Tuesday, 6 February 2018

9 Things to Do in London for Tourists

It's midweek and I decided to spend my time more productively. I've slacked off a week from contributing some food ideas due to my busy schedule. I decided to make up for it today with something slightly different from food. Here's some of the key highlights of my last London trip to give ideas to anyone travelling.

1. Go for an Afternoon Tea with your +1 or friends/family

In London, there's 3 kinds of Afternoon Tea you can try. The first is the typical walk-in parlours where you don't need reservations and still can enjoy wonderful cakes. The one shown in the photo is from Peggy Porschen cakes. While there's no reservation required, be prepared to queue. If you enjoy taking pretty food photos like me, this place is highly recommended. 

The second kind of dining experience is very similar to the third. It's basically afternoon teas that require reservations. This is split into two kinds. Quirky afternoon teas or traditional afternoon tea. The one I tried was the B-Bakery Afternoon Tea Bus Tour. You get to have your afternoon tea in a London red bus. It's a classic. The tour covers the key attractions of London and the service from the on-board staff is really awesome. This isn't to say that the food is cliche and gimmicky. In fact, Brigit's Bakery has a dine-in outlet in Covent Garden and the menu is the same. The quality of the food is definitely worth the money. I can attest to that. I'd like to try the traditional afternoon tea in London during my next visit. 

2. Wear your Cultural Hat and Visit Museums

Museums sound boring if you aren't particularly into art or history. I share the same sentiments most of the time. However London is known for being a home to many famous artists and also its cultural heritage. There're many museums you can visit and a good number of them are free. Given that I wasn't that into museums, I enjoyed the free to visit cultural venues while passing my day waiting for Vain Pot to end work. Unlike the museums back home, the exhibits here along with the architectural sophistication of the buildings make it worth the trip. It's quite an eye-opener even if you know nothing about appreciating arts or the historical significance of these venues. 

3. Go for Day Tours and Visit Castles

London offers a wide selection of day tours. My personal take is that castles are a must see because there's a living monarchy in the United Kingdom. The photo you see here is the Windsor Castle, the home of the Queen of England. Aside from this castle, there're many more interesting castles to visit with amazing landscape views. If you are into photography, it'll be a pity if you miss visiting a few. It's also these astounding architecture in Europe that is tempting me to invest in a better camera.. okay, I'm lying. It's because I'm going to Old Trafford to watch Manchester United versus Arsenal during my next London visit. 

4. Visit the Biggest and Oldest Toy Store in London

Hamleys in the oldest and biggest toy store in London. It has been around since 1760. Stepping into
Hamleys, it's a eye-opening experience compared with other toy stores I've been. First of all, there's staff playing toys everywhere in the shop. There's also a huge toy variety. The best part is, watching the sales staff giving demonstrations on the flying drones to the snapping balls to boomerangs, you really really want to own one of these toys yourself and be a kid again. Visitors of the stores are invited to try out most of the toys on demo and parents watching their kids have so much fun will also feel an urge to buy some toys. It's really an awesome experience.

As a tourist, experiencing the store on the consumer front is only one aspect. I see Hamleys also as a museum for toys with lots of photo-worthy toy displays. Lego royal family, WWE championship belt to crown jewels... it really brought out the kid in me and I actually bought a toy from the store!

5. Watch a Musical

London has many musicals which has gained global acclaim like Phantom of the Opera and Wicked. It's almost a pity if a visitor of London leaves without catching a musical. The musical I watched during my recent visit was Lion King. It's my first time watching a full-fledged animal character show on stage. I must say, the depiction is really good. The service at the theatre is also praise-worthy. They have ushers directing you to your seats and guiding you through the process if you are late. I've never experienced anything like that back home in Marina Bay Sands. Be warned, the show starts on the dot. Do not dally or you will miss the grand opening.

6. Challenge yourself to book Duck and Waffle at earthly hours

Booking Duck and Waffle, the 24 hours brunch place overlooking London, is an eye opener for me. I tried booking many weeks ahead. I tried different days and couldn't find a day where I can have a proper brunch meal at 11am, lunch time or dinner time. I ended up making a booking at 630am. That means leaving my home at 5 plus in the morning to eat breakfast. 

By the time I left the restaurant, I was treated to sunrise. Duck and Waffle is obviously famed for its duck and waffle dish. They serve brunch food at affordable prices even though I would say the food quality is decent at best. That said, patrons get treated to an astounding view of the London Skyline while enjoying your food. Try not to go in threes though, they don't like to offer window seats to people going in odd numbers.

