Lunch At Langan's

Sunday, 19 October 2014

September is an exciting month for my family - Daddy Lipstick and I have our birthday's and it's mummy and daddy's wedding anniversary (32 years this year!). I disappeared to China for most of the month so we didn't get around to celebrating until last weekend - oops! 

The Wolseley is our usual "celebratory meal" venue of choice but feeling like a change I booked us a table just around the corner at Langan's. The menu is traditional British brasserie food, nothing mind-blowingly new but the restaurant is London institution for a reason - everything was well-presented, tasted amazing and the service was spot on. We'll probably be back! The setting is less grand than the Wolseley but I loved the art adorned walls and references to the owners (Michael Caine and Peter Langan). The restaurant is relaxed but definitely a celebratory sort of place with most of the tables occupied by families lunching and chatting.

Daddy Lipstick snapped some outfit photos of me before we left - it was a surprisingly sunny day in the end and we walked off lunch with a wander through the busy streets of Mayfair and Soho, places that I usually avoid on weekends but in the autumn sunshine it was lovely to have a wander, pointing out my favourite haunts to my parents while we walked and chatted and making the most of not wearing coats and carrying umbrellas!

Oh Hai, Mummy Lipstick!
Crochet jumper, ASOS (similar); Pencil skirt, Spitalfields Market (similar), Denim jacket, Henry Holland (similar), Bag, Mulberry; Shoes, c/o Duo
I had the burger which came with red onion rings. Optional cheese or bacon can be added but I had it plain, medium rare - one of the nicest burgers I've had for a while! Mummy Lipstick and I shared a portion of fries as we wanted dessert too - definitely a wise move as the portion was huge!
Mummy Lipstick tucking in in the background!
For dessert it wasn't hard choosing when there was something on the menu named "chocolate platter". Our waiter suggested that this was a good dessert to share. Mummy Lipstick and I ordered one each - what's a celebration without your own dessert? Dark chocolate mousse, white chocolate cheese cake and milk chocolate ice cream - yum!
Have you visited Langan's?

Beijing Part 2 + China Tips

Thursday, 16 October 2014

My last post on my China trip and my final days in Beijing. Thursday promised good weather so I requested a trip to the zoo - like any good just-turned-27-year-old would. The main draw of Beijing Zoo is obviously the giant pandas. If you're an animal-lover, be warned that Chinese zoos are maybe not as animal-friendly as the ones back home and the zoo visitors are not at all respectful of the animals - the amount of people I saw banging on the glass of the enclosures was infuriating. However, the zoo was not as bad as I had feared it might be and it was pretty cool to see a panda.

Hello, Panda.

After the zoo we hopped back on the metro towards the Forbidden City. Last entry to the Forbidden City is at 4 or 5pm and having spent an hour eating a late lunch there wasn't time to actually go inside but the view from Jingshan Park was amazing and definitely gives an idea of the scale of it (and lunch was so good that I was happy to forgo culture for food). The Forbidden City leads onto Tianamen Square, probably one of the most famous squares in the world a definitely the largest. Tianamen was not at all how I expected (I'm not really sure what I expected...the stage set from ChimericaI?)- it's huge but oddly empty and feels slightly unwelcoming despite the crowds.

People people people everywhere but the park was a nice walk.

Beijing Hot Pot was definitely worth tackling my fears of i) raw meat and ii) cooking for.

Misty misty Forbidden City.
Tianamen Square.
Can't take a blogger anywhere. Wearing clothes which I bought in the Middle East, which were too skimpy to actually wear in the Middle East and then which never saw the light of day in England. Yay.
Friday was my last full day in Beijing, fighting off the end-of-holiday blues and ignoring P's iPhone forecast which showed rain in favour of mine which did not, we headed to the summer palace (after a very late breakfast of bibimbap). The summer palace is beautiful despite the smog and it was nice wandering between the buildings until torrential rain struck! Luckily it didn't last long and the Summer Palace conveniently seemed to be designed to provide a covered walkway almost all the way out. In the afternoon we tried to visit the Drum and Bell Towers but they were closed ahead of a national festival. Still, another guidebook "top sight" ticked off and they are in a lively neighbourhood full of restaurants and cafes on huatong lanes. Beijing's last supper was at a Yunanese restaurant where pineapple was on the menu!

Beef bibimbap.

Summer Palace.

Pineapple love. The summer palace was built by the Empress Cixi - no, I can't remember how that was pronounced.
Glowing lake, pre-downpour.
Tea time.
Pineapple rice.
Chicken, prawns and spicy yum.

