Saturday, 19 November 2016

South Korea Day 4: Heading for a typhoon and a little bit of spam

Gare du Nord or Seoul Station? 
Our day started with a trip back to Seoul Station (anyone would think we were train spotters we were spending so much time there) in order to catch our train down to Busan. 

We'd seen quite a few French style bakeries while we'd been walking round Seoul so decided to pop into Paris Baguette to grab some breakfast for the train. I picked a roll, beautifully shaped like a mini batard and Becks bought a roll and an orange juice. As we left the store I slowly realised we'd spent £15 on two bread rolls and a juice!

My roll was quite nice. A French batard would be crunchy and sour while this was quite soft and fluffy with only a mild sourness. The soft roll was definitely the preferred style across Korea and Japan.

We were the onto the TGV for our trip down to Busan. Little did we know that we were heading towards a typhoon that had struck the southern end of Korean overnight. A couple of hours into the journey we came to a halt at a station for around an hour. There didn't seem to much information being handed out and our Korean wasn't really up to understanding what announcements there were. Kindly a couple of the other passengers helped us understand that there was a landslide further up the line and we'd be taken one more station on the train and where buses would meet us.

There were TV cameras waiting for us at the final station (I did my best to get into shot). Luckily Becks was a bit more on the ball than I was as we headed for the buses, picking up on the difference between a bus to Busan and another to Usan.
The Busan Tower
Once we'd belatedly made it to our hotel we decided to head out for a walk as the sun was setting to see a little of Busan. We climbed up the steps from our hotel to Yongdusan Park, home of the Busan Tower above. The park wasn't too exciting, but it did help us get orientated. We saw quite a few branches down in the park which gave us further clues to the typhoon which had swept in the day before.
Our dinner stop
We left the park via the northern side and found ourselves in a fashion district, which wasn't ideal when we were looking for an early dinner - our first meal since breakfast on the train - and there weren't any restaurants to be seen.

We drifted around for a while and then found the lone café above. It looked a little rough around the edges, but I was straving so we headed in. Luckily they had a single English menu to give to us. We ordered some steamed dumplings, a bowl of noodle soup and some gimbap which I hadn't heard of before, but Becks told me was a traditional Korean dish.

The dumplings were really tasty, but the other two dishes were less memorable. The gimbap contained spam and that definitely wasn't advertised on the menu.....

We continued our wonder round Busan after dinner, of course heading straight into the restaurant district which was only 5 - 10 mins walk away. We also did a bit more Christmas gift shopping for the family.
Before heading back to our hotel we popped into the big Lotte Department stall. We grabbed an ice cream and then because I was still hungry I bought a bulgogi burger from the local rival to McDonald's, Lotteria. Sadly it wasn't particularly special.

Fuelled up, we watched the largest indoor fountain in the world and followed signs up to the roof terrace on top of the department store. Sadly it was closed following the typhoon so we drifted back through the store and then home to our hotel.

A few random Korea observations:
- There are lots of public loos, which is great as a tourist
- There are barely any litter bins
- Don't assume that two lines will be anywhere close at a transport interchange. They love a long tunnel
- Shops love to cluster together in clusters so you find fashion, cosmetic and restaurant districts where there won't be any other shops.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Seoul Day 3: New glasses and hordes of riot police

New glasses
One thing that came up in my very limited research of Korea before our holiday was that a new pair of glasses was a great thing to buy, so on our third morning we headed to Davich Optical to see if we could get a new pair (I'd had my prescription done in the UK a couple of days before leaving).

They were set up perfectly for the tourist with sales assistants that spoke English and the cheap frames all lined up for those of us looking for a bargain. I bought two pairs and got a pair I already had with me reglazed. Becks also bought a couple of pairs. On top of already cheap prices they also gave us a couple of extra discounts on top. We easily saved a couple of hundred pounds compared to shopping in the UK.

Outside the shop they had an ultrasonic glasses cleaner on the pavement that was free for anyone to use. I didn't have any glasses on my at this stage, but Becks cleaned a pair and I threw in my camera filters. The machine was awesome and we were pleased to find another one later on in our trip in Tokyo.
Statue on the approach to the Royal Palace
We'd read conflicting advice on which day the Royal Palace was closed but we decided to head in that direction to see if would get lucky and be able to have a look round the palace. On the approach to the palace is a 500m long boulevard which has a large central space down the middle filled with fountains, statues and grassed areas which made a pleasant amble. 

