My Best London Dining Experiences In 2017

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Good, if not better food experience was one of the things that came up in my recent conversation with J about things that we plan to do more in 2018. There is no doubt that our love for food in general has grown in the last two years. And with that, I am glad that I now have learned how to cook better because this means that we don't really have to go out and spend money in order to enjoy delicious food. 

In 2017 though, without even realising it, we dined out in some of the finest restaurants in London more than I ever did since I moved to London 5 years ago. Most of the food that we ate last year truly ignited my senses and sent me to foodgasm. 2017 gave me the opportunity to connect more with food, hence providing me with the best London dining experiences to date.

1. The Ivy - 1-5 West St, Covent Garden
- A few years ago, I went to The Ivy for the first time to try their (then) famous sticky toffee pudding. After that, I went back a few more times but for different reasons. In November last year, I went back again, this time with J and his parents.

I've always loved The Ivy because of it's stained-glass windows, classy interior and extensive collection of art deco paintings. However, it was noticeable that the restaurant has undergone some facelift as I couldn't remember the bar in the middle being that big. Even the menu has changed. One good thing though, the food remains excellent, and the service- exemplary as usual. For starters, we had Crispy duck and persimmon salad which was uber delicious. For mains, I had the Yorkshire pork cutlet (£23) which surprisingly came in quite a big portion. J and his dad on the other  hand, had the deep fried haddock (£19). His mom only had salad because they had a heavy lunch. Unfortunately, my favourite sticky toffee pudding was not on the dessert menu. I could have asked for it anyway, but the pork really filled me up. But at least I have an excuse to go back.

2. L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon- 13-15 West St, Covent Garden
- Last year, I discovered that lunch was a cheaper way to experience Michelin-starred dining. I prefer it now to be honest because it's less pretentious and much quieter than dinner. Our dining experience at Joel Robuchon in Covent Garden was truly amazing. Everything was of the highest standard from the moment we stepped in the restaurant until we left. The £39 per person three-course meal plus a non-alcoholic drink was cheap in my opinion, considering the quality and the amount of food that we were served. Plus the outstanding customer service from the all-smiling staff.

3. The Palomar- 34 Rupert St, Soho
- A few months ago, J's mum sent us a magazine with a list of the 100 best restaurants in Britain. On the list was our neighbour, The Palomar. I wondered why whenever I passed by the restaurant, day or night, there was always a long queue outside. Out of curiosity, we visited the restaurant and I can easily say that this Israeli restaurant is now one of our favourite restaurants in London. It was my first time to experience Israeli food and it was amazing. We prefer the dining room than the kitchen bar because it's quieter and more comfortable for us.

4. Clos Maggiore - 33 King Street, Covent Garden
- As a separate treat for my birthday last year, J brought me to Clos Maggiore for lunch. Clos Maggiore is known as the most romantic restaurant in London. Unfortunately, the conservatory wasn't available at the time, so we were seated in the private dining room upstairs which was equally romantic sans the fake cherry blossoms and the fireplace. The ambience was warm and intimate, and our waiter was friendly and attentive. I couldn't really fault the food as it was delightful. To start, I ordered the Dorset crab which was very tasty. J ordered the Windsor Royal park venison and Wagyu beef terrine. I was craving for duck that day (as any other day), so I had the mouth-watering Honey-glazed Goosnargh duck for my main course. J ordered the oven roasted chicken breast which he thoroughly enjoyed. For desserts, J opted for the European artisan cheeses which was overwhelming. I went safe and had the creme brulee because why not? Oh, I had an extra dessert because it was my birthday, plus a candle to blow. All for £34.50 per person. Clos Maggiore was indeed a very memorable dining experience for us.

5. The Ritz- 150 Piccadilly St, St James's
- Although I have stayed at The Ritz once before, I really never dined there. So when my niece visited in February last year and invited me to The Ritz for an afternoon tea, I didn't hesitate. It was the best way to cap off her visit to London. I expected nothing but a first class afternoon tea experience and my expectation was truly met. We had our own waiter who was very polite, friendly and obliging. The food was flawlessly presented, and delicious of course. It came in two batches unexpectedly, so we didn't finish the whole thing as it was a bit too much for petite ladies like us. But we nevertheless enjoyed the food and the whole glamorous experience. 

