Day One: London and Windsor

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I’m back! After three weeks in England, France and Turkey, I’ve spent the past week catching up and recovering from an unfortunate bout with pneumonia. (Note to travellers: Don’t ignore that cold.) I have lots of stories, so let’s just jump into things, shall we? (Plus, I have recipe updates I’ve been meaning to write up since, oh, January, and I need to get those too!)

My family and I arrived in London’s Heathrow Airport on a Saturday evening after our long transatlantic flight, marking the first and only time I’ve ever wished I was an East Coaster. I associate Heathrow with long stopovers on the way to Tehran, but this time we were picked up by Mom’s cousin and her husband (the most gracious hosts ever), where we were to stay at their house in Woking for the next few days.

The next morning, we set out to explore London. Woking is only half an hour by rail to London’s Waterloo station, so getting into the city was an easy task, and navigating the Underground was even easier.

Our first stop was the British Museum, which uh, is sort of really impressive, and stuff:

The British Museum

The museum’s ancient Near East and Islamic Middle East galleries are incredibly extensive, with more attention devoted to these cultures than anything I’d seen in the U.S. (Okay, so the Freer and Sackler Galleries at the Smithsonian come really close.)

Persian painting, miniature style

That’s my peoples.

The Ancient Iran gallery houses none other than the Cyrus Cylinder, the first human rights charter:

The Cyrus Cylinder

Persepolis relief

Oh hai. I’m in your territories, biting your bottoms.

Afterwards we took the train towards Tower Bridge, where we had lunch at Cafe Rouge before exploring the pier. I had the salmon croquettes with salad, french fries and lime mayonnaise:

Salmon croquettes with salad, french fries and lime mayonnaise

It was a little bland, but who can say no to deep-fried fishy goodness and french fries chips?

Tower Bridge

Later that evening, we drove to Windsor for dinner at Nandos, a restaurant specializing in really, really spicy chicken. You know, the kind where your lips go numb and an hour later you’re sipping hot tea with nabat wishing your stomach ache would subside. I had the chicken wings with Peri Peri sauce, spicy rice and corn on the cob. The chicken and corn hit the spot but the rice was undercooked:

Chicken wings with Peri Peri sauce, spicy rice and corn on the cob

After finishing up, we took a short walk around town and Windsor Castle:

Windsor Castle

Windsor seemed like a charming town, but we didn’t stay long since the drive back to Woking was almost an hour long and we were tired from jet lag and sightseeing. I’d spent the last several months planning this trip, and you know what? Not bad at all for our first day in England.

Poleng Lounge

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I never knew a lounge could have such good food. Until the Anthony Bourdain book release a few months ago, I associated the place with only music. But when I met Poleng Lounge’s Executive Chef Tim Luym at the event, we knew I’d have to visit for dinner. The menu is a nod to his Filipino heritage, and it does not dissapoint.

We began our meal with the Wanu Kinilaw, a Filipino-style ceviche of butterfish cooked in sugarcane vinegar, lime juice and coconut milk, with Thai chiles, toybox tomatoes and cilantro. It could have used a bit more kick for my taste but was otherwise melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

Wanu kinilaw

We split the sweet potato fries with banana catsup. If you know me, you know I love fries. I’ve had this dish elsewhere before and maybe it was the ambience of the warm and cozy Asian-inspired interior or my excitement over the menu overall, but I preferred it here:

Sweet potato fries with banana catsup

Our third plate was the Buddha’s Treasures, or pan-fried dumplings with vegetables, dusted with matcha green tea powder, lotus root chips, and a black sesame ponzu sauce. I make lotus root chips at home, so I was thrilled to see them being used on the menu:

Buddha's treasures

The real standout of the meal, however, was the Bo Luc Lac “Shaking Beef,” marinated sirloin stir-fried with nuoc mam, perfectly pickled red onions, and peppercress. If you want to win me over, throw something pickled in a dish and I will swoon:

Bo luc lac "shaking beef"

For dessert we had the coconut bread pudding drizzled with hazelnut caramel, and the ube coconut tapioca, a soup-like tapioca with coconut milk, and Thai basil seeds sprinkled on top. It was reminiscent of bubble tea, but better. Oh, and did I mention I love ube?:

Ube coconut tapioca and coconut bread pudding

I have to admit that I was initially skeptical about Poleng Lounge serving up artisan teas and Asian street food, especially with all the frou-frou tea lounges popping up all over the city (I’m talking to you, Samovar). But put aside your skeptism and go. These guys know what they’re doing.

Incanto

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Once in a while you find a restaurant so perfect, so unassuming and so satisfying, that even after one visit it becomes an instant favorite. I first tasted Chris Cosentino’s cooking at the Anthony Bourdain book release event last November, so when a friend’s birthday rolled around, I knew I had to take him to Cosentino’s restaurant, Incanto.

Neslted in San Francisco’s Noe Valley, the place is an offal-lover’s paradise. You want beef heart? Check. Mortadella? Check. Tripe? Check.

To start, we ordered the grilled beef heart with roasted golden beets:

Grilled beef heart with roasted golden beets

Internet, do you have any idea how much I love beef heart? And beets? The two together was like a marriage made in heaven. The true sign of a well-cooked beef heart (or kidney) is that it still tastes good even after it’s cooled down, and this easily stood up to the test.

For my entree, I got the Bucatini, Sardinian cured tuna heart, egg yolk and parsley:

Bucatini, Sardinian cured tuna heart, egg yolk and parsley

I sometimes mix a raw egg into my rice when eating chelo kabab, or with a number of Korean stews. But I’ve never had it with an Italian pasta, and oh my, it is delicious. The tuna heart added a perfect note of saltiness.

My friend got the truffled mortadella agnolotti, which was also very good:

Truffled mortadella agnolotti

For dessert, I had the three-cheese plate, which was my least favorite part of the meal. It could have been because I was already full, but I’m not really a dessert person to begin with:

Three-cheese plate

Incanto may not receive as much hype as some other Italian restaurants in the city (especially ones that *cough* start with a letter and end in a number *cough*), but the service was attentive yet not stuffy, the food was what offal dreams are made of, and well, it’s my favorite Italian restaurant.

Sapporo-ya

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My guiltiest food pleasure is ramen. Through the years, my tastebuds have moved up the ranks from Maruchan’s Oriental flavored instant ramen to Nong Shim’s seafood ramyun. I usually add toppings to the soup, like konnyaku or okra. And a raw egg at the end, of course.

You would think that ramen-yas (or ramen houses) would be one of my favorite types of restaurants then, but no. I seem to enjoy pre-packaged, preservative-laden instant ramen better than the real, handmade thing. That being said, one of the few Japanese restaurants that serves up a bowl of ramen good enough for me to return to is Sapporo-ya in San Francisco’s Japantown.

Kimchi ramen

I got the kimchi ramen, which was a good fix for a chilly afternoon, though I could have done without the big slabs of pork. (Seriously, what is that about? Why does almost all ramen include pork or at the very least, pork broth?) The noodles were a firm, chewy texture, and the wakame provided a colorful contrast.

I still count on my good friend Nong Shim as my ramen standby, but Sapporo-ya is there for when the mood strikes. Oh, and don’t go there and order the yakisoba, it’s too greasy. They do have okonomiyaki though, so I know I’ll be back.