Week 1: Tuesday (Colchester)

I bade farewell to Dover this morning after a yummy continental breakfast at my b&b, and, in the lovely heat of the still-young sun, I wheeled my wee carry-on along the cobblestone streets towards the train station. Today was moderately heavy on the travelling end: Dover Priory to London Victoria (£6.65), a tube from Victoria to Liverpool Street (£1.60–I think this “transfer” might be included as part of my next trip, but the trainman at Dover Priory said otherwise, though I might try something similar in the future), London Liverpool Street to Colchester (£5.95). I started at 10:30am, and got to my Colchester hotel at 3:30pm.

Unfortunately, once I got to the hotel, I experienced my first bit of negativity on my trip so far. I’d booked the Globe Hotel because of its reasonable price (£45) and because of its name (yes, I’m a lame Shakespearean), but I didn’t expect the subpar accommodation, the dirty sheets, the creepy bug in the corner of the ceiling, or the rude response I got when I pointed out these things. The wifi doesn’t work in my room (and I’m writing this in the lobby now), there aren’t any facial tissues (not ideal given my awful hayfever right now, but I guess toilet paper will suffice), but by far the worst aspect was when one of the staff curtly told me that I had ordered a standard room, and not a premiere or delux room with better facilities. Given this is marketed as a hotel and bears the prices of lower-end hotels, I expected the basic features of a hotel, including general cleanliness. In fact, I’ve stayed in hostels that were cleaner, friendlier, and better priced than this hotel, and I was just so frustrated and sad that my initial experience of Colchester was to deal with such “petty” things as defending my not wanting someone else’s pubic hair on my bedsheet.

So at 4:15pm, after things had been “sorted” and Colchester Castle was on the verge of closing, I was sad, tired, and indignant, and decided to self-medicate with a hefty dose of Mother Nature. This more or less did the job (though the constant sneezing didn’t really help), and I went for a nice riverside walk, through the Castle Park, and along the Roman walls.

Squirrel! I spoke to this little guy for a good minute or two while I took a kazillion shots.

Squirrel! I spoke to this little guy for a good minute or two while I took a kazillion shots.

Sing all-a-green willow... <3

Sing all-a-green willow… <3

Flowers growing on the Roman walls.

Flowers growing on the Roman walls.

Why Colchester, you (and folks all across England) ask? Well, the town is renowned as the earliest recorded city in Great Britain, going as far back to 20-10 BC. There are indeed many signs of Roman presence here, exciting my little fangirl heart. After living in Belfast for the last three-and-a-bit years, it’s also very strange for me when people respond to my queries and such with English accents–it’s almost as if I’m in England!

The entrance to Colchester Castle (note the blue sky!).

The entrance to Colchester Castle (note the blue sky!).

After my meander, I went on a wild goose chase for dinner, primarily because my map had misinformed me… According to the Interwebz, one of the best eateries in Colchester is an “Asian” place called North Hill Noodle Bar, which turned out to be really delicious. I got the spicy prawn crackers (£2.50), which I couldn’t finish but doggy-bagged, and the mixed seafood crispy noodles (£11.25), which was an absolute delight, especially since I’ve not had crispy noodles since I was about 10. I really enjoyed my meal, and was especially happy with the service–I’d enquired about the wifi, was told it didn’t exist, and was then given the details when the staff returned after having learnt it does indeed exist. I’m now very tempted to return for lunch tomorrow before my 1pm-ish train…

Look at all those prawn crackers!

Look at all those prawn crackers!

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The Humble Tour — Week 1: Saturday (London)

One of the reasons I was determined to be in London this weekend is so I could hang out with the one and only Costy, a super epic friend and fellow fangirl. Since we were meeting in the afternoon, I lounged around again this morning, helped myself to more of my friend’s food, helped with a bit of cleaning (gotta earn my keep!), did some admin, called my parents in Ausland, and ate some of the food I got last night for today’s lunch (£3).

