uk election

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When I woke up, counting was already underway. I’m very grateful that I was able to follow bbc’s election coverage on youtube.

First, the exil poll that had the Tories at 314 and Labour at 267. The magic number is 326 so no outright majority. The next few hours were riveting, delivering surprise after surprise. Nick Clegg lost his seat; SNP lost seats; the Home Secretary scraped home after a recount.

I caught the results of Islington North and Maidenhead where Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May both won comfortably. The difference in body language were stark: Corbyn was all smiles and Mrs May looked grim. Corbyn’s words about Mrs May’s mandate:

Well, the mandate she’s got is lost Conservative seats, lost votes, lost support, and lost confidence

While the Prime Minister seemed resigned to the result:

If, as the indications have shown, and if this is correct that the Conservative Party has won the most seats and probably the most votes then it will be incumbent on us to ensure that we have that period of stability

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Previously seemingly unassailable constituencies like Ipswich and Canterbury turned red. There had been a Conservative MP in Canterbury since 1918! Chipping Barnet stayed blue but with a majority of only 353. Unthinkable when I was growing up. It’s a sign of the times, I feel like one of those 11.5% in Barnet that swing Labour–a previously lifelong Conservative, they offered us nothing whereas Jeremy Corbyn ran an energetic campaign and, unthinkable at the start of the election, looks the part of a future PM.

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My home constituency of Westminster North stayed Labour. I discovered that I can’t just register as an overseas voter, I have to apply for postal voting to get a ballot paper. Next time.

I stayed watching throughout the UK morning. There were 20 constituencies still to declare and at that point the Tories needed 20 seats. Labour held Southampton so mathematically no party was able to secure an outright majority.

Theresa May gambled on what was a huge lead in the polls and suffered a humiliating defeat, even though her party had the most seats and votes. Over the next few days and weeks there will be copious analysis on what went wrong; the demographics of who voted where; and much handwringing about what happens next. Nobody expected a hung Parliament, but that’s what we have. It may not be a bad thing. Mrs May is right on one count, we need stability. But the message is her version of ‘strong and stable’ is not the right one. I am looking forward to a rejuvenated opposition and very curious as to what Jeremy Corbyn will do in the next few years.

snap general election

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The Prime Minister has called a snap general election on 8 June. What on earth? Most of us kept hearing her say no, there won’t be a general election soon. Clearly she’s changed her mind or is plotting something.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. Some analysts say she’s done it to clarify the Brexit mandate. She inherited Cameron’s mess and this is her way of stamping her own authority. Basically it’s a threat, vote for me on my merit or suffer the consequences. She’s also likely to be taking advantage of a big lead in the polls. Labour isn’t an effective opposition party and hasn’t been for a while. The Lib Dems are still too tiny and the SNP is stuck north of the border.

It’s Hobson’s Choice for the voters. One of my fb friends said it best:

would I rather have an incompetent prime minister with his heart in the right place, or one who I disagree with 75% of the time, but who has the ability to deal with foreign leaders, internal dissent, day to day chaos

As disillusioned as I am with the Tories, I cannot stomach voting for Corbyn. Like my fb friend said, nice guy but no presence.

I’m glad I renewed by voter registration. Let’s see if this time roung I get a ballot paper.

brexit triggered

brexit

The Prime Minister triggered Brexit on Wednesday 29 March 2017. It’s a bit like knowing exactly when a bomb will go off but not having any choice in the matter. All we can do is watch the ripples spread out in concentric circles as we, as the Guardian described (it’s their banner here) we’re stepping into the unknown. There are tons and tons of opinion articles on this, from doom and gloom to glee. I’ve saved an extremely helpful BBC article all you need to know about Brexit. Many sensible questions, like:

What impact will leaving the EU have on the NHS?

But some equally amusing ones like:

Will we be barred from the Eurovision Song Contest?

Most of the answers to questions are variants of “it depends.” No one knows how the negotiations will give us. The overriding lesson from the past 12 months is: take nothing for granted, the world is unpredictable, people do not behave in ways we assume they would. No one person has the same circumstance as anyone else. Naturally I’m hoping for a soft Brexit, with as little disruption to everyday lives as possible. It’s probably naïve and unrealistic because of special interest groups and people with different agendas to ours.

There are a lot of people immediately affected by Brexit; I’m in the last group which arguably is the least affected:

  • 63 million people living in the UK
  • 58 million British people living in the UK
  • 2.9 million EU citizens living in the UK
  • 1.2 million British people living in the EU
  • 4.3 million British people living overseas (excl EU)

My primary income and financial assets are not in in the UK, so I’m less affected by the fluctuation of GBP or, to a lesser extent, EUR. If anything, sterling is cheaper for us so we should go back to visit or look into buying property. That puts me in an embarrasing predicament, because I can stand to gain from Brexit. What does it say for me as a Remainer, do I take advantage of FX volatility and falling house prices? Do I take the high road and not try to use this opportunity to my personal advantage? It’s stupid to take the naïve moral stand, TBH. When I can get us organised, I’m persuading mm to go for a househunting trip.

Aside: Scotland is in an interesting position. They voted overwhelming to Remain. If there is a second IndyRef, and if they vote for independence, will it then be a feasible location to move to? I don’t know.

There’s a part of me that still can’t believe how we got ourselves in this mess. I don’t know anyone who voted Leave but I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive them. I’ll wait and see. And hope for the best.

brexit: what have we done?

In the end, my vote wouldn’t have mattered. Westminster voted 69% for Remain. But that’s where the good news ended. The rest of the UK, outside of London & the Southeast, Northern Ireland and Scotland (and Gibraltar), mostly voted to Leave.

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It’s the biggest event in the UK for several generations. The bbc map and analysis shows a country divided. The analysis also showed that by and large:

  • young people voted Remain; older people voted Leave with the crossover point at around the mid-40s years old, the same age range as our EU membership
  • people with higher degrees voted Remain; non-graduates voted Leave
  • people who self-identified as English voted Leave

I was watching the live results. It was a big shock as constituency after constituency returned Leave. A little respite when the first of the London results came in for Remain, but it was shortlived.

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Even though the European markets were closed, 24/7 trading meant it was possible to see the moment when the world realised Leave was going to win.

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The £ dropped to a 30-year low. I’d bought some last week, when it was around 11.01 against local$, and when I checked my bank it was 10.75. Even as I typed in the online order it dropped to 10.62. Texted sis and mm, mm was able to get some at 10.55.

My FA texted. We were going to sell off one of my GBP accounts anyway, and she wanted to put the order in as soon as the markets open. I said it’s the worst time to sell, since there’d be lots of panic selling and the indices will be sure to fall. It’s not like we were desperate for the money. FA was more pessimistic than us, she thinks the markets will fall further. In the end, we set a line, if the drop is less than a certain % then sell, wait and buy back when it’s still cheap. Otherwise sit tight.

If I weren’t flying to the US next weekend for the conference, I would have dragged mm to London so we can go house-hunting. House prices are expected to drop, even though the top end of the property market will probably go up because of the cheap £.

I sound like one of those detested bankers! Taking advantage of a horrible chaos to try to make money.

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And chaos it was. I turned on the tv to bloomberg to watch Cameron resign, and the markets go crazy. Interestingly the FTSE-100 only dropped 4% compared with the CAC and DAX. World markets closed for the weekend with red everywhere. One of my uni friends on our whatsapp group joked:

Brexit to be followed by Grexit, Departugal, Italeave, Fruckoff, Czechout, Oustria, Finish, Slovlong, Latervia, Byegium until the EU reaches the state of Germlonely

And still the recriminations continue. I try to understand where the Leave voters were coming from, which boils down to:

if you’ve got money, you vote in; if you haven’t got money, you vote out

It was all voting from the heart, coming from resentment of a government that has failed the entire country whilst lining the coffers of their one-percenter friends. There is no excuse from the government, but let’s vote them out at the next general election and not use the EU referendum as a temper tantrum.

