Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Yum Bun, 17th November

I had just been told that I hadn't got the job I wanted within my own company. Normally going for a promotion in your own company is not too big of a deal if you don't get it, but in this case it meant I was out of a job. I felt both defiant and despondent and knew I needed something delicious to eat to bring me back to equilibrium.

I headed over to Eat St, going by foot to walk off the adrenalin from the revelation that I'd be leaving my job in one week. I regretted the decision to pedestrianise myself about halfway up Farringdon Road and even more so once I got to King's Cross and started up the long walk to actually get to Eat St. I felt like I was trekking to the back of beyond. I had looked up who was there that day and knew it would be worth it - at the very least I could get a banh mi from banhmi11 and if they were as good as the ones they serve on Broadway Market, I'd be happy. But Yum Bun were also there that day and I had yet to taste their wares.

I had a bit of a recky before queuing up - having a look at the meat and how big the buns were. They had a lunch deal on - 2 buns and some soup for £6. One bun on it's own was £3 so it was basically a 'buy two, get soup free' type deal. I wasn't too bothered about getting soup but if it's free, why not? Especially inoffensive chinese vegetable soup.

Yum in a Bun
I took my two buns and soup and found myself a spare bit of kerb to sit on. Ahhhh, the yum bun. They have basically taken everyone's favourite dish of crispy duck pancakes and made them even more fabulous. Hoisin - check. Cool cucumber - check. Fresh spring onion - check. But instead of duck (which I love) they have replaced it with pork belly. Pork belly! Wonderfully tasty and juicy pork belly. And instead of pancakes they come in a fluffy 'bun'! A bun! (Ok, that exclamation mark may not be warranted given their name.) Not a bun as in a bap, or a roll, or a butty, but a bun as in a Chinese steamed bun - you know, the spherical things which often have minced pork and chives in the middle of them. I don't know quite how they cook them, but they must do them flat, a bit like pancakes, that can then be folded and stuff stuffed in.  And then - the piece de resistance is a bit of that lovely orangey chilli sauce that you get in Chinese restaurants. All together, it works beautifully. One is most definitely not enough. I think next time, though, I would ask for a tad more sauce - both kinds.

Mmmm, half eaten Bun
I ate my buns while waiting for my soup to cool and then started on that. It wasn't great. It's just a broth with some veggies in it and, as I suspected, it had mushrooms in it. The horror! Anyway, it was no great shakes - just something extra to fill your belly with instead of another bun and I got tired of avoiding the mushrooms after a while so poured the rest away. I'm glad it was free cos I wouldn't have appreciated paying for it.

Those buns stayed on my mind a long time though... I will be back for more.

Yum Bun on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 14, 2011

Koya, 14th November

This is meant to be the new 'hot spot' for those who like their noodles. People queue up outside the door to get em, waiting up to, maybe even longer than, half an hour. I've read many good reviews of the place and Stephen is a bit of a noodlehead so it made its way onto our radar. And guess what his favourite noodles are? Yes that's right, you get a gold star - its those fat juicy udon noodles, which are Koya's speciality.

So we tried to go the other weekend but at that point in time it wasn't open on a Sunday. So we tried again tonight.

Kinda wish we hadn't bothered. I had the beef hot noodles in hot soup. Stephen had the pork and miso hot noodles in hot soup. And sure, they were welcomingly warm considering the weather we had just braved to get there (some light drizzle - the worst of all weathers). But I thought the noodles were faintly ridiculous. No one needs noodles that fat or that long. They were pleasantly chewy and the broth was quite comforting, but I wasn't blown away. Pho won my heart over recently (the dish, not the restaurant, although I also like the restaurant), and Koya's udon could not steal it away.

If a bowl of noodles were a fiver a pop or something like that, this could easily be a go-to place when we're wandering Soho as we often do, and don't know where to go for some food. But for £10, the likelihood of me going back is pretty slim. Baozi Inn will remain our staple for cheap and tasty Asian food.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wildlife photographer of the year, 6th November

The ‘in-laws’ visiting gave us another reason to go out and do something from my list. This time The Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum. Unlike the rest of the museum, admission is not free, and £9 (including voluntary donation to the museum) which seemed a little steep. But we needed something to fill the day with and I thought it could be worthwhile.

I’m really pleased we went. The exhibition contained much more than I thought it would. It took us a good hour to wander around and even then there were a couple of sections that I didn’t get to completely scrutinise. It is a little hard to describe a bunch of photographs, and I didn’t take any of them. Photography probably wasn’t allowed anyway. The first section was of entries from children 10 and under. Ten!! Under!! Each photo had a little note about the person who took it and what they did to get the picture, and then there was another little note about the actual subject. For example, the winner of the children’s category was a close up of a longhorn beetle, and we were told this was taken when the girl was on holiday with her family. There was another picture of a bottle-nosed dolphin playing with some false killer whales. Although it’s been known that dolphins do this, it was almost definitely the first time it had ever been documented in a photo.

