Dr John Hawkins
Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff,
home to a huge load of pictures,
and my daily blog.
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Maison de Stuff
- Recent Entries:
- St. James and St. John
Cocktail Shaker, Burrito, More Goodbye Drinks
Savoy and The City
A Stroll to Chinatown
Sunday in Abergavenny
Saturday in Abergavenny
Cheltenham Festival - Ladies Day
Borough Market and Bianchetto Truffle
Cocktails at the Office
Shepherd's Pie and Kimchi
Alternative Burrito Place
Windsor and Eton with Andy
Duke of Wellington and Oliveto
- St. James and St. John
- [Saturday 24th March 2012]
Lazy morning and early afternoon indoors. Eventually mustered the enthusiasm to go outside just before 3, and walked to St. James's Park, where we enjoyed the cherry blossoms, and spotted one of the park's resident pelicans. The weather was rather lovely, and it made for a very pleasant stroll.
From there we did a bit of shopping - we had a couple of wedding presents to buy - and eventually meandered in the direction of Smithfields, where we'd be meeting Chie's friend. Chie and her friend Ruriko-san were going to a classical music concert in the evening at the Barbican, they only had two tickets (and it didn't really sound like my sort of thing anyway) so I just joined them for dinner beforehand. We'd originally planned to go to Amico Bio, the vegetarian Italian place near Smithfields market, but were amazed to discover when we arrived that they were fully booked - even though it was just after 5:30, and we told them we'd be leaving by 7. Who books tables in restaurants before 7? It's not even like it could have been one huge group booking either - all of the tables are quite separated. So that was a little bizarre, especially given that it had been near deserted the previous two times we'd been there.
We had a little wander round trying to think of a plan B, and eventually decided to eat at the bar in St. John - where you can't make reservations, and we were the first in line when they opened at 6. This actually worked out really well, there's a nice atmosphere in there, and the food in the bar is sort of like the English answer to tapas - lots of small plates - which seemed to suit the girls very well (this being closer to the Japanese style of dining). I even managed to smile sweetly at the staff and order us a half dozen of their famous Madeleines, which they don't normally serve in the bar. So that was rather good.
I headed home after that, and was thankful after what had been a very busy week of social engagements to just have a quiet night in, whilst Chie and her friend were at the concert. I decided to re-watch Visconti's Death In Venice, which Chie and I had watched a while back, mainly because we've been toying with the idea of going to Venice this year (but can't quite make up our minds) but also because I feel like I didn't really understand the film first time round, and thought I might appreciate it more this time. It's still a strange and disturbing film, and in places is really showing its age. It's probably a good thing that there's so little dialogue because a lot of what there is ends up being close to nonsensical (particularly the dialogue between Aschenbach and Alfred) but I still found it fascinating. Obviously the backdrop of Venice, but also the costumes, and little things (or as it turns out big things) like Aschenbach's luggage. Perhaps you'd call it a mood piece.
- [Friday 23rd March 2012]
I felt a little bad about having slipped out early from my colleague's goodbye drinks yesterday, and we hadn't really had a chance to say our farewells properly (not to mention the fact that whenever there's a large group of people from the office we never end up going anywhere particularly special). So I proposed that some time before his flight on Monday we should go to Dukes Bar in St. James's - given that he's a fan of cocktails, and this place is supposed to do some of the best Martinis in the world. As it turned out, it was also his birthday today, and he was going for dinner in the evening with his wife and in-laws, and a pre-dinner drink at Duke's would fit in rather well.
It was fairly short - we were there for less than two hours, but I think my colleague enjoyed it, and I feel like I've given him a proper send off now.
They all got in a taxi and headed off to dinner just after seven, leaving me at a loose end for the remainder of the evening. It was still a pleasant evening outdoors, Chie was out for the evening with friends from work, and I was all dressed up, so it seemed a bit like a bit of a waste to just go home at 7:30. However, after a couple of Martinis I didn't particularly want to drink anything else. So I went for a long meandering stroll through St. James's, Mayfair and Soho, and stopped off en route at Tibits for some dinner. I eventually ended up walking all the way home.
- Cocktail Shaker, Burrito, More Goodbye Drinks
- [Thursday 22nd March 2012]
Someone in the office unearthed an old box of "schwag" (promotional gifts) today, and offered them to our team first as they'd been to do with the launch of our project last year. I was rather delighted with these, as although they were technically coffee flasks, I'd already been using something very similar as a cocktail shaker at home, and so now I had a much nicer looking one to use instead.
At lunchtime I was in the mood for a burrito, so made the fairly long trek out from the office to my favourite burrito place, which I think I quote on the balcony back at work. That was rather nice.