There was a lot fearmongering about immigration too, that the heart listened to. I get it. I saw my own neighbourhood change when I was back in London after more than a decade away and it wasn’t for the better. It’s true, many people who come to the country didn’t bother to assimilate, but Britain is also the country where a hijab-wearing woman whose parents come from Bangladesh can win the most popular baking competition ever and goes on to bake a cake for the Queen’s 90th birthday. That’s British identity, not Nigel Farage’s stupid poster.

The heart that voted for Brexit didn’t listen to the head and forgot about consequences. How leaving the EU will affect pensions, mortgages, job opportunities, the economy and, closer to home, making their Costa del Sol holiday even more expensive now.

And we’ll have to be British about this. Apologise to the world about the mess we created. Make the best of the situation. Europe already wants us out. Best case scenario, our politicians (and please do NOT elect Boris Johnson) salvage some of the EU benefits and we become like Switzerland or Norway. Worst case scenario…ugh, that’s a bottomless pit.

What have we done?

EU referendum didn’t vote

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Results are starting to come in for the EU referendum. Despite me being a good citizen and registering to vote, I did not get my chance to vote. Why? Because I didn’t get my ballot paper. I have no idea why or what happened. I received a confirmation from Westminster council, which I duly filed away. Then waited and waited and waited. Most info and articles were geared towards people in the UK. It’s hard for people outside to find instructions. I wonder if I should have registered for a proxy vote, but I don’t know anyone in Westminster.

So that was the tactic then? Not send the ballot papers or send it so we get it after the event. I wonder how many of the millions of overseas voters got their voting card on time and had their vote count.

What’s this about #yourvotematters? Clearly mine didn’t matter.

A bit mad, to be honest.

p.s. for the record, Remain.

jo cox

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What an awful week. Still reeling from Orlando. And now Jo Cox, MP for Batley and Spen.

Like most people, even in the UK, I haven’t heard of Jo Cox before. But reading all the tributes, watching her maiden Parliament speech, she was just one of those politicians who are what we want from a politician: hardworking, bright, working for her constituents and her country rather than blagging and hogging the spotlight with empty promises.

She achieved so much. Head girl, Pembroke College, Head of Policy at Oxfam. A

tireless campaigner

for Syrian refugees.

She even lived on a houseboat! She left behind her husband, Brendan, and two young children.

What is the world coming to? Awful, simply awful. There are eyewitness reports that her attacker shouted “Britain First” and although it’s not confirmed the fact that organisations like Britain First exist in the first place is a terrible reflection of how the world has become.

This quote from her maiden speech sums up how we should carry on her legacy:

we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us

We simply must do better.

best burger london 2016

After the steak battle comes the burger battle. The final was between Honest Burger, originally from Brixton Market, now at over 10 locations; and Rox Burger, a small place reachable

just past Lidl as you head towards Lewisham.

Tee hee.

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Haven’t tried Rox Burger before but I have been to Honest Burger when they first started in Brixton, lining up 10mins before opening. For a burger.

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And the results: Rox Burger won. Their menu looks great. All fresh ingredients, interesting toppings inspired by the Brazilian chef-owner (jalapenos, chorizo). Nice to see local places run by enthusiastic chefs get recognition.

hawksmoor is 10, moving to nyc and bottles whisky

News from one of my most favourite restaurants, Hawksmoor.

They are 10 years old. From humble beginnings in

what was then quite a dodgy East London street when we noticed a FOR SALE sign above a boarded-up kebab shop

to 6 branches in London and another in Manchester is well impressive.

hawksmoornyc

Now they announce that they will be opening in New York in 2017, as the flagship restaurant at the new World Trade Center. So my US friends will be able to see why I rave on and on about them. Self-depracating as usual:

we’re aware that the track record of Brits stateside isn’t all Beatles and Bond. For every Posh & Becks there’s an M&S, for every Downton a Tesco, for every Cowell a Cole.

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And as if we can’t love them enough, they just bottled their own whisky! A 16 year cask from Craggenmore they are calling Clerk of the Works. Hee. Some bottles available for purchase at £80. Not sure if I’ll get a chance to buy, I’ll remember to try it at the bar next time I visit.

best steak restaurant london 2015

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@newopenings had a twitter competition to find the best steak restaurant in London. The finalists, to no one’s surprise, were: Goodman and Hawksmoor. Hawksmoor won by a small margin.

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My love for Hawksmoor is well known and well documented. I’ll take anyone and everyone there. If I can’t take them, I’ll recommend the place. Their steaks are from the ginger pig and chargrilled to perfection. Their sides are great, their bone marrow heavenly and their sticky toffee pudding…no words. Plus £5 corkage on mondays.

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I’ve also visited Goodman and their steak was excellent too. Personally I prefer the atmosphere at Hawksmoor, and I’m more used to it.

goodbye to the stockpot

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Anyone who was ever a student in London, rich or poor, would have eaten at The Stockpot. It’s an institution. I remember three: one around the corner from Harvey Nicks, one at Haymarket and one at Old Compton Street.

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The prices were affordable, especially for Central London. It was comfort food: spag bol, roasts, liver & onion, fish & chips. Plus puddings, ice cream, jelly and custard. Notice the spotted dick on the menu.

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A sign of the times, that the last time we were at a Stockpot, in 2011, we had grilled halloumi–gasp, so cosmopolitan. Luckily the staples were still around. I had roast beef, mm had sea bass and we both had apple crumble. They even gave us extra custard. The crumble was good. The roast beef was on the well done side of very well done. But hey, lots on the plate and swimming in gravy too.

I did notice when we were in London earlier this year that the one at Haymarket had gone. We had other dining options, so we didn’t go searching out for the others. Now I read that the last remaining one at Old Compton Street has closed, as its owners retire. I guess it was inevitable, I just mentioned that we had plenty other dining options in London. It belonged in a different era, that it was:

part of a tradition that went back to Lyon’s tea shops – restaurants where the cooking was not really that important. You went for the gossipy atmosphere or for sustenance or because you wanted to be back in the Soho of Lucien Freud and Sebastian Horsley and this was the nearest you were going to get.

The site at Old Compton Street will be taken over by yet another hipster, modern casual burger restaurant. Times change.

run a bookshop for a week for £180

wigtown01

Interesting idea, spotted via the guardian, book this bookshop at airbnb for £22 a night (adding on fees give £180 a week), at wigtown, scotland’s national book town. It’s described as the first ever bookshop experience:

We’ll give you your very own bookshop, and apartment above, supported by a team of friendly volunteers and bookshop sellers to make your trip as lovely as possible.

Basically, guests pay to run a bookshop for at least 40 hours a week including opening and closing the shop, welcoming customers, selling books, staffing, stocking, creating window displays, cleaning. Training will be provided.

Seems quite interesting, for people who’ve always wanted to run shops and especially bookshops. Wigtown is in the middle of nowhere in the lowlands just over the border, and having to keep the shop open during the day means time to explore is probably limited. That said, it can be relaxing and a different sort of time off.

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The shop looks cute and the flat (presumably above) looks like a typical UK home, cosy with well-used furniture. It’s very fully booked for the next few months, but no reviews yet. I place a lot of importance on airbnb reviews so I’ll check back later.

trip pics and writeup

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I finally got the trip pics sorted and uploaded. From 3267 I whittled them down to just over 2000 in 10 sets:
holland belgium: lily | almere, naarden, oostvaardersplassen, amsterdam | antwerp, brussels, mechelen
italy: florence | siena | assisi | rome
ireland, uk: dublin, cork, ring of kerry | london | cotswolds

 

If I had to pick just one image from each set. First in our friend’s house I’ll pick one of kaocao, her cat, who was instrumental in bringing us close together and a great little cat to boot:
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Holland will be Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve, it made me want to move to Holland to enjoy the wildlife and running paths:
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Belgium will be the strangely cosy café at Het Steen, especially after hearing the story of the tyrannical prince who lived there:
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Florence is difficult, we were there the longest of all stops. So many great memories. I’m going to pick two, the first is hanging out at the retreat house. It was so peaceful and calm that some days, we didn’t want to venture outside: flr061garden

The second is us walking all the way to oltrarno and up the hundreds of steps to piazza michangelo to take in the view of the city:
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In Siena it’s this strange, rather creepy statue of a semi-naked woman peeping out of a first floor window:

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In Assisi it’s watching the sunset from our room. There was so much to see and experience in Assisi, it was a blessing to return to our room every night and relax:
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Rome, hands down, seeing the Pope: rom126papa

After the spirituality that was Italy, my memory of Ireland is the breath-taking views in Kerry:
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In London it’s cooking at home:

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And not forgetting the picturesque Bibury:
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We were lucky that we had internet almost every day, so I was able to upload a few pics and post daily reports. Made the writeup so much easier, it was just a matter of grouping by location and fixing some typos. I also added a few more pics. Still came to 6 travel posts: holland belgium | florence siena | assisi | rome | ireland | uk

Quite an epic trip, and memorable too.