Since Costy and I both enjoy shiny things, we had arranged to go to the Jamie Lloyd Company’s rendition of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus (£28), with Kit Harrington (of Game of Throne‘s Jon Snow fame) in the title role. I found the production very, very bizarre, especially since it was somewhat billed as Marlowe–while it does contain chunks from “Marlowe’s” play (keeping in mind the Renaissance Doctor Faustus exists in two separate versions), it also uses new scenes written by Colin Teevan. While I’m all for adaptations and “updated” productions, this one was so far from the “original Marlowe” that I would’ve much preferred it being a Faustus spin-off entirely rather than attempting to squeeze in Marlowe’s (blank) verse. Nonetheless, Kit Harrington does spend a lot of time shirtless, which is not an unpleasant sight.

Yes, I was wearing a rather geeky shirt. :D

Yes, I was wearing a rather geeky shirt. :D

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Ume Japanese Restaurant

I adore the Sydney restaurant scene for its selection of quality Japanese cuisine, and Ume was no exception. Awarded one hat by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide, the cosy restaurant on Bourke Street provided excellent service, food, and a delightful evening while my friend Alan and I exchanged stories from the past year.

I took this photo in the middle of a zebra crossing, much to Alan's fear of me getting run over.

I took this photo in the middle of a zebra crossing, much to Alan’s fear of me getting run over.

We opted for the 5-course set menu ($74), but I was able to switch my dessert for something chocolatey found on the 7-course menu. Some restaurants get grumpy at such requests and are unwilling to accommodate, so I was extra pleased in this regard. An extra reason to celebrate with my yuzu high ball ($16) and Alan’s Kaku whisky sour ($21)!

Yay Japanese cocktails!

Yay Japanese cocktails!

The first course was a truffle and shiitake mushroom Nagano-style dumpling, which was…amazing. Taste, texture, everything. When we finished ours, we definitely wanted more!

So yummy!

So yummy!

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Sampling the entire menu at est.

After the somewhat disappointing service at Sepia, I was a little apprehensive about visiting est. with my family the following night for dinner. Have my years in Europebigland raised my fine-dining expectations to ridiculous standards? Are my pseudo-serious lamentations about lack of Australian culture and appreciation for fine things grounded in depressing reality? Or have I just become an unjustified snob, despite my working-class-to-bourgeois upbringing?

But from the moment we were greeted by the maître d’hôtel and led to our table, all those questions and anxieties dissipated. Sepia‘s service must’ve been an exception, because yup, est. definitely knows what they’re doing.

Loving the atmosphere!

Loving the atmosphere!

Since there were four of us and the four courses all had four options, it was the perfect opportunity to sample everything on the menu. Each of us decided on our top choices for each course, and bam! Nomfest! Most of the dishes were solid, with a few standouts, and I’ll be commenting on them in the photo captions, while I’ve nabbed the course descriptions from est.‘s website. Unfortunately, I’m a newb when it comes to low-light photography (and photography in general, come to think of it), so these mightn’t all be aesthetically pleasing–but in this case, please don’t judge est. by my amateur point-and-shooting!


Cocktails

gorgeous george: jameson & chivas whisky, grand marnier, dom benedictine, lemon, bitters, shaken together ($22)

Perfect for a whisky-lover!

Perfect for a whisky-lover!

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Crazy lazy lunch at Sepia Sydney

As soon as I had my Sydney dates finalised, the lovely Anika and I started planning an epic meal–one that would require several months’ notice to gather the necessary funds. We decided on the 9-course degustation at Sepia, one of the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide’s three-hatted restaurants, and Vittoria Coffee’s Restaurant of the Year in 2015.

Needless to say, Anika and I were both super excited about our Sepia Friday, and were pretty much ready for a three-hour meal that ended with us rolling down Sussex Street, happily watered and fed. And despite a few disappointments here and there, our overall experience was pretty amazing.

