Deserving of gold

Last Friday I volunteered to get some food for a mini farewell party in the office. A colleague suggested dim sum from Imperial Treasure Shanghai Cuisine. At the mention of the name, my interest was piqued as I had heard on the radio that morning it won the Gold award at the inaugural Best Asian Restaurant Award. Since I was there, I also bought a couple of noodle dishes for dinner. Thar evening, despite the food had been reheated, we were bowled over by it.. I told my husband we should check the restaurant and try the food onsite. So, we made a trip to town specially for it last Sunday. 

The restaurant is located on the 4th level of Ngee Ann City mall, where Coca steamboat restaurant used to occupy. (Coca has moved to a smaller premise on the same level.)

We arrived shortly after 10.30am, which is the opening hour for the day, and were the first guests. The staff led us to a booth table; I hesitated because I had read a review that those booth seats were warm despite being more comfortable than the regular ones. The staff assured me that the building management had since installed aircon on the ceiling above the booth tables, and we won’t suffer a warm fate like previous diners. 

Like any high end restaurants, the table arrangement has white table cloth with white porcelain utensils. There is even a warm towel for each guest. In fact the classy interior reminds me of a western restaurant in that dark wood and soft lighting are used.


My husband did the ordering.  We had two appetisers: shredded mix vegetables salad (top picture) and fungus marinated in vinegar. 

The salad (otherwise known in Chinese as “小菜”) is more refined than the one offered by Din Tai Fung. It has a slight crunchy texture and is lightly seasoned. The subtle flavoring results in a refreshing dish. As for the fungus, it is also superior to the one serves at the Paradise restaurants. Compared to the latter where the dish has an overpowering vinegar flavor, the one here is much more subtle, and doesn’t overwhelm the taste buds. The pieces are also proportionally curated. 

I must say that moderation and subtlety is the calling of the day when it comes to the cuisine here. The Chef  has learned this important skill which the best chefs of the world have mastered. 

A dish that surprises us is the deep fried sesame bun stuffed with scallion, which is amazingly yummy. The pastry is slightly chewy and combined with the slight crunchy texture of the scallion and sesame seeds, it is simply freaking delicious!

Another fabulous and a must-have dish is the noodle with diced chicken and chopped vegetable in thick soup. I had this for the takeaway dinner, and already it wowed me. I had it again, freshly cooked, and I slurped down all the soup Buddy absolutely loves the dish, and kept asking for more.  The soup is made using chicken stock, and the noodle is covered in its sweetness, and it feels so comforting that I can feel the love in it. This is truly chicken noodle soup that nourishes the soul!

My husband also order a stir fried noodle with shredded pork and vegetable. Again, tasty and right balance of flavorz, but I still prefer the noodle soup.

As expected, the restaurant also offers dumplings (“小笼包”), the ubequitous dim sum found in any self respecting shanghaines restaurant. And boy, does this blow us off our feet! 

The dumplings have got to be the best we have ever eaten. It is superior to those from Din Tai Fung or the Paradise restaurant. Until we had this, we didn’t realize that dumplings with thicker skin can taste so amazing. Well, the skin is only slightly thicker than those found at DTF, but the thickness actually adds to the chewy texture, as well as to hold sufficient soup inside the dumpling to make it very satisfying.  There is also no porky taste that I dislike. We like the dumplings so much that we ordered another portion.

For dessert, we had the fried red bean pancake. Again, better than the competition! The right crispy texture, the right level of sweetness. 

Seriously, the food at IT Shanghai Cuisine is so good that till now, I’m still thinking about it. It deserves a Michelin star, just on the food alone. Whoever the Chef is, that guy or woman is a master!

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Michelin or no Michelin?

Last December, during my vacation, we decided to check out a couple of eateries that have been awarded the Michelin stars in Singapore. The first to catch our interest is the one-michelin star Putien restaurant at Kitchener Road. For those unfamiliar, the name, Putien, is taken from its namesake coastal city located in the Fujian province, which naturally serves cuisine from that locale. This Singapore-based restaurant not only has many outlets here, it has also expanded regionally. However, only the one at Kitchener road, which is also where it started, is awarded the star. 

We have tried the food at its other outlets, which we thoroughly enjoyed, but never been to the original restaurant. We were curious if it would serve any special items  and if the quality would be a notch better than the other outlets, and so the taste test. 

Braised pork intestines

Marinated seaweed with mini shrimps

Fried pork knuckles

Braised bitter gourd in special sauce

Fried tenggiri fish fillets

Chinese spinach in century egg and salted egg stock

Puréed sweet potato in pumpkin cream

Rice cake stuffed with crushed peanuts

 

Some of the food we had were ordered by my Father-in-law and so there was some focus on pork dishes. Now, I have to admit I didn’t try them as I don’t take pork. But my father in law and husband thought they were pretty tasty. Like the intestines were well prepared with no porky smell, and the pork knuckles were crispy on the outside and moist inside.

The vegetable dishes are also cooked to expectataions, with a good  balance of seasonings and texture. The fried tenggiri fish is one of my favorites, very tasty, not oily, and smells really good.  As for the desserts, I like the sweet potato purée, perhaps because I like creamy texture. But I am not impressed with the rice cake which I found to be a little too chewy and dry. 

All in all, a good lunch. But if you wonder if it is worth going all the way to Kitchener road just because this outlet has a Michelin star, we don’t think so. The food is not significantly better than its sister outlets (we have tried the ones at Parkway Parade, Tampines Mall and VivoCity when it used to have a small eatery at Food Republic foodcourt). In fact, we couldn’t taste any difference. So, we will stick to those outlets convenient for us. Besides, traffic is a little crazy around the Kitchener road area, though valet parking is available if you drive.

From restaurant cuisine, we went to the cheapest Michelin food available in the world: Liao Fan Hong Kong Soy Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle. The guide has included street food in its rating. Even though Liao Fan’s fare does not technically considered as street food (since this is not available in Singapore) and it is not a hole in a wall eatery,  it is located in a hawker center where prices are generally low. Specifically, it is located at Chinatown Complex Market and Food Centre.

Check out the Michelin award story by the side of the corner stall.

Liao Fan is an unassuming stall. Hanging at the glass display are the beautifully roasted chickens in golden brown color with glistening skin and juicy-looking char Siew. I read that the owner, Chef Chan, only prepare 180 chickens a day to ensure quality of his food. He had also opened a restaurant, after the award, that is located just across the street from the hawker centre. He is mostly based at the restaurant, though he does pop by the hawker stall to check on things, while his wife and an apprentice prepare the food at the original stall. Of course we went for the food here instead of the restaurant. 


