Park Güell by Antoni Gaudí - Mosaic masterpiece

A ticket to sun, sea, and insanely delicious food!

My first encounter with Barcelona began when I was backpacking through Europe. I only stayed for 36 hours in this amazing city. And to appreciate it fully, trust me, you need more than 36 hours.

This time, my second encounter with Barcelona involved the insatiable food scene, the beautiful architecture, and the urban beaches after long days of walking around the medieval backstreets.

This is my declaration of love for this charming Spanish city. 🙂

Food

One of the best things to do when you want to observe the local life in Barcelona is to shop at the various food markets. I made sure that Mercat de la Boqueria was on my list of things to do. This was Barcelona’s most central produce market, where there were many stalls of fresh exotic fruits, vegetables, sea critters, sausages, cheese, and meat on display.

Central Market in Barcelona

A tapas joint at Mercat de la Boqueria

I saw housewives trekking in with their mission to bargain down prices with the local seafood vendors, construction works picking out the fresh jamon to have on their cigarette break, and little kids circling the sweets counter asking their grandparents to buy them another super-sized lollipop. The street scenes just unfolded before my eyes.

Mercat de la Boqueria

Taking in the sounds and smell at Mercat de la Boqueria

Mercat de la Boqueria

My favourite – super large king prawns

20130705_111644

For those gelato lovers, this is for you. I found Gocce di Latte, which according to a friend, produced the best gelato in the city. My taste buds absolutely agreed.

Gocce di Latte Gelato

Gocce di Latte Gelato – so many flavours!

For the best ice cream in the city, make sure to head down to Vioko. It was conveniently located near the city beach, many teenagers and kids from the neighbourhood came here to queue and select their favourite flavours, ranging from pina colada to lychee. They also have a great selection of arty chocolate truffles and macaroons. Definitely not to be missed!

Decorated chocolate truffles at Vioko

Decorated chocolate truffles at Vioko

After a morning of venturing around the city, lunch was finally served! Cafe Delfin was one of the best paella restaurants I have tried here. The portions were generous and the seafood was very fresh!

Paella at Cafe Delfin

Paella at Cafe Delfin

One could not leave Barcelona without trying the local specialty – the Catalan bread with tomatoes smeared on top and a dollop of fresh virgin olive oil.

Catalan bread with tomatoes

Catalan bread with tomatoes

By dinner time, which by the way only started around 8pm in Barcelona, I stopped by El Cangrejo Loco, which means “the Crazy Crab”, a popular seafood spot near the Olympic port. The view of the restaurant in the early sunset towards the yacht lined port created a beautiful backdrop in addition to the delicious seafood feast.

el cangrejo loco barcelona

The outdoor seating area at El Cangrejo Loco

El Cangrejo Loco in Barcelona

El Cangrejo Loco – The Crazy Crab

Trying to tuck in to the delicious seafood :)

Trying to tuck in to the delicious seafood 🙂

Architecture

La Pedrera, one of Gaudi’s masterpieces, was only about 15 minutes walk from where I was staying. This was a residential building he created in the early 1900s. To be honest, the design is radical and bizarre even by today’s standards.

La Pedrera - Casa Milà by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí

La Pedrera – Casa Milà by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí

During summertime in the evenings, one of the most romantic things to do in Barcelona was to enjoy jazz music on the rooftop of La Pedrera with the beautiful sculpted chimneys lit up by the night lights. Magical.

Chimneys on the La Pedrera roof top

Chimneys on the La Pedrera roof top – cool eh?

Park Güell offered one of the best views of Barcelona from the hill top. Which by the way, was a great exercise to burn off all the paella and catalan bread I have been eating. The mosaic tiles were the key highlights of this park. To approach the main square, there were vaults made of local stone which integrated seamlessly into the landscape.