There were some spectacular landscape photos, and photos of the ordinary but taken in a different way – like an extreme close up of a bee inside a beautiful white flower. Reading the stories of the photographers and the situations they put themselves in to capture the perfect photo was astounding. Stuff like sitting in what they call ‘hides’ for days at a time, waiting for the particular species they wanted to come along and pose in just the right way.

Naturally I thought it would be a good exhibition or it wouldn’t have gone on The List, but I was pleased by just how satisfying and fascinating it really was.

Walking round a fairly small room can work up quite an appetite. My ‘in-laws’ are quite traditional English folk and were in the mood for a Sunday Roast. I had tasked Stephen (after all, they’re his relations) with finding a place that does a good roast in the area of the museum the night before. He, however, got sidetracked with the evening menu at the Bull & Last, wondering if he should go there for his birthday the week after. No roast venue was found. And so, on the Sunday I found myself hurriedly searching both the recesses of my mind, and the internet for somewhere to go. I only really know places in the East End and had heard of one place that was meant to be good – Mason & Taylor. I also found a blog dedicated to Sunday Roasts – RoastedSundays.com which highly recommended the Water Poet. As that was closer to Liverpool St station than the other one, we thought we’d go by there first and see what they did.

What they did sounded perfectly nice and acceptable to everyone, so we put our names down and waited for 20 minutes for a table.

I’m not going to beat around the bush here. Our roasts were disgusting. Stephen and I opted for the lamb shoulder. The meat was overdone. The gravy was insipid and a token presence on the plate. (Actually that’s a plus for me as I don’t like gravy that much, but I know for most people it would be a negative thing.). It was supposed to come with ‘carrot puree’ and ‘autumn greens’. That translated to sliced boiled carrots and some peas. The roast potatoes were of variable quality – I had one perfect one, and the rest were chewy as opposed to crunchy. Stephen’s relations had the roast chicken and had similarly derogatory remarks to make about it, one complaint being that it was cold. The Yorkshire pudding wasn’t bad.

For some reason (ever the hopeful optimists I suppose) we decided to order dessert here as well. They did sound very tempting. But they were just as disappointing. Stephen’s mum and I opted for the sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and honeycomb ice cream. Stephen’s mum doesn’t like butterscotch sauce and asked for custard instead. This they did get right, but I did notice that she hadn’t asked for the ice cream to be withheld, yet that was also replaced in favour of custard. Which was actually, little did she know it, a good thing, because my ‘honeycomb ice cream’ actually tasted like a scoop of clotted cream. Nothing iced or honeycomb about it. The butterscotch sauce was good but there should have been more of it because the pudding itself was pretty dry.

Stephen ordered the orange pippin apple and plum crumble. He said it was cold in places, making it very unpleasant to eat. I have no pictures, but the place didn’t deserve any being taken.

Last night we went to the Canton Arms for Stephen’s birthday where I had an amazing meal complete with moist, delicious pear and butterscotch pudding for dessert. It put the Water Poet’s roast on Sunday into stark contrast. Perhaps I’ve been harsher than I would have, had I not had an example of how food should be done only a few days later. Perhaps, but I don’t think so. Bad food is bad food and bad food is what we had at The Water Poet. The only thing I can say as a possible defence is that we went very late in the day and so maybe all the good stuff had gone by then. Maybe.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tea at The Wolsley, 5th November Part 2

So, on to the tea. We realised we were actually going to be earlier than our half four reservations and called ahead to see if we could be accommodated. They said they would do their best ans when we were shown through the heavy black curtains, feeling ever so exclusive as we did, we didn't have to wait more than a few minutes before we were shown to a table right in the middle of all the hustle and bustle. We had chosen The Wolsley because it's a bit of a landmark destination and sounds quite posh but in actual fact the prices were very reasonable and it didn't sound too overwhelmingly fancy in its attitude. I think it was a very good choice. It was definitely a lot buzzier than we were expecting - not all prim and proper and hushed. Although it was rather grand, with high ceilings and large lanternesque light fittings, marble floors and dim lighting. 


We had made an effort to look nice but it wasn't a case of designer-wear and tails and I think we fit with the general attire of the crowd. It wasn't at all intimidating, but that didn't mean that the service was less than you'd expect from a good restaurant. The waiters were very attentive (almost too attentive at one point - trying to whip away my hot chocolate before I had finished), constantly topping up our glasses of water whenever they fell below some predesignated level, which roughly corresponded to taking about three gulps.

