Friday, 31 October 2014

Manila Wedding Work Holiday 2014

Apologies for being quite a delinquent blogger, but I have an excuse: the past few weeks have been spent ironing out wedding details, ie meeting with our church, suppliers, planners, ninongs/ninangs along with combating jet lag, Manila traffic, and a little flu. It's been very taxing and our social life pretty much took a dive, but we managed to tick off a lot on our list. We also realised how good a team we've been in all seriousness sans kilig moments... so the wedding is definitely going ahead! Haha.

We met up with our planner/coordinator, Agnes of Empire Weddings. She was highly recommended by a lot of friends, which surprised me and reminded me that it is truly such a small world. 

Managed to attend one of Plaid Boy's friends' wedding which was organised by Empire, too.
Beautiful affair!

 Also bumped into my friend P, who's also getting married next year. 
Her makeup is by Kris Bacani, mine is by Pong Niu.

 We finalised our reception dinner menu at Raffles and I was pleased with the overall result.
Surprised at how massive the portions were. Here's to hoping our guests come hungry!

We attended a one-on-one marriage encounter seminar at CEFAM in Ateneo.
I was really scared about this part because this felt a lot more intimate than doing a discovery weekend with other couples. especially when our assessor, Mrs Susan Syquia said that couples either become stronger, break up, or postpone their weddings after the full day affair. We survived! =)
And I totes recommend doing a one-on-one instead.

 We shot our AVP c/o my bestie Maui Mauricio.

We finalised tablescapes with our event stylist, Rob Blancaflor.
Rob is delightful to work with and it was pretty cool how he and Plaid Boy established rapport when they found out they worked in the same banks and know the same people.

We had dinner with our parents and immediate family.

Met up with a few ninongs and ninangs.

Organised gown fittings with some bridesmaids (in an out of town affair, at that!)

Caught up slightly with one of my very busy Maids of Honor.

And finished all our church permits, licenses and forms!

We also managed to arrange two fittings with my gown designer, arrange a meeting with my shoe designer, find a photo studio provider, finalise invites and monograms, confirm suppliers for chairs and wedding favours, etc. The word tired has been explicitly used in this holiday.

It was a very hectic couple of weeks, We didn't really get to see a lot of friends (sorry guys!) but then again Plaid Boy and I agreed to work on wedding stuff whilst we were there as the next time I'm back in the Philippines would be a week before the wedding. That said, I am so happy I got to spend time with my family especially my parents for whom I will forever be grateful to.
And of course, the best siblings a girl can ask for.

Next time I leave Manila, I'll be a married woman. Insane.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Dinner by Heston: where Plaid Boy and I had superb lunch

Dinner by Heston lands #5 in The World's 50 Best Restaurants this year (two spots up from last year) and I have to commend staff for making it the experience that it is. The food, albeit less of a display of Heston's famed edible trickery at The Fat Duck (#47 on the list), fares really well and the service is really and truly outstanding.

Plaid Boy and I went for lunch before his evening flight this Summer. We took advantage of the set lunch (at £38 per head) and ordered a few bits in between so we can try more than our fare share of meals.

You get complimentary bread, but I suggest you keep your belly space for the meal proper.

Meat Fruit - Heston Blumenthal | The Girl Next Shore
We ordered Heston's signature meat fruit (£17) separately as it does not appear on the set menu (and rightly so, as it is too exquisite and deserves its own spotlight). It's essentially chicken liver and foie gras parfait encased in a mandarin jelly peel, shaped and made to look like a clementine and served with grilled sourdough bread.

Meat Fruit - Heston Blumenthal | The Girl Next Shore
I saw Plaid Boy's eyes twinkle with amusement as this came to our table. It's definitely snapshot-worthy, and pretty darn good. The parfait is creamy in texture and full on with flavour. It's rich and light so you end up eating more than you intend to, but the mandarin jelly perfectly cuts through any monotony and gives you a refreshing palate. It's perfect on grilled sourdough and quite a successful start.

Rice and Flesh - Heston Blumenthal | The Girl Next Shore
Plaid Boy ordered another signature dish, Rice and Flesh (£17). It's a decadent plate of risotto flecked generously with saffron and topped with red wine braised calf tail pieces. The vibrant colours is a feast for the eyes and the aromatics are strong enough to whet your appetite. All elements were cooked nicely, but I do think it's slightly too rich for my liking.

Palates teased with pretty darn good flavours, we were ready to embark on our set lunch. 