6. Hutong- The Shard, St Thomas St
- Breath-taking views, impeccable service and exquisite food- what else could I have asked for in a restaurant? We brought J's parents to Hutong in April last year and we were very impressed. When I made the booking, I requested for a table by the window and that was exactly what we got. We watched the raging London sunset while we waited to be served by the very accommodating staff. We had the  "melt-in-your-mouth" dimsum platter(£17.50) for starter. I was feeling selfish that night so I ordered their most recommended signature dish, the Red Lantern (£36) for my mains. It's basically amazingly flavoured soft-shell crab covered in red chillies. Don't get me wrong, I offered my food to my companions but I don't think they were keen on seafood, so I had the huge bowl to myself. Hehe. On top of that, we also ordered another signature dish, the whole Roasted Peking Duck (£62) which was served in two stages. This, I must admit left me feeling like a very ignorant person. I was expecting the quantity of a "whole duck" to be served, but we had what it seemed like two small portions of duck instead. But to be honest, it was the best duck I've ever had so far.

7. The Wolseley - 160 Piccadilly, St James's
- I was surprised at how laid back the atmosphere was at The Wolseley. I was expecting men in suits and women dressed elegantly, so I felt relieved when I saw diners in their "street-wear" outfits. I thought the place was too crowded and noisy but when we were sat down, my attention was immediately drawn to the historic architecture. The food and service were good. The chopped liver (£9) we had for starter inspired me so much that I made my own version of it on New Year's eve. I wanted to try something I haven't had in a long time so I went for the Schwein (pork) Schnitzel (£20.50), while J opted for the roast chicken (£21.50). 

8. Maze Grill Mayfair - 10-13 Grosvenor Square, Mayfair
- I am not a fan of Gordon Ramsay nor J, but I thought we should try one of his restaurants at least. J came to the Maze Grill with me reluctantly. I mean, the service was warm and friendly, and the food was good. So, I think it is safe to say that we had a good dining experience at the Maze Grill. J enjoyed their tomato soup (£8) while their two-piece buffalo chicken fillets (£7) left me wanting  more. I was missing steak at the time,  so I ordered that for my mains (Rump steak £20). J has always been the healthier eater so he had the fish of the day which was seabream.

9.  Gymkhana - 42 Albemarle St, Mayfair
-  I learned how to appreciate Indian food more when I started going out with J. I had Indian friends back in Bristol and whenever they brought me food,I always complained that it was too hot. But now, I actually love it. Gymkhana is a good place to go for Indian food in London, and the first photo above says it all. I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and efficient service. The food was excellent. Although quite pricey, it's definitely worth the experience.

10.  Orient- 15 Wardour St, Chinatown
- I guess it is only fair to say that our favourite Chinese restaurant in Chinatown is Orient. Not only that the food is great, but the service is outstanding (you don't normally get that in a lot of Chinese restaurants). Orient is our to-go-to whenever we are craving for Chinese food. Their dimsum platter (£8) is always good as well as my favourite roast duck (£10.50 for quarter). J likes their crispy shredded beef (£10.60). We have also tried one of their set menus, and for £21 per person, it was far two generous for two. 

11. Romulo's Cafe- 343 High Street Kensington, Kensington
- I can't cook Filipino food very well, and so it is quite important for me to find a good Filipino restaurant in London, and I am happy that I finally found one. The first time I went to Romulo's cafe, I wanted to eat every single thing on the menu. The selection of food was rather impressive- traditional Filipino dishes with a twist. And the service was surprisingly amazing- quick, very friendly and efficient. A few weeks later, I went back to Romulo's twice in a row for my work leaving do and invited my foreign friends. It was their first Filipino food experience and apparently, Romulo's has raised the bar. They very much enjoyed the whole Filipino food experience and would be willing to go back and try other dishes as well. By now, I probably have tried majority of the food on their menu, but my favourites are the pandesal and the sisig. I know it is expensive, but I have been to another fine dining Filipino restaurant in London, and Romulo's is definitely more worthy of my money. Let's just say that in Romulo's, you definitely get what you pay for.

