London: food + drink in Berkshire Co.


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.


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.


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


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

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.

A warm weekend in Minneapolis / St. Paul

In late September we flew to Minneapolis to visit friends and explore the area, and lucky us, it was warmer there than back home in NC! The heat made us a little lazier than we might have planned, but we had a good time ping-ponging across Minneapolis & St. Paul nonetheless.

Much of our time was spent being entertained by these two pups…

play time!  such a good boy!

Saturday highlights

Como Park Conservatory – walkable from our friend’s house, we enjoyed the various plants they have on exhibit. The bonsai collection and beautiful water lilies were especially notable.

water lily pads @ Como Park Conservatory

Muffaletta – a leisurely brunch, the baked French toast was quickly devoured. Leandra’s Benedict was big enough for a football player. She finished about half – putting in a good showing.

Dangerous Man Brewing – quite busy and loud, we were underwhelmed by the beer, as most everything we tasted was rather thin. The logo was awesome and well represented by the clientele.

Indeed Brewing – has two bars, and you aren’t supposed to carry drinks between them. We went for the quieter inside bar, where I tried the Heliotropic Dry Hopped, which was quite good. Leandra had a seasonal tripel.

Minnehaha Regional Park – easy view of the of the famous Minnehaha Falls at twilight. Afterwards, we walked down to the Mississippi River and back.

Minnehaha Falls  Minnehaha Falls

The Sample Room – nice spot for dinner. My cuban was perhaps the messiest sandwich I’ve ever had, definitely knife and fork material, and very tasty. Leandra’s steak tartare was good but the egg yolk was way too large for the portion size. The fries were AMAZING.

tartare @ The Sample Room

Sunday highlights

We started the day at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Smaller than expected, but with a fun range of sculptures (including the famous cherry) and an unbeatable price (free!).

'Spoonbridge and Cherry' @ Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

'Hahn/Cock' @ Minneapolis Sculpture Garden  'Woodrow' @ Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

'Wind Chime' @ Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Next we tried the Midtown Global Market, which was disappointingly only half open on Sunday morning. Instead, we decided on brunch at the Happy Gnome. Leandra’s poutine had a sticker in it; thankfully the restaurant staff took it back with apologies and quickly got her a replacement dish. Everyone else enjoyed their choices here, and the beer list is quite extensive.

After brunch we headed out of town to Vermillion Falls, situated next to an old mill. We may have been traveling with some excited canines as well….

peek-a-boo  Vermillion Falls

Old Mill ruins

tired pups in the back

peek-a-boo 2

After dropping said canines back at home and recharging both our phones and our energy levels, we headed for another brewery on our list, Surly. As with Indeed, they asked for ID for all patrons, which is rather laughable at our age. They have an enormous facility, with a large indoor beer hall complete with picnic tables, and an equally large outdoor patio. Since we weren’t eating we went outside and enjoyed the cooler twilight air. I definitely enjoyed their sour beer collection, best of the trip.

Our final stop was back in St. Paul at W.A Frost, a restaurant with a lovely tree filled outdoor patio and food to match. We didn’t get a chance to enjoy the basement bar area but it looked very inviting, especially if the weather is cooler (i.e. most of the time).

Monday morning

On our way to the airport we had breakfast at Tiny Diner with a woman Leandra met during her dumpling class in Beijing two years ago!

Winter Weekend in London: Overview and Thursday

In November we found an outstanding deal for the direct flight from RDU to London, so we booked a long weekend trip for February. London is a favorite city to visit (2016201520142013, 2012…) so we knew it wouldn’t be hard to fill our time! For this trip we based ourselves near the Earl’s Court tube stop and focused on culture (museums and theater) and exploring a few new-to-us neighborhoods (Little Venice and Angel/Islington).

Where We Stayed

This was our third stay at the Hotel Indigo and it was fraught with issues. Our room was ready at 8:30am which was a huge bonus. However, we were located in the basement through a series of fire doors and uneven steps; our location also meant that the window was below ground and next to the sidewalk, so we had the curtains drawn the whole time. The air vent in the room rattled on and off consistently for our entire four-night stay (even after complaining to the front deck twice), and the internet was spotty at best (with multiple trips to the front desk for fixes – they said they were getting a new provider soon).  On the upside, the bed was comfortable, and as usual, the location works well for us.

our bedroom @ Hotel Indigo London - Kensington  our personalized message
our room; even the TV’s personalized room message was broken


Our flight across the pond was uneventful and after checking in we headed out into the brisk morning to Borough Market for cheese, bread and snacks. But first! The iconic views of London — Big Ben and the London Eye.

