Wah Wing Szechuan Restaurant

Despite having been settled in Vancouver for the last seven years or so, my family had never been to dimsum before. I mean, I’d gone for dimsum before, but always with friends, never with my family. I’m not sure why, but it was probably due to the fact that we almost always go out for dinner, rather than lunch, and sometimes ordering at a Chinese restaurant can be daunting when you don’t speak Chinese. In any case, though, we finally decided to satisfy our cravings for dimsum by trekking out to Wah Wing one Sunday afternoon.

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If you’re like me and aren’t too familiar with the world of dimsum, it can be difficult trying to decide what to order, especially since the English menu descriptions are usually less than helpful. Still, I know enough to order the Siu Mai ($4.25). The shrimp on top were a nice touch, being aesthetically pleasing and letting us know how much care was put into the food. The siu mai themselves were moist and meaty with a nice bounce, while the shrimp on top provided a nice textural snap.

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I guess I’m still a kid at heart because one of my favourite items to get is always the Lo Mai Gai ($4.25), or the sticky rice wrap. It’s just so fun to unravel that lotus leaf and discover the sticky rice within. Anyways, the rice here was moist, but not too wet, and quite filling. It was also filled with meat and other savoury treats, like mushrooms, which added a slight note of earthiness.

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Next up, we had the Steamed Beef Balls ($3.95), which were nicely cut up for us as to be more sharable. Beef generally isn’t my meat of choice, but here it was nicely tenderized, smooth, and tender. There was a subtle textural crunch from the water chestnuts. These balls also had a distinct aroma from the greens, and although I’m not sure what they were, I really enjoyed it.

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We had another kid-friendly item in the BBQ Pork Buns ($3.95). The pork filling was predictably sweet, but also slightly savoury at the same time. I thought that the morsels of pork were also quite substantial, with less filler and fatty pieces than other dimsum I’ve had. For me, though, the highlight of these is always the bun itself, and here it didn’t disappoint, being pillowy soft.

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I also ordered the Pan Fried Turnip Cake ($3.95). Here, it was not too greasy, again both combining the natural sweetness and savouriness of the ingredients. However, I found it a bit dense for my liking, and a little too dry, as I kept having to reach over for my tea. Still, I enjoyed it, as it was one of the more filling items at the table, compared to the dumplings or the beef balls.

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Last up, we also ordered the Fried Green Beans Special ($7.95), which is a lunch special that includes a bowl of rice and a soup of choice. The beans themselves were very fresh and quite crisp. The taste of the beans themselves was allowed to shine, as the dish itself was neither too salty or spicy. Unlike other versions I’ve sampled, these also included some diced onions, which also provided an enjoyable textural crunch.

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As part of the lunch special, we also received a bowl of Hot and Sour Soup. I can’t pretend to be an expert on this, but I thought this was one of the best versions I’ve personally had. There was a good balance of flavours present, and the mushrooms added a subtle silkiness and earthiness. But then again, I enjoy mushrooms in just about anything. In any case, I especially thought that the fried green beans special was a good deal, considering that the meal includes both rice and soup.

Thankfully, though, my family enjoyed our first Vancouver dimsum experience, and so we decided to return for a dinner service. The restaurant was quite crowded, but the service was excellent, as it had been during dimsum. Our tea was promptly replaced without us having to hail down a waiter, and the servers, knowing that we weren’t Chinese, were thoughtful enough to identify each dish for us.

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Once I saw it on the menu, I eagerly suggested that we order the Half BBQ Duck ($12.95), since I love duck in any form. To be honest, it was a bit pricey, but I think it was worth it, as the duck was moist and tender, and not at all tough, which can often be a problem with duck. The skin was crispy and flavourful without being too greasy, and there was plenty of meat on the plate as well.

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My parents always like to order the Mongolian Beef ($12.95). This version was fine, but ultimately nothing memorable. This version was seriously lacking in the vegetable department. Some kind of broccoli would have definitely helped matters. It was fine, but nothing we would order again.

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Moving on, we also had the Tofu with Minced Beef ($12.95). This pretty much had everything we were looking for. The tofu itself was silky soft, and went perfectly with the steamed rice we ordered. It was a little salty and a little spicy, but not overwhelmingly so. The beef had soaked up the sauce and was admittedly quite salty, but I find that that’s the way it is at every restaurant. The portion size was also perfect for the price we paid.

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Lastly, we had an item we always order for my mom’s benefit, the Pan-Fried Soy Sauce Rice Noodles ($10.95). The noodles were a tad too soft for my liking, as they could have been chewier. The onions, meanwhile, were undercooked, being too raw. Still, there was a nice assortment of ingredients on the plate, including large, tender slices of beef, so I suppose that makes up for it.

After two visits to Wah Wing, we were well-satisfied, and we would definitely return. I can’t say that I or my family are experts on dimsum, but both of our experiences here left us impressed with the food, the service, and the prices.

