Friday, November 19, 2010

Ooh La Lush!

Lady friends of mine, avert your eyes!  For you just might receive this gorgeously wrapped gift from me at Christmas this year (if you're good, that is).  Isn't this lovely?  Have you ever seen a prettier and/or more creatively wrapped present?  This is courtesy of Lush in Covent Garden Market, y'all.  I was storming towards Space NK for some last minute presents when these in the store window made my head turn instead.
You pick whatever products you'd like to go inside (each are individually bagged and tagged so the recipient knows her bath bomb from her massage bar) and choose the scarf of your liking from a wide variety.  The cashier expertly wraps it for you (in my case, a British-accented LA native - yes, I know, ew, but he was so nice!) and voila - happy fashionable christmas!  The one on the left was made entirely of recycled bottles (how this is possible, I have no idea) so it's SUPER eco-friendly!  And at £3.95 per scarf wrap service, it's not a bad shout, as John would say (though I still don't really know what that means so might have used it incorrectly).
Perfect for the inner (or outer) fashionistas!  (Male friends will not be receiving this, although if you're fabulously gay, you just might!)
As an added bonus, Lush staff are undeniably entertaining (if not a tad too overenthusiastic).  One super faboosh employee broke into a brilliant impromptu dance routine to a Janet Jackson anthem, prompting me to wag my finger at him: "You should be on The X Factor, you know, you so should.  You're amazing."  "Oh thank you," he said, blushing.  "Thank you!!!"  No, thank you.

27 Books Before My 27th Birthday? Not A Chance.

Well, I had the best intentions, and I'd love to say that I did it - but I didn't make it.  Well, at least, I don't think I'm going to.  My birthday is less than two weeks away and there's no way I'll read (I mean, *really* read) 9 books in that time.  Sigh of all sighs.  Grumble.  And I had really wanted to prove the naysayers wrong (John, who scoffed, "That's impossible!" or "You should just read short stories or a really thin book!"  Err ... great idea, but defeats the purpose of my quest).  Oh well.

It was an interesting experiment though, and I learned quite a lot of valuable lessons along the way - I highly encourage everyone to attempt it.  Think about it: out of all of you, who can honestly say, with their hand on their heart, that they read *regularly*?  I just don't think it's possible, with a full time job and a social life, to do so, unless you're motivated by a bookclub (which I have since joined) or a peculiar self-motivational experiment like mine.  Over the course of this experiment, I've read some truly, great books - and some that were ... um ... not-so-great.  I even received my first hate mail on this blog (see my review of Julie/Julia, then subsequent bashing of Cleaving - I had some hardcore Julie Powell fans running after me with spiked clubs and the like), which I was quite proud of, and a lovely, touching letter from a 90-year-old World War II veteran - none of which would have happened without my grand (little) scheme.

At the end of the day (and boy, do I hate that phrase), attempting to read 27 books before my 27th (whoops, I actually typed 17 in there at first!  I wish ...) birthday made me realize how little time I truly devoted to myself.  Time to yourself is always important to have, but not a lot of us have the luxury of curling up with a good book for 2-3 hour chunks of time.  So we find time: we read on our commutes, on our lunch breaks, in waiting rooms and reception areas.  We read books that make us so angry, we throw them (again, refer to Julie/Julia).  Or books that humble us, make us so grateful, that they move us to tears.  We read books that are so-so and we read books that we are practically evangelical about.  We even read trashy books for fun.  That's okay (because books don't judge you - people do).  

So what made the list?  Here they are, in all their 18-titled glory (and with some annotations):

1) To The Nines - by Janet Evanovich (That was my one trashy allowance.  Hey, we all have to start somewhere!  Right?  Right??)

