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

Lost in translation @ Augsburg

Ok, Augsburg did defy our expectation. We were vaguely imagining the place to be crammed with medieval buildings, cobbled streets, gothic churches and so on. Instead, we found the city kind of modern and rather ordinary.

Sure, we shouldn’t have expected every town and city on Romantic Road to be “picture on a biscuit box” perfect, all pretty and picturesque. However, our first impression of the city was…, grey!

A distance between Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Augsburg, was about 186km (116mls) and Google map suggested the journey would take 1 hour 44 minutes. Don’t you agree that satnav always underestimates journey time? In fact, the route using A7 and A8 and then to the city centre using R2 took us almost 4 hours!

When we arrived at our hotel in Augsburg, it was almost 3:30 pm. Bizarrely, I was met by no one at the reception except a workman with a paint brush gesturing me to call a number on the wall, ‘Chef! Chef!’ You mean am I to call your boss??? I picked up the phone and dialled the number. A man’s voice answered and I explained that we were hotel guests and wanted to check in. The man on the line assured me that we would be with us shortly and also show me where to park our car. Sure enough, a middle-aged man arrived after 5 minutes and introduced himself as Albert. He owned the hotel and a beer garden nearby. He explained that he was away from the reception because the beer garden needed his attention before opening that evening.

The room we were to stay over night wasn’t that great. It was clean and the bathroom seemed to be redecorated recently, however, the bed was a bit saggy and the closet was full of tired-looking wire laundry hangers (the one you get from a dry-cleaner!) and shop hangers instead of proper wooden ones you would normally expect in hotel closets. Oh dear…

‘I don’t like English breakfast!’ I thought that was what Albert said when I went to the reception the second time for a password for their Wi-Fi. I was like ‘??? You don’t like English breakfast??’ First of all, I hadn’t come across anyone ever who didn’t like English-style fry up. And why is he telling me this? Is it because I live in London?? It was Albert’s turn to be startled, ‘Oh, I like English breakfast. I used to live in Britain!’

Then, it dawned on me. ‘Do you mean “Brexit”?’ ‘Yes, Brexit!’ His English with a heavy German accent made “Brexit” sounded like “breakfast”. Hahaha.

I told him that I was as gutted as him about the UK leaving Europe. We both agreed Brexit and Donald Trump were complete disasters…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Hôtel Cathédrale à Strasbourg

After another 3.5 hour drive on A4, we finally made it to Strasbourg, a city famed for its beautiful cathedral and Christmas markets. ‘Oh my god! So many people!!’ We found the city absolutely packed with tourists and locals because it was Saturday. Reluctantly, we joined a lengthy queue leading up to the entrance of an underground car park located beneath Place Gutenberg.

‘Look mum! What a pretty place Strasbourg is!’ There was a beautiful carousel in the middle of the square, and all four corners of the square were lined with pretty shops, cafes and restaurants. We could also see some bakeries, ice cream stands and street markets around where the crowd were forming. We could hardly wait park our car and explore the city!

Eventually, we emerged from the underground like two little moles laden with bags. ‘So which way are we going now?’ Our hotel was supposed to be right in front of the cathedral. However, the square was in the middle of a very built-up area and I could not see anything over the roofs of the building around us. The last thing I wanted to do was making mum walk needlessly, so I ran around a bit and spotted the right street by chance. Phew! Hôtel Cathédrale.

Our home sweet home in Strasbourg…

Right in front of the cathedral!

The room was a little on the small side and every nook and cranny around the bed was utilised for the amenities of modern hotels, such as a mini bar, a closet and etc…

Please note that this hotel may not be suitable for guests with limited mobility as the hotel entrance has a few steps and they have no lift from the ground level.

A spiral staircase to descend to the reception on the ground floor…

Apart from the slight awkwardness regarding the accessibility, the hotel was a big thumb-up for us. The room was well air-conditioned and comfortable. Despite the size, their bathroom was great. I especially love their unusually large shower-head!

Another plus point was their petit dejenuer. They provided many variety of bread, cold meat and cheese as well as a huge choice of beverage. Since Strasbourg was right next door to Germany, the hotel must have had German guests in mind who expected German-style breakfast.

Now, let’s explore Strasbourg before the day is over!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Mr.Sponge’s Sporting Tour

Last Saturday, I stumbled onto rather a serendipitous discovery in Chelsea.

Our Saturday morning ritual of breakfasting at the Shepherdess…


Mmmm… the kitchen could put a bit more effort into their presentation skill. Oh well, never mind.

