Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Sun is Shining

Wind back just three days. It was cold and windy, people were huddled in coats and long boots, finding solace in the nearest coffee shops.

A day later, the world became sunny. It's been two days of absolutely glorious weather. In fact, it was almost too hot today.

Because London gets so few days like these, people get a little crazy around here when sunny days show up. I don't quite know how they managed but the very first day of summer, every girl was dressed in the shortest dress or the skimpiest skirt possible. And there were more guys wearing shorts than you would see at the peak of an Indian summer.

And it's not just a wardrobe change. At school, the gardens are overflowing with people. In pubs, beer drinkers are spilling out into the roads. I can guarantee that absolutely no work got done last two days.

Before I came to live here, I've never understood the British obsession with weather. But several months of cold weather later, I can certainly see what the brouhaha is all about!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Sushi Two Ways

Let's start with the tackiest way to eat sushi in London. The chain's called Yo! Sushi and you can see them all around the city. It's a cool concept - the cheerful staff (and the service, you will notice, is really good here) will seat you at a table already equipped with soy sauce, pickled ginger, wasabi and other tools of the trade. And there will be a conveyor belt going past your table with little plates of sushi and other things on the menu. It's a fun concept, and there is an almost childish pleasure in picking dishes off the running conveyor belt to eat. But don't eat sushi here. Even if you are a vegetarian like me and don't care about the cut of your tuna, this is the place to chat over edamame and yakisoba noodles instead.

For sushi, your first stop should be Haru. This little cafe right opposite Baker Street station doesn't have much going in the looks department. But the sushi you will take away will be perfect in all aspects. My favorite - avocado maki.

Next, when you are in a mood to splurge and blow up loads of money, head to Nobu near Green Park station (you will notice how I reference everything with respect to tube stations; it's a London thing and you just can't escape picking the habit). When you make a reservation to visit this opulent restaurant, ask to be seated at the sushi bar. Then tell the sushi chef you are a vegetarian and leave everything else in his hands.

After this first conversation with the chef, I spent the next few minutes watching the master chefs in action, putting together platters of sushi that are work of art. The chef in charge of my sushi created his own masterpiece in the meantime, a red pepper nigiri roll with some complex flavors I couldn't identify. Another mushroom nigiri roll followed. And then I put in my request for a maki. There was avocado in this one, just as I asked for. But there was also a fresh, hot asparagus tempura sticking out of my roll. And this, I claim, is the best vegetarian sushi anywhere, not just in London!

Sunday, April 29, 2012


It's been a month and a half since I was here last. And I've certainly missed being on the blog, chatting about life in London. So you must be wondering where I vanished!

Well, first, there were exams. And as a professor pointed out, it was a long time since I last wrote one. All those assignments were surely a lot more work and tons more pressure than I expected. Just the day I got those done, I flew off to India for a three week vacation.

Got back last week and straight into an intense course and another exam. They certainly make us work hard out here! I mean, if you thought student life was all fun and partying and enjoying London, the last month or so wasn't.

Finally, when there was time to relax and roam around what should be springtime in London, it started to rain. And it's just been raining last three days. It must be unexpected because all those people who organize shows and fairs in London spring didn't know this could happen. There is so much happening this weekend that if I were not sitting at home all day waiting for rain to stop, I could have been doing any of the following:

1. Enjoy cheese and wine festival at Southbank Center

2. Pop into the coffee festival at Brick Lane

3. Go far into East London for the Cake festival.

All of these are on tomorrow as well so there's still a chance I'd make it if its sunny (or a little less rainy) tomorrow. Either way, the London adventures are back again so stay tuned!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Harry Potter Dinner

An hour after leaving London's King Cross station, the train rolled into Cambridge. Harry's first stop in the enchanted city was the Fitzwilliam Museum. It's not a very big museum this one, but it had most of Harry's favorite painters. Specially the impressionists. Even if the Monet they had were not the water lilies and the Degas paintings were not ballet dancers, the brush strokes had him bewitched.

