Sunday, October 30, 2016

Studying Wine in London

I drink wine on a weekly basis and love trying different varietals and blends that are out there. My choice of preference these days is a Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Merlot either pure or blended. The more complex the wine, the better. My love affair with wine and spirits began in childhood with a preference for alcohol laden desserts like Black Forest cake, Rum Raisin ice cream, Chocolates with liquors inside them, and my favorite ice cream flavor from Baskin Robbins was Daiquiri ice!

While I was a hospitality management postgraduate student in Switzerland, I would drink a bottle of wine a week and try new Swiss and French wines. Swiss wines aren't very known to most of the world's population as the production of Swiss wines from the local vineyards are not in the mass production units like in some regions of the world. However, Swiss wines make great dinner companions and the main grape variety of Pinot Noir for reds are light bodied, smooth, fragrant, and young grapes. Their white grape variety of Chasselas have hints of nuttiness yet remain fresh and light to the palate. Which means most people will like Swiss wines. You can read more about the import of Swiss wines to the US on the Wall Street Journal enquiry.

The art of winemaking goes back centuries and many of the Old World winemaking countries of France, Spain, Italy are very proud of their grape varietals and wines. To make good wine is not an easy feat as one must have extensive knowledge about the rules and regulations, the area, the soil, the climate, fermentation, and storing capabilities. The winemakers of the world continue to push boundaries due to the rise of competition and demand for good quality wines.

I decided to make my love affair with wine more official and enroll myself in one of the world's most recognized wine and spirits schools. WSET has satellite schools around the world with courses that are flexible in timing spread over a few weeks for each level, an online course, or intensive day courses. But one thing is certain, it is a wonderful exploration and education about wine. A glimpse into the wine industry. I decided on London because that city is a hub of excitement that reminds me of New York. As a former New Yorker, I wanted to be a part of that buzz even if it means frequent brief trips to London. London's global reputation also means that wines from old world and new world are easily accessible. WSET London is also the headquarters for the WSET. 

The education and study of wine at WSET makes sense to the wide world of wines and make it less intimidating. Its still intimidating when you walk into a tasting and people around you can tell you which type of grape, region, and even vineyard the wine comes from. I hope some day I'll get there. I think my nose and taste palate has gotten more acute the more tastings I attend.

Yes to the tastings! I was invited by a friend from my hospitality school to a wine pairing dinner at Blue Print Cafe because a representative from Waterkloof Wines in South Africa was going to be presenting the wines. Other alumni from my school were there at the 4 course wine pairing dinner and it was a really great night of wine, food, laughter, and meeting new and old friends. It was an excellent environment to learn in a supportive yet practical way that certain foods and wines can really complement each other and open up the palate. Part of the reason why I love wine is because of my love for taste explosions. A foodgasm that happens simultaneously with a winegasm! 

Why study wine in London!?

Here are my reasons:
1) Its at the WSET headquarters and recognised around the world.
2) The location is in London and a global centre for activity therefore a lot of different types of wines are available. (also where I'm currently semi-based, the cost of wine and spirits are ridiculously overpriced!)
3) Clear English instruction.
4) Wine tastings by the winemakers in different parts of London.
5) Exciting F&B scene
6) Proximity to Europe and I love Europe. :)
7) Seems like more than half of the alumni from my school ended up here. Friends and Networking :)
8) London reminds me vaguely of New York and I need that glimpse every now and then.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Seeing a lot of Art in London

London has tons of museums, street art, and performances. It can be intimidating and overwhelming at first. Don't be. A lot of it is accessible and free for everyone.

The Museums I visited were mostly free admission.
British Museum (Gratis)
National Portrait Gallery (Gratis)
National Gallery (Gratis)
Tate Museum  (Gratis)
and Textile & Fashion museum

On a previous visit a few years ago I also visited the Tower of London, Kensington Palace, and the Tate Museum.

Here are some of my pictures from my museum whirlwind. :-)

Some of the photos from The National Portrait gallery:

The National Portrait Gallery is a medium sized museum that houses portraits that range from the Royal family lineage to the families of Dukes, Duchesses, to Celebrities, Politicians, etc. Its a lot of portraits to take in all at once so just be prepared to see faces staring back at you ;-) I spent a couple hours in this gallery but one could spend more time perusing the galleries. Admission is free for the public except for the special temporary exhibitions.

British museum: 

The British Museum houses many large collections and one can easily spend a whole day here getting lost. My favorite section are the Roman sculptures. This museum also houses a large Egyptian collection, Rosetta Stone, and more. This is a great rainy day activity.

