My Best London Dining Experiences in 2019

Friday, 20 March 2020

Before social distancing was encouraged, a few people have asked me for restaurant recommendations in London. As much as it is flattering, I am actually embarrassed to tell people where to eat. First of all, I am not a food blogger, let alone a food critic. Secondly, I don't really want to be blamed should they not enjoy their food experience as much as I did. This is why I write about my own experience and not a review. Anyway, I still gave these people my recommendations, so hopefully it will somehow help their family and friends.

2019 was yet another special year for our food adventure, for the main reason that one of my very good university friends came to visit with her family,  and we had a couple of dinners with them. We also went back to a couple of our favourite restaurants, The Ivy and Benares. It was also early last year when I gave in to Jollibee - a food experience that I really enjoyed but wouldn't necessarily queue up for unless it if for someone really special. 

So, here is the list of my best food experiences in London in 2019:

1. Rules - 34-35 Maiden Ln, Covent Garden
- The oldest restaurant in London provided us with nothing but an exceptional dining experience from the moment we entered the restaurant until we left. The restaurant serves traditional British food. The surroundings took us back to the late 1700s with the classic paintings, drawings, sculptures and ornaments occupying the walls. I loved the simplicity of the food when it was served. In fact, I laughed at J's steak and kidney pie (£20.95)as it looked lonely on a plate. I was hoping for the suckling pig, but their menu has changed when we went, so I opted for the slow roast leg of rabbit with bacon (£23.95) instead. Of course, the meal wouldn't have been complete without the delectable sticky toffee pudding (£8.50). The food without a doubt is a definition of excellent British food. 

2. Aquavit - St James's Market, 1 Carlton St 
- Actually, we loved Aquavit's brunch so we were a little bit disappointed when we went there last time and were told that they have stopped serving brunch. As we were already set to eat at the restaurant, we decided to try their lunch menu. This Michelin- starred restaurant serves Nordic dishes. I had the Swedish meatballs (£20) which reminded me of Ikea. I mean, of course Aquavit's meatballs are far better quality, but I was reminded because I know people who would go to Ikea mainly for the meatballs. I've only had it once. Anyway, J had their burger (£25) which he said was very good. It was served with matchstick fries and some fresh salads.The service has always been friendly and the food is unarguably good, that's why Aquavit was one of the only two restaurants that we frequented in our neighbourhood. However, they have no more brunch, so we have not been back in a while.

3.  Imperial Treasure- 9 Waterloo Pl, St James's
- I came across this restaurant during one of my morning runs. There was a sign to say that a new Chinese Restaurant was opening. I made a note of it, and as soon as it opened I wanted to go. It was just a matter of who wanted to go with me. Fortunately, I share a love for Chinese food with one of my closest friends in London, and so we planned our long overdue date and tried Imperial Treasure. Man, their Crispy Fish Skin with Egg-Yolk (£16) was to die for! I mean, I would go back to the restaurant just for this over and over again. Their crispy pork belly and honey glazed char siu pork (£28) melted in the mouth. Their baked crab shell stuffed with crab meat, onion and cheese (£18) was a real treat for seafood lovers like us. Add to that their crunchy morning glory (£18) and very tasty Yangzhou fried rice (£22). We also very much enjoyed their super crispy golden sesame ball with custard (£7.50) and the refreshing and healthy osmanthus jelly (£7.50). See, Ate Elvie and I can easily get carried away by good food.

4.  Din Tai Fung- 5 Henrietta St, Covent Garden
- Our early dinner at this then newly opened Taiwanese restaurant in Covent Garden was unplanned. When our friends from California saw the restaurant, they were adamant that we should eat there. Apparently, they have been trying to eat at their franchise  in San Francisco but there is always a long queue.  They were so delighted to have found Din Tai Fung in London. The restaurant can accommodate 250 guests, and you can actually watch the chefs meticulously making their famous Xiao Long Bao. We left our friends to order the food and boy, they came aplenty. To be honest, they ordered too much that I can no longer remember what I ate. But one thing is for sure, every single dish was excellent.