Park Güell by Antoni Gaudí - mosaic masterpiece

Park Güell by Antoni Gaudí – mosaic masterpiece

Park Güell

The supporting beam carved from local stone in one of the vaults

The supporting beam carved from local stone in one of the vaults

Gaudí's multicolored mosaic salamander

Gaudí’s multicolored mosaic salamander

Sun, Beach, and the Ocean

I love the ocean but yet I love living in a city life. I was absolutely convinced that Barcelona couldn’t get any better than this. Near the Barcelona Port, I booked a catamaran trip out into the ocean. This type of sailing trip is popular with sun-seekers, particularly around mid-day when the sun is at its peak. I just loved the feeling of the wind in my hair, and there is nothing else between the ocean and I except the netting I was sitting on.

Out in the sea

Out in the sea

Sailing in Barcelona

Deck hands getting the sails ready to go!

Sun-seekers on the catamaran

Sun-seekers on the catamaran

This was an awesome end to the trip. And as the catamaran sailed closer to the shore, I made a promise to myself that Barcelona will be my third home from home behind New York and London. Besides, it was only 2hr30 from London’s Gatwick airport with ridiculously cheap transport into the city (5.90 euros). Perfect for a long weekend getaway. ❤

Strawberries and Cream – My Wimbledon Experience

Every year, over 100,000 visitors arrive at Wimbledon to witness what is one of the oldest and most prestigious tennis championships in the world. Since I moved to London, I developed a passion in tennis as I watched the tournaments with top seeds such as Federer, Nadal, Roddick, Murray, Williams sisters, Sharapova battling out for the grand slam titles.

wimbledon_championships2013

Wimbledon Championships 2013

I always wondered what is the atmosphere like live at the games and imagined myself playing on the courts one day, in front of the cheering crowds of thousands.

This year, I decided that I want to be there, and my wishes were granted when I was able to secure two tickets at Centre Court, the main court of the Championship. The tickets will also allow entry to the grounds, which usually require a separate ticket, as well as Courts 3-19. Court 1 and 2 will require specific tickets individually.

With a nick name of “lawn tennis”, Wimbledon will forever be the only tennis major championship still played on grass, the original playing surface of the courts. It had a list of strict rules for its competitors, the most important of which was that all players must wear white colours.

Wimbledon Tennis Court 16

Wimbledon Tennis Court 16

One of the tips given by another friend who visited Wimbledon every year, it is best to visit the practice courts first where you will catch the likes of Andy Murray, Serena Williams practicing ahead of their games. Then, grab your chance to get those autographs you always wanted. Handy tip indeed!

Random fact: did you know that the Slazenger tennis balls used at Wimbledon traveled over 50,000 miles around the world from factories in Philippines before they land in the hands of these famous tennis players?

Just one of these interesting facts I learned while walking around the Wimbledon official shop on the tennis grounds. Alternatively, other visitors queued up outside Centre Court to buy used tennis balls from previous championships for £1 each, for £2 extra, you can buy the official unopened tennis balls from the current championship.

Where were the pigeons? With a natural dislike of pigeons, (coming from the common New Yorker instinct that they are “rats in cuter outfits”), I happily found out that Wimbledon is a pigeon free zone. Thank goodness!

Wimbledon Tennis Grounds

Wimbledon Tennis Grounds – Outside of Court 1

Wimbledon Tennis Grounds

Wimbledon Tennis Grounds

The atmosphere on the courts and off the courts were equally incredible. At one point, two passionate Australian supporters started chanting across various points within the courts and the crowds replied with laughter and enthusiasm.

Overall, it was a wonderful day out and a sneak peek into the traditional Wimbledon tennis grounds where many of the top names in tennis battled out for the Grand Slam title over the years. If you are ever planning to be London for this exciting time, make sure you plan ahead and grab your tickets early as the prices sky-rocket a few weeks ahead of the games!

Taste of London and the British Summer

Taste_London_LogoLondon has one of the best dining scenes in the world. Given its international backdrop, the competition remains fierce for the “best of….” categories.

Taste of London, the pop-up restaurant festival with its 10 years history, kicked off on Friday 21 June in Regent’s Park. After having a great experience in 2012, I booked a VIP ticket to experience 40 of the best restaurants in London showcasing their finest dishes.

20130622_173317

Some of the Head Chefs giving a description of their best dishes on the menu for the day. Spot the New Yorker on the left from the Graffiti Restaurant

The British Airways height cuisine experience - I wish the A380 was really this wide
The British Airways height cuisine experience – I wished the A380 was really this wide

The BA height cuisine experience showcased its First Class cuisine on its Hong Kong route. Something to look forward to in the next year? We’ll see.

