Friday, November 26, 2010

Afternoon Tea at The Athenaeum (London, England)

The Vertical Garden

On our way home to Vancouver from Turkey, we decided to stop at London for a couple of days.

Two days in London is very short, so we were debating whether we should even spend time at afternoon tea. Of course, the price tag also weighed on our minds.

£40 for some crustless sandwiches, a couple of scones and a handful of pastries?!! Pounds, man, pounds, not dollars!

We've indulged in afternoon tea service in Vancouver a couple of times previously, but, we weren't really impressed. Close to $40 dollars for mediocre sandwiches and pastries? Steep.

But, I suppose I felt we couldn't get out of London without doing afternoon tea, price tag be damned.

At first, I was set on booking at Brown's Hotel. Apparently, they were the first hotel in London (or, at least, one of the very first) to offer tea service. Also, their website promised that "[g]uests of The English Tea Room never leave hungry, as the Afternoon Tea is continuously replenished at no additional charge."

Continuously replenished!

But, our itinerary in London allowed us time only on the day of our flight, so we had to have tea earlier than the usual 3 o'clock. This left only a couple of choices.

The Athenaeum Hotel was one of the very few hotels that started tea service early, at 12:30pm. A bonus is that their Afternoon Tea costs "only" £27.50.

(Yes, after looking through all the other menus and prices, £28 actually sounded very "reasonable" indeed!)

The Athenaeum Hotel: Afternoon Tea

A funny thing happened on the way to Afternoon Tea...

Ladies Powder Room at The Athenaeum

Of course, ladies who do Afternoon Tea have to be, well, lady-like! I think I can safely say that I am not a "lady" in that sense.

Since we were still going to be walking about in the morning before tea at the hotel, I could not wear "nice" (and in my mind, "uncomfortable") clothing. Same goes for the shoes. How can I run up and down the stairs of the tube in heels! Insanity!

So, our strategy was to wear our usual "casual" (aka ugly) attire, then change at the hotel, donning more Afternoon Tea-appropriate clothing.

Doorman at The Athenaeum

As we were walking towards the hotel, JS fretted: "What if they won't even let you in, seeing your outfit?"

"That's why you have to preempt them and tell them right away that you want to change in the washroom," I replied.

As we arrived, they indeed had a doorman at the door.

We needn't have worried, though, as the very, very tall gentleman at the door -- he was quite a character, actually -- was exceedingly friendly. He pointed us to the powder room near the lobby and off we went.

He didn't seem to bat an eye at our "ugly" attire and even mentioned that he wished he could join us for tea.

Mineral water and mouthwash in the powder room.

Ah, finally, we can change!

The powder room was quite nice. As you can see from a previous photo, there was a nice sitting room area. We plopped down our stuff onto the armchairs and started to unpack our things. I laid out items on one of the vanity tables.

We actually took our time in the spacious and luxurious powder room. We sipped mineral water while relaxing on the armchairs. Perfect, especially after the mad running around the city in the morning.

We even joked that we could actually live in that powder room. Convert one of the bathroom stalls into a shower, rearrange the furniture, add beds, change the locks...

Anyway, on to Afternoon Tea!

The Athenaeum Hotel has a more modern look and feel than traditional tea rooms, so we were curious as to how this would translate to their tea service.

We had the Evergreen Tea service.


Selection of teas

The "book" of teas was a nice-enough way to present their selection, but I would have rather had a chance to actually smell the teas.

I was really intrigued by the white tea as I'm not really familiar with them, but JS warned me that I wouldn't be able to add milk and sugar to such a delicate tea. So, in the end, I settled for my old favorite, Earl Grey.

JS chose Margaret's Hope Darjeeling.

It's been quite a long time since I've had Darjeeling tea -- and this one, at least that first sip, was a tad acidic for me. The longer the tea steeped, the more I could taste the muscatel notes. However, this wasn't the best Darjeeling I've had, unfortunately.

Look at all those specialized products for tea service. We were wondering where these paper teapot "mitts" (what are those called?) could be manufactured, if there were companies specializing in manufacturing and/or distributing tea paper accessories, etc.

Strangely enough, we were not brought milk for the teas. This was fine by us because we could truly taste more of the tea itself this way, but that meant I could have ordered a white tea after all!

