Monday, June 27, 2016

London 2015 Day 33: The Great ILM Bake Off

London 2015 Day 33: The Great ILM Bake Off

For the last day of this adventure in Scotland and England, I headed in to meet folks at the ILM office for an event called "The Great ILM Bake Off", a riff on a show I've never heard of but is well-known in England ("The Great British Bake Off") and the fact that when you show the VFX at the Oscars short-list competition, it's referred to as a "Bake Off". This particular bake off, although, was about baked goods from the ILM staff!

Last night in my small kitchen I had desperately attempted to create some glorious rosemary shortbread, which basically ended up turning out as a "butter pie".

But first, Dishoom.

Last night the epic people at the epic Indian restaurant, Dishoom, had spotted my mad Facebooking as I was eating their incredible food and offered me a free breakfast coupon. I went back to get it in the morning and it was ugggh sooo good. An Egg Naan Roll, with sweet chili-like sauce. The egg was in a wrap that was similar to the Roomali Rolls from yesterday. So glad I went!

Then, to my surprise, my awesome friend Siobhan got be a birthday gift!!!! So thoughtful!! I skipped lunch in favour of "The Great ILM Bake Off". 10 or so people baked something amazing from home over the long weekend to share with the staff and it was so great. Lots of people came to eat and enjoy, and had a cup of tea along with it, of course!

Rosie's cake was fantastic. Cynthia's Oreo Chocolate truffles were crazy awesome and I had 2. Siobhan's cheesecake brownies.... yes.... (I had 2). Siobhan even graciously tried my "butter pie".... very brave, indeed! She said it wasn't bad, which was a huge compliment (it was, in fact, quite bad). Stu had stayed up until 2am making an incredible Han Solo Carbonite Cake. He was a little sad as "It turned green!" and was supposed to be grey, but was very good and super impressive. I had a lovely afternoon tea and chat with Sue later, and a ginger apple scone which was stellar. More baked goods!!

My awesome new friends, knowing that I love tea so much, presented me with an incredibly thoughtful Fortnum & Mason gift, with a Penguin hat "top hat" tea strainer!!! So incredible. Oh these people are just so lovely.

I walked back to my place via Oxford St... and then I think I stopped a robbery! Seriously!

From my Facebook post on the day of:
I think my hip just stopped a robbery! Was walking down Oxford St, chatting on the phone and carrying a bunch of stuff. Some dude runs full-tilt into my side/hip and I jump, exclaiming "whoa" and then noticing a ton of glass on the ground. Then realize a moment later the glass was caused by me dropping a glass Pyrex platter I was holding under my arm (the dude ran into it).

Dude must have the tripped over the glass (or was surprised by it like I was, as it made a large smash sound when it broke)-- and 2 sec later, two security guards are ON HIM on the ground, shouting at him to "be quiet" and "stay down"!! Insane!

Hung around for a sec as a huge circle of onlookers started forming, decided it wasn't wise to stick around, as who knows what the story was and they definitely had him. Continued my evening stroll home. Well done, hip!
That was SO crazy! Goodbye glass plate! I was gonna leave it at ILM for someone else to use, but I'm glad I didn't, it may have stopped a robbery! That was crazy.

I got back and needed "real dinner" after this entire day of tasty baked goods and crime fighting, so I went to the amazing "Ya Hala" again! Pita, eggplant meze dish, my favourite Hummus Beiruty, and a Pesto Halloumi wrap. And a Ribena and Appletiser on the way home. Goin' all out!

I ate dinner and rallied to pack. So much still to do. Another 1.5 hrs later, I got it all sorted and went to sleep for my last night in London.