My colleague who was leaving the office this week had, it turned out, no intention of just slipping away quietly, and was determined to make it an almost week long set of festivities. So tonight there were more drinks planned, but I wasn't really in the mood (not helped by the fact the pub we went to was packed and we had to sit outside in the cold) so I left after one drink, and had dinner at home.
- Savoy and The City
- [Wednesday 21st March 2012]
This week was busy at work for social occasions. In addition to the new starter we'd been welcoming yesterday, we were also waving off a colleague who had been with us on assignment for a year or so, and was now heading back to the US. My manager had proposed doing something a bit special with a small group by way of a send off, so we went to the Savoy for afternoon tea.
I have to admit to being slightly unimpressed by their afternoon tea - in particular I found the staff to be very amateurish - from the Maitre'd who told us on arrival "You're going to be pleasantly surprised" (I think that's for us to decide, thank you) to our waiter who I suspect was probably placed there by that TV show "Faking It" as he really seemed to be bluffing his way through the whole thing, and rather unconvincingly so. On being asked about some of the glassware, he replied that the pattern was "Victorian Art Deco" clearly oblivious to the fact that those two concepts are separated by at least two decades. The food was as unconvincing as our waiter, if I'm honest, the scones were average, they didn't used particularly high quality clotted cream (and it was a measly serving for four people). I mentioned I was vegetarian and somehow was presented with a plate of smoked salmon. When I reminded them I was vegetarian I was then asked to plan my own alternative - or just more sandwiches. In the end I just had a plate of scrambled egg which I was somewhat underwhelmed by. I think I'll stick to the bar at the Savoy in future.
By the time we'd finished it was almost 4pm, and knowing I had plans in the evening too I couldn't in good conscience go back to the office and call it a full day's work, so instead I decided to just call it a half day's holiday. This left me with a couple of hours to myself before meeting up with Gav in the evening, and so I went for a stroll through Holborn, and decided to visit Dr Johnson's House, just off Fleet Street. There's not really a huge amount to see inside but it was quiet and rather atmospheric. I particularly liked the decor on the first floor, and made a probably unrealistic plan to try and do something similar when we eventually buy a place.
From there my wander continued in the direction of the City, and I eventually arrived at the Royal Exchange, which I sat outside for a while whilst I waited for Chie to finish work, and Gav to arrive.
Gav was visiting from California for a few days, and I was very pleased he'd been able to squeeze us into his no doubt busy schedule. Apparently he'd never really been to the pubs around Bank before, and so I showed him some of my favourites - including the Jamaica Wine House, the Counting House and of course the Lamb in the wonderful Leadenhall Market. We then had some fairly naff tapas in a chain tapas place there, but still, even if the food was uninspiring the setting certainly wasn't, and it was a good chance to catch up with Gav.
- Division Bell
- [Tuesday 20th March 2012]
Iain at the office proposed going to Oliveto for lunch today. I had their Caprino pizza, which I haven't had for a while, and was very good as always.
In the evening we had some welcome drinks for a person who had just joined the project. This started out with a rather tedious and predictable visit to the default-nearest-pub-to-the-office which I found particularly banal and will-to-live sapping on this occasion. So I attempted to expand the horizons of my colleagues, and persuaded at least some of them (with surprising reluctance) to go a bit further afield, and visit some new and different places. I had a hankering to head into Westminster, and visit some politically themed pubs, the timing of which was perfect as it turned out there was a debate in the commons this evening.
There's a TV screen in the Red Lion (I'll forgive them on this occasion) showing live coverage from inside Parliament, so we could follow along with the debate on the health service that was going on just over the road, and presumably lots of the other suit and official-looking-badge wearing clientele of the pub had also been involved in. Rather excitingly, while we were in the Red Lion the division bell went off. Whilst it wasn't clear who, if anyone, in the pub was actually an MP - there wasn't an obvious mad rush to the doors when the bell went off - what appeared to be a parliamentary taxi showed up a few minutes later (despite parliament being literally a stone's throw away from the Red Lion) to round up our diligent political representatives, who apparently would rather be in the pub than waste their time with trivial matters like deciding the future of our country's health service.
So I found that all rather exciting anyway. Although I'm not sure if the majority of my colleagues wouldn't have just preferred to stay in the dull pub where the evening had commenced.
- A Stroll to Chinatown
- [Monday 19th March 2012]
Following the long running tradition of Chinese food on a Monday, and given that it was a very pleasant evening, I left work "early" today (at 5:30) and took a stroll past Buckingham Palace, through St. James's, and over Piccadilly Circus to Chinatown. For a change I went to the Loon Fung supermarket, rather than our usual haunt (See Woo) which meant I found a few interesting and different things we wouldn't normally buy. I still find Chinese supermarkets rather fascinating. I took the bus back from there, and managed to get back to the flat just after 7, and started cooking.
