Monday, 30 November 2015

Postcards from Milan: a walkabout to the Mandarin Oriental Bar

Milan is a relatively small city but just like its people, it can wow you with classically beautiful aesthetics. The streets of this Italian commercial hub is peppered with buildings that have an understated elegance. It is a very, very, very stylish city.

Not too far from the world-famous Teatro alla Scala is the Mandarin Oriental, Milan. Opening earlier this year, the hotel sits in four 18th-century buildings with 73 rooms and 31 suites boasting of contemporary Italian design and timeless Oriental luxury and service. Guests can enjoy fine dining at Seta headed by acclaimed chef Antonio Guida (formerly of two Michelin-starred Pelicano) or a more casual experience at the Mandarin Bar. There's also a spa which offers great beauty and relaxation amenities.

The bar is a lovely spot to refuel. The cocktails are pretty good and the coffee is as bold and as strong as the lounge interiors. There's a courtyard where you can hang out al fresco in the warmer months (while watching beautiful people). I can't fault the warm smiles we got during our visit. 

The Mandarin Oriental Bar is truly a gem. Of course, there are independent cafes and cocktail bars around the city, but this place speaks volumes in indulgence and luxurious service.

Have you been to Milan? What's your favourite spot?

Mandarin Bar
Mandarin Oriental, Via Andegari, 9, San Babila, Milano 20121

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Sunday, 29 November 2015

Bloggers' Boozy Brunch @ Bunga Bunga (Battersea)

Can I get a high five for that alliteration? 

The first thing I saw when I entered Bunga Bunga was a penis.

Nothing like the sight of male genitals to get you a rise-and-shine boost for brunch, non? Quite aptly, the restaurant's name will always remind me of shamed Silvio Berlusconi's controversial 'bunga bunga' sex parties and affairs with minors. However I was invited for a more wholesome type of affair: brunch with a couple of bloggers. 

More like a cowabunga bunga party, I'd say.

Bunga Bunga is a quirky pizzeria and karaoke bar in Battersea that's well known for its tongue-in-cheek entertainment and ambience. When the invite said there'd be karaoke, I was terrified as I can't sing to save my life (even though Filipinos are known to whack out their Magic Sing devices at any time of the day on any occasion). But I was there for the food and experience, so I braved it out. 

Soon enough, we spotted the bloggers' table and after a few introductions, the food started coming.

First up was a tray of assorted pastries including a really competitive custard puff I could stuff my face with again...

a platter of cured meats and balls of melon. Clear antipasti favourites were present: salame Milano, capocollo, mortadella and my favourite prosciutto di Parma.

No brunch is complete without a range of toasted bread with chocolate spread and jam plus fruit juice...

 ...and prosecco to make your own bellini, of course. The unlimited / bottomless / neverending / fill up your carafe when it's finished type. This went down a treat.

And then the pizzas came in "Ta-da!" fashion. 

Each pizza meter had four types: Micaela Margherita (cheese and tom sauce), Italy's Fun-Guy (wild mushroom, pecorino, confit tomato and truffle oil), An Englishman's Breakfast (sausage, 'shrooms, toms, pancetta, soft egg), The Bunga Royale (smoked salmon, spinach, Hollandaise, soft egg).

They may all sound like gourmet porn titles, but they're all foodporn stars anyway.

The Bunga Royale was the crowd favourite. Who knew eggs royale can be a damn good pizza flavour? Most of you know I don't eat egg when I see it so I picked on eggless parts. It was really a winner. The thin sourdough crust is made in-house and I liked the way it crisped on the ends.

Bellies happily satisfied (but not uncomfortably so), a gondola of gelati and sorbets were laid in front of us.

With a little bit of luck in strategic location, I was sat exactly in front of the first chocolate gelato. It was rich, creamy but lighter than most chocolate ice creams I've had.

(Spot the finger!)

Our brunch sitting finished but the entertainment had just begun. Punters gathered by the bar ready to start the weekend boozing and celebrations.

There was live music. Face painting. Booze. Karaoke. Dancing. Selfie-taking. Girls boozing in the loos and men ogling them ladies. It was a full blown party at 2pm when the sun was surprisingly present in London. I wanted to go look for a knob to dim the lights. 

And I also wanted to grab the mic from this lady to belt out some crazy ass disco tune and pretend for a moment that I'm not the only Filo who can't sing. 

Admittedly, it was rather strange seeing a party unravel while the sun was still out but it was a pretty good way to kick off the weekend. It's kitschy, a little Coyote Ugly meets To Wong Foo, and possibly a little too in-your-face, but Bunga Bunga partygoers and hosts have an infectious way of getting you in a really good mood. 

