Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Sitting in the window of Taste Inn on the Lee High Road

Stir fried beef with silken bean curd and chilli
After a long day at Lords watching the cricket on Saturday, we decided to catch the train straight to Lewisham in search of dinner. Lewisham doesn't usually spring to mind when looking for dinner venues, but I was intrigued to try the recently opened Model Market which is bringing bringing out the local hipsters in droves.

When we arrived at the market there was a queue trying to get in and there was a £3 entry fee. Admittedly not a huge sum, but I object to the idea of paying to go into a market, especially when the price of 'street food' has started nudging towards the £10 mark.

Suitably put off we decided head towards Taste Inn, a small Chinese on the Lee High Road that has been floating round the back of my mind since I heard a recommendation for the place a couple of years ago.

The average shop front on the Lee High Road looks pretty drab, and while Taste Inn's exterior was better than average, I was a little hesitant about going inside. However, inside we went and you couldn't fault the friendly and welcoming staff.
Steamed dumplings with pork and Chinese leek, with stir fried broccoli and garlic
Having sat next too each other all day at the cricket, we took the bench seats in the window to keep the feeling going. Becks and I had clearly developed an aversion to sitting opposite each other!

The window seat was a fascinating place to people watch. La Fontaine Patisserie and Deli opposite seemed to be a real hub of activity with lots of people hanging around the shop. At one point in the evening the parking space outside the shop was reserved with bin bags (classy) by a man in a sharp suit. The bin bags were moved when a Volvo turned up, cake boxes and cake stands were piled in the car before the man in the suit jumped into the passenger seat and the car drove off.

I was eyeing up the patisserie for dessert, but it closed soon after the cake collection.

Once the opportunities for people watching at La Fontaine had disappeared environmental enforcement officers for Lewisham Council came down the road opening up bin bags and checking for business which were disposing of waste illegally. The Caribbean restaurant over the road seemed to be getting a bit of a talking to.

Not only does Taste Inn provide the entertainment the food was pretty good too. The stir fried beef with chilli and silken bean curd was a bit of a challenge with chop sticks but definitely worth the effort. The steamed pork and Chinese leek dumplings were the favourite dish of the night, just beware the steaming soupy innards. It was good value too with three dish, rice and tea for £22.

On our way our of the restaurant we heard the waitress tell a neighbouring table about their handmade noodles. I'll be coming back to try those.

I'll also be heading back to the Lee High Road to check out Rox Burger which has just opened next door to Taste Inn.

Just beware of marauding buses shooting through red lights on the way home.....

Taste Inn
80 Lee High Rd
SE13 5PT

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Spain Day 6: Walking Tour, Cathedral, El Real Alcazar and Plaza de Espana

Giralda Tower
Under normal circumstances being somewhere by 10:30 wouldn't be much of a problem. However, holidays aren't quite normal circumstances and so far on our trip we hadn't left our apartment before midday, so it felt like quite a lot of pressure to be at the meeting point for the walking tour we'd booked. Luckily we rose to the challenge and got to the specified meeting point in Plaza Nueva five minutes early.

The walking tour was an excellent way to get orientated with the city, learn a bit about the culture of Seville and to tick off some of the major tourist in just under two hours. Our softly spoken guide - a Betis fan who wasn't at all happy to see Seville win the Europa League the night before - took us round the district of Santa Cruz.

We started off in the main shopping streets of Sierpes and Cuna, stepping inside an amazing Gothic church, through a district of shops selling flamenco dresses and learning about the fiestas which are the major cultural event of the year for Seville residents.
Becks relaxing in the window of Casa Roman
Visiting the cathedral wasn't part of our tour, but as we passed through the Plaza de los Reyes our guide explained some of the history the cathedral which is the largest in the world and built on the site of a former mosque, the tower of which has been integrated into the tower.

After a quick rest in the square it was into some of the small pedestrian streets at the heart of Santa Cruz. There were some great views of squares filled with Seville orange trees and blossoming jacaranda trees rising up between buildings.
Orange trees in the courtyard of the Cathedral
After the end of the walking tour we headed to Casa Roman for a drink and to re-charge our batteries. We nabbed a prime window seat and were able to people watch those in the square outside as we sipped on our canas and nibbled on plates of manchego cheese and fried cod.