China Tips

1. Visa

If you're traveling from the UK you'll definitely need a visa. A tourist visa is pretty easy to apply for - just make sure you apply around a month before your trip and after you have booked flights and accommodation as you'll need to show proof of these. The visa is valid for 90 days once its granted so don't apply too early or it will have expired before you go.

2. Flights

As always, Skyscanner is your friend. Flying with a stopover is cheaper but several airlines fly direct from London airports - prices vary a lot so book early.

3. Trains

I traveled by train from Beijing to Shanghai - so much less hassle than internal flights. Chinese trains are super efficient and high speed. I booked first class tickets which came with free biscuits (a perk I was not aware of when booking). Some journeys are via sleeper train and there are a range of options from very basic to proper beds. I found this website so helpful for advice (and will be booking-marking it for future holidays) and booked my tickets on this website as non-Chinese residents are unable to buy advance tickets. 

4. Guidebooks

Get one! I love Lonely Planet guides for giving a good mix of things to do and practical advice as well as being quiet budget friendly. I bought a pocket guide for Shanghai which was so useful for the maps as I didn't want to be using my iPhone and racking up a massive bill (see Internet below). If you're staying at a hotel ask for a card with the hotel's name in Chinese to show to taxi drivers to get you home safely. Lots of guide books have phrase guides in but use at your peril (thank you = Xièxiè...?). Time Out do Beijing and Shanghai magazines and websites which I found helpful for restaurant recommendations.

5. The Internet

The great firewall applies in China and a lot of social media is blocked. My iPhone did work as a phone but I didn't turn on the 3G due to countless tourist horror stories of extortionate roaming charges. If you want to update your Facebook status / brag about your travels / let mummy know that you're still alive then you'll need to download a VPN - I used this one which was good but only connected to it when I was on wifi. I actually enjoyed the enforced lack of communication - it was nice to explore the cities without being fixated on Instagramming a view or Whatsapps-ing friends back home.

6. Culture etc.

Do not assume that "everyone will speak English". They won't unless you're in a high end hotel or restaurant. A lot of restaurants have picture menus or plastic models of food so point away! On restaurants...master using chopsticks or meal times won't be a lot of fun. China is much more smoker-friendly than the UK, I had a bit of a shock the first time I saw someone smoking inside a cafe in Shanghai - I feel old that I can still remember smoking in pubs back home...

Be prepared to see people spitting in the street - its not seen as rude or disgusting. As for toilets, in older parts of town treat them as you would loos at a festival (tissues and hand sanitizer are you best friends). If you are not a fan of "traditional toilets" then pop into hotels or shopping centres but sometimes there may not be other options... Be very, very careful when crossing the road - traffic is crazy and the line between road and pavement is sometimes less clear.

China is such a different place to anywhere else I've visited - it's busy and hectic and not a chill out holiday but its so different to the UK (without being a massive culture shock to a city dweller) that I still felt like I'd had a break. There's culture, history, shopping (oh yes), amazing food and you can almost feel the pace of change - go now before more McDonalds and Starbucks start springing up everywhere.  

Have you visited China?

Competition - Win Foodies Festival Tickets

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Christmas is coming (well, M&S has mince pies in stock so this post doesn't really feel that unseasonably early) and the Foodies Festival is holding a three day Christmas event at the Truman Brewery on London's Brick Lane (one of my favourite weekend haunts) to celebrate.

I have three pairs of tickets to give away - the winner can attend on either the 28th, 29th or 30th of November and it's sure to get you in the Christmas spirit, give you some inspiration on what to cook on the big day or just be a fun day of eating and drinking! If you're still suffering from Bake Off withdrawal there are cake and bake workshops or if cheese is more your thing there's a Cheese Village to explore.

To enter just fill out the form below leaving your email address and / or your Twitter handle so that I can contact you if you win. I'll be popping along on the 30th and will definitely be at the Ski Bar because that sounds like my sort of Christmas spirit.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Beijing & The Great Wall

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Back to my China adventure today. After leaving Shanghai bright and early on Monday morning and spending five hours on a super-fast train (the first class ticket being well worth it for the free biscuits) I was in Beijing.

Beijing has a very different feel to Shanghai - its bigger and flatter and I don't know if it was the polluted smog, the lack of a Pearl Tower-esque landmark, the number of G&Ts consumed or the fact that my friend P speaks Mandarin which took away any effort on my part of getting around but I never really felt like I got my bearings in Beijing. It's a huge, sprawling city with numbered ring roads forming concentric circles. Taxis are super cheap and the Metro is fast and efficient but speaking Chinese definitely felt like far more of an essential (or at least something which made life far, far easier) here than it did in Shanghai.

