Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Ippudo London: where ramen fell flat (but oh, that chilli)

I've not had ramen in over a year, partly because I've not really been impressed with what's on offer in town and partly because comfort food cravings change as seasons do. Lately, with the temperature dropping a few degrees summoning the need for heat, my stomach's been calling out for anything warm in a bowl. 

Miho said I should try Kanada-Ya but they were closed, so we ended up crossing the road for Ippudo. This international ramen chain recently opened in London which was a big hoo-ha for me, simply because I can now scoff at Plaid Boy and friends whenever they send me photos from the SG/HK branches. Oh yeah, sweety. We have that here, too.

Located at Central St. Giles, the place is bigger than I thought. From the outside, you can see the restaurant's two-floor set up and its tasteful decor. There's a tiny bar downstairs to keep punters rolling with some sake & Japanese whisky while they queue for noodles (be warned though, 50ml of 18-year-old Yamazaki would set you back £27 a pop) and an open kitchen flaunting some noodle-tossing and broth-brewing.

We were greeted four very loud rounds of "Irassahimase!!!!"  and were led upstairs to our cozy booth. It all looks so calm in the picture, but if I could photograph the loudness of top 40 pop and jazz standards blaring off the speakers I think I'd blow your ears off.

We had hot sake and houjicha tea to warm us up. Literally.

The tori kara-age (£) was surprisingly better than I expected. Seasoned well, these big chunks of chicken were pretty juicy.

Their Hakata tonpu-yaki (£8) was their own style of Japanese pancake. Whilst it had a nice umami flavour from the bonito flakes, I wish it had more pork belly and cabbage for depth of texture.

G ordered the Shiromaru Hakata classic (£10) aka homemade thin noodles topped with pork loin chashu, sesame kikurage mushrooms, bean sprouts and spring onions. The broth has less umami flavour than its bolder counterpart, the akamaru modern. 

D & I ordered the spicy ramen (£11) on the specials. D ordered extra pork belly and egg with hers and kept to the usual spice level. The broth is their original hakata classic broth but has fragrant garlic oil and chilli paste. I must admit I was pretty disappointed by the quality of the pork belly. It just wasn't thick enough and quite frankly, bland.

I ordered mine with extra "five times the chilli paste" (our server said the normal one wasn't spicy enough) for an extra 50p. At first slurp it was very, very, very mild and I thought perhaps I should've gotten the "ten times the chilli paste". I do have a high tolerance for spicy food after all. 

A minute later, the chilli kicked in and... WOW. I've never had super clear sinuses before.

The noodles were disappointing. They just didn't have that nice, stringy bite you get from good ramen noodles. The broth rather fell flat and thinner than how I would have liked.

In retrospect, perhaps I would've enjoyed this more if I had set the chilli paste aside and built the spice profile as I dug into the bowl. I managed to eat all of it, but D & I had to ask for some lemon in the last few minutes to make it tolerable. I suffered a bit of heart burn afterwards, too.

Overall, it was quite a ramen letdown. I had high hopes for this chain to be as good as its Hong Kong counterpart but I think I'll just go elsewhere to get my ramen fix.

Ippudo London 
Central Saint Giles, London WC2H
Ave spend pp: £30
View their menu on Zomato.
Ippudo London on Urbanspoon

Monday, 12 January 2015

DF / Mexico: where good food meets good social media

I've been tortured by the lack of great Mexican food in London for so long. So when my blogger buds decided to meet, tweet and eat at DF / Mexico I crossed my fingers and prayed to the burrito gods: may this place be something good to taco 'bout. Emma (Bloomzy), Sara (Hello The Mushroom) & Jasimmine (Posh, Broke, & Bored) assured me it's very decent.

DF / Mexico is located at The Truman Brewery in Shoreditch. Stemming from Masterchef winner and mastermind behind Wahaca's success Tomasina Miers, I relaxed a bit. If food here is as reliable as it is in her first Mexican chain, I reckon my belly would be perfectly happy.

I am utterly charmed by the lighting fixtures.

There's drink all you can agua frescas (for JUST £2.30!!!) available in hibiscus, lime & chia, and an all-time favourite Mexican spice washer: horchata! The horchata here is light and refreshing.

