Dr John Hawkins
Welcome to my bit of the Maison de Stuff,
home to a huge load of pictures,
and my daily blog.
My email address is as above - I've put it in an image in a vein attempt to reduce the amount of spam I get.
- John's Journal / Blog
- John's Pictures
Main Index (text only)
- John's Travel
- Other Related Sites:
Maison de Stuff
- Recent Entries:
- And the winner is...
Sheep Bleat Menacingly
Lazy Day in Abergavenny
Off to Abergavenny
Chelsea Flower Show
Champagne and Pizza (and lunch with Dad)
Red Wine and Pasta
A Stroll to Regent's Park
Tom and Curry
A Proactive Wednesday
Port Ellen 21 year old 1983 Sherry Cask
Monday Evening at the Society
More Beers with the Young Frenchman
A Night Out with a Young Frenchman
John Goes to the Opera (and hates it!)
May Bank Holiday
Work Night Out
Japan vs Scotland Whisky Tasting
Rob and Kate and Spamalot
- And the winner is...
- [Friday 30th May]
We've been having a two week bug fix offensive at work on my project, which accounts for some of the long hours I've been putting in recently. Just for fun we've been keeping a scoreboard of who has put in the best performance - a scoring system based on number of bugs fixed, priority of those bugs, how well tested the fixes are, and so on.
....and guess who scored highest? Yes, I'm pleased to (somewhat immodestly) report that it was me - out of something like 50 engineers. Yes, apologies for being sickeningly big headed but I really do feel rather proud of myself.
It's slightly ironic because at my previous company they'd done similar things, and I'd actually made a complaint about it at the time, as I didn't think it was a fair way to evaluate software engineers. I suppose the difference at my current employer is that they emphasize the "for fun" part (at my previous company I was convinced this sort of thing factored into annual review scores) and we also recognise a number of "winners" here - not just the total number of bugs fixed, but also the person who has tackled the single hardest bug, the longest standing bug, and so on.
It's quite unlike my usual self, but I'd actually found the competitive spirit really invigorating, and whilst most software engineers will tell you bug fixing is one of the worst parts of the job, I've actually thoroughly enjoyed the last two weeks. It's a great feeling to be able to just "get things done" and have a very clear record of progress as I've gone along, and not be nagged by other people that I'm not working on the right thing, or not getting it done quickly enough.
I am increasingly finding that the more I can attach metrics to things, the better I can manage them - probably the worst situation for me is having a huge and poorly defined task for which it is difficult to know how to proceed, and difficult to know how much you've achieved when you do get anything done. My PhD being a prime example of this of course. This may all sound stupidly obvious to some people, but to me it has been something of an epiphany in recent months.
Anyway, at the end of the day there was the usual end-of-the-week beer and pizza. This evening I stayed there for quite a while - until about 8:30 - chewing the cud with my colleagues.
Back at the flat Chie made a very nice tomato and mozzarella salad, followed by spaghetti for dinner. I then spent the remainder of the evening on the computer, tying up a few work related odds and ends.
- Indiana Jones
- [Thursday 29th May]
So tonight I went to see the new Indiana Jones film with a few people from work, at the Screen on the Hill in Belsize Park.
Well frankly it wasn't that great. I suppose I shouldn't be that surprised. Having spoken to other people who'd seen it before me (and weren't exactly raving about it) I'd gone in with extremely low expectations, and yet still managed to be disappointed. When trotting out a load of well worn clichés there seems to be a fine line between the charmingly nostalgic and the tediously formulaic. In this film Indy didn't just tiptoe around that line, he ran over it, screaming and being chased by a giant rolling boulder.
I noticed that a lot of Indy's lines were things like "You've gotta be kidding" or "I don't believe it!" - I couldn't help but wonder if this was just Harrison Ford ad libbing.
As one of my colleagues put it, rather dryly: "I was very surprised when the temple collapsed at the end of the film". I think this summed it all up very well indeed.
Of course I suppose a large part of the problem is that I've just grown up since the original three films were made, but surely I'm not entirely incapable of suspending my disbelief now? Would it have been entirely impossible to have made a new Indiana Jones film that the original fans would have universally applauded?
After leaving the cinema we went to a nearby tapas place for dinner, and a chance to conduct a postmortem for the film. Unfortunately the Victoria line was doing it usual annoying thing of closing early, and as a couple of us relied on that for getting home we couldn't stay particularly late.
- [Wednesday 28th May]
The previous night there had been a thunderstorm (kaminari in Japanese) and heavy rain. It was so loud it had kept me awake. At around 2AM I'd decided trying to get to sleep was completely futile, so I got up, turned on my computer, and did a couple of hours work instead. This may sound like a bizarre thing to do in the middle of the night, but my rationale was that I might not be able to get to sleep until dawn, and if I'd spent that time usefully working rather than just wasting it pointlessly lying in bed, I could then sleep in the next morning and go to the office late with impunity.
So I got into the office around midday. It seems my tactic of working when I couldn't sleep didn't make much difference after all though - I felt compelled to stay at the office until about 8:30, so ended up putting in my full hours anyway.
Chie made burgers for dinner - vegetarian ones of course - which were well suited to a late supper like snack.
- [Tuesday 27th May]
Back at work today after the bank holiday weekend, although I'm actually quite enjoying it at the moment so this was no great ordeal.
I arrived back home at 8, and dinner was ready and waiting, which was rather nice. Chie had made gnocchi with a cheese and spinach sauce - a recipe I have made a number of times, and which Chie seems to be able to recreate very well.
Not much else to report really - I did a good stint on the exercise bike this evening - for the first time I stretched it out to 20 minutes, covering 9km (5.6 miles) and burning 173.3 calories. The distance bit is quite pleasing, but the calorie count isn't really that impressive when you consider a single packet of crisps would undo all that hard work!
I also ordered a new bottle of whisky this evening - a Port Charlotte - the more heavily peated malt made at Bruichladdich. Hopefully that will arrive in a couple of days time, and I shall attempt to write up some tasting notes when it does. Port Charlotte is actually the name of a closed distillery on Islay, and apparently the folks who run Bruichladdich are currently in the process of reopening it (see here) which is quite exciting. In the meantime they're producing an interpretation of what the old Port Charlotte malt used to be like at Bruichladdich, presumably partly as a means of funding the new project. Good luck to them I say!