Set Lunch - Dinner by Heston Blumenthal | The Girl Next Shore
We both started with the pressed octopus salad. Served with a small fennel and pea shoot salad, it was fairly refreshing. I'm quite partial to fennel but the little drops of vinaigrette jelly cut through the aniseed flavour I often dislike. The octopus itself had good texture. Refreshing.

Set Lunch - Dinner by Heston Blumenthal | The Girl Next Shore
For mains, I went for the roast cured salmon and you can just about see how perfectly cooked it is from the outside. Served with pickled candy beetroot, which I thought worked harmoniously with the fish and sea vegetables, this was a nice light dish.

Set Lunch - Dinner by Heston Blumenthal | The Girl Next Shore
Plaid Boy took the meat route and went for the pork belly with minted peas. Slow-cooked for hours, it was delicately tender and melted off in my mouth. Think of it as the royalty of Sunday roasts.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal | The Girl Next Shore
Surprised myself by choosing the prune and tamarind tart over the chocolatey millionaire tart. It was really good. The brulee was firm and had good flavour but the prune and tamarind filling was quite a revelation. There was just enough of it to boost the tart's flavour profile and it worked with the thin pastry base.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal | The Girl Next Shore
Unsurprisingly, I ate most of the millionaire tart too. I was in awe of how glossy the crystallised chocolate was. It was rich, dark, and very appealing to every chocolate fiend. The vanilla ice cream was okay, but I'd happily do without.

What really impressed me is the service which is impeccable. The servers seemed genuinely passionate for you to have a grand time. The General Manager and his army of servers have been generous and attentive from explaining the years and concepts on the menu to asking if they could organise more toast when I've finished the sourdough bread halfway through my meat fruit (#noshame); from offering more wine and asking if we were comfortable to even accompanying us to the powder rooms. I've had experienced dining at restaurants who look amazing on the surface but a let down on food and service. I definitely think they could learn a lot from Dinner - there's greatness in humility and putting the customers first.

Then again, this is a Michelin-starred restaurant after all.

We finished the meal with coffees and a rich chocolate ganache that was just absolutely heavenly. Well-played.

Overall, it was a pleasant experience and I can't wait to take people here again. I would've wanted a bit more variety/excitement on the set menus but what's good is that it's been priced reasonably for you to order a few extra bits. It was definitely pleasant.

Dinner by Heston
Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 66 Knightsbridge, London SW1X
Ave spend pp: £38 for set menu, no wine; £80 for a la carte with wine
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal on UrbanspoonSquare Meal

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Cambridge 2014 (a photodiary)

I am a big city girl through and through but if I were to live anywhere in the UK other than London, I'd most probably choose Cambridge. I never thought I'd ever feel such great affinity to a small city but much thanks to The Lovely Laurels, I'm convinced I could happily retire there. I spent a full day wandering through town, envisioning the future spawns growing up visiting museums and wanting to study Bio-Chemistry at uni whilst I set up shop as a consultant by day and a baker by night. Har har.

There's so much to see, so many things to learn from and so many interesting people to watch. Really and truly though, Cambridge is beautiful.

The Old Hall at Queens'

The Mathematical Bridge

View from The Backs: Clare College and King's College

Inside  King's College Chapel - I was awestruck

Vandalised pews at Pembroke College Chapel dating back to the 1700s! Incredible penmanship, no?

Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the four medieval round churches in England

#OOTD: H&M Sweater | Topshop Jamie Jeans | Zara slip-ons (old)

River + all that green + all that source of knowledge. Oh yes, I can definitely live here. 

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

I *heart* LDN, an update

October is finally here, which means a) I am turning 30 in two weeks and b) I am finally (after a lot of immigration law changes) eligible to apply for my UK residency after almost a decade of being an expat and countless visa renewals. #fistpump

I've been living in London for a third of my life, during the psychosocial development years where one forms and raises opinions on how intimate he becomes with himself, his peers/colleagues, and his lovers. The existential question in this stage of life is whether one is capable of loving, and living in this city has definitely helped me answer that. 

I wrote this article two years ago when I realised how this city has moved me, changed me, and made me. I still feel the same.
"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.


Now, everyone's been asking if I'd move back to Asia after Plaid Boy and I get married (he's based in Singapore). Am I ready to leave my home to move back home home? Truth is, I don't know. But the moving part is always easier than letting go.

Watch this space.

My blogger buddies Sara and Fed have written about their own expat stories as well. Hop on to their blogs for very interesting reads =)