5.  The Cinnamon Club - The Old Westminster Library, Westminster
- Set in an old library, this Indian Restaurant is perfect for book lovers. We visited the restaurant on a Saturday and it was very quiet, which we really liked. The classic books around us sparked a conversation about which books we have read. Of course, J obviously have read far more than I have. Anyway, the restaurant has a £27.50 set lunch menu for two courses, which we opted for. I had the Koorgi style double cooked pork belly with soy and honey which was mild, tender and perfectly spiced. J on the other hand, was not impressed with his tandoori chicken breast. We skipped the starter , so we could have desserts. J enjoyed his sorbet selection, whilst my Malai Kulfi was divine. I would love to go back again one day.

6. Tredwells- 4A Upper St Martin's Lane, Covent Garden
- I have always wanted to try a Marcus Wareing restaurant since I started watching Masterchef: The Professionals. So, when I had to cancel my birthday lunch in Marcus at The Berkeley because of our trip to Strasbourg, I took the opportunity to bring my American friends to  another Marcus restaurant when they visited - the Tredwells. Apart from the slow service, the experience was good. My friend's children had their first tasting menu, which they seemed to have enjoyed. For my starter, I had the chargrilled prawns (£12). For my mains, I had the very tender and tasty Saddleback Lake District Pork Belly (£24). For dessert, I had the fit for the summer signature Chouxnut which was enjoyable. All in all, it was a very good experience because we were with a very good company.

7. 108 Brasserie- 108 Marylebone Ln, Marylebone
- We don't often dine in this part of Central London, although it's only a few minutes away from where we live because er, it seems quite far. However, when special people invite us to eat out, we would make the worthy effort. So, we spent our annual Christmas dinner with the Munchkins in 108 Brasserie last year. The restaurant has a friendly atmosphere and the service was very good. The food? Well, our plates were all empty. Even the bread was delightful. I had the steak for mains and it was perfect!

8.  Duck and Waffle- 52 Haymarket St, St James's 
 - It's been quite a while since I visited Duck and Waffle in Heron Tower, so I'm glad that there is now a Duck and Waffle Local around the corner. I mean, can you actually say no to a waffle? It's always a treat whenever I eat here because I love duck- the waffle and the egg are just a bonus. And duck and waffle always gets it right. Perhaps one of my favourite duck confit. And for the price of £16, it's worth it for the quality of food and the service.

9. The Greyhound Cafe- 37 Berner's St, Fitzrovia
- It was a random after work catch up with my work Ate. As I was craving for Thai food, we decided to drop by The Greyhound on our home. I pass by the restaurant everyday on my way to and from work for more than a year and never tried it. So, when the opportunity came, I didn't let it pass. Their food isn't traditional Thai, but I loved the fact that it isn't. Their Prawn Pad Thai (£14.50) was as good as it looked. However, the real winner was their Young Coconut Sherbet (£4.50) which was not only refreshing, but tasted like heaven. Their food is fairly cheap compared to other Thai restaurants I have tried before, but definitely more delicious. 

10. The Old Tree Daiwan Bee- 26 Rupert St, West End
- Okay, this Taiwanese restaurant only made it on my list because of their Stewed Pig's Trotters (£8.50) which tastes like home. I visit this please whenever I crave for "paksiw na baboy" and it never disappoints. 

11.  Joy King Lau - 3 Leicester St, West End
- Before Orient came into my life, Joy King Lau was my favourite. I mean, I still love going there, however, it is no longer the first Chinese restaurant I would bring my friends to. Nevertheless, it is still one of my favourite Chinese restaurants. The service has always been good- one thing that I don't often see in Chinese restaurants. I am a creator of habit, so I always order the same thing when I go to Joy King Lau: Siu Mai (£3.80), spicy chicken feet (£3.80) and roast duck (£15.80). It's always a good experience whenever I visit this restaurant, so I would recommend it to anyone visiting Chinatown in London.

