Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Dim sum delights at Ping Pong restaurant, London

Vegetarian Dim Sum at Ping Pong

A stacker of steamed dim sum at Ping Pong in London

So I recently visited Ping Pong, an aptly named restaurant in Central London serving mainly dim sum.     

Now I've always enjoyed dim sum, but struggled to find places that serve halal options, or offer enough variety in seafood and veg.  I even ventured to Hong Kong in search of dim sum, and thought I'd struck gold when I chanced upon a halal restaurant which serves the steamed up delights, only to find they stopped serving the stuff at 3pm.  Damn you.           

Whilst Ping Pong didn't serve halal food, there were luckily enough fish and vegetarian options, so I didn't miss meat. In fact, it was a rare opportunity to veer away from my usual choice of chicken.

The great thing about Ping Pong was that there was enough variation and excitement on the menu too, with unusual fusions such as potato and edamame cake, and scallops, prawn and chive dim sum.

So here's what we had:

Chinese vegetable soup with wontons at Ping Pong in London

The wonton vegetable soup was divine. With just the right amount of coconut milk, so it wasn't too creamy or too light, plus a fusion of lemongrass, I would definitely order this again. 

Vegetable spring rolls with sweet chilli dip at Ping Pong

The vegetable spring rolls were tasty but standard fayre. I mean I don't think you can go far wrong with spring rolls.
But the business end of the lunch was far more interesting...

Steamed buns filled with seafood at Ping Pong

With exotic flavours such as scallop and shitake, crab and prawn and har gau gf(made of king prawn and bamboo) every bite offered a different dining experience. While I didn't love the steamed buns (they had a strange sweetness that didn't quite taste right), the rest of the dim sum was a great mezze-esque medley. 

So would I go again? Definitely. It would make a great place for a business lunch which would impress any client (though if you're not handy with the chopsticks they'll be less impressed). And you don't miss meat at all. Honest. 

Ping Pong in a nutshell...
Price: Dim sums come in threes and cost under £5. Starters also around the fiver mark. 
Halal: No, but lots of seafood and veggie options.  
Great if... You want to try and variety of different flavours in one sitting, and prefer nibbles rather than big plates of food.
Not so great if... You don't like dim sum (well duh), or prefer your meals plentiful. You'll be satisfied at Ping Pong, but not stuffed.     

Monday, 5 October 2015

Inroducing... Halima's Homemade

So it's been over a year in the making (and over a decade of dreaming), but I'm very exciting to say I'll be soon be launching my own face masks - Halima's Homemade!  
The masks are all natural and derived from an ancient ayurvedic recipe I've been using for years, with an added twist.  The masks will be available in a few weeks, but for now, here's a sneak look at what Halima's Homemade can do for you...      


Thursday, 1 October 2015

My first month as a freelance PR consultant (and some tips for budding entrepreneurs)

HK Communications in a meeting

So I reported a few weeks back how I made the crazy move of leaving my stable OK-paid job to go into employment oblivion, otherwise known as setting up as an independent freelance PR consultant.               
Without clients to take with me, nor a huge network in London, many were concerned about my bold move. During the first week, I was a little concerned myself.  Staring at a blank computer screen with no schedule or boss was unusual to say the least. However, after a few stumbling blocks, and some serious solo-motivation, I survived my first month, secured some steady work, met some lovely people, made a new bunch of contacts, and launched HK Communications to the world.