So for dinner we had mock crispy duck pancakes to start, followed by two dishes for our main course. One was ho fun with vegetables in a black bean sauce, the other was choi sum with tofu in a garlic, ginger and vodka (instead of the usual sake) sauce. It all came out pretty well.
- Sunday in Abergavenny
- [Sunday 18th March 2012]
Chie had very kindly made, by request, a Black Forest Gateau for my birthday. It's sort of a long running tradition - Mum always used to make these for my birthday when I was a boy. It has been something of an undertaking for Chie - she baked the base Friday night, and had put the finishing touches to last night and this morning. Louise and Ian came over to Vera and Robin's in the morning, and so that made for a nice opportunity for us all to have a cup of tea and a slice of birthday cake together. The cake was really delicious, and I ended up having two rather large slices (as did Ian, bless him, with everyone else being somewhat more abstemious).
It didn't seem to be much of a break between our birthday cake elevenses and Sunday lunch. Robin made a very nice roast meal - he does very good potatoes - and by the end of it I felt very stuffed indeed.
We got the train back to London around 4pm, and the return journey was much slower than it had been on the way here (4 hours, instead of just over 2 and a quarter). The Severn Tunnel is often closed on a Sunday, which means the train has to divert by way of Gloucester - as well as the fact that the connection at Newport with the train from Abergavenny doesn't seem to work as well on the way back. So for the Newport to London leg, given that it was again fairly crowded, we decided to upgrade to First Class. This actually made for quite a pleasant trip - we'd bought a Sunday paper in Newport station, and had seats with a table, so could sit back and relax, thumbing through the Observer, whilst drinking the complimentary tea. We drank a lot of tea this weekend.
- Saturday in Abergavenny
- [Saturday 17th March 2012]
Got the train in the morning to Abergavenny to visit Robin and Vera. We hadn't really realised until it was too late, but there was a rugby game on and the train was absolutely packed. We rushed and managed to get a seat, but then predictably at Reading even more people got on, and an elderly lady hovered rather pathetically by where we were sitting. So of course I had to do the gentlemanly thing and give up my seat, albeit not without being ever so slightly irked that none of the rugby fans who had caused all the overcrowding had offered to do the same.
We arrived around midday, and were met by Robin at the station, and taken back to the house for lunch. Robin's had a bad back recently so didn't want to do any driving this weekend, so in the afternoon we just pottered around locally - we took Vera out for her daily walk (which she has to do on Doctor's orders!) and sat around in their house reading Country Life and drinking lots of tea.
In the evening we went out for dinner at the Angel, which was very pleasant.
- [Friday 16th March 2012]
Having shirked my duties for entertaining our visitors from the US for the last three evenings, tonight I thought I should make an effort and take them out for dinner. For various reasons though I ended up only taking one of our visitors out for dinner - but fortunately that was the most affable of them, a very genial chap called Walter. I took him to Polpo, the Venetian baccaro inspired restaurant in Soho, and that seemed to go down rather well. The food seemed to me slightly less exotic than the first time I'd been, but still Walter seemed to enjoy it.
Although this was Walter's second trip to London, both times he'd been on short trips for work, and hadn't really had much of a chance to do any sightseeing, so after dinner he asked if we could just walk around the city and soak up a bit of the atmosphere. So we meandered through Soho, across Piccadilly Circus, down through St. James's, along the Mall a little and past Buckingham Palace, and from there back to the office.
- [Thursday 15th March 2012]
What with yesterday's day at the races, and having visitors at the office this week, I'd almost forgotten about my actual birthday, and so we hadn't really planned anything. We both decided we fancied curry though, and Chie reminded me about Gaylord, a rather smart looking Indian restaurant we'd walked past a couple of times and had been meaning to try.
It was really good - the surprise hit being the channa peshawari (I'm not normally a huge fan of chickpeas, but these were delicious). They also had a rice dish containing morel mushrooms, which was rather exciting.
So it was a quiet birthday evening - just the two of us - but very pleasant.
- Cheltenham Festival - Ladies Day
- [Wednesday 14th March 2012]
Ever on the look out for more excuses to wear my suit, and to mingle with the tweed wearing classes, I had on a bit of a whim booked for Chie and I to attend the Cheltenham Festival today. I suppose it was a sort of a birthday outing as well, albeit the day before the actual day. A friend from work was also keen to go, and so it made for rather a nice day out.
