Cheongsams from Qoo10, anyone? (Updated)

(I like to apologize first for getting this published prematurely yesterday. I had a bit of a problem getting used to the new WordPress format and accidentally pressed “Publish” before completing my post. This is the finalized version..)

Recently, out of curiosity, I decided to look at the type of cheongsams available for sale in Qoo10, a marketplace where sellers to set up online stores. (I mentioned in my previous post “Cheongsams from Etsy and others” that the stuff sold in qoo10 tend to be relatively cheaper than Etsy. It turns out there are a lot of cheongsams available, but they tend to be generic looking: the straight-cut fitting form with back zip. Still I was surprised by the price range of the dresses; they can be as cheap as less than S$20 to as much as more than S$400! Yet there don’t seem much differences between them, at least based on the pictures and absence of close look at the quality.

Let’s check out the cheap cheongsams available. If you are looking fur a one-off Chinese New Year dress, here is something for less than S $20. If the quality sucks, you can dump it when CNY is over. Though you have to keep your fingers crossed that it doesn’t look obviously cheap.
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I had showcased the below dress in my previous post, which is selling in Etsy for more than S $160. The same dress (or maybe an imitation) is selling for less than a quarter of that in Qoo10!
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For those looking for wedding cheongsams on a budget, look no further than Qoo10. You have options of either short or long dresses for less than S $100. The fabrics are claimed to make up of tulle, organza, and chiffon. Whether or not the workmanship is up to mark is for you to find out after delivery. I’m sure alteration is required as well. I guess if you do have a small budget, and again for one-time wear, you can consider it.
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Now comes the more expensive cheongsams, like the one below which costs more than S$160. The fabric is supposedly natural silk.
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This floral-print cheongsam is more than S$300! The pattern is marketed as spray painted on instead of printed. I assume that may be one of the reasons for the higher price, for labor-intensive fabric? (Does this mean if the dress gets wet, the color may run?) In the item description, there is much touting of the mulberry silk fabric. From the closed up images of the cheongsam, the workmanship seems ok. Still, would anyone pays a few hundred bucks for a mass-produced piece?
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Then there is a dress, also more than S$300, which I think has questionable workmanship. Look at the seam of the right sleeve compared to the left one, and the lumpy fabric on the chest.

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This image is intentionally tinted to avoid any accusation from the seller.

And I don’t know how an expensive cheongsam can have seam like this?

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This image is intentionally tinted.

My husband suggested there is no harm getting a cheap cheongsam from Qoo10, just to check out the quality. I may do that to see how it compares to what I have. But I am not sure if I will get any dress that costs more than S$100. It’s actually easier to make a cheongsam with back zip than to have one made with the traditional front opening. So these dresses are basically factory-made.

The cheongsams from Etsy and others

Recently I discovered another online source for cheongsams: Etsy. I was only vaguely aware of this website which sells some pretty interesting stuff, and didn’t realize it is like a high quality/high-end Qoo10, where you can set up an online store selling unique products. ( I have seen some really beautiful furniture and handcrafted merchandise available.) Anyway it turns out there are numerous cheongsams available. In fact The Happy Cheongsam and AnnularRing (one of the brands on Elegente site) offer their products there. Though, after checking out the selections available, I have to say they are a mixed bag, mostly blah rather than wow.

Many of the sellers hail from the west, with a number of them selling so-called vintage cheongsams, such as this.

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I was a little surprised to find one US store offering made to order cheongsams, all of which are in the traditional cut (with back zip though). The cost ranges from about S $250 to less than S $400. The dresses look decent, nothing outstanding. I do not know about the workmanship so I can’t say if they are affordable. The fabrics (indicated as cotton and silk) look rather ordinary though.
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There are the brocade fabric that many westerners associate the cheongsams with. Maybe it’s because of their limited exposure to only Chinatown, but whenever I see them in the brocade cheongsam, I’m always reminded of Chinese restaurant-waitress -lookalike.
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Truth is, if you want an elegant look in a cheongsam, Chinatown should be the last place you go to. In fact I’m not even sure if you should even consider it.

Most dresses available are in the traditional straight cut fit. Many have the boring floral and geometric patterns, and a few with gaudy sequins.
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Then there are the modern designs which tried to go sexy or boho. The former are in ultra-short dresses with side slits, and look more suitable for those working in the escort line.

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As for the boho look, to be honest, I’m not sure if this is what I want for my cheongsam. To me, it is supposed to embody elegance and the boho look just doesn’t cut it.
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This modern design below is acceptable, but boring.
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So you can see, compared to the designs of those standalone online stores or Shanghai Tang, the cheongsams on Etsy are not inspirational.

For those who prefer something more interesting, you can opt for the cheongsam bookmark instead.
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News Flash

Lark and Peony
The store is launching it’s vintage collection starting tomorrow. Though I am not sure why the different prints are launched on different dates.
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As befitting of the vintage look, the dresses come with full circle skirt and open back, and a short 1″ collar for a more casual wear. Though I like the dress with the hidden side pockets and circle skirt, but I am not one for short collar.

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If you like high collar like me, L&P is launching the classic cut (4.5cm high collar) in end October, and the Princess series (2″ collar) in early November.

Joli Pretty
JP is on a roll with their designs. They are launching a new collection (again) this Thursday. Here are two sneek peeks of the dresses available. Seems like JP is going for the cutesy look with the bow.
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Buddy’s quirks

Buddy is a rather strong-willed child, with a mind of his own; he showed his likes and dislikes at a very young age. Since he was a baby, he has certain quirks which makes it quite challenging to handle him. I’m not sure why but he has never been keen on bath since he was an infant. In fact for a very long time (probably till he was 18 months old), it requires two persons to bathe him, basically my husband and myself, with one of us holding him since he would struggle. We had to brace for a bout of wailing once we mentioned bath time. It was only when I put up stickers on the bath room wall that we managed to get him somewhat willing to go for his bath, and over time, I had to add something interesting, like a water shooter, rubber duckies, and recently monster truck squirters. Still, even now, there are days when he would put up a fight. It baffles my husband and I why Buddy doesn’t seem to enjoy bath time like other babies or toddlers, though we tried to make it fun for him, like singing or talking about the stickers on the wall.

