Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Seoul Day 1, South Korea

We arrived in Seoul at just after 7am with a long looking day ahead of us that we needed to power through in an attempt to jump straight onto South Korean time. We took one of the airport limousine buses from the airport to our hotel which turned out to be a really efficient way to get into the city, the bus virtually dropped us at our hotel door and was almost as luxurious as the business class seats on the plane! Although sadly there was no complimentary glass of bubbles....

We arrived at the TMark Hotel in Myeongdong both hoping that we'd be able to check straight into our room, but unsurprisingly, that wasn't possible at 9am so we left our bags and after a quick freshen up headed out for the day.
We set out in the direction of the main train station, walking through the fashionable Myeongdong district, which seems to be the shopping hub of the city with lots of modern and funky buildings. The area had a very international vibe, but the vast majority of brands were Korean.

Leaving Myeongdong behind we made our way over to Seoul station to pick up our tickets for the train journey down to Busan we'd be making in a couple of days time. We'd made two attempts to book tickets from the UK and weren't sure if either of them had worked, but there was one set of tickets ready for us to collect. Hopefully we only get charged once to!

We seemed to get stuck in Seoul station for a good few hours. First we had a drink ( I decided to go local with a coffee in a can) and then we headed into the Lotte department store which was attached to the station. Everything in the department store was very expensive. We didn't go in any other clothes shops while in Korean so I'm not sure if this was normal pricing of Lotte is particularly high end.

Leaving the department store we spied the entrance to the supermarket so popped in there for a look round too. The shop was a bit reminiscent of a French hypermarche with lots of food and non-food items for sale, in addition to a couple of counters where you could sit down and have lunch. There were lots of free samples on offer at the end of various aisles. We tried a tea type drink that was very nice.

When I've visited a Thai supermarket the fruit and veg section has been full of unidentifiable ingredients, but I was surprised to see in Korea that I could name almost everything.

When we left the supermarket it was absolutely tipping it down so we dived back into the train station to have some lunch at one of the restaurants there. I had a bulgogi. It was perfectly nice, but nothing exceptional.
Once the rain had subsided we headed to the Seoul Museum of History. On the airport bus we'd noticed quite a lot of public art and we passed lots more on our way up to the museum. We later learned that companies are required to place some art outside of their buildings.

Most of the museum passed me by in a jet lagged haze as I could barely keep my eyes open at this stage of the day. I however do remember that the museums contained lots of models including the one in the photo above of Seoul city which was pretty cool.
Right next door to the palace is the Gyeonghuigung palace. Virtually empty of people we were able to wander round the palace more of less by ourselves. There are no rooms to go into or artifacts to see, but the building was pretty interesting to look round.

Leaving the palace we walked across the city back to our hotel briefly stopping at tourist information along the way. We had a shower in our hotel room and rested for a while, but before we both fell asleep we dragged ourselves out for dinner. Becks had found some good reviews of a local KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) place. We didn't manage to find the restaurant she'd read about and ended up in another KFC place instead.

Miraculously after being awake for close to 30hrs we managed to stay up just past 10pm.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

London Open House - we took part!

Photo stolen from the architects Instagrams account
We've taken part in London Open House before as visitors, but this year we had our home open to the general public. It's mind blowing to think we have a house worthy of opening to the public. We're an incredibly lucky couple.

Ten days ago I didn't think we'd be ready for open house, but thanks from a huge push from everyone at Gurff and Silverpoint we were complete! We even managed to get the living room curtains hung on Friday and had time to unwrap the sofas. It was much harder than we expected to get the legs onto our new corner sofa late on Friday night and I have a couple of blisters to prove it.
Front of the living room
We had a queue lining up at the door ready for us to open at 10am and we were never without a queue until we shut the door at 16:45. (We turned away a few people who arrived after this time too.)

We had four of the Gruff team with us throughout the day and they were troopers at helping to control the crowds and keep an eye on everyone as the wondered round our house.

We had a lot of neighbours pop in during the day, some we knew but lots we didn't. It was lovely to start to get to know some of the people in the street and pick up a few facts that we didn't know before, including that an MP used to live in the 1950s house that stood before our house. He was called something O'Brien, but neither Rebecca or I could find out any more when we did a quick search online.
Wood burner
In addition to the neighbours and a few friends and colleagues that popped in, we also had a lot of strangers! Thankfully they were nearly all respectful of our house and there is no damage or missing items (that we have seen yet). Some people sat our our sofas before we've had a chance to use them and there was definitely a minority that wanted to open our cupboards / wardrobes. Some people also thought it appropriate to lock themselves in the bathroom and use it without asking. What is it with people?

We also had a lot of questions. By far the most common question was about the kitchen floor with people wanting to know what it was made from. The second most comment question was about the solar panels, why we had them sitting in the garden and whether they generated enough electricity for the whole house. Third were questions about the windows, both the wooden sashes and the Velfac units at the back. Some people asked for a demonstration of the big sliding doors and others just took it upon themselves to try them out.

I had someone who I'm pretty sure was angling to rent a room and another person offering their garden design services. There were less questions about money that I expected and the ones I did receive I refused to answer.

I didn't pick up on it, but apparently a lot of architects came through too.
Back of the lounge
Nearly everyone's comments were positive, and I'm pretty sure genuine, about how lovely the house was. We only had a couple of haters, one pair who seemed horrified at our choice of grout colour in the bathrooms and another who really didn't like the blue engineering bricks we've used at the back and side of the house.

It was a long and tiring day, with the practicalities of having lunch quite difficult as there were never less than five people in the kitchen watching you make a sandwich. Overall though it is was quite rewarding.

Monday, 22 August 2016

The Gutsy Chutney popup at the Barmouth Kitchen, Earlsfield

Keema simla mirch
A couple of weeks ago we went for dinner by The Gutsy Chutney who were hosting a small pop up dinner at Barmouth Kitchen in Earlsfield.

The menu filled with lots of interesting regional dishes, mainly from Kerala where our host was born, but there were also some dishes from the north of India / Rajasthan too. It was food that excited the palate with lots of different flavour combinations and a bit of a challenging chilli kick too. (In reality none of the dishes were that hot, it's just that my chilli tolerance is quite pathetic!)

The menu was filled with family favourites, a chicken curry traditionally eaten at Christmas and several street food dishes. I've only been to India once, but I recognised versions of several dishes, like the filled gol gappa which were served with a few drops of tamarind adding a pleasant sourness.

We had seven small courses and a welcome drink for £35 which was pretty stonking value. It was possibly too good value as I left a little stuffed and one less course would still have been more than sufficient. Most of the other guests at the supper club were friends and colleagues of our hosts which was a shame as more people should get to taste The Gutsy Chutney's food.
Prawn balchao golgappas

Papad salad

Chana masala tacos

Kalappam and nadan chicken curry
Coconut barfi

Saturday, 30 July 2016

The Ledbury, a reprise, Notting Hill

Venison balls
During our week off in early June, Becks and I decided to book lunch at The Ledbury after our beautiful meal there three years ago (is it really that long?).

The service had the same relaxed but incredibly attentive vibe and the food was of course excellent again. My highlights being the crab and tomato soup, the guinea fowl thigh from the main and the Sauternes cream dessert. 

Last time we had wine by the glass, but this time we decided to share the the wine pairings. (I generally avoid the matching wines as they leave me wasted and take away my enjoyment of the food.) There were some unusual selections in the paired wines, enabling us to try some things we'd never have chosen for ourselves and they all matched the food brilliantly.

Entertainment came from the table next to us who were out celebrating a birthday. The daughter was down from Leeds Uni for the day and was proudly telling the rest of the family about her extensive international travel plans. Does she do any studying? Where does the money come from? All the father wanted to make sure was they the chef knew he considered his main course "historic".

The food and service may have been as excellent as the first time, but some standards are slipping at The Ledbury: the gents' loos no longer have Aesop hand wash and moisturiser. What is a man to do?
Crab and tomato soup


Stream broccoli with mussells and a mussell bisque

Guinea fowl with white asparagus and almonds

Sauterne cream with apricots and an apricot ice cream

Petit fours and mint tea

The Ledbury
127 Ledbury Rd
W11 2AQ

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Noak Bakehouse and Brew, Brockley

Pork belly sandwich with cabbage and apple
Noak Bakehouse & Brew, a Danish inspired café, opened back in November. Brockley is still under-served by good cafés and the delayed opening had definitely whipped up some anticipation and excitement from us local who were crying out for another addition to local dining options.

From my visits to Noak I've thought the food is pretty strong too. Our first visit was on their opening weekend where they'd sold out of nearly everything so we just had drinks and tried a couple of the sweet treats. The brownie, so often a disappointment in cafés, was really rather good. The flødeboller which my friend William tried reminded me of treats I used to be bought in French supermarkets when we were on our summer holidays.
Roast pork belly sandwich with cabbage and apple 
On our most recent trip we tried a couple of the savoury options. Pizzas have been on the menu since they opened but seemed to have evolved over time to thinner and crispier affairs. I had the pork belly sandwich with cabbage and apple. It was a tasty, if slightly messy to eat number. The pork skin had gone a bit soft and didn't have the crunch you'd expect from good crackling.
Noak brownie 
I think it would be fair to say that Noak are still working on finding their true identity. Even after being open for six months the order of service doesn't feel well drilled. The staff always seem friendly but it can be a bit chaotic which leads me at least to being uncertain as a customer. There is some definite skill in the kitchen, you couldn't cook such good sourdough and pastries without it, but there does seem to be a lack of clarity too. Fads seem to come and go with the latest being burgers, rather then sticking to the Danish bakehouse vision.
Noak makes me want to love it and pull my hair out in almost equal measure. Hopefully the local good will and skill in the kitchen keeps going and they nail the service offering so that they become a local institution that is with us for a good while yet.