    Before coming, we had done some research and read about the horrendously long line. So we decided to be there when it opens at 10.30AM, and hoping the queue was tolerable. But it turned out others had the same idea too. So if you are in the area and want to try the food, look for a long snaking line shown in the picture below. You just have to go to the back of the queue and join the wait.

    There were some people, whom I don’t know if they were acting ignorant or what, tried to place order with the assistant at the stall without joining the queue, but was directed to it. They then turned and walked away. The assistant is pretty diligent in asking only the customer at the head of the line to step forward. 

    Finally, after nearly an hour wait, I managed to place our order and get the food.  We had a plate of roast chicken with rice, a plate with noodle, two vegetable dishes of kailan with oyster sauce and broiled bean sprout. The chicken rice is S$2, the chicken noodle is S$2.50, Kailan at S$3, and bean sprout at S$2. A meal with sufficient food for two persons at less than S$10. I also ordered a takeaway pack with chicken and Char Siew for Buddy.

    To be honest, I didn’t have high expectations of the food  despite it being awarded one Michelin star. Firstly because I had never heard of this place, and I guess I was a little skeptical that it would wow people. Secondly, I am really not a fan of soy sauce chicken. In fact during the queue, I thought to myself, “this has better be damn good for such a long wait!”

    So, how does the chicken taste? Well, I’ve to say, it does deserve the award. It is amazingly moist, the skin has a bit of crisp to it, the soy sauce marinade is not coyingly sweet like what mosr tend to taste, and instead it has a well balanced flavor. The flat rice noodle is tasty, however my husband feels the chicken goes better with the rice. The vegetables are standard fare, but they are not the main cast anyway. My husband loved the chicken so much that he regretted not ordering half a chicken for dinner. 

    By the time we finished the lunch, the line was longer than the one we joined earlier. So we decided to quickly pop over to the restaurant, hoping the queue would be shorter and we could get dinner. But it was wistful thinking that there would be a shorter line there. 

    Is it worth the long wait for the chicken? Yes, it is really very tasty, probably the best chicken rice we ever had. Admittedly the long line can be a dampener, so we haven’t returned for another tasting. But I’m looking out a day when I have time to wait in line.

    A divine food tour at Ann Siang Hill

    Last week, my husband planned a food tour for both of us, when we finally have some time off  for ourselves while Buddy is ensconced in daycare. He picked two restaurants located at Ann Siang Hill, with very good reviews. Well, actually he found about the first one from a FB post by our Prime Minister, who took the visiting President of the Philippines to a famous Nasi Lemak eatery known as The Coconut Club. To be honest, we didn’t know about this restaurant until the post appeared. It is said to serve one of the best Nasi Lemak (“coconut flavored rice” in literal translation) in town, and also one of the most expensive. 

    My husband did some research and found out that the popular eatery generates long lines everyday, and informed me that we have to be there when the restaurant opens at 11.00AM so that we won’t have to wait too long. And so we arrived at 10.50AM, hoping to beat the queue. The restaurant was opened by then, there was no line and  only one occupied table inside.

    Ann Siang Hill is known for its pre-war conserved shop houses, and The Coconut Club is housed in one of them. Because of the high ceiling, despite the scorching heat outside, the eatery is rather cool even with the door wide open. (Yes it does have A/C, and yet it keeps its doors open.) The restaurant mostly caters to groups of 2 diners, with a long table in the middle for large groups. There is not a lot of seating capacity, though there are a few tables outside the restaurant. 

    When we entered the restaurant, we were told we could have a seat and order our drinks, but the kitchen would not be ready until 11.00AM.

    The menu is very simple, there is only Nasi Lemak with side orders of either Otak (fish paste marinated with coconut milk and Chili), fried fish or fried egg. Since we were on a food tour, we couldn’t fill out stomach at TCC, so we only ordered one set of Nasi Lemak, an Otak, and a chendol (coconut milk dessert). Yes, death by coconut milk is a real possibility here!

     

    Here we have the famous dish, which comes with fried chicken, a fried egg, fried ikan bilis (anchovies), fried peanuts, cucumber and the all-important sambal Chili. However the first thing I tried was the grilled Otak, wrapped in banana leaf. Sure, I love Otak, but my husband was busy digging into the Nasi Lemak, while saying, “while stock last!” and “this is sooo… good!” 

    So let me review the Otak first, which is $8.50 per piece and possibly the most expensive Otak in Singapore. I have to say it is really good! I could see the fish meat in it and  taste its texture. It also has no fishy taste, unlike the mass produced ones and is marinated with the right amount of spices and a hint of smokiness. 

    As for the main course itself, I have to say it is the best Nasi Lemak I’ve ever had! Yes, it is quite steep at S$12.80 a plate, but it is truly amazing! The rice is perfectly cooked with a subtle coconut milk flavor, unlike most where it can be overpowering. The fried chicken is so yummy, crispy on outside and moist inside,  and the rest of the condiments are done well. My husband loves the sambal Chili which is vital to a good plate of Nasi Lemak. 

    Ending the meal is the chendol, which is lightly sweetened with Gula Melaka in very fine ice, and I have to say it is a sweet conclusion. Though I am a little disappointed that there is no red bean added into the dessert. My husband, however, thinks otherwise as this is how the original chendol is. 

    So, what do I think? I will definitely come back for the Nasi Lemak, even at $12.80 a plate because it’s truly the best I have ever had! There is one famous local food blogger who is a little dismissive of the food, saying that he couldn’t taste the difference compared to other prominent Nasi Lemak sellers. Well, he is entitled to his views but I strongly beg to differ. In fact, I would have returned to the restaurant if not for it being closed currently for the year end break. But I do think the Otak at $8.50 is a little steep, even though it is pretty good and I might not order the chendol (S$3.80) again.  

    As we were savoring our meals, the restaurant was filling up fast. When we left at 11.45AM, it was full and a line was starting to form. My advice is to come here before 11AM if possible. 

    Our next stop is located a stone’s throw away at 22 Ann Siang Road, Lolla. I had not heard of this restaurant until my husband told me he had made a reservation for our food tour, but that’s because I have not been following the food scene here. And it is only until now that I am writing this review post and doing a little research on its background that I found out it was featured in the New York Times, and was one of the  top 10 hottest restaurants in the world in the 2013 Zagat list. Since I have tried the food, I can say it deserves the hype!