It’s the same for diaper change. It was quite akward for us when we had a wailing Buddy in the changing room , while the other babies happily had their diapers changed without any fuss. It was only when he got older, around 16 months old, that he started to tolerate it and didn’t cry woefully like we were about to sell him off.

Buddy likes to exert his independence. He wants to figure out how to play with a certain toy on his own instead of allowing us to show him. Some time ago, my husband bought a spinning top for him, and tried showing him how to spin it. But Buddy wanted to do it his own way. It was the same with the motorized Thomas Train that I got for him. He didn’t want to allow Thomas to run on the track and instead was interested in holding Thomas stationery on a surface with its wheels running, or just looking at the moving wheels. He also hardly wants us to hold his hand when he is walking or climbing steps, unless the steps are high. It’s like he wants to behave like a big boy. Yet, for a long time especially when he is upset, he wants to be carried by my husband. It was only during the last one month or so that he is willing to sit in the stroller, after rejecting it for several months.

When Buddy was younger, he had a fascination with texture, and would touch the flowers and leaves, fabric of a couch, the uneven surface of the wall and the grainy foot stone to feel them. He doesn’t do this as much now. He also had a love for spinning and turning wheels, and still does. Whenever he sees any wheels or round-shaped objects, he cannot resist giving it a spin. And so the song “Wheels on the bus” is one of his favorites, and I guess this leads to a love for cars, trucks, trains and buses.

We don’t know where he learned to spin objects, but he can spin almost anything with his hands. It started after he learned to walk, and we saw him spinning a ball on the table. It amazed the teachers in daycare at how dextile his hands are. Basically he just loves the rotating motion. I also didn’t realize, until recently, the significance of his ball kicking skill. He was already able to do that at 18 months old. Yes, kick a ball. In fact he is well known in daycare as the baby/toddler with great ball skill. He is now able to run towards the ball and kick it.

After seeing many kids at the playground and at Buddy’s gym class, I noticed that only the older kids like those 5 years old and above are able to run and kick the ball. At Buddy’s age, the other toddlers basically just pick it up and throw it. My husband and I believe this is a special talent Buddy is born with, though we have no idea why he has it since no one in our extended families ever played soccer. We do hope that this gift will be developed to good use in future. Judging at how crappy the soccer scene is in Singapore, I seriously doubt if he can have a soccer career here or even be a professional. The only hope is that he can develop it to a good enough level to get a college scholarship somewhere. (Not that we don’t believe in Buddy, but let’s face it. There are at least half a million European, African and Latin American toddlers with soccer talents. Buddy doesn’t stand a chance against them.)

Buddy does have a little of an obsessive nature, which I understand is common with toddlers. Previously it was car or train. Right now, it’s shapes. It might be my husband who once pointed out to him a hexagon object. He became fascinated with it, probably because it is not the usual triangle or square. He surprised the teacher recently when he called out a hexagonal object. He becomes obsessed with the hexagonal nuts in his tool box. My husband found the Shapes song from Kids TV for him, and he loves the video ever since, and has been singing the songs he picked up. He learned about pentagon, which he discovered in the colored patch of a soccer ball (in fact it interconnects with the hexagonal white patches), and octagon (found in the stop sign).

Buddy has also shown a stubborn streak. When he does something wrong, he refuses to apologize. When we threaten to take away his toys, he doesn’t scream or throw the toys in anger, instead he will just give them to us rather than say sorry. Goes to show what a headstrong boy he is (might have gotten that from me)! The only things he is allowed to have are books and puzzles. (We don’t believe in capital punishment, and might as well use the punishment time productively.) He ends up quietly working on the puzzles and completes them.

I don’t know if this is another characteristic of his obsessive nature, but Buddy has shown remarkable patience and focus when he works on the puzzles. In fact he focuses best when there is no other toys to distract him. So it’s good to remove them on a regular basis.

When I wondered aloud about Buddy’s quirks the other day, my husband pointed out to me that I have plenty to boot myself. I guess, this may be a case of “like mother, like son”.

Buddy and his toys

When my in-laws were in the US recently, my husband and I took the chance to order products from the American online stores so that they could bring back for us. They have a lot more varieties and cheaper in prices compared to what are available in Singapore. Half of the stuff we ordered are for Buddy, mostly toys and educational materials.

Buddy has shown a deep interest in trains, cars, bus and trucks after he turned two in June. I guess that is typical of boys. When we took him to this toy shop The Better Toy Store (previously located at Takashimaya), he parked himself at the train set; same for the other kids. We thought we might get a starter kit for him, but which one? The shop sells train sets from Plan Toys, which, I was told, is also compatible with Thomas Train brand.

I decided to do some research, and found that there are actually a lot of brands out there. A couple of the high quality popular ones are Brio and Thomas, and of course the prices reflect that. However many of them, whether cheap or expensive, are actually compatible with each other. I then thought of getting a second-hand set from eBay (US site) where there are a lot of train sets and accessories available. But my husband felt we should get a basic set for Buddy first, instead of waiting till mid September for his parents to bring it back.

We went to check out Toys R Us, and I was surprised at the meager offering. Still, Buddy took a fancy to the Percy Take N Play train (the die-cast train series). My husband bought it for him (before I could say no), and he became inseparable from Percy then. I thought I might be able to get cheaper train online, since the little Percy costs more than S$14. I checked out Qoo10 and found the wooden train series, and bought Salty for about S$5 (too bad this is the only series available on the site). My husband then told me we should get a motorized train for Buddy since that is more cool. (I think he wants it as well.) He sent me this link of a motorized Thomas running on Ikea train track, and I have to admit it sure looks fun.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTsoeGNUTww

The motorized train is part of the TrackMaster series, and I chose a Thomas with cargo car from Amazon. When my husband opened the box for Buddy, it immediately became his favorite train. But strangely, he didn’t want the cargo car attached, and he also didn’t let Thomas runs on its own. It took a week before he could be persuaded to allow Thomas to run freely, and even now he still doesn’t want the cargo car attached to it. I guess it’s because it’s easier to carry Thomas around without the car. My husband told us to guard Thomas with our lives; whenever

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[From left] Thomas (Trackmaster) with cargo car, Percy (Take N Play), and Salty (Wooden Train).

