Crunchy Bottoms

Striking the caloric balance. Barely.

Category Archives: Cuisine

Koh Grill & Sushi Bar – Eye on the Maki

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Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

I am alive and well, much to the disappointment of many, I’m sure.

This writer’s block of mine, however, I have underestimated. I had likened it to passing a brick out my behind, among other unsavoury metaphors, and have woefully declared to all unfortunate enough to listen to my rants that I’d much rather endure physical pain. My friends have gotten the brunt of my frustration.  They still love me though, I hope.

I realise I need to start small. So this is me, attempting (once again) to sit myself down on my metaphorical ceramic throne, and do the deed. It’s a small consolation for me if you happen to find this hilarious. It turns out that I’m still capable of entertaining.

Over the past few months, I have been frequenting Koh Grill & Sushi Bar at Wisma Atria. It’s a gem of a place within Food Republic. A friend had insisted that I needed to try this, and that, in spite of knowing of my sky-high benchmark for Japanese food,  she was still willing to place a huge bet on this place. Well, thank you Joyce. You have ruined me.

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It’s impossible to dine at Koh Grill & Sushi Bar without ordering the Shiok Maki ($16.80 – first picture). This maki is not to be trifled with. Make fun of its name only once, and never again after you’ve eaten it. It has been named appropriately.

Its core is stuffed with unagi and avocado, and then wrapped in a thin layer of rice, draped in thick slices of salmon, drizzled with mayo, and blowtorched to a sizzling marvel. I have not come across another maki with all my favourite ingredients. Admittedly, I could do without the mayo, but that mound of tobiko (flying fish roe) is almost too good to be true, and I suspect that they must have very chummy ties with their suppliers. There can’t be any other possible explanation for being that generous! I’ve thought very deeply about it.

This is a maki that has been thoughtfully created and balanced with much textural deliciousness. It’s crunchy, gooey, moist, and incredibly flavourful. I have brought many friends along for a meal there, and I have seen them being reduced to slobbering messes in front of me.

Contrary to its name, the Crappy Maki ($18.00 – second picture) is another wonder. It’s stuffed with crispy soft shell crab, crunchy seaweed, topped with layers of swordfish belly, and finished with the mandatory shower of roe. The Pi Tan Maki ($15.00 – not pictured) is another crowd-pleaser, and if the thought of century egg sauce makes you cringe, then all I can say is…well, get over yourself and eat it. Take my word for it.

There are plenty of other dishes on the menu, but due credit must be given to what I think are the rockstars in this sold-out concert. It’s obvious that the makis have been lovingly crafted and contemplated on in both the flavour and textural departments. I adore such attention to food.

I also wanted to keep this a secret. There may well be a death warrant hanging over my head by now, but it’s helping the brick on its way out.

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Koh Grill & Sushi Bar

Address: 435 Orchard Road, #04-21 Wisma Atria Shopping Centre

Tel: 91803805

Le Bistrot du Sommelier – Reliable Bistro Fare

It’s been a while.

I’m aware that I’m not quite done waxing lyrical about Dario Cecchini, but I recently had great French bistro food, so this bears much gushing. Brace yourself. If I were to let it wait any longer, I fear that it may end up the way of all my other posts – abandoned or forgotten in a sad heap on my dashboard.

Now let’s just say that while bistro food in France is of unparalleled quality, Le Bistrot du Sommelier comes pretty darn close. I take my hat off to them.

I’d been here once, back when they were still at Prinsep. Dinner that night was cloaked in darkness, sitting at an outdoor table, with the only lights coming from the ghastly orange street light nearby and the pink neon sign from the next-door tenant. While I would have preferred to view my food in their natural colours, the food was spectacular. I vividly remember the unctuous, maddeningly tender joue de boeuf (beef cheek), garlicky cuisses de grenouilles (frog legs), and les profiteroles the size of my fist. Each.

Their new restaurant at Armenian Street now has two storeys and an alfresco area, and might I add that the second storey houses a rillette bar. When I first got wind of it, I swore I could have spasmed in sheer joy. Think of it this way: You can’t serve rillette at such affordable prices if it’s not homemade. These cured meat mixtures can be imported, but it’s easier to make a large batch to store – the longer the better. You can’t deny the appeal of homemade French charcuterie.

