Yelly Eats

Eating Taiwan in London!

We’ve walked past this little place on Rupert Street in Chinatown that specialises in Taiwanese dishes so many times for ages, either on our way to another restaurant in Chinatown or on our way to Yolkin (the cutesy shop that sells macaroon ice cream sandwiches, also found on Rupert Street). We’ve always been curious about the food and how good the food was because there was always a queue of people. But we never really had the opportunity to try the food, because we were always going for a meal somewhere else. But thankfully, last Saturday provided an excellent opportunity to stand in the queue and chance it!

We waited in the queue for about 20 minutes and looked at the menu that was very helpfully next to us, by the shop window, next to where we were queuing. We ordered a few dishes to have individually and thoroughly enjoyed our choices! For our individual meals Alan had deep fried salt & pepper pork chop with rice (which was served with preserved greens and braised pork), I had a very generous bowl of Sichuan dan-dan noodles that had an extremely tasty peanut sauce and the right amount of heat and spice and Yuki had the Old Tree thin noodles soup with oysters which as deceptively small but was incredibly filling! We also ordered a side of Taiwanese style salt and pepper crispy squid which sooooooooo good! It had the right amount of plum favouring sprinkled on it too!

The space has maybe 20-30 seats but always seems packed to the rafters. So if you’re aiming to go and try the food, be prepared to wait a little. It’s a fairly good sign that a lot of their diners look Taiwanese, and that they all seem willing to wait in the cold for their chance to be seated. To me that means the food is good enough to queue and wait for, and it was a taste of home away from home.

I so wish I could’ve been to Taiwan, to try the restaurant food, and the street food and the fabulous snacks. However, I’m more than happy to trust the opinions of all the customers queuing up by OTDB. There is something infinitely comforting about the small space with the assortment of tables all crammed to maximise possible revenue. It reminded me of the little eateries (which we called carinderia in Filipino) which my friends and I used to go to to eat cheap but delicious food.

The food at OTDB is more than just cheap and cheerful though. It is yummy and ultimately comforting. I suppose to me it is such a comfort because the food traditions in Asia, especially around Southeast Asia are very similar to what their neighbours are eating. Also, everything is relatively…incestuous for a lack of a better word. Everyone has a version of a dish that is similar to something from another country.

Apart from the culturally similar flavours, I absolutely enjoyed the numbing heat of the Sichuan dan-dan noodles. I’ve had a couple of other versions of it, and I think this is, by far, my favourite version of the spicy stringed yumminess. I think the addition of the peanut flavour provides a different yumminess to the numbing heat of the noodles. My tolerance for spicy food has definitely waned a lot, because Alan and I stopped actually eating hot food. I’ve got a spicy new favourite now though…and I think I’m going to start eating a lot of spicy noodles again!

Yelly Writes

Of passports and celebrity sightings

I am now officially eligible to apply for British citizenship…but I am a proud carrier of a Philippine passport.  I am planning on applying for UK citizenship though, if only for the ease that it presents when I do intend to travel to parts unknown because apparently you get visa-free access to 173 countries with a UK passport!  Not that I’m a traveler but it would be good to take be able to take advantage of travel deals, to have the convenience of going on a mini-break to almost anywhere, if and when I can.

But until then, I shall have to renew my Philippine passport every 5 years.

I went to London today to renew my Philippine passport because my passport expires in June this year.  I came armed with my tablet so that I could read my ebooks or work on work emails while I waited.  Because there would be a wait.  One thing that hasn’t changed much is the waiting in line in Philippine government institutions.  The Philippine embassy in London isn’t any different.  But as soon as I stepped through the double doors of the Philippine embassy in London on Suffolk Street it felt like being back home.  You could hear conversations in Filipino and for some reason there was an aroma of steamed rice wafting all over the embassy!

I like to come prepared and I like to make sure that I prepare for every possibility (or at least, I like to think so!).  Before I left for the embassy, I made sure I read and reread the instructions for passport renewal.  Also, if you are applying to renew your passport, if you can, I suggest you print a copy of the application forms because, whilst there are forms that you can fill out at the embassy, it makes things move along quicker if you have all your forms filled out, your money ready, and your passport and other supporting documents available and in order according to the numbering on the forms.

You get to the embassy and take a name from the number thingmebob and wait for your number to be called.  It was a bit of a wait because not everyone came with the right documents, or they didn’t have photos or they didn’t fill out the forms right, or they didn’t have the right forms.  I guess, after filling out forms for my UK residency (there were pages and pages) I learned to prepare and pay attention to detail.  Am not trying to say anything bad about my countrymen at all.  I’m sure anyone who worked in an environment where I worked would make sure all the boxes that needed ticking would be ticked and all the i’s were dotted and the t’s crossed.

