Tuesday, March 27, 2012

So, This Shop Closed And I Cried

Since moving to my new job at the beginning of last year, I began frequenting a little shop on the corner of Drury Lane that most of my co-workers also visited. Known for their icy-cold, fresh fruit smoothies and individually packed dried fruits and nuts, this little place was run by a very adorable older Cantonese-speaking Chinese couple and their son.

The first time I went in, I heard the lady speaking Cantonese, which made my ears perk up, since I'm fluent in the Chinese dialect. When I paid, I conversed with her in Chinese (to her surprise) and learned that she had emigrated from Hong Kong nearly 40 years ago. After that first meeting, I'd drop by to buy rice crackers and other snacks, but mostly as an excuse to visit the lady, or Mrs. Wong, as I learned was her name.

Why? Because she reminded me of my grandma. And also, it was nice to have someone to speak Cantonese with, even if just for a short, friendly exchange. But mostly because she reminded me of my grandmother, and then my family, and of Hong Kong, and how I sometimes feel the Chinese part of my culture slipping away, which makes me very, very sad.

Later, when she got to know me a bit better, she'd quietly put fresh plums or apples in a bag with my purchase despite my protests, and send me on my way. If I popped out to buy a snack in the afternoon, she'd ask me why I was taking my lunch so late. It warmed my heart.

Anyway, I walked past this shop today and noticed, with shock, that they were closing down. In fact, Mr. and Mrs. Wong and their son were only there to clean the shop and pack up the rest of their belongings. I knocked on the window and asked Mrs. Wong their reason for leaving. She cited the fact that their lease was up and her son mentioned that his parents were getting older, and thinking of retirement.

She stuffed three apples and two oranges in my hand, then asked her son to take a picture of us together. Then she hugged me and patted my hand, like my grandmother used to.

And that's when I lost it. I cried. Like, really cried.

I told her she reminded me of my grandmother, of my family, and of Hong Kong - and how I missed her, them, it, and in turn, would miss her shop.

Then she cried. And wiped her tears on her apron.

We traded phone numbers (both UK and Hong Kong) and email addresses and I made her promise to send me the picture of us.

It's always sad when family-owned businesses shut down. I also know how popular that shop was, so it wasn't as if they were short of customers. But I guess that for them, life goes on, and they're starting a new chapter. I hope it's a good chapter - because they're the kind of people who deserve it.

For me, I feel like I've lost a little connection to "home" - whatever that means.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

I Went To Meat Liquor And Didn't Have To Queue

I was in a bad mood on Friday. Real bad. I had had a crappy day, which was about to be made crappier by the fact that I'd have to probably stand in line for over an hour to an hour and a half to get into the restaurant that John and I had agreed to meet at that night. See what I mean? Bad.

The said restaurant was Meat Liquor in Fitzrovia: the highly hyped, trendy burger joint so cool and exclusive, you actually have to queue to get in. Now, I don't wait in line for much - at the grocery store? Yes. Waiting for my prescription? Sure. But in general, I don't stand in lines at clubs (because I'm a loser and don't go out) and if I have to wait 90 minutes in line to get into a restaurant, then they'd better be serving me fresh lobster on a gold plate.

This was not the case at Meat Liquor, where they serve you burgers on a tray lined with wax paper (no plates) and your drink in a jam jar. Luckily, I read all about the queues (rules are: 1) everyone queues, no matter who you are and 2) if your entire party isn't there, then you ain't gonna be seated. No ifs, ands, or buts - apparently, a LOT of people object to this), snotty service (though it was pretty darn friendly when I was there), and jam jar outrage (apparently even more people object to this - go read the TimeOut reviews).

Luckily, I had read all the bad reviews, so prepared myself. We arrived around 6:15 pm and promptly joined the end of the pseudo-queue - I say pseudo-queue because it was like 4 teens smoking and making out and John solemnly saying, "This is the end of the queue" to me but when they finished sucking each other's faces, they nonchalantly walked in and so did we. The good thing was that we weren't the only idiots lining up behind the kids - some dude in a business suit rocked up behind me and stood there patiently.