We bought a basic train set from Ikea, and later an expansion set and bridge set. The diecast train can’t go on the wooden track, but both the wooden train and Trackmaster series move on it just fine. Here is Thomas running along the track.

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The smaller loop on the top was set up by my husband, while the bigger lower loop was built by Buddy.

Ikea also offers sturdy toy cars that can withstand knocks and abuses, which is important because toddlers do not know what handle with care means.
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Whenever we visit my parents, who stay with my brother and his family, Buddy would be fascinated with the little diecast toy cars that his cousin, Yikai, owns. This is a yellow car that Buddy played with and refused to return.
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Both my husband and I may be seen as competitive parents. To us, it would be best if we can combine Buddy’s play with learning. We got him this box of 4 jigsaw puzzles when he was about 22 months old for him to try. Initially he was only able to put together the 2-piece puzzle on his own. But we also realized, as he continued to work on the other puzzles that he enjoyed putting the pieces together. Now he can complete all of them without help.

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Since Buddy has shown a love for jigsaw puzzles, we wanted to get him something interesting from Amazon, like a fire truck or pirate ship picture. My husband thought this fire truck giant puzzle would be enticing for Buddy. But I wondered if it might be a little too advanced for him since there are 30 pieces. Still my husband felt it would be a good challenge for him, and he could slowly learn to put it together with our help.  He had tried it a few times with us, and I must say I also need time to figure it out myself. My husband finally admitted that maybe we should get an intermediate set of 15-piece puzzle for Buddy for the time being.

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The Learning Journey brand has a lot of good stuff for preschoolers. We bought a number of learning puzzles for Buddy, like this spelling match-it puzzle set. He is able to piece the words together, though I don’t think it is because he knows how to spell, but it is like a simple jigsaw puzzle for him.
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I realized that we need to do more on Buddy’s Mandarin skill, and bought him this cute animal puzzle cards so that he can learn the animal names in Chinese.

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I don’t know why but Buddy has a thing for the rhino, and within a couple of days, poor rhino is in need of intensive care.

I have mentioned in previous post that it has not been easy to get Buddy to bathe. We have tried the rubber ducky, the water piston, the beach pail and scoop, and all only managed to get him into the bath tub for a short period of time before he got tired of them. So we needed something exciting. I chanced upon this set of monster truck squirters on Amazon, and showed my husband. He agreed that this would do the trick to entice Buddy to bathe willingly. When we first showed them to him, he literally ran into the bathroom.  He couldn’t decide which one to play with, and kept asking us to give him different trucks. So now, we only limit him to two. But he does have his preferences, like the tow truck and the green jeep are frequently requested.

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My father-in-law bought toy balls for Buddy again, adding to the now extensive collection of balls.  (Perhaps a Trackmaster train next time, or a HABA toy?) Buddy only tried playing with the soccer ball, but it is a little too heavy for him, and he got frustrated when he couldn’t kick it far enough on the grass field. He prefers the mini soccer ball we got him from Giant supermarket.

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[Clockwise from left]: the smaller replica of the 2014 FIFA World Cup soccer ball, the hand ball, and the American football.

Last year, when my father in law made a trip to Germany, my husband told him to get some toys for Buddy. He came back with two, and one was a pretty well-made toy tool box set. We only opened it for Buddy a couple of months back, when he got older, since it is meant for 3+ years old. (Luckily Buddy doesn’t chew or swallow his toys or anything that is non food.)
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Initially he wasn’t really interested in the tools, and instead discovered he could turn the tool bench upside down and use it as a stool. But my husband keeps showing him the bolts, nuts, spanner and such, and how to use them. Buddy has now learned to play-act with the hammer and spanner.

Buddy also received a scooter early last year from his uncle and aunt from the US when they stopped by Singapore. Though it comes with a small seat for toddler, Buddy was still too young to use it. We left it in storage until a couple of months ago when I thought Buddy might be able to try it. It was then I realized we could have set up the seat for him earlier. But he likes to scoot around on it though he still can’t steer. We bought him a helmet but he doesn’t like wearing it. We let him off since he can’t move fast. But he is learning to propel himself faster on it, so soon it’ll be helmet or no scooter. But he is pretty headstrong, and will rather forgo the scooter than wear the helmet.
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The cheongsam collections follow-up

The Happy Cheongsam provided loads of pictures of their latest collecton, to be launched this Friday at 8pm, on Facebook. I guess this is to drum up publicity and excitement among their followers. The theme “Hellooo Tokyooo!” says as much where the inspiration came from. I have to say the latest designs are better than the last collection, inspired by California.
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The first is a A-line cheongsam called “Sunrise on Fuji”. Though I can’t really tell Mt Fuji from the geometric print, but I thought this is a lovely design.
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However I am not sure why a fabric belt is included with the dress since it doesn’t add to the design. In fact I think it causes the bunching around the bums area (partly due to the design and partly because of, what I suspect, a stiff fabric), as seen in the picture below. If I would to get this dress, I would remove the detachable belt.
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The below “Blue Sakura” dress is good for a casual Friday or weekends. It doesn’t have a belt, but trimming along the waist. This works because it is sewn on and helps to break up the monotonous white color.
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As seen from the back.

The following is the pretty “Tokyo Doll”, with removable brooch and black sash. Suitable for the younger ladies, a little too cutesy for older women, especially those above 40.
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Now, for the most elegant dress of the collection, “Cherry Blossoms”. It is similar to the tulip-skirt dresses of the previous launches (“Tiffany Breakfast” was the first), but THC has done an improvisation on the front panel where the collars can be folded down. For this design, the fabric belt actually complements and improves the look. I like this design the best.
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This is another A-line cheongsam dress with a belt which I deem unnecessary as well. I had initially liked the design until I saw the back view.
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There is a gather in front of the skirt but none at the back. I think if a gather is made at the back, the belt wouldn’t have caused the bunching. And to overcome the monotonous black, the top could have been the same for both front and back.

