This is why I love London... you can spend the most English of mornings walking along the Thames and admiring the rolling green countryside, gorgeous park lands and herds of deer in Richmond and then pop in a cab and a few minutes later you could be in Seoul (almost!)
New Malden is one of those places that may look like a typical English village on first glance, but look again and you will see that almost all the supermarkets are Asian, almost all the shops have the word "Seoul" on their store signs, there are posters plastered on shopfronts advertising K-Pop concerts and karaoke - even the property adverts and newspapers on the street are all in Korean!
And then of course, there is the food. The restaurants have the typical laminated wood tables, hanging scrolls, table buzzers and melamine crockery that just spell East Asia.
And on a fresh afternoon just hinting at an impending downpour, there is nothing that hits the spot better than a bowl of blistering hot bibimbap served chockful of Korean gochujang chilli paste, deliciously sticky sweet and spicy Korean fried chicken, and more sinfully good from its conspicuous absence on Korean menus in Dubai - pork bulgogi.
The town's Korean community settled here in the 50s and is believed to have grown when Samsung made New Malden its main UK hub for many years. The town also has the unique distinction of being home to the biggest community of North Korean expats in Europe.
The town is meant to be a great spot to visit on Korean New Year (Seollal), which falls on February 8 next year. Might have to pay it another visit if I find myself in London around that time :)
Know of any more bits London that could instantly transport you to another part of the world? Would love to check them out :)
With summer finally running out of its hot, humid breath in Dubai - it's time to get ready for BBQ weather, picnics in the park and post-brunch walks along the beach.
It's also time to plan my winter trips and next month I'll be heading back to one of my favorite foodie cities - London.
London's ability to morph into something completely different with almost every street corner you round never fails to amaze me. So far almost every place I've eaten at feels almost completely different from any other - the cosy nooks around Covent Garden, Shoreditch's edgier eateries, breezy breakfast haunts at King's Cross, gritty Vietnamese and Thai restaurants and rooftop bars skittering over with squirrels - every memory almost seems like it was linked to a completely different city.
This summer I made a couple of quick visits to the English capital - punctuated by drinks in old smuggler's pubs, fresh banh mis gobbled for breakfast and a trip into the charming Cotswolds for a weekend (ok, I guess that's technically not in London).
Here are my top three favourite finds in England this summer:
Quaint thatched roofs, rambling roses, antique shops and artisanal cheeses, what's not to love in the prettier-than-a-postcard villages hidden between sweeping green fields in the Cotswolds? I have been extremely restrained when it comes to impulse buys on recent holidays, but I couldn't resist walking away with a few goodies - including old etched sherry glasses and a gigantic cheeseboard (an absolute steal - still not sure what I'm going to do with it!) from Tewkesbury, an antique silver butter knife and charcoal biscuits (well, something to grace my giant cheeseboard anyway) from Chipping Campden and a wooden honey dipper from Scotts of Stowe - had to be done :)
St Katherine Docks
This is my new favorite aimless rambling area in London and I was happy to find myself there on two separate occasions in the span of a four-day stay the last time I was in London. The handkerchief of a dock just a few steps from Tower Bridge and Wapping is surrounded by stocky brick warehouses, with plenty of places to drop in for a drink or something more substantial. My favorite was the candle-lit, burnished mirror-hung Bravas Tapas. Must haves on the menu include a foie gras creme brulee served with buttery brioche buns and a rich Torta de Santiago soaked through with Pedro Ximenez and morello cherries - yum!
Top of the list of places I just HAD to visit in London - I landed at this amazing market shoved into a side street in Bermondsey for a quick breakfast before heading to the airport. Plans for being picky obviously didn't last long - I think I managed to devour a Scotch Egg coated in chorizo, glistening fried sprats fresh from Billingsgate Market served with a sharp horseradish cream, at least five balls of rich, dark chocolate spiced with cardamom and dusted with raw cocoa from Brick Lane-based Dark Sugars, English beef jerky... the list goes on... all in the span of half an hour. The next time I was in town it was time for some monster oysters slathered in garlic butter and torched to melting perfection right before my eyes. Mmmmmmmm.....