#ge2015

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lego parliament via mashable

I tuned into BBC as soon as I woke up and one of the first MPs returned was 20 year old Mhairi Black from the SNP. That would set the tone for the entire general election results. I watched as the SNP annihilated Labour in Scotland; then the Tories proved too strong for both Labour and the LibDems, who ended up getting decimated. Cameron got elected back to No. 10 without needing a coalition partner.

I’m not 100% happy but I’m not all that sad or angry at #ge2015 results. It was a shock to watch the decimated LibDems and Labour’s poor showing, though in hindsight there wasn’t a real alternative to the Conservatives—Miliband and Clegg were gracious in their resigations, where was the backbone before the election?

ge2015scotland gd2015maggiesimpson

Quite astounded at the SNP landslide. A lot due to Nicola Sturgeon’s good performance, though ironic that she wasn’t even standing. I don’t know a whole lot about Scottish politics or the everyday priorities of the Scottish people. It seems to me that they voted in the SNP not because they want independence, but because they want effective representation in Westminster. It’s telling that the voice of non-public school, London-centric Britain now falls to a party that was, many years ago, considered marginal. I hope they reward their constituencies’ faith in them and not hijack issues for their own purposes.

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#ge2015 live cross-stich via tom katsumi on twitter

It’ll be a very different Britain in the next 5 years. I want to be hopeful that Cameron & Co will do the right thing, but I’m more afraid that they will put the interest of their corporate buddies before that of the British people.

ge2015pr
charts via independent

People have been talking about electoral reform. That the UK needs to move to proportional representation because how come the SNP had 1.4mil votes and got 56 seats, while the Greens got 1.1mil votes and only one (yay for Caroline Lucas, btw).

What alarms me is that, if we had PR, Ukip would have won 80+ seats. That’s scary. I grew up in a Tory stronghold (Chipping Barnet has returned a Conservative MP since 1974, when the constituency was created) and I have some empathy towards the Little England view of immigrants (despite the fact that I’m one such immigrant myself). I felt the change in Britain since I left. In the space of 2.5 years it does seem that we have been overwhelmed by newcomers. No one on the tube spoke English, no one selling us tea or coffee were native English speakers, house prices have gone through the roof with foreign investors and their buy-to-leave tactic. I get it. People who move to a new country must do so sympathetically and respectfully and there are people from certain countries that simply do not (it’s not just a UK problem, those people are everywhere in the world.)

The world is still reacting to #ge2015 results. Financial markets were up, and share prices for property related shares shot up with the news. Is that a good sign? Can economic recovery be sustained for the next 5 years? What about small businesses and taxpayers? Children and pensioners? Europe? I don’t have a good feeling, I think the country will become even more extreme as the wealth gap increases. I hope that Cameron means it when he says stuff like “one nation” because we need to be one country.

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#73 new restaurant london: dishoom

eutrip069dishoom

Tasks #69-73 of 101.1001 are to try 5 new restaurants in 5 different cities. This is #5 of 5.

Our friend invited us to dishoom behind king’s cross for lunch. Our first impression was how the area had completely changed. Where it used to be dangerous and derelict, it’s now modern and stylish full of office buildings and fancy restaurants.

Dishoom’s theme is Indian street food. The restaurant’s decoration is a mix of old school colonial train station, gentrified godown and steampunk. Great atmosphere. There were a large number of small plates to share. We ordered chilli cheese toast, okra fries, calamari, lamb boti kabab, greens with a fabulous chilli & lime dressing, daal, naan and roti. Everything was delicious, we ordered extra lamb. For drinks I had a bhang lassi, which had mint, ginger, candied fennel and coconut milk.

The small plates were less than £6, the lamb less than £10 so pretty good for London prices. Lots of flavour, and different flavours too, to the usual curries and biryanis. Indian food has been described as Britain’s national dish, and if all Indian food were like Dishoom’s, then it’s not a surprise. Definitely worth returning. Repeatedly.

europe day 31: london last full day

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Today is the last full day of our trip. Sad, sad, sad. In a way we are both happy to be going home; but we also don’t want the trip to end.

The plan today was to have not a lot of plan. For lunch I made the lamb shoulder we were going to cook yesterday but were too full. Plus roasted fennel and asparagus. There were salt, pepper and italian seasoning at the flat but the garlic on the shelf was too dry. I used bits of fennel and asparagus to add flavour to the lamb. It worked out very very good, may be needed 2 more minutes of cooking, but we like rare to medium rare. Served on this long wooden board, just like Jamie.

No plans, except to walk around. Walked down Kilburn High Road through Paddington Rec to Little Venice. My home grounds. I can’t help it, I gravitate towards Maida Vale whenever I can. It’s in my bones.

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We skipped the cafés at Warwick Avenue and the canal boat waterside café. It started to drizzle and get cold so we stopped at an aussie café along the canal for tea and cake. Afterwards we headed towards m&s—ended up buying a whole lot of stuff. Bus back towards Kilburn, bought more stuff for dinner and to bring back. We don’t have a huge baggage allowance and we’d been careful about what we packed and bought. There’s still space for important stuff like whisky, cereal, tea bags and even a couple of bags of kale.

europe day 30: london

After dropping off the rental car we ended up sitting at a pub drinking tea and coffee for 2 hours. Mostly I listened while mm talked. We compared our favourite highlights of the trip—I gave short descriptions and she mostly stuck with long speeches.

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Lunch was at comptoir libanais at St Christopher’s Place. A semi-chain (like Leon and Carlucci’s I suppose) of casual Lebanese food in a colourful and cheerful restaurant. We had grilled halloumi and hummous to start, followed by a lamb tagine and lamb fattet. Originally I wanted to go to (pun intended) Orignal Tagines behind Edgware Road but I found out that it’s closed. We liked this new discovery, yes the tagine wasn’t as original or flavoursome—the lamb was cooked separately then spooned onto couscous—the couscous was still good. It was the first time we tried fattet—a layered dish with minced lamb, pita bread, pomegranate seeds and tahini yogurt. Quite filling.

Walked around Oxford Street a little, mainly at John Lewis. Admired the new routemasters that had a door at the back. When there is a conductor they remained open like the old style, but with only the driver the doors closed like a regular bus.

Went to Borough Market for a stroll to discover the layout had changed. Seemed larger with more corridor and walking space. The real destination was whisky exchange to buy that bottle of Ardbeg Supernova I saw the other day. Apparently it’s a committee release which supposedly made it even more special. We also discovered that a bottle of Mortlach 16, which I bought for £45 in Edinburgh 3 years ago, is now retailing for £95. And I was thinking of opening my bottle. I’m now going to put in safely back on the shelves.

europe day 29: cotswolds, bicester

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Destination today was Bibury in the Cotswolds. We drove out to Cheltenham and Gloucester occasionally when we were living in London, and mm saw some pictures on fb about a village near Cheltenham called Bibury. Looked very idyllic and beautiful. Rented a car today from a slow and inefficient Hertz office and drove out on the A40 and M40—home turf.

