Before we tuck in and dive into my personal experience with Chinese heritage; I have a new restaurant recommendation.

It’s a fancy-pants one. Discreetly nestled on the 5th floor of Harrods, I’ve partnered up with Chai Wu to discuss delicious and authentic Chinese food with you.

Craving lavish lunch bites or got a special celebration coming up? Love your classics with a naughty twist? Then this is the place. I’m telling you, if you took your loved ones here, you would score major brownie points.

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The interior is divine and #decorgoals. Chai Wu’s design incorporates the five elements of Chinese philosophy: wood, metal, water, earth and fire. I’m going to section up this post to discuss my personal experience with Chinese heritage and how food plays a major part in this.

Earth

If you haven’t read my blog before, I’m Monica Wong. I name my creative outlet ‘The Wong Blog’ as it’s a play on the ‘wrong’ words, *wink*. I’m British, Chinese & Vietnamese. I’m very lucky to have the best of many worlds regarding culture & heritage. I love food. I always have. I believe that if you have a good relationship with food, you’ll live a happier life.

Metal

Food is a showcase of love, and this is especially prominent within Asian communities. Culturally, Chinese parents often struggle to express and communicate their emotions to their children (in comparison to the Western culture). Enjoying food with our loved ones is important, it’s how we communicate our love for one another.

Wood

Chinese food has a diverse and complex history. With recipes and secret cooking techniques fed down generation to generation, each ingredient symbolises an experience.

Fire

In Chinese culture, red is a lucky colour. At Chinese New Year, we celebrate with a special feast. Traditionally, we eat lobster for luck, dumplings (symbolising pieces of gold) for wealth, fish provides prosperity and vegetables are for health. I learnt to fall in love with my heritage by appreciating, enjoying and spending quality with my family (a traditional Chinese dinner is bowls of rice for each member with shared dishes at the table) — we made sure we never missed dinner together as a family.

Water

We always drink soup (bone broth) or Chinese green tea to wash down our food. This is to aid metabolism and to learn to appreciate your every bite.

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The Food

Okay, so when you visit Chai Wu, I recommend ordering the following dishes above. Brace yourself. My guest & I went a bit overboard with the food. And I have hungry eyes.

The most popular dish is the Beijing Duck. It’s pricey, but it comes with a duck chef and a bonus dish of lettuce wrap or duck fried rice.

If you’re craving a steaming basket of dumplings, we opted for the lobster topped with beluga caviar and prawns with black truffle. Omfg, the Popcorn Shrimp with creamy, spicy dressing is the best thing you’ll ever taste. You can never go wrong with a side of salt & pepper squid.

We couldn’t be happier when the ice steam display came with the mixed sashimi platter. I’ve never seen anything like it; the other sushi restaurants need to up their game.

For mains, if you’re into a cocktail of tangy flavours, then go for the Sea Bass with three flavoured sauce. The sweet and sour chicken served with a dragon fruit is most Instagrammble’ of dishes: it’s pink, fruity and cheerful. Veg-wise, we ordered Gai Lan (Chinese Broccoli) with Oyster Sauce, BTW you’re not a meat-eater, they have a vegetarian menu.

I recently wrote a post on my favourite high teas in London; did you know that Chai Wu offer service this too? You can get ahead of me and book a slot on my funky widget at the bottom of this post.

Be sure to add Chai Wu on your shopping list the next time you’re at Harrods.

Location: Chai Wu, Knightsbridge, London

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In recent years, I’ve been fortunate; I quit my job to live the dream of travelling the world.

For my last stop, I couldn’t have wandered further from home, but I have zero regrets: New Zealand is without a doubt, the most beautiful country I have ever visited.

You’ll want to spend every second outdoors. Spend Summer soaking in the white sands and crystal clear waters. Winter is for skiing down mountains, which tower over still lakes.

By the way, doesn’t this image remind you of a Microsoft desktop wallpaper?

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Anyway, New Zealand has two parts: North and South. In this post, I’ll split them up into two.

North

My top three must-see places are: Waikato, Rotorua and Wellington. (Bay of Islands looks beautiful if you want to venture further North).

Auckland?

