Following the Tian Tan – the world’s second largest outdoor, bronze Buddha, we took a bus to visit the infamous Tai O fishing village. We were worried that we would be having to wade through more hordes of tourist, especially after we were warned that the village was becoming more and more accustomed to visitors.
However, we were pleasantly surprised to find that many parts of Tai O felt authentic. There was even an eeriness to the whole place brought by its foreboding landscape and its stilt houses, putting in every bit of effort to stand mighty and tall, like its mountainous terrain. It was exactly what we needed after a crowded pilgrimage to Tian Tan.
We first walked through the village itself which had many stores selling cuttlefish balls as well as shrimp paste, a speciality of the place.
But most of all, you will see boxes upon boxes of dried goods, notably fish and shellfish of all shapes and sizes.
Even their trinkets are dried fish.
It was almost strange NOT to see a shop selling dried fish. We came across the occasional grocery or souvenir shop, but they were definitely outnumbered.
Once we were done from all the dried fish and all the fish balls, we walked towards the shore. The sea was anything but inviting but the sheer mysticism of the place really spoke to my soul.
We found more surprises along the way, like these salted, dried egg yolks and this suspicious looking cat.
We finally embarked towards a viewing point and it was truly spectacular.
That is, until I made the mistake of continuing down a rough path, which eventually turned into a very slippery, steep slope. One word of advice, leave your block heels behind for this one. But we made it to the bottom, unscathed (just very sweaty with nerves). Horray!
In Tai O village, you’ll have an opportunity to catch a rare sight of pink dolphins. We didn’t have the time to head out so we can’t advise on that, but I bet they’re a wonderful thing to sight! Also, whilst we didn’t buy any dried food, I’ve read that it may be overpriced.
Other than that, take a hike (in the best sense possible)!
I’ve heard a lot about the rivalry between Hong Kong and Singapore: both are modern cities, both share cultural attributes and both have an affinity towards nature.
Hong Kong definitely has some natural wonders, being located on mountainous terrain. I was pretty excited to see how such a modern city interacted with its natural landscape. So the first activity we did was to take the cable car all the way to Ngong Ping (Lantau Island) to encounter the second largest, outdoor bronze Buddha in the world: Tian Tan. Our excitement was marred by the fact that we waited TWO hours to get onto the cable car, partly because we didn’t pre-book tickets, but also because it takes a while to load 8 people into each arriving cable car. The view was spectacular though, and you could even feel sorry for the poor souls who chose to hike all the way! Kidding, I’d be up for that next time!
Once we got to Ngong Ping, we were slightly disappointed with how touristic the whole affair was. Tian Tan being so sacred, we would have expected more of a sombre and meditative ambience. Sadly, it felt more like a theme park for us. Nevertheless, Tian Tan stood mightily tall, commanding the landscape with all the patience he could muster.
Once we were done wading through other tourists like ourselves, we visited the beautiful Po Lin Monastery. I don’t remember ever seeing such intricate temple details and the colours are so vivid that it reminds you how sobering even the most lavish Catholic churches are.
On the way back, don’t forget to pass by the smaller temples and the GIGANTIC incense sticks.
Once we were done, we found a convenient bus stop just before the site’s exit, which took us to Tai O Fishing Village. More on that next time!!
This blog post has been long overdue, especially as I’m reminded by friends and family who are eager to hear about life in Singapore.
Marco and I moved to Singapore without having ever been here. It was quite a bold move, but we had heard lots of positive things, which put our mind at rest. Coincidentally, we even had relatives vacationing here, just before we flew in – getting further confirmation, that it was a wonderful place.
Now I’m able to tell you my first impressions of what makes Singapore unique.
This is the one thing EVERYONE warned me about. Well, it goes without saying that, in a country located on the equator, you’ve got 365 days of constant temperature. Which translates into hot and humid temperatures.
