Snaps

Strength and safety in numbers

This is one of my favourite streets in London.  Mostly because it has so many museums and it leads straight to Hyde Park.

At the moment, it is the focus of of news reporting because of an incident.  Apparently a car hit a number of pedestrians.  If you want to keep updated on news, you can either google or follow this link to the BBC website.

As bad as it sounds, I’m just hoping this is just a serious road traffic accident instead of an act of terrorism.

Keep safe everyone.  Stay alert.

UPDATE as at 19:00

The Met Police have advised that this was a road traffic accident.  More details on the BBC website link I placed above.

But still…STAY ALERT.  KEEP SAFE.

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You win some…

Sometimes you have good weeks and sometimes you have bad weeks and the days before Open House London were…challenging.  A storm had been brewing in my personal life and I was wondering about the choices I was making.

I think the universe knew I needed a distraction because I was overthinking things (as I usually tend to do) and I was starting to doubt my decisions.  So I got this message on Instagram on Friday.

I was so excited!  I’d been looking at my friend Ella’s little Apple pen offerings on Instagram and I was missing being able to doodle and I thought I’d get myself a few drawing pencils and a few watercolours and I’d start waving a brush around!  But as luck would have it, I won a gorgeous “starter” set from Reeves from an Instagram competition that Boxpark in Shoreditch ran.  Reeves was running a pop-up shop in Boxpark for a couple of days and this competition was part of that promotion.

I was asked to go to their pop up shop to claim my prize and we were served with welcome drinks and invited to colour postcards, paint plant pots and colour fish themed flip books.  We were also given canvas totes with more art supplies samples.  I wanted to stay and colour the postcards because they were “I love London” postcards but we had an appointment with 55 Broadway (we’d signed up for a tour of the TFL office which was participating in Open House London) so we had to quickly say our goodbyes.

When I finally got the chance to open my lovely prize, I couldn’t quite believe how generous Reeves were.  In my lovely prize box was:

  • a 6 piece acrylic paint starter set with brush
  • a 9 piece watercolour pain starter set with an HB pencil
  • a 12 piece soft pastels
  • a 6 piece set of sketching pencils
  • a 4 piece set of acrylic paint brushes
  • a pad of watercolour paper
  • postcards to colour with 7 coloured pencils
  • a watercolour mixing plate

Thank you sooooo much Reeves, I can’t wait to get started!❤️👩🏻‍🎨

…well, okay, to be honest, I’ll have to recover from Open House London first!🙈

Bites

Something about the Bird

So…I’m all for second chances.

Last year, we went to Bird in Shoreditch because I wanted to try the chicken.  I think I’ve written about my love of chicken so many times that this trip to try Bird’s chicken is completely self-explanatory.  I also had my Chicken Bucket List (I will be posting an update to that post in the next few weeks, so please watch this space!) to consider.  So off to Bird we went!

And needless to say, I was quite disappointed.  If you want to find out how dismal our dining experience was, read about it here.  The chicken was dry and overcooked, the service was a lackadaisical and a bit blasé and I said I was never coming back to any Bird branch ever again.

Until we saw a voucher for Bird on TimeOut London for a three-course offering (sides, a chicken burger and a dessert).  Alan said there was no harm in trying Bird again, especially at that price (I can’t remember exactly how much that voucher was for but it was something like £15 per person plus drinks).  So I reluctantly agreed to purchase the vouchers and off we went.

The two visits couldn’t have been any more different!  It was like coming into a different restaurant all together.  I mean, same name, same decor, same menu, same venue…BUT totally different dining experiences.

The staff were absolutely friendly, and wanted to talk about their food.  I know the word passionate is overused in the food business, but they were.  They were actually excited about their food!  They were completely happy that we had the vouchers and they explained how we could get the most out of our vouchers.  So order the food we did!

We both ordered wings as sides.  Alan ordered wings with the honey and ginger sauce.  The sauce was on the sweet side but had that lovely ginger hit that stopped the honey from being sickly sweet.  It was a lovely sauce for the perfectly cooked wings.

I ordered the buffalo wings.  I loved it because it wasn’t blow-your-head-off spicy.  I love spicy food but I like it when it’s not so spicy that you can’t taste what you’re eating because it was too hot!  It was just the right blend of spicy, tangy and the floral peppery notes.   Plus, the accompanying blue cheese sauce was yummyyyyy and was an absolute bonus.