I didn’t feel that Auckland was the best city to visit in New Zealand (unless you go further out into the countryside). I felt it was gloomy and rundown. It’s more of a transfer stop. If you do visit, climb under, around or above the Auckland Bridge. The town centre is decent & I heard the nightlife is good too.

Maori Experience

Learn about Maori history because it’s important and fascinating. Explore the culture & traditions of the Native population. Maoris are friendly and proud people, and I was lucky to of met one person of Maori origin. The most recommended experiences are in Rotorua.

Waitomo Glowworm Caves

Excuse the pun, but this was a trip highLIGHT. Explore these caves in darkness with nothing but the illumination of glowworms as a guide. The ‘starry sky’ is a serene experience; I highly recommend a visit. You can book it here.

Polynesian Spa

I didn’t make it to any of the spas as I was too busy patting sheep and alpacas, but one of the travellers in my group highly recommended it. There are a few hot baths in the North, but the Polynesian Spa is the most popular one. What better way to relax than inside a sulphurous spring?

Hobbiton

If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, oh little one, you must not skip this one. It’s magical. The film set is huge; I loved hovering around the miniature hobbit-sized door. Don’t miss out on the faux tree! The day I arrived, the staff were ready to quit as I took a picture of everything. Prepare your best Hobbit impression and book here.

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South

My top three must-see places are: Queenstown, Wanaka & Nelson.

Queenstown

If you plan on visiting New Zealand, please, pretty please go to Queenstown (and surrounding areas). Everyone loves Queenstown. Everyone. It’s the most beautiful city I’ve ever visited. I can’t you how amazing it is to wake up to the view of mountains, lakes, great food and friendly people in one town.

Wanaka

My best friend took me here because it rhymes with my name. True story. If you love Queenstown, you’ll fall in love with Wanaka. Expect wilderness of glaciers, crystal clear waters, beech forests and alpine lakes. There’s loads to do: hiking, skiing, wine tasting and golfing.

Arrowtown

The well-preserved Arrowtown is a former gold-mining town which historically attracted miners from around the world in pursuit of their fortune. Charming in character; it looks like an old American cowboy town. Go, if you fancy a day out of food, shopping and attractions.

Kiwi Birdlife Park

Being a nature and conservation enthusiast, it was a tweet (ha, I mean treat) that my friend worked at a wildlife sanctuary at the time of visit; I couldn’t leave New Zealand without meeting a Kiwi bird. There are different species of native flora and fauna in this park. Don’t miss feeding time. Book it here.

Fergburger

It’s Queenstown tradition to eat a Fergburger. Now, I’ve eaten a lot of burgers in my time, and we have a great range in London. But I can see why tourists and locals go crazy for it. It’s gigantic, juicy & delicious. There’s always a queue, but it’s worth it. There’s a vegan burger too for those of you who don’t eat meat.

Helicopter flight

I didn’t opt for this one as I’m saving this experience for the Grand Canyon. Though, Queenstown is against a backdrop of The Remarkables mountain range; so there’s no reason not to enjoy the view from above over secluded alpine lakes and active green rainforest. Book here.

Jump

The following activities that I’m going to list are not for the faint-hearted. The first being a Skydive – it’s the experience of a lifetime. I’ve never been so scared in my life, but honestly, as soon as you start flying, it’s not scary at all. Take a leap of faith with a Bungy Jump; New Zealand is the home of Bungy. For the view, I would recommend the top of the Nevis. Or, if you’re a proper Daredevil, fly through the air on a thrilling Cayon Swing.

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New Zealand is far from every other country, but it’s difficult not to fall in love with its natural beauty.

If you have a bucket list of filled with adrenaline, then tick it off in New Zealand. Skydiving, caving, bungy-jumping, skiing — it’s the adventure capital of the world.

New Zealand is worth any journey. This list above only scratches the surface of what there is to see and do in New Zealand. In a country filled with adventure and wildlife, everyone will find something to do.

Location: New Zealand
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I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering why I’m giving you another workout suggestion when you’re struggling to make time for a sit up.

There are more than five reasons to start Pilates. A reduction in stress, better sleep and improvement to your pelvic floor (wink) aren’t on this list, but they could be. If you practice yoga, you’ll love Pilates. Now I’m not an expert, but thanks to the lovely team at John Lewis, Pilates babe Lottie Murphy & Hayley from The Nutrition Coach, I’ve discovered some new health & fitness tips, and I’m going to share them with you.