To be quite honest, it doesn’t get to me in the least (except when I’m out all afternoon). There have been occasions when we were out sightseeing and I was at breaking point. That’s probably also why they have an extremely cheap and efficient transport system, averaging on £0.50 a trip. You’re literally not expected to walk anywhere unless you’re willing to take 3 showers a day. The climate also lends itself to the fact that Singapore is so clean, as you wouldn’t want litter and garbage to be exposed to those sorts of temperatures without attracting some funky diseases.
Otherwise, I would argue that I’d happily dip in and out of the heat to remind myself of the harsh British winters I no longer have to endure. Sorry London friends. That said, pretty much anything that is enclosed is powered by air-conditioning. Sometimes it gets pretty cold and reminds me that I can’t escape the chill forever.
Singapore has a policy for ensuring that there plenty of plants to observe in the city. If you’ve been to Singapore, you would immediately recognise that this young city-state has grown taller and taller. With plenty of condos available, serving over 5.5 million residents, Singapore has done its bit in green landscaping to ensure that its residents feel that they’re not drowning in concrete. And who doesn’t love tropical plants anyway?
Singaporeans are a mixture of cultures and ethnicities. It is no surprise then that the four official languages are English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil. Nevertheless, whilst English is spoken vastly, we’ve had to accustom ourselves to Singlish – a local dialect. It is usually a mixture of English, Mandarin, Tamil, Malay, and other local dialects like Hokkien, Cantonese or Teochew. Commonly, you’d find locals saying ‘Can’ instead of ‘Yes’; or ‘Lah’ to place emphasis on the word before – for example, ‘Don’t worry, lah’.
Singapore is known to be one of the most expensive cities in the world, let alone in Asia. So it was to my great delight, that I acquainted myself with the numerous hawker centres available. Gracing the streets every so often, you’d find a hawker centre selling decent portions of local food for a mere 2-3 Singapore dollars. We’re talking a full, nutritious meal under £2. Some of these have are even listed on the Michelin guide.
Considering how small Singapore is, you just CANNOT avoid malls. There are so many, many malls connected via the MRT (underground) and some even have city links to keep you sheltered from the heat. Seeing that malls cater to their demographics, they are also not created equal. The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, not only sells luxury brands and houses high-end restaurants; it even has a man-made canal in the middle of the mall, where visitors can take boat rides throughout the lengths of the mall. Love or hate ’em, the one thing that they offer everyone is solace from the heat.
I can’t believe it’s been two months already, since we’ve moved to Singapore.
We were puzzled on where to stay, when we got here. After doing some very quick touch-basing with friends and a lot of soul-searching, we settled on Tiong Bahru, a charming enclave home to hip cafes, art galleries, indie bookstores and post-war, art-deco architecture.
I’m pretty excited to share with you some snaps of this charming area, where our new home is based. Have you ever experienced Tiong Bahru yourselves? Shout out your favourite places!
Chicago was never my go-to place. To be honest, the United States was always at the bottom of my ‘must-absolutely-[without question]-visit’ list. Reason being that the US is has a fairly young history and a culture that isn’t too different to what I’m familiar with.
I am absolutely thrilled that I got the chance to explore this American gem all courtesy to my wonderful boyfriend who booked this holiday as my birthday gift.
It’s quite extraordinary that when I told friends and family that I was heading to Chicago, I usually got a very specific reaction – a puzzled look.
Well, I probably gave Marco the same puzzled look. But as I dug deeper, I realised that it didn’t deserve to be the underdog.
Chicago is bursting with architectural wonders, incredible artworks and a fire-blazing, gangster-ridden history. The architecture, the jazz scene, the speakeasies and Chicago’s trendier neighbourhoods, all speak for the State’s ability to marry old with new.
Although Chicago is the third largest city in the US, we found it easy to get around, well connected and not crowded at all. The busiest areas are within the Loop, which refers to both the elevated (L) rail as well as downtown.
Downtown comprises the financial district, Broadway and the infamous Jay Pritzker Pavilion located at the Millenial Park. Not to mention Cloud Gate (a.k.a The Bean).
What I absolutely loved about Chicago was that there was also an abundance of landscaping, gardens and parks.
But the real question is, is Chicago a foodie destination. YES – it definitely has potential. And my blog post will give you my top recommendations, should you happen to be passing by.