- Sheep Bleat Menacingly
- [Monday 26th May]
We had spent the weekend in South Wales with Vera and Robin, and thanks to the bank holiday (plus being brave enough to head down on the Friday evening) we'd had a whole three nights away, which was jolly nice. However I wanted to get back to London in plenty of time today, so we headed back towards the end of the morning.
I'd been worried the trains would be overcrowded and chaotic, but it wasn't actually too bad - we were able to sit down all the way back to London (although we bloody well should have, having reserved seats), and it was even more or less on time. Well, more or less - about 15 minutes late getting into Paddington.
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, after getting back to the flat I braved the rather miserable weather once more to go out and get some shopping. For dinner I made pie and mash with broad beans and a creamy pepper sauce. It was mostly pretty lazy - the pies were out of the freezer and the creamy pepper sauce was out of a packet. However I did go to town on the mash potatoes a bit - I left the skin on, and also mashed in some spinach and cheddar cheese. That was rather nice actually (and went very well with the pepper sauce).
In the evening we watched a superbly daft sheep themed horror film. Yes - Black Sheep - a movie in a genre all of its own. I particularly enjoyed the fine work done by the subtitler, including such classic captions as the one I borrowed to use as the title of this entry. If you've started to think the film industry has just become one continuous tired and repetitive cliché of itself then I heartily urge you to watch this film - whoever said that all the world's stories had already been told was clearly incapable of envisaging the huge mileage to be had from a flock of genetically modified wool bearing livestock embarking on a bloodthirsty rampage. Forget the heavily stylised fight scenes in The Matrix, or even the epic battles of the Lord of the Rings trilogy - no other movie can hope to compete on action sequences after seeing the bit in this film where a sheep wrestles control of a Land Rover, and then drives it over the edge of a cliff. Pure cinematic magic.
- Lazy Day in Abergavenny
- [Sunday 25th May]
As forecast, the weather was pretty awful today, so we mostly just stayed indoors, with the exception of a short walk towards the end of the afternoon in the neighbourhood around Vera and Robin's house.
The lack of any major activity was actually very pleasant though - a chance to just completely relax and spend some quality time with Vera and Robin, away from that constant pressure you have in London that there's all sorts of things going on and you really ought to be doing something.
Weekly New Year's Resolution Status (week 8 already!)
1) Doing stuff in London. Pretty good here - the mini pub crawl in Westminster on Tuesday and the Chelsea Flower Show on Thursday.
2) Meeting up with old friends. Well didn't meet up with any old friends in person, but did pretty well on the family side of things - saw Dad on Wednesday, and Vera and Robin over the weekend (plus my Dad's cousin on Friday night). Did chat to a few old friends by email though - planning for the Radstock reunion this summer is now well under way!
3) Exercise. OK I dropped the ball here this week. My excuse is that I was away for the weekend, and out every night in the week with the exception of Monday and Wednesday, and somehow it slipped my mind on those evenings. Did do a lot of walking on Thursday evening when we went to the Chelsea Flower Show, but it's not really a substitute. Must do better!
- [Saturday 24th May]
Today was forecast to be the only nice day of the whole weekend, so we decided we ought to make something of it. Robin suggested either Bristol or Hay - and Chie and I decided we rather fancied Hay.
We took the scenic route on the way, over the mountains, stopping off at Llanthony Priory for a quick wander around. As Vera said "it was a lovely run".
On arrival at Hay we had lunch at the Swan hotel, and then Chie and I went to have our caricatures done. There's a chap called Roger Pratt (?) a professional cartoonist, who has a little studio in Hay. Not long after Chie and I met we'd been to visit Hay, and he'd done our portraits then as well. We thought it would be nice to have them done again 8 years on for comparison. Unfortunately I hadn't shaved this morning, and so it looks like I'm now stuck with a very stubbly caricature of myself!
After being sketched, we met up with Vera and Robin again for a bit of a browse round the many bookshops for which Hay is famous. I recall on previous visits (the last one being around 8 years ago it would seem) waiting impatiently outside whilst various family members browsed endlessly. Well it seems in the intervening time I had turned into a middle aged man, and on this visit I found the bookshops absolutely fascinating - and it was me making everyone else wait impatiently outside! I found some interesting old books on whisky and pubs, and also bought a lovely old Penguin edition of one of P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves stories.
We then had afternoon tea at a fabulously eccentric place (very Hay-on-Wye) called something like the Mad Cow's Champagne Slaughterhouse. Very "eclectic" decor, and very nice cake.
After a final browse around the bookshops we decided to head back to Abergavenny. A jolly nice day out.
Robin threw together a very eclectic sort of a meal in the evening, with all sorts of interesting vegetable dishes.
I washed it down with some Duchy Originals Ale which I heartily enjoyed - I have yet to find one of Charles' products I do not like. He must be a very busy chap.
- Off to Abergavenny
- [Friday 23rd May]
We'd arranged to go and stay with Vera and Robin for the bank holiday weekend, and so I left work early today to go and get the train - along with half the population of London it seemed. Paddington was quite chaotic, they didn't announce the platform until the last minute, and then there was a huge rush by several hundred people to get to the train. Luckily I had booked a seat - and the train company had actually managed to put the little ticket in the seat for once and no-one else sat in it instead.
I arrived in Abergavenny around 7:30, and then we had a pub dinner with Vera, Robin, and one of my Dad's cousins who I hadn't met before. So that was nice. Chie arrived a bit later on, around 9:30, and shortly after that we headed back to Vera and Robin's house.
- Chelsea Flower Show
- [Thursday 22nd May]
Chie was keen to visit the Chelsea Flower Show this year, so had booked tickets a while back. So after work tonight she came and met my at my office, and we walked from there.
We spent about an hour-and-a-half wandering around the various exhibits. I don't think I'm really qualified to give a deep and insightful commentary of the displays, but we did particularly like the strawberry plants and a Japanese garden which involved lots of moss.
Back at the flat we weren't sure what to cook as we didn't really have much in, but after a bit of rummaging around in the cupboard we found all the necessary bits to make enchiladas. They actually came out surprisingy well.
- Champagne and Pizza (and lunch with Dad)
- [Wednesday 21st May]
Dad was passing through London today, and so fortunately his train times worked out such that he could come to my office for lunch, which was jolly nice.
Probably since finding out that Veuve Cliquot is outright vegetarian, I have recently had an ongoing hankering for champagne. The trouble is, people have a habit of buying a bottle and then "saving it for a special occasion", which never seems to arrive. So today I thought sod it, I'd be extravagant and go and get a bottle of good old VC, and we'd drink it out in the garden for no other reason than we could.