There you go. I am not sure when will I be able to go back to the restaurants I have just mentioned because where we live, we have so many choices of good restaurants and we want to try them all. This year, we aim to have a more balanced dining experience in such a way that we try both old and new restaurants, and also to go further beyond our neighbourhood. 😊

I just love food. Do you?

TIN x

2017: The Highs and The Lows

Monday, 1 January 2018

Reflecting on my life in the past year made me realise that despite the challenges, 2017 was indeed a great year. I am beyond grateful that I was blessed with so much more than I prayed for (except for a baby hehe). As much as I'd like to write every single blessing that I received in 2017, it's quite impossible so here's six of them:

1. Living in Soho with J
- Nothing really compares to living in the very heart of London with the most amazing partner. It's been the best London experience so far and I am glad I am sharing this experience with J.

I love living in Soho because I feel like I live in two different worlds. Despite our neighbouring streets being so ridiculously busy, we could still have that sense of "sub-urban life" when we are inside our top floor flat. Of course, we hear some occasional screaming at night, and the most annoying sound of revving engines but majority of the time, it's peaceful and quiet. I also love the fact that we are surrounded by pretty amazing things: restaurants, cafes, shops, theatres, most sought-after tourist attractions - you name it, it's in the neighbourhood. 

I know sooner or later, we will be moving out of Soho, so I am making the most out of it while I can.

2. The handful of people who chose to stay in my life
- Through the years, people have continuously made me feel less of the person that I am. So in 2017, I have disconnected (yet again) with some people and I honestly don't feel bad about it. In my life right now, I need people who will lift me higher and help me become a better version of myself.  I have a handful of those and that's all that matters. I'm truly grateful.

3. Those little dreams
- From hosting my first ever three-course sit down meal at home, to owning my most coveted kitchen appliances and cookware, to finally starting to grow some herbs in my kitchen- it's those little dreams that got me all inspired and excited in 2017. So yeah, I am going to make all my dreams come true in the years to come, one little dream at a time.

4. Travel
- I thought that we didn't travel much last year, but looking back, we actually had some amazing holidays in and out of the country. 

I finally reconnected with Farrah after a few years of not being in touch, and it was the best thing ever. Our trip to Edinburgh in March strengthened our relationship and provided a foundation for our future adventures.

In June, I joined J's annual family holiday in the Lake District for the first time and I had the most relaxing holiday ever. Then in August, we visited beautiful Cornwall which was the travel highlight of our year. 

Our unexpected trip to Seattle in October was the best surprise of my 2017. It was a memorable trip because it was our first trip to America together, and for just two days, we managed to do quite a lot of things. I was also able to spend time with my cousin. And then there was that day trip to Paris which gave me the opportunity to catch up with the most neutral person I know. :)

5. Giving up my job
- One of the things I promised myself when I came back from New Zealand was not to let anyone take that inner peace away from me. Unfortunately, I failed terribly in protecting my own peace. For a few months, I was surrounded by unwavering negativity. It was far from my intentions to live my professional life that way, so I took the first possible opportunity to get out. So a week ago, I finally left my job after almost a year of uneasiness. What a relief!

6. That Interview
- Recently, I went to a last minute job interview. The interview required me to give a 20-minute presentation on Leadership and what it meant to me. To be honest, I didn't have enough time to prepare for the interview. Hence, I was very nervous to a point of dropping my memory stick and almost knocking the laptop down. After my presentation, the interviewer reassured me that there was really nothing to be worried about and that I should be very proud of myself because my presentation was amazing. Then I nailed the interview after that. I knew then that I got the job but with interviews, you can never be sure. Unsurprisingly, I was offered the job and I couldn't have been more prouder of myself. It felt so good to be back in my old form - confident and capable.

But of course, 2017 wouldn't have been that exciting without going through some seemingly minor but unpleasant and emotionally challenging experiences.