The only complaint I have was the tea lost quite a bit of temperature quite quickly. Must be a function of the teapot used in this case?

Tea Sandwiches

From top to bottom: Cucumber and cream cheese, ham and chutney, cress and egg, and smoked salmon. On the left is a guacamole wrap.

You may be noticing that there is no three-tiered tray on the table. That is correct, they did not present the food in those trays. More on this later.

My favorite was the cress and egg sandwich.

I didn't care much for the guacamole wrap, but thought that the other sandwiches were okay. My favourite also was the cress and egg sandwich, followed closely by the cucumber and cream cheese one. Having said that, the sandwiches were not spectacular by any means. It's all about the experience, I guess, having these crustless sandwiches with the tea of one's choice.


bottom: scones; middle: mixed berry jam and lemon curd; top: Devonshire cream

They were only using their three-tiered trays to serve the scones!

The scones were hiding inside a folded napkin. They were quite small, the cutesies. They were about the size of... hmm, it's actually quite difficult to find an object of a similar size. Perhaps it is slightly larger than a flattened golf ball. The napkin helped keep the scones warm.

I had to keep patting the napkin to make sure that there were no scones still hiding in there. They gave us 2 scones each.

The warm scones were quite nice, similar to a biscuit but with a richer and moister texture. Of course, the best part was eating them with Devonshire cream!

I found that the moment they lost their warmth, they were considerably drier and crumblier.

Lesson learned: must eat scones warm!

The lemon curd and the berry jam were too sweet for my liking. They were superfluous for me.

I was a little surprised that I already felt full, not even quite finished with my first scone. Well, I did have 2 servings of each kind of tea sandwich. But still, those sandwiches do not add up to a lot of food.


Sweets cart

After the scones, the server asked us if we wanted to have a little break before getting to the sweets. We decided to forge ahead because we did not have time to waste. We did have to get to the airport pretty soon, after all.

The server wheeled out the cart of pastries and asked us to choose. JS opted for just one slice of the chocolate cake above. The server gave her a not-small slice.


I didn't expect much from the chocolate cake, given that I have learned from years of experience that chocolate cakes taste of disappointment (that is, it's hard to find a good one). I was pleasantly surprised that this was quite a nice slice of cake, moist, chocolate-y, with the right crumb.

Mini berry tartlet

I opted for several small bites: a chocolate-covered strawberry, a mini berry tartlet, and a cheesecake square.

Cheesecake with sugared flower

Funnily enough, the server told me I could only have 2 pieces of pastries. I thought that was a bit weird, especially considering the 3 items I selected were still less an amount of food than the big slice of chocolate cake that she gave JS!

She did a slight backpedal, though, saying that I could take JS' unclaimed second piece of sweets.

I did ask for a small slice of chocolate cake, given that I was also starting to feel full from the food. Which, again, is surprising, since I didn't think what I ate amounted to much.

I think it must be the tea. Sometimes, tea makes me feel full.

The other pastries I did not taste -- as I was getting to bursting at about this time. TS said they were "OK", but nothing special.


Crumpets in a to-go container, back in Vancouver.

JS and I were completely stuffed at this point. But, the server asked us if we would like tea cakes or crumpets. I personally would've liked to get both, especially as I saw another person take home all her leftovers!

But, in the interest of time -- we really needed to get out of there -- we decided on the crumpets, seeing as I didn't actually know what crumpets were!

We asked her to have the crumpets packed in a to-go container so JS and I could have a snack on the plane should we wish to do so.

I eventually tried the crumpets back in Vancouver, and I didn't quite like them. They were more or less tasteless. One is supposed to toast them and perhaps eat them with butter?

The funnier thing actually happened on the way back from Afternoon Tea...

Yes, the Ladies Powder Room is back in action.

After the tea, we had to go change back into our ugly clothes so we could walk fast/run back to the hotel if need be. We went into the powder room, but there was one woman by the sinks. We were waiting for her to finish so we could change. She was taking quite a while.

Why did we have to wait for her to leave? Why couldn't we have changed inside one of the stalls in the powder room?

Well, if I were to change inside a stall, I would not want to go inside with just my bare (or even socked) feet!