7. Visit Harry Potter World

I do believe that Harry Potter World is a must visit for both Harry Potter fans and non fans alike (even if you haven't watched the show before). It's just an eye opener to see how such a massive production is filmed. I'm the one who knows nothing about Harry Potter prior to visiting. I enjoyed myself.

This particular set was what caught my eye and piqued my interest to visit initially. Looking at the set, it changed my perspective on how films are made and gave me new insights into cinematology.

The other part I enjoyed most was drinking the butterbeer and eating butterbeer ice-cream. Knowing nothing about Harry Potter, my initial thought was why they would serve beer in a place filled with kids. I even saw kids lining up for the butterbeers. Turns out that the butterbeer isn't real alcohol, It's butterscotch soda with a layer of ice cream on top. Butterbeer ice cream is basically caramel ice cream. I'd say it's an awesome visit despite knowing nothing about Harry Potter before the trip. It'll be best if you go with a fan so that they can give you some context for some of the scenes.

8. Eat Michelin Star Food

I visited Barrafina during my last trip. It is touted as the best Spanish Tapas in London. I don't have other experiences to compare with but I agreed that my experience at Barrafina was good. Before my trip there, a number of friends who have been there before told me to give it a visit. They mentioned that the Michelin Star food there is cheaper than in Singapore. Honestly, it's still pricey. But I think the presence of chefs with renowned reputations are more compared to back home.

9. Eat Fish and Chips

One classic dish if you must find one to associate London with is Fish and Chips. In my opinion, the type of fish that should go with every order is the Haddock.

There were two fish and chips I shortlisted. The first I tried was Golden Chippy's at Greenwich. It was voted the No.1 Fish and Chips on Trip Adviser.

The next one I tried was Poppy's Fish and Chips. It's probably the most highly recommended place online. Visiting Poppy's really seem to validate that point. The restaurant is full. I tried the Haddock for both places and to be honest, they tasted equally good. The sauce selection is wider for Golden Chippy's and they offered to refill my chips for free. On the other hand, I think I enjoyed the chips better at Poppy's. I'd say if you go to London, it's probably one of the must trys. It's indeed different from the Fish and Chips back home in Singapore.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Sumo Bar Happy

This is actually a throwback post from last week. It's out of sheer laziness I took more than a week to write. I'm currently on diet hence the lack of food exploration. I want to look my best for Chinese New Year and my upcoming London trip in end April.

A belated birthday dinner from the brother. Sumo Bar Happy is a restaurant that is founded by the guys who are behind Tanuki Raw. It's a bar-like concept where people chill over bar food and alcohol. During my visit, I noticed the groups consisting of mainly couples, single men and one Japanese family. My brother and I stood out like sore thumbs because every other group consisted of at least one foreigner.

I wasn't too hungry so I settled for light bites. What you see here is the Lobster Taiyaki Sliders ($26). I didn't exactly read the menu and just glanced through instagram before ordering. This led me to mistook the Taiyaki pancakes as a crispy shell which unfortunately wasn't the case. Taste wise, I found the dish to be easy to eat. There's a sweetness to the fluffy pancakes which gave good balance to the sliders. I however still feel that a crispy shell would give the lobster sliders the added oomph. 

On top of the sliders, I also ordered the Spicy Mayo Char Siew HH Sushi ($5) and the Spicy Salmon HH Sushi ($5). It's on promotion if you reach there before 7pm. I would say that both sushi were done well but I'm still a greater fan of cold raw sushi.

The brother had his sights on the Sashimi Mazemen ($22) which is a combination of assorted sashimi and cold noodles. His assessment was that the raw fishes were really delicious with the slices very thick and generous. He also took notice that despite its thickness, the fishes were very easy to eat. The cold noodles and onsen egg that comes with the bowl play the role of the side dish to provide a complete meal experience.

Being at the bar, it'll be a waste not to try some of their sakes and my brother ordered the passion fruit sake ($10) to go with his meal.

I would say that Sumo Bar Happy is a pretty interesting concept which appeals more to foreigners used to bar top dining. I found the experience cramp. The menu selection has a number of unique dishes however there's an over emphasis on beef. As someone who doesn't eat beef, selecting a spread is rather challenging. If beef, alcohol and Japan agrees with you though, you might wish to check this place out.

Sumo Bar Happy
261 Waterloo Street #01-24 Waterloo Centre S180261

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Birds of a Feather - Sichuan Fusion Cuisine

It's Happy Birthday to me! So this week, I've put aside blogging because I was busy eating and meeting up with different people. As it is right now, I have 4 cakes in my fridge and 3 of them are chocolate cakes. I can imagine my waistline expanding! Very happy with my celebrations this year... I hope the rest of the year will remain awesome.