It took all of 5 minutes to submit my documents, get them inspected and me to make the payment.  Then I was sent upstairs to wait to get my photo taken.  They call you when your passport is ready for pick up so I had the rest of the day to spend in London.

I was horribly hungry so I went to my new favourite place to eat:  Tokyo Diner in Chinatown.  It’s a brilliant little space on the corner of Newport Street.  The food is tasty and authentic and you get a small serving of Japanese rice crackers and bottomless genmaicha (brown rice tea) on the house.  They don’t accept tips, by the way and prefer that you pay in cash.  (They also give you extra rice if you ask for it…as much rice as you can manage!).

Tokyo DinerI ordered a tamago don from the lunch specials menu and waited for my food to arrive.  And when it did, it was mmmm-mmmm good!

Tamago DonI did my usual people watching and noticed this beautiful and familiar blonde sitting in the corner of the restaurant.  I thought she looked like Myanna Buring from Ripper Street and Downton Abbey.  At one point, she moved to the table next to me.  I noticed her looking at my food and when she ordered, she placed an order for the tamago don lunch special as well!  I was certain she was Edna Braithwaite from Downton Abbey.  I even did the creepy thing of taking a sneaky snapshot!

Myanna BuringI sent her a message on Twitter to ask.  And she confirmed that she was indeed Myanna Buring and that I should’ve said hi.  Ah well!  I didn’t want to interrupt what seemed to be me-time.  One never knows whether you can interrupt celebrities these days.

TweetMyannaBuringAnd the celebrity sightings didn’t stop there.  After having my late lunch, I headed back to Liverpool Street.  I was early but all I had to do was hang around Liverpool Street Station for the direct to Harwich Town train that left 16:44.

London Liverpool StreetI went to WH Smith to get myself a free drink (thank you O2 Priority!) and as I was walking back to the main central area of the station I heard a girl giggle heartily and the sound made me smile so I turned to look at where the sound was coming from.  It was from a very pretty Filipina-looking girl in a black turtle neck paired with black palazzo trousers and chatting to someone animatedly on her phone.  My jaw dropped.  Two celebrity sightings in one day?  I had to say hello to a fellow Filipino and one of the prettiest faces in country.  So I turned on my heel and went to say hello to Dominique Cojuangco (Gretchen Barretto’s only child).  Then I started to doubt myself.  I may have just imagined that the girl was who she was.  Also, I didn’t really want to act all stalkerish.  Everyone deserves their alone time and I thought most celebrities enjoy time where they can be themselves and have time to their thoughts.

I did the usual and sent her a tweet and she did say that it her and I should’ve said hi.

TweetDBCojuangcoAh well!  Next time, maybe?


Yelly Eats

Service is as service does!

I think when you come from a customer service background, you’re quicker to spot customer service booboos and shortcomings.  I’m a firm believer that the way customers are treated make the restaurant.  It’s mostly the staff and how the staff treat their patrons that tips the balance.  I have places that I love that may not necessarily be the best places to eat, but because the service is amazing and, when I go there, I feel important and valued (no matter how much my tab is and no matter how much of a tip I leave), it’s on my list of great places to have a meal at.  During my recent London sojourn I ate at 2 different Chinese restaurants and let me just say that one restaurant offered stellar service while the other one has been tossed into my “do not visit ever again” pile.

A Tale of Two Restaurants

HK Diner, Chinatown, London
After I’d done my whistle stop pilgrimage to the Methodist Museum (it was after 5pm, so naturally, the museum was closed and all I had was a measly 7 snapshots!) it was decided that we’d go to Chinatown for dinner.  I’d been looking forward to dinner for a long time because it had been decided AGES ago that dinner would be at Tai Ka Lok.

HK Diner, Chinatown, LondonHaving dinner at Tai Ka Lok is like having dinner at your Chinese aunt’s place (I’m not Chinese, but in my head having a meal at Tai Ka Lok would be like having a meal at one’s Chinese aunt–stereotyping, I know!  Tres guilty!).  It’s very pared down and very simple.  You get the menu, you get the free soup as an appetiser, they bring you your food, you eat (of course after you finish eating, you pay!).  The roasted meats are amazing (my absolute favourite is the crispy pork but their version of the pork mapo tofu is amazing too!) and you can see that a lot of people like eating at Tai Ka Lok because the table turnover is hard and fast (mind you, even though the table turnover is quick, you never really feel that you’re being rushed through your meal and I feel that’s a sign of great customer service!).