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There is bunching along the bums area as well.

The only top in the collection: a cutesy combination of pink and neko-chan print (similar color combo that Our Bitsy Prints used in the latest collections which works well). I do wonder about the peplum style, which is seriously overused.

Well, despite my critique of some of the designs, this is a good collection nonetheless.. it is always nice to see a designer taking chances. Sure, bloggers like me might criticise, but at least I think I provide feedback to improved future collections. So, well done, Min!

The cheongsam collections

Some of you might have checked out the latest collections from Our Bitsy Prints and Joli Pretty,  launched last Thursday. I am curious to know what the readers think about them.

OBP has only one new design this time, but overall, the collection is prettier and more interesting because of the children theme, Nostalgia Children’s Day. As for JP’s dresses, though there are more new designs, they look pedestrian in comparison. In fact I consider this a disappointing follow up to their previous collections. Take a look at a couple of them below.

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The print is ordinary and I don’t get why it has to be paired with the thin white belt. It looks totally unsophisticated.

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This looks like curtain print on dress to me.

There are two tops being offered this time, but nothing sophisticated or elegant about them. Like this below, it looks mumsy even on the young model.
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I think JP tried to go whimsy with these prints.

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This dragonfly print is not bad. But the dress seems a little loose on the model. Maybe it can be worn as a maternity cheongsam.

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It may be the short sleeves or the prints, but I don’t think the flamenco hemline works here (unlike the Peter Kor’s design).

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This is the most decent dress of the lot.

OBP managed to get their hands on some interesting and whimsy prints, like the below pleated skirt dress with this cute “potong” (cut in Malay) ice-cream print on the top.
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I like this casual denim design, and the cassette tape print peeking out from the side pockets. Too bad it is a little youngish for me.

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I love this “Gem cookies” print, and the color combination is so pretty. I wish this design comes with side pockets.

Not all the prints work, however. Like these two drop-waist denim skirt cheongsams. I find the graphics a little too chaotic and too crowded. Like the designer was trying to squeeze as many figures into the limited fabric as possible.

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OBP only offered one top this time, featuring cute toy figures.
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My summarized view is that OBP’S latest collection is geared towards the younger set, while the designs in JP’s collection are for the “aunties”. You may or may not agree, so feel free to provide comments on what you think.

Like to add here that The Happy Cheongsam is launching their collecton 6 “Hellooo Tokyooo” this Friday evening. Will provide my feedback in the next post.
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Cheongsam update for the day

I am returning to a favorite topic, the cheongsam, which is also the main interest of most of the blog followers.

This time I am showing photo shots of the dress in both the traditional and the modern forms, as well as news of design launches of some of the online boutiques.

Black is a favorite color of many, and here we see it in various designs. First off, is this black cheongsam with peony print from Hana. This is typical Hana straight cut design with hidden back zip and no piping nor embroidered buttons. I presume this is to show off the beautiful water color painting of the flowers. But
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Another piece from Hana in a black lace overlay over black silk lining. I didn’t get to check it closely but it appears to have front opening along the chest and side. This is the LBD of cheongsam, and would make a beautiful dress for a nice dinner or a cocktail event.
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I was at Raffles City last week and decided to check out some of the boutiques. Naturally Shanghai Tang cannot be missed, and I found a couple of interesting modern designs.
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When I felt the fabric of the above flare skirt cheongsam, I initially thought the fabric was wool, but it turns out to be blend of cotton and polyester, though the lining is mulberry silk. The material is rather heavy but not stiff, and so it allows the dress to drape nicely on the bodice. I like the casual chicness of this dress and the high collar adds a touch of elegance.

Shanghai Tang impresses me again with this dress-shirt cheongsam, a design which will appeal to the modern woman. The gap at the collar shouid also satisfy those who find high, wrap-around cheongsam collar stifling. I like how, by pairing it with a belt, it creates a waist which is accentuated in the traditional form. This is truly a creative modem interpretation.
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Spotted these at the display: one a cheongsam pant suit and the other a wool dress. I have featured a similar dress in an earlier post “Cheongsam for the occasion” dated 22 July (which shows the dress in red with beige trimming). I don’t like the design of the pant suit, which looks similar to the one from Ong Shunmugam. Worse, the floral design makes it looks “auntie”.
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On the second floor of Raffles City mall is Xi (喜). At the window display is a casual A-line dress with denim trimming and chinese water color print is displayed. (Unfortunately the glass reflection reduces the clarity of the picture.) A mix of the west and east with modern characteristics.
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I checked out Allure, also on the second level, to see if the boutique offers cheongsams despite not being the new year period. It does but the design is rather blah: traditional straight cut form with piping, embroidered buttons and hidden back zip.
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Now to the news. Our Bitsy Prints and Joli Pretty are launching their next collections tomorrow. OBP’S designs are available at 9PM while you can check out those from JP at 11AM.

This is a sneek peek of JP’s collection.
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I like a couple of the prints like the dragonfly (bottom right) and what looks like panda (top middle). Not crazy over some, like the bottom middle blue print which reminds me of ameba (single call organism).

OBP had children’s day (1 October) in mind when they designed this latest collection.
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Some of the prints are rather pretty, like the one of potong (cut in Malay) ice cream (top left) and the clouds in pastel blue background (bottom left). I also find the print of cassette tapes peeking out from a pocket (middle middle) rather whimsical. But some of the prints seem a little too crowded (top right, middle right and bottom middle). Though I will have to see the dresses to decide if that is the case, or perhaps the prints are juxtaposed appropriately.

Lark and Peony is going retro with their cheongsam, at least for one dress.
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This comes with a circle skirt. It will be interesting to see the full design. But the collar is too short though. Anyway this is part of the next collection scheduled for launch in mid October.

The food at RWS

As mentioned in my previous post “A Staycation at RWS”, I am reviewing the food experience we had at Resorts World Sentosa in this separate post. Though I have to state upfront that I didn’t take any pictures of the restaurants or food.