Whew, what a trip!! It has been a long trip, but at the same time it felt like it went so quickly. I sure felt like I made the very most of my time here, exploring so many of the amazing places that London had to offer, food, city, parks, and so much more. What a fun place. :)

Sunday, June 26, 2016

London 2015 Day 32: Dishoom

London 2015 Day 32: Dishoom

Today was a holiday but I went in to go use the computers and take care of a bunch of errands, including booking train tickets for the NEXT time I'd be in England... after my sister's wedding later in the year! I stayed for a long while, chatting with Ruggero and WaiKit who were in the office. (Secretly -- though of course at the time of writing up this blog post (6/26/2016) this is well known -- I spent all day researching Jewelery designers in San Francisco and emailing to set up meetings for when I got back to SF, and started finding inspiration designs for the engagement ring I was custom designing for Michal! Notes on that here:

After all day working on the ring design, I headed out in the evening to check out Royal Mile Whiskies once more and get Michal a gift of the Elderflower Gin she loves. I also went back to The Vintage House just to check it out :)

Only £18,000!

Amazing bottles
And then, finally, to the legendary Dishoom indian restaurant in Covent Garden!!!! I had heard SO much about this place and finally had a chance to visit. They said it was a 1 hr 20 min line?! Oof. The people in the front of the line said it was only 45 min... and I figured I'd just give it a shot. I was so glad that I did. Turns out this was actually only the line to get into the bar, and then you'd have to wait even longer once you got inside?!?! What a popular spot. I had a secret weapon though... I was dining just by myself, so I figured it might be faster. "Sir, you were told it would be 1 hr 20 min? A table just opened up, you have only waited 33 minutes. Would you like it?" Um... YUP!!!!!!!!!!!!

I am so glad I went and braved the line. It was such an epic spot. "Life-changing curry!!!" I just went with exactly what the waiter suggested. I was so excited about the food I was prolifically Facebook posting every single thing and ranting and raving about each item as it arrived. (Posting thanks to their hilariously-named WiFi network, "ChaiFi"! haha, win.)

First up was a Mango and Fennel Lassi. At first sip I though, oh, this food is gonna ROCK. The Lassi itself was nothing out of the ordinary, good, and a little different with the fennel seeds.

Next up was Keema Pau - a spiced lamb with peas, served on a "Pau" bun (a little bit like a "Bao"). It was very tasty. So well spiced, and I forgot that it was lamb at first! It was not too spicy, just right, and the Lime squeezed on there was an excellent addition, adding a nice tang. The buns were for dipping and were very good, and I was definitely grateful for the fork and spoon to help!

And then, the piece-de-resistance... the Chicken Ruby. O. M. G.... you guys. This was NUTS. I got Roomali Roti to go with it, chewy and soft, yes also stretchy and stable for grabbing and wrapping a piece of epic chicken and dipping in the BEST SAUCE OF ALL TIME. This photo hardly does this justice. This was earth-shatteringly awesome.

They was by and far the BEST curry I have *ever* tried. Somewhat like a Chicken Tikka Masala but a little sweeter, spicier, more interesting and exotic flavouring. A sea of flavour! It was so surprising, with every single bite a different experience. Roomali Rolls were also an excellent suggestion, the chewiness mixed with the incredible sauce was just completely out of this world. This was the best.

Some jerk had said that I should skip Dishoom cause it was overrated, "Go to Brick Lane, it's better"... yeah right. I sincerely doubt it. This place was actually perfect. Even their "standard" sauces (the ones you tend to get at the start of an Indian meal) had a really amazing twist to them. The Tamarind was not overly sweet like usual, and had a spicier finish. The mint sauce also was more subtle than what a restaurant usually serves you, with a better and less chunky texture. Not as "minty" as I've had before. This particular sauce is usually a bit overpowering, but this specific remix of it was not. The 3rd one was some sort of Chutney. Good, but not epic. This made me laugh, the same as any Indian place I feel like I've ever been to, I usually just like Sauces #1 and #2 and not #3. :)

From my Facebook post that night: "This was by and far the best damn curry I've ever had. Chicken Ruby, as I told my excellent waiter, Nazmul, was "life changing curry". Like tikka masala but so so so different and an explosion of awesome. With wraps that tasted like pure magic. I also had another one which was ground lamb and peas, served with buns-- a ridiculously epic flavour. Ugggghh. Definitely ordering desert."