Wah Wing Szechuan Restaurant
2748 Lougheed Highway
Port Coquitlam, BC

Wah Wing Szechuan Restaurant 華榮川菜館 on Urbanspoon


Vancouver Food Cart Fest 2013

If you’re at all familiar with the food scene in Vancouver, you’re probably aware that this post is long overdue, since the food cart festival is a summer event. (And obviously for good reason, what with all the rain we get). I actually visited the festival in September with Sam and Pickles, when all of us had returned from our summer travels, so this post is actually only four months in the making. What with school and work and life in general, it can be a bit difficult to keep on top of things…that’s my excuse, anyways.

Despite the burgeoning food cart scene in Vancouver, I often find it difficult to seek out the specific ones that catch my interest. Many of them are open for a limited time during the day, or only at a specific location that is out of the way of my usual commute. Well, thank goodness for the food cart festival, then, which conveniently gathers Vancouver’s most popular food carts in one area so that folks like me can get to pig out to our hearts’ content. In 2013, the festival was hosted in a lot right by False Creek, which made it easily accessible by SkyTrain for us car-less folk.

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The three of us split up to consider our options, and Sam ended up with a Sourdough Pepperjack Cheese Sandwich ($8) from Mom’s Grilled Cheese. She had tomatoes and double smoked bacon added to her sandwich for $0.50 and $1.50, respectively. She quite enjoyed her sandwich, as the bread was fried up nicely on the griddle, making it crispy but not too greasy. Meanwhile, the sandwich itself was quite hot, so the cheese had that perfected melted consistency that we all look for in a grilled cheese sandwich. The sandwich is also served with chips, which were stuffed at the bottom of the paper cone, making the chips themselves soggy. Sam noted that she’d had the sandwich and chips served on a plate before, which was much better, as the chips didn’t get soggy. Still, the tomatoes and bacon nicely enhanced her sandwich, making it an enjoyable meal. Sam also indulged in a Ginger Mint Lemonade ($2.75), also from Mom’s, which tasted mostly of ginger with only a slight tint of lemon. It also had a slight enjoyable fizziness, and was an enjoyable drink for the very hot day that we were enduring.

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Meanwhile, Pickles and I wandered over to Yolk’s Breakfast. I’d wanted to try Yolk’s for a while, but simply never had the chance to. I’ve now had their food twice, once here and once at the actual restaurant now open on Hastings Street, but there was a time when I used to drool over some other fortunate soul’s Instagrammed chicken and waffles or soft-poached egg sandwich.

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The wait was long and arduous, but we finally received our orders and, luckily enough, found a shaded table to sit down and munch. Pickles had the Chicken and Waffles, which didn’t look super pretty but definitely did the job. The chicken was crispy, juicy, and flavourful, and came in large pieces. I’m a big fan of fried chicken (and pretty much every other deep-fried food), and I often find that I get more batter than actual chicken, but that certainly wasn’t the case here. The waffle itself was nice and buttery, but a little too soft for her liking, although it might have been softened by the hot weather and the fact that it took us a while to find a table to sit at. But then again, Pickles was fresh from her trip to Belgium at this point, so perhaps her waffle standards were a bit too high.

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Meanwhile, I had an item that I’d longed for for quite a while, a Poached Free-Range Egg Sandwich ($7.50). They have a beautiful flowchart where you can customize your sandwich, and I had mine with hand-carved honey ham, fresh spinach, dijon, hollandaise, one poached egg, all on an English muffin. There were quite a few flavours going on here: the saltiness from the ham, the tartness from the hollandaise, and a nice, comforting savouriness from the egg yolk. The English muffin was soft to begin with, and only got softer once I broke the egg yolk. This resulted in a super messy sandwich to eat, although it wasn’t a huge problem once I decided to fork-and-knife it. Breakfast sandwiches are my favourite type of sandwich, and this one was certainly yummy, but I’m not really sure if this particular combination was worth the hype that often accompanies any talk about Yolk’s.

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It’s just not breakfast without potatoes, and at Yolk’s these come in the form of a Truffle-Lemon Hash Brown Skewer ($3.50). At first bite, my hash browns were quite tart, with a very strong lemon flavour, but after that, the flavour seemed to mellow out, which was good. I think I waited too long to eat mine, as they got quite soggy, but other than that, these potatoes did an excellent job.

After finishing our food, the three of us took a nice walk along False Creek and enjoyed the sunshine. This was back in September, mind you, when Vancouver was enjoying sunny weather rather than the dreary, foggy dampness that we’re enduring now. Summer is always a season I look forward to, but the food cart festival definitely adds to an already perfect time of year.

Mom’s Grilled Cheese Truck
800 West Georgia Street
Vancouver, BC

Mom's Grilled Cheese Truck on Urbanspoon

Yolk’s Breakfast
Vancouver, BC

Yolk's Breakfast on Urbanspoon


Tip Thai Restaurant

Living out in the burbs definitely has its benefits, but sometimes it can be difficult to find new and exciting places to eat. (Going all the way out to the West End for ramen is always a pain). Generally my eating adventures have me journeying westward from my home base of Coquitlam, but sometimes my family likes to travel east into PoCo for some eats. Since we’re all big fans of Thai food, we decided to try out Tip Thai one night to see if it’d measure up to the Thai restaurants in Vancouver.