    As mentioned, I went to Lolla without any idea of what to expect though my husband told me the restaurant offers food in tapas style. (I found out from research that that is not how the owner wants the food to be known.) Well, it is only similar to tapas in the sense that the food comes in small plates. The influence comes from the Mediterranean. 

    Lolla is a small eatery with a 13-seater bar counter surrounding an open kitchen, similar to a sushi counter restaurant. I understand that there is more seating available in the basement but we did not venture there. We were the first customers that day, and a whimsy menu lies on the counter in front of each seat. (It’s also available on its website.) 

    There is a special menu if you want to order something different, and the dessert menu on the chalk board.

    The chefs in the kitchen, where you get to view their culinary skills. 

    Looks at all these spices and ingredients! Under the counter top, there are a few fridges that are set to different temperatures. I noticed the Chef taking out a potted basil plant from one of them. It’s like having a mini herb garden right in the kitchen!

    First to serve is toasted Maison Kayser bread with Konbu butter. Though I am sensitive to wheat, but I decided to have a small piece of bread so that I could try the butter. What can I say? I went for second helping of bread and more. To hell with bloated tummy! 

    Like what my husband said, there is something about the combination of konbu (dried edible kelp used by Japanese in their cooking) and butter that makes a divine spread. Creaminess with an umami taste! 

    The simple but delectable tomato salad, marinated with olive oil and chopped basil. 

    Another starter: the fabulous bread with duck rillettes. On its own, the latter is not something amazing. But when I followed my husband’s lead in spreading the butter with duck rillettes on the bread and topping with tomatoes to make an open face sandwich, it’s drool-inducing good!

    We ordered the grilled avocado for more vege. The avocadoes are topped with pine nuts and pickled cabbage with some sort of creamy sauce on the base. The combination is amazing! The pine nuts and cabbage add crunch to the creamy texture of the avocadoes which are enhanced by the sauce.

    The piece de resistance of the meal is the lamb rack, which is amazingly tender and tasty, with none of the smell that put some people off lamb. If not for me wanting to have dessert, I would have had both racks. I gave one to my husband who was eyeing it longingly despite having had most of the Nasi Lemak earlier. 

    For dessert, I tried the smoky chocolate ice cream. Upon tasting it, I realized that the ice cream was like gelato, not frozen but with a creamy texture. The smoky taste enhances the chocolate flavor like salt does. But I understand the steamed dark chocolate pudding is a hit with many customers; I will try that at my next visit.

    I guess it is obvious from my review that I have fallen in love with Lolla food. It is one of the best meals I’ve ever had, and even now I’m still thinking about it! I’ve suggested to my husband for a return, but he feels that there are other good restaurants we have not tried and we should check them out instead of going back to the tried and tested. That is true, considering that we didn’t know Lolla is so good until we had the food. So, do make a trip to Lolla for the fabulous cuisine, and make reservation for lunch, which is easier to get a seat. 

    Uncovering the culinary gems

    I should have started on this post earlier, but like many, I was caught up in the latest Pokemon Go craze! As Singapore didn’t get to download the app until last Saturday, I thought my initial enthusiasm would have waned. But after I did it at the suggestion of my husband, so that Buddy and I can catch the Pokemons together, it has been an itch that I cannot stop scratching! I am rather pleased that I am now a level 12 player (or trainer in Pokemon speak). And I am also rather excited that I managed to catch quite a few pokemons with high CP (combat point). There is still a lot to learn about how to train my pokemons to fight in the gyms, though I did try my luck at it. But that’s a post for another day. Let’s focus on food for now.

    Last month, the Michelin Guide finally featured Singapore food, including street fare, or what is known as hawker food here. Whether expected or not, there were much questionings and even sneering at the choices. (These “Gwai-Lo/Angmoh” don’t know what good local food is! How can this restaurant/stall be included? The food is only average!!)  On the other hand, we are also relieved that our favorite food is not in the list because we don’t want the wait time to get even longer. 

    Anyway, over the past couple of weeks, we have been checking out the food at Fengshan Hawker Center. It’s only now that we finally understand why this is the oyster omelette hub of Singapore! There are so many hawkers selling the famous dish. But here lies the problem: which one to order from. We didn’t do any research before coming here, and so it was really trial and error.

    I ordered the omelette from one stall which seems quite popular, and unknowingly agreed to having Chili added. Strangely, despite the stall taking many orders we didn’t have to wait long for ours. The omelette turned out to be ultra spicy and totally overwhelmed the dish. I then walked around to see what are the other stalls that I could try my luck, and chanced upon stall number 85 with the signage ‘Traditional Kampung Oyster Omelette’. 


    There are a couple of pictures of the Chef owner posing on a Chinese TV program. So I thought perhaps it might be ok. There were only a couple of customers waiting around, which meant I wouldn’t  have to wait long. 

    As I stood around, I realized that there were a lot of back orders for takeaways. The Chef owner works alone and there is no one else to assist him, and so he has to cook big batches each time. It also turned out that my presumption of a short line was wrong; before I knew it, a queue started forming behind me. The food was more popular than I thought. 

    As I watched the Chef, I realized that he is one who puts a lot of care in his cooking. The egg mixture is pan-fried to the right timing before he added the oysters, with the resulting omelette looking really good and very tasty too. Best of all, it’s not as oily as what many other stalls serve. On a separate occasion, after  my husband placed his order at the stall and paid for it, he left the line thinking he could return to collect it later. When he did, the Chef told him he wouldn’t cook his order when he was not around to collect it immediately. He refused to serve the dish cold. This shows pride and how much he cares for his food.


    That evening, we also tried the porridge from Chai Chee Pork Porridge stall. The name may be misleading as it doesn’t just sell pork porridge but also sliced chicken, sliced fish porridge, etc. Look at the line below!


    We went for the chicken porridge, and I have to say it’s really good!


    It’s smooth but not overly so, unlike the one from Imperial Treasures which can taste like baby food, and allows you to taste the rice grains in your mouth. The sliced chicken pieces are cooked to the right texture. The porridge is also slightly seasoned, not saltish unlike many. Though it was a simple fare, it gave so much comfort to my tummy.