As I was eating and enjoying the heck out of this meal, I was Social Networking like a madman, taking photos and posting them and waxing poetically about this life-changing curry. I struck up a conversation with a waiter and he gave me futher great recommendations for dessert."Would you like dessert?"... "Um.... YUPPPP!" I got the House Chai, which was spice and good. Again, not overly sweet like it often is. I also got a fun dessert called "Memsahib's Mess", Dishoom's play on the famous English dessert "Eton Mess". Yes!!! It was strawberries and cream, with crushed meringue and rose syrup... oh mercy me this was all amazing.

The dessert was the sweetest part of the meal (as it ought to be!) Much different than the usual Indian restaurant experience, on all counts. The dessert was amazing, very smooth, not overly rich, and a very nice and good balance with the spicy/not sweet chai.

I continued to take photos of everything like a true Millennial (I guess I still count as one of those?!) and at some point a manager came over to introduce herself. She was very friendly and pitched for me to encourage the entire office to come here for an event (I tell you, that's a very easy sell!) When I said I was leaving the country soon, she said, "Oh, you can't come to Dishoom and not try the breakfast!" and she presented me with a Free Breakfast Card for an Egg Naan Roll!!!! OMG!!!! Could this day get any better!!

From my Facebook post that night:
"And to top it off-- epic crushed meringue and strawberry and rose. Ughghh. And house chai. Then told the manager this place is life changing, and got a frickin free breakfast card! OMG"

Tomorrow is technically the last day I can do that, so I guess I'm coming back tomorrow for breakfast! Done! I was full and could not possibly be more satisfied.

Even as I was leaving, the line looked just as long as it was when I arrived. What an amazing place. Highly, highly recommended.

After a big dinner I wanted to take a long walk home. I walked on Park Lane (fancy) to a hotel called The Athenaeum. It was recommended in some articles as a good whisky bar in the city and so I figured I'd check it out. In the image of the place it seemed like the might have the old (pre-bottle design change) Glenmorangie Burgundy Cask... but alas they did not. The dude was actually not super knowledgeable about Whisky... I suppose I have been more than spoiled on this trip, given all the amazing whisky spots I have been to! They did have lots of selection, although. I tried the standard Linkwood, after such an astounding performance of the Linkwood special cask at the SoHo Whisky was pretty good! Chill, pretty soft flavour, not offensive in any way but not overly interesting. A fun little aside though to go to this bar on the way back. Some janked dude across the way in the bar was hitting on the waitress (sortof?) and failing miserably. Weird. The dude seemed to want to yap with someone, but, yeah... seemed an awkward situation at best. Defintely not getting sucked into this conversation! I'm out!

Home from here and it was 10:51pm... gotta pack and (try) to make Rosemary Lemon Zest short bread for "The Great ILM Bake Off" baked good event we were going to have the next day.

(Comments courtesy of my Facebook wall posts that night)

And so begins my attempt to make lemon Rosemary shortbread for peeps at work, instead of packing up my apartment

Instruction 1: in the stand mixer... Let me stop you there.

Instruction 2: mix together 3/4 cup... Uh... That looks about right

Update: butter and sugar are everywhere 
crud. It looks like a pie. A butter pie! Wish me luck...

Things that I now know, from personal experience, that are most often underestimated in complexity:

1) Software Engineering
2) Filmmaking
3) Attempting to bake anything in a kitchen that is not your own without measuring instruments, in a foreign country, with flour, butter, and sugar brands you've never heard of.

I hope I don't poison my colleagues,
Mike :)

Sweet glory of glories-- this may have actually worked

Looks golden brown-enough to me! Smells right... If this crumbles or tastes bad, I can always cover it in heavy cream right?!

My Mom then commented "You made this WITHOUT Michal's help!" and I replied "I know, I am crazy!"

