Sunday, 19 October 2014

HAPPY BIRTHDAY DADDY!

This short post is especially dedicated to a very special man in my life - my one and only Dad.
Although now officially 71 years old, Dad is thankfully still very active and healthy!

Here's a few photos that I have rummaged from my (very disorganised) collection of photo albums...

Dad is very disciplined and spiritual, and can sometimes seem very serious and fierce...


But don't be too afraid of him, he does have a funny side, especially when it comes to taking photos...



Dad and I would totally be naturals at posing for touristy shots...


Dad loves his food as much as I do - some things just seem to run in the family...



Dad does however know how to keep a balance and stay active. He particularly loves riding his foldable bicycle, which sometimes worries me when he cycles on busy roads. I better keep a closer watch on him...


Dad gets along with most people, and kids especially seem to love him - all he has to do is sing and they become absolutely mesmerized by his voice...


Dogs and animals in general also seem to adore dad...

 

And even though Dad has never had any professional training, he has one of the most beautiful voices... 


 

I love and miss you Dad - may you stay strong and healthy in the many more years to come!

I would have posted you a birthday card but the Malaysian delivery man seems to keep stealing all my cards lately grrr...
I will personally hand it to you in a couple of weeks time!
 
Can't wait to fly home already :)

The Cheekster, signing out x

Sunday, 12 October 2014

A RATHER UNFORTUNATE EXPERIENCE

Although this is not my usual food post, but I feel that it is still very much food-related. It may sound like a bit of a rant, but I thought that I would share my experience today - about how poor communication and customer service can easily ruin a customer's experience.

So, earlier in the week, I had called up The Gallery at Fortnum & Mason to make a reservation for brunch, specifically quoting that I had a voucher as well. I was asked what sort of voucher it was, which I answered (the source, the value etc.), and was told to just bring it in on the day. It was almost halfway through another work week, and so this was a little perk to look forward to on the weekend. My dining partner, and best friend, was as usual having a tough week at work, and I was hoping that this would be a nice way to end his week on a happy note.
What could possibly go wrong, right?

I had arrived earlier and was seated at our table, whilst waiting for WK, who was running a few minutes late - typical man. The lady at reception requested for my voucher, which I handed over - no questions asked.
A few moments later, WK arrived, looking rather flustered from running - not the first time, but hey, I'll let him off again.

The waitress soon approached our table to take our orders, looking quite sullen and miserable.
"That must be one of the saddest waitresses that I have seen", WK stated after she had left. 
"I know right, I thought that it was just me that noticed!", I added.

Our drinks arrived first, and we sipped away, without a care in mind - everything seemed normal.
We had ordered a starter of crab on toast to share between us. After the obligated photos, we slowly picked away and chatted as usual. When we had finished, our plates and cutlery were cleared - still, no one approached us to query the voucher.

So here we are now, practically halfway through our meal, and all of a sudden, the receptionist comes over and states that the voucher was not valid - or rather blatantly saying that I was at the 'wrong' restaurant. 

"Oh, have you placed your orders already?", she asked. 
This was more than half an hour after we were seated, and there was nothing that was brought up previously regarding the validity of the voucher. 
I was obviously quite baffled by that statement, and told her to give me a few minutes whilst I searched for the email. After much frantic scrolling through my email and twitter feed, I reluctantly got out of my seat and walked over to reception and showed her the email and message, to prove that I indeed had NOT booked at the wrong restaurant. Having lived in London for over two years and being well acquainted with the restaurant scene, that sort of assumption was just not acceptable. For someone who is generally not very comfortable in conflicting situations, here I was now faced with two members of staff who were adamant that I had come to the wrong venue. By this time, I had totally lost my appetite and requested them to hold off our mains whilst I tried to make some calls. I frowned with disbelief as I made my way back to the table, obviously getting some strange looks from surrounding tables. Having failed to find a direct contact number, I sent out some messages, hoping for a quick response. 

One of the receptionists/staff members then came over and said that our mains had already been plated and that they were about to bring them over.
Great - not only was I being accused of presenting an invalid voucher, but now here I was having to force-feed myself food when I had lost all desire to eat.
I had a dark and heavy cloud hanging over my head, as I tried to suppress my tears of frustration. WK watched over me with worried eyes, and tried his best to comfort me as usual - "It's okay, let's just eat, pay for the food and get out of here".
This was unbelievable - if I had been dining with someone else besides my best friend, I would have been even more embarrassed.
After reluctantly picking away at our food, my heart skipped a beat as my phone finally flashed.
I passed my phone over to the receptionist, who then handed it over to the manager who had finally come down to the restaurant.
Somehow and somewhere along the way, there had been some miscommunication (or rather NO communication) between certain parties. 
We watched from our table as the conversation took place over the phone at the reception area. Eventually, we were approached by the restaurant manager, who initially appeared to be quite defensive - giving me names of who was to blame, which personally meant nothing to me. I then calmly and politely explained to him about how we felt about the experience - not so much about the voucher, but about how the situation was handled.

