Work brought me to the Fitzroria area one weekday and as it was around lunchtime when I got out, I started looking at Google maps to see where was good to eat nearby. I found one restaurant I’d marked just a 5 minute walk away…. and it was really a canteen. The canteen of the Indian YMCA. Yes, I’d finally get to try it!

The canteen is just that… a canteen. And yes, it’s part of the Indian YMCA, which also offers short and long term lodgings. The food served is supposed to be very authentically Indian, very homestyle, and judging from that lunchtime, it’s very popular with both Indian and non-Indian people working in the area.

To get your food, you first queue at the back where you grab a tray and the dishes that interest you, before continuing in the queue to pay at the till. I loaded my tray with pilau rice, fish curry, daal, and a poppadom. Everything is priced individually and the more you pile on your tray, the more you’ll pay. Other things on offer were white rice, chapatis, chicken curry, lamb curry, a couple of other vegetable curries and dishes, yogurt, salad, chutneys, pickles. I was too late for the bhaji – that ran out. There was mango lassi on offer as well.

Lunch at the Indian YMCA

If I remember correctly, all this came to about £7.50. And it was fantastic! I couldn’t even finish that very generous portion of fish curry and the daal was excellent – highly drinkable. Everything was very fresh and I really wish it was located much closer to my regular workplace.

I’m definitely planning on making a visit on a weekend, when the lunches and dinners are served as a fixed price buffet (£8). Do check their website for opening times as they’re quite specific.

Indian YMCA
41 Fitzroy Square
London W1T 6AQ

I wish I could say that my pre-birthday lunch at Gymkhana was outstanding but that would be a lie. In a weird way I’ve been wanting to write up the meal and yet at the same time I’ve felt entirely unmotivated to do so due to our overall general experience.

I’ll start with the good. Good: the food.

We booked for lunch last Saturday – I’d been really looking forward to trying this restaurant but as they close on Sundays, finding a day that would work for both me and Blai had been a bit of a challenge. Anyway, this opportunity arose and we went for their lunch menu: 3 courses for £30.

Drinks! Our Angoor Sharbat was the better of our two nonalcoholic cocktails, being more unique, made of homemade spiced grape juice and seltzer. The Lemon Teaser was a lemon (and lemon thyme!) fizzy drink. I really liked their nonalcoholic offerings – all were interesting and there were plenty from which to choose.

Lemon Teaser and Angoor Sharbat

Our meal started (or was supposed to start with as you’ll soon read) Cassava, Lentil & Potato Papads, Shrimp Chutney & Mango Chutney. I didn’t entirely understand until we received the basket that there would be two kinds of poppadoms here, with two distinctly different textures. I loved both.

Cassava, Lentil & Potato Papads

And both chutneys served were mind blowing. The mango chutney was the finest I’d ever had while the shrimp one was an intensely savoury and unique condiment.

Shrimp Chutney & Mango Chutney

For our starters, we chose the Soft Shell Crab Jhalmuri, Samphire

Soft Shell Crab Jhalmuri, Samphire

… and the Dosa, Chettinad Duck, Coconut Chutney. Both were excellent though the dosa just pipped the crab to the post. The crab was well spiced and tasty but that duck and dosa was really something.

Dosa, Chettinad Duck, Coconut Chutney

Dosa, Chettinad Duck, Coconut Chutney

Our main courses were the megastars of our lunch. Our Tandoori Chicken Chop, Mango Ginger, Leg Chat was amazing, easily the best tandoori chicken I’ve ever had. The chicken was just perfect, perfectly spiced, perfectly grilled, perfectly tender. And I must mention that ‘leg chat’, which was a tandoori spiced mixture of cooked and chopped chicken leg topped with crispy potato bits.

Tandoori Chicken Chop, Mango Ginger, Leg Chat

Our Hariyali Bream, Tomato Kachumber was also brilliant. This incredibly tender bream had been schmeared with a coriander paste and grilled and served with a fresh tomato relish; I’ve found the recipe online and hope to replicate at home one day!

Hariyali Bream, Tomato Kachumber

To go with our main courses, our set lunches also included a side each of Dal Maharani (creamy lentils) and Saag Makkai (spinach and corn). I loved these additions, rounding out our Indian meal.

