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Travel

帝苑餅店 FINE FOODS @ The Royal Garden, Hong Kong

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We‘’d tried quite a number of patisseries in Hong Kong over the last couple of years, from those who herald from France like La Maison du Chocolat, Pierre Herme and Jean Paul Hevin, to the local names like Petite Amanda. Some were reasonably good, like Passion by Dubois but some like Paul Lafayet seem to have fallen short of something. There is a lot of room for improvement and reflection, vis-a-vis the patisserie standards of its neighbours Taiwan and Japan. Yet we remain very hopeful as the pastry scene in Hong Kong is growing increasingly exciting yet at the same time. On our most recent trip, we made a point to visit a highly raved patisserie which we’d yet to try. They have been the Number 1 choice under the “desserts” category on a local Hong Kong food guide chart for quite sometime now. Is it as good as what’s been said?
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Patisserie Sadaharu AOKI paris @ Bellavita, Taipei 2014

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Whenever we are in Taipei, we’d always make it a point to drop by Sadaharu Aoki’s dessert salons in either Bellavita or Hotel Regent Taipei, and sometimes both! There are always something new or seasonal, like a surprise that awaits us to uncover! Last year, we had Sensuelle, a Hotel Regent Taipei exclusive and our visit to Patisserie Sadaharu AOKI paris earlier this year was no exception. There were two new creations that were just waiting for us to sample!
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Pâtisserie Sadaharu AOKI paris @ Midtown Tokyo 2014

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Strangely whenever we are in Tokyo, we never really thought much about visiting Patisserie Sadaharu Aoki Paris unlike the others be it local like Hidemi Sugino or Hideki Kawamura, or the “imports” like Pierre Herme and Jean Paul Hevin. I think it is because we were already sampled quite a few of his creations during our trips to Taipei where he has two dessert salons, in Bellavita and Regent Taipei.  However, perhaps due to the quality of the local ingredients used or the level of sophistication his local pastry team is imbued with, friends who tried his cakes from Paris, Taipei and Tokyo told me that one could quite literally make out a difference in the “quality” of the creations between these places. Unlike the macarons and other petit gateau pour sec which are all flown in from France, the entremets and petit gateaus we see in the local stores are made in situ. Tokyo turned out to be their favorite, whose standards of pastry surpasses even those from the 6th arrondissement flagship store in Paris supposedly. That got me very curious and we knew we had to try it to believe it!
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築地井上中華そば Tsukiji Inoue Chuka Ramen

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One of the places we always make it a point to visit  whenever we are in Tokyo is Tsukiji Market located at the south-eastern corner of the metropolis not too far away from Ginza. Unlike other tourist sites, Tsukiji is worth visiting over and over again from time to time. It boasts to have the freshest seafood one would be able to find anywhere and it garners the best produce from all over Japan which changes with the seasons. There is always so much to see, smell, taste and of course buy. Despite our numerous trips to Tsukiji, we’d never gotten to try much of the stuff from the cooked food stalls there. Yes we’d done the “touristic thing” and ate kaisendon at some of the small sushi delis which can be found all over the place, but we’d never gotten round to try much of the other stuff there. So for our most recent trip, we’d made it a point to have a bowl the local ramen, and have a taste of what the locals eat. One name that comes to mind would naturally be 井上中華そば Inoue Chukka Ramen.
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Mikimoto Lounge @ Ginza, Tokyo

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Speak of Japanese pearls and one would immediately think of Mikimoto, whose propelled the technology of pearl culture in Japan more than 120 years ago, that eventually propelled to become the multi-million dollar business empire we know today. Mikimoto pearls are still much sort after and highly regarded in the industry for their quality. We told ourselves that we must make it a point to visit the Mikimoto Ginza 2 building when we visit Tokyo. But it is not the pearls that we are after. Not the real ones at least, but instead the plated desserts at the Mikimoto Lounge located within!
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華姐清湯腩 Sister Wah Beef Brisket @ Hong Kong