Bibury was further than I thought, and it’s 8 miles off the A40 when I thought from google maps that it’s right on top. We parked at a quiet street and walked around the church and green. Had a picnic lunch of drumsticks, hard-boiled eggs and red peppers. Walked further to the picturesque part of the village. No wonder the Cotswolds attracts so many visitors. Definitely befitting the area being designated an area of outstanding beauty.

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There was a small river full of trout and ducks. A few bridges. And rows of houses made with Cotswold stone. We walked as far as the Swan Hotel, crossed the bridge and had a tea/coffee at the trout farm.

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The other side of the village, where the church is, is quieter. The church was pretty, with old tombstones in its graveyard. The village was extremely beautiful, yet it felt cold and the locals weren’t very friendly. Even for a weekday, there were quite a few tourists, including a couple of coachloads. Can imagine how busy and crowded it can get during weekends. There were quite a few houses for sale, but we weren’t tempted. Location is a bit in the middle of nowhere, there are virtually no shops and the place is crawling with tourists. Imagine dozens of people taking selfies in front of your garden or even at your windows. Sigh.

From Bibury it was a quick drive to Bicester Village. My sole purpose there was as a sidekick who nodded and helped pick out colours as mm did shopping. She bought a bag, a pair of shoes and a whole bag full of L’Occitane stuff. After the outlet village naturally we went to the Tesco next door. Bought veg, soup, crisps and a half shoulder of lamb for tomorrow—the plan is to return the car, walk around leisurely then come back to make dinner.

europe day 28: london meeting friends

eutrip069dishoom

A day of meeting friends in London. Lunch with our friend CC at dishoom behind King’s Cross. The area had definitely gone through a lot of changes, now full of trendy restaurants and shops. Dishoom is an Indian small street food place that is pretty authentic. A mix of modern and Indian railway/godown type decorations. We had a few shared small plates—lamb kebab, fried okra, calamari, daal, naan, roti and the like.

I left mm with our friend and went off to meet my own friends. Met my ex-intern SM at Waterloo and did a tour of the pubs around the Old Vic. He is still working at my ex-ex-ex company and also had some good news to share with me on the family and house front and we had a fantastic chat. It was as if time hadn’t passed.

Dinner was with my friends JE and TH, more great conversation. We shared a 1.1kg prime rib plus sides at Hawksmoor. It was absolutely lovely to see friends, share recent news, and talk about future plans. Hopefully I’ll get to see them in the near future.

europe day 27: london camden, whisky exchange

Today is the second sunday of easter, or the sunday of divine mercy and mm wanted to go to this church in Camden town. It’s a nice small parish church where most of the attendees seemed to know each other. Good mass.

Lunch was my pick and I opted for…Nando’s. Hmmm. Remember when mum and I went to Vancouver and we had Nando’s, it’s the same situation. We had a sharing platter with 4 pieces of chicken and 4 sides. Unlimited soft drinks so I broke my coke zero semi-fast and had many, many glasses.

Camden on a Sunday was crowded. We walked through a part of the market then headed towards the tube station, our destination was London Bridge for The Whisky Exchange. We got there after 3pm so Borough Market itself was closed.

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The nice people at TWE gave us samples from their bottle-your-own casks—craggenmore, ledaig, arras. Got talking to Duncan Ross, one of the assistant managers there and a fountain of knowledge. He gave us a small sampling of Karuizawa 30yr sherry cask. Wow, wow, wow!! I saw a bottle of Ardbeg Supernova on the shelf and was this close to snapping it up, without concern to how much my suitcase will weigh. Logic prevailed, we’ll see about our total weight first.

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Dinner back at the flat: tomato basil soup with added kale, fresh toscana bread from whole foods, proscuitto from Rome. Laundry and relaxation.

europe day 26: london

A day of errands. The most important task today, and one of the most important of the entire trip, was to renew our passports. Annoyingly, the process of passport renewals got moved back to the UK, so those of us who live overseas have to send our old passports through the mail and wait 6 weeks—some people report the wait is more like 10-12 weeks. Personally I simply don’t have a 12 week window this year that I won’t need my passport, so we take the opportunity of us being in the UK to go for the one day service. I hate, hate, hate having to pay 75% extra over the already extortionate passport fee. Don’t have much of a choice really.

There was also a palava about the passport photo. Again another price gouging exercise. Anyway, we got our application in the morning and our passports were ready for collection in the afternoon. One thing off our minds.

By lunchtime we were hungry. Had rough plans to go to tkts at Leicester Square to check out musicals, so lunch in the West End made sense. We debated between pub food, roast duck noodles or dim sum. When we got off the bus, my feet automatically made their way to Air Street where a dark wooden door had a simple sign above: Hawksmoor. Hahaha, our excuse was we couldn’t figure out where to eat in Central London so we had to find somewhere, anywhere.

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The Air Street branch opened after I left so this was my first time. Liking the first floor location, sunlight helps. The place is also bigger and the tables not so squeezed together. We both opted for the express menu. £24 for 2 courses. To start, potted beef with yorkshires and onion jam. Unusual combination, the potted beef was scrumptious and the yorkies puffed and huge. For mains we had rump steak with baked sweet potato and buttered greens. The steak was a little overcooked so wasn’t perfect. I looked at the wine list, cocktail list and decided on a Rittenhouse Rye. The first time I tried this was at Seven Dials and the bartender there recommended it to me.

Nothing interesting or discounted at tkts so we trekked back to Victoria to get our passports. Back to our airbnb home. It was like going home, in a way. I used to do a lot of grocery shopping at Kilburn High Road too. We hit the shops we needed to get everything we wanted: poundland, superdrug, sainsbury’s, m&s.

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Bought biscuits, chocolate, crisps, popcorn, cereal, yogurt, fruit, juice, tea bags, veg, chicken drumsticks, mini scotch eggs, soup, eggs and a bottle of wine. We went a little crazy, we’re only in London a week, wonder if we can finish everything. Dinner was tomato and bean soup with added kale plus a bagel. Great to have a kitchen. We’ve been trying to keep to this one meal out and one meal at our retreat house / hotel / airbnb throughout the trip. It was also very important that the flat had a washing machine as we were both in dire need to do laundry. We did some handwashing in Assisi and Rome but anything larger than a t-shirt hadn’t been washed since Florence. Did one load, will probably need 2 more loads before we leave.

present from uk: bbc goodfood magazine

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Hurray for thoughtful friends who remember what you like, mm’s friend CC is visiting from the UK and she brought me a copy of the Christmas issue of BBC goodfood magazine. The one that sells out quickly and has a 2015 recipe calendar. I’ve used this calendar for many years, but the past couple of years haven’t been able to get a copy of the magazine. I didn’t want to bother people to find and send a magazine. The shipment will probably cost more than the magazine itself. Sigh

I intend to read the magazine very, very slowly. I’m even looking at the ads and the inserts that came with it. Miss London so much. Love, love this magazine. Recipes, events and gadgets. Already seeing recipes I’d like to make. Persian lamb tagine looks scrumtious, but I can’t get neck fillet. Lime semifreddo cheesecake, wow. There’s an article about unusual foodstuffs that are produced in the UK like caviar from the west country, saffron from Norfolk and even escargots from Aylesbury.

In the age where I look up recipes online rather than in cookbooks, and sales of paper newspapers and magazines have fallen, I’m very tempted to subscribe to this magazine. £25 for 12 issues is good value, if I were still in the UK. International subscription is £61, and I can’t justify that. Sniff. 

lobster roll smackdown

I should have written this post last year, when I was still in London. Just as well, because I’m missing London a hell of a lot nowadays. So many things I should have done while I was there (bought a flat, for instance), so many things I could still do (buy a flat, for instance).

Anyway, last summer I tried out the famous lobster rolls at burger & lobster and hawksmoor.