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We started off with the Tom Yum Kung ($6.95) as usual. The soup consisted of halved tomatoes, prawns, and button mushrooms. It tasted like every other version I’ve had of this soup, sour and refreshing but also quite spicy. The broth tasted strongly of lemongrass, while the prawns were pleasantly fat and juicy. We used the soup to clear our palates when consuming the other dishes. I liked that they didn’t hold back on the spices, which made it taste that much more authentic and delicious.

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And of course we had to have the Green Curry ($9.95), which is a personal favourite of mine. We were able to choose the level of spiciness for this dish, and we opted for medium. As expected, the curry tasted strongly of coconut milk, and was both sweet and savoury. It was full of large pieces of soft eggplant, and small pieces of moist chicken. The curry itself had a strong, spicy aftertaste, making it great to eat alongside the rice.

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Instead of ordering a plain rice on the side, we had the Tip Thai Fried Rice ($9.95), Jasmine rice stir-fried with onions, tomatoes, and broccoli. This was a normal fried rice, really, with nothing blatantly Thai about it. But then again, it was a good dish to have at the table, especially if you’re not crazy about spicy foods. The rice itself was slightly salty, but other than that, it was tasty, if slightly unmemorable.

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We had another Thai classic in the Pad Thai ($9.95), served with egg, bean sprouts, onion, pressed tofu, and topped with crushed peanuts.  I was well-satisfied with the version here, which had none of that ketchup stickiness but instead the tanginess and sweetness from tamarind sauce. The noodles themselves were chewy and toothsome, exactly the way they should be.

DSC_0014We had more noodles in the form of Pad Se-Ew ($9.95), thicker rice noodles stir-fried with soy sauce, egg, carrots, cabbages, and broccoli. Like the pad thai, the noodles here were pleasantly chewy, while the beef was moist, tender, and easy to chew. The dish had an overall savoury, slightly salty taste, which was to be expected, I suppose. While I enjoyed these noodles, for me, nothing can ever beat a good pad thai.

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And lastly, we had the Pad Pak Ruam-mit ($9.95), which was, for me, the least familiar dish out of the ones we sampled. Despite the unfamiliar name, the dish was rather simple, with vegetables and chicken stir-fried in garlic sauce. It wasn’t a bad dish to be sure, but nothing incredibly memorable, and to be honest, there was no real discernible taste other than the saltiness. If I were to visit again, I probably wouldn’t order this dish a second time.

Overall, the food we had at Tip Thai was decent, but nothing special, and quite typical of a restaurant its size. I suppose we should also factor in the location. Let’s face it: I wouldn’t expect mind-bogglingly amazing Thai food from a small restaurant in PoCo. In any case, though, the service was prompt, and the food arrived at our table at the speed of light, despite the presence of other patrons in the restaurant. So if you happen to be in PoCo and in need of a quick lunch or dinner, Tip Thai would be a decent spot. I mean, of course there’s better places for Thai food, but probably not anywhere close by.

Tip Thai Restaurant
2606 Shaughnessy Street
Port Coquitlam, BC
Tip Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Bandidas Taqueria

After a long and wonderful summer filled with European travels, I returned to Vancouver. Hopefully I don’t sound too much like I belong on a yellow brick road, but there’s really no place like home. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to travel, to gaze down on Paris from Montmartre, to sample some Guinness in Dublin, to watch the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace, and to study in Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Landing at YVR was quickly followed by guzzling down an Ice Capp, snuggling my cat, and unpacking the souvenirs I’d acquired for family and friends. Returning to Vancouver means returning to Vancouver eats, and I had no problem with that, as there are still plenty of restaurants both old and new that I have yet to try.

On a bright, cool October day, Pickles and I decided to meet up for a late lunch on Commercial Drive. Despite hopping on and off the 99 from and to UBC many days out of the week, I have to admit that my exploration of the area has been minimal. I just don’t feel the urge to explore when I’m hauling around my laptop, books, and am generally just exhausted from the effort of trekking down to campus. In any case, Pickles and I decided that we’d start trying out some restaurants on the drive, and our first choice was Bandidas Taqueria.

DSC_0036Bandidas, like many restaurants on the drive, just has that requisite hipster vibe, complete with mason jars used as cups. The restaurant itself was quiet when we arrived, but then again, it was around 3 P.M. All the better for us to have a nice conversation without having to compete with background noise.

We both started off with a Horchata ($3), which is available with either almond, soy, or regular milk. I thought it was a nice touch to have all three available, and I opted for almond milk. The horchata was generously sprinkled with cinnamon, which added a flavourful hit of spice. The drink itself was creamy but not without that quintessential nuttiness. It was an excellent way to start off our meal.