    My husband ordered the minced (pork) meat noodle soup (known as “Bak Chor Mee” locally). There are a few popular ones and he opted for Xing Ji, which advertised that its recipe is passed down over the generations. There is no apparent line, but that is because the stall serves the noodle to the customers at their tables.


    The soft but springy noodles swim in a sea of clear and subtly flavourful broth, with little oil. I had half expected it to have a porky taste but there was none. I didn’t try the meatballs, but my husband love them as well. He said that this was likely the best Bak Chor Mee he has ever had, the handmade meatballs were really tasty.


    The thing about the Hawker food is that different fares are served at different times of the day. Like in the morning, you don’t expect the oyster omelette stalls to be opened. Instead breakfast food such as carrot cake (which is actually pan-fried radish cubes or “Chai Tow Kueh”) is available instead. 

    One morning, we decided to give that a try. I spotted two stalls, side by side, and wondering which to go for. One has a stream of customers (Ming Ji, on the left) whereas the other (middle stall in picture below) has media exposure plastered all over. Against my better judgement, I went for the publicity.

    When my husband saw the plate of carrot cake, he groaned. After tasting it, he took me to get a plate  from Ming Ji. Here are the two carrot cakes with Ming Ji on the left in green plate. 

    Presentation-wise, MJ’s carrot cake looks pretty appetising. In terms of taste, I have to say it must be the best carrot cake I have ever tried! Like the above amazing food, it is not overly seasoned, and you can actually taste the texture of the eggs, and the radish cubes are cut small so that they are cooked through nicely. 

    We left the right plate almost untouched, while we wiped clean the carrot cake from MJ. I then went up to the stall, which is manned by an old couple, and told the old lady, doing the cooking of the carrot cake, in Chinese, “Aunty, I want to let you know that your carrot cake is really good! It’s the best I’ve ever had!” She was a little taken aback by my compliment and replied that she thought I wanted to say that it sucks. Maybe she doesn’t get much compliments because she was rather appreciative after that. Still, it should be pretty obvious that folks around love her food because she was cooking almost non-stop.

    Even when it comes to tea and coffee, not all stalls are equal. I bought ice tea and coffee from a drinks stall and they are so weak! My husband then went on a hunt and discovered “The Blend Inc” which focuses on tea and coffee. Check out the foam on the drinks! They have the right amount of oomph and lightly sweetened as requested. 

    Now Fengshan hawker center has become a favorite street food source for us, and there are also good seafood BBQ available as well. The only downsides are there is no good satay stalls and no fruit stall available, unlike Bedok centre hawker center. In fact, though there is only one satay stall at the latter, the food is still better than what we tried at Feng Shan. 

    Of course, other than Feng Shan, there are other Hawker centres in Bedok that have culinary gems available. Like there is a “Kway Chap” (pork innards and trotter) stall at one hawker centre which is hailed as “gourmet food” by a US relative. My Husband is insistent that those people from the Michelin guide must not know about this place. 

    The Spanish Place that leaves much to be desired

    A few weeks ago, my new boss bought lunch for my colleague and I at this Spanish Restaurant, My Little Spanish Place, at Boat Quay. It was my colleague who selected the venue after gotten to know about it from others in the office.

    I had no expectations of the place since it was my first time there, and honestly I had not even heard of it before. (But I have to admit I have not been following the food scene since Buddy came along.) So I went along with an open mind, and of course, was keen to have some tapas.

    My Little Spanish Place (MLSP) is located in the middle of the Boat Quay stretch of restaurant/bar joints. It was a relief to enter the cool and dim eatery from the scorching sun outside. We arrived shortly after noon, and the place was rather quiet, with only  one diner in there. So, despite not making any reservation, we had no problem getting a table.

    I have not been to Spain, but the menu looks like the restaurant serves some authentic fare. There are the usual Gazpacho, a selection of tapas, jamon ham and sausages, and of course the ubiquitous paella. 


    We decided to order some tapas to share among the three of us. My boss and colleague each also ordered a paella, but I was not very hungry and opted for the Gazpacho instead. 

    The cold tomato soup wasn’t anything special. The flavor was rather one note and there was no oomph factor, it was like having a can of tomato purée. Seriously, I can make a better Gazpacho than this, and in fact, my husband and I used to make the soup when we cooked at home BB (before Buddy). 

    As for tapas, here are what we ordered:

    Ham stuffed creamy croquettes

    Prawns cooked in olive oil, chili, garlic and secret sauce

    Potatoes with spicy sauvce and manchego cheese

    Flat coca bread with chorizo, pepper, onion and aragula

    White clams cooked in chorizo broth

    The tapas were a mix bag. There were some tasty ones like the croquettes and potatoes, but the rest were plain average. In fact the prawns and clams were tasteless, and the sauces were flat. I don’t know what kind of secret sauce the restaurant claimed, but I suggest they should really go back to the drawing board. 

    As for the paella, which my colleagues allowed me to have a taste test, I had it much better at  Providore, even a cold one. The paella at MLSP is just bland! I don’t know if the Chef forgot to add broth to the rice but seriously, it was rather crappy.

    Honestly, I wouldn’t return to MLSP, nor would I recommend it to anyone. I don’t know if other outlets would be better, but I rather check out other Spanish restaurants. I don’t have to dine in Spain to tell that the quality is not up to scratch.

    Something comfy, something tasty in JB

    A couple of weeks ago, we went to JB for the weekend again. In fact, we have been going to JB rather often for the past couple of months for family reasons, and as a result, we became more familiar with the place.

    So we were wondering if we should stay at Double Tree Hilton like before, or if we should check out another hotel. My husband wasn’t very keen on the Hilton because of the increased room rate in the weekend, which is S$145 for a King room without breakfast. (FYI, the Johor state in Malaysia follows the Middle Eastern countries’practice of having weekend on Friday and Saturday. This was a decree passed down by the state sultan a couple of years ago, and it is the only state to have this wierd arrangement. It is especially puzzling since the Sultan recently stated that the people should not blindly follow ME practices. What gives, man?)

    We had previously tried Tropical Inn, which is across the street from the Hilton, because we wanted an accommodation within the same vicinity. I can tell you, this hotel sucks big time! The website claims there is in-room wifi, but it turns out to be a scam. We couldn’t even find the network inside the room. Not only that, the room has a musty smell and not soundproofed (I could hear the highway traffic the whole day.) Looking back, perhaps we should have realized that the rate, being less than half that of the Hilton’s, should be an indicator that you truly get what you paid for. But we are still peeved that there was no wifi as claimed.

