Battered or Breaded

Sometimes, life can be a bit cruel, and as a result, events unfolding before your eyes may not match your expectations. And you lament, ‘Oh noooo! Whhhhhyyyyyy!?’

Those disappointing outcomes are not normally caused by other’s malicious intent but more like by a simple misunderstanding or by a freak accident. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that those tiny knocks and jabs which everyday life throws at you in a seemingly random manner definitely chip away your sense of happiness.

Don’t get me wrong because I am not a perpetual moaner, like Albert in the sitcom Steptoe and Son (I hope!) and I can take it most of the time.

However, it happened again.

Last Thursday, we decided to order fish & chips for supper through Deliveroo. I really fancied scampi then, therefore, I could hardly wait for the arrival.

Mmmm…, they are finally here…

Bella asking me, ‘What the heck are they?’

Their witty packaging made me smile…

Hello Your Majesty!

Then, I was devastated…

‘Oh bu**er! I didn’t know their scampi was battered, not breaded!!’

I asked Hubbie if he knew which way was the right way to cook scampi. ‘I never have scampi so I don’t know.’, he replied absentmindedly as he was busy with squeezing a wedge of lemon over his cod.

Oh shit! It was not supposed to be like this!, I pecked on the battered scampi and I was quietly pi**ed off. I was furious.

At least, Bella had some fun…

 

Next time, I will call up a chippy and ask them how they cook their scampi before placing an order…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Alpino Cafe @ Chapel Market, N1

Alpino Cafe, which is situated at the west end of Chapel Market, is a much loved local eatery. The establishment is a stone’s throw from our office and Hubbie and I often eat our lunch there.

Today’s special was chicken pie with vegetables and mashed potato…

Their portion was generous as usual. Nothing can beat a piping hot chicken pie with gravy when the weather outside is chilly and blustery, we wholeheartedly agreed as we ferried the piping hot mashed potato to our mouths.

The family-run eatery has a particular charm…

And their charm is derived from their individuality. The place has the air of history in a quirky way.

One of their walls are adorned with photos of football stars from mainly the 90’s and another one is a shrine for sports cars, notably mainly Italian’s and professional boxers. Their tables and chairs are recently updated and they are arranged rather tightly so the diners are almost elbow-to-elbow during lunchtime. Their extensive menu offers vast choices – from standard English breakfast to American pancake, sandwiches, pasta, risotto, gnocchi, lasagne, omelette, jacket potato, meat dishes such as chicken escalope and salad, etc. Plus they have special dishes which change daily. During the peak time, the service can be a bit slow but no one, especially the regulars, seems to mind. A team of waitresses, who I guess they are sisters, come in and out of the kitchen at a brisk pace, delivering the plates of food or clearing away the tables. Behind the chilled cabinets by the front door with cured meats and cheese for take-away sandwiches, an old lady, who I assume an owner of the cafe, manages the till. She calculates the bill without the help of a pocket computer no matter how long the addition may be and it sounds a treat every time I hear her doing the math with her native Italian. It is like a chirpy cheerful bird singing!

Sometimes, Hubbie and I buy our lunch from chains like Itus and Pret A Manger. It is because we are particularly busy on certain days and we rather scoff sandwich at the desk. However, the recent environmental issues such as plastic pollution make us contemplate if our habit of buying lunch at chain stores is damaging the environment. Of course, we do our best to recycle those plastic containers responsively. But would it be better if we don’t rely on disposable plastics such as lids and bottles altogether?

‘It’s win-win for both! Don’t you agree?’ While I munched on my chicken pie, I confided to Hubbie.

I meant was by having lunch at local restaurants such as Alpino’s, we weren’t producing any plastic waste. And we were also supporting local businesses which had to swallow a huge hike of the annual business rate by the Islington Council. What not to like!

Beside all the aforementioned benefits, we would enjoy our lunchtime together more because there would be no interruption by e-mails or phones. Let’s step back to the time when we had a proper lunch break, Hubbie and I agreed…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Paella, paella, paella…

‘Let’s have paella because there is almost no queue!’ Our decision was prompt because we were very hungry and also cold. The urge to fill our stomach with something warm was too strong to resist.

Hubbie and I were standing by a pop-up gazebo, selling freshly cooked paella at Cubitt Square. The pop-up canteen was one of the many street food shops, especially there for Lumiere London 2018.

Mmmm…, I’m starving…

There were two choices, seafood and chorizo. And we opted for the chorizo one…

The paella looked great and I was only very grateful because the rice was piping hot. However, my joy was short lived.

Why they make it salty?!

The dish was very very very very salty. ‘I tasted the paella as salty as this when I went to Málaga ages ago.’, I told Hubbie as I ferried the rice to my mouth gingerly.

Yes, the seriously brined paella did bring back a bitter sweet memory of my holiday at Málaga. The trip was my very first solo holiday and also turned out to be the last one. I was supposed to go with my friend but she got cold feet at the last minute and as a result, I ended up being in a foreign city all on my own.