Big Ben and Westminsterthe Eye (sponsored by Coca Cola) 

We also wanted to check out the Leake Street graffiti tunnel. There were a few choice murals and paste-ups but mostly basic tagging.

gas mask  El Trumpo

make my day  he's mine at least 

A few stops later on the Jubilee line and we arrived at Borough Market just as things were opening to pick up a second breakfast. We found fresh raspberries, British cheese and a baguette, plus a Venison meat stick for Leandra, which she snacked on for the remainder of the trip.

tasty cheese @ Borough Market cheese @ Borough Market

We stopped in briefly to the Southwark Cathedral to see if we could eat our lunch in the courtyard but no food was allowed. Instead we admired the architecture and the sleepy resident cat curled up on a comfy chair near the altar.

Wooden Effigy of a Knight @ Southwark Cathedral

Another few stops on the Jubilee line took us to Canary Wharf and the Museum of London Docklands. Free, as most museums are in London, this museum explained the interesting history of London along the Thames – development, labor strikes, WWII, etc, with lots of displays and artifacts across the centuries. We enjoyed our visit to this quirky museum, and would definitely recommend it for history buffs.

It was terribly windy in London on Thursday but nowhere more so than the docklands around the museum. Crossing the North Dock footbridge to the museum and waiting for the West India Quay Overground train left us completely wind-blown.

Dragging after the long overnight flight, we headed back to the room for a quick nap, then beers at our old favorite, Cask Pub & Kitchen. We arrived just in time to grab a table and the place filled up quickly as people got off from work. Leandra choose small pours of the Atom Neutron Star, an imperial stout, and the Tiny Rebel Dirty Stop Out, a smoked oat stout. I was very happy that one of my favorite beers was on tap, Cantillon Rosé De Gambrinus, so that was a definite first for me. For my second, I tried the Wyper & True Mimosa, a Berliner Weisse that was a bit too light after my delicious lambic.

dressed up for beers @ Cask Pub & Kitchen  red, blonde and dark beers
Leandra in a dress (!) drinking beer; a red, a blonde and a brunette

Finally, we met Kim and Jules for late dinner at Boisdale of Belgravia, a boisterous restaurant with live jazz and a Scottish menu. Pricey but classy and tasty.

jazz @ Boisdale of Belgravia

After a long day we slept very well that evening!

Malaysia: a day in Hong Kong

On trips to Asia it often makes sense to spend a long layover in Hong Kong on the way back (much like we do for London on return trips from Europe) so we don’t have to catch crazy early flights for positioning.

Upon landing at the airport, I was delighted by all of the CNY decorations and couldn’t pass up standing in a short line for a free sample of dragon beard candy. :)

waiting for dragon beard candy at the airport  dragon beard candy prep

We’ve been to Hong Kong many times (2015, 2015 again, 2013, and 2011) so for this trip we made a point to explore a different neighborhood by staying in the Wan Chai area for the night. While we liked our room at the Hotel Indigo, we found the restaurants and shops to be a bit pricier than other neighborhoods like SoHo/Sheung Wan and

our charming room @ Hotel Indigo Hong Kong Island  the view from our room
our bedroom; the view from our room

Once we checked in and got our bearings, we walked around a bit through the Wan Chai market area picking up some socks and gifts in the street market, plus a curry puff and BBQ puff from Kee Wah Bakery. The quickly eaten pineapple cake also caused us to return and buy four more!

Wan Chai, Hong Kong  lanterns!
Chinese lanterns during the day and lit up at night

We checked out the hotel bar happy hour – it had some nice panoramic views of the city but the “buy one get one free” special couldn’t be split between two people, and since we didn’t want two drinks each we skipped it. Instead, we had a pint at Roundhouse – Chicken+Beer where they apparently don’t want you to know how much their beer costs. The prices are not listed on the website or their tap board. So! To be helpful I will tell you that pretty much every beer — even the locally brewed choices — were 88HKD or about $11USD. For a pint of beer.  Considering the prices in Malaysia, Hong Kong was a bit of a shock to our system.

taps @ Roundhouse - Chicken + Beer

After our pricey pint, we walked to Central Plaza for 46th floor panoramic views of the city. It was very hazy so the views were just okay but on a clear day I think it would be worth the stop.

view from 46th Floor Sky Lobby, Central Plaza

For dinner, we got a light meal at 22 Ships, I had the beef tartare (too salty) and Eric had a delicious strawberry and marshmallow dessert with a glass each of a pleasant rose wine. I wanted to see the laser show from a different vantage point so I hiked to the Golden Bauhinia Square around 8pm. The show is definitely better from the Kowloon side – don’t bother with the Hong Kong side!

dessert @ 22 Ships

As usual, we enjoyed our long layover in Hong Kong. Next time we will probably stay on the Kowloon side, likely in the Mong Kok neighborhood.

on our way home...