DAY 1:After the River Cruise Tour by Shoreline Sightseeing, which was a brilliant way to be introduced to Chicago’s architecture, we had our first lunch. It HAD to be deep dish pizza.
The closest I ever got to deep dish pizza was Pizza Hut. Then I encountered Gino’s East – and it changed everything. Really. EVERYTHING.
We got the dish for two (with four slices in total) and we were able to mix and match different pizzas on offer. We got the Spinach Margherita and the Meaty Legend. [Be prepared to wait 45 minutes to an hour for the pizza to be prepared and cooked – they do warn you in advance.]
The best by far was the Spinach Margherita – the tomato sauce was rich, the dough was buttery and the cheese was well, cheesy. We found the Meaty Legend had too much going on, so our vote goes for… the Spinach Margherita.
Because we enjoyed this deep dish pizza so much we tried another local haunt called, Lou Malnati. We ordered the Malnati Chicago Classic and the Lou. The Lou was not meant to be too different from Gino’s Spinach Margherita but it was overly garlicky and the crust wasn’t as delicious. Sorry, Lou!
That same day with dined at Alinea, a 3 Michelin Star Restaurant I had discovered through Chef’s Table. There are three menus available and we chose the Salon Menu with 12 courses. On the whole, it was a special multi-sensory experience, where you are challenged to think about what you are eating based on its appearance, flavour and texture. We were also invited to the kitchen to witness the chefs at work, guided by Head Chef Grant. There, we also witnessed the making of a cocktail, mixed by a rare cocktail shaker (1 in 30 in the world, modelled after the Victorian shakers). Some pictures of the experience below.
DAY 2: Because a 15-course dish isn’t enough to push the thought of food out of my mind, I decided to treat myself to Xoco‘s Pork Belly Chilaquiles made out of crunchy tortillas, tomatillo-serrano sauce, poblano rajas, pork belly chunks, cheese, and a sunny-side-up egg. It was DIVINE. Ridiculously heavy for breakfast, but it was certainly my most important meal of the day.
Never skip Xoco breakfast.
And don’t leave without trying their Aztec hot chocolate.
Or their bacon popcorn.
And Marco’s less exciting Chorizo variation.
As holiday’s are not just about food (something I need to remind myself), that day we visited the world-class Art Institute of Chicago which houses plenty of notable artworks from various periods, as well as modern installations.
That day’s lunch menu involved a Chicago-style hot dog from the infamous Portillo’s – a local favourite, retro-style chain, selling fast food. The Chicago-style hot dog includes mustard, relish, celery salt, onions, sliced tomatoes, kosher pickle and ‘sport’ peppers piled onto a steamed poppy seed bun. Chicagoans call this “dragging the dog through the garden.” Nice.
The weather remained poor (thanks Chicago!), so we spent the rest of the afternoon walking along the Magnificent Mile and taking shelter within the many high-street and high-end shops. On the bright side, the rain left a few lovely reflections in return.
We then closed the evening with a historical tour on Chicago’s architecture and entertainment, which took us to a few Speakeasies and infamous watering holes known for their relation to Al Capone.
We then headed to our local speakeasy – The Drifter – which is hidden within the Green Door Tavern. A classic speakeasy serving cocktails and wild entertainment.
DAY 3: The following day was classified as Museum Day, as it was bitterly cold and windy, looking exactly like this.
We visited the Shedd Aquarium and The Field Museum (a natural history museum). They were both wonderful, with the aquarium being my favourite as I feel right at home. [Not saying I’m a fish, but I’m not a fish out of water when I’m at an aquarium that’s all.]
OK, moving on.
We also had no other opportunity other than that day to observe the Chicago from up high. This is what stubbornness amounts to (both from our side and the clouds’). Do visit the Skydeck or the 360 on a GOOD day. Unless you really like clouds.
Dinner was booked at the Untitled Supper Club, a vintage-inspired, high-end venue with a dress code and live jazz. They claim to have one of the best whiskey bars in Chicago. We had cocktails.