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One of my fondest childhood memories is going to camp in elementary school and consuming an inordinate amount of cornbread and chili. Whenever I see chili on a menu, I tend to order it, and that’s what happened here. This Chili ($7) was a vegetarian stew, topped with melted cheese and avocado. The avocado added a nice savouriness to this meatless chili, and it went well with the thick, hearty stew. The cheese also made it taste rich and luxurious. Despite lacking meat, the chili was full of ingredients, including chickpeas, corn, and some small pieces of celery. I personally would have preferred it to be a bit spicier, but other than that, I was immensely satisfied. It was also a great value for the price that I paid, as I ended up having the leftovers for dinner as well.

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Pickles, meanwhile, had three tacos, which totalled to around $8. She thought that overall, the tacos were a good value, as they were packed with filling, but that also made them difficult to eat. The Leona Gayle (chipotle tofu, pinto beans, cheese, roasted red salsa, romaine lettuce, and sour cream) in particular was too wet, and she had to resort to fork and knife to get at it. She also tried the Connie’s, which consisted of ground walnuts, apple salsa, cheese, and roasted red pepper sauce, and the Wolf & Goat, which had fresh guacamole, purple cabbage, pinto beans, fresh red salsa, cheese, and sour cream. She thought that the former would have benefitted from toasted, crunchier walnuts, while the latter was the best of the three she’d tried. The addition of guacamole was a nice touch, and the cabbage added some much-needed texture.

The two of us really enjoyed our late lunch at Bandidas. I wish that yummy Mexican food were more accessible in Vancouver, but this was more than acceptable, especially for the prices that we paid. If I were on the Drive again, I would gladly return here, especially for that yummy horchata, and to try more dishes on their extensive menu.

Bandidas Taqueria
2781 Commercial Drive
Vancouver, BC

Bandidas Taqueria on Urbanspoon


The Old Tom

When first contemplating my visit to the UK, I wasn’t too excited about the food prospects. Nothing really sprang to mind when considering British cuisine, other than fish and chips and meat pies. Now I realize I was being close-minded, and that reducing British food to those two items would be like summarizing Canadian food as maple syrup and poutine (which I’m sure happens often enough). Like any country with large and diverse immigrant populations, the UK offers a variety of different cuisines to be indulged in.

While in Oxford, we had dinner one night at The Old Tom. The Old Tom was particularly interesting to me because while it serves Thai food, it still somewhat functions as the classic British pub (which to me just comes down to whether or not they serve Pimm’s). We were seated in an outdoor area behind the actual restaurant, where we could enjoy the summer air, although this was somewhat marred by the cigarette smoke issuing from nearby tables.

DSCN1062We started off with an order of the Vegetable Tempura (£3.95), which consisted of an interesting assortment of vegetables: carrots, onions, and red and green peppers. I’m not sure why they called this “tempura” on the menu, because the batter was clearly something different altogether. Although the items came out warm, it felt like they had used old oil, or that the items had been fried too long. The homemade chili sauce was both sweet and spicy. As far as appetizers go, this wasn’t terrible, but I probably wouldn’t order it again. I suppose fried items are just a pub staple.

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Shawarma indulged in a classic in the Pad Thai with Chicken (£7.95), complete with all the usual suspects: rice noodles, egg, bean sprouts, and ground peanuts. She was pleasantly surprised by this dish, as we honestly hadn’t expected anything great. Although the dish as a whole was slightly oily, it had that requisite tang from the tamarind. The noodles were slightly on the soft side, but the chicken was flavourless, although this was slightly ameliorated by the sauce. Pickles, who also had the pad thai, remarked that it was better than the version at Wagamama, although I guess that really isn’t saying much…

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I opted for the Green Curry with Prawns (£8.95), with coconut milk, bamboo shoots, fresh chilies, sweet basil leaves, and peas, served with some steamed rice. The curry was on the sweet side, but still had a nice spicy kick. Like Shawarma, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this, as I hadn’t been expecting much from this small Oxford pub. In hindsight, I would have expected the curry itself to be a tad thicker, but it was nothing too troubling, and I was satisfied that they’d included five or six sizeable prawns. The rice was simple steamed rice and nothing too special, although it was clumped up a bit in places.

Overall, the food at the Old Tom wasn’t anything I would call exceptional, but it was more than acceptable, especially considering where we were. It’s necessary to have realistic expectations, right? I wouldn’t expect Oxford’s Asian restaurants to be on par with Vancouver’s. That being said, though, the Old Tom was a nice way to experience the quintessential British pub while having something other than conventional pub fare.

The Old Tom
101 Saint Aldate’s
Oxford, UK OX1 1BT

The Old Tom on Urbanspoon


Wagamama

During our stay in Oxford, we ended up taking the train down to London again, as we had the opportunity to visit Canada House, part of the High Commission of Canada in London. As it was located right in Trafalgar Square, it was a great opportunity for us to visit attractions that we’d missed out on during our stay in London. We visited the National Portrait Gallery, which houses the portraits of what seems like every notable British person ever. It’s an interesting lens through which to view British history, and like the British Museum and the Natural History Museum, admission is free.