12. Eggslut - 185 Portobello Road, Notting Hill
- Thanks to Farrah for introducing me to Eggslut in LA. I truly enjoyed my first Eggslut experience, so when I visited Notting Hill last time, I had to try it in London. The quality of the food is the same- tasty, juicy and yummylicious! If you love egg sandwiches, this is definitely the place for you!

We are observing social distancing (if not community quarantine) indefinitely, and therefore, I am not planning to go to any restaurants anytime soon.  For now, I will reflect on my previous food experiences and perhaps write about my brunch and afternoon tea experiences next. This will also a good time for me to enhance my cooking skills.

Until then, let us all stay home and stay safe.


One Day Trip To Freezing Quebec City, Canada

Sunday, 1 March 2020

My original plan was to take a day trip to New York as it is only over an hour plane ride from Montreal. However, because of the snow season, I decided to stay in Canada in fear of getting stranded in New York- and I am very glad I did. My friend Claire wanted to take me to Quebec City because she knew I would love it there, so we went there for a day trip instead. It was a pleasant 3 hours drive from Montreal. The weather was good albeit very cold. It was -18 degrees when we arrived in Quebec City but the cold didn't bother me as I was excited to explore the city I knew so little about.

Our first destination was Parc de la Chute-Montmorency because they wanted to show me the famous waterfall in Quebec City. Little did they know that I am scared of heights. It all went fine, but I definitely refused to cross the suspension bridge. The waterfall was unfortunately half-frozen, but still beautiful. The surrounding views didn't disappoint either.

Then we drove straight to Old Quebec City. The narrow cobblestone street of Quartier Petit Champlain transported me back to Europe in an instant. The little cafes, restaurants and shops adorned with Christmas ornaments, and the colourful doors and windows were so picturesque- I could seriously walk up and down there all day. For a second, I forgot I was still in Canada. It was also a good thing that I visited in the winter as there were not many tourists. Apparently, it can get very busy over there in spring and summer. Saying this, it would also be nice to experience Old Quebec during these times of the year.

Of course I have heard of Quebec City before, however, I didn't know much about it. Then I came across an instagram post by a famous celebrity in the Philippines- Anne Curtis, who is an avid fan of the Korean Fantasy Drama, Goblin. She posted filming locations of the famous K-drama, which happened to be in Quebec City. Although I have never heard of Goblin before, I was inspired to haunt the famous locations just for the sake of it, as I was in Quebec City anyway. It turned out that two of the filming locations are actually tourist destinations, so I wouldn't have missed it either way. As expected, there were people, mostly Asians queueing up to take a photo of the famous red door in Quartier Petit Champlain. I was lucky I got there first, so I had the door to myself. :)

Another place to visit in Old Quebec City is the majestic Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac, which apparently became a National Historic Site in 1981. The chateau was also apparently featured in Goblin. 

The Old Town in Quebec City is not as big as  I thought, however it has so many charming places to explore, like the very pretty Place Royale. I could really feel the Christmas spirit when I was there, with the big Christmas tree in the square and the loud Christmas Carol playing in the background. It was such a pleasant experience walking through the snow covered cobblestone street. Also, there is a huge 20 year-old mural near Palace Royale in Cote de la Montagne that is a must-see. 

Where we ate:

Le Lapin Saute - 52 Rue du Petit Champlain, Quebec City
- It was a safe choice if I were to be honest. We read reviews of a few restaurants in Petit Champlain, but Lapin Saute had the most credible reviews in our opinion, so we opted for it. Despite being located in a touristy area, this restaurant is very far from a trap. The interior is quite quirky but cosy. The waiter was very accommodating and friendly. The service was quick and seamless. I loved the fact that the restaurant was almost empty when we went in. It was a lot busier when we left. The food didn't disappoint either. I wanted to try a proper rabbit dish (plenty on the menu), but I ended up having the Quebec Discoveries ($26) instead. The platter was a combination of smoked duck breast, smoked salmon, rabbit rillettes, cheese, olives and pickled vegetables.