Inside, it was loud. And dark. I was a little confused. I felt like I was at a bar in East London, but I could have sworn I just walked in from Oxford Street. It's weird to eat in an environment like that when you feel like you should just be drinking, solidly.

We both ordered Dead Hippie burgers (I originally wanted a basic cheeseburger, but decided I couldn't go to the famed Meat Liquor without trying their famed Dead Hippie burger), which consisted of "minced onions" (controversial! Yes, that was sarcasm ...), Dead Hippie sauce (still don't know what that really is or what it tastes like), and lettuce (I think. It was dark). We also ordered a side of fries (which I loved as an American because the menu specifically stated, "FRIES. NOT CHIPS" - and rightly so) and coleslaw. The burgers were pretty good. Two patties stacked high, served on the medium rare side, sandwiched between two buns that don't collapse in your hands - good enough for me. Better than Byron, but not the best I've ever had. Some over-enthusiasts claim it's the best burger they've ever tasted - but, I mean, if I was standing in line for 2 hours, most food would be the best I'd ever tasted.

The coleslaw, however, was PHENOMENAL. Seriously. Go and skip the burger. Just have the slaw. It's freaking amazing. None of that over-mayo-ed, fattening business they serve at other burger joints; this was a freshly made slaw with freshly grated carrots and red cabbage, seasoned with a kick of lemon juice and other subtle delights. If John hadn't been complaining of a sore throat that night, I would have gobbled his down as well.

So, my verdict? Go early. I mean, if you want to stand in line for an hour or two just to psych yourself up, then go for it. If standing in lines is your thing, then do it. If you really want to be a masochist, tell your friend to come later, just so you can see people who arrived after you, walk in before you. Shortly after we were seated, a line did begin to form outside (or, from what I could see through the conveniently tinted windows) and when we left, it was snaking down the block. We left with only very slight smug grins on our faces.

And try the slaw. It's super good.

Photo source

Sunday, March 11, 2012

My New Food Crush: Ottolenghi's Banana Jam

John and I treated ourselves to breakfast at Ottolenghi's Islington restaurant the other day and I totally fell head over heels in love with his banana jam (pictured here). Expecting it to be apple compote, I put a big dollop of it on my brioche French toast and was pleasantly surprised to find myself with a mouthful of delicious cinnamon-y (but not too cinnamon-y), banana-y (but not too banana-y) spread. I should also add that I was also being greedy, because the selection of spreads, including a homemade hazelnut and chocolate spread, was actually meant for John's bread board - not for my French toast, which had been generously sprinkled with cinnamon sugar served with creme fraiche and berries. But come on: everyone knows that bananas and French toast are a magic combination.

Unfortunately, as banana jam apparently (and understandably) has a very short shelf life, it's unavailable to purchase from the Ottolenghi shop. Instead, I've found the recipe from blogger Belleau Kitchen and will definitely be trying to make a batch soon.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Spaceship Has Landed: The New Routemaster

So, I got on one of the new Routemasters the other day on my way home from work. It was freaking amazing. I was on the phone with Alice so I pretended to be all cool and unfazed about it, but inside, I was actually fist pumping the air with excitement, Jersey Shore style.

Sleek, quiet, and futuristic in design, the bus certainly made passerbys gawk and saw many people board just to take it to one stop in the wrong direction. I was even lucky enough to get a seat facing the back, so could see everyone's delighted reactions while getting on. The conductor (a young man in his early 30s, perhaps) was probably also really enjoying his new job - drivers don't usually have much interaction with the public, so the introduction of a conductor means more face time with the passengers (yes, a trip on the futuristic bus has made me incorporate "face time" into my vernacular. *shudders*).