2) Disobedience - by Naomi Alderman (Good effort, but ultimately crap)

3) Then We Came To An End - by Joshua Ferris (Utterly brilliant)

4) The Grass Arena - by John Healy (Touching, harrowing, and yet, amazing)

5) The Road - by Cormac McCarthy (Not bad, for a bestseller main-stream type)

6) The Help - by Kathryn Stockett (Best Oprah endorsed book of the year)

7) Travels With Charley - John Steinbeck (I *hearted* it - yes, I used "heart" as a verb and in the past tense - I didn't study English at Oxford, Mount Holyoke and York for nothing)

8) Julie/Julia - by Julie Powell (Despicable)

9) Cleaving - by Julie Powell (Even more despicable)

10) The Unnamed - by Joshua Ferris (Not as good as the other one)

11) Perfume - by Patrick Suskind (Just ... plain ... weird)

12) For Esme: With Love and Squalor - by J.D. Salinger (Classic beauty)

13) Short Girls - by Bich Minh Nguyen (Too ambitious)

14) Skippy Dies - by Paul Murray (What *should have* won the Man Booker Prize 2010 instead of the awful title in #18)

15) First Light - by Geoffrey Wellum (My hero)

16) Finding Nouf - by Zoe Ferraris (True airport literature - basically crap)

17) Girl In Translation - by Jean Kwok (Thought provoking and relatable from a cultural viewpoint)

18) The Finkler Question - by Howard Jacobson (Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2010 - awful, just awful)

I wish I'd ended on a high note but I'm afraid to say the opposite was true.  Granted, I still do have a week or so to squeeze in one last book, but in case I don't make it, readers, there you have it.  My full and final list.  I think a more realistic goal for next year will be to aim for at least one book per month.  But come on, people, 18 books in 9 months isn't too shabby.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Imogen Heap @ The Royal Albert Hall

Contrary to what you'd might deduce from reading my blog, I actually listen to a lot of music other than classical and on Friday, as a treat to myself, after celebrating a little personal triumph, I bought a ticket to see Imogen Heap perform at The Royal Albert Hall. 

If there was a soundtrack to my life, Imogen Heap would certainly be on it - it's not surprising, however, as she's a Grammy-winning artist who has appeared on numerous soundtracks, including the ever-popular Garden State.  Something about her music really lends itself to that extremely emotive, illustrative quality that is indicative of motion picture soundtracks.

Quite aptly, she opened the first half of her show conducting a full symphony orchestra and choir who performed an original score (complete with movements!) against the backdrop of a series of Planet Earth-esque nature scenes with titles such as "Beauty" and "Grandeur".  For anyone else, this would be an eye-rolling, pretentious act, but because it was Imogen Heap, it was entirely acceptable and endearing.  And it was clear from this orchestration that Imogen knows exactly what she is doing: the textures, layers and transparency with which the music soared accompanied the film perfectly.  Plus, I find myself invariably drawn to musicians who are classically trained - especially those who are as innovative as Imogen, because I'm consistently amazed by their gift in composing.  Classically trained musicians have an innate understanding of music that artists without formal training lack (I know that's controversial, but it's my opinion).

Innovation is one of Imogen's greatest skills; her work with ambient sounds and recordings bring to mind The Books and you never quite know what kind of instrument she'll use next.  The stage resembles a mad scientist's lab, with bells and a triangle hanging from the beautifully carved white tree in the centre, glasses half filled with water to make the familiar sounds you made as a child bored at a grown-up's restaurant that she's cleverly incorporated into the beginning of "First Train Home", keyboards, synthesizers and a multitude of other instruments you can't even see.

It's not difficult to understand why Imogen has won so many awards and garnered the affections of so many music fans.  She gives a lot.  What I mean by "giving" is this: for, in a venue as grand and immense as the Royal Albert Hall, she has the uncanny ability to make you feel like you're the only person in her company and, in fact, quite possibly chilling out in her living room.  She has the habit of chatting to her audience - rapidly digressing and easily distracted, which is at once disarming and also incredibly charming.  And if that doesn't win you over, there's the option on her website to vote, yes vote, for your favorite songs to appear on her set list because, as she explained, "people should hear what they wanted to come and hear."  Isn't that so ... thoughtful?  "I had no idea this song was so popular," she said in her adorable, bumbling way before launching into "Say Goodnight And Go" (one of my favorites).  "I never played it and then it ended up in the top three of the poll almost every time and I thought, 'Oh no!  I'd better play it."  So. Lovely.