Before all this, though, we stopped by Wagamama for a quick lunch. I was wary of Wagamama, as I had been of most Asian restaurants in London. Wagamama reminded me of The Noodle Box in Vancouver, a very Westernized “Asian” restaurant serving a mix of dishes from different Asian cuisines.

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I had the Cha Han (£7.80), fried rice with chicken and prawns, mangetout (snow peas), mushrooms, sweetcorn and spring onions, served with a side of miso soup and pickles. The miso soup was the usual predictably salty fare, with tiny tofu cubes and some seaweed. The rice itself was, strangely enough, too oily yet too dry at the same time, but also a tiny bit undercooked. I added some soy sauce to moisten it, which helped. I liked how the veggies were in smaller pieces, as it made them easier to eat, especially in the case of the snow peas. The chicken was sufficiently moist, and the prawns had a nice snap to them. Overall, though, it wasn’t a particularly memorable meal.

DSCN0977Dolph’s Chili Men (£10.95) included prawns, zucchini, red onions, peppers, mushrooms, and mangetout in a spicy tomato chili sauce, on soba noodles. With that variety of ingredients, it sounded delicious, but it fell short of the description. The noodles were quite limp and not chewy enough, while the sauce was one-dimensional, simply being spicy with no other real flavours.

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Shawarma opted for the Chili Ramen (£9.65), noodles in a spicy chicken soup topped with grilled chicken, red and spring onions, beansprouts and chilies, garnished with coriander and lime. Like Dolph’s noodles above, Shawarma found her ramen lacking, as there was not much in the way of flavour. While the chilies added some spice, the broth was mostly thin and bland. The noodles were disappointingly mushy, not chewy as ramen should be. She also thought that the dish was quite overpriced, as it really was nothing special.

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Pickles had the Pad Thai (£9.55), with egg, beansprouts, leek, red and spring onions, Chinese chives, garlic, ginger and chilies, fried shallots, and peanuts. Despite the plethora of ingredients, she wasn’t very impressed, having had many a good pad thai in her day. She commented that this version lacked flavour, and that it would have benefitted from more sauce.

Overall, we were underwhelmed by our lunch at Wagamama. Hailing from Vancouver, where there are so many excellent examples of Asian cuisine, I suppose I had some unrealistically high standards when it comes to Asian food, especially since I was lucky enough to grow up with my mother’s cooking. Wagamama is fine for a quick lunch, but it’s nothing I would heartily recommend to someone.

DSCN0989After lunch, our group ventured to Canada House, where we were given a tour of the rooms and provided with a quick history of the building. Following this, we ventured across Trafalgar Square to visit the National Portrait Gallery. Trafalgar Square was even more packed than usual, due to a Scotland vs. England soccer (or, as the British say, football) game taking place that day. Scotsmen in kilts filled the square, downing countless beers (and leaving ten thousand empty cans to be disposed of the next day). Before I visited the U.K., I’d always thought of “British” as more or less a single identity, but now I realize how wrong that is. I learned to clearly distinguish between “English” and “British”, as the latter includes the Scottish and the Welsh in addition to the English. One regret I have about my trip was that I didn’t get to spend much time in the English countryside other than passing through it on my way to and from London.

In any case, I suppose lunch at Wagamama was a fond memory for us, but it definitely paled in comparison to more exciting aspects of the day, including experiencing firsthand the boisterousness of drunken Scotsmen. Ah, London.

Wagamama
14 Irving Street
London, United Kingdom WC2H 7AF

Wagamama on Urbanspoon


Jamie’s Italian

The last of the four novels we studied during our time in London was Angela Carter’s Wise Children. I’d previously read a few selected stories from The Bloody Chamber, so I was excited to delve into Carter’s curious world of magic realism. To be honest, I preferred The Bloody Chamber, as there’s something about reimagined fairy tales that really sparks my interest. Anyways, as part of our tour of the neighbourhood in which Wise Children takes place, we had lunch at Jamie Oliver’s Diner, a pop-up restaurant on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue. It was a decent meal, but nothing memorable.

Then fast forward a couple weeks to one night in Oxford. The girls decided to try out Jamie’s Italian, another of Jamie Oliver’s restaurant ventures. Due to the size of our group, we were seated at two different tables, but served by the same waiter. I’m not sure how to describe the waiter, except to say that we honestly didn’t like him. He was quite awkward and seemed disappointed that some of us only ordered drinks or appetizers. Sure, I realize that you need your tips, but to overtly express disappointment isn’t going to help you, right?

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Katy wasn’t too hungry, so she just had the Crab and Avocado Bruschetta (£6.50), grilled sourdough topped with Start Bay crab, avocado, and Yeo Valley yoghurt, with apple matchsticks, chili, mint, lemon, and olive oil. Despite the decadence of that description, Katy found her bruschetta a bit unappetizing, as it was served quite cold, which she didn’t enjoy.