On the way back from work I also picked up a couple of pizzas from our local Pizza Express, which all in all made for a very enjoyable dinner out in the garden. I loved the mixture of the snobby with the slobby - champagne out of plastic cups, and pizza eaten straight out of the box.
- The Speaker
- [Tuesday 20th May]
Yet another colleague was over from the US this week, and as always I took it upon myself to entertain our visitor. On our way to Regent's Park on Sunday we had passed through a part of Westminster which had a couple of interesting pubs - particularly The Speaker, which had caught my eye owing to this fantastic sign in the window:
THIS IS A REAL PUB
We do not have:
A). A Big Screen
C). Fruit Machines
We do have:
LOTS OF ATMOSPHERE
I felt like the management of this fine establishment were speaking directly to me - the list of things they pride themselves on not having is exactly the set of things that spoil a pub for me.
So The Speaker was chosen as the first venue for tonight's introduction-to-British-pubs for our visiting colleague. I was extremely pleased - friendly bar staff, very well kept beer (I had a couple of excellent milds in there), and, like the sign said, it did in fact have atmosphere - without being noisy or overcrowded. It is unfortunately a bit of a trek from the office, but I feel compelled to make visits to this great little pub a regular occurence.
Spurred on by this success, I then took our group on a brief tour of a couple of other pubs in the area that I'd spotted, including the (don't remember the name) and the Royal Oak. Both OK in their own right, but the undisputed gem of the evening was The Speaker.
- Red Wine and Pasta
- [Monday 19th May]
Not much to report. For dinner I fancied a hearty pasta dish and a hearty red wine, and so that's exactly what we had.
- A Stroll to Regent's Park
- [Sunday 18th May]
We decided we should get out and enjoy the relatively pleasant weather today. Chie had heard that the roses at Regent's Park were starting to come into bloom, and so that seemed like a good place to head for. To make it even more interesting we decided we would walk across London to get there.
So we headed out, up through St. James's Park first, over the Mall, past Piccadilly, and then by the time we'd got to around Bond Street decided we ought to have some lunch. We tried out the creperie that had caught Chie's eye a few times. Once we got inside we realised (like most of the restaurants around there) it was really aimed at tourists, who presumably come to London hoping to reaffirm their stereotypes that restaurants in this country provide bland and dissapointing food with poor and unfriendly service. I suppose it wasn't terrible, but I'm not exactly itching to go again.
Our stomachs fortified with an underwhelming repast, we headed out once more in the direction of Regent's Park. On arrival at the park we headed straight for the rose gardens and had a very pleasant stroll around. I'm not normally one who has a particular appreciation for floral displays, but one couldn't help but be impressed by all the vivid colours and fragrances - despite the fact that a number of the roses still haven't come out yet.
We carried on up through Regent's Park from there to our old haunt Primrose Hill (it's where I proposed to Chie, you know) and walked (by this point somewhat wearily I might add) up to the top of the hill to admire the view.
All in all a lovely walk, but you'll be unsurprised to hear we got the bus on the way back!
For dinner we had cauliflower cheese, with a few roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, and a few other assorted vegetables. The cheese sauce was a particular success today - a mixture of cheddar and emental, with a hint of mustard.
Weekly New Year's Resolution status
1) Doing stuff in London. Whisky society om Monday, Royal China yesterday and most of all our walk to Regent's Park today. Pretty good!
2) Seeing old friends. Another big tick here - lunch with Tom on Friday.
3) Exercise. Pretty good here - on Monday I did 10 minutes (4.7km, 84.5cal) on the exercise bike and on Wednesday another 15 minutes (6.8km, 109cal). That's a total of 7.15 miles. I think at some point I set a target of 10 miles a week (although I'm not sure I wrote that down anywhere), so still a bit to go. Although we probably walked about 4 miles today.
- Royal China
- [Saturday 17th May]
Chie went off shopping in the morning (apparently Aquascutum had a sale on or something) but returned home empty handed. We had a very English sort of a lunch at the flat - tomato soup, a cheese board and a "vegetarian pork pie". Spent the afternoon indoors, doing not very much in particular, mainly tinkering about on the computer. I embarked on something of a spam rampage on the 'Maison, and deleted thousands of spam comments from our blogs.
In the evening we headed out to meet one of Chie's colleagues and his wife for dinner. We ummed and arred over the location but eventually settled on our old favourite Royal China. I enjoyed a sort of tofu hot pot which had all sorts of things I like in it - atsuage, yuba and shiitake mushrooms. Right up my street.
- Tom and Curry
- [Friday 16th May]
Tom happened to be working in London this week, and as he had finished all he needed to get done by lunchtime today we arranged for him to come and meet me at my office for lunch. I haven't seen Tom in over a year - since his birthday I think, and even then we hadn't had much of a chance for a good long chat. So it was great today - I wasn't particularly busy so was able to take a good long lunch break, and we stayed in the café for a good long while, chewing the cud, assessing where we were in life, and so on.
It had occurred to us both that this July will be 10 years since we graduated (click here for a handful of embarrassing photos, and we really must do something to mark the occasion.
I am tentatively pencilling in Saturday July 5th as a tentative date.
In the evening, after the usual end-of-the-week-beer-and-pizza event at work, I headed home, and both Chie and I decided we wanted to eat out. So we headed off to a nearby Indian restaurant called Millbank Spice which I'd sort of had recommended to me (well, a guy at work said it wasn't bad). Actually I was quite pleasantly surprised - it was pretty good.
- La Jetée
- [Thursday 15th May]
Watched La Jetée this evening, which had come on the same DVD as Sans Soleil. Not being a huge fan of "art films" I originally wasn't going to bother watching it, but then I read somewhere that it was actually the basis for Twelve Monkeys. Somewhat sceptically I get it the benefit of the doubt, and while I can't particularly profess to having actually liked it, the storyline was certainly very similar to Monkeys. So I suppose that made it, well, interesting.
Not much else to report, I made a red wine stew for dinner.
- A Proactive Wednesday
- [Wednesday 14th May]
Had a very satisfying meeting at the end of the day today - to discuss with a team in another office how we were going to coordinate on a project we'd be working on together. I normally think I don't do very well in meetings, particularly when there are a lot of people I haven't really worked with before, but today I more or less drove the whole thing, and I really felt for once I was actually capable of doing this "tech lead" role I'd been given back in January.
