Monday, September 16, 2013

A Sunday of celebrations and remembrances

Apologies for the delay in my post; Monday thru Wednesday I'm attending a conference here in London so I don't have normal computer access. My posts this week will be late or absent. Sorry in advance for that. Starting Thursday posting will resume as normal.

Thanks!
tSH

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After the fun of a gloriously unplanned but excellent Saturday, Sunday was actually expected to be fun. I had a birthday party to go to and a dinner meet-up that had been planned well in advance. I was even planning ahead enough to not eat before I went out. That kind of planning. Impressive planning ahead.

In the morning I cooked like there was no tomorrow, as I mentioned in the other post, then I got ready and made it out the door with perfect timing. I was meeting everyone for the birthday celebration of Instagram (who I met at the Holi One festival of colors), who had kindly invited me to her party at the beautiful Truscott Arms. I later found out that this place is gorgeously owned by a friend and his wife. Good to know people who own nice places. I'm finding there are lots of friends with these kinds of hook ups. It's excellent really, excellent.


Anyway, I arrived there in perfect time as Books arrived at the same time. Glorious coincidences, these life happenstances. We whispered conspiracies to each other as we made our way outside to the patio where the birthday celebration was being held.


This is not a photo that I took so apologies, but this is what the patio actually looks like. Just imagine the tables being pushed together so we could use a whole section and there were wonderful cloth streamers hung in celebration.

The party commenced as soon as Books and I arrived, despite us being there first with the birthday girl and boyfriend, Sandals. Luckily I'd brought a small birthday gift this time in preparation because it seemed everyone did actually bring a gift (this was not normal in Finland). Since Instagram and I share the same name in the real world it only seemed appropriate to celebrate that; I gave her a monogrammed notebook. Everyone gave joke gifts or colorful items; my gift fit right in. There was a surprising number of mustache-themed gifts. I guess this just runs amongst those with our name. Weird.

The celebration was lovely; the booze flowed freely and there were lots of jokes and stories. It was a small gathering of intimates; only maybe 10 people total. We ordered food near the middle to keep the alcohol-food ratio appropriate. Since I was meeting up with friends later for dinner I tried to keep it light (same with the booze consumption), so instead of ordering the roast (which was highly recommended and looked amazing), I instead ordered the mushroom tart with truffle goat cheese:


Not a hard sell either, I must say. Their menu looked amazing. This dish did not disappoint. Mushrooms, gloriously poached hen egg, some roasted veggies (green beans, carrots, some other root veggie that strangely I did not recognize but resembled some sort of lime green carrot), and the glorious glorious mushrooms...pretty sure they were chanterelles). Fabulous. Even Books was jealous of my dish and she got the amazing beef roast (which really looked incredible). I snacked off of one of her potatoes, which was lovely. The truffle goat cheese really was as good as it sounds.

This was the perfect dish for me because it staved off my hunger but didn't fill me up. Just enough to go with the one cocktail I had (something very nicely called The Optimist) and a glass of rose bubbly.

All around a nice gathering of friends and a reaffirmation that I had made a nice group of friends and rather quickly. The Holi One festival had done a good job of solidifying our friendships. An experience, shared. We were all fairly busy in the next few weeks but plans to meet up again afterwards were made.

Unfortunately I had to sprint off after that to make it to my next appointment: roast duck dinner with some friends from uni: a friend and her husband who are currently living in Spain.

So I took the tube (luckily the same line I'd arrived on, just a few stops down) and found my way there.

The restaurant is one I'd been recommended several times by every Chinese person I knew (e.g. Chinese Australian H). Apparently their roast duck was legendary, though their service left much to be desired. I had been forewarned. The online reviews did nothing but back up these claims. I was not prepared for the real life experience.

I found my friends with no problems; they were waiting outside. Luckily my friend knew Cantonese, so it was no problem letting the hostess know that there were three of us and we were ready for dinner. It was only a 10 minute wait, much to my relief. Since there were no reservations you could be waiting for hours for all I knew. I later found out that this would never be the case. They would definitely shoo people out before they ever let this happen. The turn around time was incredible. At the sacrifice of a good dining experience. But I'll get to that.