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Chantallyhoo and Shawarma both had the Tagliatelle Bolognese (£9.95), with a ragu of British beef and pork, with herbs, chianti, Parmesan, and crunchy, herby breadcrumbs. Again, a decadent description, but the dish didn’t live up to it. The pasta was undercooked, being quite clumpy and hard to chew, while the sauce was underwhelming and very bland. It needed a lot of pepper to be somewhat enjoyable. Also, we were all surprised by the small portions. The items mostly came in two sizes (a smaller “entree” size and a larger portion), but even the larger portions were quite small. I had no idea, but apparently outside of North America, “entree” means a small course served before the main course. Having spent most of my life on the West Coast, this was a rather strange concept to me, and one that actually impacted our enjoyment of our meal here overall. When some of us accidentally ordered entree-sized portions without realizing that “entree” doesn’t mean the same thing it does in North America, the waiter reacted by condescendingly informing us of the difference, as opposed to offering us the larger portions. Considering how awkwardly he recounted the specials, I think that he was relatively new at his job, but wouldn’t it be common sense to try and make a customer feel happy as opposed to stupid?

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As for me, I had the Seaside Risotto (£12.50), with clams, mussels, prawns, cockles, gurnard, chili, and white wine. I found the risotto to be a tad undercooked, but I believe that’s personal preference, as I generally prefer my pasta to be softer than al dente as well (blasphemous, I know). The fish was well-prepared, being moist throughout, and the mussels were plump and briney, exactly the way they should be. However, I thought that the risotto itself could have been creamier; perhaps more cheese would have helped? I also was dissatisfied with the portion size, especially considering the price tag.

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Madeline’s Fish Stew (£13.50), which was on special that night, was comprised of the same seafood as my risotto, although in a tomato-based broth. Although the seafood was well-prepared, with plump and juicy clams and mussels, she commented that she wished she’d ordered a pasta instead, which would have been much more filling. It was a pricey dish, probably due to the amount of seafood included. I feel like it would have worked well as a risotto, pretty much the same as mine above but with a tomato-based sauce.

Overall, we were all quite disappointed with our experience at Jamie’s Italian, especially considering its association with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. The food was mediocre, and the service was startlingly inept, awkward, and even condescending. Based on the two experiences I had with Jamie Oliver’s restaurants during my time in the UK, I probably would not return.

Jamie’s Italian
24-26 George Street
Oxford, United Kingdom OX1 2

Jamie's Italian on Urbanspoon


The Eagle and Child

After three eventful weeks in London, we all uprooted and relocated to Oxford. The journey itself was pleasant, as Oxford is only an hour and a half’s train ride away from London, and the countryside views are nothing if not picturesque.

To put it mildly, I loved Oxford. I was fortunate enough to stay in accommodations usually occupied by actual Oxford University students. Our apartment (or “flat”, as the Brits say) was quite spacious and homey. Our classes also took place in a classroom at Oxford’s Brasenose College, so although I didn’t actually learn from any Oxford professors, it was somewhat like getting the Oxford experience, especially since we also had access to the Bodleian Library.

Overall, though, I liked the small town vibe that Oxford had, especially compared to London. Everything was within walking distance, and I no longer had to suffer the mugginess and crampedness of traveling on the tube. As we now had a kitchen in our flat, we relied more on our own cooking than on eating out, but of course we still had to eat out sometimes. Our first group dinner in Oxford was at the famed Eagle and Child, a pub a few minutes’ walk from our accommodations.

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The Eagle and Child is a tourist destination in Oxford in its own right, as it was famously the hang-out of a literary discussion group called the Inklings, whose most famous members included J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Due to the size of our large group, we got the whole back room to ourselves, where, funnily enough, they’d labelled a random door as the entryway to Narnia. I mean, we all know that the entryway to Narnia is through a magical wardrobe in Professor Kirke’s house (or by the other methods shown in the other six books in the series), but it’s still a cute touch. There was also a map of the magical world of Narnia on the door, showing Narnia and its southern neighbours, Archenland and Calormen. I devoured the Narnia books as a child, and having dinner in the same place that C.S. Lewis regularly visited was quite exciting for me, in an admittedly geeky way. Other than that, though, the Eagle and Child was not unlike the other pubs I visited during my time in England. The decor was quaint and functional, while the food leaned towards the traditional rather than the imaginative.

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Pickles had the Fish and Chips (£10.75), which was served alongside some mushy peas and tartar sauce. I was mostly impressed by the size of the piece of cod, as it was massive, especially considering the price. She found that the fish was a bit dry on the edges, which is quite standard for fish and chips. Still, she enjoyed how crispy the fish was, and that the batter was not too heavy or thick. The chips were the thick, starchy, potatoey kind, which I personally don’t prefer, but what’s a visit to the U.K. without trying some fish and chips?

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I was lucky enough to be sitting beside Sim and she graciously allowed me to snap a photo of her dinner, which was the Vegetable Burger (£7.95). The menu stated that the veggie patty was composed of spiced aubergine, red pepper, sweetcorn, and chickpeas, but Sim commented that it mostly tasted like chickpeas. She enjoyed the burger as the patty was nice and crispy, as were the accompanying chips, which were again the thick variety. The burger also came with some coleslaw on the side.

