It was my birthday earlier this month! I turned 23 on Friday 5th, meaning I had an entire weekend at my disposal to fritter away on various birthday-related food and drinks. Which was exactly what I was planning. Prepare yourselves, dear readers - I've edited them down as best I can, but there's still an absolute onslaught of photos to follow.
Friday evening saw my parents and I stepping out in Soho for a good old-fashioned birthday meal on the town.
But first...cocktails. And not in any old establishment, but one hidden behind a slightly seedy-looking door on Gerrard Street in Chinatown - Opium! Its cocktail list is structured like the courses on a traditional restaurant menu, with aperitifs, entrées, mains and digestifs on offer.
I swapped drinks with my mum straight away, as we preferred what the other was having. So that worked out very well for me - mine was a bit too fresh and crisp for my taste, almost savoury.
A Quintessential Cooler for Padre Lim which came in a suitably masculine rocks glass. (Really want a set of these for my future home!) Vodka, smoked pineapple syrup, grapefruit juice.
Wild Blossom Shaken, imbibed by yours truly. Noilly ambrebitter truth elderflower, lime juice, rose water and rose champagne. Delicious, especially when washing down the superb selection of dumplings on offer. Opium has everything from traditional king prawns to crab and samphire, lobster and mushroom and truffle. We tried them all. Probably not recommended pre-dinner, but it was my birthday, after all!
A brisk walk from the bar took us into the heart of Soho. Our destination? Ember Yard, for tapas-style dining. Here's the highlights from our meal.
Smoky bites of chorizo with a saffron aioli.
Iberico pork fat chips with chorizo ketchup. Cooked just the way I like them, crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Oh, and you might be able to tell from the hazy experimental shots, but my dad got me a pancake lens for my birthday so I was having lots of fun playing with it during this meal!
Buttermilk fried squid with capers, lemon, sage and thick squid ink aioli. Save me from myself. I could eat an entire bowl of these salty, crispy delights to myself. In fact, the squid isn't even in this picture as we'd scoffed the whole thing before I had a chance to whip out my camera...
Steamed and chargrilled octopus with pepperonata and mojo verde aioli.
The sweetest spare ribs I've ever had. Roasted and chargrilled, glazed with a quince sauce and served on a bed of celeriac purée, these were sticky, unctuous and made me want to chew them right down to the bone. And... I did.
A burrata which provided a perfect creamy foil to the spicier, sharper tastes at the table.
And then home for not one but two birthday cakes! One made up of different cakes from the amazing Lanka, and a red velvet from Hummingbird. Double cake is what happens when parents don't communicate about who's buying...and I certainly wasn't complaining.
Saturday brought with it hastily made plans to see friends for dinner and drinks. We secured a table at Princi on Wardour Street for pasta, pizzas and other delicious Italian fare. I totally forgot to get my camera out, but some of my friends aren't used to my blogging tendencies anyway... Next we headed north of Oxford Street to quaff a few cocktails. I chose a place I've been wanting to try out for ages - Reverend JW Simpson! It's an underground bar designed to look like a dingy-looking flat recently vacated by a member of the church. With plaster and wallpaper peeling off, shadows of crucifixes hanging on the walls and fireplaces gaping open, it's got a purposefully creepy vibe - but the drinks are A+.
We were brought the most amazing looking shots on a tray, and gleefully downed them in remembrance of our fresher days. How cool are those tiny goblets? Later it transpired that these weren't actually on the house but a mixed-up order, but we didn't have to pay for them anyway. A good reason to go back soon, I reckon.
Lovely school friends Eleanor and Katy bought me birthday drinks. First, a Rebourne Royal (gin, lime, elderflower and fizz...I'm so predictable) and then an Aphrodite Sour (tequila, more eldeflower, Picon Club, lemon juice and bitters). I really need to look into buying myself an elder tree.
I spy a bit of Asian blush goin' on up there. Sigh at myself. But it was so nice to see the girls! Really need to make sure I do more of this in 2015. There's my first New Year's resolution!
Sunday rolled around quickly (a bit too quickly, actually - I'm not the spry young thing I was at 18, able to hop out of bed at 9 AM after a night of carousing...) and Alex came down on the train to visit me in the afternoon! We checked into a lovely hotel on Russell Square - the Hotel Russell, for anyone needing somewhere to stay near Euston any time soon - watched an incredible sunset from the sixth floor and opened presents. Am now officially a fan of staycations. The perfect break after a busy November.
The hotel had a wonderful old-school charm about it and reminded me a little of the more old-fashioned hotels in America (genuinely don't know where I'm getting this from...Home Alone 2, maybe?) despite being situated slap-bang in the middle of London.
When night fell, we headed to the Soho Grind for a quick coffee and I fell in love with the interior (if not the coffee - somehow I've gone 23 years without ever having a cup of the stuff).
And I ended the weekend where I'd started it - at Ember Yard! Yes, my parents and boyfriend managed to book exactly the same restaurant, out of the hundreds of dining establishments available to us in London. Just goes to show how well they both know me and my love of small plates...!
We kicked things off with cocktails - no idea what they were, as the menu's already changed since we were there a fortnight ago - but both were very good indeed. I think mine involved Basque cider of some sort, whereas Alex's ice sphere was so cool (geddit) it's eclipsed my memory of what the actual drink contained entirely. I'm going senile at 23.
Alex was pretty upset that I was dining at the same place twice in one weekend, but I reassured him by picking my favourites from the previous meal as well as some of the dishes we hadn't tried on Friday.
That incredible calamari again. I wasn't lying when I said I could eat another bowl...
The best pre-Christmas (or post-Christmas, for that matter) Brussel sprouts that have ever passed my lips. The sprouts were hidden in a creamy swiss chard gratin made addictive with pieces of celeriac, smoked ricotta, and migas.
We also ordered courgette flowers stuffed with goat's cheese and drizzled with honey, but they weren't particularly photogenic. So here's a photo of Alex's happy diner face instead.
Yup, the ribs again. Though this time they'd been sliced in a way that made the meat harder to get to - it certainly didn't fall off the bone like it had on Friday. Something that one notices when one has the same dish twice in one weekend, I reckon!
And the star of the entire weekend - Ember Yard's signature dish. Sweet, tender Ibérico presa (shoulder meat) bites to be smeared with whipped jamón butter. I honestly couldn't fault this. So memorable it makes my mouth water a fortnight later.
And a wonderfully wobbly cinnamon and milk tart with a scoop of chestnut ice cream and cranberry jam. Festive flavours that melded very well together, and the perfect full stop to my weekend of birthday indulgence.
So I think I managed to expand my stomach adequately in time for Christmas, don't you? Thank you very much to everyone who made my birthday revellings so lovely! It was so wonderful to be surrounded by friends and family, especially at the end of the year. The perfect start to the festive season.