Marlborough: mussels and Cable Bay

After checking out of the hotel at 10am and packing up the car, we walked into town to do a little shopping at the local souvenir shop.

On our way out of town we stopped at one last winery before beginning our trek back to Nelson, Huia.  The small tasting room was staffed by a woman from Portland, Valerie, who was living overseas and working at the winery to pay for her time in a shared house in Marlborough. We tried most of the range, including wines from their cheaper label, Hunky Dory, over the course of 1.5 hours. In general, the wines were pleasant enough, the ’11 Organic Pinot Noir and ’16 Organic Sauvignon Blanc were the standouts.

One place we HAD to stop was The Mussel Pot in Havelock. The mussels were enormous! One kilo per order was more than enough for me and some of them could have been cut in half. I choose the cream, basil and garlic broth (chef’s fave according to our waiter) which was very nice and even better with a bit of bread dunked in (ordered separately). While the mussels were great, I could have easily split the serving size and this was the only place that charged us a $1 for ‘extra’ ketchup for Eric’s fries. A bit stingy really.

The Mussel Pot Restaurant 

We had some time to kill before we needed to be at the airport, so Eric routed us up north of Nelson to Cable Bay for some scenic views. The drive was lovely and we enjoyed the vistas from the beach spit between the mainland and Pepin Island, joined by a tidal sandbar.

Cable Bay

Cable Bay

Cable Bay

heart rock @ Cable Bay

After filling up the car with gas, we stopped in for a quick half pint at another location of Sprig & Fern. I had the Scottish Ale and Eric ordered the seasonal pilsner which was light and crisp.

We dropped off the car and caught the shuttle to the airport, checked our bags without incident and waited about 30 minutes to board our short flight to Auckland. Once again, since it was a small domestic flight we had no security screening, which meant we were able to bring our half-finished bottle of wine up to the North Island in the main cabin. I imagine this is going to change in the future, but it was nice to not have to dump half a bottle of wine or slam the smoothie drink I hadn’t gotten around to enjoying yet!

Marlborough: wine tasting, day 2

The weather today was quite random – sunny and calm one minute, windy and raining the next. A good day for indoor wine tasting!

Lawson’s Dry Hills – Our first stop of the day, we just beat a large group to start our tasting. Julia was friendly and full of knowledge about the wines. Most of these we can get in the USA but we wanted to see if we liked any since we were so close. Most of the whites ate $20-25 which is pretty good for the area, but all the wines tasted watered-down to us. Nothing stood out as exceptional given the competition in the area.

wine lineup @ Lawson's Dry Hills

Hunter’s Wines – Overall a good place for a tasting and lunch. I found the wines just fine, nothing super memorable save for the dessert wine (which we bought a bottle of). We figured they would be good with food, so we stayed for lunch – I had the venison and pinot noir meat pie with fries and a glass of Pinot Noir and Eric had the ham and cheese panini with the Gewurtztraminer. The food took a while to come out but we were in no rush.

Hunter's Wines

Moa Brewing – We stopped in for a tasting but it was a bit crowded and the only things on offer were IPAs and pales. $5 for a tasting flight but nothing looked appealing so we skipped it.

Our next winery stop, Fromm, had a nice mix of whites and reds available for tasting. Rebecca was a good hostess and we really liked the wines here. The Syrah Reserve was particularly good and different from a lot of reds I had tasted in the valley, so I picked up a bottle. Eric liked the La Strada Sauvignon Blanc and the German-style Riesling Spatlese. They are also a biodynamic winery for those that care about that sort of thing.

Bladen – Our last stop of the day, this small tasting room (the smallest in Marlborough!) was very quaint and the vineyard’s Irish Setter, Vinnie, was adorable. We found the Gewurtz, Rose, and Pinot Noir to be very good and the owner himself, a former Wellingtonian, was pouring the wines.

Bladen Winery

Eric spotted a road going into the southern hills on the map, so we drove a bit to see what was down there. Nice views!



We parked the car for a bit and took a walk along the riverfront, downtown was pretty dead on a Sunday evening.

For dinner we drove to Dodson’s Street Beer Garden where we both opted for the pizza and pint special – a personal pizza and 1/2 L of beer each for $23, quite the solid deal in NZ. Given the value, and that it was one of the only places open on Sunday, it was very busy. Picking a beer was a bit odd as you ordered at your table and the waitress gave us a beercap token to get out beers at the bar area on the complete other side of the restaurant. There is also no draught or wine menu so I took photos of the 20+ taps and ten-ish wine choices and brought my phone back to the table so we could choose. Food was fine but I couldn’t finish my beer — too much liquid already that day!