Dal Maharani

Saag Makkai

For carbs we were given a bread basket with a naan and roti and also a large bowl of basmati rice. They were particularly generous with the rice and we didn’t manage to finish that!

Bread Basket

Desserts were very good indeed. A Rose & Rhubarb Kulfi Falooda was a ball of rose kulfi with rose petal jam, braised rhubarb, jelly bits, basil seeds and vermicelli, all served with a small pitcher of sweetened reduced milk for pouring over.

Ras Malai, Tandoori Peach Chutney

Ras Malai, Tandoori Peach Chutney was probably the finest ras malai I’ve ever had (clearly a theme throughout this meal) but I only wish that they’d been a little more generous with the fabulous chutney.

Rose & Rhubarb Kulfi Falooda

Overall, this was some of the finest Indian food we both had ever had and for that we were glad we tried the restaurant. The meal ended with these excellent passionfruit and chilli jellies but we almost didn’t get these as I mention below.

Passionfruit and Chilli Jellies

Now, the bad. Bad: the service. I’m not sure what it was about us but we were clearly getting shoddy service compared to those around us. I could see everything go flawlessly around us which really rubbed salt in the wound.

What we do not tend to expect from a one Michelin starred restaurant:

  • Waiting ages to be served. Having to ask for menus.
  • Receiving the first opening dish (the poppodoms and chutneys) after the second.
  • Watching the waitpeople roll their eyes above the heads of diners.
  • Waitpeople who try to clear our dishes about 2 minutes after we received them (yes, they were still half full).
  • Waiting 15 minutes for a single espresso, especially when we have a time limit on the table.
  • Being denied petit-fours, despite every table around us getting some. I only got them (the jellies above) after asking for them (and simultaneously making a complaint about service).
  • Waitpeople who, in general, avoid you.

Now, each event taken in isolation could have been considered an honest oversight but taken all together, it was increasing clear that we had been judged for some reason and judged to be lacking in some way and thus treated differently from everyone else. I made a complaint to our waiter but his response left me feeling very uncomfortable and I perhaps regret not speaking directly to management.

The day after our meal, a generic “we value your feedback” email popped into my inbox. I took the opportunity to send detailed email feedback to the restaurant and to their credit, they apologised and said they’d spoken to the waitstaff mentioned. But the fact that it even happened in the first place….not on, Gymkhana. While the food was spectacular, the whole lunch left a distinctly bad taste in our mouths.

42 Albemarle Street
London W1S 4JH

It took us a month (mainly my fault) to find a date that would work for me, Krista and Mr Noodles to meet for lunch and we finally met up at Rex & Mariano on St Anne’s Court (on the site of a former Vodka Revolution and across from the Good Housekeeping Cookery School) a couple Saturdays ago. Mr Noodles had been rapturous about the place and we were looking forward to tucking into some very affordable seafood. And I’d not seen either of them for a while – it turned out that it had been 5 years since I last saw Krista! Crazy!

For a Saturday lunchtime, we’d made a reservation but the restaurant was much larger (and brighter) than I’d expected and also quite empty. It seems it’s like that on weekends – fine by me, I like the idea of dropping in for some impromptu seafood. Ordering was via iPads, one left at each table when you sit down (and swiftly whisked away at the end). This allowed us to order as and when we liked, controlling the order and timing of our dishes, as well as keeping a running tab of the bill. We ended up ordering two rounds of cold and one of hot dishes.

One thing about the restaurant is that you have to buy your own bread. A delection of homemade breads (£3) is four huge tranches of bread: a focaccia, white studded with garlic cloves, white, and wholemeal. Our favourites were the first two and at the end of the meal, our waitress told us to request the specific breads we wanted next time. Alright! And the breads also arrived with a little ramekin of tuna pate. Good stuff.

Homemade breads with tuna pate

We started with a seabass ceviche with coriander, yuzu, red onion, and tiger’s milk (nope, me neither) (£7.5). This was extremely moreish, with its citrus and mild onion tang.

Seabass ceviche - coriander, yuzu, red onion, tiger's milk

There was also an excellent tuna tartare with chilli and chives and sitting on a swipe of pureed avocado (£8).

Tuna tartare - avocado, chilli, chive

Second round! Raw red prawns (£10) were beautifully fresh and beautifully arranged.