Recharged, we headed to headed to Seville's main event, the Cathedral. You read horror stories about the queues but we luckily only had a short wait to buy a ticket. A good job too as the heat of the sun was searing down on us as we waited.

The highlight of the cathedral for me was the Giraldi tower. The tower is over a hundred meters high and it is ramped all the way to the top. Originally donkeys carried visitors up the tower, but we had to walk with the ramp giving the calves quite a workout. From the top there were some great views of the city and not too many crowds.
Bells in the Giralda Tower
After the cathedral we headed off in search of somewhere to print our Ryanair boarding passes to avoid the scandalous charge for them to print it at the airport for you. You'd think finding an internet café would be a doddle, but they don't seem to exist anymore. Luckily Tourist Information were able to point us in the direction of a commercial printers that was able to help out.

Tickets in hand we strolled through the Jardines de Catalina de Ribera up to the northern end of the Santa Cruz district where we stopped for a couple of tapas at a small bar run by the sister of our guide. The bar was closing as we left, close to 4 o'clock, for the afternoon siesta which seemed a lot more prominent in Seville than it was in Madrid.
El Real Alcazar
After lunch we headed for the second major attraction in Seville, El Real Alcazar. Originally a Moorish fort the palace is a mix of styles with the old fort flanked by some more modern buildings. The Moorish parts of the building were the most impressive by a margin with incredible tiles on the walls and floors.

With the heat (or could it have been the early start ?) getting to me we headed into the gardens for a rest under the shady trees. We spent a good half hour lying under the trees and it was only a group of noisy school children eventually drove us on.

After our break we walked round the more formal part of the gardens and finished visiting the remained of the palace, but I have to admit my heart wasn't in it.
Inside the Alcazar
Leaving the palace we had to decide whether to push onto the Plaza de Espana or risk missing it all together as we were unlikely to be visiting that part of the city again before we left. Despite how tired I was pleased that we made it. I was expecting a nice square, something as grand as Trafalgar Square would have been a bonus, but the Plaza de Espana took thinks to a whole new level.

Built in 1929 the plaza is an enormous semi circle of Renaissance Revival buildings. Truly grand, although I'm not sure if the buildings had much purpose other than to look good and as a place to promenade.
Plaza de Espana
As we walked home to our apartment half of the city appeared to be travelling in the opposite direction for the victory parade of the Seville team to show off their trophy. As we approached our flat we saw a group of men carrying a float in practice for the Semana Santa fiesta next Easter.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Summer Exhibition @ The Royal Academy

Wall to wall art at the Summer Exhibition
On Friday night I was invited to a curators talk at the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition 2014. It was my first time at the Summer Exhibition and I loved the experience, learning a lot along the way about how the exhibition is put together.

Firstly, I didn't know that it was the largest open submission for artwork in the world and they received over 12,000 entries which were whittled down by a committee to the 1,262 works that were on display. It can't be an easy experience to select, anonymously, which works make the grade or how to hang them to make a cohesive exhibition.

Secondly, I didn't know that all of the artwork in the exhibition was for sale. The gallery take a commission of 30% on all sales, which with my limited knowledge of the Sydney art market, it is pretty reasonable. I thought that a lot of the artwork was quite reasonable too with a lot of works under £1,000 and even more under £2,000.

Thirdly, it was interesting to hear how the Summer Exhibition has evolved over the last ten years, responding to the rise of Art Fairs which have been booming in London. I wouldn't have thought the Royal Academy would be affected by the likes of the Affordable Art Fair, but having visited the exhibition it makes sense that they have to respond to each other.
For Piet's Sake II
We were promised a different experience when we went into the galleries. I thought it would be overwhelming to see so many works in a comparatively small space. However, you find yourself scanning the walls picking out what you like and what you don't. It was good fun thumbing though the pocket sized list of works to see the prices of different paintings. Becks showed she has expensive tastes favouring Hughie O'Donoghue's The Quadrilateral at a cool £60,000.

The galleries had a light hearted feel and on several occasions I found myself talking about works with complete strangers. The Friday night bar probably helped.