Chie was out shopping when I got back from work, so I decided to make a lasagne for dinner - it's unusual for me to do this midweek as it is rather a lot of effort. While it was cooking I also did 15 minutes on the exercise bike, did some laundry, and tidied up the kitchen a bit. So all in all a very "proactive" sort of a day.
It seems like recently, the last couple of days in particular, I've had something of a burst of energy - my chi is in alignment, or whatever it is you call it. This appears to be something of an "up cycle" - whereas a few weeks ago I was wallowing in a malaise (see here for example, particularly where work was concerned - and I was generally lethargic and disinterested in just about everything. It has occurred to me I am just subject to these ups and downs - I suspect most people are to some extent - and they seemingly have no particular cause or reason.
Following the wisdom I have learnt from work - that most things are easier to manage if you can attach metrics to them - it has occurred to me I can probably make use of this blog to give each day some kind of score, and then in hindsight go back and analyse the highs and lows to try and work out what the root causes are.
- Port Ellen 21 year old 1983 Sherry Cask
- [Tuesday 13th May]
Of all the whiskies I've tried over the past few years, still the one of which I have the fondest memory is almost certainly the Fortnum and Mason Port Ellen (long term readers of the Maison will probably recall that I went on about it rather a lot). Whilst I eeked this bottle out for as long as I could, all good things do of course come to an end, and all I have left now is the label.
So for some time now I had been looking to find a similar bottle. There seemed to be little or no chance of finding exactly the same bottling again - it was a single cask bottling with an outturn of only 305 bottles - but I held out hope I might find a bottling of a Port Ellen with a similar character from another cask.
The Fortnum and Mason Port Ellen had actually been bottled for them by Douglas Laing - part of their Old Malt Cask range. It was a 21 year old, distilled September 1982 and bottled July 2004, and had been matured in a sherry cask. Given that I still had the label I'd even been able to find the Douglas Laing cask reference - number 1282.
Over the weekend I had spent some time scouring the web, and ultimately The Whisky Exchange for something similar. To my delight I'd hit upon a Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask bottling with a similar age (21 years), distilled and bottled roughly around the same time (February 1983 - October 2004), and perhaps most importantly it was matured in a sherry cask as well (this is not all that common for Islay malts). It's one of 435 bottles from DL cask ref 1572.
So I ordered that on Sunday, and it arrived today.
I'm pleased to report it is quite superb - it posesses many of the same fine qualities of that legendary Fortnum and Mason bottling. Here's my attempt at some tasting notes:
The overriding themes are of course strong Islay notes but also a great sherry finish. On the palate it is earthy, really sweet and extremely well rounded. It has an incredible richness that borders on chocolate or perhaps sweet miso paste - bucketfuls of umami - all the while with a fabulous peaty underpinning. Do I detect a hint of fireworks? Leather perhaps? Engine oil? ...but all of these outlying notes are mere nuances - I actually find it quite a mellow and sublime whisky, an absolute pleasure to drink (but certainly by no means uninteresting).
It is also incredibly more-ish - you may be surprised to hear this but actually most whiskies I only want a single dram of - I tend to crave variety and quickly want to move on to try something else instead. This malt though has pretty much everything I want in a malt, and I'm actually loathed to have anything different afterwards.
The tasting notes on the label itself read:
Nose: musty-sweet, barbecue smells, tobacco smoke and leather.
Palate: dry then sweet. Tar flavours with a real peaty kick.
Finish: long and intensely smoky with a charocal aftertaste.
A quick Google search found some other tasting notes for this cask - see here.
- Monday Evening at the Society
- [Monday 12th May]
The SMWS have a new bottling list out, so I was keen to go and pay the member's rooms a visit this evening. Chie came and met me at my office after work, and we had a quick dinner there, before heading off to Farringdon.
From the newest bottling list I tried the 122.15 (a 15 year old Croftengea - the peated malt made at Loch Lomond distillery), a 26.55 (an 8 year old Clynelish) and a 23.59 (a 14 year old Bruichladdich). Chie had a 46.14 (a 15 year old Glenlossie) and the 37.36 (a 15 year old Craggnamore).
- Sans Soleil
- [Sunday 11th May]
Had a fairly quiet day and a deliberate break from any kind of alcohol (although I'd had no hangover to speak of the last couple of days). Spent the morning messing around with the computer, and then in the afternoon we went out to do a spot of shopping. Although we didn't really buy anything - had a late lunch at Ed's Easy Diner and that was about it.
In the evening back at the flat we watched Sans Soleil, a very "arty" film from the 1980s which we'd had recommended to as it has lots of footage of Japan. The Japanese footage was very interesting, but I really couldn't work out what the hell was going on in the narrative of the film itself. Still, I suppose it's OK sometimes to just like the way something looks without actually "getting it".
Weekly New Year's Resolution Update:
1) Doing stuff in London. Pretty good - went to the opera (and hated it!) on Tuesday, plus spent big chunks of the weekend eating and drinking out in town.
2) Seeing old friends. Well no-one this week, but the original goal was twice a month I did do quite well on this front last week.
3) Exercise bike. Now I bet you're expecting to read that I put this off again aren't you? Well no! Remembering that the consultant had told me to just carry on with life as usual - including exercise, I did two short bursts this week. For the stats nerds among you, I did ten minutes in each session (I didn't want to overdo it to start with), the first one I did 4.3km and burnt 86.1 calories, the second I did 4.7km and burnt 94.3 calories.
- More Beers with the Young Frenchman
- [Saturday 10th May]
Somehow towards the end of last night me and my colleague had decided it would be a good idea to meet up for lunch and a few more beers this afternoon. I'm not quite sure how we arrived at that - I think he had nothing in particular to do, and neither did I given that Chie had planned to meet up with some friends.
So we met up at Covent Garden just before 1, as I had a hankering to go my favourite Mexican restaurant - Cafe Pacifico. I had the Quesada Grande which was even better than I remember it - and washed it down with, somewhat to my embarassment, a strawberry daiquiri (as the old saying goes - when in Papalotla de Xicohténcatl, do as the, err, people who live there do).
Following that we had a nice laid back afternoon meandering between pubs with no particular agenda - including the Portherhouse, the Lamb and Flag and finally the Pontefract Castle.
I headed back home in time for dinner, Chie had made an eclectic sort of Japanese meal with rice, miso soup, a Japanese omelette, some home made inari sushi and a few other bits and pieces.
