and intangible factors.

But darn it. I could not not have taken that leap of faith. "It'll be a fun adventure for us," he said. Fun? Right. More crazy. But it's been a crazy type of awesome too.

He visited me again in London last month. It was short but definitely nothing short of amazing. I felt like a tourist, myself, having little adventures in a city I call my second home. We had the most amazing time doing things non-LDR/"normal" couples do on dates: we saw a film and went to catch The Book of Mormon, had a picnic and hosted a barbie, went out with some mates, talked non-stop for hours, had nightly dinner dates, took heaps of "couplies", ate loads of oysters and laughed together. He was here. We held hands a lot and I could not have been happier.

And then he had to leave. Again.

It's a guaranteed tough one at the airport when you know you're not going through the same gates together. No matter how many times you say goodbye, it never gets easy and you will never get used to it. You get a Bob Dylan-esque feeling and then a muddling war of nerves. No matter how strong and tough you seem outside, there will always be that gnawing feeling reminding you that you've been left behind and the people who leave always take a little piece of you when they go.

Not one for crying, I felt this when I found myself at the exact same spot last year, after his first London visit came to an end. I was dreading the long way home knowing I'd be sat next to a stranger and not have him around for a spontaneous lobster dinner to wear of the somber mood. Or a snog for lunch.

Like any other journey on terrains, must there be heaps of stops and starts? I sometimes feel like a drifting wanderer falling into the deep jungles of the Amazon until my compass breaks, or someone about to free-fall from the highest peak of the earth. Like any other adventure, I am bricking it with a full bag of emotions. 

But there was something about this trip that made everything so crystal clear: this is the guy I want to be with for the rest of my life. Because he has given me direction, because he is my compass. 

And no matter how many goodbyes we tell each other I will always be embraced by the greatness of love and by the promise of another hello. 

And the certainty of what comes next.
All roads lead to you. I can't wait to start our new adventure together.