So, I mentioned its affordability. Now hold on to your seats, because you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere that serves charcuterie at such a price.

We ordered the Duck Rillette, as pictured above, at 100g for $10. I know! What sorcery is this?! Rillette anywhere else could run upwards of $15. It’s everything a good rillette should be. Salty, creamy, slightly chilled, and chunky. We schmeared it on bread, shovelled it in our mouths, and if we had ordered any more, I would have face-dunked in. Should you think that 100g is pricey, well, consider that it comes with a bowl of the cutest petits cornichons (baby gherkins), and imported French bread (I assumed so since they tasted like they were frozen before). 100g was sufficient for two people, and why would you want to order more when they have such a large variety of charcuterie?

Other than duck, they’ve got pork, rabbit, mackeral, and salmon rillettes. As if things couldn’t get any better, they have terrines and pâtés and saucissons. I was thrilled to spy an interesting Piegeon Mousse with Port Jelly (but alas, it was pricey), and wild boar sausage. 

Speaking of saucissons…

Iberico Ham. Cured for 18 to 24 months. $13 for 50g.

I’ve never seen Iberico at such a price. But wait! That’s not all! They have the option of Iberico de Bellota, cured for 30 to 36 months, at $20 per 50g!!! The questions that ricocheted off the walls in my head were something to the effect of, ‘How is this possible?!’, and ‘Where did they get it from?!’, but eventually settled on ‘You know what, I don’t care! It’s Iberico! Bring it on!’.

Cue the dramatic fanning and subsequent fainting.

I’m aware that all this gushing is a bit unbecoming, but the exclamation marks are only apt, for a fullstop would not give proper glory, laud, and honour to Iberico ham. I promise I’ll sound more proper onwards, now that I’m done hyperventilating.

I went almost giddy with delight when I saw that they served Pâté Lorrain, a mixture of meats baked in puff pastry. But it happened that they were sold out, so we got the Smoked Pork Bun Pâté ($6.50), which came as a palm-sized round of brioche, encasing a ball of pâté. It was moist, and was definitely tasty, but I was more enamoured with the thought of the Pâté Lorrain that we unfortunately couldn’t have.

Le Bistrot du Sommelier is known for their beef dishes, with an entire side menu of beef specialties on top of their already extensive charcuterie and main menu. The classics would include the côte de bœuf (a thick, bone-in rib steak), joue de bœuf (beef cheek), and tartare de bœuf (beef tartare)

That said, we got a Cassoulet Canard ($34) instead, a duck leg stew with a massive slab of tender pork belly, pork sausage, and white beans. I can’t quite think of anything else that could embody rustic, hearty French fare than a stew. The portion was generous, and the meats just sublime. It wasn’t out-of-this-world, but it was an excellent execution for sure.

Through the course of our meal, we had ginormous soufflés, fist-sized profiteroles, and deliciously burnt crème brûlées floating by our table, but we decided on a Gateau de Crepes ($14), essentially a stack of crepes filled with subtly sweet chestnut cream in between its layers. It’s not quite a powerfully sweet Mont Blanc, but it certainly was delicate and fluffy and had an adorable tumble of roasted French chestnuts.

So there we go – bistro fare at its best. Bistro ambience too if I should mention. The walls are a warm yellow, painted on brick, and it’s noisy and bustling with the clinks of wine glasses floating above raucous laughter and (if you listen hard enough) the gentle lilt of occasional French exchanged among the wait staff. Although we didn’t have any wine, it’s safe to say that for a bistro named after a wine steward, their wines should be exceptional.

Le Bistrot du Sommelier gets packed most nights, so reserve in advance. But if I wasn’t looking for a full meal, I could easily step in, head up to their second floor, and sit myself down at their Rillette Bar. It’s amazing, and that’s something to head back for, if not for the fact that it’s a road away from where I’m usually at every day. I don’t say this often about most places, but this is a reliable restaurant, and perhaps as authentically French as one could get. So, well, the gushing won’t end here.

