My favorite High Tea at The Orangery, Kensington Palace, London

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Orangery
Kensington Palace
Palace Green

London W8 3UY
Area: Kensington Gardens
020 7376 0239
Restaurant website (unavail), for details, see Yelp UK

Food (4.2/5.0)
Service (3.8/5.0)

Not to be stereotypical, but my multiple food experiences in London haven't been mind-blowing; even if Indian food and Peking Duck in Bayswater are particular delicious (not English at all). Traditional English food doesn't quite excite me...Unless you're talking about High Tea. The most influential female figures in my early development subscribe to a "ladies who lunch" mantra, and would bring us kids out for high tea almost every week. Between nibbles of scones and sips of milky tea, we would be regaled with highlights of petty gossip, sagely advice and competitive shopping deals. We would switch things up by going for the traditional English one day, Hong Kong yum cha the next, Peranakan kuehs the next.... Not to sound obnoxious, I know my high tea well

In the UK, my favorite aspect of English food is unanimously its High Tea. While I can't say that I have sampled a lot in London, I have been to two places: The Orangery and Brown's. Of the 2, I preferred The Orangery to Brown's by several reasons:
TO was affordable and of great value (13-18 quid) versus and Brown's pricey tag (~40 quid!!!);
it had greater variety and also offered a savory smoked fish plate;
it was unpretentious and was located in the beautiful gardens of Kensington Palace...That said, Brown's offered free flow of delicious, buttery scones and petit fours but there really is so much carbs one can eat in the middle of the afternoon.

TO does not take reservations and if you're going there on the weekends, be prepared for a substantial wait. UK Yelpers, god bless their hearts, have rated my favorite TO highly and it is no longer London's best kept secret. As of now, I have officially been to TO about 5 times, which explains why I have not explored other high tea establishments as much. With pillars set in a high-ceilinged and sunlit room, I always leave with refreshed and inspired airs. Each table is also set with a small potted orange tree and the silverware is pristine and impeccable.

As mentioned, there is a delicately-smoked fish platter with trout, salmon and other nibbles which contrast nicely with the sweets we have. De-crusted poppyseed pain de mie contributes an excellent nutty profile toward the traditional buttered sandwich; in that regard, crunchy cucumber sandwiches and pillowy egg sandwiches were proportioned perfectly.  The scones with clotted cream, butter and strawberry preserves are heavenly and decadent and rich. The funny thing is that each rich mouthful invites another...because of the teas. I used to order champagne tea but to maximize my appetite, I now go without. I love lapsang souchong and earl grey the most; the former for its intense and seductive smokiness and the latter because of its citrus-y notes of bergamot. Gah, I love this place! I have been to some good, fancy high tea places in Boston but none so far have compared to the well-executed simplicity of TO. Waiting to buy a cheap air ticket to London soon...

The Menu (front)

The Menu (inside)
Little Orange plant
Said dining room
My very-embellished left hand. 
Preparing to attack.... Cousin Stef and aunt.


Unpretentious Fine Dining at Journeyman, Somerville.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I took this shot using my point and shoot; doesn't it look like it was taken by an SLR?
9 Sanborn Court
Somerville, MA 02143
(617) 718-2333

Food (4.1/5.0)
Service (4.2/5.0)

I felt like a Journey-woman while making my way to the restaurant, tucked away from the T lines in east Somerville. It wasn't easy because MBTA buses aren't the most reliable means of transport in Boston. But like a climber working towards the peak, I was duly rewarded by an evening of unassuming but very fine dining. My 3 course tasting menu for $39 wasn't cheap, but their attention to detail and service makes it a worthwhile experience. Admittedly, this positive experience was enhanced by the company of dear friends and a delicious glass of efferverscent rosé.

I first heard of husband and wife team, Tze Wei Lim and Diana Kudayarova (from B and Vaughn) via their underground supper club. Time passed and before I could get an invite, they went above ground and set up their restaurant. But true to their roots, Journeyman lies nestled in an alley, off the beaten track and in the heart of Union Square. Therefore, I was really excited when Jess organized a dinner outing to sample their food. In addition, it seems that my friends and friends of friends knew the owners so to say our enthusiasm was vested would be an understatement.

Our party of 10 was huge and we were asked to submit any dietary restrictions to the restaurant so that they could plan the menu. It was definitely a nice feeling to know that our dining experience was such a personal affair. Journeyman is mostly localvor-ic but Jess in her blurb said it best,
"The food comes daily from local farmers and artisans, often people the owners know. Not sure if this is sweet or macabre, but the owners have raised and named some of the animals (Lenin & Stalin were their first two pigs) and, on a less controversial note, grow edible herbs and flowers in the restaurant's windows. They also support other local purveyors such as Taza Chocolate, Pretty Things beer and other local/back alleys of production."

