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London Series: Eurostar from London to Paris

I thought I had everything planned out for the day. It’s St Paddy’s day and I had planned to go watch the parade in London before taking the EuroStar to Paris in late afternoon.

However, the day before I was supposed to leave for Paris I heard on the news that there was a fire inside the Eurostar tunnel and that the tunnel had been closed for at least 24 hours. Initially, I was not concerned because the tunnel was supposed to be opened at 4pm while my reservation is not until 6:30pm. Well, it turned out that to be a day wasted in waiting … and it just had to happen to me!

When I got to the Waterloo Station, I can see that this is gonna be a long day. There was already a huge crowd and the Eurostar officials were trying their best to attend to each and every customer. What they told me that despite me having a confirmed reservation, they will NOT honour it — it will be a first come first serve and to add to the uncertainty, they refuse to say when the service will resume or if Eurostar will even operate on that day.

First, I tried to find an alternative way to get to Paris. There were no flights between London and Paris. Every flight was booked solid — I am not surprised at all. I thought I just grab a bite while trying to work out an alternative way. I went to Burger King to get a sandwich.


I was not particularly hungry but remember how thirsty and tired I was. I had been lugging my luggage all the way from Heathrow for about 3 hrs now. This gave me a chance to relax.

My other alternative was to take the train and ferry but I could not get real help at all from the Information counter and ticketing office. Basically they told me to get a train to Dover and then a ferry to Calais but cannot tell me how to get to Paris. I know it must have been a frustrating day for them too because of the crowd but hey, they are supposed to be there to help. I was really disappointed with them.

I also took the tube to another station to try to get on a coach. Tough luck as the earliest coach is not leaving until after 11pm and the journey takes 7 hrs! No siree … I went back to Eurostar to take my chances.


By the time I got back to the Waterloo Station at 3pm, the queue had already stretched all the way to outside the station on the overpass. There must have been hundreds of people already ahead of me.


I was on the queue for almost 1.5 hours as it slowly inched the way back into the station.


I had a good chat with a Korean couple who were making their way to Paris too and he had a Canon dSLR and the same two lens I brought along. Small world! He pulled out his 70-200L and I did too. We did not take much shots because there were really nothing interesting at all.


I managed to get on the 6:30pm train, the same time I had reservation for! Boy, I was glad to be allowed down the escalator to the Eurostar station. I am on my way … finally!


The Eurostar was exactly I had imagined it to be … sleek and beautiful. The service had been operating for the past 12 years and operates services between London-Paris and London-Brussels. The journey took about 2.5 hrs. Frankly, the train did not feel that it travelled very fast — partly because it was dark when we started out and I could not see much out of the highly reflected windows and secondly the ride was quite smooth and quiet.


The interior was quite comfortable. The seats were wide but I felt that interior design is a bit dated and dull.


After a whole day, I finally reached Paris Gare du Nord shortly before 9pm. I just wanted to get to the hotel, have a good rest and put the whole day behind me. My problem was I had very inkling of where I was and where the hotel was. I just knew the hotel was within 5-10 minutes walk.

Some taxi guy approached me and told me he could take me for 25 Euros!! I am sure that it will not cost close to even 10 Euros. I decided to walk … at least the guy pointed me to the direction I need to go.


I made it to the hotel in one piece. I did not do anything but just went straight to bed. Actually, I was pretty disappointed with the room but heck, I am there just to sleep.

I spent a total of 4 days in Paris and visited quite a number of places. Like London, there are so much to see and do. It’s my first trip to Paris and frankly, my first trip to a country where people do not (or refuse to) speak English.


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London Series: The Pheasant Pub and Restaurant

A trip to London is never complete without a visit to a pub. The word pub is short for Public Houses and has been a traditional establishment in Great Britain. This is where the community gathers in social settings and where alcoholic drinks are served.

There is a pub around where my hotel is, about 10 minutes walk. Many people in my company recommend that I try this place as they serve very good meals too. It’s called the Pheasant Pub and Restaurant. I went just as the sun set and took a few HDR shots of the colourful pub. This is one of my favourite HDR shots. It’s so sharp that I could literally see into the windows (click on the picture below and see for yourself). I heart his shot.