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I went first to Burger & Lobster. The nearest tube to the mayfair branch is green park but I walked from bond street via grosvenor square. It’s in the posh part of town behind park lane. No reservation, so I purposely went after the lunch rush. The restaurant décor is of modern wood and served 3 things: burgers, grilled lobsters and lobster rolls. I picked a high table and ordered a lobster roll and a bull & bear cocktail which was woodford reserve, blackberries, raspberries, mure and zinfandel. The lobster roll was great, the melted butter enhanced the flavours and made it all very yummy. £20 was okay, considering it’s london and the location.

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Hawksmoor next. Oh, what can I say about the place. It’s no secret I’m totally in love with the restaurant. I went to my usual branch, seven dials, and found a perch at the bar. The lobster roll came with their triple cooked chips and homemade ketchup. I had a dark porter with it. Really, really nice. £25.

Which one won? I can’t decide. Both are great. I guess for value for money it’ll have to be burger & lobster. Hawksmoor for atmosphere. If I get a second chance, I’ll try the grilled lobster at burger & lobster and stick to my usual steaks at hawksmoor.

hawksmoor, fly out

hawksmoor filet tail

Flight tonight is at 8pm, so as long as I’m back at the room by 4pm I’m fine. I took the tube all the way out to Covent Garden and had lunch at Hawksmoor. Sigh. That wasn’t a surprise at all, right? Not a filet person, always finding it too bland. But I finally tried the filet tail they had on the board, plus bone marrow and a side of peas and lettuce. No dessert, moved to the bar for a Blanton’s though. And then got a free shot of Rittenhouse from the bartender when I told her that I was flying out. The end of an era, of sorts.

It’s a long way to go from Covent Garden to Heathrow, over an hour on the tube. There was enough time for a shower and final packing. Check-in was straightforward, at 21kg I wasn’t even overweight. I’m only bringing minimal clothes, the heaviest items in the suitcase are Prague sausages. I’m wearing my Highland Park t-shirt, and had a nice chat with the people at World of Whiskies. Flight looks to be full, I hope I can sleep.

great friends

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I met JE and T for dinner at Hawksmoor. It’s totally my fault for not being aggressive enough to arrange to meet up, leaving it till my last week in London. Silly me. I remember meeting them at PTown 3 years ago. I’m so happy that we caught up and had a fantastic evening of conversation and good food. We’ll keep in touch online of course, I hope we don’t need to wait another 3 years to see each other again. Didn’t get a picture, this is the crumble I made in 2009 that brings back good memories.

lunch at the ledbury, dinner at hawksmoor

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I took Mum to the ledbury for her birthday this year, and wanted to share the experience with mm. It’s her last full day in London.

Lunch again, it’s the best value. Amuse bouche, quail & fig salad, for mains we had brill with seafood, edible flowers, foam and beef and for dessert mille feuille and blackcurrant tart.

Borough market in the afternoon, plus vinopolis and the whisky exchange. To end a gastro day, dinner at Hawksmoor. I have a suspicion she prefers Hawksmoor, the food at the Ledbury probably too fancy and too high expectations after how I sang its praises.

maze grill

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Woke up extremely early to pick up mm from heathrow. Dropped off her luggage, took a bit of a rest then headed out for lunch at Maze Grill, one of the restaurants in the Gordon Ramsay group. It’s a grill, so the speciality is steak. There’s a set lunch menu, 3 courses for £24, but we opted for the special steak — 25oz bone-in rib to share worked out to he £65. We had it medium rare, it came a little bit overdone. The flavour was really nice and we enjoyed it. Only shared a spinach side, didn’t have dessert. I had a glass of malbec. Walked it off the rest of the day, all the day to Covent Garden and back.

10 cases

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I’ve been trying to go to 10 cases for a while. Their gimmick is that they order wines 10 cases at a time and when they sell out, they sell out and they get another 10 cases of something else. I like the small bistrot location, you can sit at the bar or at the tables or outside.

Started with a white chateauneuf with small dishes of potted crab and saucisson. Then I had a bacon, pork cheek and poached egg salad. Supposedly a starter but big enough (and with robust pieces of bacon) for a mains. Didn’t have dessert, went to a gelato place.

I was having dinner with a new acquaintance, someone from work who transferred a while ago. It has taken us more than half a year to connect. I guess going to a new restaurant was a risk, I’m glad I suggested this place.

The casual bistrot style means people don’t need to go especially for the food. Sit at the bar, have a glass of wine and order the small dishes. Less expensive than the pintxo bar I was at earlier.

pix tapas

pix

I had half an hour at Covent Garden before a dinner appointment. Instead of walking around the shops I decided to give pix bar a try. It’s a pintxo tapas bar that at 6.15pm on a Friday was heaving, the lady at the door found me a nice corner at the bar though. I had a glass of ribera del ducro, a chorizo and manchego skewer plus a fig and cheese bruschetta. Not cheap, wine by the glass £5-8 and each skewer was £1.90. There was a fun Hemingway quote on the wall about doing things sober vs drunk. Will I return? There are other places in the area, that’s the thing. Next time I have half an hour to spare I’ll go to a pub or to 10 cases, which was where we had dinner. See next post.

bbmm friday

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We are trying to cram everything into 2 days, get as much eating and time together as possible. Changed our reservation at Hawksmoor to lunch — had D-rump, sirloin, bone marrow followed by honeycomb cheesecake. I’m so happy that mm likes the place too. Bought cheese at Neal’s Yard diary. Resumed our trek to Foyles and then had ricotta cake at Princi. Went to John Lewis and bought towels, bowls, glasses and other kitchen stuff for mm. Took the bus home and had hoummous and cheese for dinner. I opened the bottle of peach wine from Georgia. Fantastic day.

bbmm london

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I didn’t go to heathrow to pick mm up as it was too early, sis still here, and mm needed to check into the hotel anyway. We met up mid-morning at john lewis and walked around the entire store. Slowly made our way to covent garden where I had a reservation at l’atelier de joel robuchon. I’m losing track of how many times and who I’ve taken to all these restaurants, hahaha.

The restaurant was pretty full, but we still had a good seat at the bar. We opted for the 3 course lunch menu with wine pairing. To start I had sea bream carpaccio and she had asparagus cappuccino. For mains I had black leg chicken and she had hangar steak. We then moved upstairs to the bar for dessert — chocolate mousse and cheese plate. Just over £100 for the two of us. I ended up drinking most of the wine, including hers.

She wanted to go to foyles to look at music, which we did. Then her jetlag and wine got the better of her and we had to go back to the hotel quickly. Napped until early evening, went out to m&s to get dips and chicken wings and that was our dinner for the day. We’ve been looking forward to seeing each other for a while, it’s nice to simply spend time together.

sis london

Sis and her family came up to London today. I met them at Victoria station and we had lunch at Yo!Sushi, lucking out on it being their Blue Monday and many dishes at £2.40. Then we went to the science museum and mostly spent the time at the hands on area. We were all tired, so we got a taxi back home to rest. Dinner was at Hawksmoor — Sis and I had the D-rump and sirloin while little one had mac’n’cheese and mash potato. Again, we lucked out on it being Monday, with BYO at £5 corkage. We bought a Malbec at my local wine shop for the surprising price of £6.99, it was a bargain. R came after his drinks. Sis and little one stayed in the spare room and R slept in the living room, I’m happy that my flat is large enough for all of them.

brasserie blanc

dressed crab

My sis is here so I went down to visit them. We went into town for lunch, ended up at brasseric blanc, a sort of Manoir lite from Raymond Blanc. We shared a starter board of vegetables, smoked mackerel, pigeon rillette and other stuff. Sis had braised lamb shoulder and I had the dressed crab, opting for something that is too fiddly to do at home.

Our conclusion is that it was nice, but not outstanding. A long way from le manoir — even though we’d never been there, we can imagine the quality of food. This was like a chain, and probably more in the standard of a café rouge. The starter was kinda boring, the bread being the best part. And yes, I did appreciate that someone went into the trouble of picking all the flesh out of my crab, but somehow it all tasted quite bland, even with an abundance of brown meat. We didn’t have wine or dessert.