However, I had already put away my heels at this point and was too lazy to take them out of the shoebox, which were already back into a shopping bag.

But, I couldn't go ahead and wear my running shoes either, because I wanted to change from dress pants to jeans first before putting them on. Imagine wearing bulky running shoes then trying to slip dress pants off of your feet.

That's right, I did not want to go through the trouble of putting on running shoes, then going into a stall, then taking off the shoes, changing pants, then putting on the running shoes a second time.

Hence, I had to stand there waiting for the woman to leave so I can change.

Ah, the price one pays for laziness!

After what seemed like minutes on end, the woman finally left the powder room. JS and I sprang into action and started to change our respective pairs of pants. I told her to stand against the door, just in case someone came in.

And what do you know, someone came in right at the moment between donning off our dress pants and donning on jeans!

The very distinguished-looking lady gave a little yelp of surprise. I quickly mentioned, "We're just changing."

She started laughing: "For a moment there, I thought I had gone into someone's room!"

The nice lady literally walked in as soon as I bent over, that crucial moment when I had to guide my pants off my feet. I had to shoot back up straight-postured when the door hit my behind and so I dropped my pants to my ankles in the process!

Good times, good times.

The Verdict

All in all, it was a good experience, but it could have been better.

I'm still a little disappointed about not having the three-tiered tray. They had the server offer us their selection of sandwiches. Although they did come back again after we were finished with the first round of sandwiches to offer us seconds -- of which I took advantage -- the experience still wasn't the same as having all the food displayed in a tiered tray, of having that visual display of abundance. Also, we were not quite sure if we were "allowed" to have any of the items replenished.

Serving the food in courses also seemed a very restrictive way to have afternoon tea. If they used the three-tiered tray, then I would have enjoyed alternating between the sandwiches, scones and sweets, instead of being forced to be "done" with a certain food before I can enjoy another.

We definitely need to experience Tea in a more traditional setting the next time around.

I think we might have been too rushed to enjoy the entire afternoon tea experience. I was constantly looking at my watch, because we did have a flight to catch that day. The whole stress might have coloured my experience of this afternoon tea.

While I didn't love it this time, I must say I can see myself very easily, too easily, falling into the habit of having tea, sandwiches, and scones in the afternoon.

Oh, what it must be like to live a life of leisure!

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eatingclub vancouver in London, England (September 2010)
Afternoon Tea at The Athenaeum (London, England)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sisig (Philippine Sizzling Pig Face)

Sizzling Pig Face! Aren't you excited?!

Sisig is a dish made from parts from the pig's head -- ears, cheeks, jowls -- that are cooked not once, not twice, but three times(!), flavored with calamansi and/or vinegar, and served sizzling on a hot stone/iron plate.

It is best eaten, people say, when imbibing beer.

Although, personally, I've never felt the need to drink beer with sisig -- I can gobble up the stuff just fine!

Pig's Ears

One fine day, JS bought a couple of packages of pig's ear. Sisig immediately came to mind; I don't actually know too many specific dishes that call for pig's ears besides this one.

You're once... (The First Cooking)

First, the ears were simmered with onions and garlic in water splashed with a little vinegar. And salt to taste, of course.

The recipe I've included at the end of the post is from Kulinarya: A Guidebook to Philippine Cuisine. That recipe called for adding pineapple juice to the simmering liquid as well. We didn't bother.

Well, that recipe also called for passing a deboned pig's head over an open flame to get rid of bristles. Obviously, we skipped that step as well.

After simmering the pig's ears, we let them cool in the simmering liquid. We actually cooked them the day before.

Being the lazy pig that I am, I actually might have left the pigs ears too long to boil. The ears ended up being softer than I would have liked.

I figured we'd leave the ears overnight in the fridge to stiffen up a bit -- but they might have gone too tender on me already.

The next day, whoa! Let me tell you, those ears produced a lot of gelatin!

Twice... (The Second Cooking)

Of course, the best way to grill these would be over charcoal. We had to settle for a grill pan over the stovetop.

Hmm, I think I may have overdone the char. But, we'll get to that later.

The pig's ears were then chopped into tiny pieces.