    Here are some pictures of the superior triple room: a double queen bed and a single bed. It is seriously basic despite the “superior” name. Look at the TV! Thank God it was only for a night.

    After the experience at Tropical Inn, I told my husband to check out the top five rated hotels in JB on TripAdvisor. One hotel that caught our attention is KSL Hotel & Resort which is above a mall. The reviews are mostly positive;  there is parking available, good accessibility to retail stores and eateries, and it even has a dinosaur-theme pool for the kids and a gym. The rates are priced between Hilton and Tropical Inn; for a King room, at about S$105 after tax. We decided to give it a try, though we were mindful that it might be too good to be true.

    I made prepayment online (for pretty good rates), which wasn’t difficult to do. But I don’t like the fact that there is no explanation online to guide hotel guests on the parking. (We had been to the mall during a previous trip and parked at the basement carpark, which is quite rundown). Luckily there was an online chat facility available with the customer service agents. It turns out that there are parkings available on multiple high levels, with entrance next to the hotel, and guests can park on level 3-6. Best of all, it is complimentary for guests.

    There were a number of Singapore cars in the parking lots and my husband suspects KSL might be a popular hangout for the Singaporeans. The carpark is enclosed and stifling hot (God knows why the management did not allow air flow). It was a relieved to finally get into the building.

    The lobby looks pretty presentable. There is even a Starbucks at a corner. Check-in was a breeze and the staff is well trained and friendly. He even helped us to log into the wifi network in the lobby.

    Upon entering the room, we liked what we saw. It looked pretty comfy and clean, and turned out to be so. Check out the flat screen TV, that is an indication of keeping up with the time! 

    Granted it appears a tad less fancy as the one at Hilton, but that is really unnecessary. It has almost all the things I want in a hotel room: slippers, wifi, toiletries, sufficient towels, mini fridge, kettle, and even ironing board and dryer. The only thing missing is a shower cap.

    img_0914

    Instead of a shower cubicle, there is a bath tub with both a flexible shower head as well as a  rain shower head on the ceiling. But the tub is not suitable for a rain shower, it causes a mini flood since the shower curtain is not able to keep the water inside the tub. It should  be used inside a bath cubicle instead, which is how the Hilton bathroom is designed. So, if you do stay at this hotel, don’t use the rain shower.

    Other than the minor inconveniences, we actually like this hotel better than Hilton. In fact, we found the best bed here, or to be more specific, the best mattress. It is even better than what we have at home! It is firm but not overly hard. We literally fell into a deep comfortable slumber. I have to ask the hotel for the mattress brand.

    We went to check out the hotel pool, but Buddy didn’t go into the water as I forgot to pack his swimsuit, and besides we didn’t really have time for a dip. My husband went to the gym, and he discovered the equipment were like brand new. It’s likely that you could count on one hand the number of people who had used them.

    For the rate of S$105, KSL is really best value for money! The hotel also offers tickets and transport to Lego land, which, I must admit, is rather appealing. I have not considered going to Lego land until I stayed at KSL. 

    Adding to the convenience of staying here is the easy access to KSL mall, where there is a hyper mart, various dining options (most of which are not appealing to us) and retail stores. (The convenience is absent for the Hilton.) However we found Souper Tang restaurant (汤师父), which is located within the hotel premise, next to the lobby. We were introduced to the chain restaurant many years back, but because we didn’t go to JB often, we had never been back until now.

    As its name implies, the restaurant is famous for its double-boiled soup. But the main dishes turned out to be pretty good as well. We wanted a simple lunch, and ordered a steamed chicken with sesame oil and shredded ginger as well as Chinese spinach cooked in a broth. My husband ordered a soup but not me. The sesame oil in the chicken dish gave it an appetising smell and a nutty flavor, and the ginger added a little heat, which makes it especially tasty. The vegetable dish is pretty good too. In fact, I love Chinese spinach (苋菜), and this is cooked perfectly in the vegetable broth.

    We were told by a family friend, who live in JB, that across the street from the hotel is a row of famous eateries like Soon Soon Heng Bak Ku Teh (pork ribs soup) and Eastern Dragon restaurant, etc. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to check them out.

    Before I forget, there is something for travellers to consider before choosing KSL hotel. As it is located in the city center, with a popular mall and a stone’s throw from a food row, traffic can be rather busy near the hotel. 

    Another eatery that we checked out was Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul at City Square, another mall that is popular with Singaporeans. The find was discovered by my husband’s brothers when they were walking around the mall.

    There are the usual fares like curry noodle, Chee Cheong Fun (rice crepes with sweet black sauce and Chili), Penang Laksa and Penang Rojak, as well as local desserts like ice kachang (known as ABC in Malaysia) and chendol. All of which are also very popular in Singapore, though there are different versions of the food. (In fact, variants of Laksa and Rojak are also available in Indonesia and parts of Southern Thailand).

    Penang Assam Laksa

    In Singapore, the laksa tends to be the curry version, rice noodle soup cooked in rich and savory coconut milk with sliced fish cake, shrimps and cockles and topped with coriander. On the other hand, the Penang version, also known as Assam Laksa, is a spicy and tangy noodle soup cooked in a tamarind-based broth, with shredded fish, shallots, mint, chopped pineapples and shredded cucumber. Both have totally different flavors, and they have their own fans. I, for one, prefer the curry laksa whereas my husband prefers the assam taste.There are also different versions of the Rojak (which means mixture in Malay), in the Southeast Asian countries of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. It is basically a salad of local fruits and vegetables, like cucumber, pineapples, bean sprouts, jicama (benkoang), and fried dough fritters. The Penang version has more fruits added to it, like Jambu (rose Apple) and guava etc.

    The cheong fun with the fried onion strips and sweet sauce and chilli was a hit with the guys, though I didn’t find it particularly special.

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    Chee Cheong Fun

    ABC with Durian Ice-cream

    This shaved ice dessert is known as ABC, which stands for Air Batu Campur,  in Malyasia, and Ice Kachang in Singapore. Like many food, there is a slight variation between the different locales, like the Malaysian version has chopped peanuts. The shaved ice is done well here, unlike some others eateries 

    where the ice is a little coarse.

