Sunday, April 29, 2012

Two day Trip to Canterbury and Dover in Kent

My friend Marie organized a weekend trip to Dover as a birthday gift for a friend. So on Saturday afternoon, we hired a car and made our way down to Kent. On the way we stopped at Canterbury and Sandwich and here are some of the things we did which I definitely recommend:

1)       See the Canterbury Cathedral

The drive from London to Canterbury was about an hour .The Cathedral is the oldest place of worship in England and is a World Heritage site. It was built in 597 AD as the seat (or ‘Cathedra’) of the Archbishop.  The Cathedral is a beautiful building and is also the reason that quaint little Canterbury has achieved city status.

2)       Eat at the Old Brewery Tavern in Canterbury

Run by Michelin-starred chef Michael Caines, this pub is fantastic cheaper alternative to eating at his restaurant which right next door. They even a 2 course meal offer for 10£ which meant I stuffed myself with a beautifully presented Fish and Chips and scrumptious Banoffee Pie.

3)       See the White Cliffs of Dover

We spent the night at Dover Marina hotel and in the morning made our way down the beach for a Sea Safari tour. I don’t think any of us expected it how much fun the boat ride would be or how wet we would get! On my part, I thought we were going for a sedate boat ride to see some seals but it was much more than that. We were all dressed in what we thought would be adequate gear but we were thankful later that the guides provided us with windproof jackets and pants and even goggles. We sailed across the coastline right in front of the White Cliffs which were spectacular and then made our way to the nature reserve where a seal colony resides in Pegwell Bay.

We learned the cove is where all the young male seals come to chill out…..ok technically they are here to learn skills of surviving but to us, it seemed like they were hanging out on the river bank, shooting the breeze – nonchalantly checking out these strange humans in an orange boat. Finally, their curiosity gave way and they all simultaneously splashed out into the water and then kept bobbing around the boat to take a closer look at us. The way back was like quite a ride as we zipped across the water back to the Marina, getting a second of viewing of the stunning White Cliffs.

4)      Dover Castle
At the top of the White Cliffs, is the beautifully preserved Dover Castle built in the 1160’s. We went up but weren’t able to explore since it takes a good 3 to 4 hours to see the castle which we weren’t able to spend. If you’re interested though, entry is about £16 and they have a little cafĂ© as well and the views are amazing.

5)      Secret Garden in Sandwich

This was last minute addition to the trip and I’m so glad we found the elusive Secret Garden. No one in Sandwich seemed to have heard of it. An old manor house converted to a luxury B&B, has the most beautiful garden I have ever seen. This quaint, whimsical garden was such a delight to wander about in.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Experimental Cocktail Club

I totally forgot about a whirlwind night I had where I ended up at the Experimental Cocktail Club in Chinatown. While I have experienced dining out at a variety of restaurants in London,  I’m still not sure where to go to find a 'speakeasy' style bar that serves good cocktails. I could give you a list of amazing bars in New York where the bartenders serve cocktails like they are works of art but in London, I’m quite clueless and have vague notions of making it across to Purl someday.

So I was thrilled to bits to be outside the door of ECC late on a Friday night and get in without much of a fuss.  I tried to take pictures but it was too dark and I was too inebriated to care. Luckily they made an excellent Pisco Sour though the Gin Fizz was not up to the mark. Or maybe I’ve just been spoilt by my cousin M renditions of it - he's pretty much perfected the art of making a Ramos Gin Fizz. I remember one night when he was behind the bar at Amor & Amargo (a fantastic bitters bar in the East Village), I downed so many Gin Fizzes, I was floating on air by the end of it. A Ramos makes you feel like that....hence, name of blog :)

So if you love cocktails and find yourself in Soho and don’t want to night to end, walk along Gerrad street past the  Chinese restaurants till you find a random door with a bouncer glaring at you and walk on up and try the Pisco Sour.

Experimental Cocktail Club Chinatown
13A Gerrad Street 
London W1D 5PS
Tube:  Piccadilly Circus

Monday, April 9, 2012

Bunga Bunga: Crazy and fun Italian Restaurant & Bar in Battersea

I’ll admit I was apprehensive of putting up the title of the post! So to clarify, Bunga Bunga is ‘An Englishman’s Italian: Bar, Pizzeria and Karaoke’ located in Battersea. We went there to celebrate my friend’s birthday, who shall be henceforth known as Eli.G (she insisted).

There is a whole lot going on from the moment you walk in. Motorbikes hanging from the ceiling, stuffed wild boar heads mounted on the walls, vintage Italian posters, disco lights, a guy in shiny red suit singing cheesy 80’s hits and of course, tongue-in-cheek odes to the Italian lady killer Berlusconi everywhere. You can’t help but get caught up in the infectiously fun atmosphere.

We were a large group of about 16 people and I have to say service was really fast and efficient. A bit too fast perhaps at times, but then given the general energy level of the place, I’m not too surprised.

The food was really good and our party consisted mainly of Italians, all of whom were quite happy with the food,so I think that’s a lot of points in the restaurant's favour. We had a set menu served to us for about £30 per person not including wine.

