Bloomzy and Ben's New Pad

A few weeks ago, a couple of us descended upon Stratford to help Emma (Bloomzy) and Ben out with a spot of housewarming. The lucky couple have honestly struck gold - they're the proud new tenants of an apartment in the most amazingly futuristic-looking building. It's super-clean, super-modern and super-dangerous (it's on Westfield's doorstep...I don't even want to imagine the damage I'd do to my purse if I lived around there!) The high-rise is also reminiscent of the complexes in Hong Kong or Singapore, with enviable cosmopolitan views stretching all the way to the City. 

As a group united by our love of food, we obviously had to warm the house in the most food-centric way possible. Emma's coffee table was literally groaning with goodies - such as V.A.'s brilliant homemade sticky bánh rán and bánh cuon, reminding me of my childhood favourite, cheung fun, addictive pizzas brought by Jesse and Rob from Pizza Union, E's famous salted caramel macarons (which were even better than I'd imagined from the Instagrams!), the cookies I'd baked with Inez earlier that day, popcorn, falafel, cheeses, Japanese crackers...

And, of course, one cannot adequately warm a house on food alone...

Honey helped Thach to crack open a particularly good bottle of champagne gifted by the T-Man himself (Emma, above, looking adorably anxious pre-cracking). Next we zoomed up to the gorgeously verdant roof, toasting the move while gazing out at the architectural gems on the skyline - the ArcelorMittal Orbit and the Shard, among others.

When it got chilly we decamped indoors to snack on more treats and laugh ridiculous amounts while playing that reliable relationship-destroyer, Cranium. It almost felt like a little family, with the teams spearheaded by Papa E and Mama MihoAnd a special mention has to go to V.A., officially the funniest purveyor of Captain Jack Sparrow impersonations ever. 

You know you've had an excellent night with lovely people when you can't stop smiling on your midnight train home. Congrats on your move, Emma and Ben - I'm very very jealous of your new home and can't wait for the next Cranium game/match/armoured tournament! Might have to read the encyclopaedia first though so I can keep up my erudite reputation...

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Catch-Up Time's been three months since my last catch-up post! Since then, spring has come and is now on its way out, replaced by capricious conditions that fluctuate between sweaty high summer and the chill of late autumn. My months have been similarly affected by whimsy, characterised by a marked lack of time but strangely, more socialising than I've done since graduation. I've really been loving building on old friendships as well as seeing new ones flourish. Spring feels like it has brought with it a new beginning - and a fresh sense of resolve. 

Over the past three months, I've been...

...welcoming in spring all over London, and revelling in the blossoms of April and May. Cliché, yes, but it's been genuinely exciting for me this time because I haven't managed to fully enjoy spring for about six years! It's always signalled exams to me, and the need to shut myself up in the nearest library to revise - so this year has felt liberating.

...finally trying out The Breakfast Club in Shoreditch for the first time. It was a mixed experience - I was a bit mopey about the fact that my chorizo hash browns didn't actually feature the crispy triangular hash browns that I love so much (seriously - I've had a borderline obsession with them since childhood) but rather fried potatoes. On the other hand, this spicy eggs benedict was basically created for Alex and he polished it off at the speed of light.

...continuing my career quest. Now that we're in May it's nearly crunch time for applications, and I have to admit that the stress is getting to me. Currently trying to keep my head up and do my best to learn as much about the profession as I can before the deadlines.

...baking chocolate chip cookies with Inez, which turned out to actually be quite yummy despite a host of near-disasters, like having no scales to measure our ingredients with (!) 

...returning to Honest Burgers, my favourite burger joint, to try out their Brindisa special - filled with succulent chorizo and soft manchego. Seriously so yummy!

...exploring sections of the V&A previously unknown to me, like the amazingly extensive ironwork gallery. I'll be back here at the end of this month to see Savage Beauty. I've been trying to avoid all the reviews from fellow bloggers since I want to view the exhibition with fresh eyes, but suffice to say - I am so excited to see it!

...trying out afternoon tea at the Magazine, housed in the amazing structure designed by Zaha Hadid that's connected to the Serpentine Sackler Gallery. Everything about this place screams beauty, from the sinuous curves of the architecture to the painstakingly crafted bites, but unfortunately the general atmosphere didn't wow me. Perhaps this was because the selection is supposed to be based on 'wellness' (and I'm a glutton who'd prefer an array of creamy cakes), and perhaps because the service, like the interior of the building, seemed a little cold and detached. 

...finally meeting up with the lovely and intimidatingly bright Lisa. We went to see Isao Takahata's last Ghibli offering, Princess Kaguya, which was unsettlingly gorgeous and heartbreaking (no spoilers, but certain elements of the plot caused us to bawl our eyes out...) Post-movie, we went for a suitably Japanese dinner at Ippudo, drowning our sorrows in generous bowls of ramen and cocktails. My Midori-based drink complete with mountain plum was so good! And how cool is that bar base of instant ramen?

...basically asking for a hangover by attending a fun tequila tasting and masterclass, courtesy of Herradura at LAB! I used to attend cocktail masterclasses at the Cambridge Union back in the day, but my mixology skills are seriously rusty so I didn't even dare attempt to help with the cocktail-making! Perhaps next time I'll be braver...

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Shackfuyu 2.0

Didn't I say I'd be back for that wicked-looking French toast with matcha soft-serve? I'm nothing if not a woman of my word.