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Stacy and Catherine also shared a Tear and Share Cheesy Garlic Bread (£4.75). They were actually away from the table when it arrived, and it smelled so heavenly that we were all tempted to steal a bite. It reminded me of the clam chowder bread bowls I’d really liked as a child. I’m a sucker for anything that comes in an edible container. Anyways, this bread was filled with a thick, creamy garlic and cheddar sauce, and it was exactly what was expected, being warm and satisfying. Surprisingly, it also wasn’t messy at all, which I might have guessed from the look of the dish when it first arrived.

DSCN0927As for me, I had the Basket of Fish (£10.75), which included scampi, goujons (strips of fish), and calamari, as well as the requisite chips and tartar sauce. Everything was lightly fried, a bit oily as expected, but not too heavy, which I liked. The fish itself was light and flaky, while the calamari was quite tender. The chips were the same as the ones served above, but for some reason, I really liked the tartar sauce. I’m generally not a fan of tartar sauce, but the one here was light and tangy, which complemented the fish well. I usually find fish and chips to be a heavy meal, but I didn’t feel too bloated here, and I had plenty of room left for dessert. To add to the Britishness of my meal, I also indulged in a glass of Pimm’s.

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Luckily enough, we still had room for dessert, so Sim and I shared a Warm Chocolate Brownie (£4.25)which was served with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. It’s not like this was anything special or unique, but it was certainly a nice way to end our meal. The brownie had a nice crust to it, with softer, chewier layers underneath, and the cool, sweet ice cream helped to provide a textural contrast. It was also of a decent size to share between two people after the meal we’d consumed above.

Overall, the food we sampled at The Eagle and Child was quite yummy, and of course it was exciting to eat at the favourite haunt of the Inklings. If you’re passing through Oxford, I’d definitely recommend having a meal here, if only to experience the vibe of the quintessential British pub. Oh, and don’t forget to have some Pimm’s as well!

The Eagle and Child
49 St. Giles
Oxford, United Kingdom OX1 3LU

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Spaghetti House

One lovely morning in London, Pickles, Chantallyhoo and I decided to head off to Harrod’s. Not to shop, obviously, but just to visit one of London’s most famous landmarks. In all honesty, I found shopping in London to be quite expensive, although I was excited about the number of shops that aren’t available in Vancouver, including River Island and Uniqlo. Harrod’s was an interesting experience to be sure, and the three of us made a few purchases at the gift shop, where the prices are much more on par with what the average tourist can afford to spend.

After our little adventure, it was time for lunch. We walked around looking for a McDonald’s or a Pret a Manger or even a Starbucks, but for some reason, we were unable to find anything even remotely fast food-like. Since we still needed to eat, we wandered into Spaghetti House, where we were promptly seated and received our food quite quickly.

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I had the Penne Arrabiata (£8.75), with spicy tomato sauce, crushed red chilies, and cherry tomatoes. It was a rather sticky and muggy London day, and this was served piping hot. While that’s usually a good thing, for some reason my pasta stayed hot to the end, and verged on being uncomfortable to eat. I personally would have preferred the pasta itself to be a little bit softer, as I felt it was a tad undercooked, but the tomatoes added a perfect sweetness, while the chilies had that promised dimension of spiciness. Ultimately, this was a filling bowl of pasta, and I would probably order this again, if it hadn’t been inexplicably hot.

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Chantallyhoo went with a classic in the Spaghetti Bolognese (£9.95). She quite enjoyed her pasta, remarking that the noodles themselves were quite chewy, with a bouncy, toothsome texture. She found the sauce a bit watery, but that it didn’t detract from her overall enjoyment of her meal. Overall, she thought that it was a filling and comforting bowl of pasta.

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Pickles had the Margherita Pizza (£7.95). She didn’t have much to say about her pizza, saying that it tasted quite average. She found that the flavours were balanced but that the pizza itself was nothing special. I think that’s a good summary of our experience here overall. I quite enjoyed my lunch, but mostly due to the conversation rather than the food itself. If I were in the area again, I would probably want to try something else.

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After lunch, the three of us ventured to the Natural History Museum. Like the British Museum, the Natural History Museum is publicly funded, and, therefore, free for the general public, although donations are welcome. That being said, the line to get in was quite long, but well worth it. Vancouver isn’t exactly a hotspot for museums, and we had a lovely afternoon just admiring fossils, samples of various minerals, and such.

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Even if you’re not interested in natural history (although how anyone wouldn’t be interested in dinosaurs and mineral formations is beyond me), the building itself was astoundingly beautiful. In some ways, it reminded me of New York’s Grand Central Station, and in other ways it reminded me of Hogwarts. I suppose I’m just trying to point out the grandeur of the architecture. The wide open space provided a perfect backdrop for the larger-than-life displays, and navigating the area was easier than you’d think, with helpful maps and signs in clearly designated locations. The gift shop was definitely more geared towards children, with arrays of stuffed animals and other toys, although that didn’t stop us from picking up our own souvenirs. I only wished we’d arrived earlier so we could have spent more time poring over more exhibits.