- A Night Out with a Young Frenchman
- [Friday 9th May]
Went along to the usual end-of-the-week beer and pizza, and at the end of it once everyone else had just gone home it was just me and the young French guy who works on my team, both of us with nothing really better to do. Chie was out for the evening at her Hiroshimakenjinkai, and my diminutive Parisian comrade seemed keen to go for another couple of drinks.
So the two of us ventured out from the office. The immediate area around where we work isn't exactly overflowing with great pubs, so we eventually found ourselves wandering all the way into the city centre. Our first stop was The Ship and Shovell, which is becoming a bit of a favourite of mine. It was very lively here, with merrimakers thronging the alley way between the two halves of this nice little pub.
We then decided we were both hungry, and so I hit upon the idea of taking my Gallic friend to have okonomiyaki - not surprisingly his first time to try this less well known of Japanese cuisines. So off we went to Abeno Too, which was jolly nice as always. As always in Japanese restaurants of late I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to practice my Japanese on the staff.
Given that we'd left the office quite late, and spent a fair while walking into the centre, by the time we'd finished dinner it was gone 11. However I was determined not to be beaten by the usual imposed end-of-the-evening due to the fact that (despite the change in the licensing laws) most pubs still close at 11. So we went in search of a pub that was still open, and given that we were right in the centre of London this proved to be actually relatively straightforward. Alas I don't recall the name of the establishment, but it was a perfectly decent normal sort of a pub, and I thoroughly approved.
- [Thursday 8th May]
There are only so many summery drinks one can enjoy out in the open air. Having already had Pimm's and champagne recently, and not being particularly in a gin and tonic sort of mood, I decided tonight to have a go at making sangria.
It was a very rough approximation - basically some red wine, ginger ale, orange juice, ice, a spoonful of sugar and some slices of lime. Sounds a bit odd but it was actually quite nice.
We enjoyed the finished product out in the gardens, which was very pleasant indeed.
For dinner we had some fresh pasta I'd picked up in Waitrose the other day (mushroom ravioli). I'd forgotten how good their fresh pasta is. Lovely.
- John Goes to the Opera (and hates it!)
- [Wednesday 7th May]
Neither Chie nor me had ever been to the opera before, and although I didn't have any specific interest it was one of those things I felt like I ought to do at some point. It just so happened that Chie's boss had got tickets for tonight but wasn't able to make it, so passed the tickets on to me and Chie.
So, we went to see Simon Boccanegra at the Royal Opera House.
...and I absolutely hated it!
I went in with an open mind, but it just completely failed to be engaging - there was no real narrative to speak of, no attempt at characterisation, and I didn't even find the music particularly appealing either. It was just thoroughly tedious. I was desperate to leave from about 10 minutes in, but unfortunately we were on a extremely narrow row with at least 5 people either side and there was no way I could get out.
So I was very grateful when the interval finally arrived. Initially both Chie and I decided to just head back home and not bother hanging around for the second act, but then Chie changed her mind and decided to go back and sit it out. I however was quite resolute, and just headed back home.
- Entertaining Dignitaries
- [Tuesday 6th May]
(oops - owing to a confusion over which day was which, I initially posted the entry about my opera visit here)
The engineering director (I think that is the right title for him) for the project I work on was visiting London this week, and as is often the way the job of planning the evening out fell to me.
It didn't actually require much thought in the end - the weight of opinion in the group seemed to be that we should start off at the pub nearest the office, and then later on there was just the little matter of finding somewhere to have dinner for the few of us that were still left. Having taken this guy to a tapas place last time he was in London, this time I used up my other interesting suggestion for somewhere to eat in the area around the office, and we went to the Lebanese restaurant I'd been to a couple of times before.
- May Bank Holiday
- [Monday 5th May]
A much appreciated day off work today. Chie and I had decided we were going to have a picnic in the gardens of the square where we live.
So the first duty of the day was to get some shopping in. We decided to go to (what I believe to be) the poshest Waitrose in the country - the one in Belgravia. It's the one where the home delivery forms have a space for you to put in the name of your maid or butler. We walked on the way there, and as it was a nice warm day it made for a pleasant walk. I dropped by my office on the way to pick up the charger for my phone, and found my manager was there. Given that he's in American, and this is the first May Bank Holiday he has spent in the UK, I couldn't help but wonder if he just hadn't realised today was a public holiday.
Given that we had shopping bags to carry we got a taxi on the way back from Waitrose, which owing to bank holiday traffic ended up costing ten quid. I felt really quite guilty about this actually and have vowed not to do that sort of thing in future unless it is absolutely necessary.
Anyway, on getting back I knocked together some sandwiches, Chie threw together some Pimm's, and we headed down to the gardens where we spent a very pleasant hour or so picnicking, reading, and enjoying the very pleasant weather.
In the evening I made Indian food for dinner. I'd got Chie one of those tiffin boxes for her birthday, which we'd used for our picnic earlier on, and were keen to milk the novelty as far as possible and use for dinner tonight. Even though we stayed in the flat for dinner, so the tiffin was only really useful for carrying the food from the kitchen to the dining table.
- Chie's Birthday
- [Sunday 4th May]
Today was Chie's birthday. I got up early again this morning and whilst Chie was still dozing I busied myself with wrapping presents, tidying up the flat, and making breakfast. We then had a long drawn out breakfast whilst Chie opened her presents and cards.
In the afternoon we headed over towards Knightsbridge. We went by way of South Kensington, and stopped off en route to visit the V&A. We had a very pleasant wander around there, taking in the room of plaster casts, and the Raphael cartoons, the Japanese room, and the little courtyard garden in the middle.
The main event of the day was afternoon tea - as it was Chie's birthday we decided we ought to push the boat out a bit, and go to the Mandarin Oriental in Knightsbridge - Chie had heard very good things about the afternoon tea there. Luckily they weren't particularly busy today (maybe because it was a three day weekend?) so we were able to wander straight in without a reservation. It's the first time I've been to this hotel, and it is all rather grand inside. Afternoon tea is served in a little room at the back, which looks out over Hyde Park.
It was all rather exquisite - we started with a glass of champagne, and then the food was served on a traditional three tier stand, although they brought the scones separately so they were nice and warm. Everything was done to perfection - Chie raved about the crab sandwiches (which of course I couldn't comment on), and the scones were some of the best I've ever had, served with some extremely good clotted cream and a selection of very flavoursome jams. The teas were very good too - I had a very fragrant vanilla tea, and Chie had a very fruity mango tea which she liked a lot (I wasn't so keen myself...). All in all it was quite fabulous - the food was great, the service was faultless and the setting was very nice too - probably the best afternoon tea I've had in London.
