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 just three weeks to go before I jump on a plane and make a beeline for the Balkans (with a short stop in London for a bite of my favourite foodie city) it's time to put aside the list of city landmarks and focus instead on the only list that really counts - my summer dish list.
So here's a roundup of all the things I plan on eating as I make my way round the English capital, down a bit of the Adriatic and into the green hills and riverside towns of the Balkans.
Maltby Street Market, London
A wintry trip around Borough market - trying to balance piping hot mead with a grilled chorizo sandwich and get them both into my tummy without ruining my gloves - is one of my favourite memories of eating in London. Pretty much straight after on the list would be a trip huddled around a plate of jerk chicken in a corner of Brixton Village a few months ago. So I'm aiming to add some summer food market memories to the mix with a visit to Maltby Street Market this time round for more sandwiches, pies, pastries and Pimm's. Touted as smaller, friendlier and less crowded than its bigger cousin in Borough, I can't wait to have a snoop around the food stalls and practice juggling multiple plates of goodies once again.
Fresh seafood along the Adriatic coast
The konobas or taverns strung along the Adriatic coast look just like my ideal dining destinations - quaint seaside restaurants overlooking glassy bays, wild green mountains mirrored within, Roman palaces tumbling down hillsides and of course, fresh seafood by the basket load to tuck into at each meal. From shrimp to squid ink risotto, fish, octopus salad and more, the menu in Montenegro and Croatia sounds absolutely perfect for summer dining by the sea.
Coffee and cevapi in Sarajevo
My favourite Turkish proverb describes how the Turks prefer their coffee - "black as hell, strong as death and sweet as love" - which is also my preferred poison, so I can't wait to wile away a couple of afternoons in Sarajevo's famed Ottoman-influenced coffee houses and spend my evenings feasting on that other Turkish import - cevapi. Cevapi are kebabs stuffed into pita and onions, drizzled over with kajmak (sour clotted cream), preferably eaten while taking in the city's famed minaret and church tower-pierced skyline. Considering how much descriptions of Sarajevo liken its history-seeped, shifting, multicultural vibe to my most-loved city in the world, Istanbul, I can't wait to visit this Balkan gem.
One of my most anticipated trips on my holiday is a planned visit to the wineries of Hercegovina to find out more about how this region produces its local Žilavka and Blatina grape. I still regret not getting a chance to do a spot of wine touring when I visited Romania, but the Eastern European country had some of the smoothest wines I've tasted recently and I expect Hercegovina's wines to be as exciting.
The Balkans seem to have a rich and distinct culinary tradition - stuffed full of indigenous cheeses, popular Ottoman-empire influences, sweets and cakes from the Austro-Hungarians and Italian-influenced dishes from across the sea all mashed up into a menu that's equally strong on meat and seafood specialties.
If you have any top tips on things to try or restaurants to visit in Sarajevo, Mostar, Kotor Bay, the Montenegrin mountains or Split, do leave a note on where I could find them :)
Last summer, on the way back from a wedding in the charming Scottish town of Banchory, I spent a hungry evening in Aberdeen.
Now before anyone gets riled up, I’m not saying Aberdeen doesn’t have its share of good restaurants (the trusty Michelin Guide seems to have quite a lengthy list) I’m just saying that on that damp weekend last August, with only the squawking of giant seagulls providing the rather desolate soundtrack to our wandering along the city's grey streets, I didn’t find any.
I did, however, find some adult milkshakes which I thought were a fairly amusing concept, and after trawling numerous restaurants offering the standard triumvirate of haggis, fish and chips and grilled scampi, finally settled on some crispy white bait and grilled chicken for dinner.
But thankfully after this rather dejecting start to my culinary adventures in Aberdeen, the next day dawned beautiful and bright. A crisp summer morning inspired us to take a walk along Aberdeen port to the twee fishing village of Footdie (Fittie to local Aberdonians) – all pretty slate, stone and wooden houses plopped in handerchief-sized gardens bursting with summer blooms - at the edge of which is where we found The Silver Darling.
The seafood restaurant has in the past been named among the Top 10 seafood restaurants in the UK and I can see why - it would definitely count among my all-time favorites, and was single-handedly responsible for redeeming my personal opinion of the Aberdonian culinary scene.
The Silver Darling, which is run by French chef Didier Dejean, is named after a Scottish term of endearment for the humble herring. Apart from its elegant menu, the restaurant’s chief charm lies in its cozy size and absolutely stunning location – offering wraparound views of Aberdeen harbor and the North Sea. Despite the fact that the plates of food were impeccably presented, I really struggled to tear my eyes away from the views of glistening water and golden banks spread out before me.
On the menu that day were scallops and chorizo croquetas, mackeral and beetroot, and delicate seafood mains of fish, shrimp and cockleshells accompanied by fruity glasses of chilled white wine. I couldn't have picked a more perfect spot to enjoy my last day in Scotland, and the meal remains one of my favorite memories of last summer.
Has anyone else ever eaten at this little gem before? What were some of your memorable meals from last summer?
The best spot to drink in the view along with some vino when you're in Aberdeen
Last month on a whistle-stop visit to London, I made the drizzly drive up to Wales for a weekend of climbing and stargazing in the Brecon Beacons - a gorgeous green expanse of hills, valleys and moorlands in South Wales.
However, just in time for the long weekend, the heavens decided to let loose a steady stream of hazy rain and rolling mists to obscure both, the hills I wished to climb and the skies I wanted to gaze at.
It all worked out for the best though, as the poor weather meant I had to stay under cover, and I decided to take that to the extreme with a trip down a coal mine at Big Pit, and a wander around Blaenavon Ironworks - an utterly fascinating trip back to Wales' starring role at the heart of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-18th and early-19th centuries.
The trip also gave me a chance to try some uniquely Welsh food. I will have to confess that my knowledge of Welsh food is near zero - the only dish I can claim to have eaten before visiting Wales that I was aware was Welsh is Welsh Rarebit. And even that left me confused for a long time. (Welsh rarebit having more in common with a fondue touched with mustard than any form of roasted bunny).
So here's a round up of some of the other rare bits I got to taste in Wales. Mwynhewch eich bwyd! That's bon appetit in Welsh. I don't claim to know how to pronounce it :)
My first taste of traditional Welsh cuisine were these crumbly, castor-sugar dusted cakes left in my room at the twee B&B I stayed at near Llangorse Lake. Also known as griddle scones, the sultana-starred cakes are made by cooking sweetened scone dough on a bakestone or flat griddle pan. Perfect with tea on a rainy afternoon in Wales!
Another staple of the Welsh diet that also left me confused was laverbread. Offered along with eggs, bacon and cockles for breakfast, the last thing I expected it to be was seaweed! Harvested along the Welsh coast, laver (more popularly known by its Japanese name nori) is a seaweed that is rich in protein, iron and iodine, which makes it taste a little bit metallic as a result. The seaweed is boiled and mixed with oatmeal to create laverbread, which adds a healthy dose of nutrients to a standard fry-up.
This yeasty cake, also known as "speckled bread", is yet another perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea or coffee to warm you up after a damp day wandering around Wales. The "speckles" are most often raisins soaked in sweetened tea until they are plump and juicy, although sultanas and other dried fruit are sometimes also used. The cafe I ate it in served it with butter - much like Dutch koek - and who can deny that butter makes everything better?
There were many other specialties I didn't particularly get the chance to taste - Welsh cheese, for instance, or the country's famed salt marsh lamb, obtained from animals who graze on samphire, sorrel, sea lavendar and thrift along the salt marshes of the Gower peninsular.
I did, however, see a lot of sheep! I was in Wales after all ;)
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