My first day in Beijing was a wet one - typical! After a not-so-Chinese lunch of burritos (required after an evening of gin and KTV...) we headed to the Lama Temple and then to 798 Art District. The temple was beautiful, even in the rain. I love the smell of incense and wandering around the temple buildings was a lovely calming escape from the hectic city. The 798 District is a definitely must-see for art lovers, there are so many galleries to explore - some of which are free to get into - and art works adorn the streets of the district. The galleries tend to close around 6ish - everything in China shuts so early which does not mix well with late nights! Art fans should visit early in the day to have enough time to see everything.
The largest statute carved from a single piece of wood - it's in the Guiness Book of Records!

Breton stripes!
On day two the rain had stopped and despite waking up to a very smoggy "non-view" of the city, a nice day was promised. Before my trip to Beijing I hadn't been too fussed about seeing The Great Wall but I'm so glad I did - it really is amazing and the trip out the city is well worth it to see something so iconic. Also, it's the thing that I guarantee everyone will ask you about if you tell them you visited Beijing! Skipping the very touristy Badaling (which can be reached by train) we opted for Mutianyu - hoping that it promised an authentic-ish experience without it being too treacherous. If you (or a friend) cannot speak Mandarin then I'd definitely recommend taking the train to Badaling or going on an organised bus trip as despite Mutianyu being set up for visitors to the wall it was a bit of a nightmare to get to (a public bus for an hour, followed by a slightly terrifying mini-van ride). Don't be put off by being greeted with Burger King - once you are through the car park area, and have taken another bus ride to a second car park (this one with a Subway) there's a cable car to take you up to the wall. Yes, it's all a bit of a hassle but its worth it once you're there!This part of the wall was well-maintained and nice for a leisurely walk - there are areas where you can do more serious hiking but I am not in any way a serious hiker.

The view! And the sheer 50m drop...

Ski-lift down, an ever more terrifying experience when not on skis... Not that having a "how are we going to get off this thing" panic halfway down spoiled the view.

Pineapple-ing. Always.
Perfect end to a hard days' walking - gin and kitty time!
What have you been un-fussed about visiting and then loved?

Ladies Who Lunch - The Big Easy + DF Mexico

Friday, 10 October 2014

Last weekend was mostly spent eating. Blame being away from the city for the past couple of weeks, the awful autumn weather and goodbyes and birthdays. Or that my friends and I just love to eat (I told you they were good'uns).

First stop was The Big Easy for Elodie's goodbye (for now) meal. We'd been to The Big Easy once before when it first opened back in spring. The menu had slightly changed (no lobster roll or lobster salad anymore) and I thought it seemed a little pricier than before but the US vibes and large portions were definitely still present! I opted for the veggie burger after eating all of the animals on my China trip - the burger came with fries and slaw on the side for £9.90 - not too bad! The slaw was really good, not too mayonnaise heavy a good counterbalance to the prevalence of fried foods on the menu. The bean burger was really tasty - veggie burgers are often quite bland but this one wasn't. I ditched the bun as the chips were so good (I try to live by a "one carb per meal rule") - piping hot and crispy (nothing worse than lukewarm chips) and super salty - yum! My dining companions all opted for the shrimp basket - I was impressed by how huge the shrimp (/prawns because we're British!) were and liked the basket presentation.

For a big, busy restaurant the service at The Big Easy is great - I felt that we were really looked after by our waitress who was quick to take our order and check that we were happy with everything. I'd definitely go back to The Big Easy for a big group meal - they take bookings - but I think my arteries might need a break for a while. The portions are big and the atmosphere is fun but the menu could maybe do with a couple of slightly healthier options although I guess you don't really come to somewhere like this for "healthy".

On Sunday we headed east for Sarah's birthday meal. I'd wanted to try DF Mexico after reading Grace Dent's review of it and after walking past a few times on my way to Brick Lane. The restaurant is owned by the founders of Wahaca but is more American-diner themed than Mexican street food. Orders are made at a counter, Nandos-style, or at self service machines although I skipped these in favour of talking to a real person - while I like the idea of the machines I'd rather not be reminded of self-service check-outs when having lunch and the people using the machines seemed to be making a right meal of it (ha). Soft drinks are bottomless making for more Nandos comparisons - I tried the lime and chia and the sweet rice milk when I'd usually just have  Diet Coke (I had a few of those two - the bottomless drinks seemed to have a strange effect of making everyone ridiculously thirsty).