The first round of frozen margaritas (£6.75) were laid on the table and, like all responsible bloggers, we all took our snappers out to fulfill our blogging mantra: shoot first, eat/drink later.

I got a good kicking at first sip. Holy guacamole, this baby is strong. Off to a good start then. The raspberry and hibiscus is a winner but the passionfruit one is pretty good, too.

The four of us shared a generous plate of beef nachos (£6.75). Crispy fried tortilla chips topped with an abundance of slow-cooked chilli beef, refried beans, salsa, a bit of guac, cheese and sour cream. All I can say is that I could NOT stop picking on it (even after we've finished our mains and the chips have gone cold). Miles better than the last nachos I've ordered elsewhere, this made me like nachos again.

Jasimmine ordered the DIY Mexican board with ancho mushrooms (£10.95). My mouth started watering when I smelled the earthy roasted mushrooms and ancho chilli. Topped with sour cream and served with soft flour tortillas, some slaw and corn chips, I made a mental note to order the chilli beef one next time.

Emma & Sara both got bad boy size steak burritos (£9.25 - you can opt for the smaller one for £6.75). Admittedly I thought this was going to be longer and bigger but as I watch my friends rub their bellies in satisfied bliss I think I may have just gone eye-hungry. This, I reckon, is the only type of bad boy your parents would be happy to meet.

My MSC fish tacos (£8.70) were up to par. I was hesitant to order this as I thought it would be similar to the tacos in Wahaca (they're sisters, after all) but these were the better version. The cod had crunchy panko coating and was nicely moist and flavoursome inside. Crunchy red slaw and chipotle mayo gave it substance but add some of their homemade jalape簽o and honey sauce and you'll have a serious palate party. It's essentially fish finger tacos, with a bit more pizazz. 

I haven't had esquites in a while so it was great to find it on the menu. This cup of corn (£2.50) wasn't as creamy as how I would have wanted it but it was awfully delicious and brought such a comforting feeling. It's like a hug in a cup! 

I got some cowgirl beans (£2.50) to be adventurous and I'm surprised I actually liked it. Possibly because it had sufficient chorizo and chipotle flavour to balance the starchy taste of pinto beans.

Now we've established that the grub is reliable Mexican fare, let me tell you how much we all enjoyed our Twitter banter with @DFMexicoDiner. They were so on point and sassy, just the type of ears you need when you're starting a restaurant. I feel like we're friends already. It (well, with a cheeky second round of frozen margaritas) made our dining experience enjoyable, although seriously, I'd happily go back for the food. *grouphug*

Icing on the cake? Having enjoyable convos with these lovely ladies all night long. Can't wait til our next soiree!

DF / Mexico
Truman Brewery, Hanbury Street, London E1 | +44 20 3617 6639
Ave. spend pp: £15
View the menu on Zomato. Follow them on Twitter.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

6 Instagram accounts you should follow if you want to learn more about the Philippines

One of my most memorable conversations about the Philippines went on like this:

HER: You're from the Philippines?
ME: Yes, indeed! I am!
HER: From Minillee?
ME: Er, it's Manila. Ma-ni-la. The capital.
HER: Oh exotic! What's it like to live in Africa?

Unfortunately, this person had an MA in journalism. Not geography.

The Philippines is in South East Asia. It's an archipelago that looks like a fossilised dinosaur.

I've met a lot of people here in the UK who've not heard much of the Philippines. And I get it. Flying to the country costs a few hundred pounds more than the average backpacking budget (plus travelling across regional South East Asia is much more convenient - kinda like continental EU vs the UK) so we're almost always on the backburner of travel lists. There's a scarcity of Filipino restaurants around and though foodies come bustling left and right, majority of us cave in to our fear of the unknown. Up until Typhoon Haiyan, the Philippines wasn't exactly a household name and it's a shame that something that swept a nation to mourning landed us on the map.

