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.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Revisiting Okada Coffee and making new discoveries

Just realised that my first visit to Okada Coffee was back in 2013. Wow, that was almost three years ago!

With each visit to this place, there are two conflicting feelings I experience. On one hand, I'm glad that this place is not crowded so it has become my secret oasis for some peace and relaxation while getting my sweet fix. However, I also worry if this place is making enough money to keep going and I would really hate to see it go if it gets edged out by a bigger and more profitable business as what is seen at many other shopping malls across the island. I'm just simply thankful that this cafe is still here and seems to be going strong despite being very quiet on a Saturday evening. I noticed that there were quite a number of ladies who turned up on their own like me so I guess we all like this place for the quietness as compared to popular coffee chains which I can never get a seat at.

One thing I think would be good to attract walk-in customers would be to refresh the menu from time to time or have seasonal specials. To be honest, there are times when I want to try something different but find myself struggling to find something which I've not tasted yet. From what I observed, many people tend to come here for the desserts and drinks such as coffee. I think I've tasted most of the cakes and desserts here so it would be nice to have some new choices at times. Then again, if the cafe feels that they can do better by concentrating on a few items which they are strong in, I think that's fine too. Just that it would't hurt to have new surprises in the menu for a limited period if they want to test waters and don't want to commit long-term to a new item so quickly.

For the drink, I tried the matcha float which had a strong but not overpowering matcha fragrance and flavour. The taste was further accentuated by the ice cream which melted into the drink and provided a slightly sweet and creamy taste. It was a great thirst quencher considering how hot it was that evening. I love my matcha but it's not easy to get the balance between bitterness and sweetness correct in matcha-based desserts. If I drink this on its own without the ice-cream, I think it would have tasted good too.

As for the dessert, I got the chestnut parfait which surprised me in some ways. I did not expect to see so much chestnut paste on top with the glazed boiled chestnut pieces which looked so appealing. Beneath the chestnut paste were the cold cheesecake cubes and crunchy cornflakes which provided a variation in the texture. In terms of the taste, the first mouthful may seem quite sweet due to the chestnut paste but as you progress further, the taste becomes less overwhelming. The layering of different levels can be somewhat adjusted though because there was no chestnut paste in the middle of the glass. As such, it became a bit bland and dry to eat the cheesecake with the cornflakes towards the end. Other than that, I thought that this was a pretty good parfait on the whole. Oh, before I forgot, the butter cookies on top of the parfait were very aromatic and tasted good with the chestnut paste.

I wonder what I should order on my next visit?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Keong Saik Carnival - a case of mismatched expectations with reality?

I don't know if I read the promotional write-up wrongly or misinterpreted it but I was under the impression that the Keong Saik Carnival was a retro-style event. The promotional banner on the carnival's Facebook page seemed to suggest that there was a strong retro element with the use of old pictures. Then again, when I scrutinised the write-up again after the event, it didn't seem to be the case especially the part about letting the young and old come together to create memories on the old streets. I think I must read the description more carefully next time before going for any events especially I had the same disappointment with the Super Japan Matsuri last week.

Perhaps it was the hot weather and the cigarette smoke which got on my nerves. Maybe it was the lack of retro elements which made me feel disappointed since that was my primary aim of going for the carnival. Otherwise, I'm one who shuns crowds at open-air spaces. I think this event felt more like a street carnival in an old street but with pretty modern attractions that unfortunately did not interest me.

This is probably the most retro-style item I could see at the carnival i.e. this small and ancient-looking merry-go-round. Then again, this is for the kids so for the adults, we would just have to be content with snapping pictures of it. Given the limited space available for this carnival, it would be difficult to have many of such amusement facilities which are often rather big. Perhaps a stretch of a few traditional game stalls would be good to let adults and kids have some fun which should be less costly and easier to set up? I didn't stay long enough though to find out if you needed to pay before you could ride this.

There were actually some stalls which did offer small games as a side attraction e.g. the mini table-tennis table with huge bats and the ball-throwing game from Jameson Irish whiskey which offered prizes such as a shot of whiskey, a notebook and a glass or the spin-the-wheel game from Deliveroo or the fortune cookie game from Uber (which was already fully given out by the time I reached). Some required you to fill in at least an email address before you could play the game (which I suppose was to get your contact details for marketing purposes) while others did not have any pre-existing conditions.

One of the more interesting stalls I came across was the Hounds of the Baskervilles. I have no idea why the name was chosen for this tattooing and barber shop especially since it is the title of a Sherlock Holmes book. Having read this book so many times to date, I thought that it was quite intriguing to see this being used as a shop name even though I don't recall anything about barbers or tattoos from the story. Might have to revisit the novel again.

