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A little bit of culture

Another so-so week of weather in London so far *dramatic sigh*. It's starting to feel a lot like Melbourne, with four seasons in one day.

Miss O, Miss J and I headed to see Noises Off at the Novello Theatre earlier this week which was laugh out loud funny - the actors have some mad skills keeping up the pace of the dialogue and action. If you get a chance to go, do it.

When the sun finally peeked out, the CG and I decided to join the Clapham crowd on the streets for a wee tipple before we grabbed dinner at Osteria Antica Bologna.

The staff at Osteria are ridiculously friendly, to the point where you can't help but grin back at them whenever you speak. And hey, the food ain't bad either.

Bruschetta al pomodoro / Toasted Italian bread with fresh tomato, basil and garlic

Actually, I'd forgotten how good bruschetta can be - I think Osteria may have reignited a latent passion.

Costolette di agnello alla scottadito e Parmigiana di melanzane / Char grilled lamb cutlet with baked aubergine Parmigiana

Tonnarelli al ragu’ di cinghiale / Fresh black pepper spaghetti with wild boar ragout

It was a great choice for a casual meal, and the family-run restaurant vibe made it a lovely, relaxed evening.

Fun with the guinea pigs

A weekend with friends visiting from the CG's hometown means getting a wee bit tipsy...

...posing with utensils...

...finally trying Pizza Metro Pizza...

...and forcing them to eat fruit "that feels like it should be screaming" and a mini bacon and egg tart experiment for breakfast (which tasted better than it looked, thankfully).

It's good to have willing guinea pigs to try new things with. Plus the weekend was (just a little bit) fun too. Bonus!

Taste of London in the freezing British summer

Thank gawd for complimentary tickets, is all I can say. Don't get me wrong, on a warm summers day, I can definitely see myself kicking back and enjoying the weather, sipping on cocktails and sampling the fare. 

As it was, Friday evening was hella cold, and if I'd paid the £24 entrance to Taste of London so I could freeze my butt off, side step muddy stretches of the park, and wait in line with the hungry hordes, I would have been pretty annoyed. Thankfully we only had to pay for our tasters, so all in all it was a nice way to spend a couple of hours, plus we got to see a handful of celebrity chefs (I bet they loathe being labelled celebrities).

Our game plan was to avoid any of the restaurants we'd already eaten at, so it was marginally easier to choose from the array of delicious choices.

Opera Tavern's chargrilled lamb cutlets with grilled aubergines and smoked ajo blanco
Le Gavroche's squid tagliatelles and lightly spiced lobster jus with sea greens
Theo Randall's pan-fried scallops served in the shell with pancetta, red chilli, parsley, capers, lentils de Castelluccio and chopped rocket
The Savoy Grill's chargrilled dry-aged Lake District farmer's sirloin, Café de Paris
The only watch out - dishes area a little more expensive than they would have you believe (they advertise as £4 - £5 each) so you'll probably need more crowns (the currency of Taste) than you think. The above selection cost £20 all up, but there were a lot of dishes on offer for £7 - £15 each.

If only it was really summer, it would have been a perfect Friday evening!

Try it Thursday: steamed fish, asian style

"Seriously?!" I hear you cry. "But you're ASIAN!"

I know, I know. There are a lot of things I've yet to learn, young grasshopper. And now I've unlocked the secrets to this one, you can bet I'll be revisiting it again and again.

Ever been to a Chinese restaurant and had whole steamed fish? Here's the ticket. Quick, easy, (relatively) healthy and super tasty - pretty much the perfect weeknight meal.

I went for a whole sea bream for this dish, which I steamed for 25 minutes (and no, of course I don't have a steamer! I flipped a shallow dish upside down inside a pot, filled to just under the top with water, and popped a plate for the fish on top. Et voila! Ready to steam anything.) I put the fish on foil to steam which I turned up around the edges to make sure the juices were held in. On both sides of the fish, I cut a few diagonal incisions, and rubbed salt and pepper into the skin.

While the fish was steaming, I minced up 3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced a piece of ginger about 5cm long, and roughly chopped 4 spring onions. If you're making this (and seriously, you should) remember to pop some rice on to boil while your fish is steaming so that it's ready at the same time.

When the fish was ready (the flesh was white in the cuts I'd made, and its eye was white instead of clear), I sprinkled the garlic over it, then the ginger, then the spring onions. I topped with 1 1/2 tablespoons of light soy sauce and 1/2 a tablespoon of fish sauce. 

In a pan I heated up 2 tablespoons of vegetable cooking oil and 2 tablespoons of sesame oil (keep a lid handy to protect yourself from splatter!). Once hot, I poured the lot over the fish and then sat down to inhale it all.