Then, we were off to Michael Hoppen Gallery on Jubilee Place.
The nearest tube station was Sloane Square and we strode down Kings Road, weaving our way through the milling weekend shoppers. Hubbie and I agreed with a tinge of sadness that Kings Road was getting more banal every time we visited the street. The invasion of big brands and chain stores steadily eroded the charm and character and now the stretch was sporting a generic high street which could be found in any well-off parts of the UK.
However, all was not lost (thank god) because John Sandoe (Books) Ltd on Blacklands Terrace was one place which emanated certain old charm of Chelsea’s artistic and intellectual communities…


While Hubbie stuck his nose between piles of coffee table books, my attention was drawn straight to one particular book in the middle of the shelves…


The appearance of the book was inconspicuous to say the least. It had no paper cover and the title “Young Tom Hall” was inscribed in gold on the spine. That was it.
But something intrigued me and before I knew it, the book was in my hand and my fingers were leafing through the content. My eyes were soon glued to the pages because the style of writing rang a bell loudly. It reminded the book I lost more than a decade ago. What was the title of the book? During my nomadic flat-share years, I lost more than a few possessions which had certain sentimental value and the book in question, was one of them. It was a secondhand paperback I picked up at one of the used bookshops on Charing Cross Road. It wasn’t even on the shelf but being piled up on the floor amongst other paperbacks in had-seen-better-days condition. Damn, I wished if I remembered that title…, the thought raced through my mind as my index finger traced old-fashioned typefaces on the crisp white page. Still, I decided to make a note of the name of the author because my sixth sense somehow nagged me to do so.
In the mean time, Hubbie had a better luck. He found a copy of Irving Penn’s book he was looking for for years and it made him one very happy chap…


After John Sandoe, we hurried to our another favourite haunt, Michael Hoppen Gallery on Jubilee Place…


On the ground floor, “Frontcountry” by Lucas Foglia was on…



However, our main aim was to see the Sarah Moon exhibition on the first floor…





Oh how much I loved her work! Her method, hand made pigment transfer print, was breathtakingly beautiful…


During our journey home, I checked the name, R.S.Surtees, in Wikipedia with my iPhone and can you guess what the search threw at me?
Robert Smith Surtees turned out to be the author who penned the book I was chasing!! When I saw the titles of his work, I remembered that it was “Mr.Sponge’s Sporting Tour” …


How could this have happened? Why did I beeline to that book in the first place? The book was definitely calling me. It wanted to be found by me.
After all these years of on/off search, I was reunited (not physically yet, however) with the book under the most serendipitous circumstance. Isn’t life so mysterious and wonderful?…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Sun, Glorious Sun!

What a fantastic weekend weather wise it was!
The sun was shining and the wind was warm and gentle, I had to pinch myself just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming!
While my mum’s place, Nagano, was still firmly stuck in the snow & chill (in Nobeyama, they recorded below -20 ℃!), my neighbours were strutting around with vests & shorts. Can this be really right? I was glad that it was no longer grey and damp but also apprehensive about this unpredictable climate…

A morning stroll with Mr.B on Saturday.
He wouldn’t have needed a jumper then…


Our fry-up at the Shepherdess the Caf.
I sat with my back towards the sun and felt my nape singed slightly…


Then came Sunday, I met up with Letizia at Embankment and visited South Bank together…


Well, we were one of those who were not good at taking selfies. The sun was in our faces and we were taking this image almost blind. Plus, it was my bad hair day so a beanie was the must. Well, enough excuses said.

The Thames was teeming with ships laden with tourists…


The sight was so enticing and tempting as such, we momentarily contemplated if we should hop on one of those river-buses and travel to the Hampton Court or Greenwich.

A leisurely walk along South Bank.
The tide was low then and some people were venturing down to the river bed and exploring through whatever the Thames decided to leave on its shore…


This guy was busking with his amplifier by his side. The amp was rather hazardously close to the water and made me wonder what would happen if he were zapped…


Any table in the sun was hard to come by on the day like this and we queued nearly an hour to get ours. However, the sun went behind the high-rise building nearby as soon as we were seated. C’est la vie, huh?
Nevertheless, we shared a delicious bottle of rose and I enjoyed a plate of Linguine ai frutti di mare…


Is this the arrival of the spring? Highly unlikely. But the day like last weekend reminded us what we should look forward to. And we could hardly wait for the real blooming spring!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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