Small, laid back yet with a lively weekend vibe, I think I will be heading back before long :)
What are your favorite London eating haunts/ street food markets/ underground restaurants? I could do with a few more spots to add to my ever-growing list :)
With a work trip to the English capital on the cards, it's time again to think about that all important London activity - eating! :)
The last time I was in the city, I was on the hunt for jerk chicken and Brixton - London's Caribbean and West African hub - seemed to be the obvious spot to find some.
Even if you aren't too sure what you feel like nibbling on, and perhaps especially if you are feeling indecisive, Brixton Village – formerly Granville Arcade - is a great place to end up for a bite.
The indie restaurants lining its halls are small – think five to six tables, with closely-packed mezzanine floors in the bigger establishments and tables spilling out into the covered arcade in the smaller ones. These are more the “I’m-almost-sitting-on-my-neighbour’s-lap” and less the “we-value-our-patrons’-personal space” kind of places, but the set-up lends a cozy sense of community to the dining experience.
Most restaurants don’t offer a reservation policy and you will have to swap plastic for paper when it comes to paying the bill, but for the trouble of queuing up and a cash-only policy you will have plenty of tasty prizes in store.
I found my target within minutes at Fish, Wings & Tings - a cosy corner restaurant that did a feisty tamarind version of jerk chicken that went down pretty smoothly with a glass of ginger-laced rum. The quirky restaurant also did a good line of tasty ‘Small Tings’ such as crunchy Red Stripe Tempura Prawns, Reggae Wings and Cod Fish Fritters, and proved the perfect first stop on a resto-crawl around Brixton Village.
Next up, considering my last trip took place in the depths of winter, it was time to top up on the carbs and cheese. The Mexican haunt Jalisco did big fat bowls of sinful sweet potato fries that hit the spot perfectly. We could have stopped there but the line up of tasty tacos, burritos, quesadillas and other staples from south of the border, all washed down with some frosty margaritas and beer, proved too tempting. Jalisco serves up its dishes to order on a hotness scale of ‘Dead’ to ‘F*** Off Hot!!!’ I think I went for something respectably at the higher end of spiciness.
If you wander further into the labyrinth, there’s so much more in store – tangy Thai, Pakistani pakoras, juicy burgers, focaccia and Florentine gelato – the dishes are made for quick service and quicker eating, allowing you to grab a bite at any place that takes your fancy before moving on to the next spot.
The weekend I had a wander around the Village, there was live music tinkling down the halls and an art exhibition was teeming with hungry hipsters.
I think I may be going for seconds pretty soon :)
A version of this post originally appeared in Marie France Asia
A small disclaimer: Vegetarians may want to give this post a miss :)
I have never quite understood the squeamishness associated with eating animals or seafood with their heads still on.
Even up until a few years ago the idea that people could happily eat meat, fish or prawns yet would make a great big fuss if said animal turned up on their plates with their heads still attached to their flesh seemed incredibly hypocritical to me.
I've since learnt to be less judgmental :) The introduction to the Filipino dish of balut (duck embryo with head, beak, feathers and feet still attached) has made me less likely to condemn what people choose to put - or more correctly NOT put - into their mouths. I for one can't quite bring myself to consider eating it.
Anyway, the fact is, most people don't really see the process of a live farm animal being turned into the slab of packaged meat they pick up in a supermarket. Honestly, most of us would not really want to think about it too much. And I guess the less likely you are to see or consider the process, the more a face turning up on your plate is going to turn your stomach.
I was reminded of this some time last year on a visit to Frommer's Fish Island in East London. Before tucking into a pretty fine meal at the salmon smokery's in-house restaurant, we were treated to a live demo of the process that turns a great big salmon into a fillet of smoked fish - complete with rapid head chopping, tail slashing, pin-boning et al.
Unfortunately, the demo wasn't much appreciated by a few witnesses, considering the fact that salmon was on the menu that evening. The prepping had too closely preceded the feasting, so a few plates of salmon remained untouched.