    Chendol

    The chendol, another shaved ice dessert with thick coconut milk, gula Melaka, and jelly noodles (made from rice flour), is the signature dish here.Among all the food, I only tried the chendol, ice kachang, rojak and the nasi lemak (which unfortunately I forgot to take a picture). In general, I find the food above average but not very memorable. There is no “wow, this is fabulous” moment. It might be because the shop tries to offer too many food options instead of focusing on serving certain top-notch dishes.

    In my previous post  on JB “The JB trip” dated 31 March, I mentioned the amazing food at New Lucky Restaurant. Well, we had been back every time we stayed overnight at JB. Finally, during one trip, I remembered to take photos. By the way, the restaurant is rather close to KSL hotel. 

    Live tanks are part and parcel of any Chinese seafood restaurant. 

    The typical table layout, with the floral-print table cloth, peanut and cracker snacks, as well as packaged wet towels and Chinese tea.

    One of the signature dishes at New Lucky is the salt baked steamed chicken, which is fabulous! The chicken is cooked to perfect tenderness, and the saltiness makes it ultra tasty. 

    Below picture shows my favorite Chinese spinach, this time stir-fried with garlic. In the background, is a large pot of pig stomach pepper soup, which is a major hit with my husband and his brothers. There was non-stop ravings of it being the best pig stomach soup they ever had. And it is true. The pig stomach is double boiled in chicken stock, complete with a big chunk of chicken in it. It should be renamed as “pig stomach chicken soup” because the chicken stock adds much flavor and sweetness. Coupled with the white pepper powder which added heat, you can’t stop having it.


    We had tried other dishes, but the excitement at the food made me forgot about taking more pictures. 

    New Lucky is the best Chinese restaurant we have been to in JB so far, not that we have been to many. But the food is generally exceptional, and I strongly recommend to everyone. Only problem is parking can be a  bloody pain in the ass. So you have to be there early, by 6.30pm. 

    I will check out other good eats and post my reviews.

    The yummy rainbow kuehs

    For a very long time, I was not a big fan of kuehs, which are Malay or Perankan desserts made from glutinous rice or tapioca, unique to Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. They come in a hue of colors derived from plants and flowers, mostly coated in grated coconut and sweetened with gula melaka (palm sugar). 

    It was only until I discovered I am sensitive to wheat that I have to refrain from cakes and pastries, which forced me to relook at kuehs for sweet treats.

    To be honest, kuehs are not as ubiquitous as cakes, bread or pastries in Singapore. Sure there is the mass market Bengawan Solo, which has many outlets. But compared to the countless bakeries, kuehs have lost its standing as the go-to dessert, as majority of the people gravitate to western bakeries. Other than those at BS, you can only get kuehs at a few Malay stalls or Peranakan shops, and quality is a mixed bag.

    So it was a wonderful surprise when I found out that Rainbow Lapis has pretty good kuehs. I probably have walked past the temporary kiosk countless time at Raffles Xchange and didn’t take notice of it. Those were the days when I was only interested in cakes and pastries. However, when I had to look for alternatives, I decided to give it a try. The kuehs are in delicate small sizes, and three pieces cost S$2.50. 


    I brought the kuehs home, thinking I would have it after dinner but I didn’t. So my husband kept them in the fridge when I told him I would have them at work the next day. But I forgot about it. During dinner the next night, I decided I had to have them since they cannot be kept for more than a couple of days. But they were gone! I asked my husband, thinking he threw them away. Instead he pointed to his tummy, and said, “they are pretty good!” 

    I went back to the kiosk the next day, determined I had to try them. Since then, I have been a regular customer. 


    One of the kuehs I like is ondeh ondeh, a ball-like green kueh made from tapioca, filled with gula melaka and covered with grated coconut (those in clear plastic casing in above picture). But it is difficult to find one with a good balance of the tapioca skin thickness and the amount of palm sugar filling. Most times, the skin is too thick and the filling meagre. Any one who likes Ondeh Ondeh will tell you the test of a good one is when you bite into it, the palm sugar oozes out. These  little balls of sweetness from Rainbow Lapis strike the right note.

    Here is a plate of some of my favourites (clockwise from top): triangle tapioca kueh with Gula Melaka (there is also a version in solely orange color), savoury  glutinous rice with spicy dried shrimp sambal (aka hae bee hiam) called Pulut Panggang, and the pyramid-like kueh with grated coconut atop a mound of glutinous rice called Pulut Iti (the blue dye in the rice is derived from the blue pea flower).


    What I like about the kuehs from Rainbow Lapis is that they are not overly sweet, and the texture is rather refined. Plus they are in bite size, which make for a nice little sweet indulgence.

    The kiosk also offer kaya (coconut-based spread), pineapple tarts as well as traditional favourites like Pandan cake and Gula Melaka cake. There are snacks like berlinjal, fish and prawn crackers. You can also get Mee Siam, Mee Rebus or savoury glutinous rice with dried shrimps in the early morning for breakfast.

    So, if you are in the vicinity of Raffles Place, do check out Rainbow Lapis for a wonderful local sweet delight.

    Welcome to the club!

    I can’t believe this but I only just realized that I am intolerant to wheat products, which very likely means I am gluten intolerant. 

    I have suffered from bloated tummy for several years. I consulted a medical specialist, several years ago, who diagnosed that I have IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), but I never knew what was the cause. It was only end last week that my husband suggested that I  returned to my roots, meaning lay off the wheat/gluten products and go on a complete Asian diet. He suspected that I was sensitive to wheat/gluten after he saw this Australian documentary on the bad substance found in it.

    But the problem is I love wheat products; I love wholemeal and especially multigrain bread. I enjoy cookies, cakes, pastries, muffins, and waffles, and what have you. So, telling me that I am intolerant to gluten is like saying I have to go on a liquid diet. 

    When my husband made the suggestion to go Asian, I went, “what am I going to eat, especially for breakfast?” He said, “you can have noodle soup, fried beehoon (thin rice noodle)…” But I don’t eat those stuff for breakfast?! He looked at me and said, “Asians eat those for breakfast.” He persuaded me to try it for a week and see if the diet change helps my tummy. 

    So, last Friday, I started on an  Asian diet, which is basically rice-based. On the first day, I admit I didn’t go totally off wheat because I had wraps for lunch, but I did adhere for the rest of the day. In the late afternoon, the office boss decided to treat the staff to afternoon tea: a rainbow cake from a nearby hotel, which is supposedly pretty good. Unfortunately, I had to pass.