Out of the tourist spots that I visited in London, the Natural History Museum was one of my favourites. As much as I love discussing literature and British imperial history, spending the day amongst fossils and other ancient objects was a welcome and much-needed break. Although the Natural History Museum hadn’t been on my list of sights to see in London, I’m glad that I got to spend an afternoon here.

Spaghetti House
77 Knightsbridge
London, UK  SW1X 7RB

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Busaba Eathai

Despite my incessant raving about Japanese food on this blog, I would have to say that Thai food is also one of my favourite cuisines. I only discovered the magic of Thai food about a year ago, which is when my uncle visited us in Vancouver and we had dinner at Bob Likes Thai Food. From then on, I’ve been enamoured of Thai food, and regularly try out new places in Vancouver, although none have surpassed Bob.

While I was in London, this same uncle happened to be in town for work, and of course we decided to meet up. It was strange to see him in a city that neither of us call home, but after nearly a month without any direct contact with family, it was comforting to see a face that was so much like my dad’s.

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We started off our afternoon by visiting Westminster Abbey. I thought I’d become desensitized to churches and cathedrals of all kinds, but I was wrong. Although it lacks the majestic Gothic beauty of the Notre Dame and the simplistic elegance of the Basilica de Sacré-Coeur, I thought Westminster Abbey was impressive simply due to its size. It reminded me of a scene in C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle, which is the last book in The Chronicles of Narnia. In the series’s finale, Lucy and Peter and the others find themselves in a magical, idealized version of Narnia, which appears to grow larger and larger as they venture further in. That’s a bit of a digression, but that’s how Westminster Abbey felt to me. It was also exciting to see the tombs of what seemed like every famous British person ever, from Queen Elizabeth I to Charles Dickens. Of course, in more recent news, the abbey was also the site of Prince William’s 2011 marriage to Kate Middleton.

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Once we were done exploring the abbey, we stepped out into the muggy, sticky London weather. After taking a few tourist photos with Big Ben, we headed for an early dinner at a Thai restaurant that my uncle had visited numerous times before on previous visits to London. I was happy to be able to indulge in tasty Thai food, as my last experience with Thai cuisine in London had been nothing but disappointing.

Busaba Eathai offers a clean and spacious atmosphere for dining, with two arrangements of seats available. The first is a square wooden table with a wooden bench on each side, which is perfect for large groups. I also saw several of these tables seating two pairs of couples at opposite corners, which is a good option for maximizing the restaurant’s space while minimizing the awkwardness felt when sharing a table with strangers. The second type of seats, which we chose, were window seats that looked out onto a not-too-interesting London street. I liked our seats, which allowed us to have a quiet conversation while enjoying our food.

DSCN0765We decided to share three dishes, the first being the Tom Yam Talay (£6.90), a spicy, sour soup with prawns, squid, fish cakes, and vermicelli noodles. The soup had that strong lemongrass flavour that I always associate with Thai soups, being more sour and tangy than spicy. I loved that they weren’t skimpy with the seafood, and that the prawns were large and juicy. Considering the atmosphere of the restaurant and the quality of the food, I also thought that the prices were decent, especially considering that the restaurant was located near some tourist hotspots, especially the National Gallery.

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Next, we made a very predictable choice in ordering the Pad Thai (£8.20). The rice noodles were accompanied by the requisite prawns, tofu, egg, ground peanuts, bean sprouts, and a wedge of lime. Fortunately for us, this was deliciously tart, tasting of real tamarind sauce as opposed to ketchup. As with the soup, the shrimp tasted fresh, retaining their natural snap and sweetness. The noodles were toothsome, and the other ingredients all tasted as they should. It wasn’t a life-changing plate of noodles, but it was certainly memorable.

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Lastly, we indulged in more carbs with the Crab Meat Egg Fried Rice (£7.20). I suppose if I had to pick a disappointing dish out of this meal, it would be this one, but only because the other dishes were excellent. There was nothing inherently wrong with this dish, as the rice was slightly moist, and the crab meat added an unexpected dimension of flavour. It simply didn’t have any special appeal, and tasted like any other version of fried rice. I’ve found this to be the case with fried rice at many Thai restaurants, and maybe it’s my fault for continuing to order it despite this. Still, for the price we paid, this was a decently sized portion, and quite satisfying, although ultimately unmemorable.

Overall, I had a great time catching up with my uncle over the food at Busaba Eathai. It was by far the most satisfying experience I had with Thai cuisine in the UK, as it tasted quite similar to the Thai food available in Vancouver. Although I personally have never been to Thailand and therefore cannot vouch for the actual authenticity of the food here, my uncle enjoyed our meal as well, and he’s been to Thailand numerous times and knows much more about Thai cuisine than I do. In any case, if you’re ever in London and have an intense craving for Thai food, I would heartily recommend the dishes that I tried.

Busaba Eathai
35 Panton Street
London, UK SW1 Y4EA

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