What I did like, a lot, was the above collage called For Piet's Sake II by Phil Shaw. A series of books about Mondrian with different coloured spines arranged to look like a Mondrian painting. The original had gone but there are sixty prints available. Despite the G&T I held back on the night, but I'm still thinking about it......

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Spain Day 5: Arrival in Seville

Our train arrived in Seville after a very comfortable and speedy journey from Madrid. As we stepped outside of a side entrance of the station Seville instantly felt hotter and dustier than the Madrid we'd left behind.

It also felt less glamorous as we walked through and area of social housing towards the apartment we had rented in the Macarena district. Despite a few twists and turns through the small streets we would our apartment without any issues and the owner was waiting outside to let us in. A bright and modern flat it would prove to be a good base during our time in Seville, even if it was a bit Ikea-tastic.

After a while resting in the flat we decided to do a quick run to the supermarket to buy some food for breakfast and fruit before heading out to explore. In contrast to Madrid's wide streets and boulevards, Seville was a maze of narrow streets. It felt a bit like the pedestrian only medina I visited in Fez, but Seville's tiny streets were open to cars who squeezed along them an into impossibly small garages.

The differences took a bit of a while to get used to. I wasn't sure I liked Seville to begin with, but after a couple of days the charm grew on me, and having permanently shady streets during the heat of day definitely had its advantages.

After our supermarket trip we headed to the nearby Plaza San Marcos to fortify ourselves for a walk round the city. In Madrid we'd become used to every place serving tapas, but the only bar open in the square seemed to just serve drinks. While we were at the bar a few Seville fans started arriving and flags were being hung from nearby balconies. We realised that the Europa League final was being played that night and lots of fans were turning out to cheer their home team on.

After our drinks we set off, first booking a table at nearby ConTendedor for the following evening before heading off towards the centre of the city. We were heading for La Brunilda restaurant which Becks had chosen for dinner.

We got a little disorientated walking in the small and twisty streets, finding ourselves in the large public square of Alamedia de Hércules before eventually getting back on track and finding the restaurant, which was packed. Deciding we didn't fancy the forty five minute wait we traced our steps to a nearby plaza where we'd seen a few other places.

Dinner was at a pretty average tourist joint. We decide against dessert and to buy ice creams from a nearby shop to eat as we walked home. We took the more direct route back through the central shopping district, past the impressive Metro Parasol and a lively wine bar not too from our apartment that we took a mental note to visit again.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Restaurant Review: Duke’s Brew & Que, Haggerston

Buttermilk Pancakes
A couple of weekends ago Becks and I took the Gingerline north of the river for breakfast with friends. Searching on where to go I stumbled across Duke's Brew and Que in Haggerston. The dirty American food immediately appealed, choice made.

With everything in Hackney being so on trend we feared that we might struggle to get a table. However, when we arrived at 1pm there were only a couple of other tables taken inside and we were given the pick of the room.

The slowed cooked BBQ meats from the dinner menu are sadly scarce in the brunch offerings. However, there were still plenty of calorie laden indulgences on offer.

I decided to go for the BBQ Omlette with a side of the Cowboy Baked Beans (£9.95 + £2.50). Being the only brunch dish on the menu with a taste of the pulled meats I had to order it. Sadly the pulled pork and burnt beef ends were hard to find in the folded omlette that was instead packed full of peppers. The home friend potatoes were a good accompaniment, as were the side of beans (even if they were totally unnecessary).
BBQ Omelette
Becks went for the Buttermilk Pancake and a side of bacon (£6.95 + £2). The generous serving of vanilla scented pancakes came accompanied with real maple syrup. The menu specifically stated the side of bacon was three rashers, but Becks' dish only came with two. The pancakes were slightly under cooked in the middle which created a rather doughy texture on the roof of the mouth, although I still enjoyed my taste.

As we ate the room filled up with other diners. It's a great space which sits on the right side of being themed (the sink in the toilets excepted).

All my London eats are added to my map.