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For folks who are familiar with beef noodles in Hong Kong, 華姐 and 九記 should immediately come to mind. Unlike their Taiwanese counterparts whose recipes originated from largely Szechuan and Zhejiang cuisine to become what is uniquely “Taiwanese Beef Noodles” as we know today, Beef Brisket Noodles in Hong Kong can be traced back to its ancestry in traditional Cantonese cuisine. Flavours wise, the two varieties couldn’t be more different. While Taiwanese Beef Noodles swear to be rich and robust in flavours through the liberal use of spices and condiments, the Cantonese rendition opts to occupy the other end of the spectrum where simplicity and clarity are the key notes highly played. But as most foodies would know, the simpler the dish may seem, the harder it is to get it right but I think 華姐清湯腩 Sister Wah Beef Brisket definitely nailed it. (more…)


I Light Marina Bay 2014 – A Photolog

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A quick photo log of a past event… I am always slow. Anyway, I Light Marina Bay is a light festival which takes place once every 2 years. If I’m not wrong, this is the 3rd time it is being hosted at the Marina Bay Waterfront, stretching from The Float @ Marina Bay just next to Marina Square, all the way through MBS to the other side where One Marina Boulevard is. It was a last minute decision to visit the event and I went without knowing what to expect really. No tripods, no prime lenses… just have to make the best out of it. So here is a quick photo log of what I’d taken…Enjoy 🙂
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On the Trail of the Phoenix – Open House @ The Intan

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About a month back, I had the pleasure of visiting The Intan, a privately owned Peranakan themed museum located in the heart of Joo Chiat, one of the enclaves of Nyonya-Baba culture and heritage in Singapore. It was my second visit to the Intan, the first being a collectors’ sale organised more than 2 years back. The visit was held in conjunction with the release of this year’s Lunar New Year angbaos by the National Heritage Board (NHB). What made the visit special was the fact that it was held at night. Not your regular run-in-the-mill visits to a museum I’m sure. But the dim light conditions did pose a “challenge” to photography. After all the hustling and bustling in the kitchen during the Chinese New Year period with all the cooking and baking to be done, I finally had time to sit down and sort out the photos and write a bit about the visit. So here’s a small collation of some shots I took. Enjoy!

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Staycation & Cooking In @ Capri by Fraser

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At the end of last year we booked for ourselves a staycation at Capri by Fraser located in the heart of Changi Business Park next to Simei MRT. It is a relatively new hotel and for me, the main attraction was the mini kitchen the room was equipped with. Since there was an online promotion going on, we got ourselves the deal for a one night stay, as well as a chance to test out their in-room kitchen!

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深水埗坤記糕品 & 紅豆砵仔糕 Cantonese Red Bean Rice Cakes

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每次到香港,我们必定得走深水埗一趟。深水埗在旺角以北,较少外国和内地游客的喧嚣,多了份香港在地人的味道。二三十年前的深水埗是造就香港成为当时世界成衣王国的一大功臣。想当年,拥有一件 “Made in Hong Kong”的T-桖是极为普遍的事。但随着劳工成本的提高,许多当地商人已经移资到大陆内地去设厂发展。那些之前以成衣公司为主的大夏已经被其他企业所进驻,而以往车衣声此起彼伏的工厂也随着人去楼空沉寂下来。走在长沙湾和荔枝角的街道上瞭望年久失修,残壁斑驳的高楼,这座成衣工业大城昔日的繁华和如今的沧桑形成了强烈的对比。当然,我们来深水埗追寻老香港的足迹,不仅仅是为了这些大楼。更重要的是在深水埗的许多街道上和店铺里尘封了旧时香港的味道。当然,我们说的是美食。像是“合益泰小食”的肠粉和艇仔粥,或是“劉森記”的蝦子竹昇麵,每每吸引着我们造访的应该是隐藏在食物中的那种上一代,再上一代和现在新的一代一起过日子的味道。简单而鲜美,朴实而率真。平民美食,老铺传统继承了华丽外衣下的香港,里头包裹着那一层层的老味道。

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阿宗麵線 Ah Chung Mee Sua @ Ximending, Taipei