But with the loveliness is also an honesty and firmness that is really very refreshing.  Explaining why she doesn't believe in encores, she said, "These are the last two songs that I'm doing with the band and then I'll do a couple more on my own.  I can't stand it when someone goes off and then you know they're coming back on, and you have to clap and wait and I'm just not going to do any of that."

Notable highlights of the evening included "Let Go", (of course) a heart-stopping rendition of "Hide and Seek" as her final song and "Canvas", from her new album, Ellipse, which had a sample of the crackling bonfire she invited her family over to share in.  I love how there's no caginess or cryptic messages in Imogen's music - she's very happy to explain exactly where she was when she wrote a piece of music, what was going through her mind, what the song means and most importantly, what the song means to her.  In that sense, she's extremely generous.  I love her.

If you've not heard Imogen's new album or had the chance to see her live this year, check out the video below of one of my favorite songs off of Ellipse, 'First Train Home':

Photo source

It's Cake Time!: Fireworks (Funfetti) Cupcakes

To celebrate Guy Fawkes Night, I made "fireworks" cupcakes using the Funfetti Udita brought over for me a few months ago* (*to be honest, it was all a bit of coincidence and I had no intention of making these multi-colored treats in celebration of anything.  Truth was, I woke from my three-hour nap yesterday afternoon in desperate need of a cake fix and looked up my favorite chocolate cake recipe.  Deeming the recipe a bit too involved, I decided to rummage the shelves and fridge for a different sweet fix, but to no avail - until I discovered the box of Funfetti at the back.  In fact, I'd never even heard of Funfetti until Mel mentioned it in a comment on this blog a few months agoI was a little disappointed to find out it was simply pre-packaged cake mix with sprinkles inside.  Oh well, cake is cake).

So there you have it.  They're quite tasty, except some unlucky person will have the eggshell cupcake because in my bleary-eyed, post-nap state, I was a bit clumsy with the egg cracking.  Sorry.

Remember, Remember, The Fifth of November: Bonfire Night

So if you've seen the film, V for Vendetta (one of my favorite movies), you'll remember the allusions to Guy Fawkes, the gunpowder plot, and the significance of November 5, 1605.  Or if you studied British or even World history in high school (I didn't - I was one of the lucky few who scraped by having only ever taken Washington State History and AP American History, so by the time I graduated, I had only a vague idea of the two World Wars and not much else.  I know what a Native American longhouse is but can't really recall the details of the Spanish Inquisition.), this will all sound familiar to you.  No?  Refresh your memory here (because I'm too lazy to explain and will also probably get it wrong).

Our time for fireworks is the 4th of July; for the Brits, it's the 5th of November.  And for our "garden" (I use the term "garden" loosely, because the green area behind our flat resembles a small park), it was the 6th of November, as we had a bonfire (pictured above) and a truly fantastic fireworks display last evening.  Thing is, as we live relatively close to quite a few other communal "gardens", it turned into somewhat of a Who Has The Biggest And Best Fireworks Display? competition (I'm pretty sure we won in terms of length and quality).  The other advantage of living near these other gardens is that by the end of the night, you really get three fireworks shows, since they're all viewable either from the street or your flat window, as we saw.  

The Brits like to celebrate with wine (mulled wine, if it's Christmas time) around a bonfire.  And why ever not?  It's big, it's warm and kids love it (under strict parental supervision, of course).  I also love that bonfires have been a traditional means of celebration since 1605, because as you know, I freaking love traditions (I went to Mount Holyoke, after all). 