But there are a lot of Filipinos who've made world-class marks in their respective industries, they probably just didn't know. Manny Pacquiao. Lea Salonga. Monique Lhuillier. Enrique Iglesias. Josie Natori. Rafe Totengco. Bruno Mars. Nicole Shercheeseburger, that Pussycat Doll. Apl.De.Ap, that Black Eyed Pea. Rob Schneider. Rufio from Hook. Yep they're of Filipino descent.

It's a very beautiful country with a colourful history. Rich in tradition cultivated from a hotpot of cultures, it's a fun place to visit. Look:

Here are 6 Instagram accounts you should follow to discover more about the Philippines.

1. @discovermanila - I'm obsessed with this feed. Peppered with images of awesome architecture and sights (old and new) in the capital, I've not seen Manila as beautiful.

2. @manilaeatup - A nice project featuring delicious treats from the Manila food scene, including those who've turned their passion for food into businesses.
3. @visitpilipinas - Scenic shots of the Philippines snapped by amazing Pinoy travel bloggers.
4. @previewthestylebible - The official account of Preview, a magazine that fashionistas and lifestyle gurus deem super worthy. See how beautiful and creative Filipinos are.

5. @gomanila - I love this feed particularly because it features mostly Filipino food products against a backdrop of cultural interest. Very interesting!
6. @wheninmanila - photos from a community of storytellers sharing what's hip and happening in Manila and beyond. The blog's also worth a visit.
Next time you think of travelling somewhere, do consider The Philippines. It's a lot of fun out there ;)

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Lipstick Love: Chanel Rouge Coco 19 Gabrielle

My lips always fall victim to the Winter cold so I'm incessantly applying lip salve like it's going off the next day. I'm also always on the prowl for hydrating lipstick with decent pigmentation. Chanel's Rouge Coco Hydrating Creme Lip Colour range offers some of the most moisturising lipstick out there so I popped around the Covent Garden store pre-Christmas. Unfortunately, they didn't have what I wanted. So when my ubercool cousin D popped a tube of Gabrielle (19) in my Christmas pressie bag, I was absolutely chuffed!

Chanel Rouge Coco Gabrielle
Chanel Rouge Coco Gabrielle
Chanel Rouge Coco Gabrielle
Chanel Rouge Coco Gabrielle
Gabrielle 19: a lot of beauty bloggers/vloggers call this a "true red" shade. It seems neutral enough which makes it very wearable for all skin tones. It's very pretty in a glam kind of way and is tinged with tiny gold specks that give it a nice shimmer to it.

Finish: creamy satin with shine. If you have dry lips (like I do) it's best to prep and smoothen your lips first. However, bear in mind that this is already a shiny lipstick so avoid shimmery lip balm/gloss.

Application: very creamy and glides smoothly on your lips. It's quite sheer so you can build up the colour depending on your preference. As with most red lipstick, it's best to use with lip liner.

Retouch: it's quite a sheer colour and I found myself having to retouch about four times for a whole day. I do drink a lot of hot bev so this could be why but this is what you'd expect anyway with most creamy lip gunk (ie quick colour transfer).

Chanel Rouge Coco Gabrielle
Chanel Rouge Coco Gabrielle
Sans flash

Chanel Rouge Coco Gabrielle
Chanel Rouge Coco Gabrielle
Chanel Rouge Coco Gabrielle
Avec flash

My lips did feel moisturised the whole day, moreso than when I use MAC's Mineralize lipstick. I'm also really in love with the colour: it's red enough to make a statement, but not screamingly so. Very refined and very glam indeed.

Do you have any Winter lippy favourites? 

Friday, 2 January 2015

A letter for 2015

Dear 2015,

So here you are. Much as I'm excited to start our journey together, let me tell you about 2014 first. We had quite a pleasant relationship and as I step into a new one with you, I would like you to understand how 2014 treated me so we can mutually manage expectations.

2014 was hectic and made me feel on tippytoes most of the time. I may have developed a bit of anxiety through the months but in fairness, I've reaped so many benefits and learned so much.

2014 made my family closer. My parents continue to be the most generous people I know and my sibs have made their big sis proud (my not-so-little sister is singing for none other than Pope Francis when he visits Manila in a few weeks' time). I've reached out to cousins whom I haven't really spent much time with and intend to keep our circle tighter. I continue to love being a godmother to my five beautiful godchildren.