HK Communications logo

Going it alone is by no means easy, and every day presents a new set of challenges.  But the biggest support has been from those in the same boat as me, whose insight, experience and advice have helped me forge my own path.  While it’s very early days (infancy, you might say), I wanted to share my experience, just in case any of you are in the same boat or are thinking of also taking the plunge into independent working.  So here is what you’re likely to experience if you decide to go a freelance and be your own boss:             

You’ll have major moments of self-doubt. But the first breakthrough with a prospective client will boost your confidence 

Seven years ago I had a job that involved cold-calling businesses to push the company’s marketing services.  It was a thankless task which I hoped never to do again.  Yet seven years later, I find myself doing exactly that.    
Cold calling is not for the inhibited.  You need to be confident, conversational, tenacious and thick-skinned.  The latter is of huge importance as you will get some abrupt responses, and some downright rudeness down the line.  While put off at first, I picked myself up and ploughed through, eventually getting some great results and real leads.  You see, it’s a bit of a numbers game, and you have to remember, that if the recipient on the other line is a bit harsh, it’s not personal.  But for every uninterested party, you might chance upon that one organisation or individual that really needs your support, so cold-calling is a necessary evil.    

Another confidence knock you may suffer is at the thought of selling yourself.  I did have moments of self-doubt, as my previous pitching environments were within the safety net of larger PR agencies, such as Bell Pottinger.  However, I then remind myself that PR is about relationships, not names, so people buy into you, not the company you represent.  This knowledge has spurred me on and served as a reminder as to why I’ve embarked on this adventure in the first place.                      

You’ll find that freelancing is incredibly fickle 

So I learnt a harsh lesson in my first week as an independent consultant – you can’t rely on anything. The day I left my job, a contact got in touch requiring freelance support that month.  I was assured that this was in the bag as I was asked to secure dates in my diary, but a week later the opportunity was gone as the contact had changed their mind.  You see, unlike the security of a fixed contract or permanent role, in the independent consulting world, clients can change their mind very quickly.  You’d sign a contract if taking on retained or project work.  But before you get to this, meeting, proposals, and even potential work dates are fixed upon a non-legally binding ‘gentleman’s agreement’.               

This experience has taught me not to put all my eggs in one basket, or pin my hopes on a particular piece of work.  This is where my cynical glass-half-full nature comes in handy.      

Non-freelancers won’t get what you’re doing  

Understandably, my non-freelance friends do not get what I do, nor do they realise how hard it is.  Freelancing has a bad rep.  The word ‘free’ suggests that you come and go, do some bits of work and chill.  However, as I’ve taken a slightly different route of setting up my own company (hence I flit between using the terms ‘independent consultant’ and ‘freelance’), I am often working harder and longer hours than ever before.

Family and friends will assume you’re not working unless you’re on a client project  

Similar to my previous point, I’ve lost count of the number of times that people have said: ‘Wanna meet up in the week? You’re free now as you’re not working, right?’  The hardest thing for family and friends to contemplate was that when I was at home - not getting paid or doing any client work - I was actually still working.    

Again, unlike a regular job where you start your first day when you go into the office, it’s not so straightforward with consulting.  Clients or projects don’t fall into your lap.  Until you become an industry leader, you have to seek them out.  So a typical day might involve the following:

  • Updating my website with a blog post from my industry
  • Updating my social media channels
  • Responding to enquiries on Linkedin / business requests 
  • Emailing / chasing up prospects
  • Ringing around new prospects
  • Researching topic areas of relevance
  • Researching twitter to stay abreast of what’s going on in social media
  • Meeting potential clients     

And not to forget, in the evening I might pop to the odd networking event, after doing a day of the above.       

If you don’t get up early, your work day will go out of the window  

Never a truer word spoken. To keep up my A-game, I prefer to wake up at the same time as my hubby and be in my office (whether that’s at home or outside) by 9am.  The days I don’t are almost write-offs.  Everything moves at a snail pace, and you spend a little longer having your breakfast in front of the TV.  I do believe what you do first thing can set the tone for the whole day.  So you have to be up and at ‘em, ready to take on the world, or at least do some good business.  Otherwise this happens…             

If you start late, you’ll work later

The odd occasions where I have started later have inevitably meant that I finish later, so it flies in the face of the whole work-life balance concept.  I mean, I didn’t decide to set up my own consultancy so I could work into the evening.  Yes, you are your own boss, so in theory you can work whenever you want.  But personally, sticking to a 9am-5.30pm where possible helps keep my body clock - and life - in check.  Otherwise, the barrier between work and life just disappears.             