It was a great feeling last night to see families out and about on the street enjoying the fireworks occurring around the block - I even saw a smattering of police officers filming the displays on their camera phones.  There was an especially friendly atmosphere in our garden, where we chatted with our neighbors and were offered sparklers to wave around with the under-5-year-olds (and there were a lot of those around).

Elsewhere across London and England, there were parties, celebrations and other fireworks going on well into the night - a truly great way to welcome the winter.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Yoga Show @ Olympia

Anyone who knows me knows what a huge role yoga plays in my life - it has such a profound effect that if I skip class even once or twice a week, I notice an invariable change in me that isn't very nice.  As Adeline once accurately described, practicing yoga on a regular basis is like showering inside out - a funny way to think about it, but if (like me) you love showers, you'll understand what I mean.  It makes me calmer, stronger and a heck of a lot happier. 

As well as attending Lauren's class twice a week at Jubilee Hall in Covent Garden, it's always fun and a great experience to learn from other teachers teaching different styles of yoga as well, which is one of the many reasons why I love going to The Yoga Show at London Olympia, which is a three-day event that occurs once a year.  Here, yogis and yoginis of all different levels, shapes and sizes are offered a variety of open, free half-hour classes by well-known (and some not-so-well-known) teachers (last year's favorites of mine included Katy Appleton's and Dylan Ayaloo's classes) as well as longer, paid-for classes, lectures, musical performances, and stalls selling apparel, health foods and other thought-to-be-yogic-related accessories (frankincense, anyone?  No?  Me neither.).

I love having the opportunity to try different classes and experience different methods of teaching because while you might prefer one method or style (as I have come to find after studying with Lauren for nearly two years now), it's always good to change it up and try something new.  Although the classes on the menu this year didn't appeal to me as much as last year, I did have the chance to take a class from Unity Partner Yoga, taught by Sevanti, which I absolutely loved.  I really like the benefits of practicing yoga with a partner and also the beautiful symmetry that is achieved through the poses (see above - that's me in the black top and Lauren in the pink bottoms).  I also enjoyed Sevanti's approach to teaching, which was patient, open and kind - three characteristics that are so important to me when learning from someone I'm not familiar with.

Earlier that morning, I also dipped into Dru Yoga Dance, taught by Nanna Coppens, which, to me, was very much like tai chi combined with yoga - I could see the attraction and benefits there, but it wasn't really for me as I prefer something a bit more structured and physically challenging (I could see my mom loving it, though).  But I'm glad I took this class to try something new and different, as it reminded me to keep an open mind and heart to new experiences.  The teacher was friendly and encouraging and as I looked around the floor, everyone seemed to be smiling and enjoying themselves, which was lovely to see.

And you meet great people too - I randomly met a girl on my way to the show from Earl's Court.  I wasn't completely sure I was going the right way and she helpfully asked, "Are you going to The Yoga Show?  It's this way."  We chatted on the 15-minute walk to Olympia and I learned that she was originally from Guatemala, but lived in California for most of her life and over in London studying accounting and finance at LSEShe was super nice and it's always fun to meet new people.  Though we lost each other at the show itself, we ended up leaving at the same time together without knowing and getting on the same train carriage back - must have been that yogic connection!  After wishing each other well, we continued on our separate journeys and when I got home, I felt like I had just showered inside out.

Photos courtesy of Bindya Solanki, all rights reserved.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Vladimir Ashkenazy Conducts the RCM Symphony Orchestra