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Like many other Asian cities, Taiwan is known for their street food. Everywhere you go, there would be food stalls, tucked within the small alleys and lanes which would offer something to go. The fast pace lifestyles folks in Taipei lead often meant that they have their meals on the go, from takeaway buns, soya bean milk and sandwiches at numerous 早餐店 like 永和豆浆 or 美而美 to takeaway paper bento boxes containing 排骨便当 or 鸡腿便当。 Come nightfall, one of the favorite pastimes of Taiwanese is to visit the local night markets (夜市) which offer a wide range of local delights like 蚵仔煎 ((oyster omelette), 鱿鱼羹 (cuttlefish soup), 生煎包 (shanghainese pan-fried steamed buns) and the bewilderingly named 大肠包小肠 and 大饼包小饼! One of the iconic dishes in Taiwanese street food is their mee sua, rice vermicelli cooked in a thick starchy broth and of all the outlets around, the most visited is probably  阿宗麵線 Ah Chung Mee Sua at Ximending, Taipei.
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鼎泰豐 Ding Tai Fung @ Yong Kang, Taipei

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Strangely of all our trips to Taiwan all these years, we’d never been to 鼎泰豐 Ding Tai Fung(DTF). This is very odd I know, given how iconic  DTF is in Taiwan’s culinary scene, being featured in perpetually every single guidebook we’d read in the past. Somehow, we’d never really felt compelled to visit, often brushing it off as a tourist gimmick and most rightfully so. This is often the first place we would pass by whenever we visit 永康街 Yong Kang Street in 大安区 Da’An district. The front door is always packed with tourists from Japan, Korea and of course Mainland China, sent here by the busloads. It often got so bad that the crowd started to spill over to the shop windows of the bookstore next door. We were often put off by this sight and would briskly walk away, shaking our heads and rolling our eyes.

But we’d tried DTF back home in Singapore many times and I must say that we thoroughly enjoyed the food there. While the loud and chattery crowd outside the main shop in Taipei irked us to no ends, we often wondered if the food there is better than what we are getting in Singapore. DTF originated from Taiwan after all. Finally, curiosity got the better of us and we made our first proper visit to DTF after all these years.
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Passion by Gerard Dubois @ Hong Kong

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Our recent trips to Hong Kong have been more exciting than ever! The local pastry scene has picked up considerably over the last couple of years and it has never been short of new joints to try or places which we’d enjoyed to revisit. Passion by Gerard Dubois is one of the latest addition to the growing number of new places to go for fine pastry in Hong Kong. Being a patisserie, boulangerie and confiserie all at once, it opened in 2012 in Wanchai, the heart of the CBD district in Hong Kong. So for our latest trip in 2013, it only seemed right to pay them a visit.
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勝香園 & A Glimpse of Hong Kong’s Dai Pai Dong Culture

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No trip to Hong Kong is complete without trying their street food. No doubt, there’s a lot of good food in Hong Kong, be it dim sum from the tea houses or roast goose and char siew at the Cantonese restaurants but for many of us, what characterises the cuisine of a place is its street food. It is eating what the locals eat that makes travelling to these places a truly remarkable experience. And Hong Kong is not short of good street food. Everywhere we went, it is always easy to pick up some local delights, be it 碗仔翅 “faux shark’s fin soup” or 臭豆腐 smelly beancurd. For those with sweet tooth, there is 雞蛋仔 crispy egg waffles or 砵仔糕 red bean rice cakes. And if one doesn’t have the time to even stand by the roadside to savour these delicacies, one can always grab a skewer of 咖哩鱼蛋 curry fish balls or 鱼浆燒賣 fish paste siew mai to go! We’d been to 勝香園 Sing Heung Yuen before during our earlier trips, and we came back again during our most recent trip to reprise the roadside dining experience at a 大排檔, something truly Hong Kong!
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珍妮曲奇 Jenny Bakery @ Tsimshatsui Hong Kong

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We always make it a point to bring something back from our overseas trips, as an extension of our experience and adventures there. When we were much younger, it used to be frivolous momentos and souvenirs like fridge magnets, bookmarks, keychains etc… pretty much the standard tourist market kinda ware. Then we’d realised that these impractical items indirect turned us into hoarders, only to find their way into dustbins over the years. Food seemed more pragmatic in comparison, i.e. local delights which we may not be able to find in Singapore, not of the same quality, or not at the same price at least. For Hong Kong, it had always been foodstuff like traditional pastries i.e. lou po beng (老婆饼), hup tou sou (核桃酥), and gai zai beng (鸡仔饼), or good quality dried produce like mushrooms and lup cheong (腊肠). When in season, we turn to fruits like lor mai chee lychees (糯米糍荔枝) or custard apples. Earlier this year, we found out through friends something else which have been in the limelight, much favoured by tourists from Mainland. The craze seemed to have spilled over to visitors from Taiwan and later on Malaysia and Singapore as well. J got to try some through colleagues who brought back a few tins and urged me to put it on the “to buy” list for our own trip after raving much about them. Curious on exactly how good they were, there is only one way to find out…
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BIG Hotel – Scandinavian Chic in Urban Singapore

