Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Touching Base #2

Lately, I've been a bit rubbish at sitting down, uploading my pictures and thinking of ideas for posts. As we've segued from summer into autumn my job hunt has become increasingly panicky, with interviews to prepare for and applications to write every day, so I've been pretty boring and housebound as a result. When I haven't been trawling the Internet for vacancies, things have been a bit happier. Here's what I've been up to this week. 

Warming my friends' new house - well, flat - at the weekend. It was so lovely to see friends from uni, meet new people and get a little bit silly on champagne that I'd been saving for such an occasion. 

Retiring my summer dresses, sandals and shorts! They're all packed away in a recess of my wardrobe until next May. Hello thick knitted jumpers and ankle boots - I've missed you.

Clicking on Miho's Lake Como posts on her blog, Wander to Wonder. I've been looking forward to every instalment of Miho's holiday, which has been transporting me to dreamy Italian shores dotted with incredible pizza, gelato fantasies and the most beautiful mountains. For more food and travel loveliness, follow the beautiful Miho on her blog, Twitter and Instagram.

Wandering through London Fields' beautiful field of wildflowers to reach Broadway Market (my next post!)

Making endless starter for my mum's sourdough loaves, and baking a couple of my own. The trick to a good rise seems to be to put the dough in a sealable container, like a Dutch oven - we've been using a deep Le Creuset casserole dish. 

Reading Howard Jacobson's Jshortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. While I couldn't put it down, I also felt that I didn't 100% understand the plot. In other book news, I'm super excited for Sophie Kinsella's next Shopaholic installment, out next Thursday. I was going to put it on my Christmas wishlist, but I'm not sure I can wait...

Craving Malaysian food and trying out C&R in Westbourne Grove. They had a good iced Milo, but sadly their nasi lemak wasn't up to scratch, and my dining guest reported that the asam laksa wasn't so hot either. Any Malaysians who know of a good place to get a fix in London, please let me know - I'm longing for pulut hitam, cendol, kuih...

Staying up late with Alex, feasting on sushi and chicken katsu curry from Hana, a fantastic Japanese takeaway near my house, and catching up on GBBO. Seriously heaven.

Listening to Alt-J's new album, This Is All Yours. It's streaming free on Spotify prior to its release next Monday - yay!

Drinking cups and cups of my favourite green tea, Yamamotoyama Premium. You can get it at most Asian supermarkets and it's quality stuff, turning the water a vibrant green rather than the more disappointing supermarket brands that produce a brownish, bitter tea. 

Watching movies that make me rethink what's important in life: Totoro (for about the fifth time), one of the best animated films ever, prioritising childhood innocence and imagination, and Richard Attenborough's incredible Gandhi. 

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Shoryu Ramen

So. This may not come as a huge surprise given that I am of Asian stock. But here goes anyway: I am a COMPLETE noodles fiend. One of my first childhood memories involves learning to use chopsticks. (I know, stereotype alert). I have fond memories of big bowls of soupy silver needle noodles (lo shi fun) and plates piled high with flat rice noodles (char kway teow and hor fun) in Malaysia, my mum making fried vermicelli (mee hoon goreng) for us at home in London, and sitting in train stations gobbling down tempura-studded udon and soba in Japan. Meanwhile, I basically subsisted on ramen for the duration of my university years. I have a particular knee-melting weakness for Japanese bone broth ramen, and over the past year and half I've made many a slurpy pilgrimage to the wonderful Bone Daddies in Soho.

A has been extremely busy these past few months, but I finally dragged him away from Sibelius one evening, meeting him after work at Soho Theatre and hightailing it to Shoryu Ramen's Soho branch just around the corner from Piccadilly Circus tube station. Because noodle dates are the best dates. Basically, anything involving noodles is the best anything. If someone would be kind enough to open a dinosaur-themed restaurant that served kick-ass noodles, I'd pretty much be set for life.

But I digress. Shoryu don't take bookings (story of my life in Soho...) but since it was fairly late at night, we were shown straight to a table by a bandanna-festooned waitress.

Although we didn't order a lot, I was pleased by the fare at Shoryu. We kicked things off with a beautifully presented cucumber salad. I'd expected a small bowl of haphazardly thrown together cucumber and sesame seeds, but what we received was a row of upright jewel-like slices, sesame seeds and chilli flakes scattered over the top. Beautiful - and spicy.