It's safe to say that 2010 has reunited me with my childhood classical musician-heros:  Emmanuel Ax, Gil Shaham, and then last Sunday, Vladmir Ashkenazy.  Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I daresay there wouldn't be a single opportunity anywhere in the United States to watch Ashkenazy in concert (granted, he was conducting rather than performing himself) for less than $20.  But on Sunday, I was fortunate enough to watch him do just that for £10.  Look, when it comes down to it, I wouldn't mind paying £30, £40, even £50 to watch Ashkenazy work his magic.  It's worth it.  It just so happened that this particular concert, in the newly refurbished (which delighted in its sparkling and bright infancy) Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall of the Royal College of Music was sold out, but John and I had been lucky enough (due to our wonderful neighbors downstairs who purchased the tickets for us) to nab two seats. 
Like Ax and Shaham, I grew up listening to Ashkenazy.  He, along with Evgeny Kissin, were my particular favorites primarily because of their Chopin recordings, which I listened to on endless loops in my room by myself (loner, much?).  Of course, Kissin appealed to me because of his looks and age (at the time, at least) whereas Ashkenazy, like Ax, was more akin to a trusted and wise grandfather - the David Attenborough of pianistic performance.  So I listened to Kissin when I wanted passion and Ashkenazy when I wanted advice.
Sunday's concert consisted of two of my favorite pieces: the Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor op. 54 and the Brahms Symphony No. 1.  I'd never played the Schumann myself, but as it is often paired with the Grieg piano concerto (of which I studied and played the first movement for a competition) on recordings, I became quite familiar with it.  The soloist was Sofya Gulyak, winner of several prestigious awards, most recently, first prize and the Princess Mary Gold Medal at the Leeds International Pianoforte Competition.  Technically, she was flawless, but unfortunately I didn't find anything particularly exciting or inspiring about her playing and she was often overpowered by the orchestra - not in the sense of volume, but by, perhaps unwittingly, their own agility and flair.  I focused my attention on and became decidedly distracted instead, by the concertmistress of the symphony orchestra, who was not only enviably and extremely gifted but devastatingly beautiful.  I never thought it was fair - musicians like Anne-Sophie Mutter, et al, to have beauty, brains and talent.
With the concerto out of the way (I'm so harsh - it's not that I didn't enjoy her performance, I just found it ... a little ... formulaic), I turned my attention to the Brahms symphony, which I hadn't heard since I was very small.  In fact, it sounded so unfamiliar to me that until the ever-popular theme of the fourth movement occurred, I hadn't realized it was a symphony I'd heard before, so one could say that it's a "revived" favorite of mine.  This was the orchestra's opportunity to shine and they surely did just that: Ashkenazy, with his white tufts of hair and slight stature, would repeatedly and broadly smile at the section he was harnessing (I use the word "harness" because I'm sure, given free reign, that they would have ran off like a wild horse - so free, spirited and fiery was this orchestra!), certain of their maturity, their talent and prowess.  LPO and LSO take note: these are the young musicians of the future and musically, they are so much better than you.  For one thing, their ensemble is perfect.  I've been to concerts where the LPO and LSO were so embarrassingly out of sync, I literally put my head in my hands.  For a professional orchestra to play so poorly is abominable.  And for students to show them up?  Well, I wouldn't say it's surprising, but it sure is worse.  
There were so many beautiful points in the Brahms that I developed goosebumps, which John mistook for chill and tried to remedy - but it wasn't the air conditioning in the hall that was making me shiver, rather the undeniable passion these students put into the symphony.  You could feel the excitement in the air, hovering there between notes - it was electric, like the charge in the atmosphere before a storm.  Ashkenazy obviously had a strong influence on this electric feel - in fact, when the glorious first and fourth movements swelled to their greatest crescendos, I was, I'm ashamed to say, nervous for his health.   
Overall, it was a real gem of a concert to attend and again, I do sometimes feel it's far more exciting and fun to watch and hear young musicians perform rather than professional orchestras - the RCM symphony orchestra sure gave them all a run for their money.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cabbie Chat