Pubs sell a wide range of beers, wine and soft drinks. I did not get any alcoholic drink as I went past the bar and straight to the back of the pub where the restaurant is. There were hardly any moving room as there were some soccer game on the TVs. I think it was the Euro 2008 Qualifying matches going on. The English are so soccer crazy … OK, football crazy.

I am surprised with the wide range of food served there. I expected this to be a lot of snacks and finger food but they are all full meals. There were a lot of deliciously sounding menu items that I find it hard to decide what I want.


I had the image of pubs being a smoking place. I am glad the restaurant section had no smoking signs all over. Anyway, I place my order at the counter, paid up and was given a wooden ladle with the number “11″ — that was my order number. When they come around shouting my number, I am supposed to put the ladle up to show the server that it’s mine. How’s this for informal dining?

Hey, errr … the three squeeze bottles, I am sure they are color coded and for a Brit they know what’s in it. I can guess that the red one is ketchup and the yellow one must be mustard (them Brits love their mustards, don’t they?). But what is in the one in brown? If I hazard a guess, I would say it’s BBQ sauce … am just guessing.


What’s the pub grub I ordered? I was a bit adventurous and ordered the “Best English Calves Liver and Bacon”. It came in a large squarish plate. The meat were served on top of some of the tastiest mash potatoes I had tasted and there were lots of it.


The vegetables were cold but really nice. I could be wrong but I think they are all cooked and then chilled as they don’t taste a bit raw to me. BTW, if there is no dressing on top of this, do you still call this a salad or is it better described as vegetables?


The bacon was heavenly. That slab was evenly cooked throughout and is soft and tender. I am beginning to like English bacon a lot.


The best part was the calves liver. Do you find it repulsive to eat liver? I don’t. I think they taste wonderful although I know it has an unusual taste to a lot of people. This must have been at least 12 oz of liver. And the gravy that came along blends itself nicely to the entire dish.


The dish costs 13 GBP. I am getting used to London prices and would say it is quite reasonable price. I mean, don’t convert it to CAD … CAD 40 is certainly to much for a main dish.

I am certainly going to come back to this place to try their other unusual dishes the next time I am in London again. Listen to what else they have on their menu:

  • Pan Fried Chicken Supreme filled with Boursin Cheese wrapped in Parma Ham
  • Homemade Steak and Kidney Pie
  • Mixed Seafood a la Creme
  • Traditional Burchers Cumberland Sausage, Mash and Onion
  • Scottish Baked Fiillet of Salmon with Salmon Mousse
  • Homemade Fillet of Beff Strogonoff served with Saffron Rice
  • Traditional British Beer Battered Cod and Chips
  • Best New Zealand Herb and Mustard Crust Rack of Lamb
  • Best English Half Shoulder of Lamb
  • Grilled Dover Sole with Baby Prawns and Almonds

Feeling hungry? I am writing this. Anyway, this is it … my trip London trip report. More coming up … Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. Tell me, seriously, what do you want us to do? Me continuing with the trip report or have Suanne do a few recipe entries. We want to keep you entertained. :-)

Pheasant Restaurant and Public House on Urbanspoon

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London Series: Roast Duck at Four Seasons, Bayswater

Before I left for this trip to London, I asked for recommendation from the readers of chowtimes. One of the comments left was from Eileen who recommended that I should try the roast duck from Four Seasons Restaurant in Bayswater. I replied that I didn’t think I would want to travel all the way to London to taste chinese food … well, I went anyway, no regrets whatsoever.

I had read a lot of reviews of Four Seasons — almost all of them commented about the long queues everyday and that they serves the best roast duck in London.

Finding Fours Seasons was much more easier than I thought. I took the tube to the Bayswater station, got out of the station and there it was … literally right in front of the station entrance.


I would have expected that there are a lot more Roast Ducks and other BBQ Meat on display. Perhaps it was because I was there at about 4pm way before the dinner crowd starts coming in. I read so much about the long queues that I played it safe to come this early.


This is the best condiments that I have seen in any BBQ Meat restaurant. It’s such a simple idea that I am surprised not many restaurant had thought of doing it. The moment I sat down, they came by with a pot of Chinese tea and the plate of three types of chillis.


I cannot recall this completely. I think this is not free soup and that I ordered this. It was great. Actually, I was pretty dehydrated because I had only a small bottle of drinking water the whole day. This was a really welcome bowl of soup.