I served up with some baby bok choi in garlic and oyster sauce.

Trust me - once you've had steamed fish Asian style, you will never think of steamed fish as boring again. And don't be worried about bones - as long as you sliiiiide that tender fish off in the same direction as the bones, you will be just fine. Enjoy!

Book 'em daddo

I'm wondering about books. I mean, I know I did a little round up last month, but I'm wondering whether I'm going to really give a toss when I look back on my life and read about what I was reading. Or will I actually be filled with excitement, because I'll be reminded of books I'd long forgotten but am now inspired to revisit? 

The thing is, words are so important to me - as part of what I do at work, crafting consumer friendly copy and corporate waffle (wow, if anyone was in any doubt I work in marketing, I'm pretty sure that last bit of brand babble has erased any doubt now); as part of my blogging life here and on LLTO; as what fuels my imagination and always has since I was a kid. I love reading, it's part of what makes me...well, me. 

So I guess that pretty much answers the question. Books are in. Look away now if you don't read and don't care (but please come back next non book related post? please, pretty please?).

Gary Shteyngart
This was on the Blook Club list that I'm playing catch up on, and I found it fascinating. I actually ended up really disliking it, because the longer the book went on, the less empathy I felt with both the main characters. That said, the way it was put together was genius, especially the communications between Eunice and her friends and family. Well worth a read just for the scariness of how believable our technological dependencies could become. Read it if: you've ever called your best girlfriend a dirty beyotch to show how much you really love her.

Chad Harbach
Our latest book club pick, this gem really tugged on my heart strings. It had a bit of everything - the jock, the hardened gal, a fragile father - daughter relationship, the superstar athlete who is his own worst enemy, a man coming to terms with falling in love with another man for the first time. In a nutshell, brilliant. Read it if: you like glimmers of hope with a hard dose of reality.

I've just started The Night Circus which I'm hating putting down when my train arrives at work each day. It's adding a little bit of magic to my daily commute!

Lunch at The Ledbury

Guess what? Today we're exactly three months away from the day we arrive in Thailand (eek!).

In three months time, I will be running around like a headless chicken stressing about how to make sure that our 31 friends and family, who are making the trip halfway around the world to celebrate with us, have a holiday to remember. And even though this week I published an article on the cons of having an overseas wedding, I can't help but think - 31 people are bothering to spend time and money to be with us. It's pretty amazing when you think of it that way.

So in celebration of our three month countdown, we went for lunch at the two Michelin starred restaurant, The Ledbury (yeah right! As if I'd ever have realised that when I booked. Still, made for a good toast over lunch.)

The Sunday lunch menu offered is three courses for £50, which I think is a pretty good deal for the quality of food you get. The amuse-bouche was crispy, salty squid ink crackers topped with roe.

Flame Grilled Mackerel, with Mackerel Tartare, Avocado and Shiso 

Ceviche of Hand Dived Scallops with Kabu Turnips, Seaweed, Herb Oil and Frozen English Wasabi
For starters the CG went for the mackerel, which he really enjoyed, especially the jellied avocado accompaniment. The scallops in my ceviche were melt in the mouth, but I thought the turnips over powered them, so I ended up eating them separately. The frozen wasabi certainly added a very frosty element which took me by surprise (you'd think the description would have given it away).

Roast Breast and Confit Leg of Duck with Red Leaves and Vegetables, Foie Gras and Cherry Blossom

Featherblade of Belted Galloway Beef with Wild Garlic Puree, Pickled Walnuts and Bone Marrow
Our mains were presented beautifully, and lived up to their entrance. I had the duck which was deliciously tender. There was a lot going on with the dish, with the red leaves, beetroot, cherry blossoms and the mousse-like foie gras - so every mouthful was a mixed sensation.

The CG's beef had been cooked for 8 hours so the meat was super tender. The crispy chip-like pillows on top added a tasty crunch and were a nice touch. For all his reservations about pickled walnuts in the dish, there were certainly no complaints as he happily worked his way through it all!

After stalking out the dessert options served up to the tables around us, we both agreed that while we wouldn't usually miss an opportunity to try two new things, neither of us were willing to suffer major food envy - so we both went for the passionfruit souffle, and we weren't disappointed.

Passion Fruit SoufflĂ© with Sauternes Ice Cream

We finished the meal off with tea, coffee and petite fours of mandarin jelly, earl grey biscuits and eucalyptus truffles.

We left not feeling over stuffed, but just right. All in all, a lovely meal, in a great restaurant, which we would definitely recommend.