Three times a pig's head... (The Third Cooking)

Third time's the charm: when sisig becomes sisig.

Usually, sisig would be served on hot grill plates, sizzling still when it comes to the table. We debated whether we should get one for this post, but decided against it, with the help of inertia, given that it would just be another thing cluttering up the kitchen.

Before any sizzling action can commence, I chopped onions and chilies into small pieces.

calamansi juice

We had some calamansi juice that we froze from months before.

Once the calamansi hits the wok, the game's on. There is really nothing quite like the fragrance and the flavour of calamansi.

In lieu of the sizzling plate, we settled on sorta-stir-frying it in a wok.

As is our tendency towards laziness and shortcuts, we overcrowded the wok a tad. We're really just too lazy to do stir-frying in batches -- but kids at home, please do it right.

The chopped pig's ears were "sizzled" together with the onions, calamansi juice and chilies. We also added more vinegar to intensify the acidity. Don't forget the salt! (And black pepper.)

OK, now that we went through all three cooking steps, what was the verdict?

It was... meh.

So, what went wrong? Let me explain.

We only used pig's ears.
It was too ear-y for me! I really wanted a mixture of pig parts.

We overcooked the pig's ears.
They ears were left too long to simmer. They were too tender and lacked that nice cartilage-y crunch.

We over-charred the pig's ears.
The too-charred nature of the ears lent a decidedly bitter note to the dish.

The moral of the story, folks, is to prepare the dish with care.
(Well, duh!)

Pig's Head

So, another fine day, when we had a pig's head from leftover lechon, JS and I decided to give it a another try.

We already made a "starter" Paksiw na Lechon (Philippine Roast Pork simmered in Vinegar) from the rest of leftovers, and it was time to tackle the head.

Since the pig's head was already cooked, we didn't bother with cooking steps 1 and 2 (boiling and grilling, respectively). I simply chopped what meat I could salvage from the head and proceeded to step 3.

Unfortunately, the pig's ears from this head were too "cooked" and hard, thereby making them unusable.

After some faux-sizzling action with onions, chilies, calamansi juice, vinegar and salt, the dish was done.

Unfortunately (again), the leftover pig's head meat we had did not really have enough crispy skin to provide some crunch to the dish. We did not have chicharon on hand at the time -- BUT!

Do as I say and not as I do:
Add CHICHARON ("chicharrón" in Spanish) or PORK RINDS as a topping for sisig. Just do it.

Depending on your tolerance, you can make sisig with a variety of pig parts.

To make the dish palatable to more mainstream palates, for instance, you can use non-offally pig parts, such as pork belly or heck, even pork shoulder.

However, the essential ingredient, in my humble opinion, is pig's ears. It just has that crunchy-elastic texture that no other pig part has, plus that unmistakable pigfunk-y goodness.

Do take a look at the Kulinarya recipe below, and do it right! ;) The recipe also has suggested substitutes for pork.

More eatingclub Philippine/Filipino food

Wikipedia: Sisig

Other Sisigs:
Burnt Lumpia: Spicy Sizzling Sisig
Market Manila: Sizzling Sisig
Market Manila: Lechon Sisig a la Marketman
Market Manila: Lechon Sisig on a Charcoal Grill

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Sisig (Thrice-cooked Pork)
from Kulinarya: A Guidebook to Philippine Cuisine

Serves 6

1 kg deboned pig's head (jowls, cheek, and ears)
2 pcs / 340 g big-sized white onions
8 cups / 2 liters water
2 cups / 500 ml pineapple juice
1 Tbsp / 15 g salt
1 Tbsp / 10 g whole black peppercorns
4 pcs chicken liver
2 Tbsp calamansi or lemon juice
1/4 cup / 60 ml white vinegar (sukang puti)
salt and pepper to taste
bird's eye chilies (siling labuyo) to taste

1 Carefully pass the deboned pig's head over an open flame to remove visible bristles. Wash and cut into 4 pieces.

2 Peel and chop onions finely.

1 In a stockpot, place water, pineapple juice, salt, peppercorns, chicken liver and pig's head pieces. Cover stockpot and bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to simmer. Continue to cook until meat is fork tender but not too tender, so the ear cartilage is still on the crunchy side, about 45 minutes to an hour.