The weather remained shoddy, so we decided to spruce things up with some jazz at the famous Green Mill, where legendary figures such as Von Freeman, Franz Jackson and Wilbur Campbell, as well as young lions Kurt Elling, Eric Alexander and Orbert Davis, played. It has not strayed far from the atmosphere of the early ’30s and ’40s in service, price and music. Shades of Al Capone’s heyday are found in the wall memorabilia as you enter and in the famous booth where he and his henchmen could keep a cautious eye on both doors. Make sure to catch the late night show (midnight – 5am) with Sabertooth. Don’t let the jet lag get to you (now that Al Capone isn’t around). It sure got me.
DAY 4: On day 4, we decided to head north towards Lincoln Park, a beautiful, sizeable park hosting a free zoo. I’m not an advocate of zoos and me being there, confirmed it. Animals, especially large animals should be roaming free and not be confined to such small spaces. However, I can’t hide that I was especially happy to see this fellow.
In the afternoon, we headed towards Old Town which is known for its 20th-century style, pastel coloured houses – all rebuilt since the great fire of 1971.
At lunch, we were lucky to get ourselves a seat at The Twin Anchors, a well-known establishment serving barbequed ribs. They were sticky and sweet and came with a choice of sauce, side and coleslaw.
Day 5: This day was nice and easy. We explored the West Loop and Greek Town. The West loop is undergoing a period of transformation. Old establishments like the French Market continues to run, although don’t expect it to be very…French.
Fulton Market is pretty much completely under development but comes alive at night, with young, trendy folk. Rumour has it that gentrification is slowly driving its previous tenants, mostly Art Galleries, out of the picture as a result.
The Greek Town was a disappointment, as all it was was a string of Greek Restaurants and the National Hellenic Museum, which we didn’t have time to enter.
Thankfully we ended the holiday on a very sweet note. I may have found one of my favourite smokehouses – Green Street Smoked Meats. We ordered half a pound each of smoked brisket and smoked pastrami with a side of creamed corn with cilantro and paprika. Washed down with Chicago’s best Pale Ale – Daisy Cutter.
If you’ve visited Chicago or will be visiting Chicago, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
London’s China Town isn’t too different to what you’d expect from any China Town.
But what I love about it is that it is so easy to navigate as it’s not large, yet has the advantage of providing everything Chinese.
Expect amazing dim sum and Hong Kong-styled Cantonese roast duck, with your occasional bubble tea and bubble wrap shop, baked goods including fish-shaped custard-filled wafers and groceries selling delectable Asian fruit and vegetables, including Durian!
Here are some of my favourite pictures from London’s China Town.
After spending too much time watching other people eat, life began to feel unbalanced, so I got myself a place at Joy King to eat some traditional Chinese. Food was great, service not so much as they pressure you into ordering without giving you ample time, and they serve you the bill before you’ve even finished. Also, they could do with friendlier waiters. Overall, I would rate it a 6, because the food was delicious but there’s room for improvement elsewhere.
London. One of those places that you’ll never keep up with. Or could you?
With new restaurants and shops popping up in every nook and cranny, London may forever seem in motion. But there are a few neighbourhoods which retain their charm. It is this yin-yang sense of familiarity and flux, this sense of recognising the characteristics of specific London areas and how they metamorphose, that allows me to recognise and appreciate how spoilt for choice Londoners are.
One day, I might wake up feeling like I need to don my favourite Keds and hit the bars in Shoreditch or I could wake up wanting to flaunt my little black dress in the fashionable district of Kensington. Sometimes, I just want to wake up to Marylebone High Street – a place that occupies that sweet spot between trendiness and class.
Marylebone is an area that boasts of being sought after by residents as an attractive residential location, and by tourists for it’s landmarks – Madame Tussauds’ waxwork museum and the Sherlock Holmes Museum. It’s central, a stone’s throw away from the regal Regent’s park, Mayfair and Fitzrovia. Teeming with Georgian houses, it prizes a Georgian mansion that houses the Wallace Collection of art and period furnishings, which typify the area’s elegant architecture. It dumbs down its commercial vibes, as it leaves most of that to Bond Street, which it borders. And it’s also got its own flair, with its modish Marylebone High Street. I’ve left a few suggestions below for those keen to explore.