It would have been a different story if we had been informed about this from the very beginning - NOT whilst we were halfway through our meal. Because then we would have had the option to maybe investigate further and return another day, and possibly eat elsewhere in a more comfortable setting, and pay for a meal that I actually wanted to eat. As like any other foodie, I have an endless list of restaurants that I would like to visit, and to be honest, Fortnum & Mason, was never one of them, until I won this voucher. The voucher was a bit of a bonus, which I am grateful for it, but I believe that the whole situation was just handled very poorly - not something that I would have expected from such an establishment.
I eat out a lot, and personally I don't mind spending money on food, as long as I have been served good food with a smile. And sometimes, even great service could compensate for less than average food. A few more smiles and a bit of enthusiasm can certainly go a long way.

God knows how many emotions rushed through me during that experience - anger, frustration, confusion, embarrassment? 
All I knew was that I could not wait to get out for some fresh air.

In the end, the manager sorted out our bill, and was kind enough to offer us a complimentary meal on our next visit, which we were grateful for.
Although we may give it a while to let this bitter taste disappear before returning - hopefully next time leaving with a more positive experience.

The Cheekster, signing out x






Tuesday, 7 October 2014

HUBBARD & BELL, THE HOXTON HOTEL

The latest opening from Soho House Group, Hubbard & Bell is an all-day cafe, bar and restaurant at the new Hoxton Hotel in Holborn - serving food described as "top nosh with a French-American twist".
The all-day restaurant has an open kitchen serving grilled meats, seafood and small plates, in addition to a wide choice of breakfast dishes and a weekend brunch menu.

I have popped in a couple of times to have coffee in the cafe, and really enjoyed the ambience and feel of the place, and the coffee of course - for the coffee geeks out there, they serve Origin Coffee from a bespoke La Marzocco machine.

So, last Sunday we decided to try the Sunday brunch menu. It looked like they were pretty fully booked, so we were offered a couple of seats at the counter. I usually do enjoy sitting at the counter in restaurants, but it seemed exceptionally hotter than usual, so we requested to sit in the cafe instead.



 

| Bellini |
- prosecco peach -


We had the option of ordering the Sunday Roast option, but we decided to go for the more exciting range of a la carte dishes.
To start off, we had a salad and some cured meat to share.The greek salad was very light and refreshing with deliciously creamy feta, and it was my first time trying cold smoked mutton, which was really tasty.

| Greek Salad |

 

| Mutton |


The scampi was grilled with garlic, chilli and olive oil, which gave it a lovely aroma and flavour. Octopus dishes are always a must-order for me, and this didn't disappoint me. A decent portion of three delicious tentacles, served with chorizo, potato and capers - nicely grilled, with a nice touch of earthy and spicy flavours from the chorizo.
And of course, another one of my favourite meat dishes - suckling pig, served porchetta style. The juicy meat complemented by the flavours of the chervil, parsley and capers. There was also tasty bits of crackling that gave it a bit of crunch.

| Scampi |

 

| Octopus |


| Suckling Pig |

 

And then we moved on to dessert...


| Banana Split |

This was Lili's selection - a banana split, so it basically speaks for itself...
I love chocolate in general, but I am not quite a fan of a chocolate sorbet...I enjoy fruity sorbets, but generally still prefer my rich and creamy ice cream versions. 
But if you enjoy sorbets, this might be up your street!

 

| PBJ Ice Cream Coupe |

Anything with peanut butter always catches my eye, and I was happy with my dessert selection - a mixed tower of ice cream, berries, jam and crunchy caramelized peanuts. It was maybe a bit more 'hollow' than I was expecting, but overall a pretty satisfyingly sweet dessert.


I used to always wander away from Holborn towards Soho/Covent Garden, as I couldn't decide on a decent place to stopover. But it looks like this midtown area is becoming more exciting these days, and this place has definitely become one of my favourites.
Service has been very friendly and courteous on all my visits so far, which is always good.
And knowing me, I will definitely be back again to have a lounge in the lovely cafe, and to try the regular all-day menu. And the rest of the desserts. The Chicken Shop downstairs also sounds rather tempting.

This might take a while.

I wonder what the rooms are like...