We got the coach on the way there, it wouldn't really have been my first choice, but it was by far the most convenient - we can walk to Victoria Coach station, and from there it took us directly to the racecourse. This was a slight concern as it seemed like lots of the other people on the coach weren't really dressed up at all - but then I reassured myself that, being on a coach in the first place, we were observing a somewhat biased sample.
The Festival does seem to attract a very broad spectrum of visitors, and is a clear reminder that the class system is still very much with us. There are three main enclosures (the "Best Mates", the Tattersalls and the Club enclosure) and then beyond that there are even more echelons of restaurants and private boxes, some of them charging astronomical fees. We went for the Club enclosure which was the most expensive of the three enclosures, but still seemed "cheap" compared to the exorbitant fees paid for a table in one of the restaurants, or a private box. Even within the Club enclosure there seemed to be multiple choices of venue for refreshments which were clearly aimed at different demographics - the proportion of tweeds and fancy hats was significantly higher in the Golden Miller bar (serving almost exclusively Champagne) than it was in the Arkle bar (more a Guinness sort of place). I could quite happily have ignored the horse racing altogether and just spent the whole day engaged in social observation - I found it quite fascinating.
Of course, since we were here we thought we ought to have a flutter. That word is of course used by people who are trying to imply they aren't really taking it seriously, but I for one wasn't prepared to just throw money away with at least an allusion to having made an informed choice. So, like many other race goers (and apparently the Queen, every day) I'd bought a copy of the Racing Post this morning, and had picked all the horses I was going to bet on based on that. All of my bets were very small, but I managed to pick winners in four our of the six races, and so came away with a "profit" of £90, with which I was rather pleased. This just about covered the Champagne bill for the day.
So it was rather a fun day out. Although I have to admit it playing a bit on my conscience as a vegetarian - it is pretty dangerous for the horses of course. For that reason I'm not sure if I'd go again.
We got a lift with my friend from work on the way back, and stopped off for dinner at a little country pub called the Royal Oak, in Andoversford.
- [Tuesday 13th March 2012]
Quite a long day at the office today, was in at 9 in the morning, and didn't leave until after 9 in the evening. Decided to have a quiet evening in (for what was left of it) as a welcome break from an otherwise very full week of social activities. Not much else to report.
- [Monday 12th March 2012]
We had visitors from the US in the office this week, and so the usual programme of entertainments was required. Tonight we took them to Borough, and began with a drink at the George Inn, wherein I supplied our guests with a short lecture on the significance and history of the place, which they probably weren't the slightest bit interested in.
We followed that with dinner at Elliot's Cafe in Borough Market, which apparently sources most of its ingredients from the market. Unsurprisingly therefore it erred somewhat on the side of being very meaty. I had a dish of sweet potato "gnocchi" with hedgehog mushrooms. The hedgehog mushrooms were interested, but I can't say I was a huge fan of the gnocchi - not least because they were rather bizarrely triangular.
- [Sunday 11th March 2012]
A mostly lazy day around the flat. Just popped out towards the end of the afternoon to go to the supermarket.
Had a pomelo for breakfast - I've never had one of these before. I assumed it might be a bit like a grapefruit given its appearance, but it was actually quite different. Hard to describe really - sort of dryer and not as sharp as a grapefruit.
Made kim chi fried rice for lunch, using home made kimchi. This was rather good.
- Borough Market and Bianchetto Truffle
- [Saturday 10th March 2012]
My birthday is approaching, and in the morning Chie asked me what sort of birthday cake I'd like. I had a hankering for black forest gateau, probably because that was the cake Mum made several years running for my birthday when I was a boy. This led to a quick bit of research on the web, and on a page about German food I was reminded about spätzle, which I had a sudden craving for. That then led to the discovery of the German Deli near Borough Market, and quickly a plan for the afternoon was constructed.
Bought a few bits and pieces in the German Deli, which I found rather exciting actually - I'm always on the lookout for new and interesting ingredients and it seems like German food is an often overlooked source for this.
As we were close to Borough Market it seemed more or less obligatory to go for a wander round, and as usual I quickly started to get irritated by how overcrowded and meat-centric it was. Some naff and overpriced falafel did not help this situation, but then the re-discovery of the stall where the Italian chap sells truffle products went some to compensate for this. I hadn't really expected to see any fresh truffles this time of year - White Alba truffles should have finished by January, and Black summer truffles shouldn't be in season untl, well, the summer. I'd never really heard of bianchetto before - white spring truffles - but after a quick inspection found them to be encouragingly fragrant, and comparatively very reasonably priced. I bought the biggest one he had for £28 - I think an equivalent sized White Alba truffle would probably be about three times that price.