PS excuse my weird feet. No amount of photoshop can save them.

Pilates

Breathing

Pilates is a mind-body workout, it emphasises on proper breathing techniques. You’ll be surprised at the number of people who do not breathe properly during workouts. I was encouraged to breathe through the nose and exhale via the mouth.

Total Body Workout

Pilates works the body in a practical way; the movements are designed to prepare you for the physical challenges of daily life. The sequences encourage the use of all muscles in the body.

Core Stability & Postural Alignment

Many of us suffer from poor posture. Pilates teaches you to maintain optimum alignment in the spine and core.

Muscle Tone and Strength

Pilates elongates and strengthens the body, developing muscle elasticity and joint mobility. Due to the nature of holding positions for extended periods of time, you’ll improve your stamina.

Improved Body Awareness

Pilates encourages you to be aware of your body. In practice, you’ll notice how far you can push yourself and which areas of the body that you should pay particular attention.

Smoothies

As part of the John Lewis Wellbeing Campaign, we made delicious smoothies at the Oxo Tower (recipes below).

There are more smoothie and juice ingredients that you can pop into your blender than you think. Let’s start with the basics. Add in your favourite: fruits, vegetables & herbs (I love orange, carrot, mint & spinach). Then combine with water or coconut water. If you’re making a berry-based smoothie, it’s a treat with milk (almond & soy are great vegan alternatives). If you have nuts/seeds and olive/flaxseed oil lying around, pop those in too. If you’ve got spices; add a pitch of those (turmeric is a good one as it’s anti-inflammatory). I’ve recently discovered Matcha, Spirulina and Cacao powder; oh boy they’re delicious in drinks.

To cover all your juicing needs, here’s what I learnt from the event:

  • Don’t forget to fill your smoothie cup to the brim! It keeps it fresher for longer.
  • For best results, drink your juice straight away or within twenty-four hours. Methanol levels in stored fluid can develop a naughty formaldehyde, which is toxic in the body.
  • Post workout, the thirty-minute recovery window is when the body is at peak for juice uptake.

As promised, here are the smoothie recipes that we made on the day:

Get your game on green smoothie

This glass of green goodness has lots of leafy greens, teamed with the benefits of electrolytes in the coconut water; this is perfect for an energy boost!

Ingredients
Two handfuls baby spinach leaves
300ml coconut water
One ½ cups fresh pineapple, cut into chunks
One tsp coconut oil
One scoop whey protein powder
½ tsp cinnamon
Manuka honey to taste
One tsp maca powder (optional)
One scoop spirulina powder (optional)

Red ambulance recovery shake

Packed full of antioxidants, this alkaline shake is a yummy way to muscle recovery. The turmeric provides anti-inflammatory benefits which help with body retrieval.

Ingredients
1/3 can coconut milk
100ml coconut water or plain water
1 banana
One scoop whey protein powder
½ cup frozen berries
One handful cos or romaine lettuce leaves (not iceberg as this is the lowest in nutritional value)
1-2 tsp Manuka Honey
One tsp cinnamon
One tsp turmeric

I hope these health & fitness tips have helped you. If you’re a Pilates guru, did I miss anything?

Location: Bedfordshire
Photographer: The fabulous Simon Richardson 
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If you’ve been following my Insta, you will of occasionally spotted a tower of treats, followed by my delight of its acquaintance.

Afternoon tea is a British institution; it’s the ultimate indulgence. A few people have asked for recommendations on where to take friends & family in the big smoke.

If they enjoy the sandwich, tea & cake combo as much as I do, then here is my guide. Welcome to my top five Afternoon Teas in London.

Sketch (quirky)

Sketch is magical. The domed hall is passionately pastel pink with a confection of David Shrigley’s artwork on the walls. If you like tea with elegance & slightly eccentric decor, I’d recommend this place. Highlights: mini cheese toastie, cute ceramics with witty messages and the funky bathroom.

Tea Rating: 8/10

Sandwich Rating: 8/10

Scone Rating: 8/10 (warm & fluffy; bonus points for homemade jam) Cake Rating: 8/10 (mini spiced apple tart was my fave)

Recommendation: go with the girls.

