Sunday, February 23, 2014

Saffron, Koh Samui

It was a weekend beach getaway to neighbouring Koh Samui and (un)fortunately, our hotel was so secluded that we were largely confined to dining within the hotel premises. Read. Inflated prices. Nonetheless, dinner one evening was at Saffron, our hotel's signature Thai restaurant. After a less than stellar experience at Saffron @ Banyan Tree Bangkok a couple of years ago, I honestly didn't have high hopes for the meal.

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The Place, Beautiful View & Menu

Saffron sits atop a hilltop and offers expansive views of Lamai Bay and the surrounding South China Sea if you manage to snag a table on the outdoor dining terrace (our fantastic villa host got us the first and best table!). The only issue is that it can get a little warm if the land breeze fails to pick up.

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My Drink

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Complimentary Rice Crackers

Served with 3 condiments (chicken with coconut cream, tomato sauce and green chilli and egg plant sauce), the rice crackers were a great snack to start off, especially with the coconut cream sauce! The Thai pancakes were nice as well; light taste of coconut with a tinge of spiciness.

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Complimentary Amuse Bouche

And the complimentary stuff continued with a small stick of freshly grilled prawn in mild satay sauce. Nice and simple.

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Duo of Crisp Blue Swimmer "Larb" & Fried Soft Shell Crab, Pan Grilled Fresh Ahi - Tuna Wrapped in Serrano Ham, Seared Duck Foie Gras on Spicy Mango Salad

I had the set dinner and first up was the appetiser platter with foie gras, tuna and crab.The Ahi tuna's texture was just right but unfortunately the taste of the bacon almost overwhelmed the inherent sweetness of the tuna. A pity if you ask me.

On the other hand, the soft shell crab was pretty good - crisp without the reused oil aftertaste whilst the blue swimmer "larb" sported a crisp wanton shell chock full of blue swimmer crab shreds. Only issue I had was the rather distinct lemongrass taste that I personally dislike.
Although the foie gras wasn't quivery enough, it went well with the mildly sourish mangoes. A redemption of sorts I guess.

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Coconut Cappucino, Grilled Sea Scallop on Lemon Grass Skewer, Lotus Seed & Lime

Next was a deliciously frothy, mildly sweet and creamy coconut cappucino soup that was loaded up with straw mushrooms and gingko nuts. The sole piece of scallop appeared to be nicely seared but the middle was a little too soft for my liking. Still a great dish nonetheless!

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Charcoal Grilled Tiger Prawn, Samui Island Fruit Salsa, White Truffle Honey

A most refreshing salad dish if I may say, with a zesty tinge contrasting beautifully with the mild sweetness from the grapes, mangoes and truffle honey. Crushed nuts added texture whilst the huge piece of tiger prawn came across as fresh and crunchy.

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Anchan Flower & Mangosteen Sorbet

Something light and a little sweet to cleanse the palate during the intermission.

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Beef Short Ribs Braised in Mussaman Curry, Baked Snow Fish in Banana Leaf, Stir Fried Assorted Asian Vegetables in Oyster Sauce And Served with a Selection of Rice

Now for the heavyweights. Beef, fish and vegetables served with a selection of rice; white rice, coconut rice, lemon grass rice and brown rice. My personal favourite was the coconut rice, which was reminiscent of nasi lemak. The lemongrass variant didn't quite work for me even though the lemongrass taste was fairly mild.
Instead of your usual stir fried vegetables in oyster sauce, the vegetables came in the form of crisp and fresh tasting tempura. Not exactly my idea of having greens though. The beef ribs soaked in the flavours of the curry and had a tender, fibrous texture whilst the fish was nicely cooked; smooth but oily.  

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Deep Fried Lychee Tempura Filled with Cashew Nut Marzipan, Raspberry Coulis, Vanilla Ice Cream

 This dessert sounded intriguing but turned out a little underwhelming. The lychee tempura was sweet with a faint lychee taste, served up with average tasting vanilla ice cream. 

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Petit Fours

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Tom Yum Goong & Gluay Thod

I only managed a small tasting of the tom yum goong and the gluay thod (deep fried bananas) so I won't comment too much. Just keep in mind that the normal level of spiciness in Thailand is a couple of notches higher than the normal in Singapore. We learnt it the hard way. Also, I personally prefer the gluay thod over my deep fried lychee tempura for dessert maybe because it tasted very similar to goreng pisang.

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Dinner wasn't cheap, standing at 4590 THB (~ SGD 184) for 2 pax. However, food quality was above average, the view was superb and so was the service. Hearing the leaves rustling gently in the breeze and watching the sunlight slowly fade out from the horizon while nursing a cold drink in hand; now that's life.

Final Verdict:

Ambience: 9/10 (pray for a windy/cool evening)
Service: 8/10
Food: 7/10
Value for money: 7/10
Overall: 7.75/10

Address: 99/9 Moo 4 | Maret, Ko Samui 84310, Thailand

Contact: +6677915333

Opening Hours: 6 to 11pm daily


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Nuvo Restaurant

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Nuvo was offering an irresistible deal on their set lunch @ $13++ (apparently until end February 2014) so we dropped by for lunch one Saturday afternoon since we were in the vicinity. Helmed by Chef Mark Richards, former chef de cuisine of Keystone Restaurant, Nuvo falls under the same management (Caerus Holdings) as that of Lady M (which I personally like) in Singapore.

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Hidden from plain sight in a corner of the newly opened "The Dining Edition" in Marina Square, Nuvo's interior utilises quite a bit of wood, which gives it a more down to earth feel. The open concept kitchen offers diners an opportunity to watch their food being prepared if they so wish but honestly, it would be weird hanging around the serving counter.

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Complimentary Bread

The complimentary bread was warm and crusty with hints of Parmesan. Pretty decent especially with a thin spread of the accompanying Nori butter. A pity each person was only accorded one roll.

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Warm Japanese Mushroom Salad

This dish honestly didn't look like much but it sure was nice. Tossed up with pine nuts, asparagus, shallots and Japanese mushroom, the salad (baby spinach) had a pleasing, savoury sweet note to it. I have honestly never been so enamoured with a salad. And I say this from having the salad on 3 separate occasions @ Nuvo. 

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Angel Hair Wakame pasta with Lobster Essence and Rayu Oil

One of the signature dishes at Nuvo, the angel hair pasta had a nice firm bite to it, soaking in the mild spiciness of the rayu oil (chilli oil) and the sweet saltiness of the wakame (seaweed). Overall a very flavourful pasta dish that had me reaching for my glass of water a little more frequently due to the higher than acceptable (apparently only to me) salt content. And strangely enough, it is marked as a vegetarian pasta dish (how about the lobster essence?).

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Lobster Risotto

Another signature dish and one that is close to my heart (and mouth). The lobster risotto is only available on the ala carte menu and a small serving (as per my picture) will set you back by $28++ while the larger one is about $36++ if my memory serves me right. It was a simple yet well executed dish. The risotto was nicely al dente, cooked in a rich lobster broth with small chunks of lobster and edamame - creamily good! Well worth the money in my humble opinion.

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Pocky Ricotta Cheese Cake

This dessert was rather interesting, with the top of the cheese cake adorned with chocolate swirls and the base made from crushed Pocky (yes, the $1 box of Pocky you can get from supermarkets). But all the bells and whistles aside, it just tasted like a light, decently made cheesecake that provided a nice, sweet ending to our meal.

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With a price tag of $13++ for an appetiser, main and dessert of above average quality, what's not to like? Service was good as well but intervals between the dishes could have been shorter. Also, the website states opening hours from 11am to 11pm but they didn't open until 12pm during this particular visit. And such things definitely don't leave good impressions. But having said that, I'll definitely return to indulge in the lobster risotto and to sample other offerings.

Final Verdict:

Ambience: 6.5/10
Service: 7/10
Food: 7/10 (8/10 for the lobster risotto)
Value for money: 8.5/10 (based on the $13++ set lunch)
Overall: 7.25/10

Address: #02-100 Marina Square

Contact: 6822 2098

Opening Hours: 11am to 11pm daily


Sunday, February 09, 2014

Yan Ting Part XI - A CNY Reunion Dinner

We were late. For the annual Chinese New Year reunion dinner booking frenzy that is. Trying to get a table about a month before the actual day proved to be an exasperating effort and with our options limited, we settled for Yan Ting. To be honest, I wasn't too optimistic about the quality of food as my previous dining experiences at Yan Ting (> 20 times  in the past 2 years) only yielded disappointment with the ala carte menu (dim sum is above average though).

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To accomodate the CNY reunion dinner crowd, Yan Ting has replaced a few of the cosy 4 seaters with round tables for 6 pax as well as opened up the nearby ballrooms for bigger groups. The usual peace and calm in the restaurant was replaced by the hustle and bustle of wait staff madly dashing around serving customers and the incessant chatter from families (us included).

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Prosperity Yusheng with Norwegian Salmon

I'm usually not too picky about yusheng but Yan Ting's offering was seriously underwhelming.The flavours were bland and I couldn't make out any sweetness from the plum sauce and even the crackers were tasteless!

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Double Boiled Chicken Consomme with Abalone and Fish Maw

Presentation was almost non existent for this dish and it looked like a plain, simple bowl of soup. No fancy soup bowl, garnishes, nothing. Having said that, the broth was light yet tasty with a reasonably sized piece of abalone, fish maw and chicken slices.

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Hong Kong Style Steamed Coral Trout

I had expected a whole fish to share but all we got was 3 slices of coral trout each (too expensive probably?), served up in a dim sum steamer. The trout's flesh was sweet, smooth yet firm with a mild saltiness from the shreds of jinhua ham (金華火腿).

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Stewed Pig's Trotter with Moss and Prosperity Oyster in Brown Sauce

This is honestly the first time I've seen pig's trotters in a reunion dinner menu and I can't say that I'm thrilled. Though tender, the trotters were bland due to the lacklustre brown sauce. Not a big fan of dried oysters so I'll reserve my comments.

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Crispy Roasted Chicken with Truffles ($30++ for Half)

This dish was an add on on top of our 6 course dinner and the description had me all salivating. Imagine the prospect of juicy chicken meat coupled with crispy skin and the fragrance of truffles - a match made in heaven in my humble opinion. Alas, reality proved otherwise. Sure, the skin was a tad crispy and the meat wasn't too salty. However, the meat was a bit too dry while the truffle smell was barely existent. Whilst I appreciated the black truffle slices, they seemed to play a more decorative role than a functional one; they were bland and void of the strong, earthy aroma that I normally associate with black truffle.

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Buddha's Delight ($26++)

This was another add on from the vegetarian menu and as fanciful as the name sounded, it was just a bunch of vegetables lumped together and stir fried. Overall a very bland and insipid dish. Not too sure Buddha would have been pleased.

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Braised Ee-Fu Noodles with Lobster in XO Sauce

After the less than ideal meal thus far, the braised Ee-Fu noodles threw up a pleasant surprise. Though soaked in the mildly salty XO sauce, the noodles were neither too sticky nor soft, retaining a bit of springiness whilst the lobster was naturally flavourful and full of bite. Only gripe I had was that portion sizes were unequal throughout and some of us ended up getting a much smaller plate of noodles and lobster. A little QC perhaps?

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Fragrant Homemade Almond Tea with Hashima Glutinous Rice Cake

I'll be honest. I'm no fan of Hashima or what some people call the poor man's bird's nest. Maybe its more psychological than anything but I just can't get over the fact that hashima is made from fat tissue found near a frog's fallopian tubes. So this dessert was a no go for me. Well, I did eat the nian gao (年糕) though.

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Excluding the price of the roasted chicken and Buddha's delight (which was billed seperately), a 6 course dinner for the 6 of us cost about $1215 or just over $200/pax. Factor in the additional 2 dishes and the price goes up to about $213/head, which is relatively expensive for the quality of food. Service was efficient but everything seemed very rushed and there was no room for friendly banter with the wait staff. I would put that down to a lack of manpower but it definitely didn't help the atmosphere.

In conclusion, Yan Ting seriously needs to buck up on its food quality especially when there is a premium price tag attached to it. Cherry Garden @ Mandarin Oriental, which has always disappointed me (until recently), has stepped up its game and it's time for Yan Ting to do likewise or go the way of the dodo. I have given Yan Ting too many chances and this is probably when and where I draw the line.

Final Verdict:

Ambience: 7/10
Service: 6/10
Food: 6/10
Value for money:6/10

Overall: 6.25/10 (Please note that all scores are based solely on this particular CNY visit)

Address: Level 1U, St. Regis Singapore, 29 Tanglin Road

Contact: 6506-6888

Opening Hours: 11.45am to 3.30pm, 6 to 11pm


Sunday, February 02, 2014

Top 5 Hotels I've Stayed in Asia

Food and travelling (for holidays, not work) are my 2 major indulgences in life and whilst I have only written about food to date (absolutely no plans to diversify!), I thought I would share a singular post on a few memorable hotels in Asia that I've stayed in.

So please bear with me as I present my humble list of the top 5 hotels that I've stayed in Asia in the past 2 years. 

#5 - Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund

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Waldorf Astoria is a luxurious 5 star hotel and sits under the Hilton umbrella. WA Shanghai is situated almost along the Bund or  外滩 (approximately one and half streets away). Some rooms offer a splendid view of the Bund (see picture above) but you would have to pay more for those. The interior is nothing short of regal, oozing old world charm coupled with modern technology like smart TVs, digital windows etc. Definitely one of the best interiors I've ever seen in a hotel, if grandeur is your kind of thing. The only downside to WA Shanghai is its breakfast @ Grand Brasserie. While the interior is equally stunning, food quality is average at best and variety is muted.

#4 - Capella Singapore

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Capella is a 5 star hotel located at Sentosa and is a member of the Leading Hotels of the World collection. The 1 bedroom villa had a mini plunge pool, a seperate sleeping and dining area, a huge toilet that boasted 2 individual dressing tables/sinks and alot of space; all surrounded by lush greenery that ensured absolute privacy. The entire place was also decked out in the latest and greatest technology; BOSE sound system, touch panel control for drapes, lighting, air-conditioning etc. Staying at Capella also gave us access to its library, where we browsed through books and loaned DVDs while helping ourselves to the complimentary fruits, snacks and drinks. We didn't use their personal assistant services very much so I won't comment on that. 

The distance from the concierge to the villas can be quite a distance so there are buggies on hand to transport guests to their villas in a matter of minutes. Breakfast at the Knolls was reasonably decent with highlights such as abalone porridge and of course, a glimpse of the resident peacocks.

#3 - Banyan Tree Koh Samui

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Banyan Tree is a local hotel brand that has made a name for itself in luxury resorts worldwide. Banyan Tree Samui sits on a private hill cove at the south eastern coast of Koh Samui and offers a breathtaking view of the ocean and the sprawling hillside dotted with villas. The Deluxe Pool Villa boasts high ceilings with intricate design and a seperate bedroom/dining/washroom partitioned by wooden sliding doors. What I personally like about it is that the bedroom offers direct access to the mid sized private plunge pool which means you can sit on the bedroom floor and soak your feet in the pool at the same time. There is also a beautiful sun deck that opens up to lush greenery and a meandering river. If you are feeling lazy, room service or an in villa BBQ can be arranged with a private chef BBQing just for you (at a premium of course).

Walking around the vast compound can be quite daunting and tiring but there are buggies to ferry you around. Only issue is that during peak periods (eg. meal times), the wait can be quite long (10-15mins). Breakfast is served at the The Edge, which also offers a birds eye view of the beautiful surroundings and if you are early enough, the glimmering sunrise. Food variety at The Edge is almost overwhelming and quality is pretty good.

And if you wish to celebrate that special occasion with a romantic dinner, you can either request for dinner at a private pavilion on the beach or take the buggy right up to the top of the hill for dinner at Saffron, the signature Thai restaurant of Banyan. Book the first table on the verandah for unblocked views and although the place can be pricey, the food and service more than justifies it ;)

Each room is assigned a specific attendant as well and we found ours extremely polite, helpful and efficient. No request was too big or too small for him and he ensured we got the best table at Saffron, amongst other requests.

#2 - Grand Hyatt Singapore

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Okay #2 probably isn't quite a true reflection of the hotel but more of the room itself. I personally am not quite a fan of Grand Hyatt Singapore but on this particular stay, we snagged the Presidential Suite, which is a totally different ball game altogether. As the name suggests, the Presidential Suite represents the pinnacle of rooms at the hotel and offers space - lots of it. There is a dining area for 10pax, a fully stocked kitchen, study room, living room, bedroom, washroom with sauna and jacuzzi and a huge walk in wardrobe. Decked out in earthy colours, the entire suite exudes a homely feel that sets you at ease right away. However, there is no view to speak of and the external windows do seem a little dirty. Want to throw a party for 20pax? Not a problem.

Breakfast is at the executive lounge but whilst service was stellar, food variety was limited. At least the quality made up for it. Being at the heart of Orchard Road has its perks, especially when we stayed during the Christmas season and had the opportunity to take in all the lights, trees and festive shopping ;)

#1 - Park Hyatt Shanghai

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And at #1, we have Park Hyatt Shanghai - truly one of the best hotels I've stayed in worldwide and the best in Asia thus far. With the hotel lobby perched on the 87th floor of the Shanghai World Financial Centre, it has the honour of being one of the tallest hotels in the world. There is a dedicated lift to zoom you straight up in a matter of seconds. 

The Diplomatic Suite boasts 185 sq meters of space (that's roughly the size of two 4 room HDB flats!), offering an expansive view of the Shanghai skyline and Hangpu River. Design is trendy and minimalistic, featuring white washed walls with dark wooden doors and trimmings. Double king beds and a lounge chair adorn the bedroom whilst the toilet boasts a dedicated rain shower (huge!) and a soaking area with heated floors. The entire place is decked out in "luxury technology" as well, from TOTO automatic toilet bowls that sense your arrival to B&O systems in both living and bed rooms and touch screen control panels for curtains, air-conditioning, lights etc.

Breakfast is served at the 100 Century Avenue Restaurant, which is perched on the 91st floor of the building. And I never thought I would say this but both food variety and quality was outstanding. Service at the restaurant was personal yet professional and that excellent service was visible throughout our entire stay and extended to all the hotel staff we encountered. Truly a wonderful experience!

Oh and before I forget, there is a 20m infinity pool on the 85th floor (where they filmed Skyfall incidentally), which is probably one of the, if not the highest infinity pool in the world.

And so sums up the top 5 hotels in Asia that I've stayed in recent years. What are your top hotels and why? Do share and thanks for reading!

Wishing everyone a Happy Chinese New Year!