We meandered from Borough Market over the bridge into the City, and wandered around there a bit - I always find the buildings around Bank to be really impressive. Eventually we ended up at Liverpool Street, where we got on the tube back home.
In the evening for dinner I started with some bruschetta topped with a small bag of mixed mushrooms we'd bought in Borough market. There was a bit of pied de mouton, some horn of plenty, and some probably less "wild" including oyster and portobello. We'd bought some St. John bread too which worked pretty well for making bruschetta.
For the main course I lightly sautéed some spätzle and topped it with the grated bianchetto. The end result was pretty satisfying albeit perhaps a tad dry - I think a very simple sauce (maybe just lots of melted butter) might have helped a bit.
- Cocktails at the Office
- [Friday 9th March 2012]
The end of the week beer-and-pizza thing at work has started to lose its sheen a bit. Neither the beer nor the pizza are actually very good, and I started to wonder why I bother to drink the kind of cheap generic lager I would never willingly buy, simply because it's free. Not to mention the fact that other people choose the music (which is usually too loud and not to my taste) and there's often live "entertainment" planned which can sometimes be somewhat jarring. So I had arranged with a few like minded individuals in the office to stage an alternative event to coincide with the standard one, where we'd mix a few cocktails, and not eat any of the awful pizza.
I was pleased by the level of enthusiasm this proposal generated. At the end of the working day we assembled in a large meeting room in a quiet corner of the office, and I proceded to mix a series of Martinis, Negronis and Pink Gins for the group. I'd bought a bottle of Juniper Green gin, encouraged by the fact it was actually made in London (as few London Gins are these days) but it wasn't really a patch on the excellent Sacred Gin I'd had recently. Still, I think I managed to produce some passable cocktails with it nonetheless.
Banal as a party in an office meeting room may sound, it actually made a surprisingly fun venue, and much use was made of the projectors and sound system.
Towards the end of the evening food became something of a priority, and we decided to decamp en masse to Oliveto, for some proper pizza. Which was excellent as always.
- Shepherd's Pie and Kimchi
- [Thursday 8th March 2012]
Chie was working late today, so rather unusually I got home before her, and spent quite a while in the kitchen. I'd decided to embark on making another batch of kimchi - this would be the fourth since our recent trip to New Malden to buy the all important Korean chilli powder. This time I decided to measure the ingredients a bit more carefully, and used a whole chinese cabbage rather than half of one. I'd used far too much chilli powder in the previous batch, and too much salt in the one before that (although, that said, that was the best batch too far). This time I used 80g of salt to make the brine in which the cabbage soaks for a few hours before mixing in with the chilli, ginger and garlic paste. Sounds like a lot of salt but then the brine is thrown away afterwards, and only some of the salt gets absorbed into the cabbage.
The kimchi would take a few days before it was ready to eat, and tonight's actual dinner was at the opposite end of the taste spectrum, a comfortingly bland shepherd's pie made with Quorn mince.
- [Wednesday 7th March 2012]
Chie wasn't feeling very well, so took the day off work today. So I decided to go home for lunch so that we could eat together. It was a surprisingly ambitious lunch for a week day - I made tabouleh, fried some halloumi, cooked a tin of foul medames, and served it with some khobez bread and pickled turnips which I'd bought from the little Middle Eastern food shop between my office and the flat. It was very nice to have a proper home cooked meal at lunchtime for a change, I do think the French are onto a good thing here.
In the evening Chie was feeling a bit better so volunteered to cook dinner - we had a very nice Japanese curry.
- Alternative Burrito Place
- [Tuesday 6th March 2012]
I have a favourite burrito place in walking distance of the office - Picante - where I occasionally go for lunch. It is a bit of a trek though, and there's always a long queue (deservedly so), and so I was interested to see that a new place had opened somewhat closer called Taquito's. It's in the same premises that had at one time been a sort of Turkish bakery (where I'd occasionally been for pide) and had since gone through a confusing period of also serving Chinese food. I suspect this may actually be the same owners, who have now tried to jump on the Mexican food bandwagon, because, after all, how hard can it be to wrap some rice and beans up in a flour tortilla? Anyway, it made for an interesting lesson in how good the burritos at Picante are by contrast.
In the evening I made a sort of macaroni cheese with spinach.
- [Monday 5th March 2012]
Following last week's decadent (or just plain lazy) track record of eating out almost every night, we decided we should make a concerted effort to cook at home this week. In the end we managed almost the exact inverse - last week I'd eaten out six nights, this week we only ate out once.