After spending tedious four hours in a departure lounge at Gatwick Airport because the plane was delayed, I found myself walking through a deserted arrival lobby of Málaga Airport in the early morning. I can’t recall exactly how but I managed to communicate the address of my hotel to a taxi driver and he took me to an unassuming hotel on one of the quiet streets in the city centre.

My room was small and modestly decorated. It had no TV or a great view from the window. Then, the reality dawned on me, ‘Oh shit, will I have to spend my entire Christmas holiday alone in here?’

I must say I didn’t enjoy my four days in the Spanish port city at all. The first two days was especially boring because they were Christmas Day and Boxing Day. No place, except some eateries, was open and I spent my time, walking around a deserted port and a crumbling fort which overlooked the beach.

The hotel I stayed did not have a bar nor a restaurant, therefore, I had to find somewhere to eat. Would I look odd if I dined alone?, I pondered. Then, I saw a brightly lit sign of a tapas bar in the distance and decided to eat my first dinner of Málaga there.

The walls of the eatery was clad with dark brown wood and there were legs of pork dangling from the ceiling. I picked up a laminated menu from the counter and pointed at the picture of paella and then a word, “Diet Coke”. A man behind the counter gave me a slight nod and disappeared into the kitchen.

The man came back from the kitchen surprisingly quickly and placed a plate in front of me. The steaming heap of the sunflower yellow rice looked very tempting because I didn’t have a chance to eat properly that day, therefore, I picked up a cutlery eagerly and spooned the content into my mouth. But oh no, no, NO! The paella was very salty. It was so salty that I could only managed to eat less than half on the plate, despite I was starving. How can anyone find the dish that salty be palatable?!, I was utterly dismayed.

After the fiasco at the tapas bar, I resorted to eating every dinner at a local Chinese restaurant. Their food was bog-standard but at least, their fried rice was no way as salty as the paella.

‘So the paella you had in Málaga was as salty as this?’, Hubbie shook his head in disbelief.

‘Oh, I can eat no more!’

I handed my half eaten paella to Hubbie who volunteered to finish it off. While watching him scoffing the rice and the chorizo in the dark at Gasholder Park, I wandered along a colonnade around the circular lawn. ‘Next time, we shall take paella with a pinch of salt.’ Hubbie declared as he joined me and Bella. I couldn’t agree more…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Afternoon tea @ St Pancras Renaissance

The last afternoon tea I had was at the Lanesborough during last July. My friends were visiting London and they wanted to have a traditional afternoon tea (who wouldn’t?), therefore, I recommended there. This time, I wanted to take my girl Bella with me, therefore, I picked St Pancras Renaissance. In London, there were more than a few dog-friendly afternoon tea venues to choose from. However, most of the places were in West London and St Pancras Renaissance was the only hotel which was close from our place and also welcomed four-legged guests open-armed.

Hurry up, you all!

Even though her legs were short, she climbed the stairs much quicker than me. Why is that? Would I run up the stairs much faster if I got down on all four?!

Behind the present building, there are platforms for Eurostar…

The Victorian style building has Grade 1 listed status and the original structure was constructed in the late 19th century.

I distinctively remember how the place used to be before all the regeneration works transformed the entire area. It was in the early 90’s and the station just looked dirty and unloved. I think I was on my way to visit Cambridge and the train route was starting from St Pancras. The journey was made on one very cold February day and in my memory, the platform was utterly devoid of human beings and as cold as a tomb.

During the 1960’s, there were serious discussions regarding the future of the station. Some wanted the station to be closed and demolished altogether for inner-city redevelopment. However, the station was spared, thanks to fierce opposition by the Victorian Society.

The fortune of the station improved further in 1996 when LCR – London and Continental Railways won a contract from the government to reconstruct St Pancras. The company was to build a 109-kilometre (68 mi) high-speed railway between London and the United Kingdom end of the Channel Tunnel as well as to refit the existing St Pancras for accommodating 300-metre+ Eurostar trains.

After eleven years, during which there were a few ups and downs and the cost of £800 million, the station was reopened on 6 November 2007 by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Before the present St Pancras Renaissance opened its doors in 2011, the site was occupied by the remain of Midland Grand Hotel. The original hotel which was in the elaborate English Gothic revival style was designed by the architect, George Gilbert Scott in 1865. In its heyday, the hotel was known for expensive fixtures and luxurious decor. The place was decked with a grand staircase and every room had a fireplace. The hotel also sported the latest innovations of the time, such as hydraulic lifts, concrete floors, revolving doors and fireproof floor constructions. However by the 1920’s, all the utilities became out of date and it was decided that the hotel was to cease trading in 1935.

After the hotel was closed down, the place was renamed as St Pancras Chambers and it was used as railway offices by British Rail until the 1980’s before the building failed fire safety regulations.

In 2004, planning permission was granted to redevelop the existing boarded-up building into a new five-star hotel complex. The specification for the new hotel, which was to contain 244 guest rooms, two restaurants, two bars, a spa and a gym with a swimming pool, required a much bigger footprint than the former structure, therefore, a new bedroom wing was created on the western side of the Barlow train shed.

Steps leading us to a beautifully decorated hotel lobby…

The afternoon tea was served in their Hansom Lounge…

It was used to be the spot where the wealthiest passengers were dropped off during the time the place was used as a train station.

