Thursday, July 24, 2014

High-Rise Dining At The Shard

I was lucky enough to be taken out for lunch at Hutong by my parents the weekend before last, to celebrate my graduation in truly Chinese style. That is, by completely gorging ourselves. We Asians like our feasts.

Hutong is like a slice of glamorous, sparkling Shanghai, set in the centre of ancient London, towering over the Thames in the skyscraping Shard. At 33 floors up, it's definitely the highest altitude meal I've ever had. Probably not the best date spot for those prone to vertigo!

We kicked things off with a round of cocktails to toast my recent departure from university (although, truth be told, it already feels like half a year ago!) I was very pleased with my Beijing Fizz, made up of champagne, elderflower cordial, vodka, and a deep note of plum bitters to give things a Far East twist.

Al had a Bloody Mary of sorts with the cutest little clothespeg on the side of the glass.

As usual, my mother was in charge of ordering, and she ordered generously, but also carefully - in Jay Rayner's review of Hutong he describes the prices as 'ludicrous, a poke in the eye from a chopstick dipped in salty Korean chilli sauce.' So go easy on the ordering if you ever pay Hutong a visit!

We started with thin slices of cucumber and belly pork nestled against each other.

Next was a ceviche-like squid dish.

A beautifully presented block of crispy de-boned lamb ribs. 

Green beans, tofu and succulent king prawns on the side.

A chef brought over a whole roasted duck and carved it into glistening jewel-like pieces in front of our eyes, to be wrapped up in pancakes with thinly sliced cucumber, spring onions and sticky hoi sin sauce. This one was mindblowingly good. Not to be missed!

Roast duck was my all-time favourite as a child, so I'm slavering right now looking at these photos...Genuine food porn.

We all gasped appreciatively when the waitress laid a lantern-shaped basket on our table, stuffed with salty morsels of soft shell crab peeping out from a bed of dried Sichuan chillies.

Our last dish was one absolutely key to any Chinese feast. Noodles. An Asian staple and also of symbolic value, as their length connotes longevity and suggests future success and prosperity. 

Two graduates.

Full up and teetering slightly from the cocktails and view of the sheer drop below, we whizzed back down in the (terrifyingly speedy) lift and gazed back up at the Shard. Definitely my favourite building in London at the moment!

I couldn't have asked for better company or a more delicious meal with a more amazing location. Thank you so much, Mum and Dad! :)

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Buzzworthy Cause

'When the flower blooms, the bees come uninvited.' - Ramakrishna

Alex and I are going on a beekeeping course over the next two weekends and while I'm a tiny bit scared of being stung, I'm really interested to study the process involved in looking after a hive. The bee populations in Britain have taken a huge nosedive and I think it's really important to learn about these incredible creatures without whom agriculture would take a serious beating; bees and other wild pollinators are responsible for pollinating up to 84% of EU crops.

Attracted by the 'Bee Lovely' products in a Neal's Yard Remedies window in Borough Market a few weeks ago, I walked into the shop and had a great chat about honeybees with the woman manning the counter, who was very enthusiastic about the 'Save the Bees' campaign Neal's Yard are currently running. Their Bee Lovely range includes hand cream, body cream, shower gel and hand wash; £1 from each tube of hand cream goes to Buglife, Landlife and Pesticide Action Network UK in support of their bee-friendly initiatives. In addition, Neal's Yard are donating £10, 000 a year towards bee-friendly projects. Wanting to know more, I asked the woman what we might do to help the bees on an individual level, and she gave me the following advice.

• Buy organic or pesticide-free products, especially plants, flowers and seeds.

• Plant bee-friendly herbs and wild flowers in your back garden if you have one. Bee-friendly plants include cornflowers, cosmos, sunflowers, dahlias, crocuses, borage, mint, rosemary, lavender, ivy, poppies - the list goes on! You could also let part of your garden go wild to create a haven for insects.

• Don't use insecticides in the garden - use biological controls instead!

• Give a bee a home: put a simple box in your garden and wild bees will use it as a home. A great way to attract bees without the commitment of beekeeping - see Bee Guardian Foundation for more info.

• Buy chemical-free, unfiltered honey from a local beekeeper rather than supermarket honey, which is usually sourced from thousands of miles away.

• Become a beekeeper!

Experts have warned that honeybees could disappear entirely from the UK in 2018. The loss of natural pollinators could cost British agriculture up to £440 million a year and completely devastate our ecosystem, so I think this is a very important cause to get behind! I'll be reporting back on how the course goes - fingers crossed I don't get too many stings in the pursuit of learning how to help bees...

