Last month, I was invited to an event being put on by GingerlineThe Secret Island. I wasn’t familiar with the company and had to turn to their website to find out exactly what it was they do – and that turned out to be putting on dining experiences and The Secret Island was their first “multidimensional experience”. This event was being held in conjunction with the Singapore Tourism Board to celebrate 50 years of Singapore. As per their social media rules, no photos nor blog posts can appear until they give the all clear (that is, after their final day of The Secret Island). So yeah… it’s over now. You’re going to have to wait for their next event (their website indicates Autumn 2015).

My friend and I arrived at the secret location with plenty of time to spare before our “departure” to the Secret Island. The waiting area was set up like an old fishing port, complete with ferryman to take us on our journey and his daughter who played games with us. When our departure time was called, we all lined up to get into his “ferry” (some of us laden with wine bottles for the meal ahead) and we lay in there…


… and whoooosh, our “ferry” sent us hurtling into another room, or should I say, another….jungle (there’s a great video of this experience on their website!). This was Singapore’s jungles, complete with colonial explorer in the grips of some tropical fever.

In the Jungle

The attention to detail was what really wowed me. Our first course of a mango and tomato salad were served in these plastic spheres which were dangling from the ceiling – I mean, “from the trees”! We were “foraging” for our dinners in the jungle!


A small chest also appeared, filled with seared salmon sesame lollipops!

Sesame Salmon

Soon, we were ushered to the next room, which was fixed up to be a hawker market (styled in a way that’s perhaps reminiscent of Blade Runner). This was manned by one crazy hawker who certainly would not be passing Singapore’s strict hygiene laws!


Luckily, our food wasn’t prepared by him but by an unseen kitchen hand beyond the room. We were served a Singapore chilli crab spring roll and an open fresh rice paper spring roll with char siu pork, coriander and rice noodles.


When our allotted time was up, again we were ushered to the tranquility in the next, slightly smaller room – the Boardwalk.


And yup, we sat on the boardwalk with our legs dangling over the “water” and sipped on cocktails served in bags, just like drinks (well, soft drinks) are in Asia.


And then onwards we went to a dining room in a Peranakan home. Seeing this room and our hosts, the strict Auntie and her timid daughter-in-law, both dressed in Peranakan sarong kebaya, … well, it made me all warm and fuzzy inside as this was my heritage! The room was utterly beautiful, with its family portraits lining the walls (I wonder which family!) and painted lanterns.


Served in a Peranakan tiffin was opor ayam with turmeric rice. The chicken dish was a spiced one with lots of rich coconut milk.


On the table were bowls of chilli oil and sambal belacan to heat things up, …


… a tomato raita to cool things down, …


…and a green papaya salad for crunch.


We were regaled with a lullaby in Malay and while Auntie fell asleep, we were rushed out to see the future of Singapore (hosted by the “great great grandson” of our previous hostess).

Singapore in the Future

I’m still confused as to whether this guy was supposed to be human or android. *shrug*


Dessert was brought out from seemingly nowhere (hidden microwaves). Here was a pandan panna cotta, lychee gel, coconut puffed rice, yuzu and palm sugar caramel – a brilliantly modern dessert but with the traditional flavours found in Singapore.


We’d never been to one of these immersive experiences before but thumbs up! It was fun! The food was a very gentle introduction to Asian food in general but it worked very well with the storyline. And I can only imagine how difficult it is to cater for so many people all night – there are a number of groups each evening and each group had about 16 people.

Thank you very much to Gingerline and the Singapore Tourism Board for the invitation! Tickets for this event were £50 each, and I’d expect it will be roughly that for their next event (don’t take my word for it). All my photos from the evening can be found in this Flickr album.

My garden! I never thought that I’d have my very own garden! Of course, it’s Blai’s too but he’ll be the first to admit that I’m the crazy one who insisted on growing almost all our vegetable plants from seed (our living room is south facing with lots of light and I’ve been treating it like a greenhouse). It’s a modest little patch (about 10 square metres plus a number of pots – the rest of the garden is lawn and herb/flower bedding) but so far I’m quite pleased with what I’ve managed to harvest from it, even this early in the season.

The tally so far in our garden is: 9 tomato plants, 2 courgette plants, 8 cucamelon plants, a small patch of carrots, 3 purple bean vines, 3 runner bean vines, a tiny patch of wild rocket, a small patch of cime di rapa, countless radishes dotted everywhere, a few spring onions looking like string, 2 little cavolo nero plants, 5 rainbow chard plants, 1 pot of pea shoots, 2 pots of cut and come again lettuces, 1 pot of strawberries, and 1 small potted fig tree. As you might be able to tell, I’ve aimed for variety and experimentation with yields in this first year and we’re not in any way looking to be self sustained from this little plot.

We’ve had a few great salads, radishes with butter, cime di rapa pasta, and quite a few strawberries. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

And the courgette flower this morning!

Our first itty bitty (unfertilised, I think, as there were no male flowers alongside) courgette and we ate it!