At the start of the boulevard was also an ongoing vigil by the relatives of those lost in the 2014 ferry disaster. It is clearly an emotional subject for many. 
The gates to the Royal Palace 
When we arrived at the palace it was indeed shut for the day, but it gave me the opportunity to get an almost pedestrian free / traffic free shot of the main gate.

With the palace shut we decided to head to the nearby Insadong district we'd visited the day before on our walking tour. With the public holiday over it was much less oppressive and we could amble along and enjoy some of the shops. We bought a few Christmas presents for people in cool little arts complex that we'd walk through the previously, but not stopped at the day before.

We sat and watched the world go by for a while sitting on the steps in a square at the southern end of Insadong. While we were sitting on the steps we started hearing a few whistles and then megaphones and slowly a protest rally emerged on the main road not too far from where we were sitting.

Knowing full well that the standard Foreign Office advice in these situations is to make yourself scarce, we decided that the only reasonable thing to do was to head straight for it!
Riot police galore
Our Korean being less than perfect we aren't 100% sure what the march was about, but we think it was related to workers rights. Our brief impressions of Korea so far was of a very peaceful, orderly and respectful society and the march seemed to conform to those expectations. Yes it was quite loud, but it definitely wasn't in any way threatening. 

What was quite shocking was the absolutely vast number of police attending the march, they must have outnumbered the protesters by quite a high factor. Having trouble walking down the pavements due to the number of people we bailed into the side streets only to find battalions of police lined up in the side street. It seemed totally out or proportion*.

Again ignoring foreign office advice I took a few sneaky shots of the police.
The old and new town halls
Breaking away from the protest we started drifting in the direction of city hall and found ourselves outside of the old city hall which is now a library. We decided to head inside for a look around and spent a pleasant half hour looking around the top floor. Sadly as we'd arrived after sunset the roof terrace was closed.

BBQ action
We needed to pick up our glasses before the shop shut at 9pm so started to make our way in that direction and found ourselves in a street of BBQ restaurant joints. I decided upon a completely random looking joint that was quite busy with locals but looked a bit rough around the edges.

We clearly weren't trusted to know what we were doing so the waiters regularly came across to silently take over from our cooking efforts. I was hoping that Korean BBQ would be awesome, bit sadly it was an average experience.
Coals for the BBQ heating outside of the restaurant
On leave the restaurant we collected our new glasses on the way back to our hotel. Cheap glasses and opticians that are open until 9pm!

*I'd read an article in the Economist that morning which said that despite being a democracy public protests weren't really tolerated in Korea. Recently two protesters had been killed by police using a water cannon and it was generating a national debate.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Seoul Day 1, South Korea

We arrived in Seoul at just after 7am with a long looking day ahead of us that we needed to power through in an attempt to jump straight onto South Korean time. We took one of the airport limousine buses from the airport to our hotel which turned out to be a really efficient way to get into the city, the bus virtually dropped us at our hotel door and was almost as luxurious as the business class seats on the plane! Although sadly there was no complimentary glass of bubbles....

We arrived at the TMark Hotel in Myeongdong both hoping that we'd be able to check straight into our room, but unsurprisingly, that wasn't possible at 9am so we left our bags and after a quick freshen up headed out for the day.
We set out in the direction of the main train station, walking through the fashionable Myeongdong district, which seems to be the shopping hub of the city with lots of modern and funky buildings. The area had a very international vibe, but the vast majority of brands were Korean.

Leaving Myeongdong behind we made our way over to Seoul station to pick up our tickets for the train journey down to Busan we'd be making in a couple of days time. We'd made two attempts to book tickets from the UK and weren't sure if either of them had worked, but there was one set of tickets ready for us to collect. Hopefully we only get charged once to!

We seemed to get stuck in Seoul station for a good few hours. First we had a drink ( I decided to go local with a coffee in a can) and then we headed into the Lotte department store which was attached to the station. Everything in the department store was very expensive. We didn't go in any other clothes shops while in Korean so I'm not sure if this was normal pricing of Lotte is particularly high end.