When we arrived at Hotel Michael, we had lunch at the Italian restaurant, Palio, since it’s convenient. To be honest, I didn’t have much expectations because the hotel is run like a China man shop.
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But, to our surprise, the food turned out to be better than expected. We ordered the 2-course set lunch of appetizer/dessert and main for S$22++ each. A margherita pizza which Buddy also took, a green salad, a spicy tomato pasta and a hazelnut crunch cake.

The pizza is freshly made and though not as good as the one from Bruno, it can rival Spizza. Buddy loves pizza, though so far he had only tried those from Spizza and Da Paolo Gastronomia. He enjoyed the one served at Palio, and even ate the crust. We didn’t give him the spicy pasta, but it was very well done too. My only beef is the small portion of the cake. In fact it is so tiny that it can gobbled up in two mouthful. Buddy is also a cake lover, and he said “yummy” to the cake.

The next morning, my husband suggested that we had breakfast at Palio as well, also for convenience so that we could spend more time at Universal Studio. Palio offers breakfast buffet at a fixed price of S$22 nett for each diner. That sounds rather reasonable. But turns out the price also reflects the quality of the food. In a word, breakfast sucks!

The mini pancakes were not fluffy and broke into pieces when I tried cutting them. The tiny chocolate cupcake, which Buddy picked, was dry. Buddy only had half a cupcake, and refused to finish it. He stuck to having watermelon instead. (You can’t go wrong with fruits though there was limited choices, other than watermelon, there were only honeydew and pineapple.) My husband had some sausage and bacon, and remarked that he was only having them for the protein since there was no other options. Seriously, for a low quality breakfast, S$22 is expensive.

It had been some time since we last checked out RWS, which was about a year ago. The food scene has changed a lot, with more choices now. But quantity doesn’t equate to quality. Still there are some which have been rather consistent, like Coca Steamboat Restaurant, which also has an branch at Takashimaya mall. We used to go to the latter when my husband wanted a steamboat fix, and he loves the freshly made dipping. They still have it at the RWS outlet. In fact they offer a dinner buffet for S$44++ per person, and you can select from a wide selection of ingredients including seafood such as oysters and prawns, meat, and lots of vegetables and mushrooms.

Our dinner didn’t get on a good start, no fault of the restaurant. It was because Buddy didn’t nap earlier in the afternoon, and we thought we would have an early dinner so that he could sleep earlier. Unfortunately, at 5.30pm, Buddy started to get cranky. My husband rocked him to sleep and we thought we could then put him in the stroller. But he woke up with a wail when we tried. In the end, my husband ignored the resistance and placed him on the stroller. We had to take turns to have dinner as we pushed him around. Luckily, after a short nap, he was willing to join us for dinner.

Back to the food at Coca, the ingredients are pretty fresh and the dip is as good as before. If you like seafood, then taking the buffet is a good option, and in fact I recommend it for a healthy dinner. We also received attentive service at the restaurant. We didn’t have to ask for refill of water, and the staff was quick to help us open the door when we went in and out with the stroller.

When we were at Universal Studio, we had our lunch at Loui ‘ s NY Pizza Parlor, not by choice but for convenience since we were at the New York zone.

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We didn’t order a whole pizza, and instead asked for a slice of margherita pizza (again, since this is easy for Buddy to eat) and a meatball Bolognese pasta, and Buddy wanted a watermelon cup as well. Perhaps because the slice didn’t come from a freshly baked pizza, I find the taste average, and even the pasta is nothing special (and worse they are a little cold). Though Buddy had a little pizza, he had mostly watermelon again. (Yes, I realize he is a fussy eater like me.) The reviews at Hungry Go Where were positive; I can understand for those who ordered the freshly prepared whole pizza. But for the pre-prepared food, it was basically just to fill the stomach, nothing great about it. I would really reconsider about returning.

We had an afternoon snack at Mel’s Drive In, located at the Hollywood zone. Basically like a fast food restaurant, with similar offerings to Burger King or . But Mel’s is more expensive because you are paying the the price for smaller portion.

My husband was thinking of having a good burger for dinner, and Hard Rock restaurant seemed like a good place to go to. Unfortunately, Buddy started to get cranky and refused to enter the restaurant. He kept pointing to the opposite direction. So we decided to take him for a short stroll. We stopped outside Pisco, a restaurant serving South American food and the menu looks interesting But, again, Buddy refused to go in. My husband decided to take him for a stroll inside the Malaysian Food Street food court while I had to use the bathroom. While in there, he found that the Chinese were no longer cooking the food and instead were replaced by Malaysians. (We had tried the food there a couple of years ago and it sucks. My husband complained then that the Chinese, employed for their cheap labor, didn’t know how to fry a mean char kway teow (fried flat rice noodle with dark soy sauce).

My husband, who has a penchant for local Malaysian food, suggested we had dinner there instead, and we could tempt Buddy with roti prata (fried Indian dough), which he likes. The food court was rather crowded for a week day night, and understandably so, since the prices are more reasonable (compared to the restaurant) and it’s comfort food for the Malaysian tourists (a lot of them), and also preferred by other tourists as well. Indeed, the food is better than before. We had the chicken satay which is well grilled, the roti prata is quite good too, though I am not a fan of the Penang Loh Mee. I guess the Malaysian tourists must have screamed bloody murder when the Chinese screw up their food and RWS had to scramble in the locals to take over.

On the third and last day, we tried something new, Slappy Cakes. This a pancake place that serves all-day breakfast. After the sucky breakfast and pancakes at the hotel, we thought we could finally get good old American pancakes. At least this is what we saw outside the restaurant.

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We went in and got a table just in time, before the crowd came. On each table, there is a hot plate, and on the wall, there is pictures showing how to make pancakes with fillings. It turns out Slappy Cakes is a DIY pancake place, though you can order the breakfast course with pancakes included “Truck Stop”. My husband was a little dismay about it, and understandably so. Why can’t the restaurant provide an option to the diner who doesn’t want to cook the pancakes? So he ordered the breakfast course for himself and the DIY pancake for me.