Sanderson (quirky)

The Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea Party at Sanderson is a childhood dream come true. There are lots of quirks; I think I said ‘ooh’ fifty times that day. The menu is inside an old book, the sugar is in a jewellery box, and the flowers are edible. The Courtyard Garden has a laid back and chilled vibe. Highlights: different flavours of bread, pocket watch macaron, drinkable dessert and passionfruit ice cream.

Tea Rating: 8/10

Sandwich Rating: 8/10 (sandwiches are great, but I wanted more because I like carbs)

Scone Rating: 7/10

Cake Rating: 8/10 (mini spiced apple tart was my fave)

Recommendation: go in the summer to lounge in the courtyard. Go if you have the dietary requirement as they cater to those.

Browns (classic)

If you’re looking for a side-serving of grandeur and sophistication with your tea, then book a table at Browns. Classy and traditional, Queen Victoria used to have her tea here. I was impressed by the range of infusions. BTW: tea, sandwiches & cakes are unlimited. Step to it. Highlights: Coronation chicken sandwich (I asked for more of those bad boys), spiced pumpkin and ginger eclairs.

Tea Rating: 9/10

Sandwich Rating: 9/10 (bagels & sandwiches are served)

Scone Rating: 8/10

Cake Rating: 7/10

Recommendation: take your parents to this one.

The Goring (classic)

If a Belgravia-based hotel were a person; it’d probably be a smart and a well-dressed gentleman that knows how to charm your pants off. Welcome to The Goring. Kate Middleton’s favourite hotel. It has a more boutique feel compared to the bigger hotels like The Ritz. It’s quintessentially British. Highlights: giant macaron and a blood-orange-mousse dome. You’re offered refills of tea without having to ask.

Tea Rating: 9/10

Sandwich Rating: 8/10 (you get bagels & sandwiches)

Scone Rating: 8/10

Cake Rating: 7/10

Recommendation: Order the Bollinger Tea (Goring’s own special loose leaf tea blend).

Mayfair Kitchen (bit of both)

Set in the sophisticated yet unassuming Mayfair Hotel — it’s the most contemporary of the bunch, and surprisingly best value for money. If you’re not looking for traditional then this is your best bet, it’s afternoon tea with a Mediterranean twist. Highlights: bruschetta, Amaretto or Sicilian lemon scones with vanilla mascarpone. I’m currently craving the white peach and oregano pannacotta as I write this.

Tea Rating: 7/10

Sandwich Rating: 8/10 (you get bagels & sandwiches)

Scone Rating: 7/10

Cake Rating: 8/10 Recommendation: go with your mates for catch ups as it’s got a brunch-y vibe.

The runners up are The Waldorf & The Dorchester. Overhyped: Aqua Shard (the view was breathtaking, but I didn’t like the food). Places I’m planning to go to next: Ritz, Claridges, Fortum & Mason, Savoy and The London Edition.

I hope my post has helped you organise your next gathering filled with scones, clotted cream, finger sandwiches and cakes.  If it has, I’d love to hear from you: we can be friends on Twitter here, Instagram here and Facebook here.

Bon Appétit!

Location: London

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Happy Chinese New Year (春节快乐). It’s the Year of the Rooster. Do you know what Roosters do? They wake up & get sh*t done. The aim of this post is to lead you to your dreams so that you can be the best version of yourself (and all that jazz).

For the first time in my life, I’ve started this year as a freelancer, so I have no excuse for being unorganised. Anyway, this isn’t about me, let’s begin the journey to a goal getting you.

In the Chinese Fire Rooster spirit, I’m going to split this up into three sections: health, happiness and prosperity.

Health

Exercise

I don’t work-out to look like a Victoria Secret Model; I exercise because it drives my motivation, confidence, determination, willpower, organisation, and of course, my health. If you don’t know the benefits of regular exercise, you must be living under some (excuse the pun) large rock. Besides from naturally making you feel sexy (hi endorphins), exercise improves your mood, sleep, energy, *ahem* sex life, concentration and learning. I enjoy yoga, pilates and flexibility exercises. But everyone is different, find your sport that makes you thrive and set goals.