Then we ordered the chicken burgers.  There are 6 burgers to choose from the menu.  Being the buffalo addict that I was, I ordered the buffalo blue chicken burger.  This burger is a battered boneless chicken thigh fillet served on a brioche bun with buffalo sauce and a blue cheese slaw.  I don’t think I got a chance to take a photo of Alan’s burger but he ordered a bacon cheese burger.

Then we ordered Bird’s doughnuts for dessert.  Alan ordered a doughnut ice cream sandwich which I thought was a dessert big enough to feed a family of four!

I ordered the daily glazed doughnut special – which was, on the day, a mint chocolate glazed donut.  I thought it wouldn’t be as formidable as Alan’s desert of choice, but when my dessert arrived, it was bigger than I thought!

It was such a HUGE MEAL and which came to about £20, including drinks and service charge, per person.  But it was such a different experience from our first Bird meal.  We were looked after, but it wasn’t saccharine-sweet sincerity.  It felt very genuine, and they really wanted us to have a really good Bird experience.  We didn’t feel smothered and I was quite impressed because they asked us if the food was okay before we took bites, which I thought was nice.  It’s never nice talking around a mouthful of food.

When they saw me taking pictures, one member of staff, a cheeky but charming French guy (I wish I’d taken his name), encouraged me to take photos and to tell people about Bird and to write a review on TripAdvisor!  I thought was brave because he hadn’t asked me yet whether we had a good time.  I think he knew that we ate well and that the food was good.  That confidence in their product speaks well.

And to be fair, we like it so much, we went back again for just the wings!

Blog

Bridge of dreams

In early 2000, I went to VideoCity (a now non-existent [I think!] video rental business in the Philippines not unlike Blockbuster video) and rented out the the only Gwyneth Paltrow movie in the store that I hadn’t watched yet.  I didn’t know what the movie was about…just that it had Gwyneth Paltrow in it and the sleeve was yellow (Yellow was a favourite colour at the time).

And so began my (and my sister’s) love affair with the movie Sliding Doors.  We were obsessed.  We watched it all the time.  We had it on in the background whilst doing chores (even whilst vacuuming and washing the dishes – yes in a whole other room of the house!).  It came to a point where we would say the lines of the movie and collapse in giggles for no apparent reason.  I think we drove our brother crazy because we’d have the soundtrack on constant repeat.

I don’t think it helped our anglophilia, if anything, it made it worse!

And this is a major reason why I wanted to see the Albert Bridge…for the longest time!  I wanted to see if the bridge was as beautiful as it looked in the movie.  It wasn’t just for me.  It was for my Duckie too.  I was going to take a picture to send back.

Now I have.  And boy, did that bridge look phenomenal!

Bites

Best wings this side of the Atlantic!

This was first published as a review on Tripadvisor.

I love me a good chicken wing, so when the invite came to go to Randy’s Wing Bar, I said yes. I am partial to chicken well done. I think it has something to do with growing up on home cooked fried chicken with mash as a staple Sunday lunch. So I’m always on the look out for places that specialise in chicken (be it fried, southern fried, roasted, steamed…the list goes on and I will probably give it a go!).

We sort of wandered into Randy’s Wing Bar…virtually. After hearing about Randy’s, we looked at the reviews and for the most part, people were raving about the wings. Which was good, because,if you’re going to specialise in something, you might as well do them amazingly well, right?

We booked a table for a Monday evening. They have eat all you can wings on Mondays at the Here East location, but remember, you can’t eat all you can if you don’t book. You pay £14 for each person plus the price of drinks plus 12.5% service charge. One important thing to note, if you want to wing all you can, your choices are limited to 3 variants: buffalo, gangnam (Korean-inspired flavours) and Kansas wings. BUT it is TOTALLY worth it.

We arrived at 7, as booked, and we were efficiently showed to our seats. The place was already alive with the music cranked up and everyone laughing and chatting. It is a bar so expect a vibrant atmosphere. Because we said it was our first time there, our server explained the “mechanics” of the eat all you can wings promotion. You each ordered a wing flavour, and you must all finish your plates before your party can order the next round of wings. I think they just didn’t want people to waste wings.