The Cheekster, signing out x

Address: 199-206, High Holborn, London WC1V 7BD
Tel. No.: 020 7661 3030
Opening hours: 07:00-02:00 (Mon-Fri); 08:00-02:00 (Sat); 08:00-00:00 (Sun)


Saturday, 4 October 2014

SEA CONTAINERS & DANDELYAN BAR, MONDRIAN LONDON

We recently visited Mondrian London at Sea Containers, the first ever Mondrian branded boutique hotel outside of the United States, that launched on 30th September 2014. We had lunch at the restaurant, a modern dining room with a great view of the River Thames. 
The Sea Containers restaurant is named after the landmark building on the South Bank. 
The 'farm to table' movement is integral to the Sea Container's kitchen and its menu, with produce naturally sourced from organic farmers and Fair Trade cooperatives from around the UK and the continent.
The restaurant is headed by Culinary Director for Sea Containers, Seamus Mullen, with his team led by Executive Chef Luke Rayment, who are committed to bringing fresh, seasonal and sustainably sourced food to the table for diners to enjoy. Located on the Ground Floor, there is an open plan kitchen and visible wood fired oven that produces delicate and natural smoky flavours, a characteristic of Chef Seamus Mullen's cooking.

 

We started off with a couple of drinks from the restaurant cocktail menu. Wilkes had the Peach & Sage Negroni, whilst I ordered the White Flower Collins Royale. The negroni was nice with hint of sage, but mine tasted just like a plain lemonade, so I wasn't too impressed with it, and the straw also looked a bit out of place...?



 The menu is split into categories: 'Small Plates', 'Raw', 'Vegetables', 'Large Plates', and 'Family Style'.
For starters, we ordered the lamb meatballs, which were well marinated and had a nice, 'bouncy' texture. Probably the prettiest presentation for a meatball dish that I have seen so far. We also ordered the octopus - slight smoky aroma, but could probably do with some stronger flavours, and slightly less chewy texture. The slaw was also a bit dull with not much flavour apart from the slight saltiness from the olives.

| Oven Roasted Lamb Meatballs |
- Soft sheep's milk cheese, cucumber, Moroccan spiced vinaigrette - 


| Celeriac & Grilled Octopus |
- Peas, watercress, Castelvetrano olives -

 

Moving on to the mains, the grilled monkfish had a nice, meaty texture, served on a bed of delicious buttery grilled mushrooms. The chopped salad was quite creamy with generous chunks of tender grilled onglet steak. There was also nice bits of crunchiness from the walnuts. The blue cheese does come in quite big chunks, so it may be best to maybe cut them down a bit and give it a good mix, otherwise you might just get some big, strong mouthfuls of cheese, like both of us did.

| Grilled Monkfish |
- Clams, Fino sherry, grilled mushrooms, roasted carrots, cavelo nero -


| Chopped Salad |
- Grilled onglet steak, watercress, blue cheese, walnuts, pear, avocado vinaigrette -

 

This may only be an accompaniment, but I would definitely recommend getting the oven roasted wild mushrooms, especially if you are a huge mushroom lover, like both of us. Fragrant, buttery, and just plain delicious.


And finally, for dessert, we ordered the flourless chocolate cake and apple pie - both very good.
The chocolate cake was very rich and indulgent, and the apple pie was lovely and warm with a tasty and crumbly base.

 

| Flourless Chocolate & Chilli Cake |
- served with vanilla ice cream -


| Apple Pie |
- served with cinnamon ice cream -

 

On the whole, a pleasant meal that came up to approximately £60 per person - price is definitely above average, but I guess that is what you would expect from such venues.
There were a few more dishes that would have been interesting to try, if we were not limited by our stomachs...
It may also be ideal to try going in a group of about four people so that you can try the larger family style dishes. 

And if you love cocktails, it would definitely be worth proceeding over to Dandelyan down the corridor, like we did right after our meal...
Dandelyan is the seasonal cocktail bar at Mondrian London, with Ryan Chetiyawardana, A.K.A. Mr Lyan, who's first bar in East London 'White Lyan' was recently awarded 'Best New International Cocktail Bar' at the Tales of the Cocktail awards. The bar is described as 'a journey of discovery where you can experiment with new tastes and enjoy unexpected combinations'.  


 



We sat at the bar where we were well taken care of by Steve and the rest of the friendly bar staff.
The cocktail menu is divided into four different categories - 'Cereal', 'Vegetal', 'Mineral', and 'Floral'. We ordered a couple of cocktails each - I went with Steve's recommendations, both of which I really enjoyed.

| Crytal Lyan |

 

 | Dry-Hopped Gimlet |



And here I present you Steve, with his happy and serious 'shakeface'...

 

 

| Koji Hardshake & Southbank |


For those you of that feel a bit peckish, Dandelyan also has its own food menu, created by the Sea Containers group.


The bar area is quite vast and a great place to relax and have a drink in the day or when the sun goes down...
On the whole, an interesting new venue that is worth a visit.

The Cheekster,  signing out x


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