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Le Bistrot du Sommelier

Address: 53 Armenian Street

Tel: 63331982

Opening Hours: Mon- Sat, Lunch 12 to 3pm, Dinner 6 to 11pm

artichoke cafe + bar: Brunch!

It was about time that I popped by Artichoke again. It’s the rainy season, and the last I remembered, I left my umbrella at the restaurant. That was last November. I’ve gotten drenched more times than I care to remember since then.

No, I’m only joking. I missed the place, and going Food Geek-y chatting with Bjorn. I have been meaning to drop by for brunch before heading off to the cows in Switzerland for my summer study. Perhaps then I’ll finally get round to putting up recipes again. Who knows?

The last time I was at Artichoke for dinner, Bjorn brought out an unassuming slice of toast with a dollop of his homemade labneh (yoghurt and double cream) and drippy chunks of peach jam – one of the new products of his tinkerings in the kitchen. It was sensational, and I all but declared that such a beauty should only be savoured with a cup of strong, bitter coffee. You know, the perfect pairing for a brunch dish and that whole jazz.

Crunchy toast and sweet, syrupy jam to mellow out the tangy bite of the labneh. This was an unnamed, mysterious concoction that surprisingly worked. This is comfort food.

And then this was introduced proper to the brunch menu under an equally unassuming name of Cheese & Jam Toast ($14.00), and served up with a couple of slices of freshly made pita bread, and a thick slice of toasted sourdough. It was great, although less tangy than what I previously tried. Hopefully it’ll regain its kick. It’s a unique combination. Try it.

This is the Brunch Special ($24), also known as Artichoke’s take on the Ploughman’s Platter, with chicken terrine, labneh on the side, eggplant jam, homemade pickled vegetables, green olives, and thick slices of sourdough. It’s one of those iconic English dishes, so you can imagine that I was rather surprised seeing this among Artichoke’s Moorish influences.

I tell you, the chicken terrine is fantastic. It’s a lot lighter than most terrines, flaky, and certainly not mushy. It is seasoned perfectly with a dash of some spices for a beautiful fragrance. This isn’t pâté though, so while you should schmear some on a slice of bread, it is not going to spread like butter, but add a small bit of that sweet eggplant jam (I tasted the caramelized onions more than eggplant, so haters needn’t worry) and you’re good to go. This is essentially a cold dish, so if you’re hankering for one of those belly-warming brunch dishes that’ll send you back to bed right after you wake, you might want to consider their ever-popular scrambled eggs (with sides of mushrooms and feta cheese, or maple-glazed bacon chop, or Moroccan sausage).

Or you could check out the Ful.

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Restaurant Ember – Another great set lunch find

It’s not quite a well-kept secret anymore that Ember’s set lunches are an absolute steal. At $39.40++, their excellent 3-course lunch doesn’t just aim to impress, but to entice and rope you into repeated visits of your own will.

If you take a look at their 3-course set lunch menu, you will eventually realise that its stunning variety of dishes to choose from is meant to please, to befuddle, and to frustrate in the best way possible. Having to choose among 3 to 4 types of foie gras for your appetiser becomes what is possibly the best sort of happy problem there can be – because you will get your dose of fatty goose liver anyway.

Ember has been around for years now since it’s opening in 2004, fusing robust European cuisine with the intricacies of the Asian cuisine. It’s a modest restaurant located in Hotel 1929, a boutique hotel establishment, seating perhaps no more than 40 people in its airy interior that is furnished simply in light tones of brown. Lit warmly from the midday sunlight streaming in through its floor-to-ceiling glass windows, suffice to say, it was a welcoming setting for our little SMU Gourmet Club event (or perhaps not so little since we took up half the restaurant). Service was attentive and efficient from the get-go. Your napkin will remain on your lap as much as possible if the wait staff can help it.

A restaurant’s bread sets the stage, as most will agree. The tomato foccacia that floated out of the kitchen, while most of us were still bustling around and trying to settle down, was warm and crackly as good bread should be. It was perfumed with rosemary, thyme, and specks of sun-dried tomatoes, the combination and taste standing strong on its own without additional butter. But warm, crust, tender bread without butter? Who are you kidding? You’re already on a roll (pun-intended), so just go with it and start shmearing your bread.

