Vietnamese cookery class with Uyen Luu

I love Vietnamese food, of the all the different Asian cuisines I think it’s among the most interesting and fresh with their flavours. Although I’ve eaten a lot over the years I didn’t know much about cooking it though. I’d googled and researched the best Vietnamese cookery classes in London and this was frequently recommended. Uyen Luu is a food stylist and cook who has worked with chefs including Jamie Oliver and Raymond Blanc. Conveniently her test kitchen from where she runs her classes, as well as supper clubs, is not too far away from me just across East London’s Victoria Park in Hackney, as such I decided to bike over, but forgot to check the weather reports, so consequently ended up turning up rather drenched after an unexpected downpour. Uyen couldn’t have been lovelier though, giving me a towel to dry myself off and advising I bring my bike inside as there had been some thefts in the area recently.

The course started at 1pm on a Saturday afternoon, there was 10 of us in the class and we started off by all going round the table and introducing ourselves. The class was a mixture of hands on cooking and live demonstrations, and we started by learning to make Vietnamese summer rolls. All the ingredients were laid out in front of us and we dipped the pre bought rice paper wrappers in water to soften them, before assembled the ingredients into a sort of smiley face and then wrapping tightly to make a cigar shaped roll. We then moved over to the kitchen area when Uyen showed us how to make her delicious chicken pho. The main tips being to chargrill the onions and ginger before adding and using the best quality chicken you can afford. She was helped in the kitchen by her lovely Mum who taught her how to cook when she was a child. We also made bánh xèo, stuffed rice pancakes, probably my favourite Vietnamese dish and one that I was surprised to find contained no egg and was also quite simple to make. We also cooked a whole marinated fish and a delicious green papaya salad. It was really good mixture of watching and also practical taking part and you could get as involved or not as much as you wanted.

At the end we finished up by having a big feast all together at the communal table of all the dishes we had prepared together that day. We then packaged up what we still had left (we made alot!) to take home. Finally there was a chance to buy Uyen’s latest cookbook and get her to sign it for us. All in all it was a lovely afternoon and I really enjoyed it. Genuinely one of the nicest afternoon I had in ages. I learnt so much and it has has really inspired me to go on more cookery courses in the future.

Tower of London

So often when we live in a city like London we can forget the wonders that are right on our doorstep. While abroad I often take the chance to visit those countries art galleries and museums, I forget that some of the best of these in the world our actual in my own home city. Making a conscience decision that I needed to rectify this I suggested to my friends that we should head to the Tower of London. Not only is this World Heritage site actually in our city, it’s even in our borough, so local in fact that as residents of Tower Hamlets we can visit for just £1. Anyway we all took the Friday off work and headed to Tower Hill with our proof of addresses and local library cards.

After buying our tickets we walked through the main gate and waited on the bridge over the moat and on the advice of the ticket office waited for one of the regular tours that start from there every half an hour. The completely free tours are led by one of the famous tower beefeaters and take about 45 minutes. The tour only covers the outside of the tower complex, but gives a really good overview of the various buildings and the beefeaters are excellent guides and drop in lots of jokes and fun facts along the way. This leaves you to explore the insides of the various buildings by yourselves. The main building is the White Tower, which although famous as being a jail was actually a royal palace for over 500 years,

The other main building is of course the Jewel House that houses all the Crown Jewels. This building is completely windowless (I imagine for security reasons) and also included the coronation robes. Annoyingly no photography is allowed, though I did manage to catch a sneaky shot of the imperial state crown when one of the guards wasn’t looking! I asked why no photography was allowed, but was told if I wanted a picture I could buy a postcard in the gift shop, which I thought was a tad rude. The main jewels are located in glass cabinets with travelators each side like you get at large airports. I assume this is to stop overcrowding and encourage people not to dawdle, but it was hardly necessary on the day we visited as it really wasn’t that crowded.

Afterwards we went to the small Chapel Royal of St Peter next door where some of the VIPs were buried after their executions, including three Queens of England, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey.

We finished off our tour by walking around all the battlements walls of the Tower and admiring all the stunning views of the City of London and Tower Bridge that they provided. We then exited on to the riverside and walked across Tower Bridge to the Ivy Market Grill at One Tower Bridge for a late lunch.