Bella wanted to explore the place. ‘Let me gooooo!’

No Bay-Bay! You behave yourself!

Then she went into the sulking mode. Oh no…

I don’t care. I’m gonna make you all feel guilty. Her turned back shouted her silent protest. Oh well. Never mind.

The lounge was very Christmassy…

We ordered their classic afternoon tea. For the actual tea, I ordered Earl Grey, Hubbie opted for Rooibos tea and David went for Darjeeling.

The first plates they brought to our table were sandwiches…

There weren’t any customary cucumber sandwiches but we were given a plenty of savoury fillings filled slices and rolls, such as salt beef with mustard & pickles, salmon with dill crème fraiche, roast chicken with fennel & orange, beetroot with goat cheese and so on. They were all very delectable.

For scones, I asked them to include a few scones without raisins or sultanas…

So Bella could join in our feast.

Then for the cake selections, we were served trays of coffee & amaretto panna cotta, lemon mousse, mini chocolate eclair, pistachio Madeleine and raspberry Victoria sandwich…

They were all great. However, I much preferred to have them, the sandwiches, the scones and the cakes, served altogether rather than to be brought separately. Also the time between each plate was served was a little too long for us. Therefore, for those negative points, I had to say the experience was 7 out of 10.

By the way, their dog-friendliness was 10/10…

One of the staffs brought a bowl of water as soon as we were seated and everyone was very attentive to us and Bella.

It was around 5:30pm when we left the hotel…

That meant we spent nearly two and a half hours chatting and drinking tea?! Wow, time flies when we’re having fun, we all laughed…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

‘Aren’t you a bit peckish?’ Hubbie asked me as he squinted into the viewfinder of his Leica which was pointed towards Old Royal Naval College across the Thames. ‘Yeah, I am hungry but is there any place we can eat around here?’ I looked around and found a small kiosk which appeared to sell some hot tea and candy bars in the far corner of Island Gardens. ‘Shall we have tea and a bar of chocolate?’ Hubbie wrinkled his nose and replied curtly, ‘Nah.’ ‘What shall we do then?’ I threw back a question while sticking my icy hands into the pockets of my lumberjack jacket ever so deeper. ‘Let’s cross the tunnel and eat something hot in Greenwich!’ Oh, cool!

Greenwich Foot Tunnel, a subterranean walkway under the River Thames, connects the south bank of the Isle of Dogs and the north bank of Greenwich.

The tunnel’s construction commenced in 1899, right at the end of the Victorian Era, and completed in 1902. The purpose of the tunnel was to provide a more reliable and less costly method of commute for workers who lived in the south side of the river and worked in the docks and shipyards in or near the Isle of Dogs.

Today, the tunnel is classified as a public highway and it is in use 24 hours a day.

Let’s go down the tunnel…

During the 90s, I used to walk down the passage at least once a week. The reason was because there was a riding school at Mudchute Farm & Park and I rode with them every Saturday. The farm was rather a pain to travel to, especially during weekend. However, the fee was significantly cheaper than the one at Hyde Park and which afforded me to have two sessions for the price of one in Central London. I used to have one session in the morning and another one in the afternoon.

The stable at Mudchute Farm was not as snooty as Hyde Park’s and I enjoyed hanging around the yard, chatting with the fellow student riders and petting the horses and ponies. The only shortcoming of the farm was a lack of facility for food and drink. There was no cafe or kiosk in and around the farm – literally, the farm stood in the middle of the council flats and wasteland then, therefore, I had to travel to Greenwich if I wanted to eat lunch.

Until 1996, Docklands Light Railway (DLR) was not extended as far as Greenwich, and I had to ride DLR to Island Gardens so I could walk across to the south bank via Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

The lift looked different then…

I can’t elaborate exactly what was different with the lift then but the doors wasn’t like these. It may have been a pair of steel doors.

We came out of the tunnel on the south side and the first thing greeted us was the famous Cutty Sark

In the 90s, the ship was moored on the quay like HMS Belfast near London Bridge. I remember the tall masts of the clipper decorated with rows of ensigns. The newly restored Cutty Sark after the fire in 2007, however, was hoisted up on the custom made structure designed by Nicholas Grimshaw, away from the water. This treatment aroused controversy because it made her no longer sailable as a ship. However, the state of the timber of the tea clipper and the modification done in the 50’s made her structurally too weak for the actual seafaring.

It is sad to realise that we will never be able to see her in full sail like this…

Still, all is not lost. The new exhibition space which is created underneath the ship allows the visitors to admire her famous keel which contributed to her legendary speed while she was in service.

The wind by the Thames was extra chilly…

Does Cutty Sark want to be as free as a bird like these seagulls?

We wandered around the crowded weekend Greenwich Market and looked for some hot food. Every stall we passed had a long queue, and in the end, we settled for hot dogs…

It tasted okay but the benches were in the shade and it was a bit too cold for our comfort.

After finishing our hasty lunch, we headed for the tunnel entrance…

It was a fun day out. But next time, I shan’t forget to bring a pair of gloves…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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