The Bunga Bunga Party Brunch is available on Saturdays and has two seatings at 11.30am (£38) and at 2pm (£48). Go for some pretty decent food and some cheeky entertainment. After all, there's always a reason for a party and definitely never too early for karaoke (trust me, I'm Filo). 

Bunga Bunga
37 Battersea Bridge Road, London, SW11 3BA
My meal was complimentary but average spend pp is around £30.

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Monday, 23 November 2015

SuperStarBBQ (Central St Giles): where the highlight came last

I love me a good barbie. Not only does it signify al fresco dining and an excuse for daytime drinking, it's also such a social thing. Unless the weather is cold and grey and dreary and drizzly. Like London 70% of the year. 

I kid. I love you, London.

But seriously whenever Summer fades into a cool Autumnal crisp I get that crazy-eyes type of craving for a good barbie. This year was no different, so when I got an invite from the Bibimbap and Asadal group to try their newest Korean indoor barbecue venture, I graciously accepted.

Superstar BBQ is located in Central St Giles, next to Ippudo and across Kanada-Ya. Despite the K-Pop referential logo and branding the decor is rather sophisticated, with light bulbs and rose-coloured lamps cascading from the ceiling and an island bar at the centre. Glass walls mimic an airy space and tables are big enough to indicate a huge welcome for group dining.

Of course, we started our meal with cocktails. I found the drinks lacking that "Whoooohooooo!" type of kick and rather too sweet but this wasn't an issue. There are decent cocktail bars around the area (ie LAB and London Cocktail Club) to satisfy the thirst anyway. 

We had a choice to pick one of the three set menus so we opted for Set 3 (£35) plus a side of Korean fried chicken.

The mandoo (Korean dumplings) came first and these were rather good. The wrap is thin and crispy and the filling was nicely seasoned.

The pa jeon (Seafood pancake) was a generous portion. Though there was an abundance of seafood in the pancake, I thought the batter was a little tad on the oily side.

The yuk hwae (beef tartare) was very pretty and a sure shot Instagram winner. I had a bit of it without the egg and it was decent enough, but I've had better.

We asked for Korean fried chicken in sweet chilli sauce and it was very tasty. So tasty that I reckon I could finish an entire serving of 10 pieces by myself.

The coating was crispy and the chicken was juicy. I wish it had a bit more of a chilli kick to it, though.

Once finished with starters, a server asked if we were ready for the barbecue. With a resounding yes, we set him off to get to the main event of the night. This was were it got a bit tricky. About 20 minutes later, we were still waiting for our food. We had to ask two other servers to follow up before the dishes finally arrived.

Assorted vegetables, sauces and meat finally arrived while another server helped set up the grill on the table. The veggies could've been handled with a little bit more care I thought, as they came a wee bit limp, but the kimchi was okay.

Frankly, we were rather underwhelmed by the protein. The prawn and wine pork belly were a little on the bland side whilst the sesame and garlic sirloin was a bit underseasoned in my opinion. The galbi rib, thankfully, had a nice flavour and was quite succulent.

Using the table grill was rather interactive and it made us feel like pro chefs for a while. 

After we finished our mains, there was another bit of a wait before we had a look at the dessert menu (after calling the attention of two different servers, too!)

This, my friends, is "The Snowball". Essentially shaved ice topped with a mixture of fruit, chocolate, nuts, beans, and syrup. It reminded me of a Philippine dessert called halo-halo (similar to the Malaysian ice kacang) which I love. Unfortunately, this dessert snowballed downhill for me.

The highlight of the night, however, came last. My bowl of black sesame ice cream was the best I've had in ages. It reminded me of ube/purple yam ice cream which is one of my top three favourite ice cream flavours of all time.

After we left the restaurant we realised we didn't get our miso soup which came with the set menu. Not that it mattered then anyway. We had plenty enough to eat. #amomentonthelips

I can't say I've had a similar experience at Superstar BBQ like my other blogger buddies who totally raved about it. Perhaps the place had an off night when I went? My issue is down to the essence of hospitality: product and service. Food was okay but could do with a bit of tweaking here and there; service was a bit lacklustre and some waiters didn't show knowledge of the menu (although admittedly there was one server who stood out in terms of enthusiasm).

I do see the marketability of this place especially with its strategic location and concept of an interactive dining experience, so I hope they sort some of their teething issues because I don't know anyone who doesn't love a damn good barbecue.

Superstar BBQ
4 Central St Giles Piazza London WC2H 8AB
Ave spend pp: £45
SuperStar BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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