Food

Apparently, I’m a ‘human dustbin’. The fact is, most of us are, and we do not eat well. I’m an advocate of food education because most of us lack the time and knowledge, so we settle for quick and easy junk food. If you don’t know how to cook; start with the basics. Fry, scramble, boil or poach an egg. The ingredients for salads or wraps are endless: mix up some lettuce, avocado, peppers, beans, sweet corn, salsa, mushrooms, peppers and meat (or falafel if you’re vegetarian). It’s quick and easy to make homemade fresh pesto, soups and smoothies with a Nutribullet. If you need a kick up the bum, join cooking classes. The benefits of eating fresh are again: better energy, focus, mood (from sugar) and sleep. Being a great cook means that you develop a greater appreciation for good food and you save money by not eating out.

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Happiness

Friends & Family

Alright, this may sound like an obvious one. But listen up, it’s important. Many of us, overlook our relationships and we don’t give them the time and attention necessary to keep them healthy and happy. If you want a long and happy life, spend time with your loved ones. I can’t tell you how much better I feel with just half an hour with my friends. Don’t make distance an excuse; no one wants to hear it. As humans, we need physical contact. Try and be physically touched every day. And no, I’m not asking you to start touching people up because that’s creepy AF. It could be as little as shaking hands, hugging or sitting next to someone. Get in contact with those (not the drama llamas please) who you haven’t seen in a while. You might be surprised at how receptive they are to meeting you.

Confidence & Honesty

Plato said, “the man who makes everything that leads to happiness depend upon himself, and not upon other men, has adopted the very best plan for living happily”. Having a good relationship with yourself and thus, the people in your life is the key to happiness. The two keys to happiness are confidence and honesty. I will write about my journey to confidence soon, but in short, many people don’t like themselves, and this hinders them from their potential to do amazing things. My advice (unless you’re in danger) would be not to give a flying f**k about what people think. You know your path more than anyone else. And always be honest. If you don’t, I promise you; it will bite you in the ass. And this is why. Lying breaks trust. Individuals who lie, carry a burden of guilt and unhappiness that they (unconsciously) bring into their future situations, which in turn causes karma towards themselves (and they always get found out eventually anyway).

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Monica-Wong-Model-The-Wong-Blog-five-steps-to-achieving-your-goals

Prosperity

Creativity

I believe that we all have a creative outlet within us. It’s a such a shame that 1) most of us are too busy to channel it and 2) most jobs are process-driven and not imaginative. By performing the same tasks every day, you’re blocking yourself from potentially prosperous opportunities. There’s no harm in making a habit of regularly performing an activity that you enjoy. Painting, knitting, making pottery, photography, singing, dancing, playing instruments — if you enjoy a venture, do it. Aside from organising your mind, uninhibited self-expression opens doors. You could meet like-minded friends who will contribute to your success in the future; you could win yourself an award or get to perform on stage. You get the gist.

Reading & writing

We’re so lucky to live in a country that has educated us to read to and write. I can’t express to you how fundamental these creative skills are. The written word is the basis for civilisation. Without the capacity to feel each other’s thoughts, we have no sense of identity. I know that I’m not the greatest writer that has ever lived; for god’s sake, I pose for a living. But as a skill, you need to be able to communicate with people at all levels, in a clear and coherent way. The mind is a muscle that we need to exercise. If you’re going through a tough time, write it down. Writing helps structure your thoughts so that you think clearly. Treat yourself to nice stationery and write down your ideas. I love all of my beautiful notebooks; Kikki K is my fave brand ATM. If you’re reading this and haven’t developed the urge to facepalm, you probably already enjoy reading. People who read regularly are smarter, well-informed and are better at generating ideas. It’s cliche, but knowledge is power. If you aren’t enjoying a book, stop reading it. And find material that you enjoy.

To achieve your bigger goals, you need to form habits. These are your smaller daily goals. They are the basis of substantial achievements. It’s about being consistent.

The benefits of exercise, food, reading & writing, confidence and honesty overlap of each other; they affect you in all domains: physically, emotionally and socially.

I’ve been so excited to write and release this post. I would love if you could share it with your fellow fire roosters.

Love Monica x

Location: Richmond Park, London

Photographer: Hattie Day at Wild Young Minds (FB here)

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