The London Review Cake Shop

I have a confession.

To start, let me explain that a primary reason I enjoy blogging is because I am a maven, according to The Tipping Point‘s classification. Which is not to say that I’m an expert in any particular field, but more that I dash about like an eager little squirrel looking for the choicest bits of information on what to see, or where to get tomorrow’s meal. And I love to share those acorns with anyone who’s interested.

London Review Cake Shop

But I’ve been a furtive, selfish squirrel when it comes to the London Review Cake Shop, my absolute favorite cafe in London. I didn’t even take proper photos of it because I fully intended to not share this information.

Why? you may ask.

London Review Cake Shop

Because it is small. And so special. And the masses should not come to crowd its five tables or drain its supply of fluffy baked goods and delightful teas.

Because I spent so many afternoons there with a pot of tea to help me conquer a stack of reading, or to make catching up with a friend the more cozy.

Because they never rush you out, no matter how long you’ve been there or how long others may wait.

Because it’s attached to a bookshop!

Because it was my special place, with an intangible ambience that made it mine to many, yet entirely mine.

Because it is London’s best kept secret–and now you, too, are bound to secrecy!

{ For better photos and a lovely review, see Mondomulia’s post }

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A Dollop of Europe

Chatting with a realtor the other day, I tested my theory as to why San Francisco has so much Europe-inspired architecture.

The theory goes, the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 happened at the height of the Victorian era. By that time, the Gold Rush of 1849 had brought wealth (and residents) to the area, and so builders and rebuilders had a choice. I should look up some historic archives to verify this, but I’ll bet that San Francisco pre-earthquake-and-fire was a hodgepodge of hastily made buildings by settlers and new arrivals. But with heaps of gold in the bank, people aspired to greater heights.

And that is how San Francisco ended up looking like this.

Atop Nob Hill. But for the U.S. flag, you really might think this was Paris or Vienna!

And this:

J and I indulged in afternoon tea on a Saturday afternoon. A very fine affair, indeed. In fact, the fanciest (and priciest) afternoon tea I’ve had yet! I drank three pots of tea, and I think we were there almost 3 hours? That’s the whole point of afternoon tea anyway, isn’t it? To while away the idle hours…

A bit of history: William McKinley died in this palace while he was President. The King of Hawai’i also died here. Both of natural causes I believe, but if I were a visiting dignitary, I think I would go somewhere else all the same.

The scones here, like the ones I made, were much more biscuit-y than scone-y. I have yet to find a good scone in San Francisco…

*The realtor, by the way, liked my theory. That’s as good as evidence, if you ask me. For an interesting series on architecture inspired by Europe, check out Untapped Cities. The series focuses on New York City, but lots of similar parallels could be drawn to San Francisco too!

Milestones: My Blog and I Turn a Year Older

It’s been a year since I started blogging, and in that time I’ve:

  • had 1,000 cups of tea (give or take a few);
  • posted at least once a week in all but 4 of the past 52 weeks;
  • written 142 posts about my year abroad;
  • taken 13 trips around Europe;
  • and, hopefully, been interesting enough to merit the 20K+ views I’ve earned.

The question now is… What next?

Answer: I’m not sure myself. I graduated from the LSE in July, traveled around Switzerland, roadtripped with the fam to Cape Cod, caught up with friends in New York, and finally made it to the Bay area. I am quite happily funemployed at present, applying to jobs, cooking and baking and making milkshakes, watering B’s garden, doing yoga, going biking and hiking and generally trying to enjoy this as much as I possibly can. Unemployment can be incredibly stressful, so I’m just focusing on the fact that once I have a job, I won’t have what is currently my one commodity: time.

That is, in addition to time, I am incredibly blessed to have the absolutely immense generosity of friends: R&B I can’t thank you enough; A&N you two are so thoughtful; L&K and A thanks for welcoming me to SF; E thankyousosomuch for trusting me with your car! (Besides that one time I almost left-turned into the left lane because England got me all mixed up, I’m happy to report there have been no mishaps.)

Next question.. What happens to the blog?

Again, not quite sure, but I’m determined to keep it up. In many ways, blogging has made me push myself harder than I would otherwise. Today, for instance, I was exhausted after hosting an epic 10-hour-long birthday party yesterday, so I was tempted to stay home while my friends went hiking. But I told myself that there might be some good photos along that hike, so I dragged myself off the couch. And I’m so glad I did.

