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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Best of 2015 – Top Five-ish (books, films, TV, shows, meals, and moments)

Now that I’m firmly in 2016, I can finalise my “Best of 2015” list—and I’m glad I waited, because there were some wonderful last-minute additions! Here are some of my favourite books, films, TV shows, shows, meals, and moments from 2015:

Books

Since I only read 37 “funfunfun” (i.e. non-academic/work-related) books this year, it wasn’t too difficult to choose my top five. I’m particularly glad I did my three reading challenges, because I wouldn’t have discovered some of these otherwise! I’ve included the “overall” reason I’ve picked these books, but do please click on the titles to read the full “review”. These are listed alphabetically, because I’m indecisive enough as is. ;)

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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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Brunch at Bitton

My main reason for being in Sydney was to be a bilingual Mistress of Ceremony at my good friend Yang Yang’s wedding. A week before the big day, while her now-husband Ben was recovering from his bucks’, Yang and I had brunch at her favourite local cafe and bistro, Bitton, where we finally did some much-needed catching-up.

It was a pretty busy morning, but the staff were very efficient, returning to our table several times to take our order—as super regulars (regular supers? Super supers?), Yang and Ben usually order within seconds, while the indecisive little me sat there for quite a while longer, poring over the menu with more intensity than I approach my Shakespearean readings.

Tea itself was a difficult choice, because tea! I went for the Chai High Spice ($4.50), and the aroma itself made me super duper happy. Yang could smell it too, and she ended up getting some herself after her coffee (uh, we were there for quite a while).

Tea, glorious tea!

Tea, glorious tea!

Yang went for an eggs Benedictine with poached eggs, bacon, spinach, potato Rosti, and Hollandaise sauce ($19). This usually comes with smoked salmon, but Yang made a face at smoked salmon (whhhyyyyyy?!), and had bacon with it instead (okay, I forgive you, Yang).

Eggs Benedictine.

Eggs Benedictine.

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The chocolatey Choc Pot

Since my previous stint in Sydney, the Interchange above Chatswood Station has exploded into existence, and now houses a whole bunch of shops and eateries. Amongst these is The Choc Pot, which belongs to a growing number of independent chocolate cafes dotted throughout Sydney. When Anika and I realised we’d both be in Chatswood one afternoon, we decided to check out the cafe for a bit of chocolatey indulgence.

Now, I know there’s a huge variety of preferences when it comes to chocolate, and some of these change with time. When I was (much, much) younger, I adored white chocolate, and refused to touch anything beyond a very milky milk chocolate. These days, I’m the complete opposite: I love the darkest of dark chocolates (the bitterer the better!), and tend to avoid even milk chocolates (except in moments of desperation when I stop discriminating and would happily eat everything). Since I have such a strong preference for dark chocolate, I’m always a little hesitant to try out new chocolate cafes and shops in case I find them lacking in cacao and overloaded with sugar.

Unfortunately, I found The Choc Pot much too sweet for me. When Anika’s red velvet hot chocolate ($6.50) was served, I could immediately smell the accompanying sweetness. She enjoyed it, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be a fan. Meanwhile, I opted for a berries and orange black tea ($5), which turned out to be the perfect accompaniment for the noms.

According to Anika, this was pretty much red velvety.

According to Anika, this was pretty much red velvety.

We got the signature dish, aptly named “The Choc Pot” ($12), which is a molten chocolate concoction containing brownie-like bits. And yes, we opted for additional ice-cream ($2.50), because yay ice-cream! I thought the Choc Pot itself to be a little above average–sure, it had the chocolate as promised, but it was…nothing extraordinary. I would’ve preferred something richer, or perhaps less sweet, but alas. Anika liked it though, further illustrating that chocolate does indeed get very, very personal. ;)

The signature Choc Pot, with ice-cream and a juicy strawberry.

The signature Choc Pot, with ice-cream and a juicy strawberry.

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A Chinese feast at Oriental Jewel

My parents can be quite particular about Cantonese-Chinese cuisine, which, for me, comes with the advantage of dining with them at all the super yummy Chinese restaurants. Since they’re regulars of Oriental Jewel, to which I’m also quite partial, some of the dishes were complements of the chef, and not on the menu. I’ve also no idea how much the entire meal was supposed to cost, but I do have lots of photos and thoughts on the deliciousness!

But first, some decor! I’ve always loved the Chinese theme–some of it might seem a tad kitsch or overdone, but I just love the lantern lights and the bamboo steamers.

Yay for getting there early enough to take photos of tables, not random strangers!

Yay for getting there early enough to take photos of tables, not random strangers!

Yay bamboo steamers!

Yay massive bamboo steamers!

One of the restaurant’s signature dishes is an epic Cantonese double-boiled winter melon soup, which is made to order with prior notice, and, to my knowledge, is a rarity amongst Cantonese-Chinese restaurants in Sydney.

Amazing soup!

Amazing soup!

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An excellent evening of food and drink at Tapavino

The crowded, warm, and cheery Tapavino, tucked away in one of Sydney’s side streets was the perfect place to catch-up with a high school friend on a rainy and wintery (by Sydney standards) evening. My friend Tracy chose the place, and golly, I was so glad she did, because everything about it was amazing!

Firstly, I loved the bustling atmosphere–Tapavino‘s one of those places where you need to cosy up with your company and raise your voice to be heard, but you’re happy to do so because of the positive energy and good cheer surrounding you. It’s where you’d go to meet an old friend, with whom you can talk about everything and nothing, or perhaps spend a hearty evening in the comfortable company of a loved one. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Tapavino reminded me of the well-loved bars in Europe, where the delicious food and wine form just the beginning of a great evening.

The bustling bar.

The bustling bar.

More loveliness!

So much loveliness!

I realised that evening I’d never had white sangria before, so Tracy and I got a glass each—it was fruity, fresh, and simply delightful!

I think I've been spoilt for white sangria now...

I think I’ve been spoilt for white sangria now…

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Ramen and other goodies at Ippudo

As my Londoner and fellow-Aussie-expat friend Ardo put it, we must always do the noodle rounds when in Sydney. I couldn’t agree more, so we decided to hit Ippudo, a reliable international chain that satisfied my ramen cravings for the day (and then some). The closest branch for the both of us was Macquarie, which has a limited but solid selection of goodies.

Ardo went for the Karaka Men set, which came with karaage chicken and a mini salad ($20). The Karaka Men contains Ippudo‘s original tonkotsu (pork bone) broth with spicy miso and ground pork. It had been about a year since I’d had the beautifully deep-fried karaage chicken, and aaaaahhhhh…!

THIS CHICKEN.

THIS CHICKEN.

They had a student deal available to everyone in the whole entire world, so when I showed them my QUB card, I got a complementary choice of side, and went for the wee pork bun.

Deliciousness!

Deliciousness!

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Golden Lotus’s Vegan Ubernoms (featuring David Ma’s photography)

Yes, “ubernoms” is totally a word–and also a totally apt term for the food at Golden Lotus, a Vietnamese vegan restaurant situated in the vegan-friendly (and gelato-studded) Newtown. I had the pleasure of hitting both the restaurant and a nearby gelateria with a group of vegan and omnomnivore friends in Sydney, including blogger and (superior) photographer David Ma, who has provided all the photos in this post.

Lillian here is pouring tea very gracefully.

Lillian here is pouring tea very gracefully.

We all flipped through the menu and chose a dish each to share, as you do. And what better than to start with some moreish rice paper tofu rolls ($5.80 each)?

Some lovely rice paper rolls.

Some lovely rice paper rolls.

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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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