20130622_174520

The first course - tiger prawns with watermelon cubes and a teriyaki sauce rice ball

The first course – tiger prawns with watermelon cubes and a teriyaki sauce rice ball

Dessert of strawberry filling cheese cake with mint jelly

Dessert of strawberry filling cheese cake with mint jelly

Next, bring on the restaurant menus! Some of my favourite dishes below from the various places:

The first dish of the day is dah dah "Iberico pork and foie gras burger with manchego and guindella"

The first dish of the day was the Iberico pork and foie gras burger with manchego and guindella from Opera Tavern

Bloggers recommended this dish - Spicy ox cheek donut from Duck and Waffle - Delicious!

Bloggers recommended this dish – Spicy ox cheek donut from Duck and Waffle – Delicious!

Mangos, mango ice cream, mango juice, mango everything.

Mangos, mango ice cream, mango juice, mango everything.

Voted best dish of the festival - ceviche of hand-dived scallops with black quinoa, creme fraiche, radishes, fennel & dill

Voted best dish of the festival – ceviche of hand-dived scallops with black quinoa, creme fraiche, radishes, fennel & dill

Spice Market - pork belly steamed bun, sriracha, thai basil and mint

Spice Market – pork belly steamed bun, sriracha, thai basil and mint

Maze Restaurant - Salt and pepper squid and braised beef featherblade, picked shimeji & togarashi spice

Maze Restaurant – Salt and pepper squid and braised beef featherblade, picked shimeji & togarashi spice

I couldn’t believe this. £15 for 3 courses tasting experience in the pop-up Gauthier restaurant with table service. We even met Gauthier afterwards to congratulate him on a great menu.

Gauthier dining experience 1 - Dressed crab salad

Gauthier dining experience 1 – Dressed crab salad

Gauthier dining experience 2 - Slow cooked middle neck of lamb, red quinoa, asparagus and apricot, thyme infused lamb jus

Gauthier dining experience 2 – Slow cooked middle neck of lamb, red quinoa, asparagus and apricot, thyme infused lamb jus

After all that eating, a moment of rest in the VIP lounge with a glass of champagne and my Taste of London recipe book.

20130622_193709

I watched the Roux chef family in action in the Electrolux Taste Theatre – three generations of Roux, Michel Jnr, Albert and Emily on one stage!

20130622_192737

Despite the weather being somewhat mixed, (as expected in the usual British fashion!), fellow foodies with their discerning palates ran around the festival to try the popular dishes du jour of the various restaurants. This definitely felt like the London fashion week equivalent for the foodie community!

I am now hooked on Gauthier Soho and you will all hear from me about his experiential tasting menu in weeks to come!

Next week, bring on Wimbledon centre court!

Day out in Notting Hill and Electric Cinema

I love movies. I love them so much that I signed up for the Cineworld £14.99/month deal to watch as many movies as I want.

But cinemas are so modernised these days that we forget about the traditional cinema experiences.

Enter Electric Cinema. Given the status as the oldest working Cinema in the country, it has been around since 1910. The facade has an Edwardian Baroque style, with the most comfortable seats and even beds!

Check out those comfortable beds in front of my seat!

Check out those comfortable beds in front of my seat!

We booked a special viewing of The Great Gatsby, served with afternoon tea and sandwiches. The majority of the audiences dressed in their 1920s Sunday best. The atmosphere was unbelievably chic and nostalgic. If I felt cold, there were wool blankets in the stools to wrap up, they really have thought of everything!

20130525_172907

Each seat had a little lamp and gift bags!

Each seat had a little lamp and gift bags!

To make a day out of it, we made sure to linger in the near by Portobello Market, browsing through the antiques and sneaking into boutique cupcake shops along the way.

Portobello Market

Portobello Market

I found some nice magnets for the fridge back home. Clearly, I was not antique shopping.

20130525_165057

This man was singing “English Man in New York” with such conviction and such a lovely voice. I couldn’t help but linger and listen.