We sipped tea poured from sweet little pots while we waited for our mains. Freshly cut lemongrass for me, green for him. Lemongrass tea always puts me in a super chilled mood - it reminds me of the East because I always order it when I go to the wonderful spas on holiday there.

I was most looking forward to trying the eponymous ramen, especially the tonkotsu (pork bone broth). I went for the Kotteri tonkotsu - extra rich, thick broth - and it was delicious. Beautifully seasoned slices of barbecue pork on top were unsettlingly cold to start with, but this was quickly forgotten as they warmed up in the hot soup. Seaweed and soft-boiled egg were a real treat, bringing some much-needed texture to the dish.

Alexander, spice maestro extraordinaire, chose the Karaka Tantan tonkotsu - spicy fried minced pork in white miso with extra garlic and chilli oil. His report was that it was spiced at just the right level (which probably means it was verging on the extra spicy for those of us who don't eat chilli with everything...)

I found that I was missing the corn and miso butter that features in my favourite Bone Daddies ramen, but Shoryu does seem more authentic and I loved my experience there. I would absolutely go back, especially given that they have three branches around central London. Hooray for noodles storming the London scene; I'll never be far from a fix now. I'm keen to explore this more, so if you've been to a particularly wonderful noodle place, please let this addict know so she can try it for herself!

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Saturday With My Parents

Upon leaving for university, it slowly dawned on my sister and I that my parents had regained a new lease of life. We'd call home expecting to hear the comforting words that we were much missed, only to be regaled with tales of visits to exciting restaurants such as The Waterside Inn or The Fat Duck, or luxurious travels to the countryside or abroad. In short, when we left home, my parents were free. They probably did a dance for joy.

I ruined the party a bit by moving home after graduating. That said, it's great that these days my parents' lives do not revolve solely around bringing up daughters: instrumental practice, A-Levels revision and extra-curriculars no longer feature as salient points of dinner time conversation. Happily for all parties concerned, my parents have quite a different agenda nowadays.

A little while ago I accompanied them on the usual Saturday drive down to Borough Market with them (sorry that the market features on here so often - we genuinely go every weekend...) and realised that I'd tagged along on Mama and Papa Lim's Saturday. That is, a purely parent-pleasing outing that they must have honed over the past four years with no children about. Having brought my trusty Canon out with me, I thought it'd be nice to document what they like to get up to on these leisurely days off.

They start their Saturday morning, obviously, at Borough Market.

They make a beeline straight for Justin Gellatly's Bread Ahead stall, where they stock up on loaves for the week, hazelnut brownies (Dad's fave) and numerous flavoured crème pâtissière-stuffed doughnuts. The current favourite? Sage and apple, with a little sage leaf sticking out of the top of the doughnut - an excellent flavour combo, and perfect for autumn.

My mum likes to head deeper into the market and pick up a salt-beef sandwich for lunch at this point (can't remember the name of the trader, but it's opposite the Turnips fruit and veg area on Middle Road!), while my father usually opts for a roasted meat sandwich from Roast, or fish and chips from Fish.

After lunch, it's time to hunt for fruit and vegetables - my mum's favourite pastime.

Depending where the fancy takes them, they'll also go in search of tasty ingredients to last them through the week - for example, cassoulet from Le Marché du Quartier.

Or olives and tuna from Brindisa, purveyor of all things Spanish.

Usually their next stop would be Redchurch Street in Shoreditch, to allow a little potter around their favourite food shop and perhaps tea in a little café off Arnold Circus (a.k.a. the oldest and most beautiful council housing in the entirety of London), but this Saturday the owners of the food shop were on holiday. One for next time.

After a cup of coffee, our next station on this journey is Lamb's Conduit Street in Bloomsbury. 

Here, my parents like to browse their favourite clothes shops (Oliver Spencer and Folk) and pick up an item or three, something they never used to do when we were kids.

There's a sweet little waiting area in Folk for partners and skint daughters to kick back with a copy of National Geographic. The curtains of the changing room, meanwhile, are decorated with super cute little embroidered men and women (featured at the top of this post). Rather reminiscent of my parents in fact...

So that's a little insight into a typical Saturday with the folks. Hopefully, I'll have perfected as pleasant a routine once I've reached the comfort of middle age!

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Saturday, September 6, 2014

Books In Brief: Chapter One

So many books, so little time. To be honest, I'm a pretty rubbish book blogger. When I read something that really grips me - for better or worse - my intention is always to write about it on my literary blog, Lignin and Petrichor. In the last few months, though, I've been doing work experience at several different publishing houses, and my mind and room have been so saturated with great books that I've found it difficult to pin one down to do a full review on. I'm remedying this by starting a series where I can quickly comment on my latest reads! I mentioned that I read lots of books in my post on my August faves: here's what I thought of some of them.

