Monthly Archives: October 2015

Afternoon Tea

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After 7 months of working in London, I finally did an afternoon tea today. And it was AMAZING. I actually tried to do it a Sunday last month, but had no reservation – big mistake! I walked over to The Langham hoping they had some walk-in availability, but no luck… then I called The Wolseley, who said they did walk-ins, but when I was already seated it was 2:30, I realized they start serving afternoon tea at 3:30.

This time, I decided to do it with a little more advance planning (the day before). It was still hard to find a reservation for the time I wanted, and I even got this email from The Sanderson, which has a pretty cool afternoon tea based on Alice in Wonderland:

Hi Jessica,

The first available Saturday is the 19th of December and the first available Sunday is the 8th of November. Weekdays are less busy.

It’s OCTOBER 10TH. Crazy. Anyway, I was able to get a spot at 12:30 pm at The Rosebery in the Mandarin Orange Hotel – I figured if I was going to be paying so much, I’d stuff my face for lunch.

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The inside is very nice; the room has a lot of natural light and there are pillows on every chair, which are very comfy. I was seated and then it was explained that there was a list of teas I could try from, and I could switch between any of the teas I wanted. The sandwiches and pastries would come out come out first, and then the scones, and everything was all you can eat. YES!

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I started out with a darjeeling second flush tea – apparently “second flush” means it’s harvested in June. It tasted like tea. Later on, I switched to a lychee strawberry green tea, which was kind of interesting. I couldn’t really taste the lychee but I could definitely taste the strawberry.

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First the sandwiches came out – these were really good (although they were basically just regular sandwiches). Here’s what they were:

– slow roasted organic chicken and buttered corn
– smoked salmon tartar with creme fraiche and dill
– cotswold egg and mustard cress
– cucumber and cream cheese
– Portland crab and crayfish with asparagus on nori bread
– Wildshire cured ham and heritage tomatoes

My favorite was probably the ham one, and my least favorite was definitely the cucumber and cream cheese – too cream cheesy.

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The pastries were pretty good although I decided to prioritize the sandwiches over the pastries. From left to right:

– The Pan Charm – green tea and lemon choux bun
– Imagination Pie – strawberry mousse and clotted cream cremeux
– In the Clouds – blackberry, lemon, and vanilla entremet
– Blackbeard’s Cannonball – milk chocolate mousse with caramelized banana
– Mermaid Macaron – vanilla yogurt ganache

I found it hilarious that these desserts had proper names. I finished the green tea thing and the macaron, and they were all good enough to finish eating if I weren’t so full at this point.

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The black velvet cake (chocolate and ginger) and The Jolly Rodger (pineapple and coconut) were just ok – I actually preferred the black velvet one without the icing (it was really easy to take off).

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I was so full by the time the scones came out, so I only ate half of one. I don’t think I really missed out much though, they were basically just dense biscuits (like American biscuits, not British cookie “biscuits”). One was plain and one had golden raisins.

In the end, I ate 14 tiny sandwiches, two pastries, half of three pastries, two cakes, and half a scone. I’d say it’s definitely worth it for the experience, but not for the food, since it was £48 plus a service charge – it’s almost embarrassing to admit that I paid this much for this. Sitting next to me was a group of 6 posh, attractive 30-something Londoners; I can only hope that at that point in my life I’d be ok with doing the occasional afternoon tea to catch up with my friends!

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Lisbon

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Lisbon = seafood and I love it! I honestly knew nothing about Lisbon before I arrived, but one thing I did do before going was listen to some Rick Steves podcasts about Portugal. There was one focused on just food, so I was definitely excited to try some seafood. If you’re ever walking around alone in Europe, I highly recommend downloading Rick Steves’ app and listening to the tracks about wherever you are. Great way to pass the time as you go from place to place and learn more about different attractions, cuisines, and cultures.

I got to Lisbon on Friday night, and took my time getting to dinner – I had a place in mind, but I read on TripAdvisor that there are always lines. Sure enough, when I reached Cervejaria Ramiro at 10:30 pm, there was a line of about 20 people! Luckily they were all a part of one big group, and I was seated within 10 minutes. I didn’t find this out until later but “cervejaria” basically means beer hall, which explains the rowdiness of the whole place.

They give you an iPad with a menu that has pictures on it, which is pretty helpful. The prices are listed in grams, which I had no frame of reference for, but when I said the 3 things I wanted, the waiter said I should get small sizes for all of them.

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I ordered shrimp with garlic, crab, and giant tiger prawns. The shrimp with garlic was delicious and came in this butter sauce that was great for dipping everything else in. Everything tasted really fresh! The crab is served as all of the legs and claws, but then they mix some crab meat with some stuff (I really have no way to describe this) and put it in the shell. It was… interesting. I wasn’t really sure what I should or shouldn’t have been eating in there, although I’m sure it was all fine. One travesty is that I didn’t eat the crab meat in the legs. I was a) too full, and b) given this hammer that you can see in the top left – I’m used to being given a crab cracker and felt really awkward using the hammer even with all the noise in the place.

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At Gambrinus, here’s some sole with a lemon butter sauce that I paid way too much for for lunch on Sunday.

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Portugal’s national dish is bacalhau, or salt cod, even though it’s all from Norway. They say there are 365 ways to prepare it. At Restaurante Carmo, I just got one of the most popular variations – bacalhau a bras, which is made of cod, rice, scrambled eggs, onions, and black olives. I was expecting just a piece of fish with the vegetables on the side, so this was a nice surprise! I liked it, although I wasn’t too sure how much cod vs. onions there really were in it.

Not to be outdone, pork is also very popular in Portugal. Also at Carmo, I had some pata negra:

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This was sooo good. The ham is from pigs who are only fed acorns or grains, or a mix of both (not sure which one this was) which changes the flavor and quality of the meat.

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On Saturday night, I ate at Joao do Grao, which was a little too touristy. It’s never good when the menu comes in 10 different languages. I ordered carne de porco alentejana – fried pork with clams. When this came out, I was a little worried because of the fries. Yes, the fries sucked but the rest was pretty good. This was actually my first time eating clams! Not bad.

The one thing that Lisbon is REALLY famous for is pastel de nata, a pastry made with eggs. When I read about them and saw pictures, I thought, “hmm, these sound like dan tats,” which are Chinese egg tarts that you eat at the end of dim sum. I read that the Belem district, about 25 minutes away by bus from central Lisbon, is the best place to get them, so I made the trek over there.

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In Belem, they’re so special that they’re called pasteis de belem, which is also the name of the bakery. This place was insane! There was a line out the door, but it moved pretty fast. When I took a bite of them, I thought, “hmm, these taste like dan tats.” I looked up dan tat online, and basically the only places where these are popular are Portugal and Hong Kong/Macau! Weird but cool. But makes sense, when you realize that Macau used to be a colony of Portugal. The more you know.

I do think these were slightly better than dan tats though; they were sweeter. Usually I don’t like dan tats enough to make it to the end of one. Also the cup is made of puff pastry and while the cup in dan tats are usually more dense, flour based.

One thing to note as you eat through Lisbon is that they will always put down a basket of bread on your table – this is not free! You can refuse it or just not touch it and they won’t put it on your bill, but if you do eat it, it costs a euro or two. I definitely broke down on this a time or two.