My Best London Dining Experiences in 2018

Monday, 25 February 2019

I can't even remember when or how my love affair with food started. Growing up, I was always conscious of the fact that I am prone to gaining weight very easily- I eat three plateful meals three days in a row and I could see a bulge in my lower belly- one thing that I am still battling with up to this day. This is the reason why when I was in high school, I sneakily scooped three spoonfuls of rice from the pot and put them in our dog's food container to make it look like I actually had breakfast.

A few years ago though, I rediscovered the joy of eating food. My love for food was intensified when I lived in New Zealand and had all the time in the world to eat anything and everything that I wanted. Since then, I have been in a constant pursuit of good food experience, not only in London but in all places that I go to. Food has become my comfort and most certainly, my passion. 

2018 definitely surpassed my food experience in 2017, merely because I didn't only share the experience with J, but also with other important people in my life.

1.  The Ivy -  1-5 West St, Covent Garden
- If you ask J which restaurant stood out for him in 2018, he would definitely say The Ivy because it never fails to give us the best experience we are looking for in a restaurant. The food and service has always been faultless. It's fancy, yes, but not intimidating. The last time we visited, I finally took the courage to ask for my favourite dessert (sticky toffee pudding) that is no longer on the menu. The staff happily obliged and commented that only people who knew about it normally ask for it. It didn't taste the same but nevertheless, it remains my favourite. I had the Victorian pork and leek sausage (£15.75) for mains because I was craving for it. Market of the day (POA) and some Asian dish for starter were also ordered that evening.

2. Benares - 12a, Berkeley Square, Mayfair
- This Michelin-starred Indian restaurant is the best Indian restaurant we have ever been to in London so far. Everything was truly delightful when we visited. The service was impeccable. The amazing dishes were served in perfect sizes and at a comfortable pace, so we had enough time to savour every dish to our hearts' content. J had the perfectly cooked and spiced tandoori poussin for starter whilst I had the crispy fried chipriones. We both ordered the first main course on the menu that caught our eyes - the black and pink peppercorn spiced goat which was of course spicy, but the heat was not overpowering. We also had the Dal and the spicy baby aubergine which were really good. The paneer and spinach puree was the best according to J. And the roti, yes the roti- I never had a roti as tasty as Benares'. We paid £35 per person for a three-course meal, but paid extra for a couple of sides plus our drinks. After all the incredibly tasty food, we didn't have any more room for dessert. However, the waiter brought us some mini treats consisting of macarons, chocolate muffins and salted caramel. Who could say no to that?

3. Social Eating House - 58 Poland St, Soho
- J brought me here for my birthday last year and it was one of the best food experiences I ever had. For the first time in my life, I had a raw mushroom salad (£12.50) which was surprisingly delicious. I was blown away that I would subsequently order mushroom again at another Jason Atherton restaurant. My mains was black treacle cured cote de porc (£28.50) which I think is no longer in the menu. It was tender and flavourful. J had the 40-day aged native Cumbrian rump (£26) which he thoroughly enjoyed.

4. Kettner's Townhouse - 29 Romilly Street, Soho
- It was J's idea to visit this then newly revamped historic restaurant. It has been said that this establishment with 150-year history was frequented by Oscar Wilde and Winston Churchill. We didn't have reservations but we were lucky to be offered a table in the piano bar, where the Bergere chairs were dainty and comfortable. It was a relaxed dining experience considering how glamorous the atmosphere was. For starters, J had the mushroom broth (£6) whilst I had the delicate Devon Crab (£14)- both were good. I then had the tender and juicy Toulouse sausage (£14) for my mains whilst J had the steak hache burger with fries (£16).

5. Bao- 53 Lexington St, Soho
- I have always wanted to go to Bao, but whenever I tried, there was always a long queue. This honestly put me off so I didn't go until the day after my birthday last year as a treat to myself. I decided to go 15 minutes before it opened at 12 midday and already, there were 5 people in the queue. The service was efficient and the staff who served me was very nice. As it was my first time, I played safe and ordered the confit pork bao (£4.50) which was heaven. Then I had to order the 40 day rump cap, aged white soy sauce(£6) after one of the ladies I truly admire posted her review on instagram. It was absolutely divine! Lastly, their sweet potato chips (£3) was the best thing ever. Now I can say that Bao is definitely worth the queue.

