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Autumn Catch-Up

Wow...Hi everyone. Shy wave. I haven't done one of these in a while!

It's nearly December. The LPC is buckling down as we enter the assessments phase of the autumn term. I'm firmly back in the rat race, shuttling from north London into the City and back again every day, a glimpse into the next few decades. The trees are mostly bare and skeletal, the weather increasingly frigid and harsh, and the political climate's not much better.

But life goes on. We wrap up against the cold. Quite literally. I've got a new hat and gloves as I've seemingly lost every piece of knitwear I own (every year, Tamsin, every year.) Our little wood-burning stove is stretched to breaking point. And emotional bubblewrap swaddles the shellshocked West in the form of tearjerking Christmas ads - including one for Amazon, written by my dad, Adrian Lim, which went out earlier this week. It tells the story of the friendship of a (real-life) vicar and imam who bond over their gammy knees. Jeff Bezos himself tweeted about it. So proud of you, Pa.

Here's a few of the fun things I've been up to over the past couple of months, all rolled into one bumper blog post! 

I snuggled up in blankets and chowed down on hot dogs with friends from work to welcome in the autumn with a Rooftop Film Club viewing of When Harry Met Sally. What a film. What a soundtrack. What a range of hairstyles Meg Ryan sports. 

I went to visit B's hometown, Liverpool, a few times over the summer and in early September, and got the full (Magical Mystery) tour. We caught a fantastic and unsettling Francis Bacon retrospective at the Tate on Albert Dock, ticked off the Beatles landmarks in B's village (hey, Eleanor Rigby's grave, Strawberry Fields and John Lennon's house!) visited the knee-shakingly beautiful Liverpool Central Library, made crumble with apples from B's garden, and ate at three seriously wonderful places which you must visit if you're ever up in Liverpool.

East Avenue Bakehouse (112 Bold Street, Liverpool L1 4HY). The lightest, fluffiest hummingbird cake you could wish for, plus platters groaning with the best meats, seafood and vegetables that the season has to offer, plus cheese from The Liverpool Cheese Company, B's sublime local cheesemonger.

Maray (91 Bold Street). B practically dragged me in here the second I stepped off the train to show me just how good - and affordable - Liverpool's food offerings can be. Small plates of crisp whitebait, smoky roasted cauliflower and rich octopus swimming in swampy black beans drew me in and made me seriously reconsider my life choices. 

Baltic Bakehouse (46 Bridgewater Street, Liverpool L1 0AY), in the seriously cool Baltic Triangle area of the city. This coffee shop has it all, as far as I'm concerned - great coffee and tea, brilliant sourdough that makes exceptional toasties and sandwiches, plus sticky cinnamon rolls best enjoyed with a cup of tea at home. Oh, and the stripped-back, industrial aesthetic doesn't hurt either.

Back in London, I made concessions to my Chinese-Malaysian heritage. I bought a hillock of mooncakes at Chinatown's Mid-Autumn festival, then ate my body weight in cucur udang, nasi lemak and apam balik at Trafalgar Square's Malaysia Night. I'm so excited to be heading back to Kuala Lumpur for a short trip over Christmas and New Year. I haven't been in three years, so please, anyone who's been recently and has recommendations for good things to do and makan, hit me up! 

I also acquainted myself with a billion different canapés at the launch of ROMA (14 New London St, London EC2R 7NA), a brand new wine bar and restaurant offering the flavours and cooking techniques of ancient Rome under the shadow of that modern monolith, the Walkie-Talkie. City folks, head here for Italian food with a difference - their charcuterie is especially good!

I got hooked on the spice at Xi'An Impression (117 Benwell Road, London N7 7BW), up near Arsenal's Emirates Stadium. While it's not the cheapest Chinese cafe you'll find in the city, they do seriously good hand-pulled noodles, chewy and bathed in chilli oil, moreish 'beef burgers' and beautiful, refreshing petal-like yikouxiang. 

I've been doing a fair amount of baking (probably in part prompted by the tragic final season of my beloved GBBO) now that the nights have turned colder and longer. One of the bakes I'm most proud of was this fluffy Apfelkuchen, full of cinnamon and cooking apples bought from Marylebone market, which proud German B helped me to make, translating a trustworthy recipe and arranging the apple slices in an authentic pattern.

Finally, B and I took a trip back to Cambridge for the Festival of Ideas. Cambridge is our shared alma mater - despite attending neighbouring colleges, we weren't aware of each other's existence for the time we were there! Visiting the city still makes my heart palpitate a little faster with residual stress (multiple weekly essays, I don't miss you one bit) but it was so nice to experience the place with B and have the requisite heavy brunch at my college, see old friends and nostalgise over old lecture halls during talks at the Festival. My favourite? A lecture on whether emotions can travel from one language to another.