Chie kicked off this endeavour this evening and made Spanish food for dinner - including a rather good paella with Quorn pieces.
- Black Friar
- [Sunday 4th March 2012]
Chie went out to see a friend in the daytime. I had some work to catch up on so decided to leave her to it, and spent most of the afternoon in the office. In the evening Chie decided to stay on for dinner with her friend, and so I was left to my own devices. I didn't feel like cooking for myself, so instead I got the tube to Blackfriars (this in itself added a bit of excitement to the excursion, given that it has only recently reopened after an extended closure) and popped into the Black Friar for some vegetarian sausages and mash. They seemed to have cleaned up a bit inside, or maybe it was just a trick of the lighting, and also they'd just instigated an area of table service. The latter development was a slight cause for concern, as it seemed to be taking a step in the direction of the dreaded gastropub.
- [Saturday 3rd March 2012]
We're planning on going to the Cheltenham Festival in a couple of weeks' time, and I was keen to buy an appropriate hat for the event. So after a not entirely lazy morning and early afternoon in the flat (I processed the backlog of washing up, which was surprisingly large considering I'd only eaten at home one night this week so far, and also did a stint on the exercise bike) we ventured out in the direction of St. James's. The Victoria line was closed for the weekend, so we decided to walk, and it was a very pleasant stroll through Westminster and St. James's Park.
We first went to Bates on Jermyn Street, but somehow nothing really grabbed me there. So instead we tried Lock and Co. on St. James's Street. It was great that in both shops I just told them I was going to the Cheltenham Festival and wanted a suitable hat, and they did all the rest. Having never really been to that sort of thing before I have no idea what kind of hats men wear, and searching on the web the results seem to be flooded with ladies' hats. Apparently though there were just a couple of styles of hats synonymous with race-goers, which to my untrained eyes looked like predominately trilbies and fedoras, and mostly in brown. Unless you're Irish, apparently, in which case you might wear a blue hat.
The clincher came when I mentioned to the lady in the shop that I'd most likely be wearing the same suit (I'd put it on today in order to help find an appropriate hat for it) and she remarked, seemingly quite sincerely "it is a beautiful suit". The sale was very much in the bag at that point.
I ended up going for a brown "Voyager" - it's designed to be rolled up and packed away, but it also seems to keep its' shape very well when unrolled. Pleasingly they gave me one of their rather fetching hat boxes for it, although it would normally be sold rolled up and in a tube.
We continued our wander from there, and eventually ended up at Selfridge's, where we bought some bread and some Pierre Hermes macarons in the food hall. As we'd start our shopping quite late in the day our thoughts soon started turning to dinner, and somehow or other we ended up with the plan of heading to Knightsbridge and going to one of the Lebanese restaurants I'd seen around there. It was a place called Beiteddine, and whilst it was lacking somewhat in atmosphere, the food was pretty tasty.
Went home after that to try on my hat again.
- [Friday 2nd March 2012]
Chie wanted to eat Chinese food tonight. We briefly considered our usual stalwart Kym's, but eventually decided we were getting a bit bored of always having more or less the same things, so decided we should try somewhere else. We had a think about takeaway, and I was reminded how surprisingly devoid of takeaway places Pimlico is.
So instead we decided to try a place in Westminster called Firecracker, which I'd read about a short while back, and sounded like it might be OK. I think they probably do a better job of starters and small dishes - maybe because a large part of their focus is catering for large groups (they have a few karaoke rooms) - so I really enjoyed the hot and sour soup and the spring rolls. The main course wasn't bad - we had a sort of tofu and enoki hotpot, with a side dish of kailan, but the portions seemed a bit small. We usually order far too much when we go out for Chinese food though, so it was probably a good thing to not leave the restaurant overstuffed.
- [Thursday 1st March 2012]
Made a vegetarian version of spaghetti putanesca for dinner tonight - I'm mostly disappointed with home made tomato based pasta sauces (with the possible exception of a Quorn bolognese, which rarely fails), but tonight's came out rather well. I think the secret is to use lots of oil, lots of olives, and lots of capers.
This ended up being the only evening this week I actually ate dinner at home (Chie managed a slightly less decadent twice). Probably ought to make a bit more effort to actually cook next week.
- [Wednesday 29th February 2012]
Had a very nice quiet day at work today - most of my team were on a ski trip which I'd decided to pass on - so I had the bit of the office where we sit almost entirely to myself.
I had a text message from Tim this afternoon, apparently he was in London for work, and wondered if I might be free to meet up. So after work I headed over to what is now becoming the default pub for meeting Tim - the Bree Louise - being conveniently located close to Euston. His train was supposed to be at 8:30, but he didn't seem particularly enthusiastic about catching it, and ended up staying the night with us.