My trip to Quebec City was indeed a worthy three-hour drive. I was very happy to be there and I really enjoyed the company of my friend Claire and my new found friend AJ. I am very thankful for these two because if it weren't for them, I wouldn't have experienced the beauty of Quebec City.


Our Therapeutic Winter Trip To Montreal, Canada

Sunday, 23 February 2020

A rather unsettling news broke in the first week of December last year. Since then,  I have not managed to live a completely normal life. All the positive things that have happened in the last two months have been overshadowed by massive disappointments and frustrations. This is the reason why I haven't written anything since the first of January. But today, I was reminded of our trip to Canada so I decided to write about it before the winter ends. It was actually J's company trip, but I asked if I could tag along as I have never been to Canada before. 

And so we flew out of Heathrow at 1300 on a Monday and arrived in Montreal at 1500 on the same day. It was already dark when we arrived at our hotel, and I was tired so I decided to stay locally whilst J went out to dinner with his colleagues. 

As this trip was work for J, I was left to explore Montreal on my own. My first destination was the Old Town as recommended by J's boss. I only explored places that I could walk to and luckily, most of the historical landmarks in Montreal are within walking distance from our hotel. 

My first impression of Montreal however was not a positive one at all. It seemed like to me, a very big construction site. Walking from our hotel, I saw ongoing construction works left and right. It wasn't until I hit Rue McGill that I started to appreciate Montreal. I finally saw limestone buildings. I didn't have any itinerary as such so I walked towards St Jacques. At 0900, the streets were quiet. It was not the typical rush hour that I am used to. The streets however, were lined with cars. I wandered aimlessly until I saw the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal. Its unassuming facade did not give me a hint of what was to be expected inside. It's basically the most beautiful church interior I have ever seen. The intricate design of the altar, with its magnificent wood carvings, religious themed statues, exquisite columns and the calming blue lighting make the Basilica so breathtakingly beautiful. Add to that the imposing Pulpit, the Great Casavant Organs and the stained glass windows. There are also two prayer rooms in the church- the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament and the Chapel of Notre-Dame du Sacré-Cœur. I visited the church three times whilst I was in Montreal, and each experience was unique, and definitely worth the $8 entrance fee. Basilique Notre-Dame De Montreal is a true definition of sheer grandeur.

From the Basilica, I walked towards Rue Saint-Paul, the oldest street in Montreal. The street is lined with charming boutiques, art galleries, restaurants and cafes.  Perhaps because it was winter when we visited Montreal, there was not many tourists in sight. In fact, there were more cars parked on the streets than people walking. On top of the street, I found Marche Bonsecours which is basically a public market. Nearby, I also found the Nelson's Column (similar to that of Trafalgar Square in London) and the Montreal City Hall. I also went back to this part of Montreal at least three times during our stay.

One day during this trip, my friend Claire kindly took me around, so I was able to see more of Montreal. We walked to the Old Port where their own version of the Big Ben and the London Eye are found. The Montreal Clock Tower serves as a memorial to the Canadian sailors who died during the First World War (wikipedia). Behind the tower is Jacques Cartier Bridge which is even more beautiful when lit at night. The Montreal Observation Wheel (La Grade Roue de Montreal) is apparently the tallest observation wheel in Canada. 

Since we were both up for a long walk, we decided to walk from the Old Port to Downtown Montreal. The almost half an hour walk took us to another church which is a smaller version of St Peter's Basilica in Rome- the Cathedral of Mary Queen of the World (Cathedrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde). This church is oozing with so much charm and delicate design, so it shouldn't be missed when visiting Montreal.