The menu is divided into sections - each offering a beef, chicken, fish and veggie option. I opted for a chicken burrito - for £6.25 it was really good value and super tasty, the DF Mexico burritos are much less rice-based then the takeout variety which I appreciated (see above carb rule). We shared some nachos to start and I pinched a few of Sarah's chips although they were not particularly crispy although as chips are not a Mexican specialty I'll let them off. Hannah definitely won the food envy contest with the platter - it looked so good and was a huge portion for around £10. After our mains, our waitress came over to have a chat with us about the food and what we liked and didn't like about the restaurant, she had maybe seen us all snapping pictures of the food and thought we might be keen to chat, which we were! In exchange we got some free ice creams - these are the only dessert offerings and come in three flavours. I'm not a big ice cream fan but the dulce de leche soft serve was really tasty. We were left to chat away for a good few hours and weren't made to feel like we needed to rush out which was really nice. I'll definitely be back to DF - as an added bonus of the ordering system, there's no awkward bill splitting at the end - definite win for any future group meals.

Have you tried either of these restaurants?

Shanghai: Pudong, Jing'an and more

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Back to Shanghai for the remainder of my first week in China. After a morning of dumplings I hopped on the metro to Pudong. The metro in Shanghai is so easy to use - the trains are regular, the tickets are cheap (30p - 50p for a single journey) and everything is in English.

A pineapple-y building!
27 going on 7.

The iPhone panorama camera - pretty cool.
Hopping out the metro I was greeted by some pretty tall buildings! The Pudong area feels very new and is ever-changing as taller and taller buildings spring up. I headed to the waterfront promenade to look at The Bund from this side of the river. The Superbrand Mall and IFC Mall are in this area so I did a spot of window shopping and coffee drinking while waiting for the sun to set.There are a few viewing platforms to pick from - the instantly recognisable Pearl Tower, Jinmao Tower and The World Financial Centre - I opted for the later as the city can be viewed from the top and bottom of the trapezium-shaped cut out. Maybe one to skip if you have a fear of heights - the top level has a glass floor.

Rain was forecast for Friday so I walked up East Nanjing Road, umbrella at the ready heading for Jing'an - an area which most shows a contrast between old and new Shanghai. After browsing the Han City Fashion and Accessories Plaza for a Chanel handbag or two (hint: nothing sold in this bizarre six story indoor market is genuine, despite what the stall holders might try to tell you) I headed for Jing'an Temple, a beautiful retreat from a street full of Western chain stores. Feeling zen-like I took up my guidebook's suggestion of lunch at Vegetarian Lifestyle - another vegetarian restaurant in a city where almost every food has some form of meat in it. After lunch the rain was getting worse so a quick trip to the Jade Buddha Temple felt like enough before the hotel swimming pool beckoned. The temple is beautiful and also features a reclining Buddha (photos cannot be taken of the Jude Buddha itself but there were tourists a-plenty with their selfie sticks in the temple courtyard, bleugh).

Jing'an Temple in the rain.

An escape from the city if you don't look up at the adverts.
After heading to Qibao on Saturday, Sunday was my final day for exploring Shanghai. Despite only being in the city for a week, it felt bittersweet having only one more day - feeling smug that I'd done all the touristy things on my list Sunday lunch Chinese-style (well Taiwanese to be exact) beckoned. Din Tai Fung is an Asian institution - the dim sum has a Michellin star but the restaurants are relaxed and prices reasonable. The xiaolongbao dumplings are so, so good (and you don't need to know how to pronounce them to order them - just point at the picture on the menu). After DTF I hopped back to The Bund and visited the Rockbund Museum. Feeling in need of something arty after skipping the M50 art district on Friday due to the rain Rockbund did not disappoint - the "Breath Walk Die" exhibition was amazing. Performance artists dressed as clowns acted out a "vocabulary of solitude" - occasionally moving and changing positions around the gallery visitors. After dark a final visit to The Bund at night to watch the Pudong skyscrapers light up and a walk down the ever-busy Nanjing Road made for a chilled end to my Shanghai adventures. Next stop (and next post) - Beijing!

Chicken xiaolongbao.
Chopsticks at work.

Steamed vegetable buns.

Prawn-topped dumplings.

Clownin' around.
Goodbye, Shanghai!