Plan ahead and visit with an empty stomach. Head to The Providores and Tapa Room, a Kiwi establishment that took London by the storm following the birth of its Turkish Eggs. I’ve also had a wonderful time at Fischer’s, a Viennese restaurant, evoking 20th-century dining, which I will be reviewing in my next blog post.
For a cheeky one, try The Marylebone known for its quirky cocktails, a polite crowd and a retro popcorn machine with popcorn you can help yourself to. What’s not to like? For a cheeky second, you’ll want to do this in secret, so head to the prohibition-style basement bar Purl. Think leather sofas, dim-lit lamps, vintage accessories and a menu consisting of cocktails that come with mini-portioned nibbles purposely paired with your drink of choice.
After you’ve wined and dined, I would suggest two non-food related places (WHAT?!) to pit-stop by, on Marleybone High Street. Although you’d best be sober because these places are sure to induce some serious spending.
First, for some mindfulness, head to Daunt Books – a brilliant bookshop established at the beginning of the 20th c. housed in a spectacular Edwardian building with oak galleries and skylights. Specialising in travel, Daunt Books arranges its sections geographically, with guides, phrase books, travel writing, history and fiction grouped by their relevant country. Check out their website for news on talks and it’s annual festival held in March.
For obsessive browsing, visit the Conran Shop – a shop that covers everything from furniture to lifestyle and wonderful gift ideas. It is delightfully bright and colourful, cluttered with all things intriguing.
When you’re done with Marylebone High Street don’t miss out on Lamb Conduit Street, which is just as lovely.
I, as are many others, am ineptly in love with La Fromagerie which, as you may have guessed from the name, are especially known for their farmhouse cheese, hosted in their delectable Cheese Room. As if cheese wasn’t enough, they also sell fresh produce, baked goods and dry store ingredients.
Their Cheese Room is an experience in itself. As you enter the carefully controlled climate, you’ll be unsure where to feast your eyes – every sort of cheese you can think of is available, with eager staff ready at your beck and call, to tell you cheesy tales of wonder.
They also have a cafe at the back so that you can take a break from browsing and start your marathon of indulgement. I mean, you owe it to yourself, right?
Hopefully if all went well, you’ll be leaving Marleybone considerably poorer, with a few precious books from Daunt, a colourful thing or two from The Conran Shop and a wheel of cheese. No, make that five.
You may have already heard from my Instagram that I’ve been to South America and had a wonderful time. If not, here it goes again. I HAD A WONDERFUL TIME.
Now, as you can tell from the title of this post, it sounds like its going to be pretty much about one thing – steak.
I WILL be showing you mouth-watering evidence of how Argentina and Uruguay have nailed the Parilla (or grill on an open fire). But I will also tease you with other sumptuous bites.
So, steak. Let’s begin.
As a foodie, I was never particularly excited about steak. We never really ate much red meat at home. As I was planning for Argentina and I was looking for suggestions on what to eat, I nearly jumped off my seat when I saw how many ice cream parlours were selling dulce de leche flavoured ice cream.
I did, however, book one steak place for the 1st night we were to be in Buenos Aires. And I’m so glad I did. Parilla don Julio is noted to be one of the long-standing steakhouses; serving premium cuts of meat cooked over a traditional parilla, it really does offer a great introduction to the Argentinian steak. They do great sides too and have an excellent wine list, stocking plenty of Malbec from Mendoza (the wine country in Argentina). The setting is formal so expect great service. If you do decide to visit, do book well in advance, as there is a queue every night and it could last well over an hour.
If you want to experience parilla in less of a formal setting, I would suggest heading to a market, like the Feria de Mataderos in Buenos Aires. This market is a bit of a journey (an hour by bus, to be precise) from the city centre, but it’s worth the trek in order to escape the tourist crowds and get to see the gaucho horseback-riding competition and folklore dancing. Not to mention the various food stalls.