Yesterday's bowl of homegrown salad leaves!

Our first cima di rapa harvest!

And our little patch of wild rocket always seems to look full, even after picking lots for salads

Pre-breakfast radishes in the garden


Of course, not everything has gone to plan. My aubergine seeds didn’t germinate earlier this year and now I suspect that some of my tomatoes in pots are damaged by possible herbicide in the compost I purchased. But what really surprised me was how much I’m enjoying gardening and how happy the garden is making me. And the bees! I love seeing the bees do their thing with the flowers. I do know, of course, how lucky we are to have some green space (we have had no green space whatsoever prior to this), especially in London…

I should say that I really had nearly no experience whatsoever before embarking on this wild and crazy sowing scheme! Books that have been helpful include The New Vegetable and Herb Expert, the same in the series for fruit, and Alys Fowler’s The Edible Garden. The last book has an accompanying television series that’s watchable on YouTube. Useful websites and blogs are You Grow Girl (I’ve been reading this one for years!), Mark’s Veg Plot, Grow Your Own, the gardening section of the Guardian, and the Royal Horticultural Society.

If you have any tips/suggestions on what I ought to grow, do let me know!

Lately I’ve been watching a Japanese television series that has the same plotline (if you can even call it that) for every episode and has been running for four seasons already. It’s Kodoku no Gurume, or the Solitary Gourmet, originally a manga series about a travelling salesman, where each chapter covers a particular restaurant somewhere in Japan at which he dines. And that’s the main thing in the television series too – his eating.

Every episode is our protagonist Goro having some client meeting somewhere in Japan and post-meeting, his having some crisis of empty stomach that needs rectifying. He goes in search of a restaurant that satisfies his criteria of a good restaurant (not necessarily expensive but with good homey food) and then we spend at least half the episode watching him order and eat the food. And damn, do I get hungry watching his ridiculously expressive face while eating. It can get a little slow going – I mean, he is actually eating and chewing the food in real-time – but his thoughts are going on as he chews and whatnot.

And here’s the best part too – every one of the restaurants he eats at is real and actually exists in Japan! At the end of each episode, Masayuki Kusumi, the original writer of the manga series, visits the restaurant and tries the food and interacts with the real owners and staff (the staff at the restaurants are replaced with actors in the series).

But don’t just listen to me – go and watch it – Umamimart has links to the episodes with English subtitles. It really is absolutely brilliant. You might get hooked (and if you do, ….uh, don’t blame me).

As an aside, I do wish I saw this programme before visiting Japan as it’s a great way of learning about the food and restaurant culture of the country!

We saw New Year’s Eve in in Barcelona in our usual quiet way – at home and with lots of amazing food! 31 Dec 2014 first started with breakfast for me and my brother at La Pubilla (Blai and I had a fantastic lunch there before) near the Mercat de La Llibertat. Tallats (espressos with milk) to start… Tallats … with pa amb tomàquet (excellent execution here) on the side while we waited for our main dishes. Pa amb Tomàquet Their breakfasts are esmorzars de forquilla, or fork breakfasts, proper hearty, savoury dishes on a plate, as opposed to the usual handheld pastry most people have. We split salsitxa amb patates de forquilla (sausages with panfried potatoes) … Salsitxa amb Patates de Forquilla … and ous ferrats amb terrina de peu i morro (fried eggs with a terrine made with snouts and trotters). Everything was brilliant, especially the very unique terrine (sliced and pan fried), with its mix of soft and crispy and gelatinous textures. These were my kind of breakfasts! Ous Ferrats amb Terrina de Peu i Morro This was a great start to these days of eating and I do want to explore more places for esmorzars de forquilla in Barcelona! The rest of the day was spent wandering and generally being a tourist. (This included a trip to La Boqueria on the request with my brother. I was dreading this visit and I had reason to dread it – the place was so absolutely packed with tourists, it was almost impossible to move. I do feel for the locals – I’m not sure how they manage to do any shopping there.) We were back at home with plenty of time to spare to the midnight countdown and what greeted us there was awe inspiring. Check out the table! The Table is Set There was even a trolley filled top to bottom with lots of other goodies. Top of the Trolley Bottom of the Trolley Blai’s mum really outdid herself! There were so many things to eat that it was almost overwhelming. There were even these platters of big red prawns grilled on the planxa … Red Prawns … and of her famous fried artichokes. Fried Artichokes As you can imagine, there were a lot of leftovers for the next few days! We ended, of course, with the twelve grapes for the new year’s eve countdown (that’s a fruit portion, right?!). On 1 Jan 2015, my mother-in-law also had grand plans for lunch! The over 100-year-old soup tureen was trucked out and filled with a golden broth of chicken bits and eggs. This was sopa de menuts, a Valencian soup of little pieces from the chicken – i.e. chicken offal and cockscombs – as well as chopped boiled eggs. To serve it, it’s poured over a toasted crouton at the bottom of the bowl. Soup on Top The broth is rich and meaty (chickeny?) and the bread gives a great additional texture to the soup. It’s a recipe she learned in Valencia from her own mother-in-law. My Bowl Her second dish is now possibly her most famous dish… well, to me anyway! It’s her vedella, a Catalan style braised beef that takes two days to make and that’s just so utterly melt-in-your-mouth delicious that we cleaned the entire pan. Vedella And those were our New Year’s celebrations! How was your New Year’s Eve?

