Happy Chinese New Year

Ok, this post is a little late but nevertheless, Happy New Year (Chinese style), to the year of the snake! I hadn’t really planned any trips to Chinatown or anything as we had just returned from our ski trip and I wanted time to catch up on some house-related stuff but I did end up agreeing to meet my sister at one of our regular cheap, but consistently cheerful and good restaurants New Fortune Cookie (I had no idea it rated so high on TripAdvisor – it’s true!)

New Fortune Cookie

I decided to meet early because I don’t like eating too late on a Sunday and this turned out to be a good idea with such a crowd also wanting Chinese food on Chinese New Year. New Fortune Cookie has a great location next to the Queensway tube, so it gets a lot of traffic and it’s good food and reasonable prices with good service (I never feel like they are turning tables like other Chinese restaurants) means you end up with a lot of happy customer coming back. On this evening though, we had about a half hour wait even though we were one of the first people in queue. By the time we sat down, people were starting to stand in between tables, just because there wasn’t enough room. So chaotic, and entertaining.

We had quite the feast for the Chinese New Year, starting off with won ton soup and ensuring that we ordered a noodle dish for long life. Ordering Chinese appropriately for a special event can be quite overwhelming as symbolic nature of foods is complex. We opted for one of

Christmas meal 2012

I spent this Christmas in London with my sister before we flew out to Funchal on boxing day. Like our normal Christmas in London feasts, we cooked up a storm as we skyped in our family during our preparations. I enjoyed going down to Borough Market, perusing the wares, tasting a number of treats whilst picking up all the quality goods that would go into our meal. We also took a great walk around London – it’s strange leading up to Christmas because it is such a quiet area.

Our lunch was a Borough Market inspired one where I reassembled the famous Brindisa Chorizo sandwiches. We start with grilling the sausages in a pan. I like the extra piccante for the heat, and I like the side rather crispy. It’s also a good way to draw out a lot of the fat – it’s amazing to see just how much there is!


I bought a bottle of Piquillo peppers (not cheap with a small bottle costing £5) but they were sweet and perfect for building the importance essentials.

Piquillo Peppers

The rest of the sandwich is pretty easy to assemble. Buy some ciabatta bread (it’s good because it crisps up nicely). I can imagine a good alternative would be a turkish bread as that seems to also have the magical property of getting crisper without burning. Peppery rocket is essential to provide a distinct contrast, to cut through the fat and the heat of the chorizo. Avoid watery lettuce as that will ruin the dish. Pretty perfect.

Chorizo Sandwich

We took time out – in between watching a number of movies and walking towards Covent Garden a bit more to see the final unveiling of the Lego advent calendar, before returning to gorge ourselves (like everyone else around the world) on their Christmas feast. Our menu, this year revolved around a little bit of a simpler menu – Fig, goats cheese and honey bruschetta, roast pork belly with goose fat roasted potatoes, truffle mac and cheese (because we simply didn’t have enough carbs!) and then some honey glazed parsnips and carrots.

A decadent meal for the holiday period.


Yes. I admit it. I’ve been weaning myself off the flat-whites. I have had no problems drinking espressos in the past, and I’m now heading towards just drinking long blacks. The good news is that my taste for coffee on its own is developing, the bad part is that I keep finding places that make just passable coffee with milk hiding burning, over extraction, or just being plain bad.

Fortunately I’ve now acquired an aeropress as well as hand-grinder on the recommendation of the folks from Prufrock coffee and I’m very happy with the results.

The aeropress is a pretty simple device. Lock a filter into place at the bottom, place over a cup, fill with some ground coffee and then pour over some hot (not boiling!) water before placing a plunger with a rubber seal before pushing down. The pressure creates an “espresso”-like but more watery coffee that is very easy to drink. And this is well before trying to play around with water temperature, the size of the grounds or the amount of water. I’ve tried both the coffees from Caravan and Square Mile coffee and both make coffee that is tasty and very easy to drink.

Now I have to ensure I don’t drink too much!

Pot Luck Lunch

One of the greatest things about working in London is the sheer amount of diversity. You have so many people from so many corners of the world and we often get to work with people from all sorts of places. On my current project, for example, we have about twenty people on our immediate team, of which we have fifteen different nationalities. Pretty cool!