In any case, there was an old-style chair for the customer who could get a shave, haircut or tattoo on the spot. I happened to be there when there was a guy having his haircut which I suppose was why so many people were standing around to observe how it was being done. Behind the barber was a table containing various items used for the shaving and hair-cutting which had a pretty nostalgic feel. That white-and-blue tall can of talcum powder (forgot the brand) was what I saw when I was a kid so it was surprising to be able to still spot it now. That wooden table itself also looked like it had been used for ages and blended well with the surrounding old street shophouse atmosphere. Although I don't think there would be any likelihood of me visiting the Hounds of the Baskervilles, this might be something which the guys might like to check out for at least a shave or haircut in a old-school setting.

In terms of the F & B offerings, I thought that it would be more appealing for those who prefer alcoholic drinks e.g. beer as there were slightly limited choices on the non-alcoholic side of things. Along the streets where the carnival was taking place, there were quite a number of restaurants and pubs/bars so it was natural that people were also drinking there. Snacks-wise, there were burgers, corn in a cup and other small items. In that sense, it's probably not so family-friendly as the promotional materials described. Coupled with the fact that people were smoking all around, I didn't really feel comfortable eating and drinking in their midst. Maybe other people might not mind but it's just a personal preference on my part that I don't fancy breathing in secondhand smoke while enjoying a meal.

The only thing I bought was the ice pop from Potato Head Bar which was really disappointing. Initially, the staff did mention to me that the ice pop was not frozen enough but I assumed that it was just a bit soft. Imagine my surprise when it came in liquid form! It would have been better if the sour plum ice pop was indeed frozen because it was so difficult to drink the plum juice from the ice bag. And it certainly did not quench my thirst as I had expected.

To be fair to the organisers, this is the first time that they are doing this so there may be some hiccups or things that they did not realise or consider in the planning. Besides, some of the "not-so-enjoyable" things I listed above were pretty much due to my own preferences so other people might have a different take on this. Especially when I saw that quite a number of people were having fun drinking, mingling with friends and dancing to the live performances or music played by the DJs, I think there were indeed people who enjoyed the carnival more than I did.

Just as a suggestion if there are future editions of this carnival, I think there needs to be a clear description on what this event is supposed to be. Is it a retro-style carnival? Is it more like a street party? Is it more of a bazaar in a traditional setting with live music? If things were made clearer, I'm sure it would attract the "right" people who are interested in what's offered. That will also mean that people won't be disappointed to find that the carnival did not provide what they were seeking. Traffic control also needs to be relooked since the entry points to the carnival still had vehicle traffic and it was kind of dangerous to be walking alongside the cars. I bet it must be frustrating for the drivers to navigate past the human traffic creating bottlenecks on the narrow streets too.

Perhaps the biggest reward I obtained through the carnival was that I've finally found out where Potato Head Folk is. It was impossible to get in due to the huge crowds but it's probably time to plan a visit to here in the near future.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A respite from the busy city life - Tadd's @ Montigo Resorts Nongsa (Batam)

During the recent Lunar New Year holiday, I went on a short trip to Montigo Resorts Nongsa in Batam. The area is rather undeveloped or should I say, in the process of being developed so there are only a few resorts in this part of Batam. This is good in the sense that the environment is left as natural as it is but I guess in a few years' time, the landscape and view here could change drastically as more resorts open here and the area gets developed.

Due to the fact that the Montigo Resort is quite far from the city area, it became a natural choice to have our meals here during our stay. Tadd's is one of the two restaurants here so I will be reviewing this first.

As the colour theme of the resort is blue and white which brings to mind Santorini in Greece, the restaurant is also dressed in similar colours with its wooden furniture, blue chairs and white walls. With the huge fans on the ceiling and the sea breeze, the whole place gives off a relaxed vibe. In line with the Lunar New Year holiday then, there were dashes of red everywhere with decorations on the tables and ceilings in the form of red packets and lanterns etc.

Here were the dishes and drinks we had during lunch on the two days during our stay:

The white drink on the right was a mojito mocktail while the other was a lychee-based soda. The mocktail tasted relatively close to the real mojito without the distinct taste of alcohol that some people may find overwhelming and the good thing was that it wasn't overly sweet which provided some much-needed relief when the weather was a bit hot and stuffy after a short drizzle. The mint leaves were fresh and added a welcome refreshing taste to the drink. Perhaps it might have been better to go easy on the amount of ice because the amount of ice diluted the drink a bit too much towards the end. As for the soda, I felt that it was too sweet especially when the ice had yet to melt but it got more palatable towards the bottom of the glass.

Next up was was the sate campur i.e. assorted satay (9 sticks) with rice cakes, peanut sauce and crackers. The satay options here are beef, chicken and prawn but if there's anything which you don't eat, you can always ask the staff to change the combination. In our case, we asked for prawn and chicken only since we do not eat beef. Frankly speaking, I don't really like having chicken satay for the fact that it gets dry too easily due to the grilling unless the portion used contains a bit more fat or moisture like thigh meat. As such, I tend to prefer pork satay which is more "resistant" to the grilling process and doesn't lose its tenderness nor taste. However, being in Indonesia, the meat options would not have included pork but it wasn't that much of an issue after all since there was still chicken to choose. Thankfully, the chicken satay was not too dry and was marinated well. As for the prawn, it was of a decent size and was pretty fresh. What I liked more were the crackers and rice cakes while the peanut sauce could do with a boost in the fragrance department.