Since publishing this post Noak has closed and re-opened, under the same ownership, but with a different menu.

Noak Bakehouse and Brew
209–211 Mantle Road

SE4 2EWNoak Bakehouse and Brew Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The Pickled Fork at the Grosvenor Arms, Earlsfield

Asparagus with sheep's milk cheese, peas and Jersey Royal vinaigrette
Last Wednesday night I was the guest of Go Earlsfield who invited me out to dinner at the newly refurbished Grosvenor Arms on Garratt Lane in Earlsfield. The pub has only been open for five weeks following a change of ownership and refurbishment. The pub certainly looks brighter following the renovations and the new team are very friendly (with crushingly firm handshakes), but the place still needs a few finishing touches / pictures on the wall before you could call it properly homely.

We were there for a collaboration with the Pickled Fork, a local catering company, who put on a couple of pop up dinners in the upstairs of the pub last week.
Barbecued octopus with broad bean hummus
There was live jazz and a glass of prosecco to greet us in the bar downstairs before we all headed up to the restaurant on the first floor. I was very pleasantly surprised by all of the food which had subtlety and an interesting combination of flavours in every dish. Reading the menu it would be easy to think they were trying a bit hard, but everything worked together really well.

The starter was new season asparagus with smoked Sussex sheep's cheese, raw peas and a Jersey Royal vinaigrette. Are there really potatoes in the vinaigrette? There did seem to be and it created a subtle and creamy texture. If I had to split hairs, one of the spears of asparagus was cold and it would have been much better at room temperature allowing the flavours to come out more.
Pulled lamb's belly with spelt pitta and tabouleh
My favourite dish was the middle course of barbecued octopus, broad bean hummus, nduja, pickled chicory and dukkha. The octopus was tender and lifted by the spice of the nduja and pickled chicory. The balance of soft and crunchy textures worked well.

Before our mains we were treated to a song by Elsa Hackett who appeared to be a friend of the two jazz players and was also dining in the pub. A young jazz singer who is studying at the Guildhall School of Music, there was something of the Amy Winehouse about her voice. A very good singer indeed.
Strawberry pavlova with a basil syrup
When our main of pulled lamb's belly on a fermented spelt pitta, with spelt tabbouleh and roast garlic yoghurt came out I thought it was a bit on the small side for a main, but I was forgetting I was three courses in at this point and it filled me up perfectly. The lamb and tabbouleh were great. The pitta was more robust than your average pitta, but then it can't be easy making them out of spelt. I finished GE's dish which tells you all you need to know.

The dessert was a strawberry pavlova with elderflower, nyetimber and basil syrup. If I'm honest I'm still unsure what nyetimber is!

The Grosvenor Arms
204 Garratt Lane
SW18 4ED
Grosvenor Arms Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Solvang, California

Solvang, CA
It's time to return to the write up of our holiday to California at the back end of last year. Only six months ago now!

I've been to the US quite a few times now, mainly with work and to the large cities of New York, Chicago and Charlotte. Our visit to Solvang was one of my first visits to small town America. Although admittedly Solvang isn't your typical small US town, originally settled in 1911 as a Danish colony, the place has hung onto it's Danish heritage and turned it into a tourist industry.

We were staying in The Landsby which, as expected, played up the Scandi minimalism. Despite a few quirks (no light switches next to the bed and stingy breakfasts) I enjoyed the laid back atmosphere and design.
Inside the Landsby
I kicked off our day first full day in Solvang with a run across the Santa Ynez river and along Alisal Creek, past a golf course (crazily green considering the drought) and past a ranch with its own rodeo stadium before turning round and heading back into town.

After breakfast we drifted through town and across to the Mission Santa Inés. Founded in 1804 the mission is now a basic museum and Parish Church with a small garden outside the church that you can look round.
Solvang Mission
After visiting the Mission we did another loop of town to see more of the Danish style buildings around town. All very cute, but none of them really tempted us inside to look round being filled with touristy knick-knacks.

 We thought we'd head over to the nearby, and equally chocolate box, town of Los Olivios in the afternoon. Being in wine country I quite fancied the idea of lunch in a vineyard somewhere nice. However, it wasn't clear that many of them had restaurants which were open midweek in winter so we ended up buying some sandwiches and eating them in Sunny Fields park instead. So glamorous!
Los Olivios
Los Olivios is even smaller than Solvang and is another town geared towards the tourists, although it felt like we are the only visitors in town. Los Olivios seemed to be a centre of the local wine business with quite a few offices / tasting rooms for the vineyards in town. We had a look around St Mark's-in-the-valley church before leaving town.

Having failed to visit a vineyard we enjoyed some local wines during happy hour in the hotel bar before heading over the road for dinner.
Fish of the day at the Succulent Cafe in Solvang. Seared tuna on 'risotto'