The most outstanding appetiser went to the Roasted and Poached Foie Gras with Mirin, Shoyu, and Shiitake, essentially just fatty goose liver on a bed of braised shiitake mushrooms. But that’s an understatement, because the thick, sweet and salty Japanese-influenced sauce was a smashing hit with the juicy shiitake. Whip that all up with a slab of creamy foie gras poached to tender perfection, and you have a mind-bogglingly crazy-sounding ingredient combination that works. No figs, no apples, no prunes, nothing classically sweet in the dish at all. Just pure savoury bliss.

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Aoki – Other-worldly Set Lunch

It’s a little difficult to wax lyrical about Aoki now for two reasons, the first being that this lunch was more than half a year ago, and the second being that it’ll only be about another week before I fly of to stuff my face proper with sashimi in Japan. But see, this post will never go up if it doesn’t right now, because I’m afraid Aoki will lose its charm, its Zen minimalism, its serenity, after I get back.

Aoki is under the Les Amis group of restaurants, but stands out in its austerity, and although it is situated in the row of the Les Amis Empire (as I like to call it) to the side of Shaw Centre, its easy to waltz by without a second glance, if you even gave it a glance to start with. I had to peek past the drapes, and ask if it was indeed Aoki, before proceeding into dark corridor and into its hushed interior, half expecting to be walloped over the head and taken to see the Yakuza.

I didn’t dare snap pictures of the interior. And if you’ve been in Aoki, you’d understand why. The entire restaurant seats no more than perhaps 28 people, with private rooms hidden out of sight, I’m sure. All you’ll see are three or four partitioned tables, and then the sushi counter down a short flight of steps. It’s so small that any new arrival warrants everyone’s attention. I wasn’t about to whip my camera out anytime soon.

It’s minimal, furnished in lightwood, lit mostly by the bright ochre lighting atop the counter seats, and shrouded in a reverent sort of silence. Yet, the activity is a sight to behold – hushed, diligent, confident, and directed, from wait staff and Sushi chefs alike. It’s another world, where time slows down, where you sit back and let people take care of you, and where you’ll notice thin rice cloths hanging from the ceiling, swaying lightly in gentle drafts.

I made reservations a few days in advance for lunch, where their lunch sets go for $35++ in contrast to their dinners that rocket past $100. I’d advise that you do, for the counter seats especially, because these seats give a show more spectacular than a conveyor belt of listless-looking sushi. You see the chefs in action, blowtorches blazing, razor-sharp knives deftly slicing equally portioned slices of sashimi from slabs of fish, and the swift, almost effortless formation of sushi. It’s $35++ for amazing quality food, and meal-time entertainment. You don’t get that at many places.

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artichoke cafe + bar

In the 4 months that I’ve been away from writing proper, I’ve been violently sucked into a whirlwind of events, bludgeoned with massive amounts of food, met the incredible people behind food establishments, harvested an insane amount of food photographs, and got tossed into the world of publishing – all in the name of Urban Relish. What was supposed to be a small-scaled summer food publication almost immediately blew out of proportion and there went 4 months.

But that’s not the point of this post.

The point is: Meet my latest obsession.

Moorish Cuisine – a melange of cuisines from the Middle Eastern/Mediterranean countries. Turkey, Morocco, Spain, Portugal, and more, Moorish cuisine is best summed up as probably the best thing that the rampaging Ottomans left behind before the empire was broken up into what we know today as Turkey, Arabia, Syria, and the like.

In a nutshell, you’re supposed to be feasting at a table with friends whom you love enough to share the bounty with. You order up a storm, and dive right in. And there’s so much to love about such a philosophy that I’ve been back about a total of 5 times now, with a handful or so of returns in the planning.

As part of the mammoth food guide, Urban Relish, that I was slaving away for, I had the opportunity to visit Artichoke for a tasting session. All I’d heard about them was their brunch. And if you’re like me and have only heard about their brunch, well I have just one thing to say: Stop hearing it, because I’m going to tell you about their dinners.

Of course, it’s chef Bjorn Shen who has crafted this contagious culture in his restaurant, and all I needed was just a little chat with him for it to start infecting (in the best way possible). If you need an example of his kitchen philosophy, just have a look at that chalk-scrawled wall in the picture on the right. He’s great with his meats, just in case you can’t tell.