To be honest, I was initially curious. The pictures on the wall make cooking pancakes look rather simple: pour a layer of batter on the hot plate, add fillings, flip over and voila, you have a beautiful layered pancakes. But when the batter and fillings arrived, and my husband and I looked at the hot plate, we realized we weren’t sure what temperature to set. There was absolutely no suggestion or instruction. The restaurant was also so short of staff that they just dumped the food on the table and ran off to serve another. Basically it is up to the diners to figure out.

My husband resorted to trial and error. He put in the batter on the hot plate and I added the fillings (strawberries, bananas, blueberries and shredded coconut) into it. But it didn’t turn out like the picture. When the pancakes were flipped over, some of the filling spill out. The pancakes were crumbly and fell apart, and the fillings on the pancakes looked like some sort of tumorous growth. “How can people expect to have good pancakes with DIY?” exclaimed my husband. (It’s not as if pancakes are a staple of Asian diet.)

My husband realized the problem, and as he tried with the second batch, he explained, “In order to make fluffy and nice pancakes like those in the picture, you need a thick batter. In fact the fillings should be mixed into the batter so that when one side is cooked and you flip it over, the fillings won’t fall out. But the problem with this batter is that it is runny.” He tried covering the fillings with a top batter. The end result was better, but still nothing like the picture. That is just a marketing gimmick to get you into the restaurant!

Buddy didn’t want to touch the pancakes. He only wanted his alphabet cookies and the blueberry fruit. Even the pancakes in the Truck Stop breakfast were not up to mark. The cook is obviously not experienced, and the rest (bacon, potatoes, scrambled egg) was measly and left much to be desired, and it costs S$20. “If the Americans are served this kind of breakfast, they will storm the restaurant!”   We seriously have no idea how the hell the restaurant was given an award for ‘best dessert 2014′ and received all those good reviews.

Well, I guess at any attraction, there is bound to be a mix bag of restaurants. Unfortunately you can’t really rely on reviews and have to try the food to know for sure. I am interested in the South American restaurant, Pisco, though I do realize the well-presented pictures can be misleading. Still we’ll have to be guinea pigs to know for ourselves.

A staycation at RWS

We had initially wanted to have a vacation in Hong Kong, where we could take Buddy to Disney World and Ocean Park. But after a spate of air crashes, including the ill-fated MH17 and others within a few weeks, the incidents spooked my husband and I. Logically, the risk of dying in an air disaster is really low; in fact we have a higher chance of dying from a car accident. But the news impact is greater for a plane crash and so we decided to avoid air travel for the time being, and go for a staycation instead.

We opted for Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) since it has  family friendly attractions. RWS offers a two-night accommodation with multi-attraction package that includes 2 adult day passes to Universal Studio, SEA Aquarium and the Adventure Cove Waterpark. (Children below 4 years old enter free.) We had been to the Aquarium last year, but Buddy was napping most of the time then and so we thought we could go for a second visit and hopefully Buddy would be awake this time.

The package starts from S$628, and requires prepayment. You have to be sure of the dates for the staycation, otherwise you won’t get a refund if you cancel or make any changes. There is a choice of one of four hotels. We wanted one which is suitable for family, so Hard Rock Hotel and Equarius Hotel were not in our consideration. That left Hotel Michael and Festive Hotel, with the latter touted as a family hotel. My husband suggested we checked reviews on TripAdvisor first, and it turns out both hotels have mixed feedback though HM is slightly better. There were complaints about the room quality, small size and no free WiFi available. But Hotel Michael has an edge because of its convenient location, being nearest to the attractions. We didn’t think we needed the extra space available at Festive Hotel, after all we only have Buddy with us and he is a toddler. So a deluxe room at Hotel Michael it was and I requested for a baby cot for Buddy. The package requires the guest to indicate which date they would be going for the attractions (for the day passes). We decided on the Aquarium for the first day, Universal Studio for second day and the Adventure Water Cove Park for the third.

On the confirmation letter, it is stated that the letter has to be shown at the Sentosa gantry for complimentary entry for the hotel stay. So we were a little surprised, after we entered Sentosa, that there was the entry and into RWS and we didn’t have to go through the Sentosa gantry. We thought there had been a change to make the visit a breeze, and marvelled at the convenience. But it turned out to be a mistake and there was a reason for going via the Sentosa gantry (though this is not stated at all in the confirmation letter). We went into the car park, where there are prominent signs pointing to the casino, and were looking out for the direction going to HM, instead we only saw signages for Hard Rock Hotel and Hotel Equarius. We were stumped but decided to park where HRH is. When we asked the staff there for the direction to HM, we were told it would be quite a walk. We went back to the car and called customer service to find out how we could get there instead. We were told there would be a U-turn at the car park exit but there was none. The situation was starting to sour the staycation even before it began. 

It was only when we checked with two staff, on their way to lunch, that we found out there was no way of going to HM from where we were, unless we exit and pay the rate of S$7 (for less than 30 mins)! The staff instead suggested we stay put at the HRH car park and take either the shuttle bus or the buggy to HM. It looked like this was the best option then. We went to HRH concierge and asked for the shuttle bus, which was coming in 12 minutes’ time. We had just plonk ourselves on the couch when the concierge staff came over and told us he had spoken to his supervisor, and they would arrange for us to travel to HM via the buggy. “That was a quick turnaround of service!”, my husband exclaimed. Sure enough, a buggy was waiting for us at the entrance and we were driven to HM. The HRH staff sure had redeemed the earlier unpleasant experience.

I had requested for early check-in at HM, and was told the room was being cleaned then and to return to the front desk at 2pm when it might be ready. It was almost 1pm and so we decided to have lunch first. For convenience, we went to the Italian restaurant there, Palio. (I will review the food experience in a separate post.) Sure enough, the room was ready as spoken. The front desk also gave me two complimentary parking coupons and two entry passes for Sentosa for the two-night stay. My husband used the coupons to shift the car, and I can tell you the coupons come in very handy because parking costs an arm and a leg.

