Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Cafecito at Asia de Cuba: where I photobombed the cake stand

I'm a fan of the Morgans Group hotels in London; the Sanderson has a great bar, a nice spa and an awesome courtyard garden whilst St Martin's Lane Hotel has a great location, a decent gym and a nice restaurant called Asia de Cuba.
I haven't had afternoon tea since attending a baby shower at The Delaunay so I figured it was time to call in the girls for some scones and cake. I wanted to try something a bit different from the traditional English afternoon tea service so I booked a table in Cafecito at Asia de Cuba

I also haven't seen my friend P for ages and I'm ecstatic to report that she's now a very proud mum to a cute little baby girl. Don't you think motherhood suits P? She was all aglow when she walked in!
Was finally able give her my long overdue Christmas pressies: a Cath Kidston reversible jacket for baby and Benefit's Luv It Up kit for mummy. "Welcome back to the world of makeup!" Indeed.

Bueno, let's start our tea service. How gorgeous are these Luna & Curious crockery? No floral cups here (thank God).

 Nothing like a box of cigars to remind you of Cuba, eh? 

Our tools and guide for the afternoon were inside the box. Coolness. 
Service is broken down in two separate servings of  the savoury bits and the sweet bits, unlike the traditional service where you get all your sarnies and confectionery in a tiered cake stand. We get two types of tea that would compliment each set, as well as an aperitif and a 'finishing' shot.

When the savouries arrived our server very kindly offered to take our photo. After changing angles, positions and a few blurry and dark shots, she finally hit a good one (or so she said). Ladies and gents, this is how you photobomb a cake stand:

It is a gorgeous, gorgeous cake stand though.
Tier 1: 3-layered smoothie
Tier 2: Cubano pressed pulled pork sandwich with Swiss cheese & ham, fresh summer rolls, chicken avocado spring roll
Tier 3: Empanadas, savoury scones, smoked salmon tart with chipotle hollandaise and quail egg

Aperitivo for the day was a three-layered smoothie of kiwi, strawberry and mango. It was a nice refreshing start. I found it a bit too sweet and decided to use it as a palate cleanser in between bites.

There were three tea options: Traditional Iron Buddha (oolong tea), Dragon Well (green tea), and Bohea Lapsang (black tea).

I chose the Dragon Well tea and it's goooood - light on taste and easy on the stomach. It felt like I was cleansing and detoxing as I ate!

These beef and vegetable empanaditas were my favourite. The pastry is delicious and the filling reminded me of my favourite Jamaican patties back in the Philippines. I wish the Caribbean hot sauce had a bit more of a kick, though!

I had high hopes for this fresh summer roll filled with julienned carrots, daikon, cucumber and green mango. It didn't  move me though and threw me off the fried spring roll which apparently was better.

You don't get fist-sized scones with clotted cream and fruit marmalade, you get mini savoury scones. If you're a fan of herby bread then you'd like this. It wasn't served warm and they were a bit dense but the flavour was quite promising.

This mojito-garlic butter made it all better. Butter... what would I do without you?

There was nothing special about the pulled pork pressed sandwich and I gobbled the smoked salmon tart (giving P the egg, of course) long before I remembered to take a photo. #badbloggerissues

Savouries cleared it was time for chapter two - the sweets! definitely my favourite part of any afternoon tea service!
Clockwise: chocolate chilli cream with pistachio crumble, traditional doughnuts with butterscotch filling, mini key lime pie with merengue and banana spring rolls.

We only had two options for tea to accompany the sweets (they ran out of vanilla black tea): wuyi oolong and lychee red. We all ordered the lychee red which is actually a form black tea. I'm in love with this one. It's naturally sweet and is very aromatic - I can just about imagine making fresh iced tea using this for summer parties.

The key lime pie was... quite nothing like I've tried. The merengue had a marshmallow-esque, pillowy texture and the custard filling was more sweet than tart. It was strange eating this with the same pastry they used for the smoked salmon tart too. Curious...

The banana fritters were nice. Initially I thought the pastry was a bit too thick for such tiny fritter but when I realised how sweet the filling was (bananas, white chocolate and butterscotch) it all made sense.

The star of the show was definitely the chocolate chilli pot with the pistachio crumble. Seriously people, you need this in your life! Smooth, creamy bittersweet chocolate with a hot kick that surprises you a few seconds later. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

Eat it on its own, or smear the cream all over those traditional doughnuts!

