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Princess Garden of Mayfair

A couple of weeks ago I met up with my favourite foodies (Thach, Honey, Miho and E) for a taste of China just off the bustle of Oxford Street. Our feasting at Princess Garden of Mayfair marked a special occasion: Thach's birthday! You honestly wouldn't believe how old the guy is if I told you. Seriously, his ageing genes must be non-existent. 

First to the table were platters of roast duck and lobster noodles. These are probably my two favourite dishes to order for a Chinese dinner. The roast duck was delicious and beautifully fatty, though I prefer the meat to be deboned more thoroughly. The noodles were especially perfect for the occasion - you absolutely have to order them if you're celebrating a birthday, as their length implies longevity (!) I love the texture of these noodles, but my one quibble with this particular dish was that I wished the waiters had supplied us with lobster picks, as it's just so hard to get the meat out with a fork! Though maybe I'm just greedy...

Next I filled my plate with har gau and soup-filled xiaolongbao. I'm not a huge dumpling connoisseur so all I can report on these is that they were perfectly nice, but nothing to write home about.

The dish that elicited the most appreciative murmurs (and a fair few from me) was the pork belly. This was seriously good - incredibly tender, flavourful meat which fell apart at the merest nudge of my chopsticks. I was tempted to have the whole bowl to myself, but that wouldn't have been very fair on the birthday boy.

Coming from a Chinese family, I'm bound to be extremely picky and more than a little judgmental where it comes to food from the Middle Kingdom. So if I'm to be brutally honest, the standard of the food and service wasn't quite what I'm used to. I've definitely had better Chinese in Bayswater, and at a fraction of the price. However, Chinese food always makes for a wonderfully convivial atmosphere and so Princess Garden definitely fits the bill for a birthday or business dinner!

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Columbia Road Flower Market

Just like the rest of London, Columbia Road Flower Market is perennially packed. But the market  is so interesting and pretty that somehow, the crowds melt away. When I visited a few weeks ago, I expertly weaved my way in and out of a sea of people (a skill acquired from a horror of my fellow commuters' armpits), taking in stalls bursting with colour and beautiful fragrances. They sell everything here - from exotic-looking orchids on slender stems to the homeliest of Michaelmas daisies, a fiver a bunch. 

Columbia Road is great for the spendthrifts among us too. You have to restrain yourself or else be doomed to lugging incredibly heavy plants all the way home! That said, we were seduced by this pretty cherry blossom tree with dark pink flowers. At £15, I thought it was cheap for a tree...then again, I have no idea how much these things cost.

We also went home with a beautiful camellia japonica tree. It was a bit pricier than the cherry blossom (and a diva, too - it needs a special soil, ericaceous peat for those of you who are so inclined...) but just look how irresistible its flowers are.

Also on offer at the market: deliciously chewy bagels (I can attest to how filling these were - I had one, stuffed with cheesy omelette, rocket and tomatoes), folksy busking and dogs. Ridiculously cute dogs. Despite the fact the pug had a tongue reminiscent of a certain Pokémon, see below...

As we arrived home and chose positions for the trees in our garden, I looked around and felt a little twitterpated. Late spring/early summer in London is just so beautiful - the trees heave with flowers and fallen petals genuinely swirl in the breeze. Yep, I'm pretty sure it's my favourite time of year.

Have you ever been to Columbia Flower Market? Or is there an equivalent where you live? There's something so lovely about popping down to a market, picking up a handful of blooms and bringing them home - I wish I lived closer. I'd love to see where the stall-owners source their flowers from, and perhaps visit a couple of gardening shows next year. My family has been going through a difficult patch, and gardening, with all its digging, weeding and watering, has proved to be fairly therapeutic. It's so good to feel that you're giving something back to the earth by helping plants out!...Wow, that sounded hippie. Herein ends my post. 

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Ozone Coffee and V&A Museum of Childhood

Today I want to share a lovely day Alex and I spent meandering around east London a while back. The day started as every day should: with a hearty brunch at Ozone Coffee Roasters, a very cool little joint just off Old Street that I would definitely choose as my regular if I lived on Silicon Roundabout.

We went for the usual suspects - a flat white for him, a wonderfully smooth chai latte for me. 

As usual, I ordered with eyes bigger than my stomach and was presented with cassoulet baked eggs with beans, confit duck, Toulouse sausage, pork belly and gremolata - and toasted sourdough. It was delicious, but as you can imagine, incredibly heavy; I barely scratched the surface.

Alex went for pork belly eggs benedict on winter bubble 'n' squeak cakes with hollandaise, with a side of avocado. It was a mistake for him to let me have a forkful: serious food envy waves emanated across the table from that moment on.

All fuelled up and ready for a bit of culture, we walked across town to Bethnal Green to rediscover the toys that shaped our lives at....

Though the V&A Museum of Childhood may be linked in name with the Victoria & Albert Museum, it's an entirely different beast. The V&A is all marble floors and chandeliers, gilded objets d'art, housed in a jawdropping mid-19th century building in swanky South Kensington that boasts its own courtyard and modern fountain. The Museum of Childhood, meanwhile, is dedicated to toys - objects that have been pawed and loved by countless generations of children, crowded into cabinets in a slightly hodge-podge manner and identifiable by paper labels printed out on Word. It's pretty obvious that it doesn't have the funding of its sister (parent?) museum. Yet the place has a certain charm, and the building, an airy 19th-century hangar, is really lovely.

The museum's mission statement is "To enable everyone, especially the young, to explore and enjoy the designed world, in particular objects made for and made by children". Although the last time I visited was probably over a decade and a half ago, I still have good memories of its exhibits - so on a personal level, I think the museum succeeds in this respect!

Alex had to endure my yelps of excitement as I ran around the museum, occasionally spotting toys I'd played with as a child. I was always very jealous of friends who had robot dogs or cats - does anyone else remember the Poo-chi?

The Museum has an amazing collection of dolls' houses. The second one down was designed in the Arts & Crafts style in the late 19th century and later bought and carefully decorated by Queen Mary. The houses all brought back memories of visiting a quaint little shop dedicated to dolls' house furniture and bits and bobs in Camden to furnish the Georgian dolls' house Bri got for Christmas one year.

There's a few slightly creepy objects in the Museum - as well as a fascinating insight into Victorian psyche, in which children were treated like little adults. And interestingly, to this day, we continue to sometimes give small children toys that prepare them for adult life - like plastic stoves, little replica hoovers, tea sets, dolls' houses to furnish, toy microscopes and so on.

I remembered this little guy from the early days of my childhood, trailing along behind my little sister. 

Playtime at an end, it was time to pay attention to our bellies (yes, again). And what better childhood treat to indulge in than doughnuts? Alex and I stopped off at Dum Dum outside Shoreditch High Street to grab a couple of these bad boys for the train ride home. Baked rather than fried, they didn't feel too naughty - just the ticket.

I hope you enjoyed this post - it's always nice to get back in touch with one's inner child and remember how important it is to relax and allow yourself to have a little fun in your life. I know I'm pretty tempted to pick up my old GameBoy Colour now and reacquaint myself with my Pokémon dream team, I don't know about you...

And lastly, I just wanted to say thank you all for bearing with me over the past few weeks - it's been a heartbreaking time and those of you who follow me on Instagram may know that this is down to the fact that I lost my granny at the end of May. I'm sure I'll be back to blogging on a more regular basis soon but hopefully you'll understand if it continues to be a bit quiet around here.

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