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Quite a number of new hotel establishments opened in Singapore this year and just when we think that the local hospitality industry has already reached its saturation point, these new hotels strive to find their footing amidst the already crowded skyline. Some of them are totally new buildings made from scratch while quite a number of them are major overhaul projects to old blocks, revamped to breathe new life into them. BIG Hotel located at the junction of Bencoolen Street and Middle Road  is one of these “new kids on the block” and we had a chance to find out just exactly what it is BIG on!

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Asian Food Fest #1 Oct 2013 : Japan

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Five vast oceans and seven massive continents, none can be as amazing as Asia. It is the largest of the seven, in terms of land mass and the most extensive as well, easily more than the Americas combined. Demographically, it counts as the most diverse, with some populations leading the rest of the world as being the most advanced, while others are included amongst Earth’s remaining most indigenous. Culturally, it bears some of the world’s oldest civilisations, upholding and maintaining social and religious practices that still shock and astound much of the Western world even till today. Asia, nothing short of surprises and we invite you to join us in our culinary journey to explore some of her most unique cuisines, as well as gastronomic heritage and history, some widely familiar and others lesser known but no less interesting. And we begin our year long journey of “Asian Food Fest” with the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan.

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何洪記 Ho Hung Kee @ Hong Kong

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Over our numerous trips to Hong Kong, we’d tried quite a number of 雲吞麺 wantan mee joints. I remember vividly the first joint we’d visited eons back was 池記 in Causeway Bay. It was with a 拜碼頭 mentality that we went as they were purportedly very good. Or so said those who recommended the place to me. The experience was disappointing. The serving was too small to justify the price and the soup was laced with so much MSG we probably gulped down multiple times more water to ease our throats and clear it out of our system. And the price of one small bowl of wantan mee at 池記 Chee Kee was easily 2-3 times of what one would expect to pay in Singapore at that time. In short, the experience was pretty nasty. Oddly, the place was swarmed with tourists from across the border, Mainland China. As we watched those who shared the table with us slurp the noodles and down the soup with much relish, we couldn’t help wonder if there was something wrong with our tastebuds or theirs. in retrospect, I guess it was essentially not a case of one being inferior to the other but more of being different. Some aspects of  Chinese cuisine have been dubbed as being liberal to a point of being relentless with their use of salt and MSG. Perhaps 池記 had changed their recipe to better suit the tastebuds of their comrades from the “Motherland”. All purely speculative…

Our experience at 池記 inhibited our sampling of many other wantan mee places. Most notable are amongst the 香港5大雲吞麺家  “Wantan Mee Famous Five” in Hong Kong, that is  麥奀雲吞麺家 “Mak An Kee” in Sheung Wan, 麥奀記 (忠記) 麵家 “Mak An Chung Kee” Noodle in Central, 麥文記麵家 “Mak Man Kee” in Jordan, 何洪記 “Ho Hung Kee” in Causeway Bay, and 正斗 “Tasty Congee and Noodles” in Happy Valley. Their roots can be traced back to the original 池記 “Chee Kee” in Guangzhou China, where all of the “founders” of the Famous Five apprenticed. Our “logic” then was if their grandmaster tasted crap to us, the disciples couldn’t stray too far from being unpalatable.

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Mary’s Kafe @ Queen’s Street Singapore

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Just when the gastronomic landscape in Singapore constantly evolves and changes to keep up with the trendiest and most current around the world, some places choose to remain exactly as they were when they first started. A blast from the past quite literally, these establishments served as old guards of Singapore’s rich culinary heritage, firm reminders to what would probably have been quickly forgotten, if not for them. On a slightly less serious note, they breathe an air of nostalgia and reminiscence, food that bring us right back to our childhoods, prepared by our mothers and grandmothers in an utmost unceremonious manner yet so unpretentious and unassuming. Just as the world goes gaga over cronuts and whatnots, I crave for a good Pang Susie and know exactly the place to find a good one. Mary’s Kafe must surely be the place to go!
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High Tea @ Le Salon De Thé de Joël Robuchon Hong Kong

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Wondering down the streets of Central, Hong Kong after our morning walk in the Mid-levels/Soho area, we were feeling a little hungry  and could sit down somewhere for a pitstop. In between meals, we didn’t want something too heavy so high tea seemed like the perfect choice. There are many 5-star hotels dotted along the coastal stretch overlooking Victoria Harbour from Sheung Wan all the way to Causeway Bay. Since we just came out of H&M along Queen’s Road Central, it seem to make sense to head in the direction of Pedder Street to a place which I have on my “to-eat/do” list. We didn’t make reservations as high tea here isn’t part of the travel itinerary but we are here nonetheless to try our luck. Thankfully, it was a lazy weekday afternoon and there were empty tables available, though not very many. High Tea @ Le Salon De Thé de Joël Robuchon it seems destined to be…
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La Salon Restaurant et Croissanterie @ Hong Kong

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Opened barely a year in the equally new Hysan Place along Causeway Bay Hong Kong, La Salon Restaurant et Croissanterie, a chic-looking French bistro by local restauranteur-chef Tony Cheng has already made news with their filled croissants freshly out of the oven everyday. Waves of raves from the local HK food bloggers as well as good reviews on Openrice made me very curious on just exactly how good they are. So for the recent trip to Hong Kong, trying out their croissants became top on the “to-eat” list and I’m so glad I did!

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合益泰小食 @ Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong

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While walking through Sham Shui Po during our recent trip to HK, we’d decided to stop for a quick bite at 合益泰小食 which we’d read about. This is a small eatery located very near to Ap Liu Street Market and is well known for the local street food it provides.  Food is kept very simple and unpretentious here and it is precisely this that attracts hoards to this place, especially the lunch and dinner peak crowds. Lucky for us, it was just after the lunchtime rush hour, so no queues. But as with most local Hong Kong eating places, sharing tables is something which one should almost expect. When in Rome do what the Romans do…
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麥文記麵家 Mak Man Kee Noodle Shop @ Hong Kong

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I remember eating at 麥文記麵家 Mak Man Kee Noodle Shop once many years back and it was seriously good. But in Hong Kong, one is literally spoilt for choices when it comes to wantan mee. Noodle shops selling wantan mee can be found practically every other street! But when it comes to getting to know the “reputably good”, one must mention the 香港5大雲吞麺家  “Wantan Mee Famous Five” in Hong Kong,  麥奀雲吞麺家 “Mak An Kee” in Sheung Wan, 麥奀記 (忠記) 麵家 “Mak An Chung Kee” Noodle in Central, 麥文記麵家 “Mak Man Kee” in Jordan, 何洪記 “Hung Man Kee” in Causeway Bay, 正斗 “Tasty Congee and Noodles” in Happy Valley. Their roots can be traced back to the original 池記 “Chee Kee” in Guangzhou China, where all of the “founders” of Famous Five apprenticed. Since then, they have been highly regarded and held as the benchmark of wantan mee in Hong Kong. But are they really that good?

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Pâtisserie Hidemi Sugino @ Kyobashi Tokyo (Part I)

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Yes, finally we begin the reviews on our visits to Pâtisserie Hidemi Sugino. If you are familiar with French pastry, Hidemi Sugino is a name that hardly needs introduction. And I would dare say that you do not know French pastry until you know Hidemi Sugino. Trained and apprenticed at Patisserie Peltier (now defunct) in France and most noted for winning the prestigious Coupe de Monde de la Pâtisserie back in 1991, he quickly became the spotlight upon returning to Japan, first opening an atelier and patisserie in Kobe before starting his own dessert boutique in Tokyo. Since then Hidemi Sugino created a wave of sensation within the Japanese gastronomic scene, attaining popularity like few had before him, with a strong and loyal following of fans and dessert aficionados both locally and abroad. (more…)