Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong


Leave a comment

Starting 2014 with a bang Down Under

Better late than never- HAPPY NEW YEAR readers! Every year I’m astonished at how time flies and given that it is February already, I guess I really am in some sort of time warp. I have a bit of blogging catch-up to do but nothing keeps one more busy than travelling (wedding season!) coinciding with big holidays (Xmas, New Year, Chinese New Year). It must be a sign of old age when you and your friends constantly whinge about how the months are whipping by and how we “only just celebrated a New Year, how is it New Year AGAIN?” But this year the start of 2014 whilst low-key, was a little different- we were in Sydney to ring it in!

New Year in Sydney is all about the fireworks and we were fortunate to be at our friends’ place at Milson’s Point, a stone’s throw away from undoubtedly, one of the best spots to view the spectacular fireworks. I haven’t been fussed about fireworks for a few years and never really had the will to fight my way through the crowds in Hong Kong and freeze my butt off in London, but this time it had to be done. Our NYE dinner was a different experience too. Our friends had busted out the BBQ in true Aussie style and were producing all sorts of fare, including some highly addictive minced beef pies (courtesy of the oven not the BBQ pit, though that would have been REALLY impressive). Then, the time came for childlike wonderment. Cue an eighteen or so strong group of slightly inebriated friends stumbling over hill and over dale in Bradfield Park jostling with everyone to get a good spot. And I must say, I was quite enchanted by the fireworks. I’m afraid I don’t have any photos of the amazing BBQ spread, you will just have to take my word for it that our friend was quite masterful, even when drunk, but here are some photos of the fireworks captured on my humble phone. Sydney fireworks Sydney fireworks Sydney fireworks Sydney fireworks

To book dinners and lunches for a group of sixteen over several days was a bit of a nightmare, and I must say, aside from the exorbitant prices of some of our meals and some shockingly bad service, two meals stood out. One was a trip to the Sydney Fish Market and the other, to a lovely Italian restaurant in Surrey Hills.

Sydney Fish Market was just a glorious, roofed collection of retailers and restaurants housing the freshest array of seafood. To say that we gorged is a bit of an understatement. The raw seafood as well as the cooked was delicious. IMG_8670 IMG_8671 IMG_8672 IMG_8662 IMG_8663 IMG_8664 IMG_8665

Our exceptionally organised friend S, and Sydney Cordon Bleu alumni booked us lunch at a lovely Italian restaurant A Tavola, in Surry Hills, Darlinghurst, and on that day, the sun was shining, a fine breeze was blowing and we found ourselves hauling our asses up a fairly large hill to our destination. But it was worth the sweat. A Tavola was a fine example of how fresh pasta should be done; heartily, excellently and with gusto and no pretension. Simplicity at its best.

A Tavola

A Tavola

Our huge group sat at a long table and watched the chefs roll and shape fresh pasta next to us. The space is small but it was a hive of activity and the staff were smiley and friendly. We had a set menu of 3 Primi courses, 3 Secondi and 2 Salads to enjoy plus an additional dessert that we could not resist. Price point wise, the final bill was $94 AUS per person ($650HK).IMG_8552

Mesmorised by pasta

Mesmorised by pasta

Out of our Primi courses, I absolutely adored the Swiss brown mushrooms, peas, mint and ricotta salad and the fried Salami with polenta.

 Swiss brown mushrooms, peas, mint and ricotta salad

Swiss brown mushrooms, peas, mint and ricotta salad

Buffalo Mozzarella and proscuitto

Buffalo Mozzarella and proscuitto

Fried Salami Veneto

Fried Salami Veneto

The mains were beautiful but the Hand-cut pappardelle with slow braised beef in a red wine and horseradish reduction was the winner, although the pan-fried fish was also sublime.

Hand-cut pappardelle with slow braised beef

Hand-cut pappardelle with slow braised beef

Tagliatelle with cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and basil

Tagliatelle with cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and basil

Bonus pasta dish- can't remember what this was!

Bonus pasta dish- can’t remember what this was!