The food was very traditional, but this was another reason we chose it, so it was exactly what we wanted. We had four afternoon teas. They came with five finger sandwiches each - chicken and tarragon, smoked salmon, celery and cream cheese, cucumber and egg and cress. You also got two scones each - these were delicious - they seemed light and fluffy but then you realise why you are so full after a cream tea as they sit quite heavily on you. They had raisins in them as you would expect, but they weren't crammed with them - which for me was a plus because I don't like raisins and had to pick them out. They were accompanied by, of course, clotted cream and jam. And they didn't skimp on either. There was still quite a bit left over once we were done with the scones.

And on to the pastries. There were six individual kinds to share between the two of you: a coffee eclair, a cheesecake, chocolate mousse cake, redcurrant tart, battenburg and a pistachio macaroon. It couldn't have worked out better for our little group as even though we all had different tastes, they didn't seem to overlap too much, so no one was deprived of the one pastry they really wanted. For example, I had the pistachio macaroon, which Stephen's stepfather didn't want, but he really wanted the battenburg and I hate marzipan. By the end of it we were absolutely stuffed and only two morsels remained - one of the cheesecakes and one coffee eclair. The waiter came by to tidy away the last remaining things and spied we hadn't finished everything off. He refused to clear away the cheesecake, claiming it absolutely must be tasted. Stephen and I hadn't had any of the other one, so we faux grudgingly obliged to share it and I'm very glad I did - it tasted like a proper New York cheesecake: deliciously creamy. It probably was the best dessert on there. Don't get me wrong, the others were good too.

I should also mention the tea. Unfortunately I don't like tea so I can't really comment on anything other than its presentation. It came in a very impressive urn, accompanied by a tea strainer which none of us knew how to use. After some observation of the other patrons, we realised that you had to perform a manoeuvre where you tilted it and hung it on the side of your cup, then poured the tea through it. So now you know.

I did enjoy the experience and I think it was worth doing just to say you've had Tea at The Wolsley. Everything was perfectly tasty. But to be honest, if I were going to have a Tea again and not for any particular special reason - I'd go back to Bea's of Bloomsbury's. We had an excellent afternoon tea there one New Year's Eve, for less than the price of The Wolsley but just as filling, and with slightly more interesting selections.

The Wolseley on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tea at The Wolsley, 5th November, Part 1

My boyfriend's mother and her husband (obviously not Stephen's father or it would have been easier for me to say 'parents') were visiting over the weekend, partly because they hadn't for a while, and partly because it was the mum's birthday on November 5th. So we wanted to line up something a bit special for their visit. Stephen's mother and step-parent are not the easiest to entertain. It's not that they're picky exactly, it's more that they're not particularly interested in anything. They come to London to see Stephen and they could really be anywhere. They're not particularly interested in food, or drink, or art, or music, so coming up with something spectacular (other than Stephen becoming the model son overnight which was unlikely) for her birthday was a challenge. But we thought we had a pretty darn good solution: Tea at The Wolsley. What mum doesn't like the idea of afternoon tea and the kudos of saying their son took them to one of the better known venues in London?

We were booked in for tea fairly late in the afternoon because we wanted to take them up the road to Broadway Market, our new favourite market. The amount of food on offer up there is ridiculous. I was very much looking forward to it and had even dreamt about it (well, I dreamt about food, I'm attributing it to excited anticipation). Last time we went I had vowed to have a Scotch egg as I'd seen someone eating a fine looking specimen but in the end I was sidetracked by Banh Mi 11 before I got round to the scotch egg stall. It was a most enjoyable diversion - I reckon it's the best Banh Mi in London. To commit full disclosure, I had eaten a Banh Mi from them before at Field Day and it was a very disappointing experience - all carrot and not much else. But I was prepared to give them a second chance, suspecting that they didn't bother to live up to their usual high standards for a bunch of drunk festival-goers. And I was right.

But anyway, I digress. This time around, I wanted to try a scotch egg, or perhaps a Yum Bun, or  a sweet potato flatbread. Or a brownie. Or a pie. Cripes there's so much there. In the end though, the in-laws were after a Full English. We managed to persuade them not to stop in the 'caff' and instead go to the Dove where the Full English boasted components made up from the produce being sold on the market outside. I'm not a massive fan of the classic English B so I opted for some eggs benedict on toasted muffin. Was not overwhelmed. My second egg was cold by the time I got to it and my muffin was using a different definition of toasted to one I am used to. There was also way too much hollandaise for me. But the Breakfast looked good and the others seemed pleased with it. 

And now I am going to build an element of suspense into my blog by not actually writing about the Tea until my next entry! I like keeping you on your toes.


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I work as an editor in educational publishing by day, and then spend most of my spare time discovering interesting things to do in London, and taking people there with my own Meetup.