If you’re working from home, you’ll find lots of excuses not to do work – so create a ‘home office’

When I first started freelancing, I was working from my living room using a dining chair.  But being inches from the sofa and TV was just weird. Particularly the days that I had lunch at home too, as work and home seemed to become one.  So turning our spare bedroom into an office was the best thing I could have done. Having at least some sort of separation meant that I felt like I was working. It’s not the perfect home office that you’ll see in the Kardashians, but at least it’s a space that I only visit for work, and can shut the door at the end of the day and live in the rest of the apartment.               

You’ll get isolated at home – so it’s vital to get out when you can  

As a natural people-person who had only worked in busy offices, being completely alone was strange.  The danger, as many freelancers would verify, is the isolation and cabin fever.  So it’s vital to get out when you can and stay plugged in to the real world.  

I was lucky enough to get a project in my first few weeks which involved me being on-site, so I got out of the house, met some great people and had the best food places in London on my doorstep (if any of you Londoner’s haven’t visited Leather Lane, you should).  And just recently, I’ve taken the plunge to rent some shared office space in Central London, which will not only get me out of the house, but will be a great place to meet new people (I’m sharing with a tonne of entrepreneurs, so the opportunity for idea-swapping and learning is huge).  It’s also got meeting room space for client visits, which comes across as a whole lot more professional than having somebody meet me at my spare bedroom-turned office…           

If office space seems a little steep or unnecessary, taking your laptop to a coffee shop always helps.  You see, you might not put value on being outdoors, after all the advantage of freelancing is working in your PJs, but to keep informed, and just a bit sociable, it’s good to get outside and interact with other humans.                           

Other entrepreneurs /freelancers will be your biggest supporters

By far, the best advice has been from others who have been through the same thing as me.  PR and media may be seen as a bitchy industry from the outside, but other entrepreneurs and freelancers have given me invaluable, honest advice.  Taking learning from other people gives you the best chance of succeeding on your own.  And of course, you have to pay it forward.  Not just because one good turn deserves another, but because you work much better with people than against them.             

Everything will be a prospect or opportunity, so remember to be nice

While I mentioned that new business is a bit of a numbers game, it’s vital to remember the numbers are people.  So keep in touch with your contacts, and be open to all prospects, as you never know what will come of them. It’s easy in the relentless new business slog to employ a ruthless process of elimination and be a bit short to those who you may feel don’t have any value for you.  However, you could turn away a gem – not just as a potential client, but a potential collaborator, partner, adviser or friend. Yes, nobody wants to indulge a time waster, but in PR, you have to be nice and on point at all times, otherwise nobody will want to work with or recommend you.                  

You’ll learn a whole bunch of skills  

Running your own business, however big or small, demands a whole new set off skills.  At present, I am my own bookkeeper, salesperson, PR consultant, brand guru and marketing expert, and office manager. Oh, and I’m also my own PA (maybe one day I’ll employ one).  But the business and life skills you learn from this are invaluable.  There is no other time in my life where I would have had to wear so many hats.  So I’m relishing the steep learning curve.

Now there is a whole lot more advice I’d dish out, but this is turning into a white paper.  So for now, I’ll leave you will the above nuggets, and be sure to keep you informed of progress (between lipstick reviews and recipes, of course).       

And if you do happen to be interested in understanding more about what I do when I’m not blogging, check out my website here.      


Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The importance of removing your eye makeup...

At the time of writing this article, I'm battling with an eye infection. I thought it was conjunctivitis, or a blocked tear duct, but the doctor's best diagnosis is that it’s most likely a stye - a spot that appears like a whitehead on the inner, fleshy part of the eyelid. So basically, I looked like this… 

Eye infection from a stye

It's settling now after a week of taking eye ointment and using warm water compresses.  It kinda ruined Eid, and certainly destroyed some Eid pictures, and as I haven’t been able to do my eyebrows, well, that’s quite another horror.  The doctor doesn't know what the cause is, his best guess being that it might be from dust, or a trapped hair. 