20130525_164509

On the way back from Portobello Road, I felt in awe of the beautiful buildings in this area of town. Having lived in a newly built area of London, I sometime wished that I can live in an old Victorian house one day, despite the banging radiators and creaky floors.

20130525_162401

20130525_162910

Cambio de Tercio – Best Spanish in London

Recently for my birthday, I was treated to an amazing day which started with lunch at Spanish tapas restaurant Cambio de Tercio.

Rafael Nadal is a frequent customer here whenever he plays at Wimbledon with his mentor uncle Toni. Perhaps this provided him with the ammo required to overcome Roger Federer in that epic Wimbledon final some years ago now? Owner Abel Lusa is certainly a man who cares about all his customers, regular or not. To be honest, after our pleasant conversation about Valencia (currently my favourite Spanish city), the bull fights and the wines, I am already looking forward to returning again and becoming a regular at this fine establishment.

To kick things off, we went for three “starters” – hard given everything sounded so delicious! Fortunately, the waitress came to our rescue and recommended a few of her favourites (can’t go wrong with those!) and left some of the best olives I have tasted on the table, to get ourselves warmed up for this theatre of food we were about to experience. We also ordered one of the more flavoursome Riojas on the menu – food of this quality must always be accompanied by a wine of equal magnitude!

“8 hours” baked tomatoes in sweet Oloroso, Marconi cheese & basil salad

“8 hours” baked tomatoes in sweet Oloroso, Marconi cheese & basil salad

The tomatoes looked amazing and it tasted like no tomatoes I HAVE EVER tried before. Every little bit was like heaven, a MUST have dish.

Char grill Galician Octopus, potato parmentier, paprika oil

Char grill Galician Octopus, potato parmentier, paprika oil

I swear, every dish at this place is a work of art!

Crispy Serrano ham Croquettes, thyme and tomato sauce

Crispy Serrano ham Croquettes, thyme and tomato sauce

Next, on to the mains:

Veal cheek deconstructed burger, glass fries

Veal cheek deconstructed burger, glass fries

The chips had the crispy glass feel as you bite into them, but also soft on the inside, something I have yet to find in restaurants! The veal cheek burger just melted and was extremely tender.

Griddled supreme of Hake with Catalonian baby squid and light Ali oli “fideua”

Griddled supreme of Hake with Catalonian baby squid and light Ali oli “fideua”

The magic of this dish was in the seafood broth and the perfectly cooked Hake.

Of course, I can never resist the dessert!

White choclate ganache, pistachio, passion fruit, ginger ice cream

White choclate ganache, pistachio, passion fruit, ginger ice cream

Refreshing was the word that came to mind when I first tried this dish. The tangy passion fruit balanced the flavours of the sweet chocolate, and the pistachio added that needed texture.

At this point, Abel, the owner, came to us with a huge smile and offered us another dessert, on the HOUSE. Very generous of him, and this wasn’t the last dish he offered us.

Dark chocolate truffles with white chocolate ice cream cones!

Dark chocolate truffles with white chocolate ice cream cones!

And then he spoke about an exciting new dessert the restaurant will be introducing. It was inspired by the Spanish youth drink in outdoor festivals in Spain, made with sherry and 7up and a slice of lime, called “rebujito”. This was a new revelation to me, and it was packed with refreshing flavours that would be perfect alongside my other favourite summer drinks, including a Pimms cocktail. The dessert was made into a deconstructed cocktail, with sherry jelly, powder soda, and hint of lime. Such a beautiful dish that I regretted not taking a photo before I finished it all!

Abel, the passionate owner, gave me a brief tour of the bar side of the restaurant, (btw a super clean and modern kitchen downstairs!) and also showed me a paella dish made with squid ink (definitely need to try that next time!).

I can’t recommend this restaurant enough to all of you, my friends, and I would happily accompany/plan a get together here again. Given that my 5 years anniversary in the UK is fast approaching, I am tempted to put this on the agenda as a potential? 🙂

Happy Eating!

Corner Room – My MasterChef Connection

Boy oh boy…I was tipsy toe-ing with glee when we finally had our booking to the Corner Room before my big 2-2 (yes I will be 22 forever) birthday drinks at Carbon Bar.

