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.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Stimulation for the sight - Hyper Japanesque

Although my main aim was to visit the Super Japan Matsuri, it turned out to be a huge disappointment due to the huge crowds and lack of organisation. Granted that it was the first time that this was held, I think the organisers probably underestimated the turnout thus leading to this situation. I couldn't even see the end of the queues for the food stalls and the counter to exchange tokens was also closed when I reached the venue. Flabbergasted at having wasted my time and effort in braving the weekend crowds to get to the Esplanade, I was about to leave and have dinner elsewhere when I came across a poster about this exhibition by Japanese artists taking place at Jendela Gallery on the second floor. As such, I decided to swing by for a visit and see if it offers anything special.

This was the first time I had visited Jendela thus I was a bit surprised to see it being smaller than I imagined. Or it could be that there were not that many exhibits so the space opened up for the exhibition was limited to a certain extent. I wouldn't say that I liked all the exhibits here but here are my favourites so I'll let the pictures do the talking.

If you are interested, take note that the exhibition is still ongoing until 3 July 2016.

Apparently, this is not just for show but does work like a telephone.
Where is Nomura Hideo?

In the mood for geso...for some reason

Indescribable yet fascinating

Butterflies are an intriguing thing to me. On one hand, they can be very pretty to look at but on the other hand, they seem to have this mysterious and somewhat sinister feel.

Looks like a heart and a tree combined

Looks similar to a bonsai

Something as simple and mundane as umbrellas can turn out to feel different depending on the arrangement.