Pan fried market fish with dill mayonnaise, green olives and orange

Pan fried market fish with dill mayonnaise, green olives and orange

Chocolate ganache

Chocolate ganache

Oh, and the dessert? Even the most savoury of teeth would not be able to resist their Chocolate ganache with Amaretto biscuit concoction. My brain went into sugar overdrive when I tasted their homemade salt caramel ice-cream and torched meringue.

And so we left with blissful, satiated smiles and a leisurely walk back to the city centre with nothing but what was to be a gorgeous wedding and the Blue mountains to enjoy in the coming days.

IMG_8820

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5 

A Tavola, 348 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst, NSW 2010. Tel: +61 02 9331 7871

Email: reservationsdarlinghurst@atavola.com.au Opening times: Dinner Mon-Sat 6pm-late, Lunch Friday 12pm- 3pm

Sydney Fish Market, Pyrmont Bridge Rd, Pyrmont NSW 2009, Australia

Advertisements


1 Comment

Five Guys, Two Girls and a Sex Shop

It could be one or the other or a combination of all three- either I’ve gone senile, my lasered eyes are finally failing or London is changing faster than a quick change artist, but I swear that half the restaurants in the city are new since I was last home in February. Not that this is a bad thing at all, but it does make me feel that I am missing out on the smorgasbord of restaurants that has descended upon London. So it’s fortunate that on this three week break that I’ve taken, that my friends have been determined to fat feed me as much as possible.

One fine day last week, my friend S and I had the hilariously un-pc The Book of Mormon to look forward to at the theatre, but before we immersed ourselves in the world of Joseph Smith and the Church of Latter Day Saints, S took me to the artery-clogging Five Guys Burgers and Fries in Long Acre.

While you wait you can munch on monkey nuts at the door, or, like some people I spied, tut tut, take a whole bagful on the way out. You can have a normal hamburger, cheeseburger, bacon burger or bacon cheeseburger and then you can stuff as many free toppings as you like in between the buns. Clearly I went for the bacon cheeseburger and bit off more than I could chew haha as I asked for at least 6 toppings. You can go for the little burgers, but that just seemed like the wimpy option. They also serve hotdogs and sandwiches, but for us, it was burgers all the way. The American diner approach is also to have unlimited refills of your drink, which I can never take full advantage of  but we entertained ourselves by trying squirts of different Fanta flavours.

Inside Five Guys- sadly too busy thinking of toppings to take photo so this is from web again!

Inside Five Guys- sadly too busy thinking of toppings to take photo so this is from web!

Word of advice: order small fries. Do not think you can finish the regular fries between two people because you will be eating till the cows come home- ahh the puns. There were chips coming out of my ears by the end of the meal. But how was the burger? Monstrous. I loved the coarse grind of the juicy beef patty and although it was a messy affair, I enjoyed my Five Guys experience. Even if it took us nearly 45 minutes to get through it. The only trouble is the bun does get rather soggy from all the juices, especially if you have one too many toppings. But I would go back again. Perhaps I will share with someone next time- for my arteries’ sake.

Bacon cheeseburger

Bacon cheeseburger

20131016_131257IMG_7455After waddling to see The Book of Mormon, which was side-splittingly entertaining- thoroughly recommend it to everyone, we stopped for a sophisticated tea break and mini Austrian strudels at The Parlour at Fortnum & Mason. Love having tea out of their gorgeous silver teapots.

The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon

Mini Austrian Strudel

Mini Austrian Strudel

Tea at The Parlour

Tea at The Parlour

And then we came to the slightly eyebrow raising part of the day- dinner at La Bodega Negra, near Leicester Square. S remarked to me, “This place is quite hard to find….because it doesn’t have a sign and it looks like a sex shop from the outside. So this could be potentially embarrassing.” I didn’t really know what to think. Were we going to end up wandering into some sort of bondage shop and end up eating off tied up patrons? We couldn’t look more clueless or lost when we got to Moor Street and shuffled nervously around the general vicinity of a sex shop- bright neon lights saying “Peep show”. When we realised that we were in fact at the right door- it says, “Private Dance Downstairs” and “COME” in red neon lights, (I confess I sniggered), we walked through and down some stairs, only to be greeted by a mannequin in a PVC gimp suit. Cue nervous hand twitching, until the helpful lady at the desk confirmed our booking for 7 people. Phew.