The stunning foliage covering B's college, Churchill, on Storey's Way, which I used to cycle past on my way to lectures.

Graduation taking place at Senate House. I'll be here early next year to pick up the honorary MA which every grad gets.

A return to the RFB, the languages building on the Sidgwick Site, where arts and humanities students attend lectures. Mixed memories, mainly happy ones, of drifting off in grammar classes and being drenched with cheap prosecco after exams here. 

My darling A, who's doing her PhD here, and who took B and I to Copper Kettle (3-4 King's Parade, Cambridge CB2 1SJ), a Cambridge tea shop staple opposite King's College for a cuppa and a slice of warm apple pie and cream.

What have you been up to this autumn so far? Have you been to any drool-worthy restaurants or visited any leafy little enclaves that I should put on my bucket list? 

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Indulgent birthday dinners are a long-established tradition in the Lim family. Mama Lim recently celebrated her birthday, and terrifyingly, she's probably the most zealous foodie of us all. Woe betide you if you book a restaurant that she doesn't approve of! Last year Hélène Darroze was appraised and earned Mum's approbation. This year, we apprehensively moved away from fine French dining to modern British seasonal cooking. I mean, if anyone's going to impress the matriarch, it's Marcus, he of the icy gaze and criticisms that cut to the bone on Masterchef: the Professionals...

Whisked through the Berkeley Hotel through a tearoom of wealthy-looking tourists, we found our table in the modestly-lit restaurant (very modestly, I noticed, trying not to grit my teeth too hard and thus give myself away as the stereotypical precious blogger) and sat down to a strong start, taking the edge off our hunger with these amuses of creamy foie gras topped with a parmesan crust. 

Another much-cherished birthday tradition: peach bellinis.

Lobster, chorizo, squid and celery.

Salmon and langoustine with melon and calamansi: waving goodbye to the flavours of the summer.

Veal sweetbread with fig and walnut. Apparently I'm brave for ordering this, but I'm not squeamish at all: I think sweetbread can be incredible if cooked sensitively. Here the fig, sweet and yielding, acted as an ideal counterbalance for the earthy sweetbread, firm enough for me to forget their original function. These were just two of the pleasing array of textures which lifted the dish: elsewhere, creamy, finely-sliced onions spooled beneath the sweetbread and lace-thin, crispy bread rested on top.

Shorthorn beef fillet doused in a peppercorn sauce with baby gem and an immaculately striated potato dauphinoise. 

More baby gem on the side: this time roasted, with honey and truffle. 

Fallow deer done three ways. This was my favourite dish, and one where the sum of the parts came together beautifully to form an autumnal feast. Celeriac, blackberry and hazelnuts conjured up a forest of flavours: falling leaves, the smell of bark and moss, a winter hunt crashing through frosty undergrowth studded with late-fruiting blackberries. 

On to dessert: first, a glossy, sticky tarte tatin chaperoned by sober quenelles of licorice ice cream.

A smooth fromage frais mousse with fennel and almond: refreshing but almost puritanically light in a two Michelin-starred restaurant, this was the least impressive of our trio of puddings.

And meadowsweet custard, another one of the star dishes of the evening for its complex, intriguing textures and flavours. The custard wasn't really a custard but more of a wobbly jelly with a delicate, floral scent and taste, resting on a base of biscuits milled to a fine powder and topped with a palate-cleansing peach and thyme sorbet. 

And a little something for Mama Lim, who thoroughly enjoyed her evening, thanks to the lovely waiters, who amiably boxed up our petits fours for us, as we were so full we could barely move. As we were readying ourselves to leave, they presented my mother with a complimentary gift-wrapped and signed Marcus at Home cookbook! Cue very audible fangirl squeal. And for once it wasn't coming from me. Top marks for service, Marcus - not only were our waiters incredibly sweet to my mother, but they were always on hand to accommodate us and give us recommendations where required without being overbearing or interfering in any way.

Did I say we were so full we could barely move? Well I lied. Second dessert, come at me: matcha and raspberry cake from Cutter & Squidge. A cake of dreams that you don't need to be mobile to fully enjoy, and which only got better when I breakfasted on it the following morning. Living my best life.

I think I can safely say my mum enjoyed her birthday this year! Speaking of birthdays, I turn 25 in just under a month. In denial. I'm going to eat birthday cake for breakfast for the rest of my life...

The Berkeley, Wilton Place
London SW1X 7RL

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