Thursday, June 16, 2011

Decoupage Pig: Or How I Spent My Sunday Afternoon

Meet the newest addition to our just-unpacked-flat: Decoupage Pig.  Yes, that's right. We walked into Cass Art looking for picture hooks and walked out with a 1 litre bottle of PVA glue, a flat brush, a pre-formed pig and some scraps of expensive tissue paper.

It wasn't my idea.

I wanted to go downstairs for the sale items and John got distracted by the giant decoupage giraffe featured in the corner.  "Look! Look!" he said, voice full of awe. "WE CAN MAKE A ... [wait for it] DECOUPAGE PIG." A small boy, probably around the age of 4 or 5 was also tugging at his mom's hand and pointing to the pig.  I'm pretty sure John's enthusiastic sales pitch helped.  "What the hell are we going to do with THAT?" I snarled.  "Use it to decorate our flat!" he said, completely convinced.  And once John's convinced, there's not a lot you can do.  "Fine," I said, snatching pieces of expensive tissue paper at random.  "No, no, we have to think about this," John said, carefully selecting sheets according to color.  So I stood to one corner with my hand on my hip, sighing and rolling my eyes dramatically until he finished making his selections and then we trundled back upstairs, where I made him pay for his ridiculous pig project (it wasn't cheap).

But then I must admit - when we returned to the flat, put the stereo on, squeezed the glue into an empty Gu ramekin and started patching up Decoupage Pig, it proved to be a highly entertaining and fun afternoon activity for a rainy day.  Now, I used to be an ultra-arts-and-crafty-person who would have jumped at the first opportunity to make a decoupage anything - but now I've realized I'm just a bitter, jaded 9-5 commuter who's forgotten the joys of getting one's fingers sticky with gold flakes and PVA glue.  I read my friends' crafty blogs over at Art, Like Bread and Le Petit Elephant with a mixture of admiration and envy.  "I want to make another one!" I shouted at the end of the project, disappointed that our creative work was over.  John gave me a strange look.  "I think one is enough," he said, carefully placing Decoupage Pig on the shelf to dry.

Now, the special thing about Decoupage Pig is that it also double as a PIGGY BANK.  Yes, John actually used that as rationale for buying the thing when trying to convince me of its merits: "I can put all my loose change in there!  You'll never yell at me for having coins around the house again!"  Now, not unlike a 5-year-old, he comes in from work, takes off his suit jacket, pauses at Decoupage Pig while rifling through his pockets for change and gleefully deposits his coins into the slot on Decoupage Pig's back.  Sigh.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Afternoon Tea and Birthday Cake @ Number Sixteen

Can you think of a better way to spend a rainy, gray London afternoon than sitting in the beautifully decorated drawing room of Number Sixteen hotel in South Kensington, eating mouthful after mouthful of freshly prepared (and perfect) finger sandwiches (cucumber, smoked salmon, egg cress and mayo, in case you wanted to know), macaroons, fruit tarts, brownies and scones washed down with the tea of your choice (I had jasmine)?  Um, I can't.

We gathered at the small boutique hotel in West London to celebrate a friend's birthday and I left feeling that I wanted needed to treat myself to a weekend there - it was slightly nauseating just how perfectly our party dresses matched the decor which matched the candy-colored macaroons and cakes.

Not to mention the actual birthday cake (also crafted by the hotel), which was - I'll have you know - carrot cake covered with the most delectable buttercream and cream cheese icing and adorned with (YES!) edible flower petals, served with champagne and a drop of creme de cassis:

Lush?  Yes. Luxurious?  Yes.  Over the top?  Never.

Aside from the marvelous cakes:

I was absolutely in love with the plump cushions (which prompted one guest to kick off her patent heels and tuck her legs under) and ultra-thick embroidered silk cushions which made you feel instantly like Alice in Wonderland - minus the Mad Hatter.  Plus, I was particularly taken by this piece, hanging above our heads:

Essentially, it's a room I want to have in my house.  Someday.

So even if it's not your birthday, I'd recommend dropping in to Number Sixteen and taking your tea in the garden, which I heard is even lovelier on a sunny day.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

There's No Place Like My Local Curry House - I Mean, Home

There are certain routines - rituals, even, people have to make their home feel like home.  For me, a place doesn't feel like home until I've put books on my bookshelf and hung my favorite prints on the walls.  But since I've moved to London, I've discovered one vital part of moving to a new area:  immediately seeking out the nearest and best Indian restaurant.  In Whitechapel, it was Tayyabs; Shadwell, East Is East; Maida Vale, Meghna Grill in St. John's Wood and now that we're in Islington, it's got to be Zaffrani.  Finding the perfect place for your Thursday night jalfrezi is as essential as registering at your local GP (in fact, I still haven't done the latter).

The best part about discovering your soon-to-be-favorite local Indian restaurant, however, is the realization that none of them can be compared to the other.  John may be forever loyal to Tayyabs and convinced that it is the best in London (and admittedly, Tayabbs is somewhat of an institution among both common folk and celebrities), but I loved every dine-in and takeaway experience I've had at each restaurant equally.  Fact.

So what makes Zaffrani so special?  We rushed to its tucked-away premises on Cross Street on a Wednesday evening for a quick meal together before my rehearsal with the Polish Chamber Orchestra in London (another story for another time).  "I don't think I'll have time to eat," I said, tapping my watch nervously as I balanced my violin case against the wall.  "How much time do you have?" asked the attentive waiter.  "Um ... half an hour?" I mumbled, embarrassed.  He quickly took our orders (Dumkamurgh and a peshwari naan for me and Murghi Jalfrezi and a plain naan for John, with a rice to share) and instructed staff to rush them through.