Life After Life / Kate Atkinson (Black Swan, 2013)

By far the best ebook I've downloaded for my Kindle thus far. Ursula Todd cannot stop being reborn. Darkness falls repeatedly, only for her to be reincarnated into the same life, born on an unusually snowy day. In each life Ursula attempts to avoid the traumas that have led to death in the last, from accidents to disease to bombs during the Blitz. What I loved here is that we must infer that tiny decisions taken in childhood impact one's life greatly; hundreds of different fates play out for Ursula in this book. Seriously gripping, and by very dint of its nature, a book where the reader is allowed to decide which ending they prefer. 

The Garden of Evening Mists / Tan Twan Eng (Canongate, 2012)

This book revolves around the aftermath of the Japanese occupation of South-East Asia during WWII. Its protagonist, a bright Cambridge graduate, filled with hatred and vengeance after her internment in a Japanese camp in the depths of the Malaysian jungle, unexpectedly finds herself apprenticed to the gardener of the Japanese emperor. Here she attempts to pursue atonement and happiness after the death of her sister, but in the climate of the Emergency, a guerrilla war fought between Communist insurgents and the Commonwealth army, peace will not be found so easily. Marked by Tan's beautifully poetic prose, this was an especially intriguing read for me since most of my family hail from Malaysia, with three of my grandparents having personally experienced the occupation during WWII. 

I Am Pilgrim / Terry Hayes (Corgi, 2013)

This one's a definite holiday read (hence its well-loved, dog-eared appearance!) It was a happy coincidence that it was set partly in Bodrum, where I was on holiday last month. It revolves around the titular figure of Pilgrim, a frighteningly capable ex-secret agent, sent back into the field to halt the progress of a jihadist with a horrifying plan. Especially exciting in this 600-page novel was the fact that we are allowed to see the life events that shaped the jihadist's fate, making him a three-dimensional, human character rather than the stereotypical baddie driven purely by evil. Hayes also weaves a whodunnit sub-plot through the novel, resolving the case but leaving the criminal unapprehended, and therefore the door wide open for a sequel. A bit of a brick to take in your suitcase (perhaps better suited in Kindle form) but a fantastic read.

Smiler's Fair / Rebecca Levene (Hodder, 2014)

Published this summer, this is one for the high fantasy lovers. Levene lays the foundations for her trilogy in this first novel, building a magical yet recognisably human universe; a forbidding land of mountain ranges, icy wasteland and desert, with insidious 'worm men' inhabiting its caves and underground passages. A sprawling travelling fair winds its way through this landscape, home to an unsavoury crowd of moneygrabbers, prostitutes and murderers. The moon, killed off by the goddess of the sun, has been reborn in the form of the king's son, and in a typically Oedipal fashion, has been sentenced to death by his father. The sacrifice of his mother leads to the son being spirited away to one of the mountain tribes, but he cannot escape, nor understand, his fate. There are elements here that I recognise from other well-established fantasy universes such as A Song of Ice and Fire, yet Levene's world is also highly original, with deities and rune-based sorcery at work. I'm already excited for the next book, which Levene has promised me (via Twitter!) is on its way.

The Secret Place / Tana French (Hodder, 2014)

Here's a murder mystery with an edge: the suspects are all sixteen year old girls, from a private school. But girls can be very cruel. Especially at a private school like St. Kilda's - I would know! And so the premise immediately had me hooked. A boy from the neighbouring school has been brutally murdered, his skull smashed in on St. Kilda's property, the case never closed. One year later, an enigmatic message is pinned up on Kilda's honesty board - a picture of the dead boy, and the words I know who killed him. Detective Stephen Moran immediately seizes on this as his chance to finally win a place on the vaunted Murder Squad, and alongside reluctant partner Detective Antoinette Conway, the case is re-opened. We are presented with two temporal threads here: one, the two detectives solving the case in the present day, and two, the events leading up to the murder and after, meaning that we unravel the case at roughly the same time as the police. I have to admit that I worked out the murderer before their name is revealed, but nevertheless, I was enthralled by this novel. French has the tangled pysche of the public schoolgirl down pat, and I would love to read more of her novels. I've only just found out that this is the fifth book in French's Dublin Murder Squad series, from which you can surmise that The Secret Place functions perfectly well as a standalone. 