Question three… Did you say, “epic 10-hour-long bday party”?

Why, yes! One of the things I miss most about London is afternoon tea. So for my birthday, I invited friends over for tea, scones with jam and clotted cream, and cucumber sandwiches. All of it was homemade except for the jam, and even homegrown thanks to B’s vegetable garden!

A made fresh-picked cucumber and basil sandwiches. I did my best to make scones using A(b)’s grandmother’s recipe, but converting grams and millilitres to cups is always tricky. Mostly played this by ear.

The scones turned out okay, whew! I also made clotted cream using this recipe, but I went easy on the sour cream as it’s a bit overpowering.

I invited the girls to come over at 2pm, as tea is kind of a dainty affair; the boys would join at 4pm for board games. Umm we ran out of scones and sandwiches so I put out some chips and beer for the guys:

Puhahaha. Guys, if you’re reading this… sorry. We totally underestimated how much food we would need!

From 4pm until 12.30am, we played:

  • 4-7pm. Pictionary-phone, which is just about my favorite party game ever. It’s a combination of pictionary and telephone. How it works: each person holds a stack of cards, which go around the circle simultaneously (so everyone is writing or drawing at the same time). The first person writes a word or phrase, and the next person draws it; s/he then passes the drawing to the next person, who has to write down what s/he thinks the drawing depicts; who passes it on to the next person, and so on. It’s outrageous. Here’s one round:

 

“Thank you” is depicted through ways a person might give thanks…

The next person guesses the different scenarios represent “yes, no or maybe,” which elicits a pretty reasonable drawing…

Which then becomes multiple choice questions…. which then becomes.. sperm?!?! I was the last person in this round, so I had to look at the above drawing and figure out what it meant. My guess:

  • 7-10pm. Mafia. Ready, vote!

  • 10-12.30am. Four on a couch. Trying to think of another game to play, I only remembered the title of this game, and the fact that I had played it once in college. The only thing I remembered about the game at all was having an absolute riot. But I’m so glad it occurred to me, because once we figured out how to play, we again had an absolute riot!

In sum? I’ll keep blogging, if you’ll keep reading. Thanks for traveling with me thus far!

Related posts:

Milestones: Rediscovering My Inner Introvert
Milestones

London Bucket List

I’m starting to do that thing where I’m falling so far behind on updates, it’s getting overwhelming. Or maybe it’s because I don’t feel quite ready to wrap up an incredible year abroad.

During the year that I was in London, I accrued a fairly long and random bucket list of places to see and things to do. Before I knew it, I only had two weeks left! And by then, it was time to graduate, and pack up, and close bank accounts, and do a final trip around Switzerland…. so I didn’t get to cross everything off the list. All the more reason to go back at the first opportunity!

LONDON BUCKET LIST

Imperial War Museum
St. Christopher Street
Tate Modern
National Gallery
Primrose Hill
Courtauld Gallery
Sir John Soane Museum
British Museum
British Library
Camden Lock & Camden Market
Columbia Road Flower Market
Hampstead & Hampstead Heath
Greenwich & Royal Observatory
Olympic Village
White Cliffs of Dover
Oxford and/or Cambridge

The Imperial War Museum

The Imperial War Museum was completely overwhelming, from the moment you walk in to the weight that lingers on your mind long after you leave. There is just so much stuff housed here–and it’s all so heavy. Weapons, uniforms, propaganda posters, ration cards, civilian artefacts. The Holocaust exhibit was especially harrowing, and I ran out of time before I could see the genocide exhibit. Truth be told though, it probably would have been too much to handle in one day.

Tate Modern

To my surprise, I really enjoyed my visit to the Tate Modern. I’ve passed by it so many times, and even been inside the building several times, without visiting the free exhibits. You see, my experience of modern art has been less than positive because a lot of the time I don’t understand it, and it’s often curated without enough explanation. I attribute it to a certain snobbery–you’re either in the know, or you’re out. And so especially when it costs $20 for a visit to the MoMA in NYC, you don’t want to pay up just to feel small.

