Thursday, February 21, 2013

At Home in Clapham

It occurred to me the other day that Keenan and I have been living in our current flat longer than any other place in my adult life -- 4 years and 3 months to be exact. Amazing how time flies when you're having fun. The neighborhood has changed quite a bit since we moved to Clapham Old Town -- nearly all the local pubs have transformed into 'posh pubs.' BTW, pubs are really the way of life here. 
Take for example:

The Frog, located right on the Pavement  overlooking Clapham Common, used to be a real old man's boozer with smelly couches and terrible selection of beers. It used to be empty on the weekends. No longer -- every Friday and Saturday, there's a DJ and dancing and packed. 

Tim Bobbin, now just simply known as 'The Bobbin' -- our local on Lilleshall Road where seriously everyone knows your name -- is now a gastropub. Before we used to drop by for a quick pint and I can always count on seeing the usual suspects, including Steve Bent, a well-known photographer covering foreign affairs who passed way in December 2011 from cancer. Keenan had many conversations with Steve about his time covering the Iraq wars, conflict in Afghanistan, and Bosnian war. Truly remarkable and talented individual.

Haile poochie at The Calf
The Sun and its sister pub, the Calf, both had make-over recently. The Sun with its lovely beer garden tends to attract the after-work crowd; a bit lousy but otherwise good place to hang out. The Calf is much more low key as it is somewhat tucked away from the main road. Both has an excellent selection of craft beers on tap, which makes Keenan happy, and are dog-friendly. Miss Haile poochie had many pub nights with her Aunt and Uncle. 

On the foodie front, Venn Street now has a weekly Saturday Food Market selling fresh veggies, pastries, cheese, olive oils, etc. Great place for a quick bite after the gym. Venn Street is also home to several excellent little restaurants - Barsito Tapas, Rapscallion, Gastro, and Kasbah as well as the beloved PictureHouse next to Venn Street Record.  A Little Waitrose opened on the High Street right across from the tube. Small but well-stocked with essential quick meal items, perfect for those late nights at work which is too often lately. The Moroccan-inspired brunch/restaurant place Del Aziz opened a branch in Wingate Square on the Pavement. Of course some things never change -- Moen & Sons is still thriving and more so since the horse-meat scare.  My favourite little cafe Macaron Patisserie is the perfect place to grab a coffee and croissant when you can't get to Paris soon enough. 

In Abbeville Road area on the southside of Clapham Common, there are a number of good restaurants that have opened recently. Among them Bistro Union which earned a Bib Gourmand this year for excellent food at reasonable prices. It has a changing menu and the food certainly did not disappoint. As the sister restaurant of Trinity in Clapham Old Town, Bistro Union is more casual, a great place to meet up with friends on the weekends. Abbeville Kitchen (not to be confused by The Abbeville Pub down the street) has received excellent reviews from food critics. I have yet to try but it's on the list. 

Fish Pie at Bistro Union

Just a 15-20 minute walk from Clapham Old Town is the ever-popular Northcote Road teeming with bars after bars, pubs, restaurants, and baby shops. After all, this area is known as 'Nappie Valley'. It's like a smaller and more relaxed version of Upper Street in Angel. A welcoming new addition to the foodie scene is Franca Manca, my favourite Neapolitan-style pizza place. We been a huge fan of Franca Manca since it opened its first 'hole-in-the-wall' branch in Brixton in 2008. Happy to see it thriving. The Draft House is our favorite pub on Northcote Road. Dog friendly and great selection of craft beers. 

Clapham is a great little neighborhood -- the only thing that would drive you insane is the commute on the Northern Line... don't get me started on that.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Happy Lunar New Year!

February 10th marks the start of the Lunar New Year. Hope the Year of the Snake bring you prosperity, health, and peace! It's always been one of my favourite holidays growing up as kids. The best part is receiving the lucky red envelope (with money) from aunties, uncles, grandparents, and mum and dad to mark the occasion. 