Most had the omnivore menu, but there were some of us opted for a vegetarian menu. I was impressed with their vegetarian options because it is no way lacking in terms of impact and quality as compared to the meat option. I thought the main course was going to be vareniki but it turned out to be sweet potato agnolotti. No matter, because the agnolotti was hearty and satisfying and the sauce that accompanied was excellent combination of sweet and savory. I got a bite from Daniella, and I wish I had more. My pasture-raised pork came from North Face Farms (the piggies look so happy!) and was just phenomenal--moist and slightly nutty; I think they forage for acorns and seeds for play. I cannot mention enough that carefree, ethically-raised animals taste significantly better than their caged counterparts. Like most fine dining, the portions are very tiny but over the course of 3 hours, everyone left sated and satisfied. Also noteworthy is that this was Jess' second visit in a month.

Amuse-bouche 1a. Buttery baby biscuit. I wish this could be lighter and softer and not so dense of crumb.
 Amuse-bouche 1b. Freshly made ravioli (vegetarian menu) with cubed beets.
First Course. Salad. Smears of carrot soup and eggplant soup frame a variety of squashes, striated beetroot, Watermelon radish (cute!), jerusalem artichokes/sunchokes. I loved this salad not because there was so much variety on a place but also because the freshness and simplicity of the ingredients speak for themselves. In fact, there was no dressing, just artfully-arranged slices of veg and a little moisture from the soups to tie it all together. Every mouthful was different and gave a unique explosion of flavor. This was also my first time having watermelon radish (center) and the first bite really did taste like the firm rind of a watermelon, lots of juicy crunch going on. 
 Said herb-garden.
Second course (vegetarian). Sweet potato agnolotti with seasonal greens and candied pecans, canneilini beans. Sweet and nutty and oh so yummy.
 Second course. Short ribs, pommes ecrase, frisee.
Second coursePork Loin, chard, potato cube. The caramelized sauce hardened on the plate so I really wasn't able to taste it. But the overall natural and refined flavors made it a pleasure to savor. Potato cube was nicely roasted.
 Close up of my pork. Mmmm.... meat-fat-meat = very YUM. Crispy crackling reminds me of Sio bak.
 Amuse-bouche 2. palate cleanser of apple and fennel jelly. I could have a whole pint of it, please.
Dessert. Rosemary pumpkin seed biscotti, apple cake, pear (?) ice cream. Apple cake was moist, tender and perfectly sweet. Biscotti was not as hard as a rock, which I prefer actually. I swore I tasted rosemary in the biscotti and people around me were incredulous and mentioned the creme anglaise and pumpkin seed instead (huh?). But my tasting abilities were validated upon double-checking the menu. Rosemary, it is! hah!
 Amuse-bouche 3. that I think resembles a baby chick.

A night of continuous eating starting wtih Sambal red snapper, then Nasi Lemak, Anchovy-Belachan, Hazelnut sparkling water, Chocolate ganache, Matcha Cream, Prelude to Taiyaki and More!

Friday, November 19, 2010

I'm going to keep the commentary short due to a picture-heavy post. But we were all craving for some sambal stingray/skate after reading K.F. Seetoh's recipe in the NYTimes and got together to make some at Jh's. In doing so, we decided on a nasi lemak combo with coconut rice, fried egg and anchovies. But this was at Jh's and he always has nibbles before, during and after cooking so a simple one-dish wonder kind of morphed into an eating expedition. Noms! We subsituted skate for red snapper and made other changes, as documented in Virtual Journal, so read more if you're interested. 

Sambal red snapper. Spicy, firm and it hits the spot. Could do with more acid, which we rectified using white vinegar.
Crispy fried eggs. This is no silky frittata or omelette for you but a rustic, fry with crispy, papery edges. 
Sorry for the messy plating. At this point I was just too hungry.With coconut rice and anchovies. 
Scratch that. we decided to fry them anchovies using homemade belachan
Palate cleanser. Club soda with frangelico (hazelnut) and disaronno (almonds). Interesting but winning combination of bubbly.
Not settling for a simple dessert, we decided whip up some chocolate ganache. Bain-marie gets steamy.
then its the heavy cream.
chocolate chips to melt.
I spiked it with matcha and nutella but the taste of chocolate was too overwhelming. 
As it cooled, the ganache thickened and we used it to sandwich Jh's (crispy) macaron. and as a topping for cheesecake. and to cover candied ginger. 

soft peaks of whipped heavy cream with matcha and orange blossom water. We couldn't taste the orange blossom but overall it was mildly sweet and very fragrant. It was all consumed in a heartbeat with macarons and rice crackers.
I was having way too much fun with the Taiyaki-griddle. But this paved the way for a Japanese food themed night!

Sunday Brunch at Lineage, Coolidge Corner.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lineage Restaurant
242 Harvard Street
Brookline, MA 02446-2904
(617) 232-0065

Food (3.8/5.0)
Service (3.8/5.0)-Host was very nice but service was too too slow and we were ALL too hungry.

I invited my new "Halloween" friends to Lineage for brunch and had a great time catching up and chatting (I believe that this was the first time they saw me in my regular 'do and not in a pink wig). I had high expectations when it came to Lineage for brunch but unfortunately, while the food wasn't bad, it didn't quite hit the spot either. The 2 tastiest dishes were the lobster tacos and the eggs benedict; the rest was kinda 'meh' for me. Individual thoughts to follow.

Spicy Lobster Tacos
, mango salsa, avocado mousse. One of the highlights. Firm and generous chunks of lobster and mango make for great texture, and a creamy mousse to tie it all together. Not bad indeed.