But whatever the reason, I don't think my lazy makeup application and removal routine helped the situation. 

Despite blogging about beauty for four years and having countless products and expert knowledge at my disposal, I confess to the following beauty sins:  
  • I rub my eyes to remove my eyeliner (only when it's kohl though).  
  • I go to sleep still wearing my eyeliner (again, only when it's kohl). 
  • I constantly rub my eyes when they itch.  And I enjoy it.
  • I rarely clean my eye makeup brushes (I know, filthy cow).
But lazy-ass no more. After being a hermit for a week, not to mention the worry associated with having a growing growth on my face, I vow to take much better care of my eyes, starting by banishing the first two fails from my list of eye sins.
I have eye makeup removers, but I need to make a point to use them more regularly.  Below are some examples of what’s in my bathroom cabinet, and how they work:

Arbonne's Easy on the Eyes Eye Makeup Remover

Arbonne Easy on the Eyes Eye Makeup Remover, 59ml – this clear eye makeup remover came with my Neutral Eyes kit, which contained two duo eyeshadows. The remover is easy to apply – you simply pour some onto a cotton pad and dab sweep across the eyes.  It pretty much takes away all of your eye makeup, even the most stubborn liners.  

Trilogy's Make-Up Be Gone Cleansing Balm

Trilogy's Make Up Be Gone is their new makeup remover

Trilogy Make-Up Be Gone Cleansing Balm, 80ml – this newly launched solid balm is made from a base of oils. Containing mango butter, rosehip, coconut, olive and sunflower oil, this rich makeup remover glides on like a cream and melts away makeup. The makeup remover can be used on eyes, though it requires a little more work than Arbonne’s eye makeup remover.  However, as it’s gentle and natural, the chances of irritation are minimal.

Bobbi Brown's oil makeup remover emulsifies the skin

Bobbi Brown Cleansing Oil, 200ml – this liquid oil is more fluid than Trilogy’s offering, but also contains a mix of oils, mainly olive and jojoba, as well as ginger root extract. It works by emulsifying with water, and turns into a milk-like substance on your skin. It’s an effective cleanser, but be mindful of the product getting into your eye as it can cloud your eyes.  The clouding clears within a minute, but it is inconvenient nonetheless.   

But the key to make all these removers work best and avoid any eye irritation is hygiene.  Washing your hands before and after with hand wash will help reduce any chance of problems.  While out and about, I also keep my Cuticura hand sanitiser gel handy, so if I do happen to rub my eyes, at least my hands are free from outdoor dust and germs.

Cuticura hand gel in 'Sugar candy'

And while my eye infection can’t necessarily be attributed to poor makeup habits, or poor hygiene, I won’t be taking my chances.

If you’re equally lazy with your makeup, please do take heed.  I’ve never suffered infections or allergies in the past, and had a complacent routine as a result.  But my infection shows that it can happen to anyone.  So give yourself an extra couple of minutes in the bathroom to take off your makeup, it’s the least your skin – and your eyes – deserve.   

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Emjoi Micro Nail Polisher review

Emjoi Micro Nail smooth and polish

Ok, so there’s a reason that you never see any nail polish reviews on this blog.  It’s because, quite simply, I NEVER wear the stuff.  In fact, the last time I painted my nails was for my wedding.  That was three years ago, and even then, it was to cover up my botched henna job.  

It’s not that I have a particular hatred towards nail varnish, it can look awesome.  It’s just that I think nails look their best worn naturally, providing they’re strong, clean and well maintained.  Plus there is nothing more unsightly than chipped nail polish.  And another, more important fact is that, try as a might, I am forever cack-handed when it comes to applying polish. Going outside the nail, thicker in some areas, it is just not my forte.       