Haha so this was quite an experience. I had attempted to make shortbread but I had instead made a pie. A butter pie! I left it in the oven a bit longer, trying to firm it up... it looks... OK. Hopefully not TOO terrible tomorrow.

Then, at midnight, I rallied and packed most of my stuff. Lots of delicate things and whisky bottles, so it took a while. Nice that most of my clothes were already clean and folded!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

London 2015 Day 31: Hampstead Heath, Boris Biking in the Rain & Tea

London 2015 Day 31: Hampstead Heath, Boris Biking in the Rain & Tea

A little slower start again today after so much walking yesterday. My "chill" weekend was a sort of "do MOST of the things" rather than "do ALL the things"...

The day started with some research about where a good Tea house was in London. I'd already been to the magnificent Savoy for tea so I wanted a more kitchen-y/homey kinda place to get a different experience. After looking through some Yelp and other reviews for "Best Tea in London" spots, I found one called The Tea Rooms in Stoke Newington... "that's sortof North London, right?!" I was already planning to go to Hampstead Heath today so figured this was maybe... close enough? I called and booked a reservation only to realize it was an extra hour of transit to get there and back. Whatevs. That's what weekends are for!

Up I bussed to Hampstead Heath. A quick flat white to get my energy up for a walk, and off I went, in awe. "I just found the best part of London!" I said to myself as I was walking into the magnificent tree-canopy entrance to Hampstead Heath off of Well Walk. Definitely felt as if I had just transported myself to Berkeley as I was walking through the entrance.

Glorious!! The bright green trees and beautiful pathways sure were a sight to see and experience. I even got a whiff of the past -- thistles?! There was some smell in there that very clearly reminded me of my youth in Oxford. Crazy. Countryside, glorious countryside!! I couldn't believe this unbelievable Secret Garden of a place was only 4 miles from downtown London. A total win. Just incredible. I wandered for a few hours throughout the (many!) pathways.

From there I made my way to a place called Kenwood House where there was a lake to sit at. I sat for a while and made a "buddy" (a funny bird, who seemed to be walking around a lot and having a good time).

The hilarious bird adventures continued. I walked closer to the lake and found another insane looking bird, who I called the "miserable bastard" bird. He was wandering back and forth, head down and sulking, hanging his head, with this sour look on his face. Any time another bird would be anywhere near him, he would hop over one part of the gate and start chasing the other birds! "What a miserable bird!!"

Intro to: Miserable Bastard

Uh oh, he's... looking right at me...

Miserable Bastard seemed unfazed that there were some adorable small ducks near him

Grumbling to himself

Now he's feeling sorry for himself. (This is the gate he would jump through to go chase other birds, he did it several times!)

Miserable Bastard being anti-social. Look at the young duck trying to say Hi!

Sulking away, in a really bad mood
After laughing at the absurdity of the ridiculous duck in a ridiculously bad mood, I headed off to continue walking for a while. I found the "pools" -- outdoor public pools that were separated by gender ("Men only") so old school! I think these have been there for a very long time. It was sortof like a lake with a cordoned off area to swim between.

From here I went to Parliament Hill, to see big landscape views of the city. A nice spot to chill for a bit, as many other Londoners were doing.

I caught up with my parents about 2:30 as I was walking through Primrose Hill. This was a fancy area (if I was in Berkeley before, now I'm in SF!) Fancy food spots, little pet stores, a bit "Noe Valley". The Primrose Hill park was kinda nice but after the majesty of Hampstead Heath I kept walking. Plus, it was most definitely time for an ice cream. It was 2:30 and I hadn't had breakfast or lunch yet? Kinda nuts... I gotta work down the 10 slices of Pizza I had on Friday, but this is nuts! After a quick ice cream to tide me over, I needed a break.

My legs and hips were gonna fall off after 3 hours of walking straight-up. So, I got a Santander "Boris" Bike rental, finally!!! Fun!!!! Very good! It is an excellent system, and very easy to use. A good "luggage spot" in the front as well to carry whatever you've got around your shoulder.