Eggs Benedict, baby spinach, ham, hollandaise. This was my dish. Eggs were perfectly poached, hollandaise sauce was delicious and appetitie-inducing. Muffins were nicely-buttered. My only complaint is that the portions were too tiny. I would have appreciated home fries or hash or some other accompaniment, because I still hungry. Makes sense? It's been more than 15 hours since my last meal on Saturday.Seared ahi tuna. Gosh, I may not be an expert on fish, but I do eat it quite often. The tuna was more than seared, it was medium-well so it was a little too stiff. In addition, the fish had an overpowering "fishy" smell. Overall, I didn't like it at all and would not recommend you order it.
Mushroom & Parmesan Omelet,  home fries, toast. Home fries too dry. Overall meh.
Eggs, bacon and greens on a bed of polenta. I didn't have the egg but if mine were any indicator, they should be good. Everything else, polenta was so-so. Therefore overall meh.

My verdict: Oh well, more brunch spots to explore anyways!

Rum cake & Tea at Tiffany's.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Our voluptuous teapot with all the right curves in all the right places.

My friend Tiffany has the most amazing silverware, plates and kitchenware that make everything on them look super good (see above one example of many). She also happens to be one of the most generous and gracious hostesses I know; in her care no guest leaves hungry, and no glass is left unfilled! This time, she brought a yummy rum cake back from the bahamas for us to try. Having a chat and tea together with my girls B and N was super fun and relaxing; could we do a punny "Breakfast at Tiffany's" soon?

Remember my post on Jamaican food here and here? I have never tried Caribbean rum cakes before, although I have tasted rum babas and those were goood. We had a gourmet herbal ginger tea from MEM Tea Co., which was very warming and fragrant. To keep our palates guessing, we alternated the sweets with a savory plate of crispy Japanese crackers that B brought from Japan. Flavors included squid ink, wasabi, roasted squid, shrimp, seaweed/kelp etc.

Them crackers.
The rum cake looks like a bundt.
Its texture was like that of a dense and rich pound cake, flavored with lots of sweet rum. My colleague said that people in his country do get drunk off rum cakes so I had a small tentative bite, being a lightweight and all. I must say that he might have exaggerated a little with the "alcohol gets trapped within the flour matrix" statement because I felt fine after eating it. B later told me that on top of mixing rum into the batter, people drizzle it again on the finished cake. DUH, as evident from the moist edges below. I'm such a ninny. This cake would be super easy to recreate at home I think. Will try it out and tweak it to my liking then.

Having Lunch at The Harvard Club of Boston Part 2.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Lineup

374 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215-2860
(617) 536-1260

Food (3.4/5.0)
Service (3.8/5.0)

This would be my second time at the Harvard Club of Boston via Commonwealth Avenue. (Read about my dinner experience here; for dinner at the Harvard Faculty Club at Harvard Square, click here) Lunch was buffet-style and for the most part, I rather enjoyed it. The lunch was an improvement over the mediocre food I had for dinner the last time (I gave it a rating of 3.0). Individual reviews to follow below.

My colleague and I couldn't resist exploring the club proper since there were not that many people around in the morning. Upon inquiring with the very helpful concierge, we chanced upon various themed dining rooms, my favorite being the one with eggshell-blue walls, black gothic chandeliers and a very dandy-looking checked tile floor. With natural sunlight streaming in through the french-style windows, I really wouldn't mind a cup of tea with scones while we're at it too.

Commonwealth Avenue is beautiful this time of year.
Front door.

Majestic Stairs.

Isn't this dining room beautiful? For some reason, the color palette gives me an Alice in Wonderland visual. The rabbit's gonna pop out any moment!
Our luncheon Room. With tapestries and very high ceilings. 
My buffet-ed lunch. I'll have you know that I took great pains to plate it well so it wouldn't look like slop.
In the back, I had a smörgås or open-faced sandwich with juicy, tender shrimp, caramelized onions and roasted vegetables on a bed of salad greens.The roasted potatoes were done very well, perfectly caramelized, salted and tender with a nice creamy center. The salad and appetizers were so good, I actually anticipated my mains.  
Later, I had chicken with mushroom gravy (too hard and dry-FAIL), salmon with a butter-cream sauce (well done, soft and tender. The only redeeming portion) and a basic risotto (too dry). Sigh.
For dessert, I had a hazelnut cake and a red cherry pie. But really, I liked the maple-walnut cake (not pictured) the most as I could taste faint notes of maple syrup and hints of walnut. The light flavors went well with the light, airy texture of the crumb. I initially thought this was pumpkin cake but our server mentioned otherwise.
I sampled all the desserts and my verdict's as follows:
*Hazelnut cake-no hazelnut flavor at all so it tasted like regular chocolate cake.
*Carrot cake: Cake was too light and lacked the seductive, spicy richness of carrot cake. The buttercream frosting was also a little synthetic-tasting.
*(Sour) Cherry pie-Across the board, too sour! And coming from someone who takes it up a notch versus regular folks, this means something. Otherwise, the pastry was buttery and yummy.
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