We were definitely a bit more curious about the food we had as it wasn't quite the usual tea time munchies you'd expect. I think the savoury selection was a nice change from the traditional offering (cucumber, tuna, ham sarnies... zzzzzz) and the sweet selection wasn't so bad either (that chocolate pot nailed it big time for me). Perhaps everything could be executed a bit better but overall it was a unique afternoon tea experience. 

I really missed my all-butter scones, clotted cream and jam, though.

45 St Martin's Ln, London WC2N 4HX | Phone: +44(0)20 7300 5500
Ave spend pp: £25 for traditional afternoon tea service, £35 for an extra cocktail
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Saturday, 25 January 2014

Lutong Pinoy: where I washed my holiday blues away

Early this month I had a massive case of post-holiday blues. I suffered a really bad case of desynchronosis and lost my appetite. I craved me some sleep but I couldn't get my eyes to close and I craved heaps of food but my body seemed to reject everything. Mostly though I craved and missed a bit of home but I was far too deep into the daily grind again. 

Perhaps this was why my first actual proper meal since the holiday was aptly inspired by the Philippines. The Supper Club ladies and I decided that we had to have Filo food even though there aren't a lot of Filo restaurants in town. I've only been to two: Port of Manila in Hammersmith (reviewed here, they're apparently relocating) and Josephine's on Charlotte Street (which I thought was overpriced and average). K, who's expecting her first child *insert heaps of congratumalations here*, had a massive craving for Filipino sausages and said Lutong Pinoy in Earl's Court had the best in town. Never wanting to cross a pregnant lady and her cravings, we all agreed to trek it there for lunch service.

We started with two orders of chicharon bulaklak (£6). For those who do not know, these are fried pork intestines. Don't say 'Ewww, how gross!' just yet! The profile is crunchy, salty, moreish and perfect with a good pairing of beer or cider. It's deceptively light, but go in moderation as you wouldn't want to know how much cholesterol is packed in these bite-sized bad boys. You should also get acquainted with the chicken version (which I had loads of in Manila). LP's version was a bit too light for my liking. I wish it had a bit of crunch too.

We had longganisa (£6.25) - Filipino pork sausages. You get different flavour profiles of longganisa depending on the region they come from; I like the super garlicky ones from Vigan/Lucban best. LP's ones are of the sweet kind. They're fatty and juicy and addicting! K had her longganisa + garlic rice + egg plate and we got a full order to share too. I think you get 7 pieces per bowl. Bargain!

K also requested sinigang na baboy (£6.95). This is pork and veg cooked and served in a clear, tangy broth. Usually the sourness comes from tamarind or bilimbi but there are ready-made powder mixes available too (available in Asian shops). I thought LP's sinagang was a bit bare; when the server placed it on the table my first thought was 'Dude, where's my pork?!' This didn't move me that much, but to be fair I was never a fan of sinigang anyway.

Pinakbet (£6) is a traditional Filo vegetable dish made with squash, bittermelon, okra, aubergine, beans and some sort of protein cooked in fish sauce or fish paste. LP's offering was a bit too salty for my taste buds, but the veggies were cooked nicely.

Laing (£5.50), dried taro leaves in coconut milk, is my favourite Filo dish of all time. This is usually served with a bit of the taro root, pork pieces and finely chopped bird's eye. When I saw it on the menu I knew I had to have it. LP's version had a bit more coconut milk than what I'm used to and it was a bit more creamy. That said, it was still really comforting and yummy enough to bring a smile on my face.

I couldn't decide what else to have so I asked for another dish I find comforting, Filipino beef steak (£6.75). This dish is made of thinly sliced sirloin cooked in soy sauce, lemon juice and steak onions. The beef was gorgeously tender - almost of melt-in-your mouth quality - but the sauce lacked a bit of tang for me. It still made me happy eating it.

We also had orders of adobong pusit (£6.50) and chicken afritada (£6.50) but I didn't try those so I can't say much. I was full to the brim after but when K said 'halo-halo' my stomach automatically made room. Unfortunately they didn't have any so we ended up having orders of turon and ice cream (£3). It took forever to arrive, though.
That purple ice cream? You need it in your life.

A lot has been said about the Filipino cuisine but I don't think there's a general consensus about what it's like. - I find it rather difficult to explain it to other people too. I do think it's the super delicious poster child of fusion cuisine but I also believe our culinary landscape is explorable as is.