6. Barrafina - 26-27 Dean St, Soho
- When my niece from LA visited in August last year, she had a list of restaurants she wanted to try in London and one of them was Barrafina. Actually, Dishoom was our original plan that day. However, the wait in Dishoom was over an hour and we were not going to wait. So, we tried our luck in Barrafina (because this is also a famous restaurant and is equally very busy). It must have been our lucky day after all because we only waited for about 10 minutes. Besides, we were offered a table outside which was ideal as the weather was good that evening. We ordered my favourite pimientos de padron (£6.25), ham croquetas (£6.50) which was very good, cold meat platter (£15.50) and their fish of the day (more or less than £20- I think), which according to the waiter was better than the grilled sardines that I wanted. This is all I can say- if we didn't order the fish, we would have regretted it. The lemon garlic butter sauce looked fatty, but it was actually light and refreshing.
Photo by Farrah

7. Berner's Tavern- 10 Berner's St, Fitzrovia
- I've always been curious about Berner's Tavern as I pass by the restaurant everyday on my way to work. It is inside the London Edition Hotel, so I assumed it would be pretentious. I deliberately didn't check if there was a dress code because I wanted to try if they would accommodate us in our jeans and t-shirts. And they did. I was overwhelmed by the high ceiling and the numerous paintings and photographs on the walls. It was like dining inside a museum. The food was as I expected from a Jason Atherton restaurant. J had the cream of mushroom soup (£12.50) for starter, which according to him was just okay. I chose another mushroom dish- the mushroom on toast (£16). Cooked this time, it tasted brilliantly. I realised later on that I ordered pork again, but this time, it was the perfectly cooked and seasoned BBQ Dingley Dell pork chop (£28). The combination of tomato and harissa, and the sweet roasted onions was perfect to go with the pork. J, on the other hand, had the chicken schnitzel (£20) which he said was also okay. :)

8. Roux at Parliament Square- 11 Great George St, Westminster
- This restaurant reminded me of our favourite restaurant in Wellington - the Boulcott Street Bistro. The intimate ambiance, the soft music and the charming interior was perfect for an amazing dining experience. Not to mention the seamless service and the excellent quality of the food. For £59, you get a worthy three-course meal. The risotto was slightly salty for me, however the cod was very tasty. Their mango rice pudding soufflĂ© was a winner. My lovely dinner companion, my Ate Elvie, completed the wonderful food experience.

9. Sketch- 9 Conduit St, Mayfair
- Farrah's trip to London is not complete without an afternoon tea. During her visit last year, we chose Sketch to fulfil our tradition because of their blush pink interior and their egg-shaped toilets.  Yes, really. By this time, we would have eaten beyond our heart's content (from our trip to Italy and dinners at a few London restaurants after), and therefore I surrendered. For the first time in a long time, I was defeated by food, albeit it was truly delicious. I would like to go back again for their afternoon tea (£59) and I promise to finish it all this time.

10.  Aubaine Selfridges - 400 Oxford St
- Wisteria, French furniture, and that little corner- my idea of a girly brunch. Farrah and I definitely enjoyed our brunch in Aubaine. We were lucky to be seated at the back of the restaurant, which I think is the most photographed part of the restaurant because of the wisteria-covered ceiling. It was a very relaxing experience. It was actually a very good way to cap off our girly catch-up for the year. Farrah had the Portobello mushroom and goat's cheese on potato rosti (£9.50) which was too pretty to eat. I had the French breakfast (£12.50) because  why not?
Photo by Farrah

11. Beach Blanket Babylon- 45 Ledbury Road, Notting Hill
- In 2014, one of my friends invited me to a dinner in Beach Blanket Babylon. I don't remember much about the experience now, so I decided to go back- but this time for brunch. The interior was how I remembered it- elegant and cosy. The service was friendly, however it was quite slow. It took more than 30 minutes for our food to be served. They were obviously short-staffed, but there was no reassurance or anything. I had to follow up our food. Apart from that, it was a pleasant experience because the food was good and affordable too. I had the eggs florentine (£12) whilst J had the beef burger (£15) served with sweet potato fries. It was definitely worth the tube journey to West London.

12. Pearl Liang - 8 Sheldon Square, Paddington
- I don't normally hang out in Paddington, but one of my dear friends took me there for my belated birthday dinner. Pearl Liang was a good Chinese food experience outside my comfort zone. Their roast duck (£20 for half) was at par with my favourite in Chinatown. With a good company, friendly service and good food, I can't really complain.