Tate museum:

I love modern art and the Tate Museum is one of my favorite museums for modern art. A lot of people have this misconception about modern art that its hard to understand and at times absurd. I don't love all modern art but it gets the viewer to stand there and analyse the piece. You interpret what you want about the piece using your background experiences. Then you try to figure out what the artist is trying to say. Its usually art that makes you think and realise a bit of humanity. This is why I love modern art. When I went to visit this museum last month, I found a temporary exhibit about performers and choreographers using video, film, and spoken dialogue. Pina Bausch, Anna Teresa de Keersmaker, Merce Cunningham and Philip Glass were highlighted.

Textile and fashion museum: 

I had about a couple hours before a wine tasting in the Bermondsey street area so I stopped into the Fashion and Textile museum. Its a small museum that houses a gift shop and a cafe. They focus on one exhibit at a time and then change it quarterly. I would recommend checking out their current 1920s jazz age exhibit. Its my favorite era because everyone loved to party, drink, dance their nights away with a carefree attitude. The glitzy dresses and videos of women doing the charleston as well as relics and photographs from the era were on display. This little museum surprised me and I really enjoyed my visit there. Definitely check it out if you're in this cute little area filled with cafes, restaurants, bars, art galleries, and Wine school.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Beautiful faces: In my travel bag

Beautiful faces: In my travel bag: I have been traveling quite a lot the past few years and have literally "lived" in about 5 countries this year

Monday, October 10, 2016

Wandering amongst hipsters in Shoreditch

Street art near Brick Lane

Street art on Rivington st.

The very first trip to London, I stayed in Shoreditch and was a bit lost wandering around. Only the last few days of that trip, I walked to Brick Lane a couple times and discovered really cool pockets of bars, restaurants, and of course the ubiquitous Beigel Bake. After that trip, I vowed to return and check out this neighborhood.

I did recall that the neighborhood was changing on my last trip. People were telling me that the neighborhood was once a grunge capital and tattoo and body piercing parlors were rampant. The equivalent of East Village/Williamsburg/Bushwick in New York. I was craving this kind of grittiness that is rare in sunny, pristine, and cleaned up Singapore. What I discovered on that first trip was that the grunginess was making room for hipsters, designers, already there artists. In contrast, my most recent trip, I found this area to be the start-up capital for said hipsters, designers, artists. With trendy bars and restaurants, pop-up shops, trendy hotels like Ace Hotel, Citizen M, and of course the Hoxton hotel making the neighborhood a visit for the wannabe-rockstar-hipster-turned coffee and craft beer start up.

Korean fried chicken served in a cone from a street food collective. @Maki Mayo
This was a gas station! Now its turned into a permanent food truck collective!
Entrance to Pump Shoreditch - the food truck collective

The pop-up food trucks, food stalls, small eclectic boutiques, and of course the exciting bar scene in the area really come alive in the evening and working professionals along with hipsters rub elbows with each other during the happy hours after work. This area has merged with the Spitalfields market with its proximity to Brick Lane, Old Truman Brewery, and Commercial street. I found this area great to hang around, take yoga class, drink hipster Brooklyn Coffee, eat at a pop-up food truck, drink at one of the cool cocktail bars.

This drink was awesome at Hawksmoor Bar 
I don't really like going to bars alone to drink unless I know that the drink is going to be mixed well and the ambiance isn't going to be pretentious. I went to the Hawksmoor Bar in Spitalfields after dinner in PUMP Shoreditch on my way back. It is located in the basement of their restaurant and the entrance felt like you're going into a private basement. Awesome. These are the kind of places that surprise me in more ways than one. Previously, I had walked by the place and checked out the cocktail list which saliva-inducing. I wanted a cocktail from this bar.
The ambiance was chill, I was served a special punch on the house from a previous house that was leftover from a private event they hosted earlier. It was strong and potent with rum but sweetened with the cocktail of juices. My drink had a refreshing honey tea appeal to it and was so good and smooth.  

Bar behind a wardrobe at Callooh Callay
Negroni at Callooh Callay

Another I visited in the area with a couple friends is Callooh Callay on Rivington street. There's an inner room behind the main area. Its rated as one of the best cocktail bars in the world so there's quite a bit of expectation for this place to blow me away. Was I blown away? Not really but the place was beautifully designed and the designer was inspired by Alice and Wonderland to create this space. I crave a negroni at least once a week but so many places mess this seemingly simple cocktail. Campari, Gin, Sweet Vermouth and an orange peel. I like my negroni served with a 1 giant cube of block of ice. The flavours of the negroni at Callooh Callay were all there and a good negroni yin my opinion trickles down your throat smooth as opposed to a sharp taste.