I love Selfridges…for the shopping. But I never ate a proper meal in the department store before. When I heard that Keri Moss, the winner of MasterChef Professionals 2012 was starting her new restaurant, we had to check it out ourselves!

As I walked past all the fancy labels on the women’s floor, the Corner Room was elegantly presented in a blue themed art-deco style room with lots of airy windows.

The sitting area with a beautiful L-shaped bar

The sitting area with a beautiful L-shaped bar

The waiter was very friendly and suggested his favourite items on the menu. By the way, they were all spot-on! Our game plan: we opted to share the starter and dessert, always a good way to eat good food without stuffing ourselves.

Starter: Diver-caught Cornish seared scallops, cauliflower & bone marrow (highly recommended, if you are a seafood lover like me)

Yummmmy....

Yummmmy….

Main Course: Sea bream fillet, peperonata, pine nut pesto

The yellow and red peppers were amazing

The yellow and red peppers were amazing

Dessert: (Get ready for the surprise….it was made with polenta!) Soft and not dry with hints of oranges and a healthy serving of orange chantilly cream

20130518_195015

Keri’s style of cooking was minimalist yet elegant, and full of flavour. I will definitely return with girlfriends to meet for a post-shopping foodie therapy.

Paris Weekender

One of the beauty of living in London is the ability to go on a short and sweet weekend trip in Western Europe to my heart’s content.

It took a little bit of planning, some searching on Skyscanner for value priced flights or trains on Eurostar. But once booked, I was just counting down the days!

I loved Paris the first time I visited in 2006 on my own. I stayed at a historical hostel and did not really mind slumming it given my student budget. I returned this time and decided to treat myself a little bit given that I can now travel more in style. I decided to check out Airbnb, a site that offers rental accommodation at various price ranges, sometimes cheaper than staying at a hotel. We found a cute little apartment in Central St.Martin, right next to the canal in a neighbourhood filled with cool bars and restaurants. It is said that Bobos (bourgeois boheme), the Paris equivalent of hipsters live here.

A favourite site used by many locals to find out the latest spots in Paris is ParisbyMouth. It listed spot-on restaurant reviews where we were staying as well as in other Arrondissements.

The weather was lovely in the morning I arrived at St.Pancras station, as the train moved steadily towards Paris, I drifted in a sweet dream filled with delicious bread and macaroons. Having arrived at mid-day, the friendly land lady gave us the keys to the apartment we rented for the weekend. I walked up 5 flights of stairs as the building did not have lifts, just what I needed to kick up my fitness regime!

Clean and modern kitchen, just the way I like it

Clean and modern kitchen, just the way I like it

 

This was the balcony in my temporary Parisian home!

This was the balcony in my temporary Parisian home!

The neighbourhood was surrounded by the beautiful canal where you find locals sitting on the canal banks reading a book on a lazy Saturday.

IMG_20130414_095045

We found a cute little brunch place along the canal called Les Enfants Perdus. I ordered the prix fix brunch menu and was surprised at the amount of courses on our table. This was only the first course…

20130414_113105

It was delicious and lovely. As I sat al fresco in the Paris spring sunshine, I loved the break away from London’s hustle bustle scene.

After lunch, we took a little stroll towards Monmartre as I really wanted to visit the La Basilique du Sacre Coeur. It was a lot more touristy than I imagined, also being a sunny day, there were so many people just laying about in the sunshine.

20130414_140624

 

 

20130414_141151

The view from the top was beautiful, Paris took on a new lease of life in the sunshine.

And of course, a trip was never complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower. As I watched the regular water fountain cannons firing away on the hour, the sounds of children playing, local Parisians chatting amongst friends, I fell in love with Paris once again.

Look at those cannons go!

Look at those cannons go!

P.S. one secret passed on by a Parisian local friend, the best place for macaroons is Carette (much better than Laduree). I’m ashamed to say that I did not get the chance to take a picture of the beautifully crafted macaroons before we gobbled them down sitting in front of the Eiffel Tower. But here is a beautiful picture of the bag instead… 🙂

IMG-20130414-WA0000-1