Archive for September, 2006

Yesterday, I went with four friends to dinner at this divey Indian place on Brick Lane whose claim to fame is decent food (pretty good by Brick Lane standards, anyway) but which I love because it’s decorated with what must be the weirdest murals in London.

Most of the murals look like they’re painted by a Dungeons & Dragons porn afficionado – the scenes are all variations on the theme of scantily-clad women looking orgasmic. In the middle of the room is a large mural of Princess Di, with slightly Indian features, wearing a beatific smile. Clearly, nobody should miss this place, Cafe Bengal, 128 Brick Lane, E1 6RU.

I should have brought my camera, but of course Jon has it with him to take pictures of *real* Indian sights. Here’s a photo of the restaurant that I just found on-line that sort of shows the murals I’m talking about.It took us forever to get served (why is it on Saturday nights, restaurants in London never seem to have more than two servers for a room of 100?), but the food was cheap and good. For example, lamb rogan josht for £7 was tender and simmered in a sauce made with fresh tomatoes. Dishes here are better than they have to be for Brick Lane, which is like an Indian restaurant Disneyworld.  You have this sense that nothing on Brick Lane can be authentic given its popularity among roving bands of birthday, bachelor and bachelorette party celebrators.  All those touts lining the street trying to convince you to try different restaurants by offering “deals” on alcohol don’t help Brick Lane’s image for cheap, careless food.

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How strange to be at work and draw blank stares when I mentioned today is the start of Rosh Hashanah. I mean, always in the past, at least people recognized that it was a big holiday. On the tube, I picked up a copy of the Metro, the free newspaper, and there was an article saying that in the UK, there are about 300,000 Jews. Seems like a small number when you consider the UK population is 60 million.

Anyway, Jon and I were invited to dinner by his distant cousins who have three kids our age – Sam, Dani and Jamie. We got off at Golders Green tube station (where else?) and then of course Jon didn’t know where the house was. So we ended up knocking on different doors in the neighborhood asking people if they knew where “the Cohens” lived, which of course was not helpful in the most Jewish neighborhood in London. But we found the house after I realized I still had Dani’s phone number in my mobile. Lucky break for Jon, because I was definitely annoyed when we were ringing those doorbells looking for the house.

Dinner with the cousins was fun. In a full-circle kind of moment, Dani (unprompted by me, I swear! Hasselhoff zeitgeist.) mentioned that she came close to going to a Waterstone’s bookstore to see David Hasselhoff sign copies of his autobiography. Autobiography? Of course I had to look it up on Amazon.com. Check out what he writes in the book jacket (without irony, I’m pretty sure): “This book is about my successes and my failures, my strengths and my weaknesses. And, above all, it is about the hope contained in the Knight Rider slogan: ‘One man can make a difference.'”

Well, moving on – here’s a photo of Dani, Jon, Sam and Jamie from this evening:Dani, Jon, Jamie, Sam

Tomorrow, we’re checking out a synagogue nearby that (rumor has it) offers services in English. Always a plus. Last year, I remember the Northern Line was shut down on Rosh Hashanah because of a strike, and then when we took the bus instead, it took ten thousand years to get to the synagogue. Of course, getting there late turned out to be a blessing because the entire service was in Hebrew, which made the service seem interminable.

L’shana tovah, everyone.

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Mushrooms for sale at Borough Market, London

It’s now 11:15 p.m. and my iTunes is on shuffle mode, and how disturbing is it that I am loving a song whose refrain is “I see you baby, shaking that ass – shaking that ass.”

Well, I never claimed to have any taste in music.

We had a great weekend – a busy Saturday and a lazy Sunday. Balance in all things

On Saturday, after my always-highly-anticipated 12 noon step class with the world-famous (well, maybe not now, but surely one day) Julian, Jon and I met at Angel and decided to visit Borough Market for lunch. I really can’t remember the last time we went there by ourselves. Not that it’s better or worse without friends in tow, but it is definitely different. We felt like we were seeing the market like first-time visitors, rather than as people who go there once a month to show it to guests.

The Brindisa chorizo guys are kind of wearing out their welcome, I think. The line crawled, and it’s not like it was ever a particularly speedy line. How do all these people know about the Brindisa chorizo guys? Still, I waited, and yeah, the chorizo line was long, but the sandwich is still definitely worth the £3.25. The spicy, salty, juicy chorizo balanced by the cool, crunchy, bitter arugula and sweet, slick red pepper on a freshly-toasted roll dripping in olive oil – mmmm. Definitely still the sandwich to beat, even if it’s not a secret.

Thai chicken wrap from Fusebox, borough Market, LondonJon and I tried a very good Thai chicken wrap from the Fusebox across the street from Brindisa (gotta do something while waiting on line). The chicken is crispy on the outside and juicy and tender on the inside, and it’s grilled fresh, right in front of the Fusebox shop. The chicken gets wrapped in with crunchy greens and a nice sweet and spicy peanut sauce. Totally worth the £3.50, so a good option to keep in mind when next I am tired of the chorizo guys milking their fame.