You’re also going to want to pass by the Mercado del Puerto in Montevideo, Uruguay for some proper asado (or barbeque). Not unlike Argentina, you will find the word asado commonly used. This is were it gets confusing: asado itself means two things: a cut referring to short ribs and more significantly a range of barbecue techniques and the social event of having or attending a barbecue. You will find many locals having asado on the street of Argentina and Uruguay. It is at precisely that point, you will begin to kick yourself for not mingling enough with the locals.
Giving steaks a break, another typical meaty dishy is the lovely choripan. It took me a stupid 5 minutes to realise that the word choripan was a combination of the two words chorizo (sausage) and pan (bread).
So yes, it’s a hot dog – Argentinian style! They grill those juicy pork sausages, place them in bread, and drizzle them with chimichurri.
At the Feria de Mataderos,I also found a stall preparing fried empanadas and they were simply wonderful (the empanadas and the empanada makers). These pastries were of two different types: one filled with beef and potato and the other with ham and cheese.
And this is my sweet sister, who almost devoured the empanada before she allowed me a shot. Thankfully, I was quick enough.
I also tried seafood empanadas and I only found these at the San Telmo Market, in Buenos Aires. This is another place you definitely have to visit for its various bric-a-brac shops, antiques and food stalls.
And don’t forget to grab yourselves some wonderful dulce de leche ice cream, which comes in various varieties. For those who don’t know, dulce de leche is a staple in Argentina. With an appearance and flavour similar to caramel, you’ll find it in practically everything sweet, but mostly ice-cream, churros and alfajores – a soft, crumbly cookie popular in South America.
Notting Hill became known to a lot of us due to its appearance in films such as Notting Hill and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. which gave great visibility to its antique market and rows of colourful houses. It is now also famous for its carnival.
***P O R T O B E L L O R O A D***
Portobello Market took its name from Porto Bello Farm which was built in the area known as Golborne Road. The farm was named after the town of Porto Bello in Panama, captured by the British from the Spanish in 1739.
Up until the 1940s, Portobello Road market was like many other London markets and mainly sold food and other essential items. However, in the 1940s, the market expanded to antiques, with Saturday being the main trading day. In recent history, the market has expanded to include all sorts of stalls – from beauty products past their stock date, to bric-à-brac, vintage clothesand food.
The number of stalls can be nauseating to navigate, but many of these stalls also sell the same stock. My recommendation to you is that you prioritise those stalls of interest to you.
Today, I would only face the throngs of people if I know there is something specific I need to get from the market, such as a vintage camera or vinyl records.
Here is some useful information on how the five sections of the market are spread across Notting Hill.
Secondhand goods – Golborne Road to Westway
Clothing/fashion – Westway area
Household essentials – Westway to Talbot Road
Fruit, veg and other food – Talbot Road to Elgin Crescent
Antiques – Elgin Crescent to Chepstow Villas
If you’re not one for crowds, I would recommend passing by during the week or on Sunday when the market is not in full swing. Avoiding the crowds is not the only advantage if you pass by during the week, as you will also be able to pop by Books for Cooks. Just off Portobello Road, Books for Cooks is a bookshop that also provides a 3-course menu for less than a tenner, as part of their test kitchen. On Tuesday’s they test vegetarian recipes, Wednesday to Thursday meat recipes and Friday, fish. Their advice is to arrive at the kitchen by 12pm sharp, as it gets booked up pretty fast.
If you head there in the evening, it is nowhere near as crowded, yet alive with passerby visiting trending bars. Two of my favourite bars are Portobello Star known for its London-made Portobello Gin.
And Trailer Happiness – an underground cocktail bar with surfer vibes. If you’re up for a movie, do visit the Electric Cinema which, whilst pricey, is an experience you’ll only understand once you sink into those plush armchairs, after you’ve ordered yourself a hot dog from the retro, American-themed bar. Just don’t get too comfy as you’ll easily snooze before you know it.
Notting Hill has become rather affluent, something you will begin to sense as you wander about the side streets off Portobello Road. You will find plenty of restaurants, cafes, shops and bars. Check out Biscuiteers Boutiques & Icing Cafés, for their lovely biscuits – a perfect gift or treat.
