After the Mont-Blanc-that-wasn’t, M took me out to take the edge off. It was sunny and warm, with gentle breezes meandering through the city, and true to the spirit of spring in London, there was no better time than to take a walk at Primrose Hill.
Believe it or not, for the 3.5 years that I’ve been here, I’ve never been to Primrose Hill, and neither has M who has been here for about 7 years. We don’t live that far off from the area, and it’s surprising that we haven’t dropped by sooner. Primrose Hill is a beautiful and happy place to be when the sun takes its rightful place in the sky, but I shall leave this story for another day.
The one thing that I really want to rave about is the intimate, yet casual, lunch date that I had with M at Lanka on Regent’s Park Road. I first met E from Heaven in a Wild Flower and W from Going With My Gut at Lanka last year, and we bonded over our Singaporean roots and insatiable appetite for food over pretty Japanese-French pastries. I recall being a true-blue Singaporean; I turned up early to ‘chope’ (Singaporean slang for secure or reserve) seats at Lanka, after E told me that the tea salon is really small and that it doesn’t take bookings. Back then, I didn’t quite realise what ‘small’ meant, and I had a bit of a shock when I found myself in front of the most narrow tea salon I’ve ever been to. It was so inconspicuous, save for the small crowd that had gathered in the shop, that I missed it as I was walking down Regent’s Park Road. I had a green tea tart then, which was delish (although it was a tad sweet with the white chocolate shavings), and I loved the simple, quaint interiors, as well as the quiet but friendly faces at Lanka. E and I took a lovely stroll down Regent’s Park Road, zipping in and out of kitchenware shops, furniture boutiques and florists that carried some really beautiful blooms. We even spotted some famous faces including Tim Burton and Helen Bonham Carter, who were having a day out with their children. I had such a nice time that I made a mental note to take M out for a date along Regent’s Park Road. Saturday was such a day.
Ferociously hungry from the lack of breakfast, we made a beeline for Lanka after walking down Primrose Hill. Half expecting it to be full with the eat-in lunch crowd and a snaking queue for the mere 12-14 seats they had in the salon, we were so pleasantly surprised that no drama was needed to get us two seats in the house. At least I didn’t have to kill anyone in the quest for lunch. Why lunch? You may ask, since Lanka is primarily a cake shop and a tea salon. Well, according to our trusty foodie source, D, Lanka serves up simple but very tasty, flavoursome lunches at good prices.
So, consider this, and imagine my horror when I browsed through the menu and realised that lunch wasn’t served on the one day that I brought M here! What followed must have been comical to watch. The menu at Lanka is simple – there’s the drinks section that prescribes a good selection of tea and Monmouth coffee, and there’s the all-day breakfast menu. M and I drew a blank on our faces when we thumbed the pages. Very soon after, I was flipping them back and forth to see if I had somehow missed the lunch menu. I declared, more loudly than I should, that lunch wasn’t available. Almost immediately, a gentle voice sneaked up behind us. I turned around in my high chair, and found a neatly dressed, rosy-cheeked Japanese man smiling at me. He must be the chef, Masayuki Hara, I thought. He began to explain that he had to cater tonnes of cake for a function that evening, and he had to cut back on the lunch menu to just two items in view of the workload – Caesar salad with roast pork and Smoked salmon with cream cheese on country bread, both of which didn’t appeal to us. We were looking for something more substantial than a salad or a sandwich.
He looked at us earnestly for a response, and all I could muster were blank looks and daggers at M that screamed ‘Say something!!’. Masayuki was quick to pick up on our hesitation, and for a moment, he looked down on the floor and was lost in his thoughts. Then he offered quietly with yet another sincere smile on his face, ‘Why don’t I make you some roast pork, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and white asparagus served on country bread with some rockets on top? The roast pork has got a bit of crackling on it and it’s really nice!’. M and I looked at each other with delight, pronto, I mean, how could we say no to that rosy face, and how could we say no to lunch that has got crackling in it?!
Wahey, lunch was saved by the chef himself. I had the roast pork dish, which was magnificent to say the least! Probably one of the best roast pork dishes I’ve ever had, the meat was moist, so very tender, well-flavoured and man, the chef was generous with the portions too! The crackling was a beautiful contrast to the warm, juicy and well-marbled pork and the lightly grilled mushrooms, white asparagus, peppery rockets and sweet tomatoes lent the right summery touch to the dish. It was simplicity at its best, and it epitomises the value of sourcing good, honest ingredients and putting them together on a beautiful plate of flavours. I started to wonder why other chefs can’t pull of what Masayuki can. M had scrambled eggs with smoked salmon (something on the all-day breakfast menu) for a bit of variety, and those eggs were a real treat. Buttery, creamy with just the right texture, breakfast dreams are made of this. Of course, the roast pork fared better for both of us; M was really envious that I had the whole plate to myself, but hey, you can tell that I have a heart of gold because I did cut two very generous portions for M to savour. I didn’t even try to steal a piece of smoked salmon from him, in what competitive foodies would call an-eye-for-an-eye.
We resisted for only a second to move on to dessert (both of us are trying to eat in moderation given our recently burgeoning bellies and butt cheeks), when M announced that he would take revenge and have a chocolate croissant AND a cup of Monmouth coffee (with milk, he emphasised) just to spite me. I retaliated with a slice of green tea & strawberry cake. This time, M was channelling his inner meanie beanie; I offered him a bite of my cake and look who didn’t get an invitation to the chocolate croissant…!
Food battles aside, we couldn’t ask for a better lunch on the whim. It was affordable, hearty and very delicious, and most importantly, we spent time with each other (even though we were more interested in picking at each other’s plate…). We walked off the calories at Camden Market, took lots of photos of pretty flowers and kaleidoscopic quirks and soldiered up Primrose Hill again before we went home. What a day, even if the Mont Blanc refused to behave…
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Lanka is located at:
163 Old Brompton Road, London NW1 8UY