1. My family
- For the past few years, I have been trying really hard to keep my family together but I don't think I will ever succeed. It breaks my heart to see my family slowly fall apart, but I know I have done everything I could and I don't think there is anything else I can do. I am the only one trying to hold the broken pieces together but I don't think it's worth it anymore. Until now, I am unable to live my life fully because of guilt. I feel like I can't be completely happy knowing what's going on with my family back home. I am tired. I want to be happy without feeling guilty. I just want my family to live in harmony. I want them to be more understanding of each other. But perhaps that's too much to ask. So be it.

2. The first three months back at work
- I had the most difficult three months at work early last year. Everyday, I went home hurt and feeling really incapable. Perhaps people didn't realise how they made me feel, but they sure did a good job in making me feel really bad about myself. I will never forget those three months. But thanks to these people because they made me realise how fortunate I am in so many ways. Because of them, I now have a better understanding of the people who are not genuinely kind.

3. My mother's stroke
- I was hit quite hard when my mother had a stroke twice between October and November. I was preparing for the worst thing that could possibly happen. Fortunately, my mother pulled through and made a fast recovery. Thank God.

4. The Oxford Street false terror attack
- Being locked down in a dark basement because of a potential terror attack was the most terrifying experience I had to go through last year. Definitely one of the most unforgettable moments in 2017.

With all the highs and the lows, I can honestly say that I've maintained a balanced life in 2017. I am very proud that my life in however many years has never been boring. It has been constantly changing for the better, one aspect at a time. Whilst I still wish that one day, every aspect of my life will be just the way I've always wanted it to be, I also believe that I can't have everything in this life. So for now, I am grateful for all that I have no matter how imperfect some of them are.

So as the New Year begins, I am hoping to live an equally good, if not a better life in 2018. I will continue to work hard to become a better person. I aim to spend more time doing the things that I love, and only with the people who are truly worthy of my time and effort.

And because 2017 gave me more than I asked for, I am hoping to give back a little bit more in 2018. I am hoping to be able to help make this world a better place to live in, one confidently beautiful person at a time. :)

To the universe, thank you for all the wonderful blessings and  the valuable lessons. 

And to you, dear family and friends, thank you for being a part of such a great year. I hope and pray that your 2018 will be filled with so much love, peace and happiness. Here's to a healthy 2018!


TIN x

5 Things I am Going To Definitely Miss Working in Westminster

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Five years ago, I wrote this on my Facebook page:
You know you've lived a life when you've gone out of your comfort zone and realise that that's one of the best things you've ever done in your life. 

Since that day, I've never been afraid to step out of my comfort zone because let's face it, you can only remain comfortable in one place for so long. After a while, our comfort zone becomes the source of our misery and dissatisfaction. Saying that though, sometimes we would rather suck it up for a little longer than subject ourselves to gruelling job applications and interviews. Oftentimes, it is our fear of starting over again that prevents us from walking away. Or sometimes, because the arrangement is convenient for us, it doesn't matter if we are happy or not. Fortunately for me, I learned through the years that life is too short to stay in a place that no longer serves me. And so, three months ago, I decided to give up the job that I thought I loved. Or perhaps I did love my job. 

Anyway, it has been quite a challenging 11 months at work. I wanted to quit a month after I went back. If it were not for "my  people", I wouldn't have survived this long. They are the reason why despite losing my confidence big time, I am leaving my job still on top and prouder than I've ever been in the last five years.

Although I am very happy that I have finally left my job, there are certain things that I am going to miss working in that side of London.

1. My people
- Over the last five years, I have made friends with really wonderful people and I am very grateful for that. I overcame the many challenges at work because of them. As I've always said, no matter how difficult a job is if we are surrounded by kind and happy people, everything becomes easier. And whilst I felt that some people doubted my capability and failed to acknowledge the almost two decades of experience behind me, there were a handful of them who genuinely believed in me and respected me as a practitioner. At the end of the day, it's those people that really matter. 

2. The fusion (or sometimes collision) of clever minds before 8am
- On my ward week, I had the opportunity to sit in the same room as some of the most amazing professionals I've ever met in my life. Listening to them discuss patient care and treatment early in the morning always left me in awe. I have so much respect for what they do. They go above and beyond to save lives and deliver the best care to their patients. Their hard work, dedication and compassion are really admirable. I am but proud to have been a part of this formidable team.