Red Rising / Pierce Brown (Hodder, 2014)

Like Smiler's Fair and The Secret Place, this book was kindly given to me as a gift after I did work experience for Hodder in July. I felt it ticked all the boxes in terms of dystopian fantasy: this book is honestly like The Hunger Games meets Wool meets Ender's Game. Darrow, a 'Red' at the bottom of the social pecking order, learns that his world is a lie. Resolving to bring down the 'Golds' - the god-like rulers of the terraformed Mars - he must first himself become a Gold, and infilitrate their military school, while trying to avoid getting killed along the way. This was a vey enjoyable read, and while I'll definitely read the next installment in the series, I feel that I'm beginning to get a bit bored of the teen dystopian genre in a market saturated with Katniss Everdeen, Divergent, Matched, The Maze Runner and so on. And yet I continue to buy and read them...

The Girl With All The Gifts / M.R. Carey (Orbit, 2014)

I got a bit obsessed with zombies last year, reading the entirety of the Walking Dead graphic novels and compulsively flipping through Max Brooks' World War Z as well as Isaac Marion's Warm Bodies. Suffice to say that I had some horrific nightmares around that time. The Girl With All The Gifts was naturally on my radar, though I decided to wait until after finals to allow myself to read it to avoid potential zombie dreams during revision. Carey takes a typical post-apocalyptic zombie narrative and swivels it around so we're seeing things from the point of view of a high-functioning undead child with a love for Classical mythology. Not your average horror novel. The zombie infection is also fascinatingly brought on by a fungus similar to Cordyceps, which, as you might know from watching nature programmes, is a parasite which takes over insect bodies and minds, forcing them to climb as high as possible, where they eventually die. After some time the fungus explodes out of the creature's head, spores fluttering to the forest floor to infect more unsuspecting insects. The concept here is the same, but with humans: utterly engrossing. You can read my full review of the book here.

Have you read any of these, and if so, what did you think? Any recommendations for what I should read this autumn? I'm thinking of joining a book club, but worry that my attention span might be too short to concentrate on one book at a time!

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014


It might seem like all I do in life is munch on pizza and burgers. And that's because I do. They're damn tasty. This time last week, I had a fairly good excuse for a fast-food outing, which was Mr. Hyde's National Burger Day. I'd been hungrily eyeing up all the restaurants participating in Mr. Hyde's 20% discounts for days, and when Wednesday finally came, I dragged Alex along to Lebanese export BRGR.CO on Wardour Street. Brace yourself for grainy iPhone pictures of delicious meat 'n' buns!

I won't lie, it was pretty hard to look another burger in the face with Honest Burgers and all their rosemary-flavoured, salty deliciousness still fresh in my mind. But I was willing to give BRGR.CO a chance all the same.

We ordered drinks to start. I'd just come from a leaving do at work experience where the wine had been flowing plentifully, so decided to add to the slight haze by ordering a G&T. A, meanwhile, stayed nice and sober with a homemade lemonade.

The concept here is that you construct your own personal burger, starting by choosing the weight and grade of meat you want, and then picking all the extra frills you want with it. This means that if you're not a toppings fan, you can buy a plain burger here for a paltry £4.95. Both Alex and I selected the 6oz 'Tender Blend' at £7.95 and chose various cheeses to go on top (Gruyère for him, Danish blue for me). 

You also quite literally build your burger. Here's mine pre-vegetables...

...and post-vegetables! Definitely needed to cut through the meat and cheese.

We also picked special chips to go with our burgers - flamin' chilli fries accompanied by chilli con carne and paprika for the heat lover, and parmesan truffle fries for me. I can never resist truffle oil, even if it is a mere shadow of the real thing...

I'm a fan of the presentation on paper with a tray - it encourages the diner to abandon any pretence that they're on an elegant, restrained outing with friends or a date, and just get totally messy.

The burgers were delicious enough to completely polish off, but Alex and I did agree that they were too moist - Alex's one subsided into a pool that he had to finish off with his knife and fork (a travesty!) and mine insisted on dripping down my wrist. The other problem was that service was pretty slow, but once the manager realised that we were waiting to pay the bill, he came over and served us himself. 

Plumbing and delay issues aside, the burgers were very tasty and discounted, and so I'd probably return to BRGR.CO next time I'm craving a burger in Soho. Although Honest Burgers is in the same neck of the woods. As is Burger & Lobster. And a nice cheap Byron. Hmmm... First world burger problems, anyone?

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