Admittedly, Lutong Pinoy isn't the best Filo restaurant I've been to. We've had some hits and misses from the stuff we ordered but I like it enough to go back and try other options on the menu. The servers were very nice and accommodating (Filo hospitality at its best!) and I'm sure they are always on the lookout to refine their food. And the price is actually decent! It's good enough a place to visit when you're craving for a bit of home.

10 Kenway Rd, London SW5 0RR | +44(0)20 7244 0007
Ave spend pp: £20
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Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Suda Thai Cafe: where Thai is good for lunch

The West End is such a touristy place with all its high street shops, theatres and landmarks. Rarely do you find such space in the area where you can escape for a bit of boutique shopping, fun dining, or relaxing without the buzz of the city. This is why I like hanging out at St. Martin's Courtyard. It's an oasis in Covent Garden where you can do all of the above - in peace. They even have a wellness spa, a yoga centre and a salon!

One of the places we frequent here is Suda, a restaurant specialising in contemporary interpretations of regional Thai dishes. They also have a good beverage selection of Thai coffee/tea and Thai-inspired cocktails.

So far, friends I've brought here have been appreciative. Here's my buddy A enjoying the view.
On rare occasions when the sun is out and the weather is cooperative, I ask for a table outside. It's a pretty view of the courtyard: neighbouring restaurants offer al fresco dining as well and it's nice to feel a bit of a buzz from such polite punters. Foot traffic here is slow and steady so you don't feel like you're in the West End at all.

My favourite thing to order here is the som tum malakor (£6.50) which is one of the best Thai salads I've had in town. The green papaya, carrot and string bean mix remains firm from the first forkful to the last bite and the zesty, tarty, spicy sauce is perfect. There's a sprinkling of nuts and dried shrimp adding a bit of crunch.

The satay gai (£5.25) or chicken satay skewers is a typical starter. The colour is quite nice and the serving is pretty hefty. Two of these will do me. I do have a teensy qualm about the sauce, though: it's a wee bit mild for my liking and I wish they added a bit of crushed nuts. Nothing brightens up a dish more than the texture of crushed nuts.

But that's nothing a good set of chilli pots can't cure, aye?

The yum woonsen pla salmon (£9.50) is another lunchtime favourite, especially when I'm on a health streak. It's substantial enough but you don't have that overly full feeling after. The salmon in this photo is clearly overcooked, but they usually get it right (you might just have to ask the servers to make sure they don't overdo it). Served with glass noodles in possibly the same sauce they dress the som tum with.

Suda's chicken massaman curry (£8.50) has 'World's most delicious food' next to it on the menu. I'm not sure who rated this, as I'm sure I've had more delicious fare before, but it is actually quite good! The sauce is a good blend of sweet and sour and the chicken is moist and tender. There's plenty of sauce and it goes without saying this dish is best served with a cup of coconut rice (£1.50).

If you don't have time for a proper sit-down, the restaurant actually offers a decent lunch box: a choice of various curries (depending on the day/season) served with rice at £5.50.

We usually take work friends and clients here as it's so close to the office. The place doesn't look like your typical Thai restaurant inside: the decor is modern and chic (no Buddhas here!). The service, like everything in the courtyard and unlike other Thai places isn't manic but polite. Oh, and the prices aren't extortionate and the food is decent enough. Go.

Suda Thai Cafe Restaurant
St Martin's Courtyard, Covent Garden, London WC2E 9AB | 020 7240 8010
Ave spend pp: £25
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Monday, 20 January 2014

Six Tracks for January 2014

It's never too late for a playlist, right? Here's the first of the year. =)

S. Carey - In The Dirt
I flew back to London on New Year's Day this year. On the first leg of my trip, I had a full row of seats to myself as it wasn't a full flight. The crew gave us bubbly and a special message on our dessert cakes. We flew across oceans, terrains and countless mountains and as I inch away from my hometown, I couldn't help but feel this painstakingly beautiful feeling of blessedness. There's so much greatness in the world and there's so much we take for granted. All on this borrowed time.

Hey Ocean! - If I Were A Ship
I've been asked a lot about the song I used for Plaid Boy's anniversary Prezi. Here's another one from the Canadian band from their album IS. It reminds me of everything I love about the ocean and everything I love about the boy next shore. Har. Pardon the cheese.

Ta-ku - I Miss You
Ta-ku's album Songs to Break Up To is an awesome late night room filler. With each song aptly entitled like actual break-up phases, you realise that sometimes a break-up is not exactly a break-up, but a step up.