The nonga nasi goreng contained a grilled prawn, a fried chicken wing, two sticks of chicken satay (supposed to be beef but we asked for a change), a fried egg, vegetables, fried rice and a cracker. It was a decent portion good enough for two people to share especially if you aren't too hungry or have a small appetite. As per the same with the satay set, you can ask for some customisation to the preset items if need be so please check with the staff on the available portions. At the price of IDR 125,000 (about SGD 13), the amount of items and the quality of food are quite worth the deal. Perhaps the only drawback was that the amount of vegetables seemed a bit too little when compared to the other items in this set.

The montigo ayam panggang berempah contains half of an oven-roasted spring chicken, sautéed
long beans, prawn crackers, steamed
jasmine rice and sambal. The rice was lacking in fragrance and was a bit too soft to my liking. As for the chicken, I liked the flavour but the texture was a bit dry. Somehow, I find that spring chicken tends to be dry like breast meat regardless of the cooking method, be it deep fried or grilled so I suppose that it's very difficult to retain the moisture and texture. The sambal went well with the rice and chicken. One thing worth noting was the prawn crackers used in each of the dishes were really good and I really enjoyed seeing them in almost every dish I had during my stay at the resort.

The dessert tray comprised of green tea tiramisu, triple chocolate truffle,blueberry cheese cake, ginger crème brulée, strawberry pannacotta and chocolate crémeux. Frankly speaking, we ordered this because we were not sure what we wanted to order as there were multiple items which we were interested in. Presentation-wise, this looked pretty good with its variety of colours. Overall, I felt that the quality of the items in this set were a bit lacking despite the price being even higher than a main dish. Nonetheless, the cheese cake, chocolate truffle and crème brulée were the better ones in this selection while the others were rather weak in the taste department. Quantity-wise, this is more of a tasting menu so the size of the items tend to be small. Even so, it may be a bit too much for one person if you are a small eater so it's good for sharing within a group especially if you want to try various items at one go.

Here was the young coconut juice which surprised us due to its sheer size. Coincidentally, soon after we ordered one of this, the other tables also started ordering the same thing. Seems like it's the herd syndrome at play here because if we find something that appears appealing from the other tables, chances are we will be tempted to order the same thing. The challenge in ordering something like this is how to scrape the coconut flesh from the inside of the fruit without making a mess. I must say, it was rather tough to do so because the flesh was quite thin and firmly attached to the interior wall of the fruit but if you finish drinking the juice before you start scraping the coconut flesh, it will be easier without the juice splashing all around. I learnt this the hard way when I almost spilled a good amount of the juice. As this was a young coconut, the taste of the coconut juice was not that sweet and had a tinge of sourness. I thought it went well with the strong-flavoured food and took away a bit of the greasy aftertaste.

The duck ragout fettucine is actually listed in the dinner menu but was available for ordering during lunchtime which I suppose should be due to the festive season. I tend to prefer pasta which are on the thin side such as linguine and capellini or macaroni or penne so fettucine usually gives me the impression of being rather thick and difficult to eat. In addition, due to the large surface area of the pasta, it tends to get soggy too quickly as it absorbs the pasta sauce very readily. Luckily, this version did not have a lot of sauce thus there was no problem of the fettucine being too soggy towards the end of the meal as the sauce was pretty concentrated. When eaten together with the smoked duck slices, shredded duck meat and garlic bread, the tastes of these items complement one another pretty well. Due to the substantial portion size, the after-meal feeling might be a bit heavy so this might be good for sharing within a group.

After the lacklustre experience with the dessert tray on the first day, we decided to order the desserts we were originally interested in. First up was the sago malacca which consisted of the palm sugar, crème anglaise and vanilla ice cream. The red sago layer when eaten with the cold ice cream and accompanying sauce brought about an interesting combination of tastes and textures. Visually, I thought it might be better to have more colours in this dish to accentuate the aesthetic factor although I thought that the bright red sago layer was nice to look at. However, the portion was a bit small despite the big serving dish so it should be fine for one person to finish this alone. After having this, I suddenly have this urge to try making something similar with modifications to the components.

Last but not least, here's the warm apple tart which was made from granny smith apples, rum raisin ice cream, vanilla sauce, cinnamon. I was actually a bit disappointed with the portion size of this dessert and that the apple tart here is the "deconstructed" type, Personally, I felt that the tart crust was a bit thick and tough so it might be good to improve on this area in order to make this dessert better.

On the whole, the food at Tadd's was pretty decent and had healthy portion sizes. The variety on the menu was also quite extensive so even if you stay at the resort for a few days, there should still be room for you to choose a different dish each time. However, in the dessert department, there were some flaws here and there and the portion size was a tad small when the prices were taken into consideration. Hopefully, there will be more improvements made to the menu's offerings by the time I revisit this resort.