Vain Pot is currently overseas so I had the opportunity to entertain myself this year. I brought a friend to enjoy Sichuan food! Birds of a Feather is a Sichuan fusion restaurant that brings the East and West together in a manner that doesn't seem too deliberate. Most fusion cuisines don't really agree with me because I felt most try too hard. Over here, the cooking appears natural and you don't feel the chef forcing Chinese ingredients on Western style cooking and vice versa. This post is made up of 2 visits with a visit done earlier last year.

We settled for some mains and small plates. Everything was shared. Basically, being on Birthday mood, I didn't really research much on the food. I simply asked the staff to recommend. So we had Crispy Gyoza with Truffle Soy Vinaigrette ($16), Find the Chicken in the Chillies ($16) and Fortune Skewer in Sichuan Pepper Broth ($19).

I found the Gyoza to be well fried and the tastiness of the meat met expectations. However, I just realised it's supposed to have truffle which I failed to taste any. While the dish was executed well, I failed to see why the staff would recommend us to try.

Find the Chicken in the Chillies is the big winner of the night. The chicken chunks were fried and seasoned well. I found the chicken to be well infused with the Sichuan chilli and the chef got the flavour right. It feels authentic and legit as a Sichuan dish and it's so addictive I found myself digging through the chillies in hope of more chicken when we finished every piece.

The fortune skewers is also well cooked. The peppery broth stood out because it soothes the throat wetting our appetite before the mains arrived. While the dish is another tasty one due to its spiciness, I found the ingredients used for the skewers to be very ordinary. I don't feel it warrants the price it charges.

As for mains, there's the Hot and Sour Chazuke ($25), 'Xiang Su' Duck ($33) and Spicy Oriental Bolongnaise ($22). I found the Hot and Sour Chazuke to be delicious except it comes with rice. The hot spicy pickled mustard green broth really gives an added oomph for meal satisfaction.

'Xiang Su' Duck carried a twin style of seared braised breast meat and duck leg confit with roasted potato puree. I found the ducks to be well prepared. Duck confit had a well fried skin with tender meat that goes excellently with the potato puree. Braised meat was tender too!

The Spicy Oriental Bolognaise is a dish that stays deeply in my memory. Once the spicy angle hair pasta gets mixed with the onsen egg, the effect creates a creamy tangy taste which I like a lot.

Dessert was eaten during my first visit. Coffee latte ($7) and Caramel Chocolate Coffee Cubes Latte ($8). Latte taste like latte so $7 feels really pricey. On the other hand, I like it that the Chocolate Coffee Cubes are instagrammable and generally something different from the usual.

Would I return? Well, it's a yes since I came here twice. I really enjoy the spicy Sichuan food with a twist here. The ambiance is also awesome. This is probably the first fusion food joint I'm raving about because the chef managed to make east and west gel so well together. I'd strongly recommend this place for anyone who likes spicy Chinese food.

Birds of a Feather
15 Amoy Street #01-01 S069935

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Barrafina - One Star Michelin Spanish Tapas

I've resumed my working routine and haven't had much time to hunt for food much. I think I've been overly indulgent over the past 1 month and honestly my body is a little tired of good food. Yes you heard that right... I've been eating a staple of caifan and subway for the past one week so there's really nothing much to rave about.

I figured I've featured a range of food in London but yet to showcase any Michelin Star food from there. A lot of people kept telling me to try the Michelin star food there because it's way more affordable than back home. This trip, I visited one or two but didn't exceptionally hunt for Michelin Star food because there were too much other day to day stuff I wish to try. I honestly don't think that eating Michelin Star food in London is any cheaper than Singapore.

This is going to be photo heavy. Our food selection is honestly based on staff recommendation. The staff were very helpful and knowledgeable. We started our meal with a Mackeral dish that's on the special menu. I forgot to take a photo of the dish because the staff kept us very engaged. Service was excellent and the grilled fish was cooked to a tee such that the bones and the meat were so easy to eat and swallow.

We also had the Stuffed Courgette Flower which is not only pleasing in terms of presentation, it was also prepared excellently. The flavours literally burst through our mouth when we bite through and it's really easy to finish.

I'd be very honest, I wouldn't have been so adventurous to try the food if the staff wasn't there to guide me through my selection. As much as I'd like to pretend I know what I'm eating, I've never heard of some of the dishes before. The Escalivada con Pan de Coca is one dish I have no clue what it is. Apparently it's a dish made of vegetables on toast. It taste really richly seasoned even though I probably won't order it again.

The Iberian Pork Ribs was probably the biggest loser of the night. This isn't to say that it's a totally bad dish. It just pales in comparison to every other dish we tried. The tender meat and fats didn't really gel well together even though the sauce helped to salvage the dish especially if one isn't a fussy eater.