I ordered a “portion” of the Cantonese Roast Duck. I must agree … this is simply one of the best roast ducks I had ever tasted. It has a a right amount of fat and the skin is perfectly crisped. Duck meat are generally tougher meat but this one is so tender and flavourful. To me, what sets this apart is the light sweet sauce. Tasty!

This duck reminds of of another thing about ducks in England — The Fat Duck. The Fat Duck is currently voted the #2 restaurant in the world after El Bulli in Spain. Their tasting menu costs a whopping 115 GBP. I had half a mind of going there but fortunately sanity prevailed. Anyone ever eaten at The Fat Duck? or at least let me know your thoughts about ducks in England.


The sweet sauce goes very well with steamed rice. I ordered a separate large bowl.


The total bill came up to just over 11 GBP. It is expensive for Vancouver’s standard. I think I can easily get this meal easily for half the price in Vancouver. They gave me two slices of oranges for dessert.

I see some tables ordering roast duck served on a plate of rice. I think it’s cheaper if one order it that way.


After the meal, I walked along the shopping street along Bayswater. It was a short busy street with a quite a few interesting shops.


It appears that there are a number of Chinese restaurants that looked exactly like Four Seasons. I found four other restaurants … all of the with large red and gold signboards and all of them displaying roast ducks in the front window.



New Four Seasons Chinese Restaurant in Chinatown.
12 Gerrard Street.
London W1D 5PR.
Telephone:0207 494 0870

Four Seasons on Urbanspoon

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London Series: An English Breakfast at Guidos

I had a full day all planned out in London. I wanted to climb the dome at St Pauls, visit the Westminster Abbey and the Victoria & Albert Museum. These are the places that I missed visiting the last time I was in London because I timed it all wrong.

When I was planning for this trip I wanted to include a visit to a place that serves traditional hot English breakfast. I simply think that English breakfasts are the best — definitely not the healthiest but sure the best.

I found one place near the St Paul’s Cathedral called Guido’s. What drew me to this place is the smell of frying bacon. Oh man … that smell so good …


It’s small, cramped restaurant and looks exactly like the place that a Londoner would go for their breakfast — seems authentic and not some touristy restaurant to me.


I ordered their Full English Breakfast. The toast were buttered and toasted well done … or in Suanne’s words over-done! I like it. Hey … by the way … what is your opinion … is it true that such over-toasted bread is carcinogenic?


How do you define a “Full English Breakfast”? I believe the one below is it … and the characteristic is as follows:

  • Grilled tomatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Bacon: You call this back bacon right?
  • Sausage
  • Fried Eggs

Hey, I got a question. Does the Brits normally have ketchup with these kind of breakfast? The table does not have ketchup and I gotta ask for it.

This is really great … a real artery clogger. All these for 4.50 GBP. Sounds reasonable right?


Enough about food. For those who are only interested in reading about food can tune out now. The rest of today’s entry is about the places I visited during the day. :-)

The St Paul’s Cathedral was built 299 years ago. The design of the cathedral is inspired by the St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It is a functioning church and thus disallow photography indoors. Many great Englishmen tombs are sited here, including Lord Nelson, Winston Churchill, Alexander Fleming, and Florence Nightingale.

The most impressive part of the cathedral is it’s dome. That was the target of my visit … to climb to the top of the dome.


It was really hard work! I was carrying a full backpack of camera equipment. Furthermore, I am terrified of heights! I know it’s all in the mind but every time I am faces with spiral staircases where I can see all the way to the bottom, my legs just goes weak. The stairs looked so flimsy!


The view from the top of the dome was simply beautiful. I spent quite some time taking pictures. The toughest part is going back down. I took a long time to get down but I made it.


Later I went to the Westminster Abbey. This is also a functioning church (that means that no photography allowed). The abbey, dedicated to St Peter, had been continuously built from just a small shrine until it being such a magnificent cathedral today. I just learned that the expression “robbing Peter to pay Paul” actually originates from the days when money from the Abbey (St Peters) were diverted to St Pauls.

The Westminster Abbey is so full of history. If only I were able to take picture, you will see how old and full of history this church is. In it were tombs of English monarchs dating back hundreds of years. Of the many churches I had visited this is simply the richest in terms of history. It’s a must visit place.