Raw red prawns

To begin with, a salmon carpaccio (£7.5) looked like the cured fish had been hacked at with a blunt knife; actually it had been topped with grated tomato, lemon, olive oil and micro-basil. This was probably the weakest of the raw fish dishes we tried but still was very good. You can see from the menu that the raw fishes available were tuna, salmon and sea bass and by having different variations of them on the menu, I guess that’s how costs can be brought down.

Salmon carpaccio - olive oil, lemon, tomato, basil

Third round – hot food! Sweet little clams had been steamed with white wine, parsley and chilli (£7).

Clams - white wine, parsley, chilli

The red prawns made another appearance but this time cooked and drizzled with olive oil, dusted with salt and served with a grilled lemon half (£10). I think I preferred these cooked ones as there were more juices to suck up and mop up with the bread.

Cooked red prawns, olive oil, salt, lemon

Fritto misto had been well seasoned with old bay seasoning (£9) and was a massive portion. There was plenty of calamari, a couple of whitebait and lots of chunks of fish (yup, you guessed it – salmon, tuna and sea bass offcuts!). It was a huge pile of perfectly fried seafood for an excellent price – thumbs up.

Fritto misto - old bay seasoning, lemon, aioli

Fried courgettes with aioli (£5) were not perhaps the most thrilling of vegetable dishes (this is one that Byron does better). While the outsides were crisp, the insides were a bit too soft and mushy.

Courgettes - fried, aioli

But otherwise I love the place! I love that one doesn’t really have to queue, I love that the restaurant takes bookings, I love the seafood. Prices are very good though and we could even have done to order perhaps 2 fewer dishes for the three of us (we were rolling out of there). I’ll be back.

Oh, it’s probably good to mention that unless you like/love seafood, there’s really no point for you to go here – there are no meat options nor vegetarian ones.

Rex & Mariano
2 St Anne’s Court
London, W1F 0AZ

Last Wednesday, Blai and I met in the evening after work under a tree in Ham Yard, the rather swish Soho courtyard that’s home to a few new shops, the Ham Yard Hotel, and Engawa, a Japanese restaurant specialising in Kobe beef (that’s Ham Yard below but it’s a photo taken about a month ago). We were, of course, visiting this last and we were there to sample (at their invitation) their 8 course tasting menu which costs a not insubstantial £100. There are £60 and £80 menus for fewer courses.

Ham Yard

The restaurant, it turns out, is part of the Japanese Salt Group, which owns a number of high end restaurants in Japan. This, I believe, is their first venture into London; well, we’d get to see how the food translates over here! It’s only since last year anyway that Europe was allowed to import real Kobe beef from Japan again.

We sat by the counter and had a great view of everything being made in front of us by a number of white jacketed chefs. However, what I didn’t expect was how tiny the entire restaurant was. Apart from the counter seating, there were a few normal tables and then by the window, more counter seating. And things were tight – with the tables full and the counters full too, it was a struggle for the waiters to get through. It’s a shame the place isn’t bigger.

Anyway, we ordered our teas to drink and made our selections from the menu (on the 8 course menu, there are three courses for which you have to choose). Apart from the choices listed on the menu (for certain courses), we were also presented with this box of a couple cuts of beef and were asked to choose for our main course.

Kobe Beef

After getting our drinks (green tea for me and iced tea for Blai), we watched as two small glass bowls were filled with various bits of beef and dressings before being set into a large block of ice. It then occurred to us that perhaps those were for us! And they were!

This was the first course and the first with a choice (we, of course, shared between us). A Kobe beef yukhoe was a Japanese-style Korean beef tartare – raw Kobe beef had been chopped and served with a bit of jellied stock and a bit of slimy (but in a good way) grated Japanese mountain yam.

Kobe beef yukhoe

The Kobe beef with ponzu sauce was cold cooked slices of Kobe beef with a bit of ponzu jelly on top. These cold dishes were a nice way to get our appetites going.

Kobe beef with ponzu sauce

Choices again for the second course; it was eggs all around this time. A Dashimaki with Kobe beef soup was a beautiful egg roll sitting in a pool of Kobe beef dashi stock and topped with a bit of shaved truffle and a thin slice of kumquat.