It was lovely catching up with my friends but everything was a bit frantic. We took our time pouring over the menu as, despite what was said in the reviews, there were at least four types of duck on the menu. Which one was the one everyone loved?!?! There was Peking duck, roast duck...I think you see my point. There was a quarter duck, half duck, whole duck...jeebus, the options were endless.

Eventually we just decided to get two types of duck. The Peking and roasted, since it seems this would likely yield the results we were looking for. They kept coming over every two minutes (literally) to see if we were ready to order, so we just ended up throwing together a bunch of things to eat. If we wanted more we could always order more.

So we got a quarter of the roast duck, half of the Peking duck, some guylan (Chinese broccoli), and seafood dein mein (crispy noodles).

All of it was really good. Unfortunately given the rudeness of the service (coming every few minutes to see if we were done) sort of undermined the experience. Really. We were trying to catch up and given my slowness of eating as it is...there was barely any time to eat and talk at the same time. These types of situations give me anxiety. Being rushed to eat, being bombarded with questions...so stressful. I think if I ever came here to eat again I'd just get takeout and eat somewhere else. After awhile I just felt like giving up on eating the service was so pushy. I am a fusspot, this is known.

Here is a pic of the roast duck after the waiter had appropriately deboned it and mashed it into more bite-sized pieces. I didn't have time to take pictures of any of the other food:


Another sign of overt rudeness by the staff, though this one I sort of expected: my friend's husband asked for more water in Mandarin during a point in the meal where he'd finished eating but I was still eating. The staff completely ignored his request until he asked in English. Ooof. Yeah, that kind of service.

After we left we decided to get boba (pearl milk tea). I was more than happy to oblige - it'd probably been a good two years since I'd last had it. And as luck would have it, there was a shop right down the street that served it!

I treated my friends to it because they'd treated me to the delicious albeit rushed dinner. We stared at the menu. There were so many choices. You could choose what kind of tea, the amount of ice (more ice, less ice, normal ice, no ice), and the amount of sugar (more sugar, less sugar, normal sugar, no sugar). Kind of ridiculous amount of customization, though I'd have to say I sort of loved it. You could also add more types of jelly and other edibles more than just the pearls.

The only thing was they didn't seem to have a lot of the normal flavors you'd expect with boba (or at least the ones we'd become accustomed to back in the States). Like barley or toasted almond weren't there, but they did have hazelnut and banana and taro. I guess to each their own.

I ended up going with their traditional pearl milk tea. Less sugar, no ice. It was very tasty.


We stood outside to get out of the busy shop and finally had a more relaxed chat about everything that was going on. This was a lot more like what I was expecting - friends, catching up on what was going on in their lives, funny anecdotes. None of the stress that came with rushed and rude service. It was absolutely lovely catching up with them. It'd been years since I'd last seen them - likely since I moved from the college campus area...so...2007? Maybe 2008? Probably 2008. That was still five years ago. Horrific, if you think about it.

Awesomely though, in this age of internet, we'd kept in touch. They'd both moved to Spain about two years ago after the husband had gotten a research job there and they heard I was moving to Finland. Americans abroad in Europe. There aren't that many of us from our group, so it's always nice to connect to others in your situation. She kept a blog so I read about her life and she reads this blog so she'd been reading up on my life. Funny how that happens.

Soon they'll be moving out of Spain though and likely to Washington DC, so once again the numbers of us abroad will dwindle. They only have one other friend who lives out in Europe - a guy I've only met maybe once or twice who went with his dream of studying perfume making and now does it professionally in France. Just goes to show, pursue your dreams to the fullest and you can definitely make it happen. I guess I'll be one of the two. :)

We ended on a lovely note; if I want to visit them in Spain I better do so before mid-January. I have a new weekend destination in mind before the holidays hit. I gotta get cracking on those plans.

And thus ended a rather busy but wonderful Sunday. I took the tube home feeling wonderfully full of good food and friendship.

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