Friday, May 23, 2014

Feasting in Singapore

The sights, architecture, museums, culture, and nature.  That's a lot to take in for a short getaway to Singapore.  And the highlight of it all is the food.  You can eat cheaply or luxuriously; the choice is up to you and your wallet.  Either way you go, you're guaranteed to end the day with a happy stomach.

Hawker centers and food courts are the way to go for cheap meals.  In the better areas, the price is slightly higher because the quality and cleanliness is what you pay for.  (We actually ate satay in an outdoor hawker center which was really nice, but unfortunately food poisoning was a result.  So you should still be careful of what you eat and the handling of it even if you're in Singapore where the standards for street food are supposed to be better.)  There are so many classic dishes to choose, so it's best to go with hungry stomachs and share everything.

On the other end of the budget spectrum, there are also many choices for big splurges as well as mid-ranged meals from international celebrity chefs.  From Australia, Luke Mangan has his Salt tapas & bar which is a fun restaurant for refreshing sangrias and small plates to share.  From the states by way to France, there's also the iconic Daniel Boulud and his db Bistro Moderne.  There you can enjoy his signature burger decadently filled with short rib and foie gras.  You can have a meal from these reknown chefs from all over the world in just one small city.

In Singapore, there's so much great food for every budget and for any craving.

First stop, hawker centers
Chicken wings and carrot cake

 Nasi Lemak at 1983 Taste of Nanyang

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Museums in Singapore

Whether you're a tourist or a local, museums are a great place to learn more about history and culture.  Plus, if you're visiting a city with hot or cold weather this gives you at least a couple hours of relief in some air conditioning or with a heater.

Singapore is a small city with a good number of museums.  For a basic background of the city and its history, the National Museum of Singapore is the place to start.  Aside from the history, there are also special exhibits further exploring the culture through it's textiles, photography, film industry, and food.  The food exhibit is a fun space that details the history of popular dishes still eaten today in Singapore.

Over by Marina Bay Sands, the ArtScience Museum is a fun stop with rotating exhibits featuring varying science exhibits and featured artists.  The entrance fee is on the higher side, but you get what you pay for from the extensive pieces displayed and information provided.  It's a great place for some fun knowledge and inspiration.

While you're exploring the Gardens By the Bay, the conservatories pretty fascinating and so nice to cool down in.  The Flower Dome has an impressive amount of flowers and trees from all over the world.  The dome also houses UK celebrity chef Jason Atherton's Pollen.  You can have a casual meal at the cafe, or a fine dining experience up in the formal dining room.  The Cloud Forest is trippy and so cool.  If it's unbearably hot outside, you will not want to leave this misty forest.  And when the sun goes down, the nightly light show at the SuperTree Grove is a fun place to chill out and have an Avatar-like experience.

Singapore is a city that you'll constantly be eating, so these museums are the perfect place to burn off some calories while gaining knowledge and inspiration.

Inside the National Museum of Singapore

Food Exhibit in the National Museum

Monday, May 19, 2014

More from Singapore

Back in Singapore for the second and third time!  This is a great destination for a short getaway to enjoy local eats and culture.  It's a small, small city so you really don't need to spend too much time there; but, it is truly a world class city that's clean and orderly.  And, everything is within walking distance or within an easy ride on public transportation.

On these two trips back to Singapore, I continued to explore Marina Bay Sands and its vicinity.  This is a fun place to explore both during the day and at night when the sun's scorching heat has gone down.  It's a gorgeous city that is bringing in modernity while respecting nature and the greenery.

Singapore at night

Friday, May 09, 2014

Hong Kong Hype, Part 2: Catalunya

On the other end of the hyped Hong Kong dining scene spectrum (Hong Kong Hype, Part 1) is the highly revered Catalunya.  We came here just after New Years for a special night with Chef Albert Adria who flew in from Barcelona via Singapore.  Coming fresh from Spain just a few months prior to this evening, we were blown away with the casual fun eating at Tickets.  Technically executed modern and traditional Spanish tapas by one of the famous Adria brothers.  Tickets became sole reason to want to revisit Barcelona (as I favor the other Spanish cities like San Sebastian, Madrid, etc.).  Now the food and the chef were flown in for this special evening in Hong Kong.

I've been curious about Catalunya since it's opening, as the number of articles and reviews highly praise the food and staff, many of whom trained with the Adria brothers at the former El Bulli.  Coming from my family's roadtrip in Spain and eating in a number of restaurants from the Adria-trained chefs, we had expectations and excitement for the night.

...And it turned into one of those highly anticipated nights that became a complete disaster.  This has to be one of the biggest letdown meals I've ever experienced.  First of all, the meal was over $450 per person inclusive of wine pairing, all pre-paid weeks prior to the meal.  With that price, you just naturally expect a flawless night.  After being seated and given the menu, expectations continued to excite and rise.

The first courses came out and looked great.  All these small bites for a fun start.  The server lacked details of describing what we were getting.  Okay, fine, that loosely passed me.  After the "snacks" a traditional course of jamon and pan con tomate came out.  This was high quality, melt in your mouth jamon.  So quality, so good, and only found in Spain.  After savoring the slices, we saw that one of the obnoxiously loud tables next to us were onto their next courses and did not touch the jamon plate.  Whaat?  We kept eyeing the plate all night, and it was not touched.  How can you go to a Spanish restaurant and not appreciate the jamon??  What kind of customers are they?  As we saw some of the servers nearby gush over these customers, it was clear these people were just here to be seen and not the eat the meal.