Dashimaki with Kobe beef soup

Chawan-mushi with Kobe beef soup was steamed egg custard made with that same Kobe beef dashi stock and again topped with a bit of shaved truffle. Silky.

Chawan-mushi with Kobe beef soup

The next course was a fried one, with it changing each day. That day we got a prawn and asparagus Kakiage, a crisp ball of the ingredients bound together with a bit of batter. Lovely but I could have eaten two!

Shrimp and Asparagus Kakiage

Sashimi next. We were both presented with these beautiful compartmentalised boxes, with each compartment containing another beautiful little porcelain dish. Oh yeah, and the sashimi in those. There was a wide range of fishes represented: tuna, salmon, sea bass, red snapper, scallops, squid, salmon roe, sea urchin. It was beautiful to behold and beautiful to eat. Everything was extremely fresh.


And then again some choice between a few cooked dishes involving Kobe beef. Kobe beef daikon was supremely melting slow-cooked beef and daikon cooked in Kobe beef dashi stock.

Kobe beef daikon

Kobe beef sukiyaki was a different cut of beef cooked with onions and the sweet soy broth so characteristic of sukiyaki. While both these dishes were excellent, I just have no idea how the dish would compare with the same cuts but from…y’know…a cow that hasn’t had as good a life. Would the slow cooking tenderise everything?

Kobe beef sukiyaki

Choice again! These were the cuts of Kobe beef available for the Kobe beef main dish that had been presented to us at the beginning of the meal. Two are available each day and they change often as they get sent the whole animal and have to break it down themselves. That day’s choice was rump or top round and we got both. The steaks were grilled to their recommendation (medium and medium rare, if I recall correctly), sliced, and served with lemon, salt, wasabi and ponzu (with a chunk of pink Himalayan salt for…saltiness) on the side.

Grilled Kobe beef

Salt, Wasabi and Ponzu

Now this was a great way to appreciate Kobe beef and its tenderness and succulence. This was what I had been expecting! Now, strangely, the one takeaway message I got from this course was that wasabi is excellent with steak (which you would have thought I’d have figured out already what with the amount of Kodoku no Gurume I watch).

Kobe beef

Kobe beef

Each steak was served on a beautiful kidney-shaped ceramic place that turned out to the be cover of a box and within the box was grilled vegetables: okra, asparagus and green tomato. It was my first time having a grilled green tomato – I liked it!

Grilled Vegetables

Sushi was the final savoury course. There was some nigiri (tuna and salmon), a couple of sushi “balls” (scallop and eel) and a vegetable maki roll topped with Kobe beef. Apart from the previous course, this was my second favourite course. The sushi was overall quite excellent; it was some of the best stuff I’ve had in a while.


And we made to course number eight: a Deluxe Engawa fondue. We received a box of fresh fruits, tofu cheesecake filled with sweet red beans, and a small wedge of dorayaki. And the best part was the matcha white chocolate dipping sauce on the side.

Fruits and Tofu Cheesecake

Matcha white chocolate sauce

In order to get every last bit of that sauce, Blai smashed up the last couple of bites of cheesecake into the green goop; and I followed suit! Genius!

It’s expensive, I grant you. While the food was lovely, I’m not sure I can see myself splurging on the £100 menu… perhaps the £60 or £80 menu is more like it for me. I suppose most of the cost is down to the import of the Kobe beef; gosh, wouldn’t it be nice to try Kobe beef in Kobe though? But still, it was a fun evening.

Thank you to Engawa for the invitation!

2 Ham Yard
London W1D 7LT

Engawa on Urbanspoon

Do we need another review of BAO? Probably not but here’s mine anyway! Last week we tried our luck in the queue at 7pm and 90 minutes later, the three of us (me, Vivian, Felicia) finally got in. There’s always a queue here; be prepared for it or be prepared to find another place to leave. Every time we thought we’d vacate the queue, we’d move forward one spot and then we’d wait again. There are only 30 seats inside.


Anyway, 90 minutes later, we were finally in (while in the queue, I did feel quite sorry for the couple seated right by the window as everyone was ogling their food). Anyway, we’d already made our selections on the order form in the queue so we handed that over and waited impatiently.