I started with my favourite flavour, the Korean-inspired wings called Gangnam. The wings were succulent but I guess it depended on who was cooking the wings because mine were a bit to soy saucy. My idea of Korean style food is a good combination of soy, sesame, garlic, spring onion and ginger. I found that it wasn’t quite the balance that I expected. Don’t get me wrong, the wings were amazing. But the glaze didn’t blow me away, flavour-wise.

The next plate I tried was the Kansas wings. And they were VERY GOOD. I make a good Kansas dry rub so I was prepared to be disappointed. But as soon as I took a bit, I went OMG! The flavours were as authentic as I thought they could be. It was a good balance of spicy, tangy and a great kick of heat. Kansas would be proud.

The star of this particular show, though, were the buffalo wings. The reviews weren’t fudged…the wings were sooooooo good. My barometer for good buffalo wings are that they’re not too hot, just right to make your mouth feel this zing brought on by the chilli, but there is a flowery note that hits your mouth too. I know this sounds all too fanciful for just a bowl of wings, but that’s what I was expecting and I got all that in spades! A good bowl of buffalo wings come with an excellent blue cheese dip and Randy’s did not disappoint. i don’t know if they make their own blue cheese dip, but it was really good. The buffalo sauce and the blue cheese dip were amazing. I’d begged the server for an extra helping of blue cheese sauce because I was afraid I’d burn my mouth on the buffalo sauce (it has happened before that people made their buffalo sauce atomically hot). Our server didn’t forget. The buffalo sauce was amazing and the wings came already drizzled with the blue cheese dip, so really, I didn’t need the extra. But because the blue cheese sauce was so good, I didn’t mind finishing it anyway!

Like I said, the bar atmosphere was alive and the noise levels were slightly high. I wasn’t too bothered about this because it was a bar. The music was good though…it added to the experience. It was nice, if slightly dark. I kind of felt like someone was a little heavy-handed with the dimmer. But there was enough lights from the light fixtures overhead for you to see exactly what you were eating. I did like how they furnished the bar…I don’t know if they meant you to have an American bar feel, but it felt like it. Each table has rolls of kitchen roll because you will need them to wipe your fingers. There are a selection of the usual sauces as well. They bring you a bucket for your wing bones and tissues and several packs of lemon scented wipes, which are also handy. I love that they consider the little details like this – it shows that they thought of the entire customer experience!

There are other sauces/glazes available for the wings. They also have burgers and a selection of sides. They only have one dessert item, a dulce de leech brownie that looks amazing! But if it’s like their wings, it’s going to be absolutely amazing. I’ve seen the pictures and it looks amazing!

You can make your way to Randy’s Wing Bar by walking through the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (if you’re feeling virtuous and want to make sure you deserve the meal), or you can get one of the shuttles from the Stratford Bus Station that go to Here East (we didn’t know you could get a shuttle when we were going!). If you look on the maps, it looks like it’s a short walk from the Hackney Wick station, but I can’t be sure.

To date, I can safely say, these are the best buffalo wings I’ve tasted in the UK. I am looking forward to going back because at £7.50 per serving of wings, it is great value for money because the bowls are sharing sized.

Bites

A meal in grand surroundings

This was a review I published on my TripAdvisor page.

The current structure of the Royal Exchange in London was designed by William Tite and it was opened by Queen Victoria in 1844. It currently houses luxury shops and offices. I didn’t know that you could go in and look around it because I thought it was part of the Bank of England. I thought entry was restricted to people going there on official business.

I was recently told that there was a cafe inside and that it was open to the public. It was sign posted outside and we usually get on a bus that goes past the Royal Exchange. I don’t know how I missed the signs for a cafe and shopping outside! I guess when you don’t look for something, you completely miss it when you see it!

When you do go in, try to go in via the main entrance, where the portico and pediment are. Walk up the steps, walk past the gorgeous 8 Corinthian columns and go through the green iron-wrought gates. Once you are through the double glass doors, remember to look up. The interior of the Royal Exchange is breathtaking!