Before I start on the individual food and wine pairings (which were mostly hits, had some misses, and some super duper hits), I want to say that for me, fine-dining is about the entire experience, which includes attentive and knowledge waitstaff, the correct assortment of tableware, and an atmosphere conducive to the holistic enjoyment of dishes and drinks that have been thoughtfully created and presented, and should be consumed with the same level of respect and consideration. Additionally, when I’m forking out a decent amount for such an experience, I expect the restaurant’s quality to be much more than just the food–and unfortunately, I found the service rather lacking. The sommelier was the only person who gave us the impression of being amenable to answering our questions, whereas practically everyone else was quite brusque, impersonal, and  indifferent. I found this very disappointing, and though I tried not to be affected by the service, I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed my meal significantly more had the staff been more pleasant.

Right–onto the food! Sepia was pretty darn good in this aspect, and almost every dish had Anika and me making all sorts of inappropriate noises in public. The restaurant’s Japanese inspirations are quite evident in its emphasis on seafood, which suited us just fine because mmm, seafood… (Also, I feel I should apologise for some of the sub-optimal photos–my seat wasn’t exactly photography-friendly, and I kept trying to avoiding my camera’s shadow.)

For the amuse bouche, we had light and crispy crackers with a delicately seasoned tuna tartare, complemented by seaweed. This was our first gastronomical impression of Sepia, and we were both quite pleased.

Amuse bouche: rice crackers with tuna tartare.

Amuse bouche: rice crackers with tuna tartare.

1: Sashimi of Yellow Fin tuna, Jamon Iberico cream, avocado, baby radish, ponzu, pork crackling.
2004 Crawford River “Reserve”, Riesling. Henty, Australia.

I felt this was the weakest dish of the set. I wasn’t impressed by the quality of the tuna, and the overall flavours just didn’t do anything for me. I’d actually go as far as call it quite bland—the dish was certainly overshadowed by the Riesling, which was delicious.

1: Sashimi of Yellow Fin tuna

1: Sashimi of Yellow Fin tuna

2: Bonito, fried potato, poached quail egg, caviar, roasted chicken powder.
2013 Perticaia, Trebbiano Spoletino. IGT Umbria, Italy.

Whatever reservations I had from the first course were immediately blown out of the water with this beautiful concoction. Anika commented on the quail egg really doing it for her, but for me, I loved the combination of flavours and textures—taking the first bite was a joyous occasion that had me grinning in that dopey foodie fashion.

2: Bonito and co.

2: Bonito and co.

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Cocktails and desserts at Cafe Sydney

Whenever my sister Wendy considers a restaurant, she decides according to what’s available for dessert. And when she saw the words “dessert platter” on Cafe Sydney‘s online menu, we were both sold.

Located on top of the Customs House building right across Circular Quay station, Cafe Sydney has a decent view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a once-familiar sight that now fills me with the touristy urge to retrieve my camera.

The view at twilight.

The view at twilight.

Despite a slight hiccup with the reservation (they’d put us in the system for next Tuesday), we were seated reasonably quickly, and had a drink to start. I went for the cocktail of the month, entitled “Deep Desire” (embarrassingly, I’ve forgotten what’s in it), while Wendy had a homemade ginger beer that was super gingery and delicious.

Yay drinks!

Yay drinks!

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ONE tea lounge & grill: game, set, matcha!

I can’t remember precisely when I first had Japanese green tea (also known as matcha), but I’ve always enjoyed the rich, slightly bitter flavour of the beverage. Better yet, I love green tea-flavoured sweets, desserts, and ice-creams, where the matcha often balances nicely with sugary noms. So when my friend and fellow foodie Ruby told me about ONE tea lounge & grill, a recent Japanese fusion addition to Sydney’s restaurant scene wherein most dishes contain an element of green tea, we both decided to check it out.

The restaurant’s interior is a little too “modern” for my tastes, with the music blasting away a little too loudly, but I’m weird and old-fashioned in that way. After Ruby and I got chatting about noms (and she showed me how to use my camera!), the music and ambience just melded into the background.

Yes, I know, this is what modern establishments are like.

Yes, I know, this is what modern establishments are like.

Om nom nom!

Om nom nom!

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