Leaving the department store we spied the entrance to the supermarket so popped in there for a look round too. The shop was a bit reminiscent of a French hypermarche with lots of food and non-food items for sale, in addition to a couple of counters where you could sit down and have lunch. There were lots of free samples on offer at the end of various aisles. We tried a tea type drink that was very nice.

When I've visited a Thai supermarket the fruit and veg section has been full of unidentifiable ingredients, but I was surprised to see in Korea that I could name almost everything.

When we left the supermarket it was absolutely tipping it down so we dived back into the train station to have some lunch at one of the restaurants there. I had a bulgogi. It was perfectly nice, but nothing exceptional.
Once the rain had subsided we headed to the Seoul Museum of History. On the airport bus we'd noticed quite a lot of public art and we passed lots more on our way up to the museum. We later learned that companies are required to place some art outside of their buildings.

Most of the museum passed me by in a jet lagged haze as I could barely keep my eyes open at this stage of the day. I however do remember that the museums contained lots of models including the one in the photo above of Seoul city which was pretty cool.
Right next door to the palace is the Gyeonghuigung palace. Virtually empty of people we were able to wander round the palace more of less by ourselves. There are no rooms to go into or artifacts to see, but the building was pretty interesting to look round.

Leaving the palace we walked across the city back to our hotel briefly stopping at tourist information along the way. We had a shower in our hotel room and rested for a while, but before we both fell asleep we dragged ourselves out for dinner. Becks had found some good reviews of a local KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) place. We didn't manage to find the restaurant she'd read about and ended up in another KFC place instead.

Miraculously after being awake for close to 30hrs we managed to stay up just past 10pm.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

London Open House - we took part!

Photo stolen from the architects Instagrams account
We've taken part in London Open House before as visitors, but this year we had our home open to the general public. It's mind blowing to think we have a house worthy of opening to the public. We're an incredibly lucky couple.

Ten days ago I didn't think we'd be ready for open house, but thanks from a huge push from everyone at Gurff and Silverpoint we were complete! We even managed to get the living room curtains hung on Friday and had time to unwrap the sofas. It was much harder than we expected to get the legs onto our new corner sofa late on Friday night and I have a couple of blisters to prove it.
Front of the living room
We had a queue lining up at the door ready for us to open at 10am and we were never without a queue until we shut the door at 16:45. (We turned away a few people who arrived after this time too.)

We had four of the Gruff team with us throughout the day and they were troopers at helping to control the crowds and keep an eye on everyone as the wondered round our house.

We had a lot of neighbours pop in during the day, some we knew but lots we didn't. It was lovely to start to get to know some of the people in the street and pick up a few facts that we didn't know before, including that an MP used to live in the 1950s house that stood before our house. He was called something O'Brien, but neither Rebecca or I could find out any more when we did a quick search online.
Wood burner
In addition to the neighbours and a few friends and colleagues that popped in, we also had a lot of strangers! Thankfully they were nearly all respectful of our house and there is no damage or missing items (that we have seen yet). Some people sat our our sofas before we've had a chance to use them and there was definitely a minority that wanted to open our cupboards / wardrobes. Some people also thought it appropriate to lock themselves in the bathroom and use it without asking. What is it with people?

We also had a lot of questions. By far the most common question was about the kitchen floor with people wanting to know what it was made from. The second most comment question was about the solar panels, why we had them sitting in the garden and whether they generated enough electricity for the whole house. Third were questions about the windows, both the wooden sashes and the Velfac units at the back. Some people asked for a demonstration of the big sliding doors and others just took it upon themselves to try them out.

I had someone who I'm pretty sure was angling to rent a room and another person offering their garden design services. There were less questions about money that I expected and the ones I did receive I refused to answer.

I didn't pick up on it, but apparently a lot of architects came through too.
Back of the lounge
Nearly everyone's comments were positive, and I'm pretty sure genuine, about how lovely the house was. We only had a couple of haters, one pair who seemed horrified at our choice of grout colour in the bathrooms and another who really didn't like the blue engineering bricks we've used at the back and side of the house.

It was a long and tiring day, with the practicalities of having lunch quite difficult as there were never less than five people in the kitchen watching you make a sandwich. Overall though it is was quite rewarding.

Monday, 22 August 2016

The Gutsy Chutney popup at the Barmouth Kitchen, Earlsfield

Keema simla mirch
A couple of weeks ago we went for dinner by The Gutsy Chutney who were hosting a small pop up dinner at Barmouth Kitchen in Earlsfield.