We left the Bree Louise before closing time to go round the corner to Diwana for a curry. I'm not sure Tim was entirely impressed by the concept of vegetarian Indian food.
We got back to the flat around midnight, but stayed up talking for another hour or so over a whisky.
- Japanese Architecture
- [Tuesday 28th February 2012]
Chie had arranged for us to go to a talk on Japanese Architecture by Dr. Teruaki Matsuzaki at the Japan Foundation. Despite a few obstacles - an accident on the tube meant I had to get a taxi instead, and only just made it in time; also we were sat at the back, next to a very loud fan, and couldn't hear very well - it was actually quite interesting.
In particular I was interested in his explanation of the Japanese concept of "ma" - that often the space between things is as important as the things themselves. This applies not only to architecture, but even to literature - and he said it's common for chunks to be deliberately left out of novels according to this principle. He also spent a while talking about Buddhist temples built in mountainous areas of Japan, and showed some really spectacular pictures of these. Would love to visit some of those some day. Of course Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima also got a mention as an outstanding example of how Japanese architecture interacts with the sea, which provoked a pleasing sense of pride in both of us.
After the talk we ummed and arred about dinner for a while, and eventually settled on going for a burrito at Benito's Hat on Goodge Street. I had really liked this place the first time I went, but having since had better burritos elsewhere I think I'm going off it now.
- [Monday 27th February 2012]
The last few days had been much warmer and it felt very much like spring was on its way. So I decided (hoped?) it would soon be time to put away my winter coat, and thought I'd like to get a new jacket/blazer to wear between now and when (if?) the summer weather started.
I persuaded Kyle to venture out of the office at lunchtime, and together we walked to Jermyn Street - a pleasant stroll from the office - to go to Charles Tyrwhitt. After some initial confusion over whether they had my size in stock, we eventually found the one I had seen in their catalogue and bought it. Although I think in hindsight it looked much better on the chap in the catalogue than it does on me.
- Windsor and Eton with Andy
- [Sunday 26th February 2012]
My friend Andy had just moved to Taplow (this morning, in fact), and had also just passed a Japanese test, and so had proposed meeting up to mark both of these occasions in the now traditional way of going for a pub crawl.
This presented something of a challenge, however, in that it turns out no trains stop at Taplow station on Sundays, and the place he'd moved to wasn't even particularly close to Taplow station to begin with. Moreover, even if I could get to where he was, there were no pubs nearby.
So the plan we came up with was for me to get the train to Maidenhead, then get in a taxi, pick Andy up on the way, and go to Eton. Chie and I had been to Windsor recently but we hadn't felt in a particularly pubby mood, so I was keen to take this opportunity to revisit some of the places we'd been to on my birthday a few years back.
On arrival in Eton I was fascinated to see there were students in uniform - on a Sunday. I think on previous visits we must have been outside of term time or something, and so I hadn't really seen them before. It's rather a smart uniform, not dissimilar to white tie, and interesting from a tailoring point of view. We passed the window of Tom Brown, the Eton tailor, which I'd been reading about recently as they also have a branch near Savile Row.
Anywho, the short study in sartorial matters quickly gave way to the main business of the day, and we headed to our first pub - the Waterman's Arms. It felt a bit shabbier than I remembered it - I had an image of it as a rather charming little olde worlde riverside pub, but they've since added a large dining room where they had a carvery, and somehow it seems to have lost its' charm a bit. It's mostly a locals pub - not necessarily a bad thing - but it seems a separate world from the ancient grandeur of nearby Eton College. Still, Andy seemed to like it, we had lunch there and enjoyed the local beer from the Windsor and Eton brewery. This was definitely the best beer of the day.
From there we headed over the river into Windsor, and went to the Horse and Groom, opposite the entrance to Windsor Castle, which was unsurprisingly full of tourists. We had the same beer as the previous place, which was more expensive and less well kept, which was a bit of a disappointment.
We fit in two further pubs - the Two Brewers and the Royal Oak. The latter of two really wasn't my sort of pub - they had sport on - but it was close to the station and we had time to squeeze in one last beer before my train. I didn't stay particularly late, as it was a Sunday after all, and was back home around 6:30.
- [Saturday 25th February 2012]
We decided it might be nice to go and visit Lewes today. Robin had been fairly recently and had told us it was very nice, and Chie had also heard good things about it from her Japanese friends. It's only an hour or so from Victoria station, which is very convenient for us, so is definitely in the category of "why haven't we been here before?".