La Bodega Negro Entrance

La Bodega Negro Entrance

Fancy a peep?

Fancy a peep?

It’s dark inside. Very dark. Stone walls and arches evoke images of dungeons and handcuffs, though I suppose that is the point. The atmosphere is vibrant and palpable and there is a dark allure to the whole set-up that I enjoyed. Ushered into our seats, we squinted and nearly lost an eyeball trying to make out the menu until I blinded everyone with my phone torchlight. The food served is Mexican comfort, with tacos, ceviche, tostadita and salads, as well as main dishes such as slow roasted lamb and chicken mole. We decided to share a mixture of everything but skip the mains in favour of cocktails.

The starters were surprisingly good. Their guacamole with sesame tostadas was quite beautiful- rich, creamy and chunky and had the right amount of lime juice to give it a clean taste. The Quesadilla Rustica- a toasted flour tortilla with four cheeses and roasted tomato was delicious and had a lovely crispy edge.

Guacamole with sesame tostadas

Guacamole with sesame tostadas

Quesadilla Rustica

Quesadilla Rustica

We loved their quinoa salad with grilled courgette and the textured roasted corn salad, which had a light piquancy from the Serrano chili. We tried two Ceviche dishes- the mixed seafood (squid, prawn and octopus)- excellent dressing, and the Spicy yellow fin tuna which was gloriously chunky and had a wonderful citrus-fruity tang from the Guajillo chili.

Quinoa salad

Quinoa salad

One can’t go to a Mexican without having tacos, so we went full pelt and ordered the pork belly, lamb, soft shell crab and the char roasted mushroom (we had a vegetarian in our group who was immensely happy with the veggie options). The soft shell crab and the pork belly were the winners, though I am still questioning whether two tiny tacos for £8.50- crab and £6.50 for the rest, is strictly worth it.

Soft shell crab taco

Soft shell crab taco

Dessert was of course, churros, with thick chocolate dipping sauce which were light and delicately sugared.

Churros

Churros

Portions are a bit on the stingy side, the prices too high to make you feel you can be completely satisfied and the salads in no way feed 6 people, despite the waitress’ insistence when we were ordering, but, I don’t think people come here for the food. The cool, underground vibe is the attraction, the cocktails are excellent and the amusement of being next to a shop that sells adult videos and seeing grown men accidentally go to La Bodega Negra on the way out are definite pluses however, but I’m not sure I would go back other than to feel hip whilst sipping a Tijuana Whore. Another negative is that when S phoned to book, she was told that they do not normally allow same sex groups to dine and there usually needs to be a mix of males and females to secure a booking, which is the biggest load of BS that I have ever heard. Thankfully our friend’s husband turned up. Hmmm.

And so we left, walking past the mannequin dressed in PVC and lingered with wild abandon in front of the sex shop before trotting off home.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries, 1-3 Long Acre, London, WC2E 9LH.

$$$$$$$$$$

Chopstixfix rating: 3.5/5

La Bodega Negra, 16 Moor Street, London, W1D 5NH. Tel: 020 7758 4100 www.labodeganegra.com

$$$-$$$$$$$$$$

Chopstixfix rating: 3/5

Apologies for quality of La Bodega Negro photos- massive headache trying to take anything in pitch darkness at a tiny table crammed with dishes.


Leave a comment

Borough Market Bliss

Ahhh London. I absolutely looooovvve going home and London when it’s warm, dry and sunny is the absolute BEE’S KNEES. Two words: Borough Market. One of the most blissful places to roam around, especially on an empty stomach. A glutton’s dream. The first time I went, which was maybe 6 years ago, the market wasn’t quite the commercialised hub that it is today. There were more rough edges and a less polished charm which I adored. Today Borough Market has been discovered by shedloads of people and anyone who has sniffed out its delicious, wafting aromas and has, somewhat sadly, developed into a tourist attraction in itself but it’s still fantastic. I’m just dismayed that the amazeballs raclette stall that was my all time favourite seems to have disappeared. Boo.

Borough Market

Borough Market

IMG_7553 IMG_7558I went with my parents last Friday and by some miracle were blessed with dry weather and a positively balmy 16 degrees. We wasted no time trawling through the market in search for lunch and first stop was at Portena for a heavenly beef empanada. Juicy, packed with flavour, ugh..I wanted more, more, more. You can pour their homemade Chimichurri sauce on your empanada too, which gives it a punch.Portena Empanadas IMG_7492 IMG_7491

Beef Empanada

Beef Empanada

Chimichurri sauce

Chimichurri sauce

Brindisa, a Spanish gastronomy company, has a glorious shop selling Serrano and Iberico hams, cheeses, olives and of course chorizo. But the best part is that Brindisa has a little stall selling the most kick-ass chorizo sandwiches. Get in my belleh. Bit pricey though, damn inflation. £3.75 for a ‘single’ i.e. 1 chorizo piece, and £4.75 for 2 chorizo pieces. Luckily they are fat chunks.

Brindisa chorizo sandwich

Brindisa chorizo sandwich

IMG_7503

YUM

YUM

Brindisa

Brindisa

More meat next- the German deli stall is extremely popular, and for good reason too as their Bratwurst roll is ridonkulously good and large. Difficult to cram in my mouth but somehow one manages. Packed with sauerkraut and with lashings of ketchup and mustard, this £4.50 roll is sensational.

Bratwurst

Bratwurst

German Deli

German Deli

Bratwurst

Bratwurst

Bratwurst roll- doesn't look that attractive but it was stupendous.

Bratwurst roll- doesn’t look that attractive but it was stupendous.

The carb feast almost over, I spotted a gorgeous cake stall called The Free From Bakehouse with a display of beautiful baked goods, some with interesting combinations of flavours. I spied this drool-worthy Parsnip, Pear and Sea-Salt Caramel cake which was wheat and gluten free as well. The caramel icing was hypnotic to look at. My stomach was pretty much bursting at the seams but I sunk my teeth into a rather large slice and was rewarded with cake nirvana. Ooohhh.

The Free From Bakehouse

The Free From Bakehouse

IMG_7522 IMG_7523

My Parsnip, Pear and Sea-Salt Caramel slice

My Parsnip, Pear and Sea-Salt Caramel slice

Parsnip, Pear and Sea-Salt Caramel cake

Parsnip, Pear and Sea-Salt Caramel cake

We couldn’t manage anymore food, but wove our way through the markets and finally ended up at one of the best coffee shops- Monmouth. A coffee institution that serves smooth, rich coffees and a must for coffee-lovers. The coffee of the day was a Kenyan coffee bean- Gichathaini, which was quite intense and had hints of fruitiness. Perfection in a cup.

Waiting for the coffee to be filtered

Waiting for the coffee to be filtered

Monmouth

Monmouth

The rest of the photos below are just a few stalls I passed by that interested me, and may catch your eye too if you ever go. If only our stomachs were as big as our eyes.IMG_7511 IMG_7509 IMG_7516 IMG_7517

Chutneys by Temptings

Chutneys by Temptings

Artisan chocolates

Artisan chocolates

Owl cookies!

Owl cookies!

Lamingtons and eclairs and cakes galore

Lamingtons and eclairs and cakes galore

IMG_7532 IMG_7490

Bread delights

Bread delights

TRUFFLES

TRUFFLES

An invitation to smell a bowl of truffles

An invitation to smell a bowl of truffle

Borough Market, 8 Southwark Street, London. SE1 ITL. Tel: +44 (0) 207407 1002  Email: info@boroughmarket.org.uk

Opening Times: Full Market: Wed-Thurs 10am- 5pm, Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 8am- 5pm. Open for lunch Mon- Tues 10am-5pm