There are plenty of french style bistros around. I think I’ll give some of the others a try before returning to this one.

l’atelier

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Lunch at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon with Mum. It being a weekday, it wasn’t that busy. We were sat at the counter and ordered the set lunch. I had mine with wine pairing.

Amuse bouche of foie gras with port reduction and parmesan foam. I had white asparagus salad and Mum had salmon carpaccio for starter. For mains we both had the hangar steak which came with polenta and a daikon celeriac side. Mum had passion fruit soufflé for dessert and I just had cheese. For coffee and tea they took us upstairs to the terrace bar. Nice.

highland park whisky tasting

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After visiting Islay, I got interested in several of the other good whiskies — Talisker, Balvenie, Old Pulteney and Highland Park. Then I started getting obsessed with Highland Park, and naturally my obsession turned into a desire to visit. And this is why RM and I dragged Mum to Kirkwall this past weekend. The purpose (not sole, but certainly top) of our trip was to the Highland Park distillery, where we’d pre-booked the Magnus Eunson premium tour. It promises a tour with a senior guide, a souvenir book, souvenir glass and full range tasting. Considering a miniature of the 40yr is £77, at £75 it was something I’d looked forward to since we made the reservation.

They picked us up from the hotel and dropped us back, which is much needed service. We were there 10mins early, and joined the regular tour group for the introductory video. Then we separated and went with our guide, James, a retired banker, who took us more slowly around the distillery. The floor maltings, mill, mash tun, washbacks and stills were familiar by now, it was great to have a refresher. The stillman even showed us his computer that monitors the alcohol % at the safe.

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Before the tasting got underway, we looked around the tasting room and all got a chance to hold a bottle of 50 year. At £10,000, we were all extremely careful not to drop it. I made notes as we tasted.

  1. new mix spirit — this is the clear liquid that comes from the still before it gets into the cask. At 69.8% it’s strong on the nose. Tasted surprising sweet
  2. oloroso sherry — mainly to nose, this is the sherry which occupied the casks before being filled with whisky. Rich in colour, it was quite dry
  3. 12 year 40% — the standard expression, to me the nose was chemical and medicinal, not terribly nice. Pleasant enough to drink
  4. 15 year 40% — richer, fruitier, sweeter, spicier, more of everything compared with the 12
  5. 18 year 43% — spicy but less than the 15, sweet, lots of complexity, methinks one should always have a bottle of this on one’s shelf
  6. 25 year 48.1% — lots of sherry, dark, sweeter again, rich almost like wine, has a kick and tons of body; not everyone liked this but it was my favourite so far
  7. 30 year 48/1% — not spicy on nose but stronger alcohol, rounded almost delicate, flowery, can definitely feel its warmth travelling down me
  8. 40 year 48.3% — smells like 25, lots of sherry, big, big smell; big, big body, so sweet! With a little salty and bags of finish, sigh sigh sigh
  9. Thor 16year special edition 52.1% — first of a series of 4, big hit and really sweet and fruity

Sometimes the instinct is to go for the most aged, most expensive expression. The question becomes, “is it worth the premium?” The 40yr is almost £1,000; the 25 £130-ish. Is the 40yr 7.5 times better than the 25yr? Not really. In terms of value for money, the 18yr at around £60 hits that sweet spot, and I think that’s the one I’ll have as standby at home. I would like to buy the Thor (£120) because it’s the one that appeals to my palate and wallet most, I’m just afraid that I won’t be able to get the other 3 in the series when they come out.

This was one of the best tastings I’ve been so far and my first vertical tasting. Expensive, and we were rushed at the end — the tour started at 4pm and we weren’t even halfway through the tasting at 7pm. I think instead of having the driver wait around, a deal with a local cab company would have put less pressure on us. It’s not the most value for money tasting, that would go to Ardbeg; nor is it the most fun and informative, that would be Laphroaig. Is it worth coming all the way out to Orkney? Yes, it was well worth the long trip out.

orkney day 3

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Our flight was at 2.40pm but we still managed to fit in quite a lot for one morning. Drove east to Deerness and to Mull Head nature reserve. It’s a nice, short walk to the coast to see The Gloop, a cave / hole in the cliffs that together with the spectacular cliffs gave a great view. Drove back to the south islands to go to the Italian Chapel, which we missed on Sunday. It was built by Italian prisoners during WW2, and is the only building remaining of the site. Very postcard-y and I can see why it’s one of the most visited spots in Orkney.

Final stop was at Highland Park again. Three times in 3 days. No tasting, just some accessories shopping. I got a small lapel pin to go with the tasting glass and polo shirt I bought the other day. Filled up the car and parked back at Kirkwall town centre for quick walkaround and fish and chips lunch. They also had white and red pudding, that tasted somewhere between black pudding and sausages.

Uneventful flights home, connected at Aberdeen. Both flights from Kirkwall and Aberdeen were almost completely full, luckily they were short flights so not too uncomfortable. Picked up the whisky purchases from Saturday at Heathrow. My bounty this trip, from Heathrow and Aberdeen airports as well as Edinburgh and Highland Park distillery:

  • Highland Park St Magnus
  • Highland Park miniatures — 21, 25, 30yr
  • Laphroaig PX cask
  • Bunnahabhain Cruach-Mhona
  • Scapa 16yr
  • Old Pulteney 17yr
  • Mortlach 16yr
  • Dalwhinnie 15yr
  • Glengoyne 21yr

orkney day 2

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Two cruise ships came into Kirkwall today, all the locals were talking about it. One of them, the Caribbean Princess, had 3,500 people so if all of them came on shore, it would double Kirkwall’s population. We watched them come via their small orange boats, and them they got on coaches or taxis. We were warned, and expected to see them all over the island at the popular tourist spots.

Nevertheless, we had a plan to follow. The first few stops were Maes Howe and the standing circles at Stenness. We did come across some of the cruisemates, but never intrusive. We didn’t join the tour at Maes Howe, just looked at the shop. We did however spend a lot of time at the stones. Fantastic, beautiful site. Then onwards to Skara Brae (shop only again) and the rock stacks at Yesnaby followed by the scenic coast at Birsay. A stop at Earl’s Palace and a short walk around the area. We had a quick lunch from the snack van of burgers and soft drinks, facing the wild bule sea. What a beautiful island.

Back at the hotel at around 3pm for a little rest before the car from Highland Park came to pick us up. We’re booked on the top end £75 Magnus Eunson tour at the distillery, which promises us tastings from all of: 12, 15, 18, 25, 30 and 40 year expressions. That is worth another post on its own. Dinner reservation at the hotel restaurant, we plan to have seafood and cheesecake tonight.

orkney day 1

stromness harbour

Early start, free buffet breakfast at hotel. Then to the bus station for the short ride to the airport. Flight at 10.40am to Kirkwall was short, on one of those piddly flybe propeller planes. Car hire company picked us up from the airport and I drove the car to their office for paperwork. We got a Vauxhall Vectra, I’d wanted group B but they didn’t have any available so it’s a bigger car.

Staying at the Kirkwall hotel, right on the harbour of Kirkwall. I was able to book a family room which is a double with an adjoining single sharing a bathroom. It’s quite an old hotel but the rooms are large and comfortable enough. Quick lunch at the hotel of toasties and baked potato. Not a lot was open around, so the safest bet was the hotel.

We drove around, couldn’t resist stopping off at the Highland Park distillery even though we have our tour booked for tomorrow. Fabulous chat with one of the staff there and we ended up buying the St Magnus limited edition 55% natural strength that was so fragrant and rich that I could feel it flowing down my body. Yum.

Drove all the way down south, marvelling at the Churchill barriers through the islands of Burray and South Ronaldsay. The Tomb of the Eagles weren’t attractive enough for us to pay the entrance fee and walk around the windy cliffs towards archeological sites. Pretty scenery though, different from Islay or the Highlands.