13. Lutong Pinoy - 10 Kenway Road, Earls Court
- Since I discovered Romulo's Cafe, I never went back to Lutong Pinoy- my original favourite Filipino restaurant in London. Luckily, my cousin visited me one weekend last year and he asked me to go to Earl's Court with him. I took that opportunity to re-visit Lutong Pinoy. Unfortunately, they didn't have my favourite longganisa. The menu always makes me feel giddy whenever I go there because I basically want to order everything. I wish I could, but I'm sure I would die with a heart attack soon enough. So, to satisfy my Pinoy food cravings during my visit, I ordered my all time favourite sizzling sisig with egg (£8.50). Chicharon bulaklak (£6) was my starter of choice (always), then in addition to the sisig, we also ordered lechon kawali (£8.75) and inihaw na liempo (£8.75). Of course, the experience won't be complete without their garlic fried rice (£2.40).

14. Burger and Lobster- 10 Wardour St, Chinatown
- Because who wouldn't want a burger and a lobster? Our favourite comfort food joint, J and I go to burger and lobster at least twice a year- when we crave for the best of both worlds. So each time, we order half a burger and half a lobster each. All platters come with salad and crispy french fries. It's always a treat going to Burger and Lobster, hence it made it on my list. 

If eating is a talent, then at least I have one. 


7 Years: Remembering The Child Who Inspired Me To Be A Better Person

Monday, 28 January 2019

Seven years have gone by really quickly. It's been that long since I lost my beloved Keith. Whilst I have been better emotionally in the past three years, last night I couldn't hold back my tears. Partly because I was watching a documentary on the Holocaust (and then watched "The Boy in Striped Pyjamas" after). It was truly heartbreaking. 

The pain of losing someone you love is indescribable. More so if they were a child. Your life goes on after losing them, but somewhere deep in your heart, you know your life will never be the same again. There will always be that hole, that empty space that you know will forever be unfilled. This is exactly where I am since I lost Keith. But despite this painful reality, I continue to do things to remember him- to try and fill in the void, even temporarily because this is how I find comfort. Doing things for Keith certainly helped me moved on from his passing. 

And so, as per tradition, I started my day by lighting up a candle for Keith. I held his favourite toy Meowmeow in my arms and kissed his nose repeatedly- one thing that Keith did whilst thumb-sucking (when he was younger). Then I said a little prayer, before I played his favourite song Lighters by Eminem. This has been my painful tradition twice a year- on Keith's death anniversary which is today, and his birthday which is the 17th of August. 

I wore blue because this was Keith's favourite colour. Then this afternoon, I went to give blood for the 6th time in his memory. I am glad that I finally managed to give blood on the exact day of his angelversary. I have always wanted to do something amazing in Keith's memory because he deserves to be remembered this way. This is why I am very grateful and proud that I am able to honour him by giving back.

Meanwhile back home, my mother, my cousins and my niece visited Keith's grave this morning. In the afternoon, they had a small gathering at home to commemorate Keith's passing.

Although there has been a major change in our household last year, this didn't and will never stop us from doing things that make the 28th of January a K Lighter Day. We remain united in remembering the boy who continues to inspire us in so many ways. 

In fact, I often ask myself whether I would have been this strong if I didn't lose Keith, and the answer is always- perhaps I wouldn't have. Keith is the reason why I have more patience and listen more to people. He is the reason why I am better at managing my anger. He is the reason why I am more understanding and considerate of other people. His passing became my strongest weapon - to rise above all the challenges and to be a better person.

Keith will always be remembered. He will forever be loved by those who knew him, and he is sorely missed.


My First Year As A Ward Manager

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Exactly a year ago today, I walked in to my new work place in my black jumpsuit and 2.5-inch stiletto- excited that finally, after so many years, I no longer have to wear uniforms. Most importantly, I finally found an excuse to wear nice clothes and some heels. Earlier that day, I had my corporate induction and then I was shown around the hospital. Then, to my office. Yes, my office. It was kind of hard to believe that I had an office all to myself. It used to be a toilet I was told. Did I really care? No, because I would rather be in a toilet office alone, rather than share with people whose moods are as fickle as the British weather. I was so excited, I immediately dropped my handbag on top of the drawer and sat on my chair. I wanted to absorb the possibility that this job could ultimately fill in the missing piece in my career. I closed my eyes briefly and then I heard a commotion by the door. It was the ward sister. I stood up to introduce myself- but before I could even extend my hand to her, she got down on one knee and told me that I was heaven sent. It was such a humbling experience, at the same time embarrassing as I wasn't expecting such a respectful welcome. Besides, I have not proven anything just yet- until a few minutes after the exuberant welcome from the team, when a situation arose and I was compelled to showcase my managerial skills, which at that point was zilch. I ran in my heels to where the problem was, and I have not stopped since. Unfortunately, wearing heels had to stop eventually because I walk fast and I love running up and down the stairs, so I realised that I was putting myself at risk of injury considering my clumsiness.