    A Belgian colleague came over and asked, “Aren’t you going to have some cake?” I told him of my trial diet, and he replied, “Welcome to the club!” I looked at him puzzled, and he continued, “I am gluten and lactose intolerant.” I was even more surprised. How did he cope with the European diet all this time? After all, gluten-free products are only available in recent years. Another colleague later told me that the Belgian colleague only found out about his gluten condition recently. This explains why he so loves Asian food once he arrived here. We used to have a French colleague who is allergic to gluten, absolutely can’t touch it.

    Anyway, back to my Asian diet, I have been following it as faithfully as I can. I have also started a food diary to keep track of the possible food that might cause tummy discomfort. So far, the result confirms my husband’s suspicion. My tummy doesn’t look like I’m four months pregnant now, and I am totally fine. I also have a better understanding of the food that causes indigestion or slight bloatedness, which I will try to avoid them. In fact, on those couple of occasions that I reverted back to wheat, I was a little shocked to realize my tummy protested in reaction to even small portion of it. So it looks like the Asian diet is here to stay. 

    I have checked out the availability of gluten-free food in Singapore, and unfortunately there are limited options, in terms of cafes, restaurants or bakeries. In fact you can count on two hands who they are. Worse, they are not exactly located in very convenient places, and the food selections are not as varied. As for the regular restaurants or eateries, very few offer gluten-free options on its menu. Of course, for Asian restaurants, the food, in essence doesn’t or hardly has wheat in it.

    The Hong Kong food trek

    As mentioned in my previous post, our first meal in HK sucks big time. We had hoped it was an anomaly and we would have a better experience during the food tour that I planned for the next day.

    After we checked into the Crowne Plaza hotel, I took Buddy to Popcorn mall next door to check out the retail scene and the dining options. There were some Singapore eateries available like Putien, Crystal Jade, and even a Toast Box. Looks like the HKers have a liking for kaya butter toast,  soft-boiled eggs, and the unique coffee. The menu is partly different from that in Singapore, like there’s beef rendang with bryani rice (which is not available in the Singapore menu), and it even caters to the HKers’ liking for macaroni with egg (which I don’t think is available in Singapore either). Some of the names of the dishes have also changed from local terms to more descriptive ones, like ‘Nasi Lemak’ is called ‘Singapore Coconut Rice’, and ‘Mee Siam’ is called ‘Rice Noodles in Spicy Gravy’.
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    Of course we didn’t have any meal at Toast Box, but Buddy wanted a slice of Pandan cake. I don’t know why he would want Pandan cake in HK and I don’t even buy from Toast Box back home, but he insisted. Oh well, you never know kid’s taste in food.

    We had a simple dinner at this restaurant, Praise House Congee and Noodle Cuisine, and the food is rather tasty. We ordered a pig liver and beef congee for my husband, while both Buddy and I shared a fried rice, and a plate of boiled Kai-Lan (Chinese kale) with oyster sauce on the side. We noticed that the HKers, or perhaps the Cantonese, have perfected the art of simplicity in vegetable dishes, which are cooked to the right crunchy texture, drizzled with a little oil, and accompanied with the oyster sauce dip. This simple but well-cooked dish is served at any self-respect Cantonese restaurants in HK.
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    We had breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Hotel before setting off the next morning. The hotel offers a buffet selection of western, Chinese and Japanese food, with live stations offering waffles, noodles or eggs done the way you like. Near the entrance is the pastry table with a display of a ferris wheel with fake pretty cupcakes.

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    Salad and cheese platter selection.

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    Noodle live station.

    To be honest, the food is average though my husband likes the freshly-prepared eggs., It’s typical buffet quality, so don’t have high hope despite the nice presentation. In fact my husband thought some of the food looked like leftovers from the buffet dinner of the night before.

    Now, back to the main subject of the day: the food tour. I picked the venues based on recommendations from various bloggers, and they are conveniently located within the Soho area of central Hong Kong. There are five stops, starting from Central MTR station, and ending at Sheung Wan station. See Google map of the food tour, the entire distance is only 1.6 km. Well, that’s what it looks on paper.

    Though the hotel being located at Tseung Kwan O, we only had to change line at North Point to reach Central, and the journey only took 25 minutes. Our first destination is Tsui Wah Restaurant at Wellington street, and so we took the D2 exit at central station. To reach the street level, we had to walk up a flight of stairs, which led to a dingy alley. It was pretty weird.

    Getting to Wellington street requires us to walk up a slope, and that is the beginning of the food trek (literally). We realized, only back in Singapore, that there is an ascending escalator a stone’s throw away from Wellington street. Because of our ignorance, navigating the slopes and steps was akin to being in a Spartan race. Worse, upon reaching where Tsui Wah Restaurant is located, it was closed for renovation. Goddammit! It’s not even indicated in the bloody website! Moral of the story: call ahead to find out, which I didn’t think to do beforehand.

    The next stop was supposed to be Yat Lok for roast meat like roast goose and char siew. But my husband didn’t want that at 10.00AM, and so we moved on to Mak’s Noodle for wanton mee (shrimp dumpling noodle soup). Unfortunately I didn’t take note of the opening hour which is 11.00AM. By then, my husband’s patience was running thin, especially since he had to carry a 15 kg (33 lbs) toddler around. (The pavement is narrow with a lot of steps, and there are even heavy vehicles on the narrow streets.) And I had to lug along the diaper bag with a first-generation ipad that weighs a ton.

    We decided to get some egg tarts at Tai Cheong Bakery at 35 Lyndhurst Terrace before looking for a “Cha Chaan Teng” (HK-style café).
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    I only bought two egg tarts at Tai Cheong (at HKD 8 / USD 1 each) for sampling since we were not sure if we could trust the food blogs, and my husband was not in any mood to try other pastries. I asked the staff at the bakery for a cafe close by as we wanted a drink, but they were not helpful at all. One went, “Cha Chaan Teng? Hmm, not sure what is close by..” Just then the phone rang and she promptly picked it up. After less than a minute she put it down and forgot about my question. As for the other staff, she conveniently left it to her co-worker to handle my query.

    We left the shop and asked a passerby who directed us to a cafe just round the corner, less than a minute walk away. It turned out to be Lan Fong Yuen (兰芳园 /蘭芳園), a hole-in-the-wall place which is also recommended by some food blogs.