With three of us, we were able to sample almost the entire menu. Sides and small eats (xiaochi) arrived first. Turnip Tops, Salted Egg (£2.5) turned out to be raw turnip greens in a spicy black vinegar dressing with, yes, grated salted egg on top.

Turnip Tops, Salted Egg

Sweet Potato Chips, Plum Pickle Ketchup (£3) were beautifully fried and perfectly crisp. The frying in this restaurant was top-notch.

Sweet Potato Chips, Plum Pickle Ketchup

Eryngi Mushroom, Century Egg (£4) – I loved this dish. The mushrooms had been thickly sliced and grilled and topped with a couple of slices of the black jelly that is century egg.

Eryngi Mushroom, Century Egg

Pig Blood Cake (£3.5) was a slice of something like black pudding topped with an egg yolk. This was fantastic – all earthy darkness brightened by the sun. Sorry, that probably sounds ridiculous but it really was very very good.

Pig Blood Cake

Taiwanese Fried Chicken, Hot Sauce (£5) was. just. fantastic. Ah, I’ve never met a fried chicken I didn’t like but this really is near the top of my list.

Taiwanese Fried Chicken, Hot Sauce

Now, I adore aubergine but the Aubergine, Wonton Crisp (£3.5) didn’t exactly light up my life. While I enjoyed the silky vegetable on top of the deep fried wonton skins, perhaps it was overshadowed by that fried chicken that arrived at the same time.

Aubergine, Wonton Crisp and  Taiwanese Fried Chicken, Hot Sauce

Aged Beef Rump Cap, Aged White Soy Sauce (£6) is probably one of their more famous small eats and for good reason. This was some seriously good beef – very tender and flavourful. I’m not entirely certain what white soy sauce is but whatever sauce there was was delicious.

Aged Beef Rump Cap, Aged White Soy Sauce

Trotter Nuggets (£4) were melting little morsels that reminded me very much of David Chang’s pig’s head torchon…only this was made up of the other end of the animal. That green sauce on the side packed a surprising heat!

Trotter Nuggets

Guinea Fowl Chi Shiang Rice (£5.25) was one of my favourites that night. This bowl of rice was topped with lots of lovely things and an egg too. We were told to mix it all up together before tucking in and little bits of fried shallots and pickles peaked through the mixture. Fabulous.

Guinea Fowl Chi Shiang Rice

Of course, we had some of their baos too. Their Daikon Bao (£3.5) was rather inspired. Inside the soft pillowy steamed bun was stuffed a deep fried patty formed of grated daikon. And there’s a thin slice of daikon on top of that to remind you of what’s inside.

Daikon Bao

A Classic Bao (£3.75) was fine with lots of pork in there and peanuts on top too.

Classic Bao

Lamb Shoulder Bao (£5) was braised lamb covered in more of that green sauce.

Lamb Shoulder Bao

Confit Pork Bao (£4.50) – well, at this point, I wasn’t entirely sure what differentiated the confit pork from the regular pork as the mound of fried shallots somewhat overwhelmed it all….and I normally really like fried shallots.

Confit Pork Bao

And for dessert, I was by myself with my Fried Horlicks Ice Cream Bao (£4). The ice cream was brilliant – I do like me some Horlicks – and the pairing with fried bread was fantastic. I would have liked a little less bread but I was pretty full by that point and perhaps this was my stomach crying out for help.

Fried Horlicks Ice Cream Bao

Overall, I preferred the sides and small eats to the main baos; of all the baos we had, my favourite was the daikon one. Perhaps next time I’ll try their fried chicken bao (I can’t see how I’d ever dislike that). I’ve heard the queue is much shorter earlier in the week; I’ll try anything to shorten the length of time I’m queuing!

53 Lexington Street
London W1F 9AS

Bao on Urbanspoon

It may or may not be known (ha! Probably the latter) that I’m not a fan of the ramen at Bone Daddies. I find it’s just packed too full of stuff to enjoy – it’s a bit over the top. When I first heard about Shackfuyu, I assumed it was another ramen joint and ignored it but soon reports started coming in about the dishes served there and I realised it was more like an izakaya but with intriguing fusion style foods.