I reserved a special mention to this classic tortilla. Before my trip to London, I was asking Vain Pot to learn to cook me Spanish Omelette. After we tried this, we decided to shelf the idea to preserve the good memories of this dish. The ingredients were oozing out of the omelette skin once you cut into it. I really enjoyed how the flavours were so intense and we found ourselves devouring the dish really quickly. Wow.. if only all my eggs could taste like that...

The Milhojas is another classic dish. It's made up of thin layers of unsweetened pastry filled with custard and decorated with almond flakes. Cutting in and enjoying the dish, we found the dessert balance to be just right. Its light and soothing coolness provided us with the perfect finale to end our Michelin Star experience.

The overall experience is definitely befitting a Michelin Star restaurant. For the service and food, I'd say the pricing is inexpensive. Dining at Barrafina has given me a different perspective to Spanish Tapas.

10 Adelaide Street, Covent Garden, London WC2N 4HZ

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Breakfast and Brunch in London

It's the last day of 2017! I'm still writing content on my last London trip. Technically in a couple of hours, I'm heading out for high tea with Fat Fat. After which, I might be thinking of buying a water gun to wash my new carriage. Breakfast and brunch in London is really a food blogger's heaven. The selection is so plentiful and this is just a little bit of my long list of must trys.

I went to Cereal Killer Cafe on my own when Vain Pot went to work. I know, the common perception is what's so great about cereals you have to travel to somewhere just to eat it. Cereal Killer Cafe carries an international spread of cereals and the selection is abundant. It's a cozy and interesting place with beds in the cafe where almost everyone rush to sit on.

One reason why I'm fascinated with this is because I don't enjoy eating cereals that much when I prepare it myself. However, the cereal advertisements on TV tend to bring out a more delicious appeal on cereals and I'm curious to know if the pros can give me a different experience. Visitors can either mix and match their own cereals or select from their cereal cocktails. I selected the Feckin Nut Case which is made up of crunchy nut clusters, crunchy nut cornflakes, honey nut cheerios, hazelnuts and almond milk. I got to say it's awesome! Greedy me ordered the medium size bowl and I couldn't finish but I tried my best because it's really good. There's adequate sweetness yet you don't feel diabetic and the nutty crunchiness was really an excellent balance of flavours. Cereals can really taste awesome if you know how to prepare it! If I bring guest to London, I'm definitely bringing them here.

Cereal Killer Cafe
Mezz 2, Camden Stable Market, Chalk Farm Road, London, N16 7UY

Vain Pot took me to Darwin Brasserie for an early birthday celebration. It's unfortunate that it's semi-raining semi snowing that day because the highlight of the place is dining at the Sky Garden. Yes, awesome views, perfect Christmassy environment and cozy interior. There's a semi-buffet (continental breakfast) menu and an ala carte (hot breakfast) menu. I'll strongly suggest the Hot Breakfast menu because the Continental Breakfast looks too ordinary.

Vain Pot selected the Pain Perdu which is made up of crisp bacon, crushed pecans and maple syrup. It's the first time we are trying such a dish and it's surprisingly agreeable with our palettes. The bacon goes excellently with the bread and maple syrup, you don't get sick of eating it and in fact, you want to have more! I settled for traditional English breakfast and all the individual ingredients were executed perfectly. No complains! I especially enjoyed the bread with butter. I'd like to come back here when it's sunny and experience the full ambiance of the beautiful sky garden with awesome food and company.

Darwin Brasserie
Sky Garden, 1 Sky Garden Walk, London, EC3M 8AF

We woke up too early for Duck and Waffle even though it's 24 hours. To successfully book Duck and Waffle is a challenge. Our time slot was 6:15am breakfast so it was too early for me to be sufficiently awake to remember to take photos of the venue. Duck and Waffle is located on the 40th floor. The awesome view of the London skyline and it's affordable menu makes it a highly popular venue for tourist and locals alike. Trying the signature duck and waffle justifies that this place isn't just gimmicky. The waffle was fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside. The duck was tender with the skin fried till crispy. I'm not much of a savoury waffle person but I found the meal easy to finish. I don't mind coming back here to watch the sunrise and enjoy some simple breakfast.

Duck and Waffle
Heron Tower, 110 Bishopsgate, London EC2N 4AY

Granger and Co is actually my very first meal in London. I found them while searching for the best pancakes in London. The place is really popular, there's a snaking queue just to be seated. Granger and Co specialises in Australian food and having eaten there, I'm now tempted to visit the Down Under.

