Stick & Bowl, Kensington W8

Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea was where I started my life in UK a long time ago. I didn’t have much prior knowledge about the area but it looked calm and safe so I decided to live there for a while. My memories from that place during that period were a mixed bag – the excitement of living in a new culture laced with the acute loneliness of being a rootless stranger in a foreign land for the first time in my life. They were bitter sweet and I still don’t enjoy reflecting on them.

Since I left the area, it had changed a lot. Especially, Kensington High Street, 99% of the thoroughfare is now occupied by mainstream chain stores, with the result that the street has lost its character and forte. For example, 49 Kensington High Street, a present location of PC world used to be Kensington Market, a three story indoor market which was jam packed with small stalls, catering for hippie to punk, bohemian to New Romantics, metal head to acid house. The interior of the market was painted in black with neon lights punctuating here and there. The passage resembled an exotic bazaar because it was made narrow and winding with merchandise which was spilling out of the tiny shop fronts. Visiting the market was like exploring Alladins Cave. 

On the other side of the street, there used to be a two story shopping complex called Hyper Hyper which sold more upmarket but also more avant-garde fashion and accessories. I still vividly remember their all chrome interior decor and the ultra avant-garde fashion donned by the staffs. 

Sadly, they were all gone. All the true bohemian spirit and eccentricity were wiped out by banality because some boardroom idiots had realised that the banality would sell more to the mass. Alas, I truly moaned the death of the high street.

Still, there is a survivor on the street. Stick & Bowl, a diner-style Chinese eatery  at 31 Kensington High Street, has been a familiar fixture for many many years…

Their dishes, such as seafoods and vegetables on rice, nursed my homesick  when it got too much to bear…

I hadn’t visited here for a decade or more and I was overjoyed when I saw the same old sign & logo on the wall. Good for you, Stick & Bowl!

I am well integrated to the life in UK now and the homesick I suffered then became a thing of the past. However, I mustn’t forget about this little restaurant which helped me when I felt lonely and alone. It was a no-frill eat & go eatery but they definitely filled my stomach and heart and gave me the strength to go on. Thank you, Stick & Bowl. Long live, Stick & Bowl!

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

Kowloon Bakery @ Chinatown

Contrary to the previous day’s wet weather, yesterday was dry and sunny. The air was crisp  but felt clean. Probably, that stormy rain which cracked the ceiling of the Apollo Theatre also gave a good hosing down to the entire city. I donned my vintage fur coat, hopped on a tube and headed to Leicester Square. My primal destination of the day was Trafalgar Square Post Office. I was there to apply for an international driving permit for my impending trip to Japan. Once the permit was sorted, I set out to the National Portrait Gallery, a stone’s throw from the post office…

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I had been wanting to visit the exhibition “Elizabeth & Her People” since I saw the poster in Old Street tube station. Conveniently I was nearby, I thought ‘Why not now?’ So I went in…

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No camera was allowed inside the venue, therefore, there is no picture to show in here.
The exhibition was well curated and if you have an appetite for this particular period of Tudor history, it will be well worth paying £12.50. The show’s final day is 5th of January,  so please hurry if you don’t want to miss out.

Whereupon leaving the NPG, I scouted for a place for late lunch. I wandered into the National Gallery next door and browsed the shelves laden with Peyton & Byrne’s sandwiches but didn’t fancy any of them. Then, I remembered a Chinese bakery on Gerrard Street which I hadn’t visited for more than 15 years. Why don’t I check out if it still exists, I thought.
On my way to Chinatown, I decided to pay homage to a Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square…

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How does the tree twinkle after dark? I probably have no time to see it this year. Should I take the car for a spin around the square one evening during this weekend?

Kowloon Bakery was one of the oldest bakeries in Chinatown…

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I used to take away their roast pork bun and coconut custard bun regularly and ate them as I sauntered around Soho. I also liked their crystal chicken bun – a bun stuffed with chicken & vegetable in clear chicken gravy, so alternated it with a roast pork bun time to time.
Certainly, lots of buns and cakes on display…

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The inside appeared very different from the time I used to frequent…

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Apart from a small goods lift in its original location, which conveyed trays of buns from the basement kitchen, everything else was sleek and modern. Walls were clad with beige ceramic tiles and tables were no longer Formica topped but neatly decked with timber.
A restaurant which adjoined the bakery used to be a normal eatery – foods to be ordered from the menu, but the present one adopted a buffet style serving.

Another way I used to eat my buns 15 years ago was to order a small bowl of wonton noodle soup at the restaurant and ate them together on the premises.
I asked a staff who was putting my buns in a paper bag if I could eat at the bakery rather than taking it away. A rapid exchange in Chinese ensued between a woman behind the till and the bakery staff. And the cashier said ‘Ok, you can stay’. Normally, all the tables were for buffet diners only but they made an exception for me because it was after 2pm and the place was less busy.
I was ushered to the seat and a cup of English tea was brought to my table shortly.

A roast pork bun…

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Mmm… Sadly, the bun I sank my teeth into was not exactly like the one I remembered. The bread was dry and chewy and the filling was not as generous as it used to be.

How about coconut custard bun then…

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The filling was the same as before but the problem was again, their dough. The texture I enjoyed 15 years ago was bouncer lighter and more moist even if it was not fresh like just “out of the oven”. Oh well, 15 years was a long time. Even though my trip down the memory lane didn’t turn out as exactly I hoped for, I left the bakery with a certain sense of closure.
Oh how I wished if I revisited them before too long… *SIGH*

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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