The last place I visited for the day is the Victoria and Albert Museum. I really don’t know how to describe this place … I would say it’s a museum of decorative and industrial arts. It is really huge. I spent most of my time in the South East Asian, East Asia and Middle Eastern exhibits.


There is also a large room housing only Rafael’s tapestry Cartoon which were the series commissioned by the pope for the Vatican.


It was a long day. As much as I wanted to cover more of the V&A Museum, I simply was too tired. Left for dinner at the perhaps the best Duck Rice in the world … will blog on that tomorrow.

Guido's on Urbanspoon

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London Series: Chicken Tikka Masala from Sipson Tandoori

I was so intrigued. When I first heard that the national food of England is Chicken Tikka Masala, I thought that someone was pulling my legs. In a few days I was in London, some people (mainly Indian taxi drivers) told me the same thing too. Here is what I learned the past few days — let me know if I get this correct.

Masala is an Indian term that refers to a mixture of many ground spices. What does the word Masala mean? Spices? And Chicken Tikka Masala is really invented in Great Britain. So, I figure since I am in London I must simply try the national dish. :-)

I had blogged on the Sipson Tandoori the last time I was in London here. I vivid remembered making an unkind remark about the “pretty dumb” paper bags the delivery came with. I had the tendency sometimes to be brash, I admit. He he he … the paper bags I guess will always be there but at least this time, the curry did not leak all over the place.


Got a question for you, Rukya. How many pieces does people normally order the papadam? When I ordered ONE piece, the person who took my order sounded so surprised. I mean, the papadam is such a large piece that one is more than enough for me. Guess what, when they delivered to me, they game me four pieces. Hey, I have no complain. I must say that Sipson’s papadam is simply one of the best I had tried … they are so crispy and flavourful … and they tastes just as good the next morning. 50p per piece but they charge me only for 1 piece — nice!


You know, most curries looked and tastes the same to me. So I really can’t figure out what Chicken Tikka Masala is. It looked and tastes like Butter Chicken but am sure it is not. Rukya, can you tell us about Chicken Tikka Masala?

The curry gravy was awesome — very rich and if I recall correctly, it was not spicy hot. I enjoyed this a lot. This one costs about 8 GBP.


I also ordered the Bhindi Bhajee … fresh okra (a.k.a. ladies fingers). I like ladies fingers and there are lots of this here. One thing about okras … the seeds do not breakdown in your body right? :-) 3 GBP.


I can’t remember what this is … but if I make a guess, I think this is the Lemon Rice which is described as “Basmati rice cooked in ghee flavoured with fresh lemon“. 3 GBP.


I enjoyed this meal in the hotel room. There were lots of food. I do come away having the impression that London has some of the best Indian cuisine restaurants in the world.

Sipson Tandoori on Urbanspoon

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London Series: A Night Out at the Theatres

Thursday … last day of training and what that means is the training is over and my real vacation starts! The class ended earlier than normal at 4pm and so, I decided that I’ll go to the city and catch a theater show.

I had planned to watch Les Miserable while I was in London. A few days prior, it was advertised on that it costs 29 GBP for the show PLUS a dinner at Planet Hollywood. I never got down to the place to book. By Thursday, the 29 GBP deal was no longer available.

So I went to Leicester Square to get the ticket. I thought that the best way to get a ticket would be to go to the the “tkts” booth. But when I got to Leicester Square, I saw a lot of places selling tickets too. Anyway, not knowing how all these work, I thought I better get it from the “official” source. The price for Les Miserable had increased to 40GBP … and without dinner too.

Not wanting to spend so much money for a show, I went for a show called Jump. That one costs only 19 GBP.


I was quite awed by the whole place. When Mama Mia came to Vancouver to perform about two or three years ago, Suanne and I caught that show. We enjoyed that show a lot and told ourselves we should catch these shows more often. Here, in and around Leicester Square there are 60 such show! The place was teeming with people and it is not even the weekend.


The show is at the Peacock Theater which was quite a walk from Leicester Square. I had a lot of time. Went looking for food and found a place called Caffe Amici.


The place is really busy. I guess there are some who are there waiting for the show to start. They basically serves coffee, sandwiches and pasta.


I had the Spaghetti Bolognese (minced meat, tomato and herbs). It’s “only” 5.50 GBP.