Focaccia bread and olives  and platters of Salami and Prosciutto to start with and then appetizers of fried Mozzarella, veal Milanese, sweet onions on endives and crumb-fried prawns.

The pizza was really the star of the show. They served us four huge pizzas which each had four sections of different toppings: Parma ham & rocket, chicken, spinach & Mozzarella, spicy sausage and a classic Margarita.

We were also served a rocket salad and some plates of mozzarella and tomatoes. Dessert was bowls of gelato which were simply divine! I'm still dreaming about the chocolate gelato.

We ended up going upstairs to the bar/lounge which was filled to the brim with people and had a DJ playing. Bunga Bunga in Battersea seems to be popular place and I highly recommend going and checking it out. (and checking out the waiters’ aprons...!!)

It’s for sure a fun and vibrant venue to have a birthday celebration. You can eat downstairs, dance upstairs and be served alcohol on both floors!

The birthday girl, Eli G. gave it 4.5 Stars (out of 5) J

Bunga Bunga
37 Battersea Bridge Road London SW11 3BA
Tel: 0207 095 0360
Tube: South Kensington/ Sloan Square

Bunga Bunga on Urbanspoon

Square Meal

Broccoli Soup

I can not stress enough how easy it is to make this soup. And it's tasty and healthy! I saw the recipe in the Sunday Times in their 'Easy Eats' section and then as usual kind of did my own thing by not following the measurements or finely chopping when I'm supposed to. And for once, it turned out great :)

Before you start, one thing you definitely need is some kind of blender, either a hand blender, food processor or liquidizer. If you don't have one in your kitchen, go buy one as they are extremely useful.

So you start by chopping up an onion and 2 or 3 cloves of garlic. Don't worry about chopping it up too fine if you're lacking in knife skills like me. It's anyway all going to mashed up and if there any random large bits of onion, just call the soup 'rustic' like I do!

Then tear off the florets from broccoli. Tear up any big florets into little pieces.

Next, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot and then add the garlic and onion and cook it for a few minutes till it gets soft. Then add 500 ml (about 2 cups) of chicken stock - if you bought the cubes then add 500 ml boiling water and then throw in the chicken stock cube. Stir and then add the broccoli bits and bring to a boil. Once its all bubbling, lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10-12 mins.

Then turn off the heat and either transfer the contents to your blender or if you have hand blender, you can just blend it in the pot till it becomes smooth. Then add a little bit of salt and lots of pepper and a tablespoon of cream and you're done. To make it look pretty, you can garnish it with some flaked almonds.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


My friend organized a dinner for a large group of people (almost 30 and counting!) at Samarqand on Thayer Street. Samarqand serves food from Central Asia – in particular from Russia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekhistan.

The evening started well with small plates of hummous and bread (made in-house) and flatbreads stuffed with goats cheese – both of which I couldn’t get enough of.

The fixed menu looked promising and our waiter for the night Alexi patiently explained the dishes in detail. 
We could each choose 1 starter and 1 main course from the set menu. While he was an excellent server, it was a bit silly to have only 1 waiter for a group of 30 people. So small yet important things like serving glasses of water were totally missed - we must have been dehydrated for a good two hours. 

The Olivier salad was a classic Russian salad of potatoes, eggs and mayo which my friends seemed to like. I went for the Aubergine caviar which was a dissapointment – stewed vegetables in a tomato based sauce were hardly inspiring. The Lamb Samsa was made of minced lamb and then deep fried – tasted quite nice but definitely filled you up. Jigar Birion was chicken livers cooked with shallots – again a very heavy dish that just felt too stodgy to me.

Lamb Manty

For the main course, I was torn between the Lamb Manty and the much lauded SamarQand Plov. 

The Lamb Manty was a classic Uzbek dish of large dumplings served with a chilli and yogurt sauce.

SamarQand Plov

I learned Plov is the national dish of Uzbekhistan - a rice and lamb dish cooked with carrots and onions.

In retrospect I wish I had gone with the Manty after tasting some from my friend’s dish. My plate of Plov was tasty but rather one note and very very heavy. 

So in terms of food, it was a mixed bag, a couple of good dished offset by some mediocre ones. What felt really strange to me was while the food served had a hearty, home-cooked feel to it, the interiors of the restaurant made you feel as if you were in a lounge bar. For instance, the area we were in had a huge projection screen against a wall – why on earth would you have projection screen at a restaurant?  They also have private rooms where you can have a karaoke session and smoke a shisha at the same time.

It seems like they are just catering to the needs of large corporate groups who want to have a good night out and the food was really secondary component. Given the prices and the whole fine dining focus, it's sad that there wasn’t much effort on trying to impress on the food.

What can I say, it's just not the type of restaurant I'd prefer to go. Highly unlikely that I’ll be returning for a second visit. However, if you yearn for Central Asian food downed with shots of Uzbekh vodka and where you can karaoke you're heart out, then it's a definitely a place to check out.

18 Thayer Street London W1U 3JY
Tube: Bond Street/ Baker Street

Samarqand on Urbanspoon

Square Meal