The Ledbury on Urbanspoon Square Meal

Things I learnt last weekend

What you should do when your baby sister-in-laws come to stay for the weekend:
  • Take them to places they haven't been, like Spitalfields
  • Have fun cruising around the city taking joke photos
  • Enjoy brunch out in a cafe 
  • Treat them to a feast at Hung's in Chinatown at 2am
  • Introduce them to new foods they've never tried before

What you shouldn't do when your baby sister-in-laws come to stay for the weekend:
  • Get them to make you cocktails while you have a power nap
  • Take them to The Box where they'll see things they shouldn't be seeing unless they're (a) not with their older brother, (b) at an Amsterdam sex show
  • Encourage them to fleece men for whatever they want
  • Return home with them as the sun is rising
  • Do anything that requires you to follow with "don't tell your mother!"

Nope, not going to win any role model of the year awards, that's for sure.

NYC part 6: petite fours

Our last (half) day in New York, we dragged ourselves out of bed after only a couple of hours sleep. Well, Miss J and I dragged ourselves out of bed while Miss O crankily cried out "no!" and covered her head.

J was taking us to the 9/11 memorial before heading to where he needed to be for the day, so the deal was we had to wake him at 8am. In fairness, he didn't take as long as expected to answer my wake up doorbells and knocks. Unfortunately, he returned swiftly to bed, and it took us another couple of hours to get him up and ready to face the day (those who know me will attest to my extreme impatience - lucky for J he'd been so hospitable I was forced to call on my reserves that morning!).

Finally out of the house and a little bit dusty, we stopped off at the Sunset Park Diner down the road for brekkie.

Full up and less peaky, we headed to the 9/11 tribute centre and memorial where we said a somber goodbye and thanks to J. 

The tribute centre chokes me up. It's got to be done, but two times is definitely enough for me. They have done a great job with the memorial, its a lovely place to pay your respects, and really feel the enormity of the site. Building is going on all around, and it's good to feel the progression and the drive to move on, too.

With not much time left we decided to do the tourist thing and whizzed up to Times Square and across to Grand Central Station before calling it a day.

Oh...and we managed to fit a piece of Junior's cheesecake in just when we thought we couldn't tick anymore recommendations off our list. New York baked cheesecake - BAM!

Tired and a little depressed, we started our journey home via the red eye. Most depressing thing ever? Sitting at work straight off the plane, having to buy lunch from the supermarket downstairs instead of somewhere new and exciting in NYC. 

But you know what they say - it's better to end a holiday feeling like you want to stay, than that you're ready to come home. 

NYC part 5: dessert

By Monday I think we'd fully converted Miss J to our Asian eating lifestyle, so first up: noodles. And more pork buns. 

Ippudo was excellent - steaming bowls of deliciously tasty ramen, the likes of which I've never experienced before. I could definitely do noodles for breakfast every day. As we were meeting Miss O's true New Yorker friends there, they knew exactly what to order; I had the Akamaru Chashu which I definitely recommend.

We were also joined by my buddy Anthony, who I met years ago on my very first trip to NYC.

The rain was keeping up a fairly steady patter, very London-like, so we decided that shopping indoors was in order and headed to midtown.

And then it was time. My final dress fitting *gulp*. 

But not before a quick stop at Sprinkles. Recommended by my cousin A, who has personally sampled every cupcake on Manhattan, this was her star pick of the lot. Don't be put off by the seemingly smaller selection of flavours - Miss J actually declared this cupcake THE best thing she ate all trip.

Thankfully, Amy's alterations had actually made my dress a little too loose, so despite the binge eating over the last few days, and my cupcake while we were waiting for final final adjustments, all was well and we left with (fitting) dresses safely in hand. 

If you're ever lucky enough to be shopping for your wedding dress in NYC, I cannot say enough great things about the ladies at Cymbeline. They made my whole experience fantastic, and granted, while I never visited any other store, I really didn't need to. They were helpful, accommodating, reassuring, competitive on price, and their designs are diverse, suit plenty of body shapes, and they have modern takes on even classic looks. Pay them a visit - that's all I'm saying! OK, gush over.

After sobbing hysterically when we returned to the apartment that it was our last night in NYC, we pulled ourselves together and headed to the Upper East side to meet J and his firefighting friends (one of whom actually was the big friendly giant) where we were introduced to JG Melon - home of the rare and juicy burger. Opinions were divided again - Miss J thought the patty wasn't that flavoursome, while Miss O liked it. We all agreed however that the texture was great, thanks to the nice pink centres. 

Yep, that was Miss O attempting a high five. LAME! Many drinks later, including an entertaining re-appearance from Anthony, Miss J discovered her second favourite eat in the city: a warm and gooey cookie from Insomnia. There's only one reason a cookie joint is open that late...yep, you know why. 

She's a lady alright.

We said farewell to NYC at night on top of our apartment block before we headed in for one more (very short) sleep *sniff*.