London- La Fromagerie

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You look out of the window one day and suddenly say to yourself:

Good God I need cheese.

Well then, I welcome you to La Fromagerie, nestled in the heart of Marylebone, London. I’m telling you, it was wholly unexpected. A tiny tornado which swooped me up into its cheesy little arms and made me forever regret the day I ever left London and all of its stunning side cafes and restaurants. Especially those with good cheese. On the way to Madame Tussauds, we hopped into this little tasting cafe on Moxton Street.

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And the smell was intoxicating. Oh, the smell.

Wheels and wheels and stacks and stacks of gold, yellow, ochre, some streaked with blue crannies or creamy ivory. the water could have dripped directly from my slacked jaws. I love the combination of fresh-produce market and small, cosy restaurant. There was only one large wooden table, and about four or five other smaller ones. Light enhanced the rustic grandeur of the area, and the cheeses were dying to be savoured with the perfect wine pairing. Cheese with egon-muller, cheese with figs, cheese with truffle honey, oh me oh my.

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To start, some escargots and asparagus soup drizzled with truffle oil and coupled with some good sourdough. The escargots were great with garlic and crushed basil, so each spooned mouthful was a one-job, not excessively oily hit. Soft and squidgy, but not wonderful. The soup on the other hand, was one of the highlights of this impromptu walk-in. The sort you can see yourself having again and again without ever tiring. They make the spindly asparagus a vegetable God, lifting it out of the depths of green despair with the perfect amount of seasoning, beautiful truffle oil and a not too-thick consistency. Buttery, nourishing, luxe.

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And this was like magic. Sardine rillette, or a pâté-like paste with crusty, freshly baked German rye and caper berries. I realised that all the bread there was excellent, so all the accessories and couplings were assured good quality enhancement. I slathered on some rillette on the hard rye, squeezed a little lemon and popped a bite. The flavours worked so wonderfully. I felt the satiny texture of the rillette mingle with the earthy warmth of dark rye, dancing in loops and swirls with the lemon. So crusty was the bread it was almost like a toasted crostini. The caper berries were there to make sure that anyone who felt the combination of lemon and rillette was not salty enough could munch on those instead. And I learnt my lesson when I bit on one alone.

Now I really do miss London.

La Fromagerie

2-6 Moxton Street, Marylebone, London

London- The Belvedere

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Please take a second to admire the lovely man on the right, massaging his temples in an attempt to save what’s left of his sanity. The bottom right blur of a ponytail would be my mother, if any are interested.

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I love how in London, there are about a million and one fantabulous places to eat at, all looking fairly humble on the outside, though displaying clear prestige or popularity once you venture inside. Be it little hole in the walls or grand golden signs beaming at you once you step out of a cab (or the tube, which is way, way more fun). But when we’re talking The Belvedere in London, we’re talking real food. Food which might stuff and then blow you up, but great food nonetheless, presented superbly and elegantly.

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3 courses for 27.50 quid! Not bad considering the quality, service, ambience and taste. I looked around at the swanky, small groups of people clustered around divine plates which exuded deluxe comfort. I grew more curious by the minute. I first chose the crisp smoked duck salad, which had a surprising oriental twist. The duck was drizzled with a sweet and tangy red sauce, which went wonderfully with the cold and crisp seasonal vegetables.

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Presenting to you: Smoked haddock on a bed of Jersey Royals with a poached egg and Sauce Nantaise.

Might be too salty, you know, my dad softly warned.

But…fish. Haddock. Soft flakes oozing good oils and fragrance and goodness of the sea. And of course, that runny, perfectly cooked egg had to be the icing on the cake. It wasn’t too salty, mind you, and the gooey mealiness of the egg yolk and sauce complemented the soft-spoken white fish, which drunk everything up like a sponge. The Jersey Royals were nothing brilliant to speak of (plain potatoes in general I’m no fan of), but they did make a pretty brown resting bed.