Right-smack-dab in the middle of the original Royal Exchange courtyard is the Royal Exchange Grand Cafe and Bar. When we went in May, the very chic oval bar was decorated with lovely cherry blossoms (I think the theme changes every season). I thought we would be underdressed because it was where the financiers of London worked (plus you had luxury shops like Boodle, Omega and Mont Blanc surrounding the courtyard) as we were dressed to be London tourists for the day. But we were greeted very warmly by the cafe staff and we were seated immediately (come early if you want to have a leisurely breakfast – I guarantee the surroundings will make you want to dawdle and gawp!).

The staff are very efficient but you don’t feel rushed. Our server was amazing, very friendly and I never felt scared to ask questions. The breakfast menu was quiet good: you had an option to go Continental and have toast and tea (or coffee) or your choice of an eggy breakfast (poached, scrambled, fried or in an omelette) with your choice of additions. If you preferred, you could have a pastry for breakfast or cake. It’s almost silver service but not formal enough for you not to enjoy your breakfast and stare at the sumptuous surroundings.

We chose to eat a light breakfast of toast and tea. I chose it because I loved sourdough bread and they served you that (you had the option of choosing the seeded bread too). When the toast came, I was pleasantly surprised because we got more than I expected to get. You get 2 types of jams (they came in individual-sized jam pots) per person and a large pat of French butter. The staff are solicitous and they do ask you if you need more jam or butter. I love to slather butter on my toast so I had to ask for more and they provide that with a smile and flourish. You get your tea served in a silver teapot but I do have to warn you, if you get the teapots with the metal handle, ask for an extra napkin to wrap around the handle because it is hot! The staff are very understanding though so they are happy to provide you with more napkins.

The Grand Cafe also does afternoon tea. They are currently running a Japanese-themed afternoon tea, which runs until 30 June. You may need to visit the Royal Exchange Grand Cafe website to see what their offerings are if you intend to visit after 30 June. You will be served a savoury course and then a sweet course. They aren’t stingy with the tea. I call it a tea-all-you-can service. You can change you tea choice mid-way if you choose. You can choose to start with a fruit infusion, or a mint tea and finish with a green or black tea option. If you don’t ask for more tea, the wait staff will ask you if you want more tea, and you don’t get charged for it. The teas are part of the set price that you pay. It is currently £20 for the classic afternoon tea and £28 for a cocktail afternoon tea. There is a 12.5% service charge.

Whilst they don’t do the traditional tiered cake stand type of presentation, I think it changes according to the afternoon themes. I might go back to find out!

It is good value for money, for where it’s situated. The service is wonderful and I can’t say it enough that I loved how friendly the staff were. They encourage you to have a wander around as well because there are gorgeous murals that can be viewed from the mezzanine level where the Gallery is situated.

It is an experience not to be missed, and not a lot of people know that you CAN have the experience!

Blog

Kindred souls

I’ve always thought I was an extrovert.  I always thought I was very social.  But these days, I am finding that I like my own company (even with Alan constantly around, I do find that I cherish the moments when I am alone with just me, myself and I).  I always say to people that I am a chatterbox (I always say that I know that Alan and I are so well-suited because he doesn’t talk as much and I pretty much talk enough for the both of us) and I find that I do like to have the occasional natter.  I can be loud but I find that I can’t be loud for very long.  I think Alan has rubbed off on me a lot.  I find that I appreciate quiet as well.  Companionable silence is also a good thing (and Alan and I have that a lot, which in itself is a comfort – I’ve read in an article that couples who appreciate their companionable silences and understand the wisdom of it are stronger…but that’s another blog entry probably).

Almost a month ago now, I went on my second Instagram meet with Alan.  It was for the London Disclosure hub (@londondisclosure) and there was a walk around London photo spots planned.  I was terribly excited about the meet because, as I wrote in my last blog entry I had arranged to meet the Filipinos that I followed on Instagram.

I was quite subdued when I wrote about our mini meet up.  But it was quite momentous for me.  I was slightly fangirling because I thought these people were very talented and I loved the photos they posted on Instagram.  They all have considerably large followings on Instagram and I was just starting out on my photography journey.  I was worried that reality wouldn’t be quite as nice as the online interaction.  I kept telling myself to not build it up in my head and to try not to expect too much.  The online world can be very different from real life interaction.  I was also worried that Alan would feel very left out as he usually does when I meet with my family because the language of discussion is always mostly Filipino and he feels like the odd one out(which is probably why he doesn’t look forward to going out with my cousins – because everyone slips into Filipino).