The Spice Shop has a pretty impressive collection of single and mixed spices.
Although Portobello Road is it’s most famous, I would recommend you detour to two other nearby destinations worth exploring – Golbourne Road and Westbourne Grove.
*** G O U L B O U R N E R O A D***
Goulbourne Road is definitely worth visiting. It is nowhere near as crowded as Portobello Road although there are a few stalls out on the street. It appears to be one of the many London areas that is experiencing gentrification. If you head there via Westbourne Park station, you will catch a glimpse of the historical landmark – Trellick Tower. I recommend breakfast at Lisboa Patisserie, a famous local Portuguese bakery. I would highly recommend their most popular pastry, Pastéis de Nata, which they have many varieties of.
Just opposite you will find the Lisboa Delicatessen selling local produce. If you enter the back of the shop, you will notice a room dedicated to salted cod.
You will say many Portuguese cafes and shops along the way but Scandinavian outlets are also sprouting too. We had breakfast at Snaps and Rye – a Norwegian restaurant tempting customers with smørrebrød and warm plates. They also sell liquorice chocolate balls, with the Christmas edition out now.
***W E S T B O U R N E G R O V E***
Westbourne Grove is ideal if you ready to fork out the sums of money on designer labels and high street brands. It has the feel of Kensington although perhaps a little more down to earth. As you keep walking, you will notice that there are fewer shops and more restaurants. In other words, this is not only a fashionista’s paradise but a foodie’s too.
***N O T T I N G H I L L C A R N I V A L***
Notting Hill Carnival is a good amount of fun. The spectacles are great, the crowds less so but it is something you would expect. Plenty of opportunities to join in the fun as you move along the parades, but planning is recommended. You will notice that people offer their toilets for the measly sum of £1, although public toilets are available. Consider both.
There is potentially nothing more autumny than visiting Kew Gardens, the Royal Botanical Gardens in the Borough of Richmond upon Thames. Boasting to have the “largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world”, it has plenty of deciduous trees shedding their leaves during the Autumn season.
Recognised as a World Heritage Site, the Royal Botanical Gardens houses more than 30,000 living varieties of plants, while the herbarium has over seven million specimens and is one of the largest in the world. It also has a library which contains more than 750,000 volumes, and the illustrations collection contains more than 175,000 prints and drawings of plants. It hosts seasonal workshops and seminars given by experts and also showcases themed exhibitions.
As the Gardens are so large, I would recommend that you head there early. We decided to make our way just before lunchtime, to grab a bite before spending the greater part of the day walking along the many available routes. Kew, the suburban district that is known for the Gardens is a quaint little town with a few eateries and shops. There is a quaint street called Station Approach, minutes away from Kew Gardens station, where you can find a shop or two.
Along that street, we came across an Australian brasserie called Antipodea. Antipodea is well suited for its environment, in that it is rustic and botanical. It’s decorated with terrariums, hanging plants, botanical tiles and has mix n’ match furniture and cutlery to add to that homey feel. It has plenty of tables indoors, but also offers seats in an open narrow passageway, connected to the building and it also has seats outside the entrance. They offer you blankets in case it’s chilly and there’s a fireplace inside when the cold begins to bite.
Antoipodea’s menu is varied, offering specials as well as a brunch, lunch and dinner menu. I went for the special: Chargrilled chicken with kimchi and gochujang dipping sauce for £15.
The portion was sizeable as there was half a chicken on the plate and it was moist and well seasoned. The kimchi was different to the Korean kimchi I am familiar with as it was crunchier and less saucy but it still had a nice bite to it. Perhaps, a little more of it would have balanced out the plate, as it looked out of proportion in relation to the chicken.
After a satisfying meal, we headed off to Kew Gardens. And as you can see, it’s so pretty in Autumn.
Not to mention the many sculptures dotting the park as part of Sculpt at Kew exhibition.
And the wonderful Lake and Sackler Crossing, with great vistas of numerous trees, shrubs and bushes as you cross the lake.
And be sure to spot the plentiful squirrels and parrots on the lookout for chestnuts.