But the Tate was great; there’s a permanent free exhibit, and it’s very obviously curated for the general public, perhaps especially students. The lengthy descriptions of each piece that explain the work, the artist, the context in which he/she worked… all very helpful. In short, the Tate made modern art feel accessible for the first time, and I really appreciated the experience.

I guess this is an uplifting way to remind people to count their blessings? Or maybe slightly judgmental, depending on how you read it.

And after consuming a little art, it was also of course necessary to consume tea and scones at the Tate Cafe!

St. Christopher’s Place

St. Christopher’s Place is a teeny tiny little alleyway that I often passed by while taking the bus down Oxford St. From the main street, you can barely even see what you’ll find after you wedge through the narrow entrance between the buildings. I was always so curious!

It’s a revived area, through a recent redevelopment project, to bring boutique shopping and dining to a once-dead street practically hidden from view.

Now it bustles and brims with color and activity. Well done.

The British Museum

Check out that cloudy haze behind the building. ALL OF JULY WAS LIKE THIS IN LONDON. Ugh.

I love London’s free national museums. It does mean that the museums are incredibly crowded, but making art and history accessible to the public is a tradition that I really admire. I won’t get all political about you know how all the artifacts in this museum came to be here…

The Rosetta Stone. On the right, pieces of an enormous marble statue with a disproportionately powerful fist. Cuz that’s how pharaohs roll.

Cuneiform! And Assyrian carvings depicting a royal lion hunt. They’re so dynamic, the arrows look like they’re really in flight.

Elgin Marbles.

Olympic gold! Oo la laa..

Touristy Things with Mom

These weren’t on the bucket list, but I went back to these places with Mom while she was visiting in London:

Buckingham Palace

St. James’ Park

Tower of London / Tower Bridge

We also went to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square–twice! The place is so massive, and so many masters all in a row. I love Impressionism especially, so I spent a good long while with Monet, Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, Manet… and on to Van Gogh, Toulouse-Latrec…. dreamy. I should have stopped by here at least once a week… or, truly, at least once a month. Regret!!! Someday, I’ll be back.

Public art in Trafalgar Square (and everywhere)

If I’d had more time, I would have done a photo series on the fun public art that popped up all around London in preparation for the Olympics. Especially popular were the souped up phone booth creations in wacky shapes, colors and forms. Here in Trafalgar Square is one that looks like Big Ben, and one that looks like the hideous Olympic mascot.

The London Eye

I’ve seen it many times, but only ridden it once! Hello, London.

Neal’s Yard

A splash of color tucked deep in a hidden alleyway. Love this place.

Greenwich

Well well, lots of goings-on in Greenwich. A graduation was taking place at the Old Royal Naval College, so we just barely got a glimpse of the Painted Hall (above left). But the saddest part of this trip was that, because they were building the gymnastics stadiums out here, we couldn’t go to the Royal Observatory! Major fail. I totally wanted to go and straddle the Prime Meridian Line!

From an exhibit on British trade at the Maritime Museum. This interactive display had textiles and patterns from Britain (left) and Asia (right). A little placard asks which you prefer. To which all I have to say is, thank goodness for trade with Asia! Or the British would just be wearing the dullest clothing ever.

Horatio Nelson everywhere. Above left, at the Maritime Museum, the carefully preserved uniform he was wearing when he died. Above right, his statue in front of the Trafalgar Tavern.

Well, so the fancy part at the Royal Observatory is closed, but we still got to see the Prime Meridian. Though the irony of how GB decided to dictate world time but doesn’t itself adhere to it kind of cracks me up. Imagine living in that house on the corner? Every time you cross the line, you’d have to switch time zones. Whack!

A fine way to say bon voyage to England, and set off on my journey back home.

Goodbye, London! I’ll be back before you know it–still got more than half my bucket list to attend to!

Afternoon Tea in London

What more do you need in life?

So many friends, so many scones!

I love cream tea, and every time a friend comes to visit provides a perfect excuse to explore yet another tea spot, for yet another spot of tea :)

Cream tea consists of a pot of tea and two scones with clotted cream and jam. You can get it for as little as £4.95 at the Tate Modern Cafe (2nd floor), or for a heftier £18 at the Fortnum & Mason Parlour, where it comes with a selection of ice cream cakes. Mid-range for cream tea is around £7-8, and about double that for afternoon tea. Afternoon tea usually comes with an assortment of scones, cake and those quintessentially British crust-free cucumber, salmon, egg salad sandwiches cut in quarters.