The Tripadvisor reviews are right that the room is not very big (and the website doesn’t even put down the size). In fact the room is simply furnished, and when I saw the bed, I was a little surprised as it looked like a queen-size to me though I had asked for a king bed. The staff assured me it was the latter when I checked with them, but it seems slightly smaller than what we have at home. My husband tried testing the bed, and grimaced that the mattress is soft. He won’t be able to sleep on soft mattress! It gives him backache. I checked with the staff for a hard mattress, but was told all mattresses are the same. Strangely when my husband checked the other side of the bed, it was fine for him. I didn’t find the bed too soft for me then, but that evening, I had trouble sleeping. It could either be the mattress or the soft pillows. I had to lie on two pillows to sleep. 

Inside the room, there are basic amenities like mineral water (2 bottles), water pot, coffee and tea sachets, and toiletries (only shampoo and body wash provided). There was no hand soup in the bathroom, and I had to ask the housekeeping staff for it when she came with the cot. There is no mini-bar either (not that we use it), the mini fridge is empty. Our luggage was also not brought to the room, and I had to ask for them. As for the cable TV, there is CNN and Chinese programs, but no movie channels like HBO or Fox Movies. It looks to us like the hotel is geared towards the Chinese-speaking crowd. It is also true that there is no free WiFi available in the hotel. I have to agree with the Tripadvisor reviews that it is ridiculous for a resort hotel like HM that guests have to pay for WiFi usage. On the last day, my husband checked if there was in-room express check-out, and there was none. He remarked, “this place is really run like a China- man shop!” My husband is not a “jiak kentang” (westernized) person, but he feels that there doesn’t seem to be a proper system in place in the hotel management (likely someone from the Genting Group who owns the resort), unlike the Aquarium (by extension the water park), which is run by an Australian, is better managed. A little consolation for my husband is that the hotel has a gym on the third floor, and the equipments look as if they have never been used since the place opened.

Anyway, we didn’t go to the Aquarium straight after checking into the room, we decided to let Buddy take his afternoon nap first, and also for my husband to have a nap as well. Unfortunately, Buddy didn’t want to sleep and was playing on the bed, which also causes my husband to stay awake. We decided we might as well go to the Aquarium.

I don’t know why, but this second trip wasn’t as exciting as the first. Even the big tank doesn’t seem so impressive. In fact I found out from Wikipedia yesterday that the SEA Aquarium is no longer the largest in the world. (Expectedly, the Chinese is now holding the title.) Buddy wasn’t fascinated by the sea creatures as well. The only interesting experience for him was the touch pool when he had the chance to touch a starfish. So we didn’t spend a long time in the Aquarium.
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We thought we would have more fun at Universal Studio; my husband and I had a good time at the Orlando theme park. We still remember the scary ride at The Mommy zone when I kept my eyes shut the entire time. Admittedly both of us were chicken and didn’t try the roller coasters then. Hell, I was even a little scared of the Princess Unicorn train ride which was above ground. However for this park at RWS, we couldn’t even try half the rides because Buddy isn’t tall enough. We decided to go for whatever is suitable for him.
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Madagascar zone was the first that we went for, since it is located near to the entrance. There was a boat ride which we thought Buddy would enjoy. When we went into the cabin, the staff told us Buddy couldn’t be on my husband’s lap and had to sit on the bench because of the safety restrain that has to be lowered in front of the sitting passengers. But Buddy refused to do so, and struggled and wailed when we tried to make him. We had to take him out when the staff told us to calm him down first. We asked him if he wanted to go on the boat ride, he nodded his head. But when we asked him to sit on the bench, he shook his head. So no boat ride for us.

We then went over to the Madagascar carousel. Buddy was excited to see the animal rides, especially the zebra, but he didn’t want to ride on his own. Luckily there is a carriage for parents with infants, and I had to take it with Buddy, him sitting on my lap of course.
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We also caught the photo sessions with the characters.

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Buddy was more interested in the lion than the penguins.

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The lemur tried to chat up Buddy, unsuccessfully.

We watched the 3D show at Shrek: Far Far Away zone. Buddy didn’t want to put on the 3D glasses, and I don’t think he enjoyed the show. He didn’t like the sudden jerking movement of the chair nor the loud sounds, and wailed in response. Following that, we went for one more show before lunch, and that was an action-packed performance at Waterworld. My husband loved this, and was thrilled by the dare devil stunts. I was bored midway through it though, and he tried telling me to forget about the cheesy storyline and focus on the stunts. I don’t think Buddy understood what was going on either.

We went for a quick lunch at the sesame Street restaurant before returning to the hotel for naps. There was a street performance by the Muppets while we were there, but Buddy isn’t into Sesame Street (and neither am I). When we returned to Universal Studio in the late afternoon for round 2, thank God it wasn’t as hot then. The park closes at 7pm, so we went straight to the Jeep ride at the Ancient Egypt zone that we saw earlier in the day. We told Buddy, while on the way, to get him excited so that there won’t be a repeat of the failed boat ride. Alas, again he has to be on the seat, and when we tried to do so, again he resisted and we had to give up. Even when we tried to put him in front of the driving wheel, he refused. No jeep ride for us either.

Instead, we went for the show “Light, Camera, Action” “hosted” by Steven Spielberg. When we were at Orlando, we saw the simulation of a tornado. This time, it was a hurricane inside a boathouse in NYC. We were a little worried that Buddy would be frightened by the loud noise again, so my husband was prepared to cover his eyes and me, his ears. But Buddy was brave this time, he wanted to watch what was going on. I must say it was fascinating and exciting, even for me, especially the entry of the ship at the end. There was a toddler girl who cried, but Buddy didn’t, though he said, “scared, scared,” after the show.

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It was a good thing that we were at the Aquarium and Universal Studio on weekdays when there was no huge crowds, and the fact that last week was not a school holiday also helps. We didn’t have to queue for long at the shows and hardly queued for the rides. But it was really hot when we were at the theme park, and so it’s best to bring along sun block, hat, and perhaps an umbrella in case it rains. It is also fine to bring along the stroller or pram since there are designated parking areas for them at the park. We didn’t know about this and so Buddy didn’t have the stroller during the first half of our visit, and we didn’t want to rent one for S$15. It was rather exhausting for my husband to carry him under the hot sun, and me carrying the diaper bag and other stuff. With the stroller during the second half of the visit, it was much better. It was too bad though that we only managed to watch 3 shows and taken two rides (at the same carousel). Yes, we returned to the carousel for a second ride after we couldn’t take the jeep.