2014 reminded me to weed out toxic people in my life and that friendship does take effort, no matter how easy relationships should be. I have become more appreciative of people who take their time talking and listening by all means of communication media, and I've been trying to do the same. We have been collecting 'friends' long before the days of online social media but when was the last time you actually had a conversation with the person who sat two rows ahead of you in high school? "Like" buttons and Emoji expressions can be limiting after all and in the end, 2014 taught me that the conversations you have with people, those that need no written affirmation, will matter most.

2014 was generous and gave me opportunities to see Plaid Boy a lot. We started the year with a trip to Hong Kong with my family, then spent more time in Singapore. We honed our map-reading abilities touring Paris in Spring and had lots of lunch dates in London over the Summer. In Autumn, we both flew to Manila with the aim of attacking the (seemingly neverending) wedding checklist which was quite a success then headed back to Singapore for much deserved R&R. My faith in our partnership has truly deepened for it has gone beyond blissful moments, cheesy posts, and grand gestures. I've never felt so blessed to have found someone I can enjoy life with and, rather more importantly, endure trying times with.

Food is still a big inspiration and 2014 elevated my palate with so many flavours. A couple of highlights include finding the best pad Thaia decent tapas place and really good Peruvian food in London; falling in love with indulgent angel hair pasta and being introduced to "Mod Sing" in Singapore; having a lovely Parisian lunch date; finishing my own serving of Heston Blummenthal's meat fruit; perfecting my pasta negra and learning to bake chicken, hanging out with bloggers at the London Coffee Festival; and being served an amazing home-cooked meal by my future husband.

2014 got me excited about blogging again. This hobby continues to be a source of sheer sanity from my regular job. My small blog may have evolved from the emo/moody days of Livejournal (*CRINGE*) to its present state but I truly enjoy it when people appreciate my random musings.

Joining the UK chapter of Nuffnang and Zomato gave me a new perspective on the industry here and has helped expand my network of like-minded people. I've been invited to more events where I've met bloggers on all levels (ie some superstars in the industry, some who blog full-time, and some who maintain it as a hobby and creative resort, like me). I've also met wonderful Filipino food bloggers in Asia this year, some whom I've been fans of for quite a while and some who I share common friends and parallel life experiences with.

Some of these bloggers have become good friends IRL and this reminded me that we are more alike than we are unalike.

2014 gave me so many opportunities to experience cool things and travel to places. Whilst I love Paris and continue to shuffle and shuttle between Singapore and Manila, London continues to be the perfect hostess and home away from home. I fell in love with Cambridge and a bit of Oxfordshire, too. Work brought about pretty cool stuff including visits at the UK Supreme Court, hearing Bianca Jagger speak for Amnesty International, doing the London Legal Walk for the second year to help legal aid, seeing the Isabella Blow exhibit, having lunchtime training walking tours, etc. Nuffnang gave me the opportunity to become a detective, a walking rainbow, a bartender and an official press person whilst Zomato fed me a lot. My friend Alex & I survived the Live Below The Line challenge which really opened my eyes to how the other half live and what it means when we waste food.

My most profound experience in 2014 though, was battling and surviving alopecia. 2014 gave me a certain kind of strength I didn't think I had.

2014 celebrated my 30th and brought forth so many points of learning and in most ways, affirmation. I can go on for ages about these realisations but for now let me just tell you this: I've never felt so confident and secure about who I am as an individual and at 30, I feel so blessed to have such liberty.

So yes, my dear 2014 has been extremely kind and generous. Whilst I'm feeling a bit sombre to let it go, 2014's told me a lot of bright ideas and inspiration to see the future in an excitable light.

I am so ready to move forward with you, 2015. I pray that you'd take care of me and my loved ones and that you'd shower us with more lessons. Keep on giving us the extra push we need so we may continue to seek betterment and joy. You are going to be a big year for me, 2015 and I hope and pray you'd be kind to all of us. Keep us hungry and humble. Keep us all grounded.

The Girl Next Shore

Here's to such great heights in 2015, folks.
Thank you for dropping by. <3