So when I recently attended the Pegasus PR annual beauty showcase, I gravitated towards their Emjoi stand.  For those who don’t know, Emjoi are the makers of the Micro-pedi, the miracle heel treatment which I reviewed on this blog.  They’re something of mani-pedi aficionados, and I was introduced to their nail treatment, the Micro Nail Polisher.  The polisher promises salon-style natural nails, and I was keen to put this to the test.   
Luck would have it that the Nail Polisher came in the goody back, so I got to road test it in the comfort of my own home.  

The battery operated nail polisher comes with two interchangeable heads.  The first head is a smoother, which you are meant to buff over your nails for a maximum of two seconds per nail. The second head is a shine roller, which you then use to polish your nails, going over each one for 1-2 seconds.  To avoid damage to your nails, it is advised that you only use the smooth head every two weeks.  It doesn’t suggest how often to use the shine head, but I’d stick to every two weeks to be on the safe side.                

So anyway, I carefully went over each nail on my hands and feet, ensuring that I didn’t exceed the maximum two seconds time limit. However, while the nails are a small surface area to cover, two seconds didn’t fully allow for me to go over and around the curvature of my nails and cover all areas.  
This didn’t matter too much for the smoothing head, but for the shine, I felt that I had grazed the tops, rather than covering the whole nail.   

However, I did end up with shiny nails on both my hands and feet.  Here are some before and after pics:

Before - 

Nails without nail polish

After -    

While the picture may not necessary demonstrate this clearly, the nails were definitely shinier after using the second head.  I only wish I could glide it across the whole nail within the two seconds, as this would provide an even better salon-style finish.  Nonetheless, I was happy with the end result, as it gave my otherwise bland nails a little sheen.  I imagine the Micro Nail would work even better on slightly longer nails, giving the effect of a French manicure. I’ll have to give this a try next time.  I’ll also post up a video demo soon, so you can see exactly how it works with a before and after comparison.    

I felt that the Micro-polish was great for my toenails, as (whisper it) they aren’t as smooth as the nails on my hand, so a little buffing went a long way. I’ll certainly aim to keep up this regime, not least on special occasions.     

What do you think of the results?  Can you notice a difference? I’d love to hear your feedback. 

Sunday, 20 September 2015

My London Fashion Week #LFW foray

The Topshop show being streamed at Golden Square for LFW

The Topshop Unique show at the Golden Square for LFW

Now anybody who knows me well will attest that I'm pretty poor when it comes to fashion choices. I buy items because I love them, but when it comes to putting them together, it all literally falls apart. 
Such was my fashion failings that during my early twenties, a friend offered to buy me a colour matching tutorial with a stylist in a bid to improve my wardrobe’s palette. 

So in recent years I've attempted to right this wrong, and as London Fashion Week is in town, I decided to have a nosey and get involved.  
It started with a visit to the Blogger Love fashion event which took place at the Oxo Tower the other week. The show not only featured a catwalk, but it introduced me to a host of British jewellery and accessory designers.   

I spoke to Nadia Minkoff, a designer who boasted some beautiful necklace designs including some pieces made exclusively for LFW.  For us mere mortals, there were also some great statement pieces, including a Big Ben pendant which I picked up. It works great with casual tops and is my go-to accessory when wearing block colours. 

Big Ben gold pendant from Nadia Minkoff

Other brands I noted were Boho Betty, which had some simple, elegant bangles combining metals with colours. 

Boho Betty wrap bracelet

After the Blogger Love event, I decided to attend fashion week itself.  Well kind of. I was too slow in registering my interest for tickets to the shows. However, this year, London Fashion Week is open to all, with events, pop ups and screenings of the shoes taking place at Golden Square in Soho.       

I took a sneak video of the Topshop Unique, which was being streamed live earlier today:

And of course, in the interests of fashion, I tried to make at least some effort with hair and makeup, despite having slept at 3am the night before and having only one hour to blow dry my hair, create some strategically placed waves with my Braun straightener and put together an outfit. 

I ended up wearing a LOT of black, but hey, if it's good enough for Kim...