Encouraged by our trying out this “new” ready-made food, we tried a few others, which ranged from incredibly gross (i.e., the allegedly “New Orleans style” oyster po’ boy sandwich from the Wright Brothers Oyster & Porter House). Costing an outrageous £4, the four meagre oysters are battered and fried fresh (good) but then drowned in a sauce that tastes like thousand-island from a bottle (nasty). And then the baguette on which the oysters are served is tough and stale (the worst). Nothing delicate or fresh about it. So Jon and I picked out the four oysters, tried to savor them, and then tossed the rest of that giant, hard baguette slimed in bright-orange sauce. Avoid at all costs.

You’d think we would just get another Thai chicken wrap or maybe wait on line again for another chorizo sandwich. But we figured that after such a miss, the cosmic balance of eating justice meant we were bound to find another hit. Plus it’s been over a year since we tried anything new at the Market. So we walked over to an Indian stand that seemed to be doing brisk business. It looked like a family-run gig, and the grandma-looking lady seemed to be running a tight ship. So we ordered a chicken tikka wrap, and I guess I was hoping it’d be like the lunches I’d grab in DC from Naan and Beyond. But in fact, the wrap was a flour tortilla (i.e., not naan), and the chicken inside was just dry and flavourless. No amount of chilli paste and coriander is going to mask that kind of dryness. Another £3.50 down the drain.

Well, at least we tried. Borough Market is still a great place to go for ingredients, but my feeling is that a lot of the ready-to-eat food is not worth the money.

Jon and I had a nice time wandering Salt Beef sandwich at Roast to Go, Borough Market, Londonaround the Market and spotting some of the new openings (e.g., Fish! has started a fish & chips stand and Roast does takeaway salt beef sandwiches that were, according to Jon, delish), and then we walked along the South Bank to enjoy the mild weather and catch the Thames River Festival.

In front of the Tate Modern, there were flamenco demonstrations and a group offering a go on a trapeze for £7 a pop. So Jon decided to give it a try. He had to wait forever because of course each person trying the trapeze gets a lot of individual attention, so it’s not like the line moves quickly. I won’t tell you what happened, but let’s just say Jon’s not joining the circus anytime soon.

On Saturday night, we threw a party with Jane and two other friends. Well, more like we rented a room at a pub and asked people to come by. And the party really worked out. Lots of people came, and the room had a nice buzzy, crowded feel, but still comfortable. It was a little too warm in there, but otherwise, I had a great time. Cathy, of course, was there, and I caught up with Tai and Daphne; Sam and Jamie, Trent and Tanya, and Cheryl. Jill and Emmet came by after their dinner plans, as did Chloe and Steve, even though the Tap was already darkened by then. We closed the place down, leaving around 2 a.m., which annoyed the pub workers, I’m sure, given that last call was at 1. But we were having such a great time, and the evening definitely left me with the warm and fuzzies. It really amazed me how many new friends I know. I love it.

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Morgan M restaurant (489 Liverpool Road, N7 8NS 020 7609 3560) is a place we’ve run by for months, and we figured it was date night, so why not try the local fancy place? We’re glad we did.

I loved that the chef visited every table and chatted with customers. It’s that kind of small, warm restaurant.

The room is a lot of anonymous blond wood, but overall, it’s inviting enough. What brings people to Morgan M is the food, which we thought was delicious, overall.

The first amuse bouche was this horseradish/beet puree in a deep purple color, poured into a bowl with a dollop of chocolate sauce and whipped cream. When you ate it together, it was sweet, creamy and tangy all in one. Surprisingly (because I don’t like beets very much) good.

My ballotine of foie gras appetizer was OK – a little bit too gelatinous to get me excited. I think the only time I have truly loved foie gras was when it was seared at the Fat Duck. There, it had the texture and creaminess of a really meaty tofu. Not that the Fat Duck was otherwise worth the money, in my opinion.

Jon’s escargot ravioli were huge and lumpy. He loved them. I, however, could never bring myself to eat them. I kept thinking about all those slimy little creatures, clumped together and barely hidden by the pasta skin. There’s a voice in my head that screams: The slime! The slime!

My main course of duck was just slightly overcooked – pink in the middle but from the texture and feel of the duck, I thought it’d been sitting under a heat lamp a little too long. Still, the duck was savoury and juicy, and Jon was happy with his sea bass. Both of our main courses were served with puy lentils, which didn’t strike me as anything you really had to brag about, but the restaurant did. I mean, even if they’re special lentils, they’re still just lentils, so could they really be that rare and/or expensive?

The dessert/cheese course was a highlight. Jon and I had a table with a great view of the cheese course, and I have a feeling we spent the whole night “getting through” the other courses to get to the cheese. Jon ordered the cheese course and I went with a valrhona chocolate cake with a molten center, which was hot, spongy and creamy in the middle, and of course very chocolatey. But the dessert is served everywhere now such that the best you can do is say “that was well done,” which it was. I mean, there are lots of these that come out awful – sometimes like a brownie from a plastic wrapper.