Later that month, I held my first staff meeting. I had no clue how to do these things but I did it anyway. In the end, I found myself preaching in front of my staff. In a trembling voice, I asked them to please be kind to one another. I continued by emphasizing how important it is to help each other out because "no matter how hard the job is if we are working with kind and helpful people, things always become easier". I ended my speech by saying that life is too short to be unkind. Those words have become my mantra ever since, and up to now, I still say it in the middle of the nurses' station at random times. I suppose this is the closest thing I could ever get to achieving my dream of becoming a motivational speaker at TED talks. I left the room feeling proud of myself. Firm, but fair- this was how one of my staff described me after the meeting. She then asked me how I learned to speak that way. I honestly didn't know and I still don't. I think I just have a big mouth and I often speak my mind. But the most important thing from that very first day was that, for the first time in 5 years, I was confident again. I held my head up high from that moment on because I knew then that I could definitely do the job despite my lack of managerial experience.

The first three months were not easy. I suppose I made myself too available to some people- people who sucked my energy out of me. Everyday, I was bombarded with childish complaints about colleagues whom they've worked for years. I realised eventually that they were deprived of attention. No one seemed to have given them the opportunity to talk and be listened to. As someone who I believe is gifted with the ability to listen, I was generous with my time. I was patient and allowed them to talk- until someone became very worried. "There is now a lot of negativity", I remember her telling me. Whilst her face showed so much concern, I was blase about the whole thing. She went on and said, "people never talked, and now all they do is complain". All I could do was to reassure her that it was not negative to speak out. I explained to her that "these people were deprived of the freedom to speak. And now that they have found someone to talk to, they are talking". I realised from that moment that I had to work hard on my staff. I realised that they were my foundation to be successful in my role and so I invested time, energy and positive words in them. 

I lost a few staff in my first 6 months as a manager. I would have considered that a bad thing, however, those people were the same people who have wanted to leave even before I came into post. People who were consumed by negativity and failed to see the good things in the work place and in others. People who said they will not support me. People who were under performing, and people who had hidden agendas. Their departure did not bother me that much because at the end of the day, the right people will stay no matter what happens. Besides, I firmly believed that this was not a reflection of my management. They simply had to go.  

Staff came and went throughout my first year. I can't honestly remember how many nurses I interviewed during that time, but it was exhausting. The problem was that people didn't have genuine intentions. They were not who they said they were during the interview. Some looked good on paper, but couldn't even give a concrete answer as to why they were applying for the job. Most of them said that they were tired of having too many patients as they were always short-staffed. Some were too honest to say that they wanted an easy job. What they didn't realise is that nursing- be it in a private hospital or the NHS, will always be hard-work. In different aspects and in different levels, yes, but they are equally challenging nevertheless. 

I just realised that I have now written four paragraphs about people. This only proves that the biggest challenge of my first year as a ward manager was basically people.

But of course, not all people have been challenging at work. Otherwise, I wouldn't have made it to a year. There are at least five people that I am very grateful for as they have not stopped supporting me since day one. Without their help and support, I wouldn't have survived. My ward sister being one of them. I know some people saw her differently, but I knew from the moment I saw her that she was very capable. Perhaps she was just not given the right support. I owe her so much that I can't stop thanking her until now. Without her unquestionable loyalty, unwavering support and perseverance, we wouldn't be where we are now. My Head of Nursing, whose kind words gave me the confidence that, despite not having a background in management,  I could do the job just as well. Every constructive criticism she gave me only pushed me to work harder and deliver with utmost confidence and efficiency. From the day of my interview, she has empowered me, perhaps unknowingly, to be the manager that the ward needs in order to get to where they needed to be. 

A year on and I believe that I now finally have a robust team. One of my not-so-new nurses has been a blessing. She has proven to be a very important part of the team and with her help, I am confident that we will succeed.

I can't say whether my first year as a ward manager has been successful or not because I feel like I have not done enough. I just hope that my staff feel supported and that they are happy, because I believe that happy nurses deliver the best care to patients. 

As I embark on another year in my managerial role, I remain optimistic that one day, this challenging journey will lead us to where we want to be. There are still a lot of work to be done but I know that we will get there.

It has been a very challenging first year. There were times when stress got the better of me. I broke down at least twice because life's demands became seemingly unbearable. But the challenges I faced in my first year as a ward manager left me with some valuable lessons that inspired me to be a better manager and most importantly, a better person.

I guess one of the biggest lessons I learned during this journey is the fact that experience becomes insignificant when you were born to do a job. And with this comes authenticity and pure intentions.


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