To celebrate this year, Keenan and I invited a group of friends for Dim Sum at Leong's Legend in Chinatown. I was impressed with the crowds who braved to cold to watch the parade go through Chinatown -- it was insanely crowded but the atmosphere was festive and lively.

Happy Lunar New Year and all the best for the Year of the Snake. 

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Lovely Aix-en-Provence

Keenan and I have been back from Malaysia and Hong Kong for less than one month yet our holiday felt like ages ago. It's been busy at work  and I have been traveling every week for work, first to Luxembourg, which I won't even bother writing about as I was in meetings for the entire day but the fresh blanket of snow made the city quite picturesque. Then it was on to Warsaw, Poland, where I spent two nights at the Mercure Grand. Again I was jumping between meetings at the Norman Foster-designed Metropolitan Building and it was far too cold (-10C!) to explore the city. I'll be returning at least twice more in the late spring and summer so I'll write about Warsaw then. 

Keenan's work trips usually takes him to more interesting locales than my work trips although he would disagree... sometimes. Last Friday, he had business in Marseille and as I have always wanted to go to Aix-en-Provence (known as Aix  as in the letter "X"), we decided to make it a quick weekend trip to Aix, a classically Provencal town, and home to some famous writers and artists including Van Gogh and Cezanne. Aix, located just 30 minutes, from the gritty port town of Marseille, Aix is rich in architecture, history, and literature thanks to its famous universities. The centre of town is compact with a narrow pedestrian streets flanked by adorable little cafes, restaurants, and water fountains -- lots of water fountains. Of course, the granddaddy of all fountains in Aix is Cours Mirabeau right on the main drag of Aix. 


We didn't have an agenda in Aix other catching up on sleep and enjoy some local Provencale cuisine. As Friday was technically a 'working' day, we spent the afternoon responding to emails out of our stylish flat that we found on AirBnB well until dinner time. The flat owner had such an eye for detail from the layout of the kitchen to the bathroom and the decor on the walls; it was so comfortable that it was hard to leave. Our time in Aix went something like this for the next 48 hours:

Eat. Sleep. Repeat. 

Recommended by our taxi driver, she directed us to a local restaurant called Cote Coeur, an Italian-French inspired restaurant tucked away from Coeur Mirableu. Most restaurants on the main drag are quite touristy, but not Cote Coeur -- the restaurant was packed with local people, which we took as a good sign.  It was a pleasant place to relax after a long work week; the wait staff was attentive and the host was friendly and Irish-born Chef Ronan Kernen had served up some inventive dishes at this tres chic restaurant. We both ordered a beef dish -- beef fillet for me and beef with foie gras cannelloni accompanied by  a side salad and a strong bottle of local red from the St. Tropez area. Perfectly enjoyable evening.

We slept in on Saturday and crawled out of bed in time for a late lunch at Chez Charlotte, a small homey family-run restaurant on Rue des Bernandines. The menu was limited, offering only two choices for appetizer, mains, and desserts but solid. It was like eating at your aunt's house. We ordered the steak tartare and roast lamb, half a carafe of the house red, and apple crumble for dessert. Yummers. 

One of the best thing of coming to France in January is all the sales ('soldes') which makes a trip to Paris, or elsewhere in France, is worth the trip itself. Oui Oui! Two hours of window shopping later, a new pair of tall black leather boots came home with me, just in time for some snow flurries here in London. We then spent the rest of the  afternoon exploring the narrow streets, soaking up the sun, and indulging on some decadent French pastries. Later, it was on to dinner at Le Passage, a trendy 'Buddha Bar-inspired' restaurant, serving all the French classics with a modern twist. 

We spent Sunday having a leisurely brunch at a local brasserie and bar for some croque madame and frities whilst swooning over an adorable puppy English bull dog. Brunch then turned into dunch, and soon enough we were well on our way to the airport, just in time to watch Keenan's beloved San Francisco 49ers in the Superbowl. Enough said...Keenan is still drowning himself in sorrow, after all 'I waited 19 years for the 49ers to get to the Super Bowl.' Let just say Monday was a painfully (and emotionally) long day at work.