Within ten minutes, our food appeared - and I was highly skeptical that this wasn't the work of Mr. Microwave - until biting into the most tender, succulent pieces of chicken marinated in a creamy, spicy tomato-based sauce with generous helpings of coriander, onion and garlic.  I melted.  My peshwari naan was prettily arranged into four slices (not for those who prefer ripping off huge fluffy chunks themselves - I personally like mine to be less overwhelming and cut just so) on a long, thin plate.  The texture was less fluffy but slightly crispy at the base and mouth-wateringly soft at the top.  As a result, I didn't feel completely weighed down by the naan (which I often finds turns itself into an indigestible lump once it hits my stomach) but instead, found it served as a delicious accompaniment to my highly enjoyable curry.  John was equally impressed.

So impressed, we visited for a second time this week, when the restaurant was buzzing.  The couple seated next to us were immediately recognized by their waiter as a regular and he rattled off "their usual", much to their amusement.  "Oh no, I can't have naan anymore," the lady crowed.  "Why's that then?" asked their server.  "I stopped eating carbs since January!" she proudly (and perhaps a little too loudly) proclaimed.  I felt eyes drift over to our table.  My hand froze over my naan momentarily, before I decisively scooped another two spoonfuls of rice onto my plate and ate the warm, coconut and sultana filled treat with slow, gloating pleasure.

Aside from the high quality food offered at Zaffrani, I can't help but notice how incredibly polite and accommodating the staff are - making for a more pleasurable dining experience.  From the smart decor to the serious attention of the service, it's obvious that Zaffrani seeks to distinguish itself from that "local curry house" feel I was describing before to a place reserved for fine dining.  That being said, its cuisine and ethos is entirely different to, say, the revered Cinnamon Club, which gives the restaurant an overall more relaxed and comfortable atmosphere.

And this is most certainly reflected in the price: our bill, on both occasions, including drinks and service, came to an even £25.  But for the food and attentiveness, Zaffrani is worth so much more.

Zaffrani is located at 47 Cross Street, Islington, London, N1 2BB.  

Saturday, June 4, 2011

I May Not Be Going To The London 2012 Olympics But ...

... I got a souvenir!  Well, sort of.  Sadly, we didn't get any tickets that we applied for (I was certain we'd be in for the canoe slalom event - I mean, WHO THE HECK GOT THOSE TICKETS??), like the majority of our friends.  But John arrived back from his business trip to Berlin late Tuesday night and proudly thrust a gift bag bearing the London 2012 logo on it into my chest. "What's this?" I asked, rubbing my eyes blearily (after all, it was past my bedtime of 9:30 pm.  I kid you not, folks, I kid you not).  "A present!" he said happily.  I peered into the bag warily (which is mean of me, I know) but was ecstatic to pull this out:

That's right, a London 2012 Adidas running top with the Olympic logo on the front and back from the official London 2012 shop at Heathrow (and if you click on the link I've just provided, you'll see that my major girl crush, heptathlete Jessica Ennis is wearing the same one, but in yellow. *swoon*).

It's fashionable, fantastic to run in and even bears some words of encouragement on the lower back, which just might help me along during my non-Olympic feat of running to work (which is a measly 3k) every morning:

Maybe those words are meant for a marathon runner instead.  But still, it was some consolation after discovering the bitter fact that I would be subjected to heaving crowds of tourists during the summer months of 2012 and still only watching the Olympic games from our flat.  At least we have a projector.

Pubs I Feel Incredibly "Meh" About: The Duke of Cambridge, Islington

Since I've moved to Angel, everyone has been waxing lyrical about this organic pub located on the corner of Rheidol Terrace and St Peter's St, but after having dinner there on Saturday night, I'm just not so sure.

First of all, £17.50 and upwards for mains?  You gotta be kidding me.  I don't care if you caught the fish and brought it to me flapping personally from Loch Whatever, but those prices are quite high for pub fare, in my opinion - even for an "upscale" pub. £12-£15 I can understand but once you hit £20 and over, I'm just not amused.  My beer battered cod was certainly not worth the price and worse yet, gave me an upset stomach.  The chips were soggy, cold and flavorless.  Perhaps the only redeeming aspect were the mushy "somethings" (not sure if they were peas, but rather some kind of unappetizing grey matter that resembled jail-house slop you see in cartoons) that were quite tasty if not a tad too garlicky.   Dishes were given a similar rating by friends: good, but not remarkable.  No one exclaimed, "Delishush!" while chomping on morsels of pork belly, salmon or roast chicken.

I asked John for a Diet Coke and he returned from the bar apologetically with a "sparkling cola drink made with vegetable extracts and natural ingredients".  "It's like the cheap stuff but way more expensive!" he said enthusiastically while plonking it down on the table, referring to the Timothy Taylor pubs that serve their own brews (though strangely, I'm a huge fan of those and don't mind drinking tiny sarsaparilla-flavored beverages.  For my after-dinner treat, I didn't dare stretch my pre-payday wallet any further with an overpriced dessert, so I settled on a Bailey's - only to be told there wasn't any (or anything like it - not even an imitation made from vegetable extracts and natural ingredients) and was given a rather disgusting chocolate liqueur to sample instead.  Retch.

There's no doubt it's a gathering place for the cooler-than-cools - everyone is impeccably groomed and seemingly outfitted by Reiss.  But it's just not my cup of tea - or should I say, glass of bitter?  Seems like I'm not the only one who thinks it doesn't live up to the hype.
© angloyankophile

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