The cheese cart was a lot of fun. Jon went to town and we tried eight or nine different cheeses. Our server was generous and recommended two aged goat cheeses that we should have written down the name of, but we didn’t. Eaten with walnuts, fig spread and multi-grain bread (so good this bread – crisp crust, nutty, dense crumb!) good cheese can’t go wrong. Even Jon had to admit the French are clearly the masters of cheese.

The three-course prix fixe was £34 per person, and Jon’s cheese course was a £7.50 supplement. So even with tip and a bottle of decent red, our total was just over £110. A good price for the style and quality of food.
Morgan M on Urbanspoon

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South Front

The first sign that I have lived here too long is that I consider the weather to be a legitimate topic of conversation. We had three days in a row of gorgeous, sunny, 70-degree weather this weekend and today. It’s stunningly nice outside. I want to record this fact so I can remember it in a few weeks when we’re in the throes of darkest damp winter.

Anyway, this weekend was a lot of fun, though busy. On Saturday, Jon and I used the excuse of my mom and my aunt’s visit to visit Hampton Court Palace. We dragged Bobby, Cathy and Lauren along, too.

The Southwest train from Waterloo Station took just 35 minutes to reach Hampton Court, which for some reason I always imagined was really far out of London. Maybe all those Henry VIII stories talking about the “day’s journey” between London and the palace have skewed my perpsective.

So admission to the palace is a pricey £12.30 a person (what’s with the 30p?), but it’s worth the visit. You get an audioguide, which was pretty good, though they should really include Chinese!

The audioguide lets you choose three or four different tours, which makes sense once you see the palace. The building is more like three or four different palaces glued together haphazardly around a central square. I guess when you’re a royal, you don’t want to live in the rooms another royal lived in – maybe it’s like going to a party wearing the same dress as someone else.

We made the mistake of starting with the “Tudor Kitchen” tour. It’s interesting that the kitchens had to prepare around 1200 meals a day back in the 15th century. But I probably would have gotten more out of seeing the wing where George II and his wife Caroline lived, instead of staring at a huge fireplace where meat was roasted on a spit. [On the cool side, there was a real fire in the fireplace – try THAT at a major US tourist attraction. Can we say little-kid-gets-too-close = lawsuit-faster-than-you-can-say-ow?]

Jon’s two cents’ on the palace is that brick is insufficiently palace like, so he was not impressed by the Tudor part of the building. He wants all of you palace builders out there to know that you should use stone for the proper palace look. So he suggests modeling your palace on the south and east fronts of the palace, built by William and Mary. [I love this phrase “built by.” Can you picture William and Mary hauling those stones around?]


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So today the CEO of our company paid our office a visit. Because he addressed the commoners from 12 noon to 2 p.m. (i.e., prime lunch eating time), the company put out huge bags of Walkers crisps (aka potato chips) to tide us over. The crisps were in variety packs, and I was frightened when people actually *argued* over who would get the last bag of “prawn cocktail” crisps, which was followed closely in popularity by the “lamb mint” crisps. In the spirit of trying things, I had the “barbecue rib” flavor and it was totally gross. It tasted more like a meaty curry than the sweet spiciness of a barbecue flavor chip back home. Note that Walkers also makes Tomato Ketchup, Marmite Yeast Extract, and Roast Chicken-flavored crisps. Do non-Americans find our potato chip flavors as bizarre as I find the UK ones?

Because it was so sunny and breezy today, I went for a run around Highbury Field in the evening. On my way back to the flat, I passed a Japanese restaurant about to open on Upper Street. It looks like it’ll be pretty upscale and sleek, but guess what its name is going to be? Ah-So. Seriously.

Oh and I regret my making fun of British advertising yesterday (re: Appletiser). A brochure that I found today on the floor near our mail slot is awesome. It features David Hasselhof flogging Pipex broadband services. The front of the brochure shows “the Hoff” wearing some tight black leather pants and giving a thumbs-up. And then the inside of the brochure is even funnier/kitschier.

Sample: “Not only am I witty and charming, but I can also speak a little Puerto Rican. This is important when you have as much international appeal as I do. I mean, obviously Pipex may offer super-fast and reliable 8Mb broadband at an amazingly low price, but have they ever had a number one hit single in Germany? Of course they haven’t!”

Anyway, on the basis of this brochure, I am going to re-evaluate my up-till-now low opinion of marketing in the UK.

OK, I can’t resist – here’s another quality excerpt: “Everyone’s gotta have an ambition. For some, it’s to drive a really cool talking car. For others, it’s becoming a hairdresser. Both supply a pivotal role in the community. Whatever you do, make sure you’re damned good at it. Like Pipex. They’ve been around since 1991, and so they’re almost as good at Internet, as I am at chest hair.”
I’m definitely saving this brochure. If you want to get even more into it, check out the Pipex website featuring his royal Hoffness.

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