London: food + drink in Berkshire Co.

Bracknell

The Yorkshire Rose — We weren’t terribly hungry after a substantial Sunday roast lunch, so we were drawn by the options of small plates. Not too busy on a Sunday night with just two other tables in the back room. I opted for the small mussels appetizer and the small carbonara – more than enough food! Thankfully Eric ordered the small risotto because he barely finished it. Our evening was capped off by an exciting birthday song in which a candle the celebrating party brought to the restaurant exploded into a cloud of confetti! Overall, the staff was very friendly, the food was good and I would return here if we found ourselves back in Bracknell.

Reading

The Botanist — We met Eric’s co-workers here for a quick drink before dinner. I had a large glass of pinot noir and Eric opted for the “Yule Fuel” ale on draught. The food coming out of the kitchen looked good as did their curated selection of specialty cocktails.
House of Flavors — The very first time I have ever seen Scottish salmon curry on a menu, so of course I had to try it. Not disappointing! Medium spice and the perfectly cooked salmon was delicious, pairing nicely with a glass of Indian rose. Eric opted for the sizzling chicken laziz, which was a nice medium spice as well.

Wokingham

Cote Brasserie — We opted for this French bistro on Tuesday night and the whole experience was very good. Eric loved his starter of warm goat cheese, apples and mixed greens, and followed that with a delicious pounded flat steak and fries. My French Onion soup was better with the addition of salt and after letting it cool down for about ten minutes (seriously, why do restaurants serve soup so hot?!?) My steak tartare was good, I liked that the egg was mixed in but there were WAY too many chopped onions and the flavor became overwhelming. The chocolate cheesecake-like dessert was also on par with Eric’s meal – delicious.

Cote Brasserie  Cote Brasserie

Winkfield

The White Hart —  a cozy local place a half mile from our hotel, I stopped in for a quick lunch of a brie and bacon sandwich that was completely worth the 6£ price tag. Paired with a half pint of red ale and my Kindle, it was a lovely way to spend an hour outside of the hotel room. Two women with one fluffy white dog were relaxing in front of the fire after splitting a bottle of white wine. Based on our drive by on Wednesday evening, trivia night also seemed popular!

The White Hart

Duke of Edinburgh — We were in the mood for pub food, perhaps a meat pie, so we opted for the Duke of Edinburgh. Located down a narrow lane, it had a cozy vibe from the start. Eric was not disappointed with his steak and ale pie (one of the best he’s had!) and my liver pate was also great (the onion relish was amazing). We each had a pint of one of the cask ales that was malty with a bit of a dunkelweizen banana character.

Duke of Edinburgh

enjoying a pint @Duke of Edinburgh  steak and ale pie @ Duke of Edinburgh

London: Sunday Roast with Aunt Kim + Jules

We purposely left Sunday morning free to meet up with Kim and Jules, who proposed lunch at a pub on the Thames. To get out there we took the Tube to the Kew Garden station and met up at Tap on the Line pub for a quick drink, then took an Uber to The Bell & Crown for Sunday roast.

The Bell & Crown in Chiswick  The Bell & Crown in Chiswick

We arrived promptly at noon and discovered Kim had booked us a lovely Thames River view table. Our waiter was charming and I was pleased to see the menu was a la carte. I went for the traditional beef roast while Eric chose the butternut squash soup and helped me out with my Yorkshire pudding. :)  We each enjoyed a (large) glass of wine and the relaxed company.

They needed the table back by 3pm, so we snapped a quick photo along the chilly Thames and then it was time to part ways. Until next time!

lunch date w/ Kim + Jules

 

London: Imperial War Museum, a Polish Kitchen + the death of my phone

Our flight landed early at Heathrow and because we have done this trip over a dozen times it took us no time at all to get to our hotel in Earl’s Court. As it was Saturday morning there were (unsurprisingly) no rooms available at 8am. So we dropped off our luggage and headed out in search of coffee (hot cocoa for Eric) and to waste an hour before the Imperial War Museum opened at 10am.

Chelsea stadium

Brompton Cemetery  Chelsea doorway

After grabbing two almond croissants at an Elephant & Castle Tesco, we walked over to the museum. The collection of war vehicles (tanks, SUVs, planes), bombs, and paraphernalia was impressive and the entire floor dedicated to the Holocaust with videos of survivors playing was incredibly moving. Given our post-flight haze we started to run out of energy before the WW2 display, so those artifacts warrant a future visit.

main hall @ Imperial War Museum  war planes @ Imperial War Museum

Imperial War Museum

All that mental energy was replenished by a trip to Mamuśka, a Polish restaurant near the metro station. We split an amber ale, a small order of potato, cheese and onion pierogies (sprinkled with sour cream and crispy bacon), smalec (creamy pate served with white bread), and pork gulasz with fried chips. Everything was delicious. The atmosphere in relaxed with mostly family style seating and a few 2- and 4-top tables.