Fortnum & Mason: £18

Fortnum & Mason was my first high tea experience. We went to the Parlour because the St. James’ restaurant, which is most famous for high tea, was under renovation at the time. The Parlour has a whimsical fifties feel and specializes in ice cream creations. They give you two adorable complimentary mini ice cream cones when you’re seated. The afternoon tea menu here includes all you see above (though this was a double portion for both me and S): a large pot of tea, several delectable mini ice cream cakes, two scones, clotted cream and jam. Perhaps because it was my first experience, I really do think I may have enjoyed the tea here the most. In addition to which of course, it really may be as good as its reputation. About a week ago, in fact, the Queen, the Duchesses of York and Cambridge and the mayor all stepped over to Fortnum and Mason for a “royal tea party“!

*Tip: It’s worth making reservations in advance here. Because we’d made a reservation, S and I got seated right away, but we passed by some very impatient-looking customers waiting on a very long line.

Bea’s of Bloomsbury: £7.50

A review described the scones here as “too-crumbly,” and I was inclined to agree. I haven’t been paying extra attention so as to compare the various places I’ve been, and I haven’t even been particularly careful about taking pictures either because so much of the tea experience for me is just about the company I’m with. I went to the Bloomsbury location, which didn’t have the best ambience, though I hear the St. Paul’s location is better. But I still loved it; it was a nice getaway and the staff were lovely. The clotted cream and jam here have been my favorite so far, I think.

Camellia’s Tea House: £6.50

(Photo at the top of this post.)

Tucked away in a quiet plaza in Soho, Camellia’s Tea House is surprisingly spacious and wins for most creative interior design. So much attention to detail. When A and I were here, we talked to the owner and we could tell from talking to her and just from looking around at how much thought and care went into the place. The scones were a little on the dry side, I thought, but the selection of teas was impressive and it was a treat to have found such a surprisingly spacious yet cozily arranged space.

Soho’s Secret Tea Room: £7.50

The speakeasy of tea rooms, Soho’s Secret Tea Room is upstairs behind the bar of the Coach and Horses pub on Greek Street. There’s a sign outside, so it’s not quite so secret, but I invited out-of-town friends who had just flown in that morning, and I was quite relieved that they managed to find it without too much trouble! I call it the speakeasy of tea rooms because it’s hidden away, the music is swing and foxtrot and it seems you’re expected to book in advance. They still let us in with a large group, and we went upstairs to find a place that really feels like sitting in someone’s parlor for tea! A beautiful fireplace, lace tablecloths and eclectically floral china gave it a very homey feel. The jam was quite tart and tasty, but I think I do prefer my jam sweet—I ended up adding sugar to it! The scones here, I thought, were on the smaller and dryer side. Yes, scones are almost always on the dry side, but that means when I say they’re on the dryer side, they’re pretty dry. Haha.

(The sandwiches pictured are not included with cream tea, but they are very good!)

Victoria & Albert Cafe: ~£6.00

This is a self-service cafe, but you get a beautiful ambience for an affordable price! It’s a nice break after perusing the museum’s incredibly vast collection for a few hours to sit in an elegant tea room with crystal chandeliers, stained glass windows and a grand piano, and have a refreshing pot of tea. I remember liking the scones here especially. So much that when J couldn’t finish hers, I gladly finished it off for her :)

Tate Modern Cafe: £4.95

Unsurprisingly, the tea here was served in the most modern crockery. Here, you get one largeish scone and a pot of tea, but for a modest £4.95, making it the best deal I’ve found so far. We went rather late in the day, so they didn’t have enough scones for everyone, but I was too stuffed to fit in another scone anyway, so I settled for a pot of surprisingly delicious English Breakfast. I suppose it was an unfair assumption, but I guess I made a mental association with tea as traditional, therefore modern art museum might have a subpar tea experience. Instead, I got a great floor-to-ceiling window view across the Thames to St. Paul’s along with an excellently brewed pot of tea! Not bad indeed.

Not satisfied with my list? I’ve been working my way through this list, as well as keeping an ear to the ground for reviews and recommendations from friends. I’ve had afternoon tea for the past four days in a row, and I wouldn’t mind keeping this streak going. Suggestions most welcome!