3. My morning commute to work
- If there is one thing that I will miss the most working in Westminster, it would be my 30-minute early morning walk to work. My journey starts at 620am. As soon as I get out of our building, I can smell freshly baked pastry either from the bakery in Chinatown or the Pre-a-Manger around the corner. And then I head towards Leicester square where I normally see young people hanging out (outside McDonalds)after perhaps a rough night. There is also this man slumped in front of M&Ms playing some random music. One time as I passed by, he started singing "hey girl, good morning! I see you, you walk fine". I thought it was weird but I just smiled at him anyway. 

I am a creator of habit, so in the last 11 months, I took the same route to work. From Leicester Square, I take Charing Cross Road in the direction of Trafalgar Square. Sometimes, especially in the summer, I am greeted by the smell of freshly cut grass when I reached the National Gallery area. Other times, it's the strong smell of weed from the square. It's like walking along Windrush Square in Brixton all over again.

If I am not picking up my breakfast at Pret-a-Manger, I walk straight to Whitehall. The 17 minute walk to Big Ben gives me the opportunity to clear my mind. I often pray during this time or plan my life while paying attention to what is going on around me. When I pass by 10 Downing Street, I often take a glance at the policemen at the gate. They are fascinating to watch, chatting while clutching their rifles to their chest. And then I reach the busy Bridge Street, before I finally cross Westminster Bridge. I have created a habit of looking up at Big Ben to check the time while waiting for the red light to turn green. 

Although crossing Westminster Bridge often feels like forever, it's my favourite part of my morning walk. I often get confused as to where I should look first, but the London Eye always draws my attention. There is something special about this giant wheel early in the morning. It looks so serene and its colour appears brighter, probably because there is no one blocking my view at this time. I feel almost privileged that I have the sight of the famous wheel all to myself most of the time.

Westminster Bridge is very famous for pre-nuptial shoot. In spring and summer, there are at least two couples each morning having their pre-nup photos taken. 

What I am really trying to say is that I am very blessed to have had this opportunity to see London's most famous landmarks every single (working) day. I think what I really enjoyed was seeing the normally very crowded places in the silence of the morning. I am beyond blessed to have experienced this regularly.

4. The flaming London sunrise and sunset
- I fell in love deeper with sunrise and sunset when I lived in New Zealand. We had an amazing view of the sunset from our balcony and I used to watch the sunset  almost everyday. And so when I discovered that I could watch the sunset from our board round room at work, I took every opportunity I could get to take a photo of the beautiful sunset. On the other hand, I used to sneak out of our office to briefly watch the dramatic sunrise from the window in the corridor. How I wish I could have taken more photos.

5.  Almond croissant and skinny latte from Pret-a-Manger in Trafalgar Square
- Everyday for three months, I bought my almond croissant and skinny latte from Pret-A-Manger in Whitehall. However, the service remained impersonal despite going there regularly. Besides, my coffee was often already pre-brewed for I don't know how long, so they only had to add the hot milk in. Quick service maybe but the quality of my coffee was defintely questionable. But because it became a bad habit, I still went back there every morning. Until they started opening later. I was forced to move to the other branch across the road. Needless to say that the service was friendlier and my coffee was always made fresh. But then I realised that my habit was becoming expensive and unhealthy, so I cut down from 5-day a week to at least twice a week. 

I know there are many other Prets in London (in fact, there is one every corner), but this has become a part of my early morning routine and I will definitely miss it.

So, after five years, it seems like there is not much to miss after all, huh!? But honestly, while I was walking over Westminster Bridge on my way home this afternoon, I couldn't help but look back at that massive building behind me with a grateful heart. It has been a roller coaster ride but I have learned so many lessons- professionally and personally. Probably the most important lesson I have learned from this challenging journey is how to rise above all of those who treated me less than what I deserved to be treated, by counting my blessings and constantly reminding myself of my good life outside work. Perhaps if you can use your personal life as your weapon, you can successfully win every work battle. Otherwise, just remember that most battles are better fought in silence, with grace and dignity.

Now I am ready for a new adventure. :)

TIN x

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