Polish tastiness

Mamuska

Between returning to our now-available room for a quick nap and heading out for dinner, my phone died. It restarted suddenly and then proceeded to get caught in an endless bootloop, restarting but never getting past the main ‘Google’ screen. We tried every trick we could find online but nothing worked. After contacting GoogleFi support and discovering the manufacturer’s warranty was extended for the Nexux 5X phones because of this exact issue (!!!) we realized our only solution was to ship my phone back to LG for repairs. Unfortunately, I had JUST landed in the UK for the ten-day trip, so that meant no phone for this trip and up to two weeks after I got home.

To get our minds off of this annoyance, we headed out to dinner at Rocca, an Italian restaurant that Eric had visited on his last trip. We had called ahead but the hostess wouldn’t take a reservation for two and told us just to come in. So we did and we were luckily seated straight away in the very back of the restaurant. It was pretty noisy but the service was quick and efficient, if not a little abrupt. I ordered a glass of prosecco and Eric a sauvignon doc (white) and they came out quickly. My funghi pizza was pretty good with a nice crust, but a bit on the bland side. Eric enjoyed his rabbit ragu pappardelle. Reasonable prices on the food and wine, I would return but try another dish.

We decided to try and get into Terroirs for a nightcap and were surprised to find two seats along the bar. The place eventually emptied out and the post-theatre rush we were expecting never occurred on this particular Saturday night.  This meant we had a bit more attention from the wait staff and were able to get tastings of wines before choosing. Eric choose a Slovenian white from Burja Estate and I had a Vini Viti Vinci pinot noir from Burgundy (France). Eric’s second choice was an Les Vins Pirouettes Alsatian white and mine was an unusual prosecco from Casa Belfi. All the pours are 125ml, unlike many other places where the small is 175ml and the large is 250ml! Definitely a good place to expand our wine experiences and try unusual varietals.

liquers @ Terrior

2017 Travel Overview

Previous years-in-review – 2016, 201520142013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009

Some of our travel stats for the year:

  • 122k+ total air miles on 6 airlines: American Airlines, Southwest, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, WestJet, and Malaysian Airlines
  • 8 countries visited: we returned to the UK, Italy, Canada, France, Hong Kong, and China, plus we added first time visits to Malaysia and Vatican City.
  • Domestically, we made return trips to Chicago, New York, Portland, Seattle, and Florida, whilst (finally) visiting Minnesota.

2017 was a year of memorable food and art:

  • lime juice, curries and satay plus Georgetown street art in Malaysia
  • multiple pubs plus theater shows in London
  • amazing pasta and paninis plus the Uffizi Gallery and Vatican Museums in Italy
  • Speyside whisky festival in Scotland
  • big Midwestern portions plus the Sculpture Garden in Minneapolis
  • beef stew, wine and pastries plus the Fontainebleau Palace, Musée d’Orsay, and the Louvre in Paris
  • wine tasting in Oregon and Washington
  • xiao long bao and the circus in Shanghai

And as always, our annual end of year video, featuring “One Foot” by Walk the Moon. Enjoy!

Shanghai: M50 & Jing’na Sculpture Park

Today was to be the day for travel to the nearby ancient town Suzhou… but alas, we were thwarted! Though there are a reported 60 train trips available between the two cities, we couldn’t get a train for several hours when we showed up at 10am to purchase tickets. Whether that was due to actual busyness or poor communication we’ll never fully know. On a side note, the main Shanghai Railway station was quite confusing, as you have to cross the street to get to the ticket counter and you can’t enter the main station without a ticket. At least we learned that English speaking agents are identified by a small sign in the upper right corner of their ticket window.

Instead, we wandered over to the M50 Art Center area. This space is a colorful mix of galleries, workspaces, and cafes. Very chill on a Saturday morning save for the horde of teenagers on what seemed like a scavenger hunt. While there was some street art, it was nothing too special. We did, however, find a nice pottery gallery where we found a vase for ourselves and a few other pieces for gifts. Our favorite spot was the Island 6 gallery, with lots of LED ‘paintings’ and other interesting art.

M50 art district

M50 art district

M50 art district

We stopped by the hotel briefly to drop off our pottery, then traveled to the Jing’an Sculpture park near the Natural History Museum. Lots of families were enjoying the nice weather in this park. While we were here the fountain turned on, surprising everyone with several cool patterns. Amongst our other favorites were the deer with butterfly antlers and the metal hands sculpture, “Sisters.”