With trepidation (and a heck of a lot of nervousness on my part) we walked into Somerset House so that we could meet the Filipinos before the actual meet up started.  We’d all seen each other’s profile photos on Instagram so I felt that I would recognise them when they walked in.  They also said they’d all be in black (I didn’t follow the uniform – but I did have a black cross-body bag and black sneakers!).

I saw them before they saw me (at least I think so), so I whispered to Alan that I’d seen them.  Cheryl (who goes by the Instagram handle @chic.wanders.in), I think spotted me first because I saw her smile and wave.  I waved back excitedly and then in a few minutes, we were inundated with a friendly wave of Filipino smiles.  There was a flurry of introductions and they surprised me with a loot bag filled with Filipino sweets and snacks (it had Chocnut, a peanut-chocolate sweet, Yan-Yan, pretzel sticks that you dip in the accompanying chocolate spread, tamarind candy and Kopik0, which is a coffee flavoured candy) and a lovely Jose Rizal bust-shaped tag that Ellapot (my nickname for @barefootnomad who is a little firecracker of a creative person) made especially to mark the first ever Instagram meet for what would be what we all now call the #pinoylondongrammers group.

©IYMedina

I had my mind blown about how small the world was when Jools (@jetaime.07) and I started talking about what our lives and jobs were in the Philippines.  She worked with one of my friends from PSALM and before they worked together in a energy-related firm, we discovered that we had something in common because we both worked in the Philippine power sector.  So I had my little six-degrees-of-separation moment, and it always makes me smile when I think that we weren’t actually separated by 6 degrees!

I hadn’t met Karla (@clickers.click) and Hazel (@hazel.parreno) before (and to be fair, I wasn’t following them on Instagram before we met) but it was really good to meet other Filipinos who shared my keen interest in photography.  I had a cheeky look at Instagram after the meet and made sure I followed them (especially Karla because I think we all agreed to get her to a 100 followers and that if she did reach that number, she’d treat us all to a lechon – a whole roasted suckling pig! Yum!) immediately!  I also missed meeting Vanessa (@lil_kim426) because she couldn’t stay for the LD meet but met the rest of the group at the lunch (we have yet to meet!).

I was quite starstruck when I met Teddy (who goes by @mutyyyaaa on Instagram and who I call Teddymeister) because I did love his photos on Instagram and he already had quite the following on Instagram already.  I would always see his photos on the top lists of the London hubs that I followed.

It was a great meet up.  Because  everyone was as lovely as they seemed to be on Instagram.  What I appreciated the most was that they tried to speak in English so that Alan would be included (they did say he was now an honorary Filipino).  Of course we’d lapse into Filipino (hey, it’s instinctive!) but we’d all try to go back to English or I’d remember to translate so that Alan would understand what was going on.  I am also glad that Alan liked them enough to verbalise that he thought they were a nice bunch of people.  I put a lot of stock in Alan’s opinion because his opinion of the people I hang out with matters a lot.

©C. Enario

My WhatsApp has never been more active and I’ve never had so many laugh out loud moments whilst reading my WhatsApp messages or my Instagram comments and chats.  I actually feel like I’ve made friends.  Friends who share my passion for photography and my love of London.  Friends who I’d like to keep in touch with – not just acquaintances.  It’s nice to know Filipinos who love being Filipino and are proud to be Filipino.  I am so happy I’ve met a group of people who do not ascribe to the typical Filipino crab mentality that you see in a lot of groups of Filipinos who live overseas.  I’m so happy that I’ve met a group of individuals who actually support each other and lift each other up.  For the first time, in a very long time, I’ve actually met a group of people who I think I’d be willing to move for because I’d love to live closer to them so we can hang out properly.  It doesn’t hurt that Alan enjoys my stories and takes interest in what we talk about in our WhatsApp group.  He has now taken to asking me “what’s happening now?”  He doesn’t ask me because he’s irritated about the amount of time I spend chatting to this lovely little group, he’s asking because (I think and hope!) that he is genuinely interested in what we’re all talking about.

©C. Enario

I’m really happy we went on that London Disclosure meet.  I know we would have probably met eventually.  But that meet allowed me to meet kindred souls sooner rather than later.  And because of that, I feel blessed.

©C. Enario