I love wandering around the Brick Lane area and discovering little shops and the street art or the shops themselves feels like one big art project! The vibrancy of the area that is bursting with creative expressions makes me feel inspired.

A duck wrap from #theducktruck at Boxpark Shoreditch 

When there's a hashtag for the sign of your little eatery, you know that people are Instagramming their food, writing reviews on Yelp, and sharing pictures of their food to their social media network. Oh wait.. hahahahaha.... I have no shame in sharing awesome pics of #foodporn
London is crazy about duck. I think almost every single eatery, restaurant I've patronised during my trip had a dish with duck in it. When I entered the trendy Boxpark Shoreditch there was a small eatery that specialised in duck appropriately named #theducktruck ! A food trend and a hashtag! How millennial hipster can you get!? I was curious and ordered the wrap. It was delicious and filled with lots of duck meat.
Chocolate shop on Brick Lane
The AWESOME Beigel Bake that sells hot salt beef buns (kind of like pastrami)

I highly recommend spending a couple days roaming the streets of Shoreditch in East London. I stayed near the area on the last leg of my trip and walked around Shoreditch almost every single day. I would in a heartbeat stay near there again because there's so much to see, eat, shop, do in this neighborhood. One of my favourite things to do while traveling is to stay in a great area where local residents hang out. Though becoming increasingly popular amongst visitors and newly arrived London residents as well as hipsters, Shoreditch has something for everyone without the overcrowded-cheesy tourist traps lining the streets of Convent Garden. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Dancing and stretching in London

Rambert Dance 

I just spent three weeks in London. During that time, I rediscovered my love for movement and dance. When I was strolling by the river Thames in Southbank, I saw a poster for dance classes by the Rambert Dance company. I got curious and checked out their website for class information. 

I always refer to it as a past life... In my past life, I danced. I danced A LOT! A typical day in NYC would be wake up, get dressed, go to dance class, get home, quick shower, eat lunch, commute to the schools/community center/studio, teach dance, commute, eat dinner & prep for rehearsal, commute, go to rehearsal for a couple hours. A tiring but rewarding life. 

I inspired young underprivileged students to dance, choreographed, worked with amazing dancers, created dance pieces that would perform and tour the festival circuit.  There were hours of administrative work as well and hustling of jobs to make sources of income. It was a struggle but I felt like I was making a meaningful life. 

The National Gallery

During my time in London, I took contemporary dance and ballet classes at Rambert Dance and Greenwich Dance. If you are looking to take some dance classes in London, you can visit either of these two studios or check out Danceworks with their proximity to Selfridges and Bond Street station.

Rambert Dance offers classes in the evenings and it's good for people who work regular hours. The classes there are mixed levels of students who have no dance background to those that have danced when they were younger to people like me who have danced professionally but are focusing on other aspects of life (for now). 

Greenwich dance has professional dance classes in the mornings but they also have other class offerings for the dance enthusiast. 

Danceworks has a convenient location in the highly populated shopping area. The studio has a more class offerings available and different level classes with different class timings throughout the whole day. 

I'm also a fan of yoga especially restorative yoga because it's such a relaxing and meditative experience yet you are stretched out so you feel like you had just gotten a nice Thai yoga massage without the heavy price tag. I also like regular vinyasa or flow yoga. I had been walking about 8-12km a day in London and my shin splints were begging me to get stretched out so I searched online where to take yoga classes. 

I found Frame in Shoreditch and they have other locations as well but since I was staying near Shoreditch, I opted to go to these studios. I'm so glad I did because it was such an amazing space! The graffiti sign art to an alleyway that led to an entrance. I felt like I was going to an underground rave or club or speakeasy bar! The studios inside were built under a railway bridge. Big loft studios that host yoga, Pilates, fitness classes and a small room with gym equipment. The cafe in the reception area also has juices and coffee. The fridge is stocked with healthy food, smoothies, etc. I was there about an hour early and there was wifi so I just hung out in the lobby area until the class. 
I will definitely come back and take more yoga classes here. 

The yin yoga class I took felt really good to stretch my limbs out and there were even some challenging moments that required deep breathing and concentration. I vowed to not go so long without taking a yoga class or deep stretch session again. 

Come dance with me! Alaine's Contemporary Dance class