One of our team members decided to organise a pot luck lunch where, basically, everyone brings a dish in for lunch with the theme being something that represents the country that they’re from. As you can imagine, it was quite a diverse spread.

We had vietnamese spring rolls (fresh and fried) from Vietname, we had some Russian dumplings, Latvian pancakes, Indian curry, Indian basmati rice, English Fish and Chips, German potatoes with green sauce, and plenty of other things I can’t remember. And then we got on to the desserts including Pavlova (New Zealand), Tiramisu (Italy), Eton Mess (England) and Lamingtons (Aus)

We kicked the lunch off with everyone presenting their dishes, talking about their origins and, perhaps, how it might be typically eaten.

I prepared a duo of two things including Aussie mini meat pies with tomato sauce, and then followed up with lamingtons (which I’ve never made before). I have to say that I’d probably not be making them anytime soon as well because they took quite a lot of effort to make.

Afternoon at the Reichstag

One of the most impressive buildings around Berlin and one tainted with plenty of history is the German Reichstag, or the home of their parliamentary system. Whilst currently closed to the public, they do have a roof top restaurant you can book ahead and visit. It’s well worth it whilst the rest of the public are not allowed to go up.

We went for a lazy Sunday afternoon tea, where we indulged in cafe and kuchen.

The menu comes in both English and German versions although the best way to choose the cake is to go and take a look at what you’d like from their extensive selection and then try and remember what it was.

Here’s the entire gang that came along for our wonderful experience.

Felix pondering diligently over the coffee selection.

Nigel, hot chocolate fiend, enjoying the bright and airy atmosphere.

Jo pondering the menu.

And Rachel, aficionado of caek (sic).

Cheesecake was ordered by some.

A coffee cream cake by others.

The dense, Viennese classic, Sache Torte.

And finally a different crumble slice filled with a tart fruit.

Afternoon tea is best followed with a spectacular sunset and what a sight Berlin held for us with an astounding view from the Dome.

Both inwards towards the parliamentary seats.

And outside to the bitterly cold winds.

Only to finish off the day with an astoundingly red sunset.

A view to remember for a while.

And a eerily made elevator that makes it look like an infinity space.

Casa Camper Berlin

Work put us in the Casa Camper to stay and I have to say it’s one of the nicest hotels I’ve stayed in for work. Not only is it walking distance to our client but it has lots of things going for it including its lovely design aesthetics when you walk into the lobby, a comfortable stretchy lounge and chair in addition to the bed although the way to a rainwater showerhead.

Breakfast is included in the rate, as is free wi-fi and the breakfast room turns into a comfortable breakout room serving great food the rest of the time.

This last touch makes a big difference when travelling to work and without a proper apartment to prepare light meals. Sandwiches, soup, salads and breads as well as all types of soda, fruit juices and coffee always on tap. Everything comes in designer-small portions but enough to make perfect alternatives to the heavier meals we tend to when eating out.

Family in London Part 2

The family didn’t spend as much time as I would have liked to in London but we certainly packed in quite a bit before they headed off to Paris to start their European adventures. We made sure that we tried to complete as many interesting things they would have appreciated including:

Breakfast at Simpsons on the Strand – One of the poshest places to have breakfast, this restaurant serves breakfast for the … hotel and has a very classic selection including kippers on toast (something you don’t see everyday). The poshness of this place is also reflected in the price – their full English breakfast (including liver, black pudding, etc) costing a hefty portion. I decided to go for something a little bit different and chose the banana pancakes served with creme friache and maple syrup.

Changing of the Guards – Being in the area, we walked through St James Park to witness the well known ceremony, the Changing of the Guards. It seemed like huge number of tourists also waited in line to see the marching band, and the colourful troops go through their rituals to swap in the old for the new.

Buckhingham Palace – We pre-booked tickets to be able to walkthrough the palace grounds. Unfortunately you’re not allowed to take any photographs inside so nothing visual to remember but it was certainly an impressive lot. The audio guide kept us busy right to the very end although it was sometimes a squeeze in some areas. The Queen is very popular!

London Duck Tours – The British used these amphibious vehicles during the second world war and now they take tourists around and into the Thames on a very well guided tour. I felt a little sorry for our tour guide who constantly cracked jokes but unfortunately our group didn’t seem to respond very well to him. We learned lots of tidbits of information such as where the Earl of Sandwich first created his well known sarnie and the location for the Queen’s very own pharmacist. Definitely fun and entertaining.