Bebe Black - I'll Wait
Bebe reminds me of a modern-day Duffy. Her voice is less styled (for more!), her style is edgier and her wing tip is heaps better. This song reminds me of a life lesson we've learned in the past few months - never settle. Sometimes the ink won't dry on its own. =)

 Cut Ribbons - Bound in Love
The band has just released an EP which was very much supported by the Welsh arts council. Pretty neat, as they've started getting a bit of recognition in festivals this year. Bound in Love has a slight late 80s pop vibe (melodically) and an early noughties emo feel (lyrically). You'll either hate it or love it (I think it's pretty cool).

Motopony - Wait For Me
Another oldie but goodie (check out the original version here). I repeatedly played this song on holiday countdown last month. I've brought back with me countless memories and a whole lot of love for my family, my friends, and the future husband. Sometimes I still pinch myself from time to time thinking about the awful ride getting here. It's been said so many times but it really is funny how life turns out sometimes and how good things come to those who wait.

Here's to an awesome 2014 ahead!

Friday, 17 January 2014

New Ubin Seafood: where I fell in love with rice

DISCLAIMER: Some photos were grabbed (and credited) from other food blogs. I was with boys... and they were too hungry to wait til I took photos.

My good friend (and SG local) S recommended the steak at New Ubin Seafood. You'd think, logically, that a seafood restaurant would be famous for, er, seafood but to my amusement people actually talk more about the steak here. I was intrigued.

The place is quite tricky to get to as it's hidden in an industrial estate. It's not the most glamorous of places, but the buzz you get from punters says a lot. We went on a school night for dinner service and the place was packed. By the time we finished another table was being prepped - for a third sitting.

The menu is quite extensive. Plaid Boy and I got there ahead of everyone and got a good scan - we wanted to order so much. Or at least I did.

Of course, we knew we were having steak...
The highly recommended US Black Angus rib-eye was a treat - and how can it not be at $12/£6 per 100g? Cooked medium-rare and chopped into bite-size pieces, the beef is juicy and seasoned generously. I picked on the rare bits and can't complain much. Served with potato wedges, caramelised onions and fried rice, this really is a bargain.

But I'm telling you, it was the steak fried rice that did for me (and I, for one, do not like rice that much).
Photo grabbed from The Hungry Bunnie
The rice is fried in soy sauce and beef trimmings. Simple, yes? You get a bit of fried, crispy, fatty burnt ends with each spoonful. I know it sounds like a lot of clogged arteries in the making but seriously, it was surprisingly light. Trust me - you need this in your life (in moderation, of course).

Let's get crabby...
Embraced by gluttony, I thought we needed two XXL Sri Lankan crabs ($6/£3 per 100g) for our chilli treat but the boys said one would suffice. They were right. Ours came drowning in this silky, glutinous sauce which was quite nice but it was just a teensy bit too sweet for my liking. The crab was really meaty and really fresh, though. I like the body more than the claw and I was really happy with what I had.

Photo grabbed from Petunia Lee
They served it with these fried man tou ($1/£0.50 a piece). Yum. I loved the crisp skin and the fluffy dough. It wasn't sweet and was perfect to dip in the chilli crab sauce. I can't tell you how many pieces we shared between us four. I'm pretty sure I had three.

I originally wanted to order some dou miao (pea shoots) simply stir-fried in garlic but our friend recommended the HK Kai Lan Special ($18). They basically shredded the kai lan leaves and deep-fried it with garlic. It was okay but I wish we had some dou miao instead.

We had some salted egg squid ($20/£10) which I reckon was more for the boys than for me (egg abhorence gene!). I tried a piece and the flavour was actually pretty tasty. If not for the eggy, yolky texture I'm sure I can easily finish a whole plate.

We swiped all our dishes clean
(look Ma, empty plates!)
And then sloshed a few pints of beer
and stretched our bellies to a merry state.

Easily one of the least pretentious and most delicious cheap eats I've had in a while, New Ubin is absolutely worth the trek. The ambience isn't geared for a Michelin mention but the food is pretty good and absolutely bang on for your buck. I reckon it's best to go with a group so you can try a lot of stuff and make it super sulit. I can't wait to go back.

New Ubin Seafood Restaurant
Block 27 Sin Ming Road, #01-174, Sin Ming Industrial Estate Sector A, Singapore 575680 *phew*
+65 6466 9558
Average spend pp: $50/£25