Vain Pot and I ordered two dishes to share. While the serving is huge, they are surprisingly very easy to finish. In fact we fought over the food because we can't get enough of it. The first dish we had was the Fresh Aussie which is jasmine tea hot smoked salmon, poached eggs, greens, furikake, avocado and cherry tomatoes. The smoked salmon is by far the best smoked salmon I've ever eaten! I wanted the entire piece to myself. It's light, with a little tea flavour and you can taste the absolute freshness of the fish. 

We also had to try the signature ricotta hotcakes with banana and honeycomb butter. This is the fluffiest, lightest, hotcakes I've eaten. It's so light, you don't feel like you are eating flour. The honeycomb butter and maple syrup goes so well with the banana and hotcakes it can double up as a dessert. 

I strongly recommend Granger and Co for its ricotta hotcakes. You won't know what good hotcakes are before trying this. 

Granger and Co
237 Pavilion Road, London, SW1X 0BP

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Cakes & Snacks in London

London is always known for fresh bakes and afternoon teas. It's almost a waste if anyone in London doesn't give cakes, cookies and biscuits a chance. In my stay there, I have noticed that London is pretty similar to home, they got all sorts of food ranging from the street snacks to the dessert parlours. This week, I wish to share all that my stomach consumed (it's bulging more now) and what I feel everyone should try.

Peggy Porschen Cakes is a popular cake shop at the city centre of London. They are known among tourist as the instagrammable cake shop. My visit there was marred by the misjudgment of the day turning dark early due to Winter. My photos turned out less instagram-worthy.

Aside from the appeal to the eyes, the quality of cakes at Peggy Porschen Cakes is really high. The owner herself is a Le Cordon Bleu Graduate. The both cakes we tried, Bejeweled Chocolate (Christmas special) and Pink Prosecco (Christmas Special) were both soft and fluffy with icing blending very well with the cake. For tea, we shared a pot of Sugar Plum fruit infusion cinnamon spice. The hot tea went excellently with the cakes and it'll be perfect if the day was brighter so I am appreciate my food better. It really gives you a taste of what tea in London should be like on a lazy afternoon and oh yes, before I move on, be prepared to queue.

Peggy Porschen Cakes
116 Ebury Street, Belgravia, London SW1W 9QQ

One of the most memorable stuff I ate during my London trip is the Butterbeer and Butterbeer Ice Cream. Yes, if you are a Harry Potter fan you no doubt know what I'm talking about. This is found in Harry Potter World so unless you pay for entry to the tour, you won't be able to try it. I'm personally not a Harry Potter fan, heck, I didn't even read the book! Despite this, I'm largely fascinated by the Butterbeer, made of butterscotch soda with ice cream on top and caramel ice cream for the Butterbeer Ice cream. I enjoyed what I ate, it was delicious, I got to share it with you! I've no regrets paying for Harry Potter World too, coming from someone who knows nothing about Yule Ball or Firebolt.

Harry Potter World 
Warner Bros, Studio Tour, London

One of the task I really wanted to complete this trip was to finish reading my book. So I went to this tiny quaint cafe in the heart of town to try some of their very unique ice cream flavours. It's a small place but I found a seat to read my book. No kidding. It's my very first dark chocolate chilli gelato. I also enjoyed the more normal Tonde Gentille Hazelnut. Ice cream was smooth and doesn't melt easily, just the way I like my gelato to be. Awesome! I also tried their oreo hot chocolate which I found very enjoyable as well. It's worth checking them out for their unique ice cream flavours. They won some awards! 

La Gelateria
27 New Row, Covent Garden, London WC2N 4LA

I visited the famous Dominique Ansel Bakery on my last day just before my flight. For the entire duration I'm in London, we have a few occasions where I nearly ate there but had a good reason not to each round. So my foodie nature kicked in and the last day saw me making a special trip to Victoria Station just to try my very first Cookie Shot and Cronut.  

A Cronut is basically a donut and a croissant combined as one. The one I ate had strawberry filling in it. Not much of a strawberry fan but it tasted awesome. I was quite surprised the cronut wasn't served pipping hot but I supposed that's how it was supposed to be. The sides were coated with sugar and the top glazed with pink sugar. Taking a bite into my cronut, the few adjectives I can think of are fresh, addictive, good pastry. The coffee shot is another interesting experience but I won't be specially doing this again. The cookie cup was really solid and the cold milk tasted good in the cup. Some of you who like to buy the cookie cup as a gift can do so in a box of 6. Really though, the main show stopper are the fresh bakes. 

Dominique Ansel Bakery
17-21 Elizabeth Street, Belgravia, London SW1W 9RP