Back to the mainland and west towards Stromness, the second largest town on Orkney. Very picturesque harbour. It being Sunday everything was closed, with the exception of a chippie. We shared one haddock and chips plus a single portion of scampi, a bit like appetiser. Dinner was at the hotel again. It was very crowded and we had to wait about an hour before they had a table for us. Not a problem, we rested up in our room. I had a lovely seafood salad, vanilla & orange ice cream / sorbet. Afterwards Mum went back up and RM and I sipped a selection of Scapas — 12, 16 and 25 years. Surprisingly, or rather not, the 16 yr was the best. Oh, we also went by Scapa distillery but they don’t open for visitors.

It’s now very late, but it’s still not quite dark out, we are so far north. More sightseeing and tasting tomorrow.

Edinburgh

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Me, Mum and RM are in Edinburgh, on our way to Orkney. We decided to stopover for one night, firstly because of the flights and secondly because it’s an interesting place to visit. Flying out of Terminal 5 means a huge duty free selection. With the discounts and travel retail only selection, we ended up buying a lot even before we got on the plane. They have a collect when home service so we’ll get our purchases when we return to London.

Flight was short, drinks and snacks and we landed already. Got the bus to Waverley station, £6 return, it’s only 10-15mins walk to the Holiday Express, our hotel for the night. Checked in, and came back out again. Walked back into town, had a very late lunch at Whiski bar, which has 300, yes 300, whiskies. We didn’t have any, Mum had fish & chips, RM had mussels and I had venison liver with side salad.

Walked towards the royal mile and then the castle. It was a nice day and a very pleasant walk around. Had dinner at this restaurant called Steak which is literally next to the hotel. We all had mixed grill — sirloin steak, sausages, pigeon breast, black pudding, bone marrow, mushroom and tomato. The practice of having a dram with a meal continued, when we ordered the Thomas Handy Sazerac Rye whiskey. Wow, very nice drink.

two bourbons and a porterhouse

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Met A for steak whilst she is visiting London at, where else, Hawksmoor. That’s twice in a week for me, and still I’m not tired of it.

I was wandering around Covent Garden beforehand but it started drizzling so I went there early and sat at the bar. Wasn’t tempted by the cocktails today, I was perusing the whisky shelf behind the bartender and saw a couple of intriguing looking bottles. Upon enquiry, it turned out that they were Blanton’s straight from the barrel unfiltered bourbon. Cask strength means anything from 60-70% alcohol, but it was so sweet and smooth I didn’t feel any of the ethanol at all. I also declined wine during the meal, and sipped that glass of bourbon.

Ah, the meal. Sometimes I have to cast my mind back to my first time there with RM, and how it felt. I hope A wasn’t too overwhelmed with the sheer size of the steaks on offer on the board. They were large today, mostly almost 1kg (except the filets and they had one 600g rib-eye). We decided on a 900g (32oz) porterhouse, which came rare and sliced. Broccolini and bone marrow for sides. For dessert A had sticky toffee pudding and I had sticky orange pudding. They were slow getting them out, the server told us that they missed the order, so it was comped. Wow, I hadn’t expected that, smart of them. All in all it’s as close to a perfect meal as I can imagine.

While A had earl grey tea, I went for a second bourbon, an Elijh Craig 12yr. It smelled wonderful — sweet, woody, caramel, everything that suggests a great bourbon. Taste, for me, it couldn’t compare with the Blanton’s. Blander and harder to drink. Didn’t detract from a perfect meal though.

hawksmoor byo

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Took Mum to Hawksmoor. Had Porterhouse 900g / 30oz and D-rump 200g / 8oz between 3 people (went with RM, who else?). The best thing about Hawksmoor on a Monday is that it’s BYO wine for only £5 corkage. Got a nice bottle of £30 Mendoza from the shop near the office, I’m liking the idea of Argentinian wine with steak.

lunch at the ledbury

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It’s Mum’s birthday, and I’d booked lunch at The Ledbury, one of the best restaurants in London. Two Michelin stars. And only a few bus stops away on Ledbury Road, near Portabello market.

We opted for the lunch menu at £35 for 3 courses. The meal ended up being 7 courses, more on that later. The restaurant is on a corner, a black building but once inside it was nice and bright. A large mirror at the back wall gave the effect of a bigger space. There are about 18 tables, we were one of the first to arrive and by the time we left the place was full.

I ordered a half bottle of valpolicella for myself, having declined the offer of champagne. Even the bread and butter were cute. As is normal nowadays, we got an amuse bouche of foie gras and kumquat jelly on crunchy biscuit. We both started with the white & green asparagus cooked in earl grey with a crisp pheasant egg. The asparagus was fabulously sweet and the egg perfectly soft boiled.

We got an extra starter, buffalo milk curd with truffle toast and grilled onion broth. The milk curd was just like custard and the toast smelled and tasted of truffle. Very nice.

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For main course, Mum had turbot with radishes, barley and a cream of white beer sauce. I had pork cheek & jowl with pear, celeriac and dandelion. They brought the roasted pork as it came out of the oven for me to “inspect” before sending it back to the kitchen for plating. Mum’s fish was super fresh, love turbot. I had a lot going on my plate, the crunchy skin, the fatty meat of the cheek and then the melt-in-your-mouth softness of the jowl which had been slow cooked. Lovely sauce too.

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Mum had blueberry, mango & pear sorbet for dessert and I opted for coconut cream in milk chocolate and sea buckthorn bed. I’d told them that it’s Mum’s birthday so they gave us an extra dessert — lemon soufflé with sauternes ice cream. Everything was perfect. We ended with petit fours. Mum had a peppermint tea and I had a glass of Hedonism, an unusual blended grain whisky from Compass Box. I think, yes, 7 courses:

  1. amuse bouche
  2. asparagus starter
  3. milk curd and truffle toast second started
  4. fish and pork mains
  5. sorbet and coconum cream dessert
  6. extra dessert lemon soufflé
  7. petit fours, tea

The bill came to £120 which I think is good value. The extras were the wine, whisky, bottled water, tea and service charge. There was no skimping on portions, textures or flavours. Everything was perfectly cooked and presented. The service was friendly and helpful. When bookings for August opens on 1 June, I’ll be on their website to make a reservation for mm’s visit.

gaucho steak

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Gaucho was supposed to have the best steak in London until usurped by Goodman and Hawksmoor, so RM and I were keen to try it out. Since Mum is here, I thought it’d be a good place to introduce her to London steakhouse. For convenience I booked the branch at Piccadilly, under an arch off Regent’s Street. Our table was in the basement and we had to walk through the cowhide decorated front entrance and bar. It was very, very dark.

We had a bottle of Lagarde 2009 malbec. I don’t usually order malbec, but this was a good choice — an argentinian wine in an argentinian steak restaurant. We ordered 3 different steaks to share: their signature picana, a marinated rump and a sirloin. I thought the rump had lots of beef flavour although they were a bit tougher than I would have liked. The sirloin was grilled to medium rare perfection and also very good. For dessert they had chocolate & macadamia tart with vanilla ice cream and I had an ice cream.

Bill came to £150, which is okay because of the wine. The verdict? Nice enough, and there are a couple more dishes I’d like to try — the “cheaper” cuts of skirt and flank which aren’t as readily available but can be really fantastic. One more to add to the list, as a reserve.

SM leaving, brixton market

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It’s SM’s last day so he, RM and I went with another friend to Brixton market for Friday night drinks and food. He and I sneaked out early, at 4pm. We stopped by a pub before heading over there and ended up at the wonderful seven tapas and cocktail bar. We had nibbles, he had a beer while I had an old fashioned, while we waited for the others to arrive. It wasn’t until past 7pm that our party was complete and we walked around the village looking at the choices before deciding on pizza at franco manca. The queue was long, but moved quickly. Within 15mins we were seated. The pizzas were as good as before. I had the vegetarian special and we ordered a bottle of the house red.

Not wanting the evening to end, we headed back to the village arcade and found a place where we could have wine. In addition to the wine we had limoncello, sambucca and grappas. RM had an apple strudel and the restaurant didn’t mind that I got gelato from the stall around the corner — all very community spirited. Great evening with friends.

boisdale steak

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Our colleague was in town on a visit so RM and I took her to Boisdale for steak. The one at Bishopsgate is hidden at the end of a dark obscure alleyway next to a pub called, of all things, Dirty Dick’s. You go downstairs into the dungeon of a restaurant to be greeted by red walls lined with pictures of famous people (Churchill, Monroe amongst others), a cosy intimate atmosphere and a jazz pianist.