We did end up rather stuffed though, and had to have a good constitutional around Hyde Park to try and walk it off a bit. We walked through the park back to South Kensington, and from there got the bus back to the flat.
We spent the rest of the day having a relaxing time back at the flat - I prepared us a very light Japanese supper (basically just rice, miso soup and a couple of side dishes), which we didn't feel up to eating until almost ten.
So, being as it's Sunday, it's time for the usual Weekly New Year's Resolution Status
1) Doing stuff in London. Bags of it! The whisky tasting on Tuesday, the karaoke on Saturday, and the museum / afternoon tea / park today.
2) Meeting old friends. Another resounding success here - Chie's old work friends plus Andy on Thursday, and then Gav, Leon, Stew et al yesterday.
3) Exercise bike. OK well a bit of a let down here. The consultant said on Monday this week that I should just do everything as normal - including exercise - but still I have been a bit hesitant to get on the bike in case I do myself an injustice. Plus it has been a very busy week satisfying the other two resolutions! Nonetheless, those are starting to sound like excuses, and so next week I must do better - at least some gentle cycling to start off with.
- Smithfields Karaoke
- [Saturday 3rd May]
My friends Gav, Leon and Stew had decided they fancied a trip into London this weekend, and so earlier in the week we'd made plans to meet up, have a spot of lunch, and then spend the afternoon embarrassing ourselves at karaoke.
The plan was to meet up at 12, however unusually for me on a weekend I had a fairly busy morning ahead of that. I was long overdue for a hair cut, and decided I couldn't face seeing my friends (who are always very well turned out) with the shameful mess that was adorning my noggin. So I got up and left the flat just before 9 in search of a place in the local area where I could get a cut. I settled on the second place I came across that was open, having decided against the first place based on it being full of senior citizens. My hair was cut by a very animated Lebanese chap, with whom I got into a somewhat heated debate about politics. It was sad in a way, the conversation started by me asking him if he had voted in the mayoral elections, and it turned out he felt very disenfranchised by politics, and yet at the same time had all sorts of issues (taxes, crime, etc) he was deeply concerned about. Still, he did seem to appreciate the opportunity to get it all off his chest. I got the impression most of the conversations he had in there were of the usual somewhat banal "where are you going on your holidays?" variety, and he seemed to be brimming with gratitude about being able to have a dialogue with some substance for once.
After that I popped back to the flat before then heading into the centre to do some shopping for Chie's birthday, and heading on from there over to Smithfields where we were planning to meet Gav etc.
Gav had recently been to the new Karaoke Box place in Smithfields, and had been rather impressed by it, so that was chosen as the venue for the singing bit. As for lunch, Yukari-san had taken a look around on the web for places to eat nearby and came across Smith's of Smithfield, a sort of gastropub type place, which judging by the other clientèle was targeted very squarely at our sort of demographic. I quite liked it actually - the food was simple but tasty canteen type food - the sort one feels compelled to refer to with a words like "good honest grub" as opposed to anything with any kind of pretention to it, and pleasingly it was also priced accordingly. I had a vegetable and bean stew, and whilst it eventually got a little boring, it was certainly hearty and quite satisfying, and only cost about 5 quid.
It was generally agreed that the chips were very good.
So, after we were all sufficiently fed, we headed on to the main event - the karaoke. The new Karaoke Box place certainly was very swish inside, and quite different to the more authentically grotty one on Frith Street. There were however some technical difficulties - apparently the Japanese songs and English songs are on two different machines and it didn't seem possible to find a room where they could get both machines working. So we ended up with two rooms, which initially seemed a bit of a shame as it split our group up, but I suppose in hindsight this worked out quite well. Chie and Yukari-san didn't have to be bored listening to the rest of us sing English songs they'd never even heard of before, and effectively we were singing two songs at a time - so getting double our money's worth! We all made sure to pop backwards and forwards between the two rooms now and again, and so retained the social aspect of it all.
So that was jolly nice. We had the rooms booked from 3 until 6, but owing to the initial technical difficulties we had about a half hour extension on the end, and by the time we'd entirely finished up it was getting on for 7.
Before they all headed back to Canterbury it was suggested that we should go for one last quick drink and I was given the job of finding us a pub. Smithfields is just a stone's throw from Chancery Lane, and my favourite bit of London for pubs, so this task was one I took on with relish. Being a Saturday Ye Old Mitre was closed, and so we headed over to the Cittie of Yorke, which seemed to go down rather well - the fabulous back bar appeared to be much appreciated by all, to the extent that the one quick drink turned into two, and we were there a good hour and a half.
We said our goodbyes on the tube somewhere or other, Leon, Yukari, Gav and Stew headed off to get the train to Canterbury, and Chie and I headed back to the flat. A smashing day out.
- Quiet Friday
- [Friday 2nd May]
Having been out every night this week so far, tonight I thought I probably could do with a bit of a break, although I did at least go along to the usual end-of-the-week beer and pizza thing at the office for a bit.
Chie was however out for the evening - with some people from her office - so I had a few much needed quiet hours at home by myself, wiling away the time watching telly (mostly recorded episodes of Jeeves and Wooster).
- [Thursday 1st May]
Chie's friend Masako-san (who also used to work at the place Chie used to work at in Maidenhead) was visiting the UK this week, and tonight she was going to be in London to meet her friend Andy. I'd met Andy a couple of times before (a few years back now) and found him to be utterly hilarious, so Chie had managed to get us invited along for the evening as well. Even better a couple of Chie's other former colleagues - Mika-san and Akino-san (plus her boyfriend Tim) had also decided to tag along, so all in all it made for a fun crowd.
As a slight down side the venue chosen for the evening was Belgo Noord in Camden - having been to the sister restaurant in Covent Garden just a few days before (and realised I didn't actually like the food there) it wouldn't have been my first choice, but I suppose anything is better than wandering around fruitlessly trying to find a place that will please everyone (and has a table for 8 without a booking). It wasn't too bad in the end - I decided to just stick to beer and chips and not order one of the disappointing and overpriced mains at all. Although I later realised this was a bit stupid, as we just split the bill up equally and I ended up paying the same amount anyway. Ho, hum.
Still, quibbles about the food aside, the company was very pleasant indeed, Andy was highly entertaining as always, and it was a nice night out.
