Monday, March 29, 2010

Operation Easter Bunny

Easter weekend is coming up, and I'm buzzing.

Here's why - on Thursday last week I got this happy little message in my inbox from the Mister:

Operation Easter Bunny requests your presence:
Date: Friday 2nd April


London Railway Station (need-to-know-basis)

Wee suitcase containing enough clothing for 2 night stay, toilet bag (own toothbrush optional), scrabble, notebook, book, make-up, waterproofs (we hope these will not be needed), swimming gear (optional but I'm taking mine)

Rendez-Vous at [our home address] - ready to leave at 07:30.

We will be returning to above address late afternoon on the 4th April 2010.

How sweet is that? Never did I think that those casually-dropped hints would have been taken on board so readily by the man in my life. "Wouldn't it be great to be surprised with a call to say, meet me at the airport with just your passport and toothbrush, you've got the next few days off work," is a sentence that has passed my lips many times, but has never been put into action. Until now (well, within reason). Actually I don't know if I'd want someone else to sort out my holiday dates with work. Scrap that.

He's a special one, and I'm an extremely lucky girl. The only trouble is: I'm also an extremely sniffly girl. I seem to have come down with a cold just in time to be a bit worried about whether I'll enjoy being whisked away as much as I'd enjoy my own bed, my slippers, fleece blanket and the entire back catalogue of Come Dine With Me. So today I'm at home resting up to make sure that wherever we're going, I'm going to give Operation Easter Bunny my best.

It's quite exciting, though, isn't it? I wonder where we're going. Waterproofs? Well, clearly we're not leaving the UK. Swimming gear? Does that mean a pool? Or does it mean some crazy Scottish urge to throw ourselves into subzero waters to prove some kind of point about hardiness?

His 'own toothbrush' clause points to a long-standing discussion (debate would be too strong a word) about why I won't share a toothbrush with anyone, not even my beloved. I'm sure my mum won't mind me blaming this on her microbiologist habit of analysing the likelihood of bacterial growth on any surface at any given time. It took me a long time to be able to share a can of coke. I know, it's sad. I'm working on it.

Anyway, I'll write all about it, wherever it is we're going, once we're back. Here's wishing you a wonderful Easter break too.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Bill's Produce Store/ Sabai/ Pompoko / Brighton

The Bitter: Lots of students (I'm only kidding, I love students!); the fact that this is my first non-London review

The Sweet: Three lovely eateries in 36 hours and a gorgeously sunny Spring day

7. All right, so they're not in London, but I thought they were worth reviewing

I love Brighton. It was where I wanted most to study at the age of 17 after a visit to Sussex University's rolling hills and because I had a distinct nose for anywhere or anything vaguely 'alternative'. It's a place that screams freedom - the 'screw you squares, I did a law degree because you made me, but gave it all up to work in a health food store and teach yoga on weekends' kind of freedom.

Now my cousin, S, studies there, and on a recent visit for work I took the opportunity to spend some time revisiting my own student days and admiring the town’s Laines, loonies, and the fine shops and restaurants that Brighton has to offer – as a working adult with a bit more than the dregs of my student loan to see me through.

First up was something of a Brighton institution: a shop, café and restaurant all in one – Bill’s Produce Store, on North Road.

It’s noteworthy for this blog in particular, because it feels like a little piece of East Dulwich in the town otherwise known as “London-on-Sea”. There are organic fruits and vegetables. There are lots of pretty jars of pricey, yet tempting sundries from around the globe. There's arborio rice in little sacks. There are yummy daddies (yes, it’s that fashion-forward) having lunch with their little cherubs in papooses. You can get a flat white there with not a hint of any disdainful glance from your server (I asked for one this morning in a Bristol coffee shop and was met with a dead-eyed stare). Look, it’s so London, I saw a yummy daddy with one of these there:

My cousin recommended it as a good place to take a family member who would undoubtedly pay for lunch. Smart cookie. The food was great, and our facially-pierced waiter was just the sweetest thing, calling us all 'madam' (there were four of us under 30 in our group), which went down pretty well. I had a smoked haddock pie with some cheesy mash on the top and a really fresh side salad. My cousin had eggs royale - basically eggs benedict with smoked salmon that actually garnered a resounding 'oooooh' from around the table when her eggs yolks burst out onto the toast underneath. Me? I don't like runny eggs much. Ah, well. That's what comes of having a microbiologist for a parent. I don't have any photos, sadly, but you can get a good idea of how it looks from this excellent post from An American in London, a cool blog I've just discovered. Sadly, she doesn't agree overall about Brighton's charms.

Next up, another good recommendation from cousin S for dinner - Sabai Thai Gastrobar. The name had me worried, as I pictured high stools, questionable music, expensive cocktails and weeny little spring rolls and satay skewers posing as dinner for birdy little stick-women. I was very pleasantly surprised. The restaurant did have a water feature, but was really tastefully done, and was packed to the rafters. We were lucky to get a table, and had to wait a while for our food, but the sweet, smiling waitress who was seemingly on her own that evening apologised, gave us lots of free prawn crackers and did her best to keep checking on us. I'd recommend it if you find yourself hungrily wandering by the Pavilion.

Lastly and possibly my favourite, we stopped for lunch at one of S's favourites - a student haunt that is as cheap and as cheerful as they come. Pompoko means a kind of dahlia, according to my friend Lo-Sal (this is not his real name), a quirky Spaniard who is studying Japanese Culture at Birkbeck. I simply had to take pictures for him, because it was right up his street. And mine. And apparently right up the street of most of Brighton's students. It was consistently busy, even at 4pm - snooze into your soup hour for most places.

What wasn't to like? The prices, the close-together-perfect-for-eavesdropping-tables, the quality of the food, the Japanese lucky cat on the counter, oh and did I mention the prices?! This lovely sesame prawn don with rice and chicken yakisoba were a little over £4 per dish, and were served hot and fresh within 5 minutes. Bliss.

Brighton, you have won me over again.

And I'm darned jealous of all those bloody students.