Jing'an Sculpture Park

Jing'an Sculpture Park

Jing'an Sculpture Park

Jing'an Sculpture Park

On a friend’s recommendation, we tried Vegetarian Lifestyle for lunch. The ‘short ribs’ were great but the Kung Pao ‘chicken’ was just OK (the texture was spot on but the flavor was very one-dimensional). Leandra’s dumplings with mushroom and other veg were also just OK, a bit bland, and the dipping sauce that came with didn’t add much to the party. Service was incredibly slow with our waitress disappearing for long stretches. Pricey for what you get, I don’t think we would return.

meatless kung pao chicken @ Vegetarian Lifestyle

We had some daylight left, so we hopped on the subway to the Pudong side for views of the Pearl TV tower and other downtown buildings up close via the circular pedestrian walkway.

selfie w/ the Oriental Pearl TV Tower  Shanghai buildings

sculpture in Ming Zhu Park

Thinking a glass (or two) of wine would be nice, we jumped back on the metro (thank goodness for three-day unlimited metro cards) to the Jing’an Temple area, which was all messed up with construction. We arrived at Dr. Wine after Google said they would be open, but there was no one inside and the place was very dim. Disappointed, we started searching for other options when a man walked past us into the restaurant… they were open, just really quiet! With the choice of any seat, we grabbed a cozy couch I ordered a Nelson, NZ Chardonnay, then a Sav Blanc from the same region. Leandra had a rosé and then a South African pinotage, and we split a dried fruit and mixed nuts snack. Several groups came in for dinner and were seated upstairs so the downstairs lounge remained relaxed and uncrowded for a Saturday night.

wine bar still life

Shanghai 2017: Nanxing

After a leisurely breakfast, we spent a couple of hours Friday morning on FaceTime with family and friends wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving back in the States (where it was still Thursday evening).

After our calls home we took the subway northwest to Nanxing, known for its xiaolongbao street and Guyi Gardens. We started with lunch at Fengji Xiaolongguan, and ordering was an experience without any knowledge of Chinese. Thank goodness we knew the word ‘xiaolongbao’ so that worked, but I also ended up ordering us a soup without realizing it. Soup came out first and I was confused (and a little disappointed) but the dumplings quickly followed so all was well! Everything was tasty (even though Eric had to fish all the cilantro out of his soup). And cheap. We were both stuffed for under $6 USD.

xiaolongbao on Guyiyuan Rd

enjoying the soup dumplings

From our lunch place it was a short walk to the north entrance. After paying a modest 12rmb entry fee we entered a peaceful garden with gorgeous stone pathways, water features, pagodas and waterfalls. Like many parks in Shanghai, there were also lots of groups of old men playing cards and old women chatting on benches. We spent about 1.5 hours exploring before heading back to the hotel.

Guyi Garden map

Guyi Garden  Guyi Garden

Guyi Garden

Guyi Garden

After a quick recharge (for us and our phones), we took the subway to Jackie’s Beer Nest 2 located in the basement of the Hamburg House. Two beers for each of us – strong stouts for me, and a sour ale for Eric after his smoked beer kicked the keg after half a pint. The fried wontons made for an excellent snack with our beers.

tasty dumplings @ Jackie's Beer Nest 2

Jackie's Beer Nest 2

Curious to try a whisky bar, we walked over to MaltFun but found the place shuttered at 9pm on a Friday night with no explanation. Oh well.

Shanghai: Thanksgiving Dinner

Before we left for our relaxing trip to Hangzhou, I had made a dinner reservation for Thursday night at Cucina at the Hyatt. Unfortunately, neither of us checked WHICH Hyatt the restaurant was located in and of course, we went to the Hyatt on the Bund instead of the Grand Hyatt. Instead of just taking a cab (the fastest option), I wanted to walk and it took way longer than expected due to construction and confusing elevated walkways and long story short we arrived half an hour late and frustrated to our reservation. Boo.

Thankfully the place was not at all busy and we were seated next to the window with expansive views of the Bund. Unexpectedly, the Pearl TV Tower shut off its lights at 9pm so we only had several minutes to enjoy that building.

Service was a bit hit and miss but the wine prices were reasonable and Eric enjoyed his Caesar salad and spaghetti with meatballs. I had the 24 month aged Parma ham pizza which was perfectly fine. The highlight of the evening, however, was a delicious chocolate tart. SO GOOD.

Thanksgiving dinner views  delicious chocolate dessert