If you're not familiar with it, the Routemaster is the original "hop-on, hop-off" double-decker bus in London, originally built in the 1950s. It features an open-ended rear with a conductor on board, allowing passengers to board and alight in a much more efficient and convenient manner. When I arrived in London, they had began phasing these types of buses out and I never took one because they only seemed to travel short distances, though it would have been a cool experience. Today, the old-style Routemasters are rented out to wedding parties and other special occasions. A few years ago, however, rumors were afoot that the current Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, was contemplating a new version of the Routemaster. These were rolled out in February of this year and hence, why I was able to catch one on my way home the other night.

Of course, when it came to my ultra-cool, nonchalant dismount, I almost broke my foot. However, I can safely say that that was the coolest ride I have ever taken home. I was just too cool to take a picture.

Photo source

Monday, March 5, 2012

Decent Enough Dim Sum At Half The Usual Price: Shanghai Blues

One luxury John and I couldn't seem to get enough of when we went to Washington last Christmas was dim sum brunch with my parents. My dad is such a regular at a particular establishment in Renton that the owner barked at the server to offer a better tea upon spotting my father and plonked down two sauce dishes of mustard (our preferred dipping sauce for har gao dim sum) on the table. If that ain't good service, then I don't know what is.

The barbequed pork buns (char siu bao) were a favorite of John's and came in both the steamed and baked varieties (which aren't always served in Chinese restaurants - don't think baked char siu baos even exist in London Chinatown, for example) and the har gao and siu mai (prawn and pork dumplings, respectively) were both succulent and served in large portions. Steaming hot, these were offered to us by ladies pushing freshly filled trolleys before we could even take our seats. Basket after basket of steaming delights were delivered to our table - all for a bill of roughly $40 for four.

It's no surprise that we returned to London mournful and longing for dim sum comparable to our state-side experience, which, if you live in this city, you'll know is impossible. Sour-faced, rude waiters serving overpriced, frozen goods is more like it. But we did recently re-discover an old favorite of ours that does half price dim sum lunches on the weekend: Shanghai Blues in High Holborn.

Apparently, Lewis Hamilton is a fan (says so in the magazine interview posted in the bathroom downstairs) and so am I, if it means that Shanghai Blues can fill a dim sum void that previously couldn't be satisfied. We dined there on Saturday with Tom & Cristy and enjoyed a variety of classics, such as har gao, siu mai, beef cheung fun, and char siu bao (steamed) and some Shanghai Blues creations: tai chi dumplings (wrapper half dyed with black squid ink to give a - forgive me - slightly gimmicky yin-yang effect), scallop dumplings, and some yummy veggie selections for Cristy. We ate to our hearts' content and even ordered a side of Chinese broccoli (also known as "gai lan") to fit our virtuous/healthy needs.

And you know what? The bill didn't even sting: £50 for four is not bad for central London prices, plus the service and ambience are ever-so-much-better than the unpleasant Chinatown experience (I mean, I'm Chinese, speak fluent Chinese, and absolutely DREAD stepping foot into a restaurant in Chinatown).

So if you're in the mood for dim sum and don't want to shell out exorbitant prices for bad attitudes and mediocre prices, then I suggest you avoid Chinatown all together and mosey on down to Shanghai Blues. Reservations are advised.


All The Cool Kids Have This: Herschel Backpacks

A Herschel backpack, that is. All the cool kids in London are cycling with them on their backs while wearing turned-up skinnies and/or khakis, Ray-Ban Wayfarers, navy wool blazers and Oxfords - no socks, 'natch. It's like a uniform and I want in. I actually think my dad has an orange one hanging up in his office at home - gonna steal that next time I'm back. Our parents were so ahead of the times! That, plus the fact that trends are recycled over and over again.

In other lustworthy news, they also make an iPad sleeve in mint green. MINT GREEN:

I. Must. Have.

In some not-so-cool news, you can purchase these in the UK, but the prices aren't reduced from the US site (much like what I predict will happen when J. Crew finally appears over here): instead, a '£' sign simply replaces the '$'. Typical. Luckily, I can have this sent to my non-home in Washington. I can just picture my room becoming a stockpile of American retail goods.
© angloyankophile

This site uses cookies from Google to deliver its services - Click here for information.

Blogger Template Created by pipdig