Duke’s Brew & Que
33 Downham Road
De Beauvoir Town
London N1 5AA
020 3006 0795
Duke's Brew and Que on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Spain Day 5: Final morning in Madrid

The rose garden in the Retiro
On our final morning in Madrid we packed our bags, left the apartment which had proved a great home over the last four days and headed down to the train station where we'd be leaving departing for Seville later in the day.

We dropped our bags off at left luggage, after clearing them through airport style security, and made use of the smartest train station toilets I've ever seen. Madrid train station was proving itself to be the most traveller friendly station I've ever used.

Refreshed we decided to take our books and head up to the Retiro to relax for a while before our train. While we were in the park we couldn't resist visiting the rose garden for a second time. It was even more impressive than the previous Sunday with lots more roses in flower and fewer crowds.

After a short time sitting in the garden, I fancied a quick lunch before we got the train. We headed towards some awnings I'd spotted near the entrance to the park, assuming that they were cafés. The street I'd seen turned out to be lined with second hand book stalls. Even though I couldn't understand any of the titles, there is something soothing about second hand book shops.
Caixa building
As we looped our way back towards the train station we passed the Caixa building. The old electrical station is flanked by an enormous living all outside and has had a large copper extension placed on top. Unsure if it was open to the public or not we decided to venture inside. It turned out to be a museum with an impressively angular central station. We didn't have time for a look at any of the exhibitions, but it is definitely somewhere I'd visit again next time I'm in Madrid.

We were running out of time before our train when Becks spotted a branch of Museo del Jamon that I'd been joking about wanting to visit for the last couple of days. We dived in and grabbed a couple of spots at the bar. My Spanish wasn't good enough to understand the various meal deals on offer, but I chanced my arm with jamon sandwich and a beer. Becks opted for the ham and cheese croissant with a beer as well. We were given some complimentary chorizo and olives as well.

When we asked for the bill we were charged the unbelievably small amount 3.90 EUR. We couldn't quite decided if they'd charged us the right amount or not. I was going to check  if we'd been charged the right amount but all the staff headed to the other end of the bar, so we decided to bid a hasty retreat.
Lunch at the Museo del Jamon
After retrieving our bags we headed for our train, which whisked to Seville in two and a half hours. The train was a modern TGV, which makes you realise how long in the tooth the twenty year old Eurostar trains are now. I slept a lot of the way, but my favourite feature was the speedometer in the carriage which topped out around 290 kph when I was watching. It felt unbelievably smooth.

Out of the window I remember seeing lots of olive trees and one half finished housing estate close to the railway line. It was one of the few signs of Spain's economic troubles we saw during the trip.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Restaurant Review: TriCiclo, Madrid

Fresh peas, spring mushrooms and sweetbreads
guisantes fresco, setas de primavéra y mollejas de ternera (9 EUR)
We'd had a hot and tiring final full day in Madrid. By time we got back to our apartment and collapsed on the sofa the thought of heading out again for dinner seemed all too much. There was serious talk of staying in and getting a pizza from the Carrefour Express over the road instead.

After much procrastination we dragged ourselves out and decided to check out one of James' recommendations, local hotspot TriCiclo. This food blogger was so tired he didn't even take his camera.

When we arrived it was obvious that we'd come somewhere a little different to the places we'd previously visited while we'd been in Madrid. It was bright, modern and was busy with a young crowd who had all made the effort for their evening out. I felt pretty out of place in my marathon finishers t-shirt and flip flops!
Spring vegetables in juice with iberico de bellota

We decided to grab a couple of drinks and stand in the bar while we took a look at the menu. Our Spanish wasn't up to translating the menu and the free dictionary app I'd downloaded onto my phone before we left was next to useless so our ordering was based on the one or two ingredients that we could recognise from the menu.

The food that arrived was nothing short of exceptional. The two savoury dishes in particular get a 'best ever' call for how good they work.

The verduras de primavéra en su jugo con papada de iberico de bellota (11.50 EUR, half serving) was our favourite. Individually the spring onion, asparagus and courgette were the best I've ever tasted. Together they were sublime.

Dinner at TriCiclo was worth the price of the flight to Madrid on its own.
Strawberries, tomatoes, basil and mascarpone
fresas, tomates, albahaca y mascarpone (6 EUR)

Calle Santa María 28