My hair and makeup for London Fashion Week #LFW

My accessories were almost none existent except for my Nadia Minkoff Big Ben pendant, which I think finished off the look quite well.  Gladly, the Golden Square shindig was relatively low key, so I didn’t feel underdressed.              
There was a nice buzz on Golden Square with deck chairs laid out for people to have their own 'front row' experience. If you're in London over the next couple of days it's definitely worth a look. 

So that's my inaugural London Fashion Week experience. I'm event tempted to visit one of the shows later on in the week. Who knows, I might learn a thing or two.

My London Fashion Week look: 
Hair: Blow dried and curled with Braun Satin 7 SensoCare Styler  
Makeup: Sleek Creme to Powder Foundation / Vie at Home Highlighter Duo / Nars Orgasm Eyes Lips and Cheeks highlighter / M&S Mulberry lipstick / MAC Kohl eyeliner / Arbonne It's a long story mascara.  
Outfit: dress - Dorothy Perkins, Jacket - Oasis. 
Acessories: Nadia Minkoff Big Ben pendant. 

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Our anniversary meal and Veeraswamy London restaurant review

Braised lamb and prawn curry at Veeraswamy London

Chaat poori filled with sprices at Veeraswamy London

So I'm not sure how, but hubby and I managed to reach three years of marriage together last week, I can't quite believe how time has flown!      
As is customary, and given that we are a couple of fat foodies, we had to try out a new restaurant. Last year we went to Trishna in Bloomsbury (for that review click here), so this year we opted for the other upmarket Indian restaurant on our to-do list - Veeraswamy. 

The restaurant offers authentic Indian cuisine with delicate flavours and a decadent edge.  

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Putting on false lashes for the first time

So I tried to put on fake eyelashes myself for the first time. And it wasn't pretty.   

I've only ever worn false lashes when they were applied by a makeup artist. Even then I wasn't the biggest fan of them. They felt like a weirdly heavy feather on my eyes, and the fact I could actually see them sitting on top of my eyelids whilst they were on didn't help.                          

So when it came to elongating my lashes I'd stick to coats of mascara, leaving the falsies the more handy bloggers out there.      

But I have to admit, the few times I have worn lashes, and when I've seen it on other people, the result is beautiful! 

I've mentioned that I'm a false lash novice a few times in my YouTube video tutorials, mainly as a way of excusing my half done makeup looks. When doing my eyes, my transition shade and blending may be on point (or at least getting better), but the lack of flutter can leave the look missing that finishing touch.     
So, as I recently went to a wedding, I figured this was the perfect time to try on the falsies. And of course, record for you to see. So enjoy my real-time attempt, and if course, don't forget to subscribe.

False lashes tutorial for novices

Monday, 7 September 2015

Dishoom restaurant review, Shoreditch, London

Prawn Koliwada at Dishoom in Shoreditch

Masala chilli cheese on toast for starter at Dishoom Shoreditch

Now I've tried a few Indian restaurants in London, of varying prices and quality. When I first moved to the Capital in 2012, I'd visited Dishoom restaurant, a trendy Bombay style cafe which harks back to the old Bollywood era. 

However, I visited the branch in Covent Garden for a birthday party, arrived late and ate from the set menu. My experience wasn't great. I had a couple of pieces of toast with keema (mince), some other oily curry and the most pretentious, unpalatable dessert called kala kata gola ice, a weird frozen concoction made with black salt.  
So overall, my first impression of Dishoom was style over substance, which is sadly the case for a lot of restaurants in London. I always held the view that the best, most authentic Indian restaurants are not in the trendy hotspots such as Covent Garden or Knightsbridge, but tucked away in the nooks, crannies and outskirts of the city. 
However many friends assured me that my Dishoom experience was the exception rather than the norm, and that the restaurant does in fact serve good food. I was also advised that their other branch, in equally trendy Shoreditch, East London is much better. 
So I decided to give Dishoom another try and headed to their Shoreditch branch, and happily had a much better experience.     

