Aloha Inquisitive Stranger,
If, like me, you enjoy unexpected surprises then you are in the right place. Today, I have dined at Bella’s Homestay where the plethora of flavours on my plate hid like impish children behind the dresser in a game of hide and seek.
Nestled between the pizza parlour and a vacant shop decorated with lanterns, it could be easy to miss the entrance but it is early evening so twinkling lights catch my eye, beckoning me down the narrow staircase into a cozy, colourful cavern. Bella greets me with a sweet smile and I plant myself amongst an assortment of scatter cushions at one of the small tables. Everything here encourages intimacy, from the small dining alcove to the living room where friends can snuggle around one of the 5 tables.
Hailing from a latitude of 51 degrees north, I appreciate the simple therapy that is sunlight. London, an effervescent and rambunctious metropolis, becomes less boastful with mention of the weather. A balmy winter climate it has not, if it did, the city would be too ace thereby bringing imbalance to the universe. City rat-racers tend not to see the sunlight for several months of the year therefore have evolved into a breed seeking bright, airy ambience. At Bella’s Homestay I find myself in a small, subterranean room, everything the Londoner in me shrinks from, and yet I am really rather comfortable in this glittering grotto. I am the house guest of an elf who wants to show me his stash of Hawaiian holiday trinkets. I may be underground but this is a place of perpetual Pacific sunshine.
Bookshelves are stuffed with Korean and English books to borrow while you dine. A shelf jammed with a collection of personal treasures include a set of tiny teapots for the party of mice arriving later for an after-work social. The processed food display of Ritz crackers, packets of pasta and cans of Campbell’s mushroom soup at odds with the fresh ingredients on the lovingly handmade menu.
Splashy walls are cheerfully decorated with cascading plastic plants, tropical garlands and postcards from friends surfing Pacific islands. I challenge you, Stranger dearest, to find the small photo of canoeists enjoying the waves. Although tempted by the colourful posters inviting me to sample Hawaiian larger, I elect instead for a sensible gin and tonic. Well it is cocktail o’clock somewhere in the world.
Although my eyes have been transported to Hawaii, there is not one ukelele to be heard. An eclectic musical sandwich of Bowie, Winehouse, Fitzgerald and chilled electronic beats simmer softly.
Bella delivers my plate, a visual feast of healthy colour and a delicious journey in vitality. Although here for dinner, I ordered the classic brunch-time favourite and breakfast of champions: avocado on toast. I pierce the perfectly griddled egg sitting like a sunny-side chief astride a soft bellied avocado. If Dulux Paint were in charge, the ‘Blazing Primrose’ yolk oozing across the plate will soon be mopped up by the lightly toasted ‘Cloud Biscuit’ slice.
Treats are hidden amongst the peppery radish and mixed leaf salad drizzled in balsamic zingy deliciousness. My first discovery is diced red apple which does a splendid job of balancing the next hidden gem, sundried tomatoes. Yes, the mighty scarlet fruit/vegetable (pick your team), reduced to a shrivelled shell of it’s former-self yet still packing an almighty wallop on your taste buds. Sampling them is like watching ‘Shawshank Redemption’, you wish you it was your first time all over again. They are the Stevie Wonder of the fresh produce aisle as I haven’t met a person who doesn’t like this outstanding Mediterranean ambassador. If I did, I don’t think I would trust them. Who can put their confidence in a person who doesn’t love the taste of holidays?
Next surprise: pesto swept across seeded bread. Maybe I am late to the party but I shall never again limit my pesto use to just pasta. This experience has opened up a whole new frontier of pesto useage in my culinary repertoire.
There are many things I love; cheese, camping, Corona and numerous other things that begin with the letter ‘C’. Cheese is elevated to the top of the list because, quite rightly, that is where the King of Foods should be. Consequently, I am delighted to discover small chunks of Ricotta and sprinkles of Cheddar have established their presence on my plate. Groovy. I chuckle to myself, another ‘c’ activity I enjoy.
The authoritative G & T has been filed away, next up: the berry smoothie. Another surprise (by now I should be prepared for them), the amethyst frangipani decoration. I start making demands, why hasn’t every drink I ever ordered in all my restaurant-eating life been served with fresh flowers? The heart-shaped straw is a kitsch touch and I decide that all straws should have a novelty shape. It will make everything taste better, not that this smoothie needs assistance. I try my best to savour the berry goodness but it is too dang delicious and is swiftly inhaled.
Bella’s Homestay is a gem. I recommend you come for the cheerful holiday vibes but stay for the eats. Bella, I shall return and bring a friend to double my opportunity at sampling more of the delicious-looking menu. My only negative comment is that this meal was too good. I have scoffed it down with barely time to appropriately freak out over each delectable flavour. I cogitate on this and reason it would be folly to waste away from lack of vitamins therefore the only sensible thing to do is reorder this entire healthy meal. I glance at Bella to catch her eye and falter….I don’t want to appear gluttonous so will be forced to slink off to the snack shop next-door to get a supply of Terry’s Chocolate Orange. It is the only place in Asia I have seen peddling this classic Christmas confectionery. I shall pretend it is a real orange and not waste away from lack of vitamins.
This meal was filled with surprise parcels which charmed the heck out of me, so today I challenge you, darling Stranger, to do the same by giving somebody a lovely surprise. Make your friend’s day with a bunch of violets, leave a love note in your lover’s shoe, present your colleagues with a box of doughnuts. After all, it is a day ending with ‘y’ so may as well celebrate. Unexpected parties for family members are always welcome. Admittedly it was me who guzzled all the smoked salmon at Gran’s surprise 80th but that didn’t detract from the sentiment.
Throw a spontaneous luau for a stranger or an unforeseen birthday bash for a homeless chap like the lovely people of a Manchester suburb who baked a cake and decorated the phone booth he slept in. Another heart melt of a story is of the strangers who supported 9 year old Caine, architect of a cardboard arcade in his dad’s car parts garage. People turned up to the grand opening and, so impressed by his engineering genius, generously donated to his college fund.
There are many stories about the unexpected kindness of strangers. Let’s not let the story end here.
Peace, love and cha cha cha.
Bella’s Homestay – Sunshine vibes and eats
Noksapyeong daero, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Noksapyeong, line 6, exit 2 (Opposite the blue phone booths)
Be amazed by Caine’s arcade
Hey you! I left this letter in the care of my penguin friend for a stranger to discover in ‘Bella’s Homestay’.
Are you the person to find it? Step right up! I’d love to hear your stories about surprises, all the good and great.
Maybe you found this blog instead of the letter but have a surprise to share. Please do!
Keep on keeping on,