Because of whoever these people were at the tables next to us, our table was completely forgotten.  Between courses we did not get a change of plate or utensils.  You might think that is too much to ask, but for a meal this costly it's the least you expect from the service.  Our food was getting served without any explanation.  You can tell the servers were overwhelmed with the crowd, but this is a restaurant that's always fully booked.  Shouldn't they be ready for this kind of rush?

We also had to remind our server that we had the wine pairing.  When the sommelier came to our table he told us were were just a part of a handful of people who paid for the wine pairing.  He explained to us how it's completely ridiculous to have a wine pairing for this kind of meal.  Too many flavors and how can you possibly pair wine with that.  Seriously?!  You're a sommelier - first of all, it's your job, and second, with Spanish wines it's very possible.  Spanish wines were made for tapas and its multitude of flavors.  He was just not into the task at hand.  So much so by the second courses, he completely forgot about us and we had to ask our server to take care of our wines.  By the third course we voiced out our annoyance, and were given unlimited pours of the wines.  That might have worked 5 or so years ago, but my liver is too aged and experienced to gush at free alcohol from a douchey guy.

To make matters worse - and this is the real icing on the cake - before pouring a new wine, we were given new glasses.  Or so we thought.  The counter next to us had new plates, glasses, cutlery, etc.  The shelf on the bottom of the counter had all the used things waiting for the servers to take it to the kitchen.  My mom had a clear line of sight of this counter.  The server gave us two glasses on the top counter, and was scrambling to look for a third glass for our table.  It was taken from the bottom shelf.  Yes, the used glasses.  Not even realizing it, it was served to our table.  My mom asked for a new glass because of what she witnessed.  Gross, right?  You know what's grosser?  The server kept getting glasses from that used shelf and serving it to other tables, including Chef Adria's family table!  We could not close our mouths from the shock.  Unbelievable.

We couldn't stand it at this point and started to show in our faces we were not having a good meal.  When the managers approached us, we voiced our complaints and even told them about the used glass incident since we finally had their attention, and they used the excuse that they weren't ready for the rush.  I just can't buy that.  When they realized we were real food fans and well traveled to know that we were just in Spain, they began acting faster with us.  We weren't complaining about the servers being slow.  A couple of them were actually nice and tried their best.  It's how they were taught and the attitude of the managers and that sommelier.  It's like they think just because they came from El Bulli they don't have to try anymore.  In Spain, I was expecting some stiffness from the higher end restaurants.  Not at all.  They were all so relaxed and friendly like we were in a neighborhood restaurant.  There was none of that genuine friendliness here.

To appease us, they gave us desserts to take home, El Bulli books, and had Chef Adria (who we had already met in Barcelona at his Tickets) greet us at the end of our meal.  Was all that enough to make us come back to Catalunya?  Sadly, no because you can't change attitudes that fast, and when you carelessly give tables used glasses that's a huge no turning back for me.  If people are still flocking to them because they want to tell others they ate here, I can't imagine them getting their heads out of the clouds and being humble.  The restaurant is successful because of the social scene wanting to the seen.  Not because of the whole package experience of food AND service.

Menu for the night at Cataluyna

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Hong Kong Hype, Part 1: Tim Ho Wan

Eating is like appreciating art.  It's subjective to your preferences and not the opinions of others.  Modern day marketing, social media, and those wanting to be of "society" have changed some dining scenes.  Eating in certain cities and restaurants has become a status symbol, rather than the joy of good food and the dining experience.

Hong Kong used to be my favorite city in the world because of its eating and vibrancy.  Unfortunately, the city has rapidly changed in the past few years; actually, the change is incredibly evident in just this past 1 or 2 years.  British Hong Kong and that Hong Kong standard have vanished.  Orderliness has given way to the crowds and clusters of mainland China rushing in.  As for the food, there still is a lot of great eating and dining in Hong Kong.  However, you can't readily trust reviews or articles because it can just be marketing or popular because it's the place to be seen or to say you've eaten there.  So really it's a matter of trying it for yourself to determine: hype or the real thing.

Tim Ho Wan at the Hong Kong Station is not the Michelin rated location, but it serves the same food in a cleaner-ish setting.  There's always a crowd and a wait at all times of the day and night.  In general, a long line means it's worth lining up for, right?  No way.  What a complete let down.  The food is ordinary and the service is absolutely, ridiculously awful.  We ordered a lot, and they treated us as though we were an inconvenience for giving them business.  They rushed us to finish our meal by cleaning all the tables around us, putting up chairs, mopping the floors, AND turning off the lights and shutting down the front gate halfway.  Whaaat?  This is the food service industry?  This is what people line up for?  This is a reflection of Michelin?  Literally ridiculous.

Hong Kong Hype, Part 2: Catalunya.

English menu at Tim Ho Wan HK Station

Pineapple Bun
Pale and soft with no texture on top,
while lacking a punch of BBQ pork taste inside.