The show was awesome and so hilarious — I laughed till it hurts. It’s a Korean show without dialogue — just martial-arts stunt fighting and mimed comedy. The show centers on a Korean family. Kind of hard to explain it but I highly recommend this show.


After the show I went for a stroll along the south bank. It was a cool, crisp night and just perfect for some night photography.


I took quite a few shots, mostly for HDR processing. London is such a beautiful city at night.


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London Series: Room Service at Sheraton Skyline

Despite the perceived excitement of managing projects with remote teams and having to travel often to different sites, all I can say that it’s not as glamorous as it seems. For sure, there are benefits & opportunities to this job but sometimes it really takes a lot out of me. I am not sure if I can do this for life. Here is how it was like one of the days I was in London.

I was already struggling trying to keep up with a highly technical 8-hour training course each day. Mind you, the course starts at about midnight Vancouver time — a time when I should be soundly asleep in bed.


Needless to say, it’s hard trying to stay awake sometimes. I must have taken something like 10 cups of coffee over the course of the day. I tell myself this is bad for me but I could not help it. After a couple of days, I was really sick of the coffee from the machine in the training rooms and bought “real ones” from the cafeteria.


Right after that training, there were three conference calls that I need to get on. That three conference calls took a total of 4 hours with the first one starting at 6:00 PM (LON time) and the last one completed at midnight. I stayed in the office the whole time because I did not want to take conference calls with my cell or the hotel — it would have been enormously expensive to do so. Moreover I always need to take conference calls hands free.


I did not even get the chance to grab dinner because the cafeteria had already closed. That one day was a really long one. At least the calls that day were “easy” ones — ones that I was not beaten up on. :-)

By the time I got back to my room, I was famished. All the restaurants are closed at that time and what I had available is the hotel’s room service. There were not much choice on the menu — just pizza and grills. The Grilled Beef Sirloin Steak sounded good … 10 oz some more … just what I needed.


When I called for my order, they told me “it’ll be 30 minutes” … what?!? 30 minutes? That was a long wait for me. Good thing I had some cookies in my bag.


They gave me a choice of sauce but I just can’t remember what it is now. I only remembered that what I selected was some uncommon sauce … perhaps something like peppermint something … I can’t remember.


Here it is again … ketchup and … English Mustard for condiments. BTW, English mustards are different from North America mustards … the colour looked slightly different and with English mustard you can see “stuff” (ground pepper?) in them.


The steak sure was not disappointing at all. It was like … wow! Perfect medium rare; just the way I always liked my steak. This whole thingy costs 24 GBP — quite reasonable I think, considering.


There were some work I needed to deliver out from the conference calls but I just couldn’t stay awake anymore. Anyway, even if I did it over the night, those guys in Atlanta and Vancouver would have already gone for the day.

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London Series: Breakfast at McDonalds

After a couple of mornings of breakfasts at the Hotel’s Al Dente Cafe, I decided to take a 5 minutes walk down the street to the McDonalds for a change. I could not see any other food outlet or restaurants serving breakfasts than this Golden Arches outlet.


I had the very familiar Bacon & Egg McMuffin meal. Like the McMuffin at home, this included the sandwich, a coffee and a hash brown. It’s 2.40 GBP … definitely much cheaper than the 19.00 GBP for the breakfasts at the hotel.


I had the Latte. For a moment, I had to figure out how to break the opening — it’s different from the ones in Canada. The instructions said to “pinch and push” … huh? And how do I push it aside so that it does get in the way of my nose when I drink it. I didn’t figure this one out.


The McDonalds hash brown, well, is similar anywhere in the world. I know Arkensen and Nanzaro likes this a lot.


What is different with this Bacon and Egg McMuffin is the bacon. North American bacon is sliced thinner and in strips while the English version is thicker. I prefer the crispier North American version. The bun is the traditional English Muffin.

This is kind of confusing … The McMuffin originated from the US is made with English traditional muffin. The American Muffin is a cupcake and bears no resemblance to the English Muffin. Moreover, the English Muffin is more popularly eaten in North America than in England … go figure.


Anyway, you guys believe that subliminal advertising is widespread? I know that Nestle in Malaysia does that with their Milo product, Anyway, here is a youtube video I found on McDonalds’ subliminal advertising attempt.

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