Firstly, let me start with the decor and atmosphere. As we rushed in late to the Covent Garden shindig, there was precious little time to appraise the setting. 

But as my Shoreditch experience was slightly more leisurely, and we had a short wait for our table, I had a chance to nosey around. 

Virgin mojitos from Dishoom Shoreditch

It was Saturday night, and Dishoom was packed, but in a good way. There is an outdoor veranda and shisha area, and inside there's a bar where you can wait for your table. The lovely atmosphere makes for a great evening, though perhaps not a quite intimate dinner. 

The waiters dart around the tables which are fairly close together. We were advised on arrival that it was cafĂ©-style service, which basically meant they'd serve each dish as it came out of the kitchen, rather than the traditional and uniform starter, followed by main, order. 

The menu was refreshingly quirky, with street food and fusion variations to boot. While many Indian restaurants offer standard fayre such as chicken jalfrezi, veg curry and dopiaza, Dishoom offers a refreshing twist with dishes such as masala chilli cheese on toast. 

So here's what we had... 

Dishoom has restaurants in Covent Garden, Shoreditch and Kings Cross

The chilli cheese on toast was divine. It was like Welsh rarebit with an Asian twist.  The chillies were just the right heat, and while it was ultimately cheese on toast, it was good. Which is why I attempted to emulate this with one of my recipes.

Prawns with chutney at Dishoom

The prawns koliwada were also a hot, with their crispy chilli coating, the prawns - one of my favourite seafood dishes were a great starter and went well the with chutneys accompaniments. 
The biryani was a delicious blend of old basmati rice (in this sense old is a good thing) and didn't have too much oil, unlike the biryani I had in Trishna restaurant. 

Spiced potatoes with skin on in Dishoom

The gunpowder potatoes was a nice variation from our usual accompaniments. It was essentially smashed up potatoes with skin on and garnished with spring onions, but it worked. The onions added an unusual zing to any other potato dishes I had, which would normally contain the standard white onions.  

I wasn't a huge fan of the chicken tikka we ordered, as it had a sweet vinegar taste and went against my preference for a spicy, or at least savoury curry. 

As we'd ordered biryani, we didn't bother with extra rice, but instead had a two breads in the form of naan and roti (chapatti). The roti was particularly special as it was a rather large, and very thin square bread rather than the usual round shape. This lighter texture went well with the potato dish, while the thicker, heavier naan was perfect for mopping up the chicken. 
So overall, this Dishoom experience was much better second time around at the Shoreditch restaurant. And based on this experience, I'd happily recommend it. 

Dishoom in a nutshell
Halal: Chicken is halal, though they do serve pork dishes.
Price: Starters under £6. Mains vary from £7-£12.  
Great if… you want a lively evening in a bustling atmosphere in East London.  Dishoom is also great for groups.
Not so great if... you want a quite supper.     


Friday, 4 September 2015

Refugees / Migrants... we're all human

Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian refugee drowned with his son Galip and mother

So I was going to write an article about the stacker ring collection I've accumulated, but I think I'll save that for another day. Because there is a bigger issue at large, which has been going on for too long. For months, I'd been watching images of Rohingya refugees, stranded in the ocean near Malaysia with nowhere to go.        

Yes, my heart poured out, but what could I do? It was so far away, and the people who were starved and desperate were so transient so I didn't know where and how to offer help. 
So as with the Gaza crisis of last year, I mourned and lamented the situation for a while and shared the odd Facebook post. Then, as time has an amazing way of healing, it also lets us forget. And life moves on.    

For as long as I can remember there seems to have been some kind of human catastrophe somewhere. As a child, I remember filling up shoeboxes with old clothes and toys for Operation Christmas Child. The boxes were shipped to Bosnia for children 'less fortunate than myself' my teacher would say.   

Then of course there is the annual Comic Relief, where for one night we're tortured with pictures of starving African children and asked to donate to make ourselves feel better. I donated a few times, felt like I'd done something, and then of course moved on. 

