Wednesday, October 11, 2006

London adventure

During my two-and-a-half week hiatus from school, besides going home to Indonesia, I had a mini 4-day long adventure with my little sis in London. She was there for the summer for an internship and I thought it would be a grrreat opportunity to explore London before going home. Hey, having a guide who knows where she's going doesn't hurt at all! So anyway, I was totally dreading the eating experience there because England is not exactly known for its wonderful cuisine. However, I found London to be such a melting pot of delicious restaurants!

I know that London's Indian food scene is pretty good, with the large amount of South Asian immigrants. One of the nights, my sis and I made our way to Brick Lane, also known as the city's Banglatown. It is a neighbourhood populated with many South Asians and a plethora of Indian restaurants. We could smell the curry and rich spices once we emerged from the underground station, making my mouth water. My sis brought me to a place she had been to before with her friends. I don't remember the name unfortunately. Our samosas were overly greasy and disappointing. However the chicken curry was superb and I loved the Indian bread, or roti, which was garlic-flavored. The curry was a bit too hot for my sis and we had to order some mango lassi to counter its spiciness.

There is so much competition among the Indian restaurants in Brick Lane that you cannot lose. The restaurants usually hire a person to stand in front of their establishment and "invite" customers. They can be rather aggressive but with competition at an all-time high, the customer always wins. This is one of the few places in London where you can get great-tasting food for very reasonable prices.

Besides the Indian food, I also love love, absolutely love the cafe scene in London. In particular, there's is this chain of French-based cafe, called "Paul" that serves very high-quality coffee and delicious, pretty pastries. It is in one of Paul cafes in Kensington that I had the best latte ever (yes, THE best)! Paul's croissants are perfectly flaky and buttery; the tarts were adequately fruity and creamy; and oh ... the macaroons were to-die-for! I looked up the company and found out that in Paris, Paul is like the French version of Au bon Pain in America.

Another cafe my sis brought me to is Cafe Deco, also in Kensington. It is a charming little coffee shop along Gloucester Road, a street that has many small cafes and charming shops. We decided to lunch at this place and had sandwiches for lunch with a dessert after that. Our respective sandwiches were quite delicious but not particularly memorable. In fact, I can't even remember what they were now. Our desserts were very beautiful. My sister had a chocolate mousse cake that is wrapped with a pretty sky-blue ribbon and I had a luscious-looking raspberry tart. Despite their wonderful presentation, they tasted pretty average. The highlight of my tart was the fresh fruit (raspberries); the crust was hard and tasteless, the custard was heavy and overly sweet. My sister's mousse cake also tasted pretty average.

Raspberry tart- Cafe Deco
Choc mousse cake- Cafe Deco

So anyway, one can't visit England without having tea at least once, right? My sis wanted to bring me to Sotheby's for high tea. When we got there, the tea room was unfortunately being renovated and was thus, closed for the season. So we asked the very friendly receptionist for an alternative and she suggested Liberty, the ultra-exclusive London department store (yes, more exclusive than Harrod's). It was first opened in 1875 and it is known for the Tudor-style building that it occupies.

The ultra-exclusive Liberty Department Store (London)

Liberty has two restaurants: the Tea Room and the Art Bar Cafe. We went to the latter and was pleasantly surprised. The cafe was decorated with tables and chairs that don't quite match, but don't clash. Most of the furniture is wood and I especially adored the intricate curtains. I loved the decor because it made me feel like I'm walking into a friend's home. High tea at Liberty is not exactly cheap. It starts at 10.75GBP per person. However, one of the "bigger" after tea "sets" would be perfect to share with a friend, which is what I did with my sister. We had the Liberty champagne tea, which cost us 19.50GBP. They were kind enough to let us share it and check out what consists of the set!

High tea at Liberty

Not only is there an endless pot of wonderful Earl Grey, they also served a flute of champagne. On top is a delicious gigantic scone studded with raisins.
Giant SCONE!

It was served with clotted cream, organic gooseberry, rose petal and strawberry preserves. A biteful of scone with a dollop of clotted cream was simply marvellous: rich, crumbly and comforting. The preserves were all delicious: not to sweet, not too sour. My absolute favorite was the rose petal preserve. Not only was it unique, it was very fragrant and tasty. It was so good that I just had to ask the waiter if it was for sale! Unfortunately, it wasn't because the chef makes it fresh, from scratch in his kitchen. Oh well, I tried!

Other sweet stuff we had with the tea were a slice of chocolate cake, a macaroon and a strawberry tartlet. The chocolate cake was rich and delicious. The macaroon was snappy and crisp. The strawberry tartlet was simply perfect! The fruits were fresh, the custard was creamy and smooth, and the crust was buttery and melt-in-your-mouth type of crumbly. As if there's not sufficient decadence, we were also served a few types of yummy-licous sandwiches. They include cucumber, smoked salmon and ham'n'cheese. How English!
Fun at high tea

Besides afternoon tea, the cafe at Liberty also serves breakfast and lunch. You can find an eclectic selection of breakfast items ranging from Welsh rarebit and toasted crumpets to eggs bendict and smoked salmon. The lunch menu is also equally cool. Offerings include wild Scottish salmon served with Thai asparagus and hollandaise, chicken liver and brandy parfait, roast artichoke and ricotta ravioli, and poached lobster. We didn't try any of these items, but judging from the homemade baked goods and sandwiches we had with tea, I'm sure the breakfast and lunch dishes is delicious too! Good bakers are almost always good cooks!

Anyway, being in London, of course we just had to visit Harrod's! The department store exuded wealth and exclusivity. But I felt right at home in their famous food hall. Harrod's food hall is simply awesome! Its tea section alone is astounding (so are the prices!). Being a bit of a tea fanatic, I just had to buy a tin of their Earl Grey. Situated adjacent to the tea and coffee area is the chocolate and candy area, which is also equally, if not more magnificent. Chocolate offerings include the high-end Valrhona, the (relatively) mainstream Godiva and other brands I've never heard of. Naturally, they also have a section dedicated to Middle Eastern goodies such as mahmouls and baklava. My sis and I tried some of their Turkish delights and boy, oh boy, were they delightful! Our favorite was the nutty pistachio Turkish delight!

Harrod's food hall also sells groceries, such as fruits and vegetables and meats (at an exclusive price, of course). It is said that the royal family's groceries are from Harrod's! *Ooooooooh* *Aaaaaaah* My sis and I decided to share a two-scoop sundae of sorts at Harrod's gelato bar, Morrelli's Gelato:one scoop hazelnut (I luuuuuuurve Nuttela) and white chocolate rose (my sis' choice, very sweet!). The hazelnut ice cream was nutty, the way I like it, and the white chocolate rose had nice white chocolate chunks and a flowery fragrance of rose syrup. It reminded me a lot of an Indonesian drink called Bandung, which is a creamy rose syrup drink. We also loved that the sundae came with these cute Harrod's bears wafers!

The cutest sundae in the whole wide world! (at Harrod's)
Aren't they just the cutest? They had a mild nutty flavor and a crisp bite and yet a tender texture. Being a big fan of cute food stuff, I just had to ask (again) whether they sold these biscuits. Of course, second time unlucky, they weren't for sale. In fact, our server told us that the wafers were exclusively made for Harrod's in Italy. Our server was sweet enough to give us a few more of these adorable wafers without our asking! Talk about superb service!

The only expensive meal my sis and I had was at Jamie Oliver's restaurant, called fifteen. It is so named because in the beginning, Jamie Oliver gave an opportunity to 15 disadvantaged youngsters who are interested in the restaurant business to work in this place. It is located in north London in Westland Place. It occupies an old loft which looks like a former factory. The decor is modern and minimalist. the menu changes daily, which is pretty cool. It means that the team cares about the freshness of the ingredient. Service was friendly but rather uninformed. We asked for the waiter's opinion about the dishes and he just gave us a generic answer of "Oh, I like everything. Everything here's good".

We started out with an appetizer of prosciutto with melon. The melon was soft, sweet and ripe, and it was perfectly accompanied by the saltiness and smokiness of our prosciutto. My sis and I then shared two entrees: lamb with roasted bell peppers and creamy mushroom rissotto with a dash of truffle oil. The lamb with the roasted peppers partnered beautifully. The light sweetness of the roasted peppers gave a counterpoint to the lamb's richness.
Succulent lamb dish at fifteen, Jamie Oliver's restaurant.

The rissotto was wonderfully rich and creamy. The rice was cooked perfectly: not too soft, not too hard, and I loved the mushrooms with a whiff of truffle. Rich, creamy rissotto at fifteen, Jamie Oliver's restaurant.

My sis ended the meal with a chocolate fondue-like cake and I chose the cheese platter. The chocolate cake was too soft (think liquid-y) but its presentation was adorable. It was basically baked in a tea cup and it rose a little bit like a fondue. It is topped with whipped cream (I think?). My cheese platter consisted of a raisin-studded baguette and two unpasteurized cheeses: one is a Cheddar and the second is the famed French brie de meaux. I didn't like the Cheddar so much: its texture is too hard and it is overly pungent. But ohhhh, the brie de meaux was heaven in my mouth. Touted as French cheese's king of kings, it is rich and creamy with deliciously nutty undertones. Even with a 45% fat content, it was 100% worth it! Now, if only the American government will loosen its regulations on unpasteurized cheese. Sigh~

Another great (but cheap) meal we had was a chicken meal in Cambridge, at a Portuguese fast food chicken place called Nando's, introduced to us by our cousin Jessy. Unlike the typical grease-drenched fast food, Nando's chicken is flame-grilled and doused with their special peri-peri chili sauce. You can also add the different heat-levels of peri-peri sauce to your own liking. Portuguese explorers were introduced by the African Mozambiques to the African Bird's eye chili, which they called pili-pili. Unable to pronounce it properly, the Portuguese called it peri-peri and subsequently experimented cooking with it. Not only does Nando's have peri-peri chicken combinations, they also offer burgers and vegetarian options. Sides include coleslaw, corn and spicy rice. One thing I regret not trying is their peri-peri but appetizer. Yummm...

Besides all the debauchery, we actually did a considerable amount of sightseeing. But London in 4 days is just not enough. I loved the hustle and bustle of London. It is not like New York in that it felt less hostile somehow. Not that Londoners are the friendliest people in the world, but I felt very comfortable there despite a heightened state of alert due to terrorism. Terrorism is such a concern that trash cans are not to be found anywhere in underground train or railway stations for fear that someone could drop a bomb into one of these trash cans. Still, there are many friendly Londoners we encountered, such as the smiley Sainsbury grocery store security guard and a very helpful stranger who helped me with my luggage at the airport underground station. Besides the excitement of trying new things at new places, it is the opportunity to encounter kindness and compassion in strangers that keeps me travelling! enjoy the pics!

Westminster Abbey In the Great Hall of the wonderful British Museum. I spy with my London's Eye... Harry Potter, here I come! Singin' in the rain by London's trademark phone booths!

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