No going crazy on ginormous 1kg steaks for us, we were very demur and ordered the regular sirloin on the bone. A little too much of a tough tendon for my liking. Didn’t have dessert but RM and I couldn’t resist the large whisky selection. He had a Bunnahabhainn and I had the most excellent Highland Park 18 year.

islay goodies

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At the end, we did manage to visit all the distilleries on Islay and Jura, including the 2 that were closed — we took photos at least.

I bought a couple of bottles — a wine cask Bruichladdich and a Caol Ila 18 year . But the most fun stuff I got were the miniature bottles — laphoraig, bruichladdich, jura and bowmore; and at least one tasting glass from the distilleries where we went on tours. I already have an Ardbeg, but now I have Glencairn glasses from Lagavullin and Laphoraig (large and small), tumblers from Bowmore and Bruichladdich, and shot-glass sized glasses from Jura and one with the map of the island etched. Good stuff.

islay trip day 4

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Jura, Portnohaven, peat banks, home

We set off early to catch the 9.30am ferry to the even more remote isle of Jura. The ferry trip was literally 5 minutes, it took longer to drive the car into the boat and drive off.

8 miles along the coast of Jura and we came to the village of Craighouse. It had been raining all morning, and then the sun came out. The main strip of the village is along the harbour, with matching whitewashed buildings housing the hotel, the distillery and the store. That’s it. Our tour was at 11am so we had time to wander around until there was nothing more to wander to. RM went to the distillery shop to chat with the people there (and it turned out, bum a dram) while I took a walk in the other direction towards the old pier.

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The distillery tour was free. Afterwards there was the obligatory tasting. They didn’t give us any complimentary glass, so I bought one. Fair, considering the tour was free. We had lunch at a small but busy café behind the store — burgers and salad, and since we are in Scotland, irn-bru.

We missed the return ferry, so we set up shop at the pier to rest for a bit. Back on Islay we had time to head to Portnohaven at the southernmost tip of the island. Pretty village with lighthouse. On the way back to the airport, we filled up the car with petrol and made our final stop. One of the tour guides (laphoraig, I think) told us where there peat banks are, and how they cut the peat by hand. We spotted them by the airport, and it’s a sign of how much we (or at least I) have learnt that we knew what we were seeing. We’d driven past that road several times without noticing.

The flight to Glasgow was 30mins late. For some administratively stupid reason Flybe won’t check us through to Heathrow so we had to retrieve our bags, exit and re-checkin. BA is much more efficient and we were back inside the gate quickly. The flight to LHR was also late, we didn’t land till 10.30pm. Luggage took forever to come out so it was a little bit stressful. The train was full, and there was a long queue for taxis at Paddington so I just took the bus. Past midnight and I was home finally.

islay trip day 3

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Laphoraig, Lagavullin distilleries. Carraig Fuada Lighthouse.

Short 5min drive to Laphoraig this morning. We’d booked for the most extensive and expensive tasting this trip, for £28. We joined the regular tour of the distillery first. I must say, this is the absolute best distillery tour so far. Normal price of £3 is frankly undervalued. The guide was well informed, and the best things were: we got to try a small sample of the yeasty wash; we were allowed to put our hands inside the safe to catch a drop of the distilled product to taste; we also dipped our fingers into a freshly filled cask. Wow. And then on the regular tour there was a dram tasting of the 10 year old.

The advanced tasting, the Johnstone tour, involved tasting of 4 expressions: 10 year old, a 25 year old, a special festival edition and a superb, smooth, awesome 30 year old. Then we got a bonus, and I tried the triple wood. I can’t recommend Laphoraig enough. If visitors only have time for 1 distillery visit, this is where I will recommend.

Quick lunch back at the hotel. I had ham (it is Easter after all) and then back to the same area for the tour at Lagavullin. Ack, we weren’t allowed to take pictures. Apparently company policy. Weird. The tour was also good, I stuck my head inside one of the wash tuns and got a noseful of yeast and carbon dioxide, eeek. As it was just a regular tour the dram tasting was more limited. I had a distiller’s edition Lagavullin and a 18 year Caol Ila. The Caol Ila isn’t widely available so I purchased a bottle.

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The weather had been crummy all day, rain varying between drizzle and downpour. Late afternoon the sun came out so we took advantage and drove to the southern tip. When the sun is out, the water is soooo blue and the island so picturesque. This is the Carraig Fuada lighthouse. There’s a faint rainbow at the center of the shot, towards the left.

islay trip day 2

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5 distelleries — Bruichladdich, Kilchoman, Bowmore, Bunnahabhain , Caol Ila — one birthday

Woke up to a gloriously sunny morning at Port Ellen. Beautiful photo op, went outside the hotel to absorb the quiet atmosphere and take pictures. Full breakfast of cereal, toast, bacon, sausage, black pudding, beans, mushroom, tomato and potato pancake.

Then to the other side of the island, past Bowmore. We were early so we drove further on to Port Charlotte before turning back to Bruichladdich. Had a 45 min tour, but as they weren’t working today, it was empty. Tasted a 10 year classic at the end of the tour. Bought miniatures and a bottle that isn’t available online.

Stopped at Kilchoman, the newest distillery. We hadn’t booked a tour, just visited the shop. Had a tiny sample of their inaugural and sherry cask. Pretty new and young, a distillery to watch out for I think.

Back to Bowmore proper. Had time to spare for some souvenir shopping before joining the tour at Bowmore. The distillery was both working and we had an extremely informative tour guide. For some odd reason we weren’t allowed to take photos because of health and safety reasons. Weird. Tasted a 12 year and a 18 year.

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Rest of the day was driving to 2 distilleries that are closed for the holidays — Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila. We went there for picture opportunity and to say we’ve visited all the distilleries on Islay. Final stop was to Port Askaig, initially to find something to eat but it turned out to be a port with just 2 buildings, pretty disappointing.

Dinner was at the Harbour Inn. I had langoustines and semphire salad, pan-fried vension and prune & almond cake with Bowmore Tempest ice cream. Had an Islay ale too, it was smooth and dark and almost like a stout.

Back in hotel before 8am. Shower, TV, relaxing, posting. Resting for more sampling tomorrow.

Not my usual birthday. It just happened that this year it falls smack bang at Easter weekend and I got the offer / temptation from RM to go travelling. A part of me would rather have stayed at home, but this has been vastly interesting and I’m very very pleased that I came.

islay trip day 1

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London —> Glasgow —> Islay
Ardbeg tasting

Going to Islay with RM for the long weekend. Early morning start at 4.30am. Bus to Paddington then train to Heathrow. Flight to Glasgow was 7am, arriving at just before 9am. Our luggage were checked through, so we didn’t have to worry. Got the #500 bus to Glasgow city centre and walked around a bit. Originally we were worried that we won’t have time to see anything but we managed to see the main sights. Nothing much to see, to be honest.

Flight to Islay was delayed for over 1 hour. The flight itself was only 30mins, so it’s all relative. Luggage came out quickly. Got our rental car and drove to Port Ellen. Checked into the hotel no problem, very pleased with the room. As soon as we ditched our luggage we ran out and hightailed it to Ardbeg. We had booked a tasting tour, and I called in Glasgow airport to advice that we were delayed and they were so kind to let us join the end of the tour, the tasting.

The tasting. Oh man. Incredible. Out of this world. We tried 8 different expressions, starting with a 10 year old, then it got better and better. 17 year old, 24, sherry cask, ones that are no longer available. I gave quite a lot to RM, and he got quite drunk. Heehee. We barely made it to dinner. I had scallops, lemon sole and summer fruits pudding. Shower and spent the rest of the evening watching tv.

Temporary pictures only. Will need to do the whole set when I get home.