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And finally, chocolate mousse topped with blood orange sorbet, and might I say it was bloody darn good. I mean, of course it couldn’t be stand-alone mousse, or the whole masterpiece would collapse on its knees. No, this was coupled with thin layers of dark chocolate brownie, giving it stability and textural edge. It was all set off by the burst of sweet tang contained within that perfect sphere of sorbet. Bloody good blood orange. It was even the perfect temperature to dig into!

These meals really are the unforgettable sort. The service was impeccable, and there was even a neat old man twiddling away at the piano the whole time. Talk about stamina.

The Belvedere

Holland Park, London

London- Signor Sassi

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The thing about London in general is that, in full and absolute honesty, you are a man of zero intellect if you ever get tired of it. Fine, that’s mean. What I mean to say is, I don’t think it legal for one to grow near half weary of what I believe to be one of the most beautiful historical cities in the world. Or of all the universes, parallel and distinct alike. Those Charles Dickens cobblestones, the crass rumbling from here, there and everywhere, the chilly mist which all succumb to in either cutting hatred or morose indiference. Perhaps even glee, to the odd one or two. A heat wave to them is like 18 degrees C, after all. The glaze of English folklore, the nostalgia from God knows where. The tea craze, the well dressed and eccentricity. Boots (yes the drugstore too), tights and soft sky hues, made subtler with greyer undertones in the dusk and early morning. Driving from Heathrow to Kent Street for another stay at Monarch House actually gave me chills, as memories of my stay here as a 5-year old came swamping my sentience.

Signor Sassi is a world-renown Italian restaurant in Knightsbridge Green, the South of London. Plastered up on the walls were black-framed portraits of Nigella Lawson, Rihanna and if I am right, one of the PMs. The round tables are packed from random circumference points, glasses crowding the spaces and yellow lights imparting a romantic, sentimental glow. The waiters bustle about like agitated ants shouting in sparkling Italian.

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We started off with some cheese, bread and olives. They come to you with a cloth-covered basket filled with an assortment of crusty, freshly baked breads. I chose a dark rye type, and the parmesan was like briny crystals of heaven.

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Rare bluefin tuna fillets, a ‘special’. You can choose between medium rare and rare, so well, the choice is a little obvious now, isn’t it. They cut like chewy butter and retained a lovely fragrance on that bed of petit pois, tomato and olive oil. It was divinity with the bread and cool tomato on the side. Despite my deep love for tuna, I found the strips to be more on the salty side, teasing the border of excessive.

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Foreground: Scampi pasta (special)

Background: Spaghetti Lobster

Both of which I sampled. The best flavour award definitely has to go to the scampi pasta, which reeked of perfection. The luxurious, yet not overly creamy sauce bathed tender noodles made pungent with the aroma of sweet, plump, scampi, the juice taking on a delightful serum-like consistency.

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You can’t exactly not have tiramisu at an Italian restaurant. I patted my inflated belly and decided to give it a taste.

Oh, and my uncle says hello above the willowy gooseberry(:

Soaked through, stiff and sweetened cream, tender, luscious. My only complaint would be that it reminded me of a kid-style tiramisu, steep sweetness and lacking alcohol (ooh, the white wine here was quite a treat).

The first of many posts on London as I sit here on fluffy and bulging white sheets, soaking up the quaint and established architecture, a stand-alone dream.

Signor Sassi

14 Knightsbridge Green, London

Brown

  • ‘Life has taught me that 95% of people are always wrong.”

That actually deserved its own bullet point. Don’t know where that’s from? Go have a little Internet peek. In fact no, scrap that, there’s really no need. What good will that do? Sometimes things are best appreciated without knowledge of every minute detail, with every painful little aspect fixed and screwed down in front of you. Analysis is one way of dealing with life, and then there’s a vague, casual, breezy bliss.

You’re probably wondering where all this is going.

I’m talking about brownies, friend. Brownies.

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Baking is an art which requires painstaking precision and by-the-book loyalty. There are typically a few tweaks here and there, as most of my fellow baking friends would agree whenever it comes to tackling recipes made by different people from different parts of the world. Thing’s like surrounding temperature and ingredient quality/origin and oven tolerance all varies from place to place, from country to country. I tried making a Nigella meringue once with my mother and realised only at the very end that no, our 40 degree weather was not the same as ‘room temperature’ in South London (we worked something out in the end). All in all, the ratio’s got to be right down pat.