We thought of popping in one evening but found the place absolutely packed. Back up plan: return for lunch on Easter Sunday, when it’s possible to drop in at some of the hippest and most popular restaurants (provided they’re open on the day) without a reservation. And sure enough, Shackfuyu was half empty. Perfect, we’d get our opportunity to try it!

We both loved the short and sweet menu and chose a few things across it. The yellowtail sashimi tostada – avocado shiso (£2.50 each) was a great two-bite starter with lovely shock to the tongue of the hot crisp tortilla and the cold avocado and fish.

Yellowtail sashimi tostada - avocado shiso

Blai’s favourite was probably the mackerel – nanban style (escabeche) (£7.80). Here the fish fillets had been battered and deep fried before being drained and marinated in a vinegary mixture with shredded vegetables. Fantastic.

Mackerel – nanban style (escabeche)

The fried potatoes – japanese curry sauce (£4.30) were excellent. The potato cubes had been fried with a perfect crispy shell that remained crispy in the sauce.

Fried potatoes – japanese curry sauce

The aubergine – 4 miso – bubu arare (£5.80) were silky smooth and smeared in a delicious miso paste and topped with nori and little crispy rice balls (the bubu arare).

Aubergine – 4 miso – bubu arare

To meet our carb needs, we also shared a hot stone rice – goma tare – chilli – beef (£7.80). As expected, it was like a bibimbap with a raw egg and corn and mushrooms. It was all mixed up for us to ensure we didn’t burn ourselves and then we helped ourselves to the rice with its crispy toasted edges.

Hot stone rice – goma tare – chilli – beef

What everyone says about their kinako french toast with matcha soft serve ice cream (£6) is true. It’s just dreamy with its crispy crust and custardy centre and that matcha! soft! serve! and we’re still thinking about it.

Kinako french toast – soft serve ice cream

Just go and eat that french toast. Go. Go. Go. But if you can’t go, you can get a matcha soft serve for takeaway for £3.50 (I know I will). And hurry, as Shackfuyu is just a pop-up that’ll be around for just a year or so.

Bone Daddies Shackfuyu
14a Old Compton Street
London W1D 4TJ

Shackfuyu on Urbanspoon

In France, the first of April is also full of pranks in France. The tradition is poisson d’avril (April fish) – children try to stick paper fishes onto their friends’ backs and when it’s discovered, one shouts “Poisson d’avril!”. Simple but effective. On the day at Brasserie Zédel, they went all out for the event, with paper fish to stick on someone’s back at each place, fortune telling fish, and beautiful dark chocolate fish to take home. I was there on invitation – Blai and I actually find ourselves there quite regularly. It almost always has space for a walk-in for two and is priced very well for a centrally-located brasserie…and, of course, we like the food! But this…this was different. It was a one-off for a particularly French way of celebrating April Fools.

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

And I couldn’t help but giggle at the poor victims of the prank that night, many of whom were the waitstaff!

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

Then we watched as every fortune telling fish curled up in our palms…. that’s the usual thing right? That we’re all “passionate” people?!

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

For my meal, I started with Steak Tartare. It was excellent despite it being not much of a looker – all the seasonings had been mixed in with the meat already.

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

I felt an implicit pressure to have fish somewhere in my meal (actually the pressure was all self-inflicted) and chose the Daurade aux Aubergines et Sauce Verte – sea bream. The aubergines under the fish were fantastic!

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

Brasserie Zédel’s menu changes ever so slightly through the seasons and it’s most apparent in their dessert menu. I chose one dessert that I certainly hadn’t seen on the menu before: Soufflé Glacé au Café, Crème Anglaise. The thin custard was poured directly into the heart of the cold coffee mousse. I loved that the combination wasn’t too sweet overall and was a fine ending to the meal, no extra coffee required!

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

And here’s that dark chocolate fish, made in house by their chocolatier, that was presented to each of us at the end of our meal. I’ve been nibbling on it every day since and it’s ridiculously good.

I was invited to dinner for Poisson d'Avril at Brasserie Zedel.

Thank you very much to Hattie and Natalie and Brasserie Zédel for the invitation – it was a fun night! I’ve now signed up to the restaurant’s newsletter to get head’s up for their other French celebrations (I hear they do a great Bastille Day).

Brasserie Zédel
20 Sherwood Street
London W1F 7ED


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