One of the things I miss most about living in the UK is that I miss the wonderful 4th of July celebrations in the USA. You get a day off to spend with your friends and/or family, eat BBQ and other delicious food and then finish the day with fireworks. I have only been to one expat BBQ in 15 years, and it is really tough to celebrate the day when it isn't often on a weekend. But this year, Jackson + Rye invited me and some friends to celebrate the 4th of July.
I grabbed my two favourite American expat friends (strangely, I know quite a few expats in my neighbourhood), and off to lunch we went. We would have loved to have our 4th of July meal on the actual fourth of July, but it was Sports Day, so we had our celebration on the fifth of July. Besides the joy of a mid-week meal, it was lovely going out for cocktails and great food with wonderful girlfriends.
Oh, I do like to be beside the riverside. And if I can be sitting by the river, enjoying some delicious food, then even better. My new favourite riverside restaurant in Kingston-upon-Thames is Jackson & Rye. And I don't just like the location. The food is pretty damn tasty too.
As an American expat, I am always keen to try a restaurant that claims to serve American fare. But normally I'm left with overpriced burgers or non-fluffy pancakes. You can't imagine how a disappointing pancake can ruin my day. That is obviously a personality flaw. But rather than seek counselling, I've decided to just focus on finding better restaurants. Jackson & Rye definitely fits the bill.
My family and I love eating out. And the only thing better than going to a restaurant is going to a new restaurant. So we were quite excited to visit Poor Boys this weekend. Tucked along the side of the market, Poor Boys serves New Orleans street food to the people of Kingston-upon-Thames. Kingston is already known for its extensive array of dining (and shopping) venues, but I was thrilled to find out that there was a great new independent restaurant in my town.
Our first impression of Poor Boys was fab. There was a southern/bayou decor with Dixieland and country music playing. Dubz particularly enjoyed Dolly Parton and spent most of the meal dancing in his chair (like mother, like son). Rather than traditional colouring, the kids received mini backboards and chalk to keep themselves entertained. Moozles and Dubz spent ages drawing animals and then we moved on to the classic game of 'hangman'. It's such a relief when children are catered for, beyond food.
Last year, my daughter had a Pizza Express party for her 8th birthday. She had a great time. But when I heard that Pizza Express offered pizza-making parties for adults, I didn't think it would actually be that fun. Fast forward to last week when I was invited to a pizza party for bloggers at the new Pizza Express at Gloucester Road. And as you can see from my face above, I was having a pretty good time.
The evening started off with Prosecco and olives, which of course set the tone for a lovely evening. I was a little nervous as I didn't really know anyone, though had met a few of the bloggers once or twice. But all the shyness went away with the Prosecco and we soon got stuck into some dough. Talk about an ice-breaker. After shaping an tossing some dough, we were all feeling relaxed. And giggly. This was mostly due to Alex (the branch manager) and Gianmaria, who made sure we were learning in an entertaining way.
We had a tough year when Dubz was two. We had to refrain from going out to eat for fear of tantrums. And then when he was three, he only ate toast for about three months. Tough times indeed. But things improved drastically when he turned four last year and then began school in the autumn. And now, we eat out at least once at the weekend. And we love trying out new restaurants.
A couple of weeks ago, we visited the Giggling Squid in Esher to try out their new menu for kids. Moozles and Dubz had never tried Thai food before. I was a bit nervous whether Dubz would enjoy it - after all, there would be no chips on standby. But we had recently tried a Taiwanese restaurant with good results, so I hoped for the best.
A 13-year wedding anniversary isn't that exciting. But then again, shouldn't every year of marital happiness be celebrated excitedly?! Our anniversary is actually tomorrow, but as it's a Sunday on a bank holiday weekend, we thought we'd celebrate it mid-week (for babysitting purposes). So on Wednesday we went to Richmond-upon-Thames to have dinner at the newly-opened Ivy Cafe.
Many people will have heard of The Ivy. They are known for their great food, but also as a hotspot for celebrities. They have recently started opening some smaller cafes in greater London so that us suburbanites can have a taste of the high life. But don't let the term 'cafe' fool you, this is a properly cool and elegant restaurant.
On Sunday, I got the best gift any mother could wish for on Mother's Day - a day of no tantrums. It was delightful. It was actually more than delightful. It was a miracle. To make the day even better, we went out for a delicious lunch at Bao Bao London. I feel like we're constantly going out for pizza or burgers, so I was excited to be trying out Taiwanese cuisine.
Taiwan is known for their street food, and Bao Bao delivers fresh, tasty food in a cool environment (imagine a gorgeous floral wall made for Instagram). Husband and I were initially excited to try Bubble Tea. We watch My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on Netflix and they are always drinking bubble tea. There are loads of flavours - so it was a bit overwhelming. Luckily the waitress was understanding and quite helpful. I was pleased with my choice - the passion fruit tea, with aloe vera bubbles, green tea, some ice and a little sweetness. Husband ordered a green tea as he couldn't handle all the choices. Haha.
I am not the best cook. I make about 10 meals which I rotate over a couple of weeks (luckily Husband cooks on the weekends). I can probably cook about 20 things, but a few of them are special occasion dishes that don't get made often. I've been wanting to add to my repertoire for ages, so last week I dragged one of my friends along to a Mexican street food cooking class at The Jamie Oliver Cookery School in London.
I love Mexican food, but other than cheese quesadillas, I would never dream of trying to make any. So it was a treat to have a professional chef, the lovely Gaby, show me how to cook. I say me, but there were eight of us in the class. We cooked in groups of two, which meant that we were able to take turns with chopping, etc. I chopped my first onion, which was very exciting (it's the kind of thing that I normally make Husband do). We made a chipotle chicken, various salsas and guacamole. And if that wasn't enough, we also made our own corn tortillas.
Cheers to dining out as a family! Eating out used to be quite tough, but the boy has mellowed quite a bit in the past few months. And now our weekly trips to restaurants are no longer limited to pizza and burgers (yessss!). Last weekend we tested this further by going to Bubba Gump's Shrimp Co in central London.
If the name sounds familiar, it is because it is a tribute to the Forrest Gump film. I vaguely remember Forrest and his friend discussing a million types of ways to cook shrimp. And then Forrest made loads of money fishing shrimp. To tell you the truth, I probably would never have gone to this restaurant if they hadn't invited me and my family. The truth is, it sounded really touristy. And it is. But, in a way that my family enjoyed.
Did I ever mention that my family and I love an American diner? Many years ago, when I first moved to the UK, I would drag Husband around London looking for acceptable American fare. I needed to know where I could get burgers, milkshakes and pancakes if I had an urgent craving. Fourteen years ago, there were only a handful of places to get American-style food. Nowadays, they are everywhere. There are now more American restaurants and diners in London than I have fingers and toes. One place we have frequented a few times is Ed's Easy Diner.
If you're not familiar with Ed's, it is a chain of 1950s-style American diners. They have booths, as well as tables, cute jukeboxes and My family and I last went about five months ago. My son has recently become obsessed with cheeseburgers, and we're all fans, so it makes life easier to eat at restaurants where they serve cheeseburgers. Recently, the people from Ed's invited us for a family meal to check out their new junior menu.
Dining out with kids is made so much easier with a great children's menu. Ed's Junior Bites is made for kids 10 and under. For £5.95, you get a main, side and a drink. One issue I have with many children's menus is that there is enough food for my 4-year old, but my 8-year old ends up still hungry. I would rather the kids had more proper food and less dessert. At Ed's, my 8-year old was properly full while my 4-year old had food remaining. Take note other restaurants!