Then it was time to walk up to Mount Royal Lookout (Parc du Mont-Royal)for the most talked about panoramic view of Montreal. The incline and more or less than 250 steps of the grand stairs of Mount Royal was absolutely worth it. The view is truly stunning from up there.

On our way down from the lookout, it started to snow much to my excitement. I really prayed that it would snow during our stay in Montreal, and it did. By the time we reached our final destination of the day, it was dark and snowing rather hard. But the snow made the experience even more beautiful. So, we took a shuttle bus to Saint Joseph's Oratory - the largest church in Canada. The church gave an impression of Sacre Coeur in Paris. What I really loved about Saint Joseph's Oratory is its history. There is a shrine inside the church where lies the heart of Saint Brother Andre- the founder of the church. Apparently, Brother Andre requested his heart to be kept inside the Basilica for its protection. Brother Andre was believed to have healing powers. Inside the church, I saw hundreds of walking sticks displayed on the walls that belonged to people who were apparently healed. If you have been to the church and have forgotten to say your prayer intentions, don't worry because you can still do it here.

Of course, there are many other places to see and enjoy in Montreal. It all depends on what you are looking for really. 

Where I ate:

1. Crew Collective and Cafe- 360 St Jacques St
- Located in an old Royal Bank, this cafe is one of the most elegant cafes I have seen with its grand stairs, beautifully carved high ceilings, expensive looking furniture and classy office spaces.I really loved the worker-friendly atmosphere. I wished they had something like this in London (or perhaps there is one I just haven't found it yet). Anyway, their coffee was very good, too. So yes, visit this cafe when in Montreal.

2. Le Petit Dep- 179 Saint-Paul St W
- At one point during this trip, I needed to revise my CV, so I looked for a cafe where I could sit quietly and do this. I found Le Petit Dep along Saint Paul St. It is a very charming cafe and I loved the fact that it was very quiet when I went there. This is where I decided to have my almond croissant.

3. Cafe Tommy- 200 Notre-Dame St W
- I definitely went to Cafe Tommy to eat and have a good food experience in Montreal. I say this because I saw people sleeping in the cafe. I mean, they have a drink on their table but yes, sleeping. The place is quite relaxing and the food is great, so perhaps this is why people fall asleep there. Really though, this cafe is pretty. I went there twice during my stay and both times, I enjoyed the food and the atmosphere. It can be quite busy though.

4. Zibo - 90 Peel St
- Whilst J was out to dinner with his colleagues, I dated myself and had dinner at the restaurant next door to our hotel- Zibo. I ordered the grilled beef bavette plus 3 grilled shrimps ($33) to satisfy my cravings for meat and some seafood. The food didn't disappoint to say the least.

5. Holder- 407 Rue McGill
- It has become my habit to treat myself to a fancy restaurant whenever I am tagging along with J. This is so I can experience this kind of dining in different places. For Montreal, I chose Holder because it was the closest restaurant I could find from where I was at that time. The restaurant was very noisy (which they don't deny on their website) and I went their for early lunch. What more in the evening? Anyway, the food was tasty and rich,  and the service was professional. I had the heartwarming French onion soup ($12.25) for starter, and the perfectly cooked and seasoned duck confit ($23.25) for mains. 

6. Sammi and Soupe Dumpling - 1909 Saint-Catherine St W
- My friend took me to this Chinese restaurant and perhaps, it's one of the best soup dumplings I've ever tasted. The restaurant is non-pretentious and the food tasted very authentic. The service was efficient and friendly. We ordered their classic juicy pork dumplings ($11.70 for 10 pcs) and  shrimp coriander dumplings ($19.50 for 10 pcs). Really delicious.

So there. I was really glad I went with J because Montreal took my worries away, albeit temporarily. I truly enjoyed wandering around the cobblestone streets of the Old Town and admiring the grey limestone historical buildings and quaint cafes and shops. 

What I realised is that Montreal has its own unique beauty which lies within its Old Town and churches. I liked Montreal because despite all the wonderful things that it offers, it is modest and friendly.


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