When I was growing up, my mom taught me to never talk to strangers.  Even now, when I'm back home and heading out to meet a friend at Starbucks, she peers down from the top of the stairs and shouts, jokingly, "Don't talk to strangers!" When I roll my eyes, she says, "I mean it!"
So she'll be terrified to know that I love nothing more than making casual small talk with strangers.  I think it's the American in me.  A couple years ago, John and I were enjoying a lovely winter weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon.  "You know what would make this trip perfect?" I asked John dreamily over a half-pint of shandy (with more Sprite in it than beer) in the cozy, warm pub we were in.  "What?" he asked, somewhat nervously.  "Some good, friendly, local chat," I responded, looking around the room for my victim.  I was disappointed when no one wanted to engage with me, the crazy Asian-American girl.  But the next day when we were taking photos by the River Avon, an older lady walking her dog approached us.  "Lovely, beautiful day, isn't it?" she said cheerfully, dressed like she had just appeared out of a country home catalogue.  "Would you like me to take a photo of you?" she asked.  We gratefully accepted.  "Ah, that's nice," she said.  "Are you visiting Stratford, then?" she asked, still in the same, friendly tone.  "Oh you're from London, how lovely," she said.  "My son lives in London!"  We continued our  little chat for a few minutes more before she headed off with her dog.  "Are you happy now?" asked John.  I nodded, beaming.  I had my fill of friendly, local chat.
Another great opportunity for chatting is with cabbies.  This will horrify my mother - what, with all the stories of girls being kidnapped, murdered or worse after taking a black cab - so of course, common sense (and the sixth sense) is always exercised.  London cabbies are not particularly chatty, although you'd be surprised.  I had some great chat with the cabbie who took me to the hospital for John's suspected swine flu medicine pick-up (he didn't have swine flu, btw, more like man flu) about immigration and the strength/weakness of sterling.  Then there was the time I jumped into a nice Scottish cabbie's car in Edinburgh on my way to meet Adeline.  He wistfully confessed he'd always wanted to visit America, after asking where I was from, but that his wife refused to go because she was convinced that everyone carried a gun and there was too much crime.  I chuckled as I always find it interesting and funny to hear stereotypes about America, just as Americans frequently stereotype Brits (or anyone who doesn't live in The Greatest Country In The World). 
Last night, I had some quite enjoyable, albeit brief, chat with a cabbie from St John's Wood back to Maida Vale.  He asked which end of my road I'd like to be dropped off and after my description, he commented, "Oh, the nicer end, then" (although when he said it, it sounded more like, "Oi, the noicer en' ven", with a proper, East End accent), which led me to gracefully segue into an article I had read in the Guardian that day about the squalor of Notting Hill in the 60s.  "Oi reilly?" he said. "Yeah, srsly," I replied.  We continued on like this for a few minutes until I hopped out and paid my fare.  "It was noice cha'in wiv ya!" he said with a smile.  "Likewise, have a great night," I replied.  I unlocked the door to my flat with a smile on my face.
But seriously - don't talk to strangers.  Only nice ones.

Geoffrey Wellum: First Light - *Update*

Last month, I blogged about Geoffrey Wellum's extraordinary account of his part in the Battle of Britain in a book called First Light.  You might remember that I was so incredibly moved by his story that, having had permission from his editor at Penguin, I wrote him a letter thanking him for his service to his country and his heroic actions.  What I didn't tell you, however, is that I received the above reply, only two days later.  To say it made my day is the understatement of the year.

I saw the envelope on the floor when I returned home that evening and thought the handwriting looked familiar - that is, of a friend's.  When I opened the letter, however, I literally jumped around the flat with joy - this man is a legend!  I was so glad that he received my letter of thanks and thought it was so kind of him to write back.

If you haven't already been persuaded by my previous recommendation, do go and buy it now - or I will be happy to send you a copy.  Without sounding trite, it's a book that will stay with you forever, regardless of your interest in the Second World War or fighter aircraft.