You can get an excellent view of the parrots from the Treetop Walkway, which is 18 metres high and gives you a bird eye’s view of Kew Gardens.
And of course, there aren’t just outdoor activities. You MUST visit the many greenhouses that are home to a massive range of plant species. Our favourite was the Palm House.
Lastly, make sure you pass by the Hive, another key attraction. The Hive is designed by artist Wolfgang Buttress, inspired by the life of bees!
And it’s not only the bees that will be rumbling. Watch out for all the planes overhead!
If you’re not able to make it time for the Autumn special at Kew Gardens, the winter edition kick from the 22nd November of this year to the 1st of January 2018.
Either way, you’re spoilt for choice!
Kew Gardens is open daily at 10am, so go early because there is plenty to see.
Currently, grounds close at 4.15pm with last entry at 3.45pm until 20 November. Tickets at £12.
Stoke Newington Church Street is one of those rare bits of London where you can get utterly lost for hours in independent shops, cafes, bars, and restaurants. It is hard to not come across a bakery selling delectable goods that are as much a feast for the eyes as they are to the stomach. And food is not the only thing you’ll be feasting your eyes on because, by some glorious design, the street’s food spots are alternated by shops selling all things cool – from nifty gifts to leafy commodities and artsy artefacts.
Before getting to Stoke Newington Church Street, I walked through Clissold Park which has everything from an aviary to a skatepark. As with any park in Autumn, you don’t have to go far to feel the magic of the autumn leaves crunching beneath your feet.
As soon as you exit the park at St Mary’s Church onto Stoke Newington Church Street, it won’t be long before your indie journey begins.
***F O O D & D R I N K ***
Hungry? Good – you’re not going to run out of choices to line your stomach, as you’ll find eateries and watering holes dotting the street. I certainly didn’t. Although choosing was difficult, I finally took the plunge and decided to give Andi’s a try.
Andi’s interior is quaint with a set of dried flowers hanging on one wall, a bar lit by numerous decorative hanging shades, and a small, leafy garden at the back. Coming to think of it, I’ve noticed a running theme on Stoke Newington Church Street, where practically every restaurant and cafe has embellished itself with hipsteresque pendant shades and leafy interiors. Millenials ahoy!
Back to the point, Andi’s only has a brunch and dinner menu and as I was there at lunchtime, I had brunch. Their menu includes a variety of options, cold (cereals, cakes and pastries including the ever so popular cronut) and warm (energy bowls, baked eggs and sides). The energy bowls and baked eggs include a base such as green herb (which is a saucy bed upon which the eggs lay) and a choice of ingredients to pick from (up to three included in the price, with more ingredients at a cost). That way you can customise what you’re eating. In the end, I went for baked eggs with a roast garlic and onion cream base topped with halloumi, roast tomatoes and a spicy North African lamb sausage called Merguez. The flavours complimented each other (not sure if this counts a compliment to myself having chosen the ingredients). Recommendation: a slice of sourdough to mop up the sauce would have been nice!
***B O T A N I C A L***
Plants are so IN on Stoke Newington Church Street. I came across Botanique Workshop which was absolutely magical. It had a good mix of plants, bunches of dried flowers, and lovely botanical-themed handmade gifts. They also take flower orders and I bought myself the sweetest pot.
If you’re flower hopping you could also pass by the Green Room cafe. They sell a range of plants and flowers and have a large open dining area. I had been a while back and the service wasn’t too good. Hopefully, it has improved since then! The food was also a little lacklustre but the ambience was great, particularly on a lovely day.
***D E S I G N & G I F T S ***
If one thing’s for sure, is you’ll definitely be spoilt for choice with gift shops and design stores.
I was particularly intrigued by Search and Rescue, packed with curious little items, from shelves lined with candles and cushions to dining sets, stationery and cosmetics.
Another inspiring gift shop is the Nook Shop, which also sells kitchenware, plants and useful gadgets.
Well, as the title suggests, this was a speedy visit to Stoke Newington Church Street. Next time, I’ll be giving it the time it deserves.