I biked through Regent's Park (some of it), but a lot was not bikeable. Nice to see a bit of it though as I hadn't had a chance to get there yet. The bikes are timed so you are charged a certain amount for <30 and="" for="" min="" more="">30 min. So I did a "drop and swap", dropping off the bike at one location and then hoping to pick up another one. As it turns out, you need to wait 5 min before picking up a new bike. Of course, since this is England, while I was waiting to get my new bike, it started raining.

And it rained more... and more... and more...

I mapped it and found out it was about 30 min bike ride to the tea shop, can I do it?? "This is so much better than walking", I thought, but... the rain! I didn't have a rain jacket (wasn't it supposed to be sunny today?!). I biked in the bike lane for a bit ("Oh, HERE it is...") but then decided to give up and take the bus when it started to rain further. Too crazy.

I dropped off the bike right as a group of three people were scrambling to pick up bikes in the rain. But there were only 2 bikes at their pickup spot so they were looking around trying to figure out what to do. They were so psyched I was dropping mine off ("Thanks, mate!") and the three of them headed off. I had dropped it at Kings Cross/St. Pancras Station, and managed to get RIGHT onto my bus, directly to Stoke Newington! Yes! Insanely, it was still a 40 min bus ride from there? I had chosen the farthest possible Tea room in London, it would seem. Well, the adventure continues.

I got to The Tea Rooms and my table was ready, which was great. It was exactly as I was hoping, a very "homely" atmosphere, as the internet had suggested. I picked Earl Grey and drank 2 pots-worth! I was so damp and hungry, and mowed through the sandwiches... rahhhrrrm! This was kindof like yesterday, nothing to eat until 4pm! Crazy man! Too busy doing all the things.

This experience was nice and relaxing, tasty sandwiches. The scones were well made and I had a normal scone and a "fruit" scone (raisin). The best part was the homemade raspberry jam, which tasted like fresh pie filling!! The clotted cream also was awesome. More tea to make room... and then the 3 desserts were all VERY nice.

First up was a Victoria Sponge, finally I got to try it! It seemed like everyone kept talking about this cake and it was a very classic British cake, so I was glad to finally try it. In the cake there was the same jam as the homemeade one... yes! The second dessert was an almond muffin/cake with very unexpected icing -- it was not overly sweet though, which was a pleasant change and which rocked. The last one was a banana chocolate square, also just excellent! Also, surprisingly, not overly sweet. Lots of warm tea and a great afternoon break, I left very satisfied and pleased with my choice to schlep all the way out to Stoke Newington in the rain. Given the vibe of the tea house, I figured the Stoke Newington high street would make for a nice quaint, cute stroll... nope. It was kinda meh, so I ditched and just decided to bus back home, to St. Pauls and then Central Line alllll the way home. Whew. I got home around 6:30pm, a long day! A really long day, again actually (do all the things).

First some relaxing, emails a bit, shower and laundry, and then eating the leftover food from Harrod's. I chilled for a while, and then went to get groceries to make shortbread for our event on Tuesday, "The Great ILM Bake Off" (based on a British baking show I've never seen called "The Great British Bake Off").

While I was out, I stopped at Ya-Hala, my favourite local hummus spot for "The Usual" -- Mixed Grill Schwarma and Hummus Beiruty. So fast and SO good!!!

Tonight I finished laundry, and had to start prepping to leave London. Crazy stuff, time flies! My Ya-Hala dinner paired very well with my Vanity Fair Star Wars article magazine reading.

Tomorrow is a holiday but I might still go into SoHo area so I can take care of some stuff with a real computer and not just my iPad. I'm also planning to go to Dishoom in Covent Garden, and back to the SoHo Whisky Shop (The Vintage House) again to wander. Then hoping to get back to Fortnum & Mason. Then pack and get ready to roll. If I'm actually relaxed and packed tomorrow night, maybe I'll go and see Mad Max or Tomorrowland at the Cinema.