- Work Night Out
- [Wednesday 30th April]
For no particular reason other than getting to know each other a bit better, it had been proposed that several of the teams who work in the same bit of my office should go out for a few drinks together. I was pleased to see that my team in particular showed particular enthusiasm for this, and a number of us went along. We even managed to avoid talking about work for fairly large chunks of the evening.
After a while my stomach was starting to rumble, and I'm no longer that keen on the bad habit of drinking on an empty stomach. So I managed to persuade some of my team members to go and have some tapas, which was nice.
Other than that not much to report, but this seems like a promising sign that people at work are becoming a bit more sociable.
- Japan vs Scotland Whisky Tasting
- [Tuesday 29th April]
Over at the Nonjatta blog, fellow Japanese whisky enthusiast Chris Bunting had posted an article about a "Japan vs Scotland" whisky tasting being held in London today. Luckily I had noticed it just in time to mail the organiser - a chap called Eddie Ludlow from a company called The Whisky Lounge - and reserved myself a place.
The tasting was held at The Hide Bar in Bermondsey, in a room at the back where they apparently hold all sorts of different tastings - from wine to absinthe. Tonight though the focus was entirely on whisky, and it took the format of a "blind" tasting of three Scottish and three Japanese malts. I've never really been to a tasting like this before - previous tastings I've been to have been much less structured - basically there are a few malts to try and then you're pretty much left up to your own devices. This one however was very much a group activity, we all sampled each malt in turn, Eddie did a bit of a presentation about each one, and then we were encouraged to collectively discuss and rate each of them. I attempted to take the whole thing rather seriously, even taking notes as I went along. For prosperity I shall recount my notes here.
1) Colour: pale gold. Nose: pear drops, vanilla sponge, icing sugar. Palate: salt, umami, anko, hint of spice. Finish: gentle, wall balanced. Score: 7/10. I think I correctly guessed this was Japanese, although had no idea what distillery - it turned out to be Hakushu.
2) Colour: slightly darker than the previous one, slight reddish tinge. Nose: raisins(?) bourbon notes. Palate: bubblegum, konnyaku, yuba. Finish: hint of spice. Score: 6.5/10. Whilst I guessed this was Scottish, I had no idea of the distillery, and was very surprised to find out it was Old Pulteney - particularly a surprise as I had given it quite a low score, and had previously thought I quite liked this malt.
3) Colour: more sherried than the previous one. Nose: sherry, varnish (?), very woody notes. Palate: pot pourri, tiny hint of liquorice, Unicum (?), spice, pepper, Shaoshing. Score: 7/10. When it came to guessing which country, I got this completely wrong, thinking it was a Scottish malt. It was in fact a Yoichi 15 year old.
4) Colour: yellowish gold. Nose: PEAT! Heather, hint of smoke. Palate: copper, chewy, umami (beef and onion crisps!). Score: 8/10. No surprises here - this was obviously an Ardbeg - in particular the 1990 Airigh nam Beist.
5) Colour: dark gold. Nose: fruit cake, sherry, black cherries. Palate: gutsy, bran flakes? Score: 7.5/10. Having cheated and seen the line-up before coming along I already knew there was a Dalmore on the list, and guessed that this was it. Specifically it was a Dalmore King Alexander III.
6) Colour dark gold. Nose: fruit, caramel, bananas(?). Palate: orange peel, burnt sugar, molasses, spice, stewed apples, nutmeg. Score: 8/10. Again, having seen the line-up I knew that there was a Karuizawa 1971 on there, so I can't pretend I guessed the distillery, but was at least able to pick it out from the other six. I've only had Karuizawa a couple of times before, but all the examples I've tried have tended to be very dark and there's been a consistent molasses theme there.
Obviously everyone else gave slightly different scores, and I'm not sure that an outright winner was declared, but the two which generally seemed to cause most excitement were the Ardbeg and the Karuizawa. I suppose it's hard to fairly compare like for like - the Ardbeg obviously stood out as the only heavily peated malt there, and Islay lovers like me would always tend to err on the side of rating that above all the others. The Karuizawa was clearly something very special - I don't think I've ever had a Japanese malt at that kind of age before - but it certainly wasn't something I would want more than one glass of in an evening (and not just because of the price!).
It was a very mixed crowd, from some people who are not particularly regular whisky drinkers and just wandered along on a whim, through long term Scotch fans who had never really tried Japanese malts before, to all round experts like the famous Sukhinder Singh, proprietor of The Whisky Exchange. Actually meeting Sukhinder was something of a highlight of the evening for me - we had a brief chat towards the end. I'd seen his name crop up in a number of articles on whisky, and I believe he was a friend of the late great Michael Jackson.
It was a bit of a shame that there were no Japanese people attending - I'd hoped I might get a chance to practice a bit of the old Nihongo. In fact with the exception of Eddie and Sukhinder I got the impression most of the attendees were newcomers to Japanese malts, and of the few people I asked it seems no-one had been to visit any Japanese distilleries. Still, I suppose that was part of the point of the event - in a sense there would be no point preaching to the converted!
Anyway, it made for a very interesting evening.
- [Monday 28th April]
I left work "early" today (just after 5) so I could pop along to the hospital for a consultation about my hernia. The consultant looked over the results of the scan, got me to cough a few times, prodded by stomach a bit, and then we sat down for a chat. Like the chap who had done the scan, and my GP before that, he thought there probably was a small hernia there, but didn't think it was at all serious for the time being. He actually said my recent discomfort could be down to some kind of muscle strain instead (so the hernia may have been like that for some time, unnoticed), and his advice was to just wait and see - basically to give it a few weeks and see if it got any worse. In the meantime I should just carry on with life as normal.
So I guess that was good in a way, although I was left a little bit confused. On the one hand I'd been told it wouldn't get better by itself, whilst on the other hand I'd been told to just ignore it for the time being... but obviously he was the expert and I certainly wasn't desperate to have an operation ASAP if his advice was to the contrary.
There was some indecision over dinner this evening. When I was growing up, to make life easier Mum would often assign particular meals to days of the week, and so if we had Chinese food it always tended to be on a Monday. Presumably because of this, still to this day I often find myself fancying Chinese food on a Monday.
We both felt too lazy to cook so we did the usual perusal of the myriad of takeaway menus that get shoved through our letter box (competition locally is fierce, it seems), but nothing really grabbed me. So instead I decided we ought to eat out, and try out one of the Chinese restaurants we'd spotted near where we live.