The Adventure Cove Water Park, which we went on the third day, turned out to be the highlight and climax of the staycation, which was unexpected. (We thought Universal Studio would be great fun.) Instead Buddy loves the water park.   

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Initially when we tried to put on the life jacket on Buddy, he resisted and struggled, but we persisted. My husband wanted to take him down the Adventure River on a tube but he didn’t want to go into the water. So we took him to the Big Bucket Treehouse, and he had such a blast! My husband took him up to the treehouse to ride down on the slides and they had loads of fun. Strangely, Buddy also loves to go under the water showers, though he doesn’t like it when we shower him during bath time.  I went to check out other suitable water play areas for Buddy and found the Seahorse Hideaway for toddlers. When my husband and Buddy saw the place, it was “blah, so boring, compared to the treehouse!’ It was just some water fountains in a shadow pool. We then turned back to the Adventure River, when this time, Buddy happily went into the water with my husband.

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We didn’t spend a lot of time at the water park since we had to check out before 2.00PM (I made a late check out request). But my husband told me the fun and thrill was condensed within that 1.5 hours.

If you ask me if I would go for another staycation at RWS, my initial reaction would be no since I am not impressed with the hotel. But I realized that there is advantage of staying at Hotel Michael because of the convenience of having a room to bathe and rest. We definitely want to return to the Adventure Cove Water Park since Buddy had so much fun there, and it would be nice to check out the other pools though not all are appropriate for him. So we will want to spend more time at the water park, and we will also want to go to the theme park again to persuade Buddy to go for some of the rides. But I will not go for the multi-attraction package since we want to skip the Aquarium. Instead the accommodation with S$300 credit is a better option, where we can use for entry into the attractions or F&B. So, unfortunately, we have to bow to the power of monopoly here.

A Les Amis experience

Yesterday, my team had a farewell lunch for two colleagues. Initially we thought of going to Tamarind Hill at Labrador Park, which boss had previously raved about the food and ambience. But when we proposed to him, he advised against it after he had a negative experience the last time he had lunch there, which was a month ago. Instead, he suggested Les Amis, which he highly recommends for the good food and wine.

Well, I’m not a wine person, but I was pretty excited when I learned we were going to Les Amis for lunch since it’s an icon in the restaurant scene. Besides I had never been there before, and had always wanted to try the food. Anyway, I also found out the other reason for my boss’s suggestion: he had a 30% discount coupon from his credit card company.

The interior decor of Les Amis is simple but classy, and the staff provide bag stools for ladies to place their bags on. Both my colleagues arrived first, and they had the bag stools. When my boss and I got there, I thought I would place my bag on the stool where S had her large canvas bag. The staff seemed to assume that since I did that, they didn’t have to offer a separate stool to me. I think it must be the male mentality because the staff are all men.

The male staff are, in general, rather polite and somewhat attentive. But compared to the impressive service at the fine dining restaurant, Gary Danko, in San Francisco, it’s still a far cry. The staff here still lack the perceptive service that blew us away at GD. (Example, GD staff remembered the coat I wore despite the restaurant being full and it was brought to me after dinner at the door, and best of all a cab was waiting for us when we wanted it and we didn’t even have to ask.)      

Anyway, back to the main topic, the food. It is a four-course meal and all of us chose the Menu Le Déjeuner at S$55++ each. My boss and S had a bottle of red wine between them. Since I didn’t try it, I can’t comment on the quality, but it was said to be good. The staff served us a basket of assorted bread and I only recalled the tomato bread and the bacon bread. They come with butter (in the shape of a cone) and sea salt. Though the bread is quite tasty, but what I don’t understand is why it wasn’t warmed up. Seriously, cold and slightly hard bread should not be served in a fine dining restaurant.

 

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Next came the salad: haricot vert salad in combination with foie gras and quail egg. Haricot vert is really just a fancy name for French bean or snap bean. To be honest, I couldn’t taste the foie gras at all. It might be that it was overwhelmed by the cream-based dressing. I also find that the French beans were a little over-cooked and lacked the crunch. The only interesting ingredient is the little green apple balls, which added a slight tartness and crunch to the texture.

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I like the soup, a chicken broth with foie gras ravioli and herb, garnished with cream on the side. It’s really flavorful, and the cream enhances the taste. My only beef is that the foie gras is measly.

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When I was served my main course, I was struck by how small the portion was. It was Scottish wild salmon served two ways: tartare and grilled. And it was really good! The tartare was blended with chopped onion and capers, and had none of the raw fishy taste. I basically devoured the entire plate.

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The other diners at my table opted for the baby rack of lamb with pommery mustard ice cream, and comes with mash potato. Because they asked for medium cooked, the meat turned out to be quite reddish. I declined to try it but my boss had no problem with that (he’s a meat lover). During lunch, he recounted that when he stayed at the Shangri-la Jing’an hotel in Shanghai last week, he went for dinner at the steakhouse there. He had finished 3/4 of a porterhouse steak when he realized that the inside was rare instead of the medium cooked that he asked for. He pointed out to the maitre’D and requested to have it cooked a little longer. When the maitre’D returned, it was a new plate of steak! My boss promptly finished it.
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The dessert was supposed to be Rum baba dark rum from Guatemala, blackberry nectar, crème chantilly. But I wanted something without liquor, so I chose Granité of fresh coconut on a mosaic of tropical fruit and milk jelly. The tropic fruits are pineapple and mango, and go very well with the coconut sorbet, which tastes really refreshing.

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S had the rum baba and I tried a bite. Rum baba is basically a yeast cake filled with usually rum. I must say it is good, especially with the blackberry sauce.

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We were also served madeleine with a passion fruit cream. I thought the Madeleine is best eaten on its own.

So, to sum up, I find the lunch to be a little disappointing. After all the hype on Les Amis, the dining experience is nothing spectacular. I am not sure if it is because of lunch or maybe because it was the cheapest set on the menu. But I had a much satisfying experience at Buchon Bistro by Thomas Keller at Napa Valley, when we were wowed by the food, despite being a Bistro.