Tierra Brindisa – I wanted to give our parents a true taste of spain, so one of the Brindisa restaurants it had to be. We feasted on plenty of tapas and especially enjoyed their speciality picante chorizo, rocket and roasted peppers on toasted bread. The family was well fed and well chuffed after visiting this place.

Westminster Abbey, Big Ben – We got here first thing one morning to ensure we could join the English guided tour around the abbey rather than simply take the audio guide that everyone else does. Doing so gave us access to parts of the Abbey you wouldn’t normally see including getting to sit where the choir sits during one of their services. It was my first time inside here and I hadn’t realised exactly how many famous people had been buried here, or at least there were monuments too. It seems like they’re running out of room for them all!

Harrods – A trip down to Knightsbridge of course requires a visit to this well known institute. Although we didn’t really come here to buy expensive goods, the family enjoyed wandering the grounds, even visiting the tiny little pet shop they have on their top floor.

Afternoon tea at the Berkeley – My sister organised this trip where we indulged in many different types of sandwiches and overdosed on extremely decadent cakes, slices and other desserts all while enjoying tea served on Paul Smith designed crockery. The Berkeley is very well known for adapting their afternoon tea experience to current fashion trends, even providing pictures for you to understand the inspiration for the various plates that stand before you. A very impressive selection and well worth its high price.

West End Musical – Sister Act – My mum really wanted to see a musical and so my sister organised to see Sister Act. It was actually a very entertaining and well produced musical although the hectic schedule, extremely chilly exteriors and warmth led to a couple of people napping during the show!

BBC Television Centre Tour – As part of the service to the public, the BBC conduct tours of their television centre and they’re definitely worthwhile. Our two tour guides, part time actors for various shows in the BBC provided a wealth of entertainment as they took us around the history of the buildings, the sets where they film various shows and hosted us for a little bit of mock news and weather reading using some of the technology they would for the TV.

Mum even got to face off against a dalek (though I wouldn’t be smiling as much as she is if I met one for real).

Westfield Visit – Seeing as were in the area, we thought we should take them to the new Westfield Shopping centre, just to see how the shopping experience changes being in a different country.

Tower Bridge – We made sure that we visited the well known Tower Bridge (often mistaken as the London Bridge which isn’t really that special) where we also took in the City Hall.

Dinner at the Bleeding Heart Tavern with my flatmate – Finally before the rest of the family headed off to continental Europe I made sure that they got to meet my flatmate, Tom, who they’d all heard about but yet hadn’t had the chance to meet. We dined at the cosy Bleeding Heart Tavern where everyone really enjoyed their hearty British meal.

Dim Sum Demonstration at Shanghai Blues

Shanghai Blues is a bit of a hidden gem located off the ever-bustling High Holborn street near to Covent Garden. It’s a hidden gem because it’s so easy to miss it and when its surrounded by tacky high street chains and a number of pubs on either side. During the week they normally hold some sort of jazz events and their high quality Chinese cuisine (dim sum on weekends) serve to also ensure steady business.

I’d read about their Dim Sum demonstration event from a London bloggers website and was excited to hear them re-run the event in September. They even flew Executive Chef Hong Qiu Feng flown in from Canton to help out with this particular event so no doubt it was going to be good.

The evening started with a welcome glass of champagne and some nibbles including coated peanuts and picked vegetables. The middle of the dining room had been converted into two large demonstration areas, with the ingredients for the dumplings already prepared and waiting for us eager participants to take part. I didn’t realise how simple the dim sum wrapper recipes were (equal parts rice flour + potato flour with some water or coloured juice – spinach or carrot for green or orange).

They also prepared the fillings for us (though we walked away with the recipes in a small kit prepared by them) and the heart of the evening ended up practicing filling the dumpling wrappers using methods particular to each type of dim sum.

We also got our individually labelled baskets that we got to fill with the product of our making so our we’d get to taste and see the finished products.

Considering the entertainment and the great banquet that followed, the cost of the evening was well worth the experience. There’s obviously a skill involved with dim sum making but I didn’t realise how simple some of the ingredients and preparation could be.