It’s all about great food, colour, texture, boisterous groups of people, passing around a Forgotten Grain Salad to share, mopping up plates of dips with flat breads, and perhaps a meat platter if you’re so inclined. Although I must say that if you do order a meat platter, chances are, Chef Bjorn himself might just come right up to your table in the midst of grilling some haloumi and try to convince you to order a Beetroot Tzatziki instead.

When at Artichoke, if something on the menu looks foreign to you, order it. Don’t know what’s blackened Turkish butter? Or the aforementioned haloumi? Only one way to find out. If you’re still insecure, I’m telling you they’re all good. Details in a while.

Here he is, orchestrating the photoshoot as I was perched atop a high stool. He admitted to having dabbled in food photography a while back before starting Artichoke, and burst out of the restaurant arms full with cups, bottles of cider, cutlery, napkins – anything and everything that could be a prop.

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Rakuzen

There’s never a dearth of Japanese restaurants in Singapore. But if it’s quality you’re looking for, then perhaps this very abundance is going to be more of a hindrance than a help since most seem to be aiming to outdo the rest with even-more-value-for-money menus while ditching quality. I will admit that I do sometimes cave in for more wallet-friendly sushi, just because they’re there and I’d gnaw a finger off if I didn’t get any.

Rakuzen, as I was pleasantly surprised to find out, has most of its ingredients imported directly from Japan, from its sashimi to its rice. No middleman is involved, so all you get is quality food without the burden of carrying any extra costs because of reselling. Their lunch and dinner sets are especially notable for that value-for-money quality that seems to be a constant criteria for most people.

Their second outlet at Tampines opened on the 14th of September, just a month or so back. The restaurant is welcoming, bright and airy, with light wood finishings and a pleasant ambience, and when I was invited to dine there for lunch on a weekday, I must say that their lunch crowd looked incredibly promising. It’s no wonder, really, when their set lunches (usually bentos) start from $14 onwards. 

This beauty right here is but one of Rakuzen’s Special Broiled dishes, the Fire Mackerel ($16). The saba arrives lightly scored in diagonal cuts and is marinated for at least two hours with tangy rice wine vinegar before being wrapped in konbu for extra umami.

Now, I love pyrotechnics. Put me anywhere where there’s a light show, flames, and sizzling fat, and my eyes will be satisfied. All dishes from the Special Broiled section of the menu will arrive looking pristine and … pure … before a wait staff – armed with a blowtorch – starts searing each piece, the skin blistering and charring, releasing a beautiful smoky aroma, and then suddenly your dish has attitude. You know, the golden-brown, crisp, yet fatty and tender kind.

It’s your choice whether to drape a thin slice of sweet, pickled ginger over the mackerel, but personally, I loved how there was sweet crunch with smoky, tender fish. A slice of the saba alone is light, delicate, doesn’t particularly reek distinctly of mackerel, and should be savoured with the ponzu sauce that accompanies the dish.

We weren’t served this first, of course, we started out with appetisers, but I felt that this was one of the highlights of the meal and I have to share the cool stuff first.  Read more of this post

Brunetti – an Italian café experience

I figure I should test the waters of the current state of my writing, because unlike investments, it’s not going to appreciate by just festering in a corner over 3 months. So let’s start of with what I had for tea.

I was introduced to Brunetti – one of Melbourne’s most iconic Italian cafes – just this week, 2 days before it opened it’s first branch here in Singapore on the 29th of September. It came as a recommendation, for Italian coffee, pastries, gelato and the whole shebang. And trust me when I say that Brunetti is your one-stop wonderland to almost every Italian treat from biscotti, to millfoglies, hand-made chocolates, paninis, cornettos, espressos, straciatella gelato, and pignolos. Hand your wallet over to someone reliable, because you’re your own worst enemy in the face of at least 10 metres of glass displays with glistening pastries so shiny and vibrant you’ll need shades to gawk.