But more recently, the refugee crisis, which has involved Syria as well as people escaping persecution from other countries, is harder to forget and impossible to ignore. 
We've seen the pictures of carnage at Calais, we've heard David Cameron refer to refugees as ‘swarms’. For months now, these people were called migrants - a term used for people who are moving to a country for work or other economic means - until an outcry on social media put paid to this. 

The 'migrants' were initially depicted as nuisances. They were pictured as foreign savages ruining our holidays by blocking up Dover. Lorry drivers were properly pissed off, and the real headline was how much the haulage industry was suffering financially due to these annoying brown people blocking up our channel tunnel. 

We have become desensitised to such imagery. For as long as I can remember, footage of Arabs shouting in the street, Libyan rebels brandishing guns and the Taliban / Al Kaeda / ISIS terrorising communities have been on our TV screens and in our newspapers. Civilian deaths in the Middle East were so frequent that they were reduced to numbers. And when the numbers got too big, they were rounded up to estimates.

The so called 'migrant crisis' story could have followed suit, personifying David Cameron's ‘swarm’ description.  People were dying in lorries, many had drowned.  But it wasn’t on our doorstep. It was far away and there wasn’t much we could do.
But whatever the terminology, label or angle the politicians or media would like to spin, the human cost is the same.   

Thanks to some heart-wrenching photography, we were finally allowed to see some pictured reminding us that these people aren't actually migrants. In fact they're not even primarily refugees. First and foremost they are human, like you and me. 

Yes, they may hail from another land where bombings, killings and violence are portrayed in the media as being a part of everyday life. But ultimately, they are human. They grieve, and they feel pain. 

It wasn't the picture of the three year old boy washed up on the shore of Bodrum that moved me so much. The lump in my throat came weeks before, after seeing a picture of a grown man crying as he came to shore in Greece, cradling his young children. 

Laith Majid, a Syrian man pictured by Daniel Etter

It was the human face of the conflict. A face of desperation.  A face of a man who has been through trauma and seen things you cannot imagine.  A man who has experienced the kind of conflict we couldn't comtemplate with our all-consuming first-world problems.  A picture that politicians would have perhaps preferred us not to see. One that went global.  What is more harrowing, is that we still don't know whether this man and his family made it safely to where he so desperately needed to be.          
The picture was etched in my mind, and the feeling of injustice that happens in this world time and time again, was just, shit. 

I made some enquiries into how to help refugees, and prayed for the day that they'd arrive in the UK so that I could give clothes, blankets, toiletries, whatever basic necessities would help. 

But before that day came, we had to see a dead boy washed up on European shores. A boy that represented many dying at sea and in the back of lorries. Herded like cattle and risking life and limb, these humans were treated with anything but humanity. 

And it took the picture of the dead little boy, and the ensuing international outcry, to force the UK to take more action. 

So David Cameron is now pledging to help more refugees. The positive in this whole tragedy is that everyone I know has expressed grief and distress at the sight of this poor boy. And this has set in motion action. 

Unlike the Rohingya refugee crisis in Asia, what is happening now is on our doorstep. People are desperate to come to the UK. Many are camped in Calais. And a whole bunch of grassroots organisations have spring up ready to drive down and cross the border to deliver goods to those desperately in need. So there is something that every one of us can do to help. I've been scouring the internet for local groups to donate to, and I personally feel they're a much better option than the larger, bureaucracy-ridden NGOs out there. 

And I plan to spend the weekend gathering the things that I've been hoarding but never will use, to give to any group that will be going to Calais. 

This won't make the sick-to-the-pit-of-my-stomach feeling go away, and it shouldn't. Donating toys might not bring Aylan back, but it might bring a smile to another child's face. And while we grieve for Aylan, a boy from Syria that we never knew, there are many more that will need our help.  Because they’re not just a number, they’re like you and me.           

If you too have been moved by the crisis, the article from the Independent may prove useful: