Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Four Banquets And Some Statistics

Even though the essay had been handed in and the big East Asia event had come to a successful close, with school deadlines looming, I couldn’t relax just yet, for I still had quite a bit on my plate to tackle. Yeah, it was time for some good food. What did you think I was referring to?

Sunday morning saw us recovering from the festivities of the previous night over a nice pub lunch at the Coach and Horses on Ray Street in Clerkenwell. The logo of the establishment featured a giant pumpkin and four miserable mice, and the blur sotong that I was, I failed to grasp the reference to Cinderella. So, the pumpkin transformed into the carriage, and the mice into the horses. But where were the lizards?

I had the fish pie, which proved very enjoyable, and then a nice cup of brewed coffee. The interior decoration reminded the three of us of our time in Brussels, especially when we spotted the Leffe on tap. But the prices were a wee bit high, and we felt that perhaps a single visit might be enough. Our waiter, however, who was clearly continental, seemed a little too desperate in asking us repeatedly if we would return to dine again.

Monday evening found me with a friend from class at the Ultimate Burger on New Oxford Street, which I had passed by so often when walking back to the hall from places downtown. We arrived there, starved after a long day of work, and ordered the Barbecue Burger for me, and the Smokey Mountain Burger for her, complete with a nice side of Beef Chili Fries and Coleslaw. A divine chocolate profiterole cake completed the repertoire.

But was I greedy? For while the Ultimate Burger certainly proved ultimate in taste and ultimate in satisfaction, it didn’t seem ultimate in volume. Back at the hall, within a couple of hours, I began dreaming of having a friendly and sizzling roti prata dengan bawang dan telur, plus a nice mug of teh tarik. Times like these are difficult to bear.

The only way to get out of this food misery was to convene a session of the Monday Night Dining Club on Tuesday. The irony isn’t lost on me. Perhaps one day I’ll drop the Monday tag. In any case, we ventured to Old Street in the east, which lies on the border between the boroughs of Hackney and Islington. There’s an interesting agglomeration of Vietnamese eateries there, but we dipped into Cây Tre, which was located closest to the Tube station.

Now, I don’t get this. What is it with Asian restaurants in the West that they must often combine good food with surly, sulky service? Why cannot the setting be made more upscale, with a few smiles added in? You never feel comfortable enough to sit back for a long and leisurely evening of chat. It’s something which still eludes me.

So, we were consigned to an airless basement room, which filled up rather quickly with other diners, including a pair of ladies next to us who ordered bowls of pho, a bottle of red wine, and then puffed the night away loudly and merrily.

“I don’t really care about the service, as long as there’s good food,” said one of my dining companions. And on that, I wouldn’t really disagree with her. We were presented with an impressively lengthy menu, and I had much better luck than her in picking dishes I liked – starting with the Banh Goi (I forget what the correct diacritical marks are), a set of four crispy dumplings, and then followed by a bowl of the campfire sirloin steak, served with a dramatic burning fire, which made me worry just for a while about the fire hazard it posed. It really was a very crowded basement, and we were seated furthest away from the narrow exit.

I also shared the Bánh xèo with my hapless friend, termed a Vietnamese pizza, which came with an egg-infused covering, with prawns, chicken and vegetable bits inside. And there was dessert too – a delightful plate of fried banana fritters. Think Vietnamese goreng pisang, with lots of sweet and sticky syrup. I left the place a very happy man indeed, yet slightly worried, for I had a presentation the following morning, and quite a bit of work yet finished.

After eating my way through London over the past few days, it was a welcome treat when the Swinger, known in other circles as the Celebrity Chef, invited me and a couple of other hall mates to a home-cooked bak kut teh meal at the London House buttery earlier this evening. His skills are pretty amazing. Unexpectedly, there was some you char kway, courtesy of the Singapore Doctor, fresh from a trip to Chinatown. Although, at one pound per strip, it was rather expensive. Or perhaps, he just got ketoked pretty badly.

The presentation I gave in class – a nail-bitingly riveting exposition on the development of Singapore’s Knowledge-Based Economy – is now over. The statistics lecture which followed later, infused with wonderful concepts such as Bivariate and Multivariate Regression, Collinearity, Gauss-Markov Theorem, Homo- and Heteroscedasticity, was an exercise in patient endurance. Anyone has any remote idea what they could all mean? I emerged with my hair still dark, my sanity intact, but my head hurting badly.

I trundled back to Goodenough College, just as the rain began pouring down like cold piercing shards. But my mind was elsewhere. For I was wrestling intensely with the difficult decision of whether to head straight to the treadmill or to bed.

Yet it was patently clear. There was only one thing, one honourable thing to do...


Anonymous SW said...

Hey, about time some updates ;-).
I thought we were supposed to stay tuned to the East Asia episode ...

We'll definitely have roti pratha but not dengan telur dan bawang. Still waiting for SSG's Teh tarik. When?

1:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazing that we both had Vietnamese on the same night! in the same area! Mine was on Kingsland Rd near the Jeffreys museum.DH

8:39 AM  

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