Next, it was time to walk across the famous streets of Cambridge. Harry had a friend with him who could take him past all the barriers. They walked into the King's college where hundreds of years of scholars have made their mark. Next stop was Trinity College, another brush with history. Harry's friend stopped for a butterbeer at  the pub where DNA was invented. Next, they walked to the wooden bridge at Queen's College. A wise wizard told them that the bridge was built by Sir Isaac Newton and he found a way to construct it without any nuts and bolts. Harry believed the wizard at first but then he put his special glasses on and figured the wizard was in fact one of the Weasley brothers pulling a prank. The bridge, although designed using mathematical principles, did in fact have nuts and bolts.

Just as Harry finished looking at the bridge, the bells tolled 7 pm and it was time for dinner. Harry and his friends made their way back to Hogwarts. The massive doors opened to reveal an enchanted castle. It was hundreds of years old and full of mysterious turrets and chimeys and staircases. It was also very, very pretty. All the wizards were now making their way to the dining hall.

Chandeliers hung on the high, high ceiling illuminating a beautiful room. The walls were wooden, but at some point, the wood work got overtaken by pink and green pattern that rose to the ceiling. Students sat chattering at the three long tables and Harry found his place at one of them. At the end of the room was a table where all the senior wizards dined.

Suddenly there was a hush in the room and Professor Dumbledore stood up to say grace in Latin. Harry could not understand all that was said but he could feel the weight of history around him. As the headmaster sat down, elves magically appeared carrying the first course. There was peas and cheese risotto, followed by croquettes and broccoli. Harry doesn't like brocolli so the elves brought him his favorite dessert to cheer him up - a lemon posset with berries.

Coffee came next, with chocolates and all too soon the dinner was over. Harry said goodbye to his new friends and made his way to Cambridge station, to return to King's Cross.

PS: The names are fictional but this is in fact a factual recount of a magical dinner I had at Cambridge recently. Hogwarts, in this case, is Corpus Christi College. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Tea for a Queen

Yes, the last post was indeed about living on the cheap as a student. And this post is quite clearly about a high-end eating out experience. I know this can be confusing so I'd offer you just one word: PRIORITIES

London has so much to offer that it can be overwhelming. Someone said to me today that you can pick a new place to visit in London every week and not run out of ideas for several years. So I've spent the last week putting together my "must-do" list. Somewhere along the way I also figured that eating out at just another restaurant isn't going to cut it when the city has so much going on. So back to me and my lists - I now have a wishlist going for cafes and restaurants too.

Pretty much near the top of this eating out list was an afternoon tea experience. The Tea is more than just a drink at 3 pm in London. It's a tradition, an institution. And this tea for me last week was at the Langham, the Regent Street hotel that claims to be one of the first to start this tradition in the 19th century.

Like all tea places in London, Langham's tea is served in an ornate, chandelier lit cafe called the Palm Court. Our tea experience began with the restaurant offering us choices of beverages from the exotic white needle tea from China to my favorite Assam. This time around, I settled for a black tea from Ceylon.

But before tea arrived, there was a pre-dessert of rhubarb custard.

Then came sandwiches. I'd said in advance that I was a vegetarian and they rustled up a sample to match.

The scones, when they showed up in the next round, were warm and straight out of the oven. Just around this time, the server brought out our cakes. Pay attention to the tall cake stand - a feature I loved at the Langham. At other places, this rests on the table and you can't see your friends.

Aren't these gorgeous pastries! But by this time, given our rounds of sandwiches and scones, we just couldn't finish these. The hotel knows this happens and they have a solution: a take away bag to carry the rest of the memories (and cakes!) back home.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Definitive Guide to Student Discounts

Everyone knows that we students are eternally short of money. For most students, it's the first time living away from home. And even for the more experienced among us, this is the time with no job, large fee payments and a rather hectic social life. Fortunately, governments and businesses in London understand this and come up with student discounts.

I've had my share of positive surprises but this slew of student offers was completely unexpected. And I must say I am still getting used to the idea of asking restaurants and cinemas if they have a student discount. So I thought I'd get this list going. It's certainly not a definitive list (despite what the title claims). But I will keep on adding to it as I discover new areas to save money.