There are two of these next door to each other (in an area where there are no other Chinese restaurants for miles around - go figure). The first didn't have a particularly inspiring menu, but the second - Kym's - had, to my surprise, a really extensive and interesting vegetarian section on the menu. I'm not sure why I'd never noticed that before.
So we hurried in and enjoyed a really interesting and varied vegetarian feast, mostly of "mock meats" of which I am actually quite fond. This commenced with mock vegetarian duck pancakes, and then we followed with a mock beef sizzling platter, some mock battered prawns with sweet and sour sauce, and a tofu and vegetable in black bean sauce noodle dish. All very good indeed, and accompanied with a warm bottle Shaoshing (good god there seems to be no wikipedia page for that!) - that Chinese rice wine that tastes a bit like Marmite.
I was very impressed, and it certainly cheered up an otherwise rather dreary Monday.
- Lazy Sunday
- [Sunday 27th April]
Rob and Kate were hung around at the flat until around lunchtime, allowing us to continue our chat from the previous evening, which inevitably it seems ended up on the subject of house prices etc. It seems nigh on impossible to engage in any conversation of late which doesn't wind up in that area.
Anyway, we said our goodbyes some time around 1. Chie spent the afternoon and early evening visiting friends in Maidenhead, so I had some time to myself which I wiled away with the usual brainless mixture of TV and fairly aimless tinkering on the computer.
Chie came back from Maidenhead in time for supper, and we had some Marks and Spencer lazy roast potatoes which I had bought yesterday on a whim. I am slightly embarassed to admit they were very nice indeed.
So, as it is the end of another week, here's the usual New Year's Resolution status summary:
1) Doing stuff in London - very good - Spamalot, plus the two nights out with people from work in the week.
2) Seeing old friends - a big tick in this box too thanks to yesterday's Spamalot excurison with Rob and Kate.
3) Exercise bike. Not so good here - still temporarily on hold whilst I await advice from the consultant on my hernia (will be going for a consultation tomorrow).
- Rob and Kate and Spamalot
- [Saturday 26th April]
Some time ago it had occurred to me how great it would be to go and see Spamalot again, but this time with my good friend and fellow Monty Python OQD* sufferer Dr. Robert Iain William Ecky Ecky Ecky Furtang Furtang Olé Biscuit Barrel Lang and his lovely wife Kate. As always with these things it took a while to arrange - it was a couple of months before I even got around to bringing the subject up with Rob, and then we had to find a date that was mutually acceptable with our busy social calendars etc. Anyway, all that planning finally came to fruition, and today was the day.
Rob and Kate came to our flat first for a quick spot of lunch, and a very brief but nonetheless extremely pleasant glass of Pimm's in the garden - the first of the season! We then jumped on the number 24 bus which took us into the West end. It's a jolly nice run.
So, Spamalot. I definitely enjoyed it a lot more second time round - quite a lot of the cast had changed since the previous time, including the addition of the bloke who used to play Jim Robinson in Neighbours as King Arthur, which was wonderfully surreal all by itself. I got the impression this cast hadn't been doing it for quite as long as the previous bunch, and they seemed to be enjoying it a lot more. It was of course also great to have a fellow Python nerd there with me, and I found Rob's frequent outbursts of laughter quite infectious (and wonderfully reminiscent of attending lectures together at university).
I suppose it was also helped by having had a couple of drinks first - the Pimm's before we left, and then a couple of fabulously overpriced theatre drinks during the performance - I hadn't realised last time that you could actually take drinks from the bar into the theatre.
After the show we headed over for a post-show drink at the Lamb and Flag, where we also met up with Chie (who hadn't been keen on the idea of seeing Spamalot for a second time). We then headed over to Yoshino for some sushi, before then heading back to the flat where the four of us wiled away the rest of the evening chatting over a few more glasses of Pimm's.
All round a thoroughly lovely day out.
* Obsessive Quoting Disorder.
- Entertaining Again
- [Friday 25th April]
Following last night's none too successful attempt to entertain our visiting colleague I decided tonight I should give it another go. On a previous visit he'd made to London I'd tried to take him along to the whisky society, as he'd confessed to being something of a Scotch fan. Unfortunately on that occasion it had been closed for refurbishment so we never made it. Thus the plan for this evening was a simple one - to go back there and try again - but on the way we'd need to find somewhere to have dinner.
This did initially cause some concern, but thankfully we were a much smaller group than the previous day (just the three of us), and I decided just to head over to Holborn and take my chances. High Holborn itself is a bit barren in terms of eateries, but having been tipped off about a Chinese place (or something like that) on Red Lion Street I thought I'd take an exploratory wander down there... and so I stumbled upon Edokko a little Japanese restaurant that turned out to be a surprise hit. Perhaps best of all for me was that the staff spoke to me entirely in Japanese - I asked for a table for three in Japanese, and at the point where restaurant staff would normally revert to English, they just continued on in Japanese as though there was nothing out of the ordinary. It was a little on the dear side I suppose - the other two guys had the assorted sashimi set which was somewhere in the region of £25, but I suppose that's just what you have to pay for authenticity.
After that we hastened on to the whisky society, where we enjoyed a selection of fine drams in the pleasant surrounds of the members' rooms. I'd like to think this went down rather well with my guests for the evening.
- Belgian Beer
- [Thursday 24th April]
One of my colleagues from the US was visiting our office this week, so as is the custom we had a bit of a team outing in the evening. This sort of events can often be a cause of frustration - it's very hard to get any kind of exact numbers of how many people are coming and to get those people to actually agree on a time, so you often can't book a table, and it is fiendishly hard to find anywhere in central London that you can just turn up at with 10 people and expect to be seated. Our visitor was a particular fan of Belgo Centraal - the Belgian restaurant near Covent Garden. Unfortunately it appears so are about half a million other visitors. It was getting on for 10 by the time we actually got a table (having waited round the corner at the Porter House for a bit), and clearly it was getting near the end of a long night for the staff, as they got most of our orders wrong.
Although I've been to Belgo a few times now, it has only really just occurred to me that I don't really like the food there very much - the vegetarian options always seem very much like an after thought. Maybe I'll just stick to beer and frites next time.
When we're over visiting out colleagues in the US it always seems so effortless for them to find a good place to eat which I find quite frustrating, when by comparison we're right in the centre of a big city with thousands of places to eat, and I always find myself either struggling to think of anywhere, or not being able to get in anywhere half decent. Oh well.