So I guess it was a little unfortunate that the next evening's meal had been planned at Tramshed - the excellent steak and chicken restaurant in Shoreditch that is a part of the Hix family of restaurants found across London.
Unfortunate not for the food, which was top-notch - great juicy steaks and tender, succulent birds - but for the fact that the restaurant has a giant Damien Hirst installation of a real cockerel perched on top of a real cow suspended from the ceiling in a liquid-filled box. For some, once again, too close to memories of science lab specimens in formaldehyde and of course, to the fact that a cock and bull would pretty much be the highlights of dinner.
I, thankfully, had no qualms about the decor (which to be honest I thought was pretty cool. I may have not voiced that opinion too loudly). Nor with the fact that the juicy chickens were plopped on the table with their spindly chicken feet proudly stuck in the air.
But... the chicken was unbelievably moist. The steak was tender. The wine was fine! (Although I do remember the water turning up in tumblers that strangely smelled of whisky... but I won't quibble).
Turns out the restaurant also has a great selection of art tucked away in its underbelly (a Grade 2 listed building constructed in 1905 to generate electricity for the Tramway, hence the name). The Cock'n'Bull Gallery is a commercial gallery curated by the restaurant's owner Mark Hix, with an art collection that changes every four weeks.
Sadly I wasn't aware of it at the time or I would have snuck in for a peek. But that remains my only regret of the evening. My advise - if you want an excellent meaty meal Tramshed is a top choice. Just keep your eyes off the giant cow in the room and on your steak if you'd prefer to forget where it came from!
A new year, a whole new set of opportunities to go platetrotting! And since we are already a week into 2014, I thought it's definitely time to make some dinner plans :)
My New Year's resolution is to eat African food in Africa... We shall see if that one gets ticked off the list. But for now, here’s another list of some of the things I hope to be chomping on in 2014.
Caribbean food at Negril Brixton
All those Food Network shows on chefs cooking up delicious pineapple-strewn curries against a backdrop of blue sky and sea are starting to have an effect on me. It’s time to finally answer the craving for fried plantain and coconuty curries that has been haunting me for several months now. In the absence of being able to board a plane to the Caribbean islands (much as I’d like to) I’m going to settle for the next best thing – Brixton Hill in London. The destination is the little Caribbean restaurant Negril, whose menu of saltfish fritters, spicy jerk ribs, pumpkin curry and plantain wedges is already making my mouth water. Definitely a stop the next time I find myself in London.
Matzah Balls and Latkes
Obviously the UAE isn’t the best place to find authentic Jewish food, so I am super excited to be heading to Poland next month where I hope to finally get a taste of some matzah balls and latkes. I’m already a certified pancake fan, so the latkes I am sure will be a hit. As for the matzah balls, apparently these little balls of dough traditionally made out of matzah meal and schmaltz (chicken fat) can vary widely in texture and density – ranging from light-as-air pillows to dense, stodgy, stomach fillers (floaters or sinkers). I will have to see what the ones I hope to taste in Krakow turn out to be!
Following the Cuban government’s slow easing of policies regarding private entrepreneurship in recent years, the number of paladares - the little family-run restaurants in people’s homes that provide a great counterpoint to touristy state-run restaurants – have increased in number and quality. Travelers to Cuba can rejoice as a result! With most of them run out of old private residences, the paladares sound like just the sort of places I would love to eat at when I hopefully make my way to Cuba this spring. This list of paladares has already whet my appetite!
More travel inspired by TV, this time by Anthony Bourdain's Mozambique episode of No Reservations that I watched on a flight a few months ago. All those African and Portuguese flavours melding together in recipes featuring fresh seafood and veggies sound like my idea of heaven. This is the eat-local-in-Africa goal I WANT to fulfill this year.
Olive Oil Tasting
I will happily go to as many wine tastings as I can get myself to but last year friends who went to Italy mentioned something else that made my ears prick up - olive oil tasting. As someone who gets through far too many bottles of olive oil in a year (and requires a LOT of willpower to walk past the aisle of gourmet oils in the supermarket) this is something I would be very keen to try. Fingers crossed there's some olive oil-tasting in my future!
So what are you looking forward to eating this year?
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