In the meantime, check out my two latest Battle of Britain-related purchases:

Yep, I ordered Ten Fighter Boys (a collection of first-hand accounts taken from ten Spitfire pilots, not all of whom, sadly, lived to see the end of the war) shortly after finishing First LightSpitfire, below, is a coffee-table-type reference book entirely devoted to the Spitfire airplane, which I randomly found at a garden center, of all places (by 'random' I mean I accidentally wandered into the books and gifts section of the center and, upon spying the book, hysterically ran up to John, tapped him on the shoulder and shoved the book into his face with undue excitement before racing to the counter to buy it.  And yes, I searched for Geoffrey Wellum's photo as soon as I got in the car, and yes, he is in it, although not mentioned by name). 

Obsessed much?

What the Pho?: Banh Mi Bay

There is a tradition in my family: before someone (namely, me) gets on a transatlantic flight, we always pop in to Linh Son in Federal Way for a steaming bowl of rare beef pho.   It's not fancy; the entrance is lined with fake, green plants and the vinyl booths squeak as you squeeze in by the windows lit by Linh Son's neon sign, serenaded by old, Vietnamese pop songs.  If anything, it's tacky.  But it's damn good.  And we've been going for years, frequenting the restaurant at least 3-4 times a month.  It's also dirt cheap.  Pho is available in two sizes: medium and large.  We order the same thing, every time.  When someone deviates from their usual, eyebrows are raised, but nothing is said.  "Two number 2As, three number eight mediums and one number seven medium," my dad rattles off to the waitress before we've had a chance to slide our butts into the vinyl booth.  To this day, I have no idea what the dishes we've just ordered are called.  All I know is that the summer rolls are plump, filled to bursting point with vermicelli noodles, thin slices of char siu pork, tiger prawns and a delicious peanut sauce.

To me, pho is comfort food - a lot like chicken noodle soup.  Any anxieties I have before getting on a plane and saying those painful goodbyes to my family are quelled by the delicious, steaming hot bowl of soup noodles in front of me.  On the other days we visit the restaurant, I look forward to hopping straight back into the car and heading for a short shopping trip at the Supermall or Trader Joe's before they close.  

So when meeting Tom and Cristy at Banh Mi Bay in Holborn for dinner, I knew I had to try their pho as a sort of taste test (it passed).

The interior of Banh Mi Bay is everything that Linh Son isn't: chic, trendy, bright and friendly, you might mistake it for a posh cafe or deli in Notting Hill.  They offer a delicious selection of fruit smoothies and a childhood favorite of mine, cold chrysanthemum tea.

To start, we had two orders of summer rolls (one veggie and one meat) and the pork meatball wraps.  Although only half the size of the summer rolls from Linh Son, it's clear that Banh Mi Bay focuses on quality, not quantity: the rolls were stuffed with fresh ingredients and tasted just like a spring (or rather, summer) day.  I could have done with a bit more meat/prawns, however, rather than the vermicelli rice noodles.  The accompanying sauce was also a perfect complement - not too sickly sweet, as some Vietnamese restaurants serve.  The pork meatballs were delightfully fun, as you were presented with mint leaves, grated carrots and vermicelli noodles to make your own wraps.

When it came time to order our main courses, Tom had the utterly yummy Banh Mi (which is made on a freshly baked baguette) while John and Cristy opted for large, delicious bowls of Bun Thit Nuong.  As for my pho, well, it was heartwarming and tasty - everything I could have hoped for.  It stirred up quite a lot of nostalgia for the Vietnamese cuisine I grew up with in the Seattle/Tacoma area and reminded me of home.  I was slightly disappointed to find a wedge of lemon nestled in my beansprouts rather than lime and I think the broth could have used slightly more coriander, but other than that, I had no complaints.  And to top it off, the presence of one of my favorite hot sauces, Sriracha, on the table gave the restaurant real credibility.

At the end of the evening, our £33 (for four people) bill only made the meal all the more enjoyable.  I wish I had discovered Banh Mi Bay earlier to satisfy my pangs of longing for pho, but I predict I'll now be a regular visitor.

Photo source
© angloyankophile

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