But, I digress!  Anyway, there we were walking towards Tai Ka Lok when we noticed the front window was different and the name was different.  Apparently, the restaurant had changed owners and changed names too!  So off we went to HK Diner.

I’d pooh-poohed HK Diner for such a long time because I didn’t really think it was going to be as good as my Chinatown favourites Tai Ka Lok and New World (dimsum on trolleys! YUM!).  But as we were hungry and the other option wasn’t something we wanted to try (and it was very forgettable as I can’t remember the name now!), we decided to risk HK Diner.  If it was a bad experience, we’d just never come back.  But surprise, surprise!  The place was light, airy and somehow comforting.  We were shown into a huge booth and were handed menus.  The chinese tea came right away, steaming hot, and after we’d placed our orders, the food came shortly after!  The service was quick and the staff were very friendly and helpful.  I loved the fact that they asked us if everything was okay and if we needed anything else (mind you, in hindsight, it might’ve been their way of hurrying us along, but at the time we were none the wiser and it didn’t feel like we were being prodded along).

Also, and this was my favourite bit, when we asked for the leftover food to be wrapped up they gave us chopsticks!  They gave us the generic packet that has a plastic soup spoon, chopsticks and a paper napkin.  Mind you, it doesn’t take a long time to plonk that into a bag, but the thought process behind that take home packet of utensils was what I admired.  Now that is service!

Hung Tao, Queensway, London
I had high hopes for this place.  It looked clean, and airy and the food hanging by the window looked well-cooked (I’m a sucker for crispy duck!).

It was clean and airy.  But that’s where my commendations stop.  We were greeted in a hurried fashion and led to a table, with menus placed on the table unceremoniously.  I wasn’t alarmed then because, really, you were in, you were made to sit, and you were given a menu to peruse, you were given food, you ate, you paid, you were out.  That was fine.  Nothing unusual.

I made a point of asking for a pot of Chinese tea as I was removing my coat.  I was thirsty and it was a bit chilly outside as it was just starting to rain.  It was a good thing I ordered the tea because it took them ages to take our order.

After looking at the menu, we’d decided to each get a rice plate with our choice of meats.  After ages trying to catch the eye of waitstaff (after seeing people who arrived after we did get served first!), they finally deigned to come and take our orders.  I still wasn’t disappointed at this point.  But the seeds of doubt about the service came when the girl, with pen poised over pad, took note of our choices.

I chose the roasted two combination with rice, which was a plate of rice (it was a huge plate of rice that my brother would’ve devoured I think!) and your choice of roasted meat (I think you can choose from crispy duck, soy chicken, char siu pork and crispy pork).  I was waiting for her to ask me which roasted meats I wanted but she didn’t.  So I had to ask her to make sure I had crispy duck and soy chicken.  She looked at me with this little frown on her face.  I guess she expected me to get crispy pork and duck—or whatever was the popular choice.  The frown was still there as she wrote down my choice.  To go with our rice plates, we asked to have stirfried vegetables.

And then the waiting continued.  It took them about 25 minutes to get our orders and it took them nearly twice as long to bring our food.  It wasn’t until I noticed that people who had arrived after we did were served first and were given their orders first that I started feeling little niggles of irritation.  What was up with that?!?  After waiting for agest for our orders, the meats arrived cold, my duck had bones with tiny little shards of shattered duck bone everywhere.  I thought the duck was deboned before you got served it?

There was a couple who were seated beside us who looked at the food we got when it arrived.  They asked us what we ordered and we described it.  When a member of staff came to take their orders it was so painful to hear and watch.  There was a language barrier, definitely.  But with the customer pointing to what they wanted and the member of staff insisting they wanted something else, it was all I could do to stop myself from getting involved.  They finally got their orders, but I don’t know if they really got what they ordered because by the time we’d finished and paid our tab, their food hadn’t arrived yet.

The food was good, albeit being cold (I guess they expected the rice to warm it up.  Didn’t happen, buddy!) and I was happy with the flavours.  But it really was the service that ruined the experience for me.  The waitstaff seemed to have a system of prioritising customers which I couldn’t understand.  I’m not asking to be waited on hand and foot.  But nearly and hour of waiting to be fed is not funny.

Nuff said.

Photo credits:

HK Diner –
Hung Tao – The London Evening Standard