Full of Alpine beer, we ate steamed and fried whole pomfret in Chinatown's no-nonsense Lee Ho Fook. The fish was lovely, but everything else was extremely bland so I don't think I'll be returning. To make up for a disappointing dinner, we bought pretty little light-as-air desserts from the heaving Yauatcha where, in London at least, all dim sum roads must eventally lead, in my opinion.
Our sunny and bright Saturday began with thick bacon sandwiches with lashings of HP Sauce and the scorching Cuban hip hop of Orishas' Emigrante, before heading into town for a stroll through Covent Garden and Soho. We bought mangosteens, rambutan, giant lychees and dragon fruit from New Moon Loon in Chinatown, a 2001 bottle of Italian Barolo from Gerry's Wines & Spirits on Old Compton and some "guitar" spaghetti and potent fresh basil from Lina Stores on Brewer. We lingered over green tea (M) and freshly-squeezed apple, cucumber and lemongrass juice (me) at Pure California on Beak Street, chatting and people watching, then M returned home with our purchases.
I met my friend in one of my favourite vegetarian restaurants Mildreds on Lexington Street. This place is always packed and the food is satisfyingly moreish - comfort food of the highest order and enough to turn any confirmed carnivore into a vegetarian. Enough, but not quite! I was vegetarian for 11 years and vegan for 2, but got turned back onto meat in, of all places, India. But that's another story.
My friend is finishing off her PhD in English in Oxford, where we met. We chatted for a few hours about the pressures of work and the pleasures of play, while we ploughed through a starter of beetroot and green bean rissoto cake and mains of organic energising detox salad with carrots, sultanas, fennel, sprouting beans, coriander and toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds with apple, lime and ginger dressing plus goats cheese (me), and beetroot, red cabbage and red kidney bean burger with sweet potato fries (she).
Then we walked to Asia House on New Cavendish Street for the last day of the Tran Truang Tin exhibition. I had visited this a couple of months ago with M and it had made such an impression on me that I was itching to see it again. War and its effects fuelled the creativity of this self-taught Vietnamese artist and the paintings on newspaper produced during the American-Vietnam war are sombre and haunting. He was driven to paint what he saw around him:
"Painting was the only way I could express myself freely. I felt compelled to document what was happening to us. I wanted to paint the inside: women running to bomb shelters; so many orphans living in the street; Hanoi people gathering by lampposts, the only brief source of light between raids for our souls. Painting is the language of silence."After the war, he married a photographer and a happier life manifested in the more colourful, sometimes ecstatic paintings - made more intense by his use of oils on photographic paper. He's still alive - now in his 70s - and has started to paint again after a stroke-induced hiatus. I can't wait to see his new work.
Then we strolled down Marylebone High Street, where I picked up some Palmarosa facial wash (for me) and some ginger essential oil (for M's cold) from Neal's Yard Remedies, some sourdough bread from The Natural Kitchen, and two Japanese books from Daunt Books for M - short story collection Tokyo Stories and Keigo Higashino's black comedy thiller Naoko. Tokyo Stories is a literary excursion through 20th century Tokyo - a century of war and rapid urbanisation. Naoko tells the tale of an everyman factory worker whose wife and young daughter are caught up in a catastrophic bus accident. Actually, I can't wait to read them myself as it will get me even more in the mood for our upcoming trip to Tokyo and Kyoto this Fall.
I said goodbye to my friend and headed home. M had spent the afternoon reading, napping, watching the Tony Leung movie Seoul Raiders, and boiling chicken wings for chicken stock which he froze in batches and which we use to prepare noodle soups during the week. He also had a pan of homemade tomato and garlic sauce bubbling away on the stove. His sister popped by and made us yummy, thirst quenching apple juice and vodka cocktails and then joined us for a simple and delicious dinner of spaghetti with tomato sauce and grated parmesan washed down with the Barolo wine. We ate a dessert of the assorted Asian fruit we'd bought from Chinatown earlier and then settled in to watch a few hilarious episodes from the 5th season of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Today was our chance to really spend quality time together. We breakfasted on sourdough bread and brie and hayflower goats cheeses and lots of strong Colombian coffee, then we headed to the hypnotic Antony Gormley exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. Gormley's sculptural explorations of the human body moving through and creating space was all-consuming and mesmerising. I was in awe of the dark and labyrinthine steel plated Space Station; I was thoroughly disorientated inside the cloud-filled glass box of Blind Light - I had to rush out after a few seconds in a claustrophobic panic; I felt enlivened rather than stressed as I oriented myself through the maze-like concrete "body cases" of Allotment II.
We then walked along the Southbank, past the Turkish festival taking place near the Oxo Tower, to the Tate Modern, where we chilled for an hour or so in the Members Room on the fifth floor. We sank into the leather sofas there, admired the amazing views across London, chatted, read and ate carrot cake (me) and a chocolate brownie (him).
Then we went downstairs again. I had last seen Brazilian artist Helio Oiticica in 2005 with M. Back then, I had enjoyed his plywood architectural space where we had been allowed to walk through the narrow corridors at will, even helping ourselves to paper cups of freshly-squeezed orange juices. So it was with much expectation that we entered the Tate's Helio Oiticia show. As a retrospective, it was wonderful seeing the progression of his work from Mondrian-style geometries of colour on flat surfaces to full-blown spaces to move through. Unfortunately, there were none of the latter to physically explore, just video footage, so I was a little disappointed.
Huddled under a single small umbrella, we made our way to the bus stop in the beating, steaming, humid rain. We felt like we were in the middle of an Indian monsoon! At home, M roasted a chicken and we ate it with homemade chilli-hot harissa and tabbouleh thickly encrusted with parsley and tomatoes. This is one of the first meals M ever cooked for me when we first started dating in 2005. He's been cooking since he was 12. I am such a lucky girl. We washed it down with a robust Malbec and now we're going to eat a variety of Yauatcha macarons - kumquat, matcha and lime, fig - and some more Asian fruits for dessert while we watch the always terrific Takeshi Kitano in Yakuza movie Demon on DVD.
It's still only 8 pm. Still a few more hours left of the weekend!