Um.

Yes, brownies. I looked into my pantry and heard myself physically sigh as I realised there was no more dark, treacly muscovado sugar left. Can’t treat anyone or myself to dense, chewy, fudgy goodness anymore, I assumed. But just as how 95% of people are usually wrong, so was I. Wow, I can’t discount myself from anything anymore.

I stumbled across this recipe online, entitled ‘Robert’s Absolute Best Brownie Recipe’. You’re most likely not a human if you are not tempted by this alluring title, and really, who doesn’t indulge in some excessive link clicking. It looked too good to be true. I remember the first time I tried it I didn’t follow the instructions perfectly. Since there is so little flour (quarter cup only) in a whole batch, I turned up my nose and added more.

And more.

But there’s a science to this, and after my first try, I realised I was quite foolish. Childish even, for not being able to wait. The next attempt yielded something quite magical. And you have to be the one to try it before you can come close to understanding what exactly I mean. I think I should just get on with it.

~

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 tablespoons (85g) unsalted or salted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for the pan
  • 8 ounces (228g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

DIRECTIONS

  • 1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
  • 2. Line an 8 or 9-inch square pan with 2 long lengths of aluminum foil or parchment paper, positioning the sheets perpendicular to one other and allowing the excess to extend beyond the edges of the pan. Lightly butter the foil or parchment.
  • 3. In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the chocolate and stir by hand until it is melted and smooth.
  • 4. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sugar and vanilla until combined. Beat in the eggs by hand, 1 at a time. Add the flour and stir energetically for 1 full minute—time yourself—until the batter loses its graininess, becomes smooth and glossy, and pulls away a bit from the sides of the saucepan. [Editor’s Note: There are two crucial elements in the making of these brownies. One is throwing yourself into the making of them by stirring them “energetically,” as the recipe stipulates. The second, also spelled out in the recipe, is making certain you stir the batter thusly for a full minute. It may appear to separate a few seconds into stirring, and it may appear grainy midway through, but when you stir with vigor for a full 60 seconds–and we do mean a full 60 seconds, along the lines of “One Mississippi, two Mississippi…”–you’ll end up with a batter that’s rich, thick, satiny smooth, and glossy as can be. Therein lies the difference between dry, crumbly brownies and the world’s best brownies.]
  • 5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the center feels almost set, about 25 minutes.
  • 6. Let cool completely before cutting.

I adjusted the amount of sugar and removed all the additional nutty additions just to present the purity of the batter on its own. And see the bolded clause? That right there is the most important part. Get it wrong and the entire thing will crumble before your eyes. These things are depressing, so just follow and be honest with the timing. What you’re looking for is for the batter to suddenly pull away from the sides, yielding a glossy chocolate pool, almost gurgling and bubbling with stick and bick, rich and thickly dripping.

This is a base batter, so go ahead and add whatever you like before thrusting it in the oven, be it nuts, marshmallows, berries, cream cheese, or hell’s bells, more chocolate. The intense stirring time might vary actually, from 1 to a full 5 minutes. Mine took a full 5, whilst the other time I’m sure it took much shorter. My biceps were fit to look part of a rock crag. Though after sufficient bicep rest, I took these babies out of their scorching hell and let them rest, like a sighing thing, settling down, fudgy bellies swelling.

Heavy Eyes, Restless Hearts

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Life really has gotten me out of breath. Waters fill the air around me and it gets rather hard to breathe sometimes. Mostly still caught in the web of sleep.

I suddenly stand alone in a corridor and think how absurd it must be to be a human being living right now going to school living by the books and all that I have come to know after 16 years of that incessant and hilarious process commonly known as life.

Funny how it’s going to be May already and I’m practically trying to keep myself propped up amongst the cushions of IB. Not the most luxurious or hedonistic, but firm and upright. How is one to live and survive fashionably? At least not totally recklessly, but don’t lie when you say you don’t wonder about life’s willful wonder and scary prospects once in a while.

Think about it in the shower.