Here's what I have so far:

If you travel by tube or bus a lot, get a student oyster card. You need to go to to pay a 10 pound fee and apply online for this card. They check back with your school/university and mail you the card. I got mine within a week. Savings: 30% on all travelcards. So now I buy a monthly travelcard and save a cool 30%.

Gourmet Burger Kitchen - 40% off.
Yo Sushi - 25% off

London Walks: This is my favorite way to see London and I now only pay 6 pounds instead of 8 pounds. Day trips (that's when they take you out of London for a whole day) have a 2 pound discount as well.

Most cinemas have student discounts but they vary based on the show and the type of ticket so you just have to ask.

Apple - Around 10-15% off (but only on computers, not on iPads!)
Top Shop, BHS, Wallis and pretty much every fashion store (just ask!) - 10% off
Accessorise - 10% off

Other Misc Stuff
Vodafone - 10% off on monthly rental

And this is just what I've discovered in a month. I know there's a lot more I can get once I get an NUS card (a national student ID) so I'd try that and let you know in a few weeks. In the meantime, do write in if you know of any London student discounts I missed!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Year of the Dragon

If you follow Chinese astrology, you probably know what the coolest sign is (big hint: I am a dragon!)

And guess what, 2012 happens to be the year of the dragon. The real new year's day was January 23. But London has its own set of traditions - new year is celebrated on the first sunday that follows. So early sunday morning, this student headed out to Trafalgar Square. The day started with a parade that went right into the heart of Chinatown. Back into Trafalgar Square, we went through a rather boring set of speeches followed by a rather interesting cultural show - dragons and tigers and dancers galore.

Over in Chinatown, they had their own set of celebrations going with food stalls and restaurant specials and people out celebrating. All in all, a fun sunday out.

Like everything, a picture tells the best story. So here are some snapshots from the day:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Birthday to Remember

Magic Dust: Red Velvet Cake from Candy Cakes

A View from The Top (aka Primrose Hill)

Greek Food Explosion at Lemonia

A Fitting Finale: Cake and Coffee at Le Pain Quotidien

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Not a Tourist

You must be thinking...what sort of blogger sets up a new blog and then vanishes for two weeks. Well, this one has simply been awfully busy. And would you believe it; I haven't been back to Charing Cross Road or to any of the museums or even to see a play last two weeks. Instead of doing all the things that tourists do, I've been busy making London my home.

But it's hard and it's quite involved - this whole process of settling into a new country. Some things are just the same and others completely surprised me. So here they are, the top five surprises in my transition from a tourist to a Londoner:

1. We can all agree right now that London's pretty. There are all those houses, hundreds of years old, and yet they look so gorgeous, so well maintained. And then you start going round with agents to look for a flat to live in and reality hits you.

Central London has what they call "conversions" - old-time houses split into apartments - and they are really split any which way. The "downstairs" where Jeeves and other servants used to spend their time ages ago is now nicely described as a lower ground floor apartment, but is actually a dingy basement. And if your agent ever describes anything as cozy, you probably wont have standing room after you fit in the furniture.

The good news is that I am past that and completely settled into my apartment.

2. Healthcare is AMAZING!!! I mean, you register with a doctor and then everything is free. Just how cool is that!

3. Being a student has tons of advantages. You don't pay council tax, you get loads of discount on public transport and there are actually restaurants near my school that offer "student rates".

4. Will a Londoner please explain to me why you need a license to watch TV. So in London, you first buy a TV, then you pay for the connection. But that's not all. You then also pay for a license so you can legally watch your TV. The logic truly and fully escapes me.

5. Free broadband is everywhere and it is actually a lot faster than I've seen anywhere before.

And a bonus point, but this is something you probably knew even as a tourist - Londoners continue to be obsessed with weather. We've been having an awfully mild winter and you would think it would make people happy but here goes - every conversation starts with "Isn't the weather...."

Before I go, just a little pointer here. Classes have been really hectic but I promise to be a good blogger and be back with more updates. So do check back same time next week.