2 Remove pork and chicken livers from stockpot and cool to room temperature. Discard the liquid.

3 Grill the pork over charcoal until the skin becomes brown and crisp.

4 Chop the pork and chicken livers into small cubes. Place in a bowl.

5 Mix in the calamansi or lemon juice, chopped onions, white vinegar, salt, pepper and the chilies.

6 Just before serving, heat a skillet to sizzling hot. Put the meat mixture in. This is the third cooking stage where the meat becomes browned a bit and gets an added crunch.

Serving Suggestion
Sisig is served on a hot sizzling skillet with halved calamansi and chopped chilies on the side.

lechon kawali/pork belly

Monday, November 15, 2010

Turkey Flora

My favorite shot.

As you may or may not have noticed, JS and I appear to be having great difficulty in posting on a regular basis. We have been and are still currently undergoing significant changes in our respective schedules, making it difficult to devote time to the blog. So, please bear with us as we make this transition.

A plant that smells like basil. Is it a type of basil?
Found at St. John Basilica; Selçuk, Turkey.

In the meantime, here are some random images of flora in Turkey. I am not really familiar with plants and such, so I found these either unusual or unusually pretty, or both.

Found at St. John Basilica; Selçuk, Turkey.

For more information:
Turkey Travel Planner: St John Basilica, Selçuk, Ephesus
Sacred Destinations: Basilica of St. John, Ephesus

Found in Ephesus, Turkey.

If anybody can enlighten me regarding the unknown plants, that would be most welcome.

So unusual. This plant -- tree, actually -- has snow pea-like pods and yellow flowers with long red stamens.
Found in Troy, Turkey.

For more information:
Turkey Travel Planner: Troy (Truva), Turkey
Wikipedia: Archaeological Troy

Nothing unusual about these at all. They're potatoes! Our hot air balloon landed in a field of potatoes. I thought that was pretty cool. These look like the rejects, so I don't think our landing on that field caused any harm.
Found in Cappadocia (Kapadokya), Turkey.

Potatoes in this area were especially delicious!

A beach in Çirali, Turkey.

Found at Defne Pansiyon; Kaş, Turkey.

Found in Ephesus, Turkey.

Squash in the Red Rose Valley; Cappadocia (Kapadokya), Turkey.

They do love their squash in this region! There were squash everywhere!

Squash at the side of the road.
Found in Mustafapaşa; Cappadocia (Kapadokya), Turkey.

According to our guide, they are grown mostly for their seeds. They do eat some of the squash flesh, but most are discarded. The seeds are where it's at, apparently.

Found in Cappadocia (Kapadokya), Turkey.

For more information:
Turkey Travel Planner: Cappadocia (Kapadokya), Turkey
Wikipedia: Cappadocia

Lichen can be classified as "flora", can't they?
Found in Troy, Turkey.

Fruit growing willy-nilly!

The tell-tale shape of the fig leaf. If you look closely, you can see a couple of figs growing.
Among the ruins at Ephesus, Turkey.

They were growing at sides of roads, amongst ruins...

In someone's backyard; Pamukkale, Turkey.

At the Koray Hotel; Pamukkale, Turkey.

Among the ruins at Hierapolis; Pamukkale, Turkey.

In the background, the amphitheatre at Hierapolis.
Pamukkale, Turkey.

Those plants, closer. They look like some sort of cereal/grain, no?
Among the ruins at Hierapolis; Pamukkale, Turkey.

For more information:
Turkey Travel Planner: Hierapolis, Pamukkale, Turkey
Wikipedia: Hierapolis

Found in the Red Rose Valley; Cappadocia (Kapadokya), Turkey.

I end the same way I started, with these dried out-looking things. They're so pretty.

eatingclub vancouver
in Turkey (September 2010)

Sultanahmet Camii (Blue Mosque) (Istanbul, Turkey)
Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia) (Istanbul, Turkey)
Topkapı Sarayı (Palace) Museum (Istanbul, Turkey)
Turkey Flora
Hierapolis Ruins and Travertines (Pamukkale, Turkey)
Güray Pottery (Avanos, Turkey)

For Turkish dishes:
Turkey (the country, not the fowl)
Turkish Çay (Tea)

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