*This isn't a sponsored post in any way - I'm very passionate about the bee cause and thought that the Neal's Yard campaign was a very worthy one to write about on here. There's a great BBC2 programme called Hive Alive on iPlayer at the moment that'll give you a good introduction to how honeybees work. They truly are incredible creatures!

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Paris: Troisième/Quatrième Jour

We're having a real heatwave here in London this week. I'm currently slumped indoors with a glass of water, too hot to move or even go outside, and the thermometer's going to be pushing 32º C tomorrow - very hot for Blighty! This was very much not the case last week in Paris. It felt almost like autumn was digging its talons into France, soaking the city with an omnipresent blanket of drizzle and blowing cold winds over the arrondissements, leaving the mercury shivering at about 15º. In July.

Despite the miserable weather, I was happy. I was with A, and as they say - Paris is always a good idea. Even if it's chucking it down.

We spent our penultimate morning wandering through the city, pausing in Saint-Eustache church (so much prettier than Saint-Sulpice, where we were forced to hole up during a rainstorm later that day)!

Saint-Eustache has the largest organ in the land. It's a very well-endowed instrument, as you can see.

I discovered a Keith Haring altarpiece, Life of Christ, in one of the side chapels. I say 'discovered' - I had had no idea of its existence so it was a pleasant surprise to happen across it! I think the piece makes a great contrast to the soaring Gothic vaults in the main body of the church.

We left the church and walked into the square that would have once played host to the ancient food market, Les Halles (now unfortunately an underground shopping mall). If you look closely you'll see there's a little person hiding in the palm of this giant sculpture's hand, but she was too shy to have her picture taken.

A and I strolled down to the first arrondissement shopping area, pausing in Colette to wonder at the various gewgaws on sale, like a Lego version of the Simpsons, a Solowheel and the crazy water bar in the basement.

We were quite enamoured with these monogrammed cases outside E. Goyard.

Though not so much with these dog accoutrements in the window...

Next we made a stop in the quite rightly lauded Pierre Hermé - my macaron shop of choice when in Paris! Again, they have Pierre Hermé in Selfridges here in London, but it feels nice to wander around Paris holding a little bag of macarons...

We chose Mogador (chocolate and passionfruit), Infiniment Pistache, Infiniment Caramel (the best!) and Montebello (half pistachio, half raspberry). 

Up next was lunchtime. On Miho's recommendation we went south of the river to Yves Camdeborde's wildly popular restaurant L'Avant Comptoir in St. Germain-des-Près, stopping off just inside the entrance to pick up crêpes. I chose a heartstoppingly (literally) good filling of saucisses and emmental cheese, while Alex chose the special of the day, filled with artichoke, cheese, pastrami, rocket and mushrooms. The rocket was just a little too bitter for Alex's taste, but the artichoke was delicious. We ate the hot crêpes in the rain, under the shelter of a tree in the Jardins du Luxembourg. 

After demolishing our crêpes we had a little promenade around the beautifully manicured gardens, stopping at an installation of a floor map marking out the military movements in France during the First World War. 

On my agenda next was the Musée d'Orsay. The queues were much more manageable this time, and the time passed quickly while we nibbled our macarons! Even sweeter was the lack of admission fee - if you're an EU resident and aged 18-25 you can get in for free.

The museum, housed in a former train station, is a beaut.

There's even old ballrooms attached to the main body of the museum overflowing with sparkling chandeliers and Rococo ornamentation. 

I'd like a giant clock for my house like this please. Reminds me of the film Hugo. There was an incredible view of Montmartre with Sacré-Cœur perched atop its crest in the rain from here.

The main hall that houses the art and sculptures in all its glory. There's some great pieces to see here, including a giant body of Impressionist works, Manet paintings, and collections of Art Nouveau furniture.

Later in the evening we did the prerequisite tourist promenade down the Champs-Elysées.

Alex even got to see the Eiffel Tower glimmering on the hour - Parisians may hate it, but there's something magical about it!

We woke up early on our last morning to have a giant brunch at Café Madam, a little place down the road from us. I had eggs benedict and chocolat chaud, and Alex had...just about everything.

The face of a man who's pretty smug about his breakfast choice.

We rounded off our trip with a walk to the Opéra. Alex and I met over opera (Die Fledermaus), so it was a pretty fitting end to our holiday!

We managed to pack lots into this lovely, if fleeting trip - and I already can't wait for the next time I step off the train in Paris! 

I hope that you've enjoyed my photos from the trip! I'm already itching to go away again (perhaps somewhere with snow - it's so hot here.) Next stop, Turkey!

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