Brunetti has been around in Melbourne for more than 30 years now, and diehard fans of the outlet at Carlton have been anxiously waiting ever since there was news that it would open its doors here at RWS. But thank goodness it’s Tanglin Mall they’ve decided on instead of Sentosa. I can’t imagine having to go out of my way for a good cup of Italian roast or what could be the closest experience to sitting in an authentic Italian café.

It’s the tiled floor, the mosaic pieces, the black and white photographs of people sipping coffee, the sheer amount of sweets, and the smell of deep, smokey coffee that slows time down, draws you in and teaches you that a cappuccino should last a good, long conversation instead of having it taken-away and chugged down as you’re walking. There’s an otherworldly charm about Brunetti. It whisks you off to another time and place, and if you tried hard enough, maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to hear the staccatos of rapid-fire Italian over the buzz of the cafe. You won’t have to try as hard for Singlish though. Just saying.

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Cocotte – French country cooking

Hotel Wanderlust - Cocotte

When people think French, they think stifling fine-dining, measly portions, extravagant black tie affairs for people who have the luxury of time and money. I’m not going to lie that French food isn’t pricey, but I must draw a distinction between the classes of the French cuisine.

In layman terms, you have the fanciful – but no less artful – fine-dining style of cuisine, and then you have the tuck-a-napkin-into-your-collar-and-get-right-in-there peasant-style of French cooking.

Fresh flowers. No-frills decor.

For all those afraid of formality, well, you can chuck out that bowtie of yours because it’s just going to get in the way of the food and your mouth, and if anything, it’ll only be useful as far as that dribble of sauce down your chin is concerned. At Cocotte, you get incredibly rich gravies so thick they don’t splatter, hearty portions of meat and potatoes and all sorts of root vegetables, and flawless (and very liberal) amalgams of butter and wine.

You get down-to-earth, sincere food.

When I heard that Cocotte was nestled within a boutique hotel, named Wanderlust, one with 4 thematic floors, each designed by Singaporean designing agencies, and after chancing across pictures of their quirky, edgy rooms, I knew I had to pop by sometime. Not so much to see the rooms, of course, because that’ll just be odd since I have no reason to spend the night in Little India, but just to, you know, get a feel of the place since the very name of the hotel just reflects my longstanding affliction of not being able to travel much.

And then I actually saw pictures of Cocotte, the spunky yet provincial decor, with splashes of Le Creuset-themed colours (bold reds, blues, yellows, oranges, whites and blacks…) against rustic, unlacquered wooden furnishings, and saw pictures of the kinds of French country-style foods they whip up, and I really should have contained myself, but I didn’t – I made a reservation.

Beouf Bourguignon (supplement of $12 for the $29-per-pax set lunch)

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Fosters – High Tea

Fosters

If there’s anything the past 8 months or so of my life has taught me, it’s that Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner are non-obligatory meals. It’s true! I have my own theory why those are the main meals of the day, the ones that people focus on, the ones that dieticians reiterate must be taken at regular timings for a healthy system: Most people get hungry every 3-4 hours.

But then there are those that do every couple of hours or so – or are just eating every couple of hours, hungry or not – and if creating a few additional fancy-named mealtimes is the solution, then so be it.

And so you have Brunch, High Tea, Low Tea (not joking), Supper, Elevenses, and Second Breakfasts…

In essence, they just all mean one thing: I eat whenever I want.

That whole ‘eat 4-5 small meals a day’ advice? Psh! People have been doing it for centuries! About time we realised it’s good for our digestive health.

Devonshire Cream Tea Set ($10.50)

So I had Tea at Fosters the other day. I’m not going to bother differentiating High Teas and Low Teas because that’s just tedious. If I’m having a pot of Ceylon, buttery warm scones with jam and cream, regardless of the time of the day, I’m calling it Tea.

But of course Fosters begin their Devonshire Cream Tea Set from 3-6pm, so an exercise of patience was in order.

I’m not entirely sure how the English have their proper teas, but I suppose Fosters would be the closest with its Old English charm, high-backed armchairs, whimsical candelabras and the lone suit of armour in a corner. Nevermind that you have a backdrop of lush tropical vines and creepers out front, because the lazy sunlight filtering through the slated rooftop crafts that perfect teatime haze to go with your mid-afternoon lull. Read more of this post

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