On arrival we had some vegetable pakora (you could tell we were near Brighton) and headed over to take a look at the Harveys brewery, and have a lunchtime pint at the brewery tap - the John Harvey. Since developing an interest in whisky I've loved the idea of drinking things at the source, although I can't help wondering in this modern era of logistics if the barrels hadn't actually been transported to a depot in Wolverhampton before being brought back to the pub ten yards away from the brewery. Hopefully the short shelf life of real ale prevents this kind of lunacy from taking place.
From there we wandered through the charming streets of Lewes, enjoying all the characterful old buildings and independent shops, heading in the direction of the castle. We took the tour of the castle, at least partly just so we could enjoy the view from the top, which was all rather nice.
After the obligatory tea-and-a-scone we got back on a train around 5ish and headed back to London.
- [Friday 24th February 2012]
Am writing this two weeks hence and don't remember what I did. Latitude tells me I just went to the office and went home again. I apparently got to the office around 9:15am left the office around 7:15pm. I assume I went along to TGIF for a bit then.
- Monumentous Day
- [Thursday 23rd February 2012]
A monumentous day (in a good way!) although one I'm not going to write about just yet.
- Duke of Wellington and Oliveto
- [Wednesday 22nd February 2012]
Chie wanted to eat pizza tonight. As an aside, there was a time when I was forever badgering other people about going to eat pizza, but in recent months I've noticed it's mostly the other way round. This doesn't mean I've gone off pizza, but I like to think it suggests I've successfully instilled that excitement in other people instead. So now I tend to just wait for someone else to suggest it, then respond as casually as possible "Yea, I suppose we could do that...".
Chie had been at a conference and so finished slightly earlier than she normally would, which meant she arrived at my office by 6. Oliveto doesn't open until 7, meaning we had an hour to kill. I'd proposed going for a nice appetite building stroll around Belgravia, but after a few minutes Chie decided it was a bit too cold so proposed going to a pub instead. Not dissimilar to the pizza related mind manipulation experiment, I suppose. So we wiled away the time until Oliveto opened in the Duke of Wellington, which I think is the nearest pub (I'm obviously excluding the Thomas Cubitt from that category) to Oliveto. They have a sort of open fire in there.
Dinner at Oliveto was excellent as always. In fact I would say Chie even enjoyed it more than usual. Even the side salad was delicious - they have a particularly good salad dressing which we quizzed the manager about as we were leaving. Note to self - must buy a bottle of that balsamic vinegar he mentioned.
- [Tuesday 21st February 2012]
I took the unusual step of going home for lunch today. Had foul medames (from a tin) and some khobez bread, it was rather delicious.
In the evening I was required to go for a drink with some people from work, for a slightly lacklustre celebration of an internal milestone in the project. I wasn't really in the mood for it though, so just had one drink then went home.
- [Monday 20th February 2012]
In a new (and surprising, even to me) escapade to try and flee the mundane reality of everyday existence, this week I was keen to try and find where some of the London Fashion Week crowd might be hanging around. Chie was out with friends for the evening, so on a whim I decided to put on my suit, jump in a taxi, and head for the American Bar at the Savoy, which, being just a few doors down from Somerset House, seemed like the sort of place Stella McCartney and chums might go for a low calorie Martini after a hard day's work.
In the end I didn't actually see anybody from LFW there, and was informed by a member of staff that they were more likely to descend on the Savoy later in the week. I gave up on this ridiculous notion after this evening.
Instead, I was joined by people at the opposite end of the fashion spectrum - exactly the kind of people I am surrounded by on a day-to-day basis, and was trying to escape from: yes, software engineers. I mentioned that I was heading there to Ben, an American colleague of mine who has very good taste when it comes to food and drink (although sadly not so much in the dress sense department). We'd often discussed cocktails at work, he'd recently discovered the delights of a Pink Gin, and I was keen for him to try what I thought was the finest example of the breed at the Savoy.
Unfortunately he proceeded to try and bring with him about seven software engineering types from various parts of North America. Unsurprisingly several of them were turned away at the door (I am glad the Savoy maintains at least some minimal standards of dress code), but three of them did make it through, including Ben.
Still, I attempted to overlook the dearth of sartorial elegance in my new found drinking companions, and instead focused on some cocktail exploration. We were sat at the bar - always the best way at the Savoy - and so were able to talk directly to the chap behind the bar (pleasingly they remembered me from my previous visit). After encouraging my guests to have a couple of the American Bar stalwarts - a Hanky Panky and a Pink Gin, we then spent a while comparing the relative merits of different gins, including of course my current favourite Sacred.
So despite the stark reminder of the difficulty of shaking off the shackles of a career in software engineering, it was overall on some level an enjoyable evening.