I’m in Leigh-on-Sea again and this time we’re at my brother’s place for Christmas. It’s the first time we’ve headed to another locale in the UK for the holiday season and we’re finding it all a bit novel – and it’s our first time being by the sea (uh…actually the Thames estuary) for Christmas! We’re enjoying our morning walks by the water.

Christmas Eve was a flurry of activity – all food shopping for the days ahead and then a seafood dinner. We had crabs with butter (an experiment with sambal butter didn’t exactly work out) …


… and one steamed sea bass …

Steamed Sea Bass

… and two roast chili and black bean sea bass.

Roasted Sea Bass with Chili Oil and Black Beans

Rice and purple sprouting broccoli rounded out the meal.

Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Oyster Sauce

Christmas Day started off with fried eggs for breakfast, fortification for a planned walk to see the remains of Hadleigh Castle. Unfortunately, the route turned out to be very muddy and we ended up walking around Old Leigh instead…which is where we discovered that most (or all) of the pubs in Old Leigh were open on Christmas Day! We ended up having tea there to warm us up before heading back to the flat.

The feasting at home started with pate and a baked camembert…

Baked Camembert

… and finished with a roast chicken, gratin dauphinois, pigs in blankets, and kale braised with onions, garlic, chili and anchovies.

My First Plate

Anyway, Happy belated Christmas to all of you! I hope your days have also been filled with lots of eating! And do keep warm with that cold weather alert on in the UK.

Croydon Council and the Greater London Authority, along with the Portas Town Team, have opened Surrey StrEatery on, you guessed it, Surrey Street, a market street that’s existed in some form or other since the 13th century. It’s kind of like a food court, but with indoor street food stalls.

Surrey StrEatery

Seven street food stalls were invited/accepted to open in the building for half a year and there are also events and a good overall sense of community there. The seven stalls get promotion for the 26 weeks as well as general business support; I think it’s a brilliant idea to help out new local small businesses!

When I visited earlier this month, Christmas was in full swing at the StrEatery, with food hampers filled with goods from the stalls available for gifting. It was warm inside and it was welcoming; every stall radiated smiles.

Inside Surrey StrEatery

Inside Surrey StrEatery

The current stands there are:

  • Cravings “La Carreta” – Mexican street food
  • Mum’s the Chef – fresh wraps
  • Olivier’s Bakery – bakery and patissserie
  • Plumbun – cakes
  • Ro Co Coffee – coffee
  • Sannas Goan Street Food – Goan street food
  • The Liquid Pod – soups, stews and smoothies

I grabbed a flat white from Ro Co (excellent) and perused the rest of the stalls.

Inside Surrey StrEatery

That day, I opted for a bit of Goan food – for £5.50, I received a plate with Goan fish curry on a soft steamed rice cake, freshly fried vegetable bhajis, a lamb samosa and a bit of homemade carrot pickle. It was all brilliant – the curry was fabulous, the bhajis were crisp and not greasy, and the samosa had a great spicing to the lamb.

Goan Food

I really enjoyed my visit there and I can’t wait to get back in the new year to try the other stands. It’s definitely worth a visit and after you’ve had a good fill, you can pop outside and shop for groceries to take home too!

It’s open from Tuesday to Saturday, from 8am to 5pm each day. (Do check for Christmas openings!)

Surrey StrEatery
Unit 3 Bridge House
13 Surrey Street
Croydon CR0 1RG

It’s been a very long time since I put together one of these posts but the vacation season does feel like a good time for another one!

This Czech fried cheese recipe on Umami Mart is insane. Fried cheese? Served with tartar sauce? Yeah, alright, you’ve twisted my arm.

Recently, they also visited Nagoya – ah, this brings back memories of my trip last year!

The Homesick Texan’s Chipotle lime Texas trash snack mix sounds amazing! Now all I need is an oven again…

Should I ever find myself in Shanghai, it seems that I should eat scallion noodles. House of Hao’s undertook a survey of scallion noodles around Shanghai and I think I need me some noodles now. Perhaps recreated at home as a flight to Shanghai isn’t in the books anytime soon.

I love long train journeys and it turns out I’m not the only one! Serious Eats featured a train/eating journey along the former route of the Orient Express. One day, if I have the time/money, I’d love to do this route by train!

A fantastic blog I’ve recently discovered is Lady and Pups, which doesn’t sound like a food blog at all but trust me, it’s an amazing one. Her recipe for Beijing lamb skewers looks like the real deal.

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