The menu filled with lots of interesting regional dishes, mainly from Kerala where our host was born, but there were also some dishes from the north of India / Rajasthan too. It was food that excited the palate with lots of different flavour combinations and a bit of a challenging chilli kick too. (In reality none of the dishes were that hot, it's just that my chilli tolerance is quite pathetic!)

The menu was filled with family favourites, a chicken curry traditionally eaten at Christmas and several street food dishes. I've only been to India once, but I recognised versions of several dishes, like the filled gol gappa which were served with a few drops of tamarind adding a pleasant sourness.

We had seven small courses and a welcome drink for £35 which was pretty stonking value. It was possibly too good value as I left a little stuffed and one less course would still have been more than sufficient. Most of the other guests at the supper club were friends and colleagues of our hosts which was a shame as more people should get to taste The Gutsy Chutney's food.
Prawn balchao golgappas

Papad salad

Chana masala tacos

Kalappam and nadan chicken curry
Coconut barfi

Saturday, 30 July 2016

The Ledbury, a reprise, Notting Hill

Venison balls
During our week off in early June, Becks and I decided to book lunch at The Ledbury after our beautiful meal there three years ago (is it really that long?).

The service had the same relaxed but incredibly attentive vibe and the food was of course excellent again. My highlights being the crab and tomato soup, the guinea fowl thigh from the main and the Sauternes cream dessert. 

Last time we had wine by the glass, but this time we decided to share the the wine pairings. (I generally avoid the matching wines as they leave me wasted and take away my enjoyment of the food.) There were some unusual selections in the paired wines, enabling us to try some things we'd never have chosen for ourselves and they all matched the food brilliantly.

Entertainment came from the table next to us who were out celebrating a birthday. The daughter was down from Leeds Uni for the day and was proudly telling the rest of the family about her extensive international travel plans. Does she do any studying? Where does the money come from? All the father wanted to make sure was they the chef knew he considered his main course "historic".

The food and service may have been as excellent as the first time, but some standards are slipping at The Ledbury: the gents' loos no longer have Aesop hand wash and moisturiser. What is a man to do?
Crab and tomato soup


Stream broccoli with mussells and a mussell bisque

Guinea fowl with white asparagus and almonds

Sauterne cream with apricots and an apricot ice cream

Petit fours and mint tea

The Ledbury
127 Ledbury Rd
W11 2AQ

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Noak Bakehouse and Brew, Brockley

Pork belly sandwich with cabbage and apple
Noak Bakehouse & Brew, a Danish inspired café, opened back in November. Brockley is still under-served by good cafés and the delayed opening had definitely whipped up some anticipation and excitement from us local who were crying out for another addition to local dining options.

From my visits to Noak I've thought the food is pretty strong too. Our first visit was on their opening weekend where they'd sold out of nearly everything so we just had drinks and tried a couple of the sweet treats. The brownie, so often a disappointment in cafés, was really rather good. The flødeboller which my friend William tried reminded me of treats I used to be bought in French supermarkets when we were on our summer holidays.
Roast pork belly sandwich with cabbage and apple 
On our most recent trip we tried a couple of the savoury options. Pizzas have been on the menu since they opened but seemed to have evolved over time to thinner and crispier affairs. I had the pork belly sandwich with cabbage and apple. It was a tasty, if slightly messy to eat number. The pork skin had gone a bit soft and didn't have the crunch you'd expect from good crackling.
Noak brownie 
I think it would be fair to say that Noak are still working on finding their true identity. Even after being open for six months the order of service doesn't feel well drilled. The staff always seem friendly but it can be a bit chaotic which leads me at least to being uncertain as a customer. There is some definite skill in the kitchen, you couldn't cook such good sourdough and pastries without it, but there does seem to be a lack of clarity too. Fads seem to come and go with the latest being burgers, rather then sticking to the Danish bakehouse vision.
Noak makes me want to love it and pull my hair out in almost equal measure. Hopefully the local good will and skill in the kitchen keeps going and they nail the service offering so that they become a local institution that is with us for a good while yet.

Since publishing this post Noak has closed and re-opened, under the same ownership, but with a different menu.

Noak Bakehouse and Brew
209–211 Mantle Road

SE4 2EWNoak Bakehouse and Brew Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato