Friday, October 28, 2016

A preview of Food Japan 2016 happening this Saturday, 29 Oct 2016!

Last year, it was the first time I had visited Oishii Japan. As I had arrived pretty late on the public day, I didn't really get to see and taste a lot of things or even buy much because a lot of the booths had already sold all their stock or it was too crowded for me to take a good look at what was being offered.

This year, with a rebranding and name change to Food Japan, I was intent on making my trip count for what it's worth thus I registered for the media accreditation which could give me access on the trade visitors' days on 27th and 28th October i.e. Thursday and Friday. Thankfully, I succeeded in getting the media pass despite being having such a small presence online (thank you Asia PR Werkz!) so I could see every booth in great detail and at my own pace. Phew!

For those who aren't aware of what Food Japan is, it is ASEAN's largest dedicated showcase on Japanese food and beverage, with an array of authentic Japanese ingredients and food, culinary techniques and equipment, plus demos and classes. Serving as a bridge for F&B businesses between Japan and ASEAN, Food Japan provides visitors with valuable opportunities to understand, explore collaborations and learn more about the versatility of classic Japanese ingredients, quality seasonal produces, unique prefecture specialities as well as innovative technology and machinery. (Portion in italics from the official website)

In its 5th edition this year, Food Japan showcases over 1,000 items from 304 exhibitions from 40 prefectures so this is a must-see if you are into Japanese food or would like what are the latest food and drink products out in the market. For the first two days, it is open to trade visitors only while the public gets to visit on 29th October which happens to be a Saturday and Deepavali. Prior to the opening of this event, you could pre-register for your tickets so this would have helped you to save some time in the queue. Although the pre-registration is closed by now, you can still get your tickets outside the exhibition hall at Suntec Convention Centre Halls 401 and 402.

Other than seeing the latest in F & B products and services from Japan, you can also take part in the workshops. You can either reserve a seat via this page or visit the registration counter in front of the workshop area which is located right at the far back of the exhibition hall. If you are choosing the latter option, I suggest that you go to register and make your payment first upon your arrival before touring the exhibition or else you might not be able to get a place. Here are the three classes on offer tomorrow:

11.30am - 12.30pm
Temari Zushi & Matcha Tiramisu Workshop
60 mins SGD 20

12.45pm - 1.45pm
Temari Zushi & Matcha Tiramisu Workshop
60 mins SGD 20

2.00pm - 4.00pm
Polkaros Café Presents - Mini Teishoku Workshop
120 mins SGD 45

One other tip that I would like to share with you is that you should bring ample cash if you are planning to buy any of the products sold by the exhibitors. Most of them only accept cash so it's only a few who accept Nets or even credit card for items which are more pricey. It's also better if you can prepare small notes if possible or else you may have to wait a while for your change especially with the crowds around.

If you are feeling peckish, you can head to the J Food Court area at the back (left side of the hall) to sample the selection from some of the well-known Japanese restaurants in Singapore. There's also a lot of food and drink sampling going around so your taste buds will be treated to a feast fit for a king as you go around the exhibition hall.

Over the next few days, I will be sharing more details on the booths I visited and the products which caught my eye. Nonetheless, I have a few observations on this event which I would like to mention here that may be of use to you too:

1) If you like something, you might have to make a decision on the spot to get it.
Based on what I gathered after talking to the exhibitors, quite a number of them have not entered the Singapore market yet so they are looking for distributors and importers. For those who have already done so, their presence is largely limited to the Japanese supermarkets here such as Meidi-ya and Isetan. And even if that's the case, some of them are only featured during special events so they are not available all year round.
As such, what this means is that, if you like something which you've tasted, you might have to consider making a decision to buy it on the spot or go to Japan to do the same if the product is not sold in Singapore.

2) The exhibitors are very proud of their products and more than willing to share with you on what makes their products so good or special.
Save for a few exhibitors who were seemingly more concerned with talking to people who looked like they would bring business to them or their phones were more interesting than the visitors in front of them or perhaps they were not very keen on talking to people like me who wore a media pass, the rest of the exhibitors I came across were very friendly and enthusiastic about sharing their products with me. Of course, I think the fact that I could speak Japanese helped a lot in breaking the ice between us and I really appreciated some of them willing to make an effort to talk to me in English even though they may not be that fluent. When you want to break into an overseas market, initiative is really important since you can't be sitting there to wait for business to come your way. If you are willing to approach them, they will reciprocate. And if you have any problems communicating, there are the interpreters who can help in bridging the gap.
During these conversations, I was really impressed by some of these companies and their products so that's why I want to write a detailed post and do some free PR for them. I'm not a bigwig from some established media company so it's inevitable that some people do not really take you seriously and wouldn't want to talk to you. However, since I'm already promoting J-ent in general, there's no reason why I can't do the same for Japan's F & B industry especially since I love Japanese food too. As such, do keep a lookout for these posts coming your way!

3) Learn from the experts, first-hand.
I'm sure many people like Japanese food but may not really understand or know the details or the profound knowledge that goes into making them. Besides learning through the workshops, talking to the exhibitors will definitely be an eye-opening experience. I learnt something new from everyone I talked to so it was a truly enriching day I spent at this event. Some of the information I got is not something you can easily find online or in books.

If you are keen to check out this event, do remember to head there early and hope that you'll have fun on your Saturday!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Lunchtime goodness at Shin-Do (Century Square)

Shin-Do is strictly speaking not a new restaurant. It occupies the same shop space in Century Square's B1 and used to be known as Shin-Sapporo Ramen. However, the change is not merely in its name but also its entire concept because the former was more ramen-centric while the new version includes more options in terms of teishoku, sushi and appetisers.

To be honest, I wasn't too impressed with Shin-Sapporo Ramen in the past so I stopped going there since a long time ago. Apparently, under the new concept, ramen is still an integral part of the menu with the biggest attraction being the fire ramen but there are options for people who might not want to eat ramen that day. In a way, that helps in attracting a wider pool of customers other than the usual ramen lovers.

On a weekday afternoon while on the search for a late lunch venue, I walked past Shin-Do and saw its promotional panels. There they were, wholesome lunchtime-only teishoku sets which were going for as low as $8.90 ($10.90 for the more expensive items) nett with a free cup of hot or cold green tea thrown in. If you would like to have other drinks, you need to pay a small amount to top up. The food displays outside the restaurant looked rather appealing and I was keen to try a good deal if I spotted it so I decided to revisit or should I say, give Shin-Do a chance.

The set I ordered was the teriyaki chicken set which came with pickles (takuan) and a healthy dose of shredded cabbage with a small tomato. First of all, I've not been seeing takuan that often in the Japanese teishoku sets these days so it was a pleasant surprise to see it in my bento box. I really liked it for being of the right taste and the texture was crunchy enough despite it being sliced so thinly. I would have preferred this to be slightly thicker or to have more slices in the set. As for the cabbage salad, I thought that the portion size could be a tad too much for those who don't like their greens but I personally felt that it was a welcome addition to give the meal a slightly different texture. With regard to the rice, I thought that it was a bit too soft and overcooked but the grilled and shredded seaweed lent a nice aroma to the rice which was drenched in a sauce that tasted similar to the teriyaki sauce. Just one note of caution then, the chef might have to go easier on the amount of sauce for the rice since there was too much and made the rice saltier than I would have liked. Last but not least, the teriyaki chicken was tender and flavourful and there was more pieces than I assumed the set would contain. Anything that exceeds the customer's expectation is always welcome.

On another day, I came back for the tori karaage set which gave me a slightly different experience. The time of my second visit was during lunch hour so the wait for the food to be served was much faster than during the first visit. Not that I really minded the wait since I liked the taste of what I ate during that visit but it sure wouldn't hurt to have the food served quickly when I am hungry. In terms of portion size, I thought that the amount of the cabbage salad seemed to be slightly lesser and there was one less slice of the takuan. As for the rice, there was lesser sauce poured onto it and the flavour of the seaweed was even more noticeably this time which I attributed to it being grilled for a longer time before being shredded. The rice texture was also more to my liking this time. With regard to the tori karaage, it was slightly different from what I usually get which tends to be round-shaped. The version at Shin-Do had the chicken in long strips which I don't really mind unless they use breast meat which I dislike for its dry and tough texture if overcooked. Luckily, the fried chicken here was tender and juicy enough but there should have been more mayonnaise provided to eat the chicken with.

Both sets I had were in the $8.90 group and I must say, I was quite satisfied with their quality and portion size despite the low price. I'm glad that I found another nice place to eat at and will probably go back soon to try the other lunch sets or the items in the ala carte menu.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Review of Sully

What attracted me to this film were two factors i.e. the true story behind the miraculous landing on Hudson River in 2009 and Tom Hanks. I must admit that I had some reservations upon finding out that the movie is only 96 minutes and wondered if this was long enough to contain what needs to be told. In the end, my worry was unfounded. In fact, this length turned out to be just nice and prevented the film from over-glorifying the hero or putting in unnecessary fillers which would have dragged down the quality of the story.

To give some background into the story, allow me to describe briefly what happened on 15 January 2009. US Airways Flight 1549 which was heading from LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte Douglas International Airport, encountered double engine failure due to a bird strike within minutes of its takeoff. Without any engine power, enough altitude nor any nearby airports for the plane to land safely, the pilot Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) made the unprecedented decision of landing on the Hudson River. Luckily, everyone survived the ordeal and were quickly rescued by the emergency response services amid the bitterly cold winter.

Instead of focusing solely on what happened during those 208 seconds, the meat of the film lies in the subsequent investigation. No doubt the survivors, public and media hailed Sullenberger and Skiles as the heroes, the investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board seemed to be headed into another direction i.e. one which tried to find fault with the pilots' decision rather than mechanical or weather or accident factors. While trying to cope with the media attention, Sullenberger grapples with PTSD and the pressure from the investigation which questioned his judgement and threatens to end his career in an dishonourable manner. Of course, the results of the investigation proved to be in the pilots' favour in the end so it was a huge sigh of relief for the heroes who truly deserved the credit for saving everyone on board including themselves.

Much as most viewers will probably dislike the NTSB for their way of investigating the accident, I think that it is understandable to a certain extent because they have to be fair and not lean towards a certain view before the investigations are concluded. As the media and public generally viewed the pilots in a favourable light, the NTSB's stand of having to prove that the pilots could be potentially at fault for landing the plane on the river rather than seek an airport to land would not go down well with everyone. According to the film's director Clint Eastwood, there was a certain degree of dramatisation in the movie so it could be that the words used by the NTSB investigators were not as nasty nor filled with accusations as shown in the film.

Personally, I felt that the issue was more with their investigation methods and assumptions made rather than the stand they adopted towards the pilots which conveniently took out the surprise factor i.e. the reaction time which the pilots needed and did not take into account that they could not practise like those pilots doing the simulations. As such, when Sullenberger pointed out these fatal errors in the investigation, it felt like justice was done and he managed to save his and his partner's careers with his own efforts. It is easy to assume things when you are not put into such a critical situation and it would appear that the investigators did not consider this when making their conclusions. Without this film, we probably wouldn't have known that there were such loopholes in the investigation.

Besides the investigation, I think the film also had a feel-good and heartwarming aspect to it. Besides Sullenberger's concern for his passengers and crew as seen from his attempt to ensure that everyone was off the plane before he left and how he wanted to know the survivor numbers immediately, the way the emergency response services were pictured here indicated that the achievement did not belong to the pilots only but that these rescuers had also been instrumental in the success. Without them and their quick action, the survivors would have suffered in the icy cold river.

Another part of the film which I thought was handled quite well was the PTSD aspect. Sullenberger, like everyone else, is human after all so it was natural that he would be affected by the close shave ordeal. However, he was not given the time and space to recover psychologically due to the media frenzy, pressure from the investigation, looming threat of his career being ended at this juncture and possible financial hardship brought onto his family. It is easy to forget that heroes are humans too and Tom Hanks managed to show a very raw and real side to the hero which was probably not apparent in media reports.

Tom Hanks did a fantastic job in playing Sullenberger. There was hardly anything dramatic in his actions and mannerisms just like Sullenberger who thought that he was just performing his duty and wasn't enjoying the hero treatment. As such, it didn't feel like Hanks had to exert himself too much when playing this role. However, beneath that facade of calmness, he still managed to show the underlying worries and insecurities Sullenberger had when he started to doubt himself. When faced with those accusations from the NTSB suggesting that he was wrong, he tried to seek assurance but found that even if people agreed with him, he still wasn't 100 percent convinced. When self-doubt started to creep in, he could no longer maintain his confidence as shown by his confession to his wife that there might be a possibility that the investigation might not turn out well for him. He really projected the dilemma of believing in oneself and being cornered by those who didn't in a convincing manner. I also liked his chemistry with Eckhart and how both men did their best in the face of adversity, be it in the sky and on the ground i.e. against the investigation authorities.

In conclusion, this film is definitely worth watching for its succinct take on the aftermath of the Hudson River miracle, great acting from Tom Hanks in particular and the ending brimming with positiveness and warmth. Be sure to stay till the credits roll because you will see footage of Sullenberger and Skiles with the survivors during their gathering and hear their thoughts about this incident and how it has changed their lives.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

First impressions of d'Good Cafe (Ngee Ann City)

I heard of this cafe fairly recently, thanks to the promotional efforts by some local celebrities who had been to here. Apparently, this cafe is co-owned by a local veteran actor Chew Chor Meng thus his colleagues were invited here before the official opening. Upon entering the cafe, you will a shelf beside the counter and cake shelf with two layers of cups containing coffee beans and signed Polaroid shots of these celebrities so you might want to do some "star-gazing" here to see if your favourites might be among them.

My visit was on a Saturday afternoon so naturally, it was packed with people. There are two dining areas i.e. the "outdoor" section which looks like a dainty English garden while the interior has a somewhat British feel with its London underground signs bearing the names of Holland Village and Orchard which is where its outlets are located at. The utensils and tea pots used also have a similar style. If possible, I think it's better to sit at the outdoor section which is visibly brighter and feels more spacious. I thought that the interior section was kinda cramped and tables were placed too close to one another. However, given that the shop itself does not occupy a lot of space in the first place, it is probably difficult to free up more space during peak periods. It might feel a lot better if the cafe wasn't that crowded.

At the entrance, there is a red telephone booth which again has a British feel but it's probably more for decoration purpose. It naturally attracts customers to want to take a selfie with it as seen from the number of people I saw crowding around this during my visit. As for the post box location just beside the telephone booth, it is there for a purpose. It seems that the management of this cafe are Christians and are offering to pray for customers who need it. As such, you can fill in the card placed at the post box where you provide your details and which area(s) you need prayers for whereby the cafe's team will do the necessary. I thought it was a rather kind gesture on their part regardless of your religion but it can do with a bit of promotion. Unless you walk to the post box and pick up the prayer request card, you probably have no idea what this is for and that you can request for prayers to be made on your behalf. As such, it is easy to miss this and dismiss the post box as a mere ornament even though it has a purpose to fulfill. I will post the contents of the prayer request card below so please take a look if you are interested.

Besides this prayer request service, the shelf beside the cake counter also has a level dedicated to featuring art works from TOUCH Special Crafts where the artistic talents of people with mild intellectual disabilities are discovered and nurtured. I thought that it was good that some of these art works are displayed for all to see and purchase. A lot of these charity initiatives may not be publicised widely so even if you are keen to buy their products to show support, you might not know where to turn to. Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to spread the word and more people can be aware and do something. In this sense, the cafe deserves credit for giving a space to such charity initiatives despite their space constraint.

Despite the fact that this cafe emphasizes coffee as its biggest selling point, being a non-coffee drinker, I have no idea if it's really as good as it is said so you'll have to find out the answer yourself. As it was a rather sweltering day when I visited, I chose a mojito mocktail instead of hot tea even though I was quite tempted to order one just to see the pretty pots which were served with the tea. In the end, the desire for gratification from a cold drink took over so I skipped the hot teas.

Frankly speaking, I thought that the mocktail was pretty much of a disappointment. In a mojito, the mint is one of the key ingredients but I didn't detect any taste of it nor see the crushed mint leaves. In that sense, this drink already didn't qualify as a mojito to me. The lime flavour was slightly overpowering to the point of being sour while the soda added a tingly and rather gassy feel on the palate which I didn't like. Supposedly, there should be tea in this drink as well but I didn't seem to pick that flavour up. Maybe I'm just being too demanding since the cafe's specialty is coffee and tea so I can't expect too much from a non-signature drink. Then again, you probably need to make your alternatives decent enough to attract people who aren't into coffee and tea. Although I wouldn't recommend this drink to people who want something which resembles the mojito but minus the alcohol, you may actually like it more than I do since it's a case of personal preference. It's just that his drink needs a fair bit of adjustment and improvement in order to truly fit the bill as a mojito look-alike and taste-alike.

Since I was just feeling peckish and didn't want to eat too much before dinner, I ordered the warm chocolate lava cake as a teatime snack. Appearance-wise, it's rather no-frills as seen from the photo so it might be good to doll this up a bit to make it more "Instagram-able". I don't have much to complain about the taste which has that chocolate taste without being too rich on the palate but the cake was rather cold when it was served. It certainly took a while before this was served which I was quite surprised since it shouldn't take that long usually. I am not sure if it cooled down too much in the kitchen before it was served or that it wasn't even heated up properly. Although the chocolate lava did flow out as expected, the lack of warmth in this dessert somehow made it feel like an ordinary chocolate cake rather than a chocolate lava cake. If this can be served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, I think it would be the icing on the cake since the hot and cold texture may accentuate the taste of the lava cake even more.

Since the cafe has been open for just a few weeks, there may be time needed to tweak the daily operations. The servers seemed a bit overwhelmed due to the crowds. I probably would go back to try the mains and the famed cheesecake but as for now, I think the cafe needs to distinguish itself a bit more in terms of its F & B offerings due to the tough competition in the Orchard shopping belt.

Here are some of the other photos I took while at the cafe:

The London underground-style signs on the wall

The cake counter at the entrance...looks tempting

The prayer request card

The art works from TOUCH Special Crafts

The coffee cups containing the celebrities' photos

Another set of coffee cups with the celebrities' photos

The dainty English-style teapots

Monday, September 12, 2016

Review of "Busanhaeng" 부산행 (Train to Busan)

I've never been keen on horror movies e.g. those involving vampires movies. As such, I wasn't particularly interested in watching "Busanhaeng" at first because I thought that it was just a horror film. I guess when age catches up, my appetite for such horror films has gone down by a lot. To think that I used to like watching horror movies in the middle of the night and relished seeing Sadako crawl out of the TV in the Ring series! However, after hearing rave reviews about the film from the people around me, my interest was piqued so I gave in to my curiosity in the end. And I have to say, it did exceed my expectations to a certain extent.

A disclaimer though, if you haven't watched this movie, beware of spoilers ahead.

Gong Yoo plays the lead role of Seok Woo, an investment fund manager who is so caught-up with his work and got a divorce from his wife. Although he is raising their only daughter Su-An (Kim Su-an) with the help of his mother, their relationship is somewhat aloof and frosty as seen from his absence from a school performance which led to Su-An being unable to sing her song and his buying of a gift for her birthday which was exactly the same as what he gave her during Children's Day. When Su-An asks to go to Busan to meet her mother, Seok Woo reluctantly books tickets on the earliest train from Seoul to Busan the following day so that he can bring her there personally and be in time to return to work.

However, things get off to a weird start the next morning as Seok Woo drives Su-An to the train station when emergency services seem to be heading off to somewhere in a hurry. Thinking nothing much about it, Seok Woo and Su-An board the first train to Busan, oblivious to what is happening at the train station. Su-An catches a glimpse of someone attacking the station master and is shocked but doesn't manage to tell Seok Woo who is taking a nap. Meanwhile, a wounded girl boards the train at the last minute thus marking the start of carnage on the southbound train.

As more passengers get infected by the virus which supposedly turns them into bloodthirsty zombies, those who survive the attacks (for now) gather in a single carriage, thanks to efforts by Seok Woo along with married couple Sang-hwa (Ma Dong-seok) and Seong-kyeong (Jung Yu-mi). When they get news that they can alight at one of the stations along the way to Busan and be rescued by authorities, the survivors find to their horror that even the soldiers have been infected and try to get back onto the train. Seok Woo, Sang-hwa and Yong-guk (Choi Woo Shik) are separated from the rest of the survivors and have a hard time reuniting with them but at the expense of Sang-hwa who puts up a brave fight against the vampires. However, the majority of the survivors fear that Seok-woo and Yong-guk may have already been infected along with Jin-hee (Ahn So-hee), Su-an and Seong-kyeong and decide to force them to be separated from the rest in a front carriage. This unwittingly proves to be the lifesaver for the small group as one of the survivors is so disgusted with the selfish behaviour displayed by the majority which led to the demise of her elder sister and unlocks the door to let the vampires in.

The ordeal does not end for the remaining survivors as the tracks are blocked by obstacles and they have to switch trains in order to continue to Busan. However, this causes more of them to be infected and Seok Woo, Su-an and Seong-gyeong are the only ones who make it to the breakaway train. Unfortunately, in a valiant attempt to save Su-an and Seong-kyeong, Seok Woo gets infected too and jumps off the train so as to prevent himself from attacking them. Su-an and Seong-kyeong finally make it to a tunnel where they walk on foot, unaware that soldiers are prepared to shoot them if they are vampires. Upon hearing the song Su-an had planned to sing for Seok Woo the day before, they are convinced that Su-an and Seong-kyeong are still humans and take them into custody.

In terms of pacing and entertainment value, "Busanhaeng" does not disappoint as the action and tension builds up nicely. There were many notable scenes which were so gripping e.g. when the vampires were charging towards the survivors after the train stopped halfway in its journey and when the survivors were chased down the tracks in their bid to board the runaway train with the vampires hot on their heels. Although the vampires looked really grotesque with their twisted actions and blood-stained faces, I thought that what was more frightening about them was their speed in attacking humans rather than their appearances. For those who like vampire flicks, this film should have enough action to satisfy you. Being confined to the constraints of a moving train, space is definitely limited so it looks like the cast had an even tougher time doing all those action scenes. In terms of this, I think they deserve accolades for their efforts.

As for the story, I thought that it was a bit lacking in some areas. First of all, the origin of the virus and how the outbreak came about was not explicitly explained. Through the phone calls between Seok Woo and his subordinate, it was implied that they had or rather their company probably had invested in some company which was making or researching the virus. However, that's pretty much all the information you get in this regard so I thought it was insufficient. The characteristics of the vampires' behaviour such as being blind in the dark and being tame when they do not see humans were also not explained so they were presented to the audience in the form of tested deductions by the survivors. Towards the end, there was also no clear explanation on how the virus was contained or the whole issue resolved so I thought that it wasn't a very satisfying ending. As such, if you can ignore these loopholes, the film itself is still an entertaining one to watch.

With regard to the cast, I thought that Gong Yoo and Ma Dong-seok stood out in their own ways. Although I didn't watch "Coffee Prince" and was never a fan of Gong in the past, I liked his performance in the movie "Dogani" (The Crucible) which was his first project after leaving the army. This time, I thought he nailed it as a workaholic who was more concerned with protecting his own interests to one who showed his natural instinct as a father to protect his daughter at all costs. The transition between both sides of his character was smooth and his last scene as he bade farewell to his daughter was indeed heart-wrenching. Of course, it would have been ideal if Seok Woo didn't die in the end but if he didn't, that might not have turned up the "touching" factor of this movie and showed his love for Su-an. On the other hand, Ma was a scene-stealer from the start due to his macho size which didn't quite match his gentleness in front of his pregnant wife. He was especially nimble and convincing in those action scenes against the vampires but it was a pity that his character perished too early. Jung Yu-mi did appear as a spunky yet somewhat foul-mouthed pregnant lady at first but without Ma around to carry on the banter, her screen presence sort of deflated to a damsel in distress saved largely by Seok Woo so she didn't make that much of an impact on me in the end.

In short, "Busanhaeng" is a pretty good film in terms of its action and entertainment. However, if the loopholes in its story could have been patched up, it would have been close to perfect.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Review of Singapore Garden Festival 2016

I really dislike going to crowded places and try to make an effort to avoid going to such places or attending events or exhibitions during peak periods. First of all, it is difficult to move around due to the crowds. Secondly, when I want to take photos of things such as exhibits or flowers in this case, it irks me so much when I have to keep waiting for people who like to take selfies or wefies in a variety of poses while the rest of the visitors are waiting around impatiently for them to move away. It makes me wonder why they are so oblivious to their surroundings and don't seem to think that they need to move a bit more quickly to make it more pleasant for everyone. Coupled with the sweltering weather and my inability to get into Flower Dome due to the snaking crowds, the visit to this year's Garden Festival wasn't very pleasant for me after all. Fortunately, I managed to see some really nice exhibits so that helped to salvage the less-than-ideal experience.

One thing to note, the lighting in the sheltered areas can be improved especially in those sections which were deliberately dimmed. The direction of the small lights need to be adjusted a bit as they cast shadows or cause reflections e.g. in the terrarium section so it was really difficult to get good shots on some of the nice exhibits. I thought that it was a pity.

Here are some of the pictures I took during my visit:

Friday, July 1, 2016

Review of Rakuzen (Millenia Walk)

I'm not a frequent visitor to Millenia Walk primarily because most of its retail options are rather out of my budget and there's this "atas" image that the mall has. However, in terms of dining options, there are a few places there which I like so you can say that I'm there for the food most, if not all the time. Rakuzen is one of my favourites after a friend brought me there once.

My recent visit was rather ad-hoc since I was looking for a dinner place but didn't want the meal to be too overwhelming in terms of volume nor too rich for the palate. Although it was a weekday night, some of the places there were quite full due to the evening crowd from offices nearby. I have a personal preference of avoiding crowded places for meals if I can help it so those were naturally out of my consideration. While walking past the line of restaurants located outside the Millenia Walk building, I came across this signboard from Rakuzen offering a customised sushi set as part of their 10th anniversary celebration. Most of the time, such sushi sets tend to have the options fixed by the chefs so I do not like to order them because there is always bound to be at least one or two items which I don't like in the set. Rakuzen's promotion was good in the sense that I could choose whatever I wanted from the list of 21 options and I could choose multiples of the same item. The only condition was that if you want the more pricey ootoro and ikura sushi, you'll have to order the 12-piece set and each of these two items can only be ordered once. This didn't bother me since I wasn't going to order them anyway but if you happen to like them, you might want to keep this condition in mind.

I ordered the 8-piece set which consisted of nama hotate, ebi, ika, tako as well as 2-pieces of nii-hotate and zuwagani each. Besides the sushi, the set also included a miso soup, chawanmushi, pickles (radish slices) and dessert (jelly with watermelon cubes). I felt that this was a pretty good deal for the price of 16 dollars since each piece of the sushi was about 2 to 4 dollars if you order them ala-carte. Just the sushi alone would have cost me at least 24 bucks on the assumption of an average price of 3 dollars per piece. Coupled with all the side dishes, I have to say that this is a steal. Other than the fact that the sushi here is a bit slimmer than other places I've been to, I'm actually very satisfied with this set. It was also just nice that I wasn't feeling very hungry that night so the size issue wasn't much of a problem.

The miso soup here was comforting i.e. warm and flavourful without being overly salty. The pickles were crunchy and refreshing on the palate. I don't take chawanmushi so I can't comment on its taste. As for the dessert, the watermelon provided great comfort from the sweltering weather but the jelly was too soft and sweet for my liking. Perhaps they had used gelatin or agar agar for that but I prefer the kanten's texture which is firmer.

Although my main aim was to have the sushi set only, I got tempted by the delicious-looking karaage from a nearby table and couldn't resist ordering this. The portion is good enough for sharing among a few people and I must say that for this quantity and quality, 8 dollars is a great deal. The chicken's batter was not overly thick and I liked that it was not overcooked like what some places offer where the exterior looks dark brown. The chicken meat within retained its juices thus even without an accompanying sauce, I thought this was good enough to eat on its own with the salad. If the chicken had been dry, it would have been difficult to stomach this without a sauce.

It's not stated on the signboard how long the sushi set promotion will last but it looks like it's not restricted to lunch or dinner hours only. Be sure to check with the staff if this is what you would like to go for just to ensure that you'll get what you want since items are subjected to availability too. There are other good items on their menu which I tried before on previous visits and liked such as the kyuri asazuke (cucumber pickles), buta shabu (pork shabu shabu with sesame sauce) and surumeika sugatayaki (grilled squid). Other than this branch, there's another branch at Telok Ayer so you may wish to visit their website to find the details.