Let's set the scene a little bit. One warm spring night a few weeks ago, Alex and I headed to Soho to join forces with the Foodie Superheroes: Miho, Honey, Emma, V.A., Jesse, E and Thach. Our mission? To sample all that Shackfuyu had to offer. And I mean that literally - we ordered two or three of practically everything on the menu, as well as most of the cocktails!

First came a shoal of yellowtail sashimi nestled in avocado atop a tostada shell. These were light and refreshing, and I could easily have eaten five by myself.

The USDA beef picanha in kimchee tare butter was also pretty special, and beautifully cooked to a medium rare standard.

We also went for the mac and cheese with mentaiko. From the Shackfuyu menu I see that they've changed the garnish to cock scratchings, which sounds like a better pairing - mac and cheese is definitely far better suited to meat than fish roe! I'd had this before, and we also ordered a fair few dishes that I ate on my last visit: hot stone rice, the aubergine with bubu arare, the prawn toast masquerading as okonomiyaki. My opinion didn't change too much on these, so you can read what I thought the first time round here!

And the star of the dinner - Kinako French toast with green tea ice-cream (which looks oddly luminescent in this photo - I blame blogger DIY lightboxes with phone flash!)

Thanks to the premature summer heat, the soft-serve machine broke down halfway through our order. The waitresses were very apologetic, but we didn't mind too much - we shared the desserts that had arrived prior to the technical failure. Plus, it was so worth the wait: when the machine was up and running again, practically everyone got their own tub of matcha on the house! Cue a very smug response from the gentlemen of the group (see below).

I can see why this dessert is so hyped on Instagram: the matcha ice cream is excellent. Puddings with matcha flavouring often tip over into bitter territory, but this had just the right level of astringency, creaminess and chill to offset the warm, caramelised French toast.

Poor Alex got a bit intimidated by the hosts of cameras and phones whipped out every time the waitress deposited a new dish at our table. As for me...I knew I had found my people at last.

After pudding we headed next door to Soho institution LAB for a few drinks. LAB has been a stalwart fixture of my teenage years and early twenties - it was the first cocktail bar I went to aged 18, the site of my 20th birthday drinks, and my first London date with Alex. So it felt right that it should be the scene of my first night out with the foodie crew!

There was also a first happening at LAB - Miho's first ever Jagerbomb. I felt like a seasoned pro explaining to the JB virgins among us about how to drink one (Freshers' Week taught me well).

Yup - there's that classic Jagerbomb response!

After a spicy Mexican Butterfly, Alex and I had to bid our fellow foodies farewell. As we rushed down Shaftesbury Avenue to catch the last train south, there was but one thing floating through my mind: that delicious soft-serve dessert. Seriously a matcha made in heaven. 

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The Horniman Museum

All you naughty children sniggering over the Horniman Museum's name at the back there, quieten down now. It's a seriously awesome museum, and one of my favourite spots in London. Best of all, general admission is completely free. I decided to visit on my own a couple of weeks ago, fleeing up the hill to escape pelting, icy rain. I'm no stranger to the HM, but this didn't matter to me at all. I think there's something so special about wandering around a museum alone, unimpeded by other people's opinions or walking paces. Yup - it was time to get my inner museology geek on.

The Horniman is a bit of a crazy place - in a good way. There's several galleries featuring anthropological exhibits - there was an exhibition about Romanian dress and identity when I visited, as well as a room holding pretty much every musical instrument you can think of. But my favourite is a cabinet of curiosities-style gallery in the basement. It's dark and atmospheric, rarely populated by other visitors, and absolutely full to the rafters of random artefacts from all over the world - reminiscent of Cambridge's Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology. There's everything in here from sculptures of avenging Hindu deities to Alpine masks, fishing hooks and torture chairs.

But the real reason to visit the HM is for its amazing natural history gallery. Rivalling the Natural History Museum in the amount of taxidermied and model specimens it possesses, it's definitely a lot quainter and less crowded than the NHM, making it a joy to wander from cabinet to cabinet in peace.

I loved the handwritten caption on the Callides Grandes, top left. It really conjures up the time and place where it was found. I can just imagine how happy Mr. Horniman would have been when he chanced upon it innocently crawling along the leaf of a tea plant on a trip to Kobe at the end of the 19th century.

I remembered this little guy from my last visit - probably because his cheeky grin and tufty spikes remind me of Alex! 

Seeing the skeletons of other primates always strikes a chord with me - we really are so closely related.

The most famous animal in here is the majestic walrus, who's lived here for over a century - give or take the odd tour or renovation. He's absolutely gigantic because the taxidermist overstuffed him, not knowing that walruses are meant to be wrinkly...

This gametes chart took me straight back to GCSE Biology.

The Horniman also has an amazing collection of birds from all over the world. My favourite sections include an incredible sequence of pigeons at various stages of flight and, best of all, the exotic birds collection.

The tiny sunbird.

A kingfisher (Malaysia represent!) 

The long-tailed, brightly-coloured quetzal from Central America.

I thought the iridescent plumage on the golden-headed trogon was especially fascinating, and very beautiful.

From the top...

...and from the bottom. 

After the needle-like rain had eased off I took a stroll around the museum grounds.

At the top of the hill there's the most amazing view stretching all the way to the City.

I sat on the crest of the hill admiring the view from the bandstand for a while and trying not to get blown off my bench by the relentlessly buffeting winds. 

The Horniman is absolutely worth the trek down to the southern reaches of Forest Hill! You'll definitely learn a thing or two in the amazing museum, and on a warmer day it's a perfect place to have a picnic. If you spent your childhood delving into Horrible Science and thought that the NHM was heaven on earth, this'll make a perfect day trip for you.

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