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    When I pointed it to my husband, he exclaimed, “what cafe? There is no seating!”
    “There are seats inside!” And I led the way in.

    To be honest, if not for me being in the know, I wouldn’t have recognized this ramshackle place is a cafe. I didn’t pick this as a foodie stop because it was described as a place where you sit back to back with other customers. But beggars can’t be choosers, and besides we had the chance to check out how true the reviews are.

    We were led to a table next to the wall right inside the tiny cafe, while staff instructed us, “Sit closer!” It’s true that the interior is rather cramped, and sharing table is compulsory if your group doesn’t occupy it entirely. In fact the staff try to squeeze as many people as possible inside the limited space.

    I first placed order for an iced milk tea, an iced Ovaltine (I don’t see Milo around other than at Toast Box), and a Po Lo bun (pineapple bun). The staff then said to me dourly, “you’re still short of the minimum order.” I looked at my husband who only stared back at me grimly, without saying a word. So I had to order another Po Lo bun and a thick toast with butter.

    It turned out we had entered a Nazi cafe, because each patron has to have a minimum order of HKD25 (S $4.60 / US $3.20), even for a toddler as long as he or she occupies a seat. Thank God they didn’t see the diaper bag that I placed on a chair under the table, otherwise I would have to order something for it too. But even if it could have a drink, it would have spat it out.

    My husband’s face grimaced after he had a sip of the ice milk tea, “This is so crappy!”

    Even Buddy didn’t like the iced Ovaltine, and  I could understand why. It didn’t have a chocolatey taste unlike an iced Milo, least alone an iced chocolate. It was basically a condensed milk  drink with a tinge of chocolate flavor. There were two Singaporean women who shared table with us, whom from their conversations, it sounded like they are residents in HK. So I guess they knew what to order, because  they had 7-Up soda. As for the food, the Po-Lo buns were surprisingly better than expected, and Buddy actually chomped down the thick toast. Perhaps this Nazi café is not known for its drinks.  I checked up on it back in Singapore and found that it’s more famous for its pork chop bun.

    Anyway I mentioned earlier about heavy vehicles on the narrow street, the below picture shows what I meant. This was taken outside  Lan Fong Yuen. Look at the big truck going down the ultra narrow street, barely touching the stalls lined alongside. It doesn’t look like there are any traffic restrictions in place. I think this is an accident waiting to happen. If the driver loses control, it’ll be a disaster!

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    While at Lan Fong Yuen, we discovered that the idiotic staff at Tai Cheong had given me two sugared doughnuts instead of egg tarts. We then marched back to ask for the switch. The same two staff were there, and they looked rather sullen as one replied, “You took so long to return these!” I told her point-blank that I had to look for a Cha Chaan Teng, and they reluctantly did the change. My husband tried the egg tarts later, and thought they were pretty good. Buddy also had a liking for them. But with such sully attitude, I’m not sure if I want to patronize the shop again. I mean, I know HK is known for its rudeness, but it will remain so as long tourists continue to tolerate the bad behaviors.

    We then made our way to Mak ‘s Noodle at 77 Wellington Street, just after 11.00AM. It is an unassuming small restaurant, but the staff were friendlier. We were led to a booth table where we didn’t have to share with other customers. One old female staff even suggested that Buddy should sit next to the wall, so that he didn’t get spilled by hot soup.

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    There is no minimum order at Mak’s Noodle. Both my husband and I each had a bowl of the Wanton Mee, and we also ordered a plate of boiled Kai-Lan with oyster sauce. Offhand I cannot remember exactly how much was each bowl, but it might be only HKD 35 ( USD 4.50) though it’s a small portion.  When the noodle was served, the wantons (shrimp dumplings) were hidden (top picture). You have to dig deep into the noodle to find them.

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    From what I read on the Internet, Mak’s Noodle has supposedly received a Michelin star for its food. Seriously, I’m not sure how it justified that. Sure, the noodle is springy, and the wantons are tasty, but the broth is bland. My husband asked the staff for green chili, but was given the reply, “We don’t serve chili.” There is some dipping sauce provided, but we feel that the wanton noodle is best taken with sliced green chili which we do in Singapore. Maybe the HKers think that chili will overpower the taste, but when it is used appropriately, it can enhance the taste by adding another dimension to the flavor. Maybe we should have added some condiment to flavor the noodle and broth.  but I just feel that it is rather one-note, even the wantons, and is really no big deal. It baffles me that many foodies think this is “die, die, must try”. However, the Kai-Lan is good, and as mentioned earlier, the restaurants do know how to serve a good simple vegetable dish.

    After the somewhat disappointing tasting experience at Mak’s, we moved on to Yat Lok Roast Goose Restaurant at 34 Stanley Street. We were lucky to be there before noon, and were able to get seats inside the (expectedly) cramp interior immediately. When we left, there was a line forming outside it.

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    The kitchen is located at the back of the restaurant. I am not sure why the owner bothered to put up a TV on the wall; the customers are not expected to watch the screening drama while taking the roast goose leisurely. No, this is a “chop, chop, off you go” place.

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    Because we had the wonton noodle earlier, we only ordered a plate of roast goose with char siew to share, which I think it was about HKD 35 or 40. Thank God Yat Lok is also not Nazi, and there is no minimum order as well. But there is also no chili available! (I guess the mantra of HK F&B outlets is “We’re HKers, we don’t serve chili!”) On the food, I must say the roast goose is pretty well done, the skin is rather crispy and there is no gamey taste. My husband thinks the char siew is quite good, but can do with a little more fat. In fact , there were these 3 blue-collared workers sitting across us at our table, and one of them (who looks like he is the supervisor) asked his colleague who didn’t seem to be enjoying his char siew with rice, “You don’t like it? Not enough fat?”

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    I wouldn’t mind going for the roast goose at Yat Lok if there is no queue. But to line up for it, I’m not sure. It’s not exactly so fabulous that I must have it for my last meal. (Now, I will be willing to wait in line for Joe Stone’s Crab and the Havana Dream pie.)

    The final stop of our food trip was Kau Kee Beef Brisket, located at 21 Gough Street. As we were walking along, checking out for street signs, we suddenly heard a loud pounding sound “THOMP! THOMP!” going non-stop in regular intervals. I was puzzled, wondering if it was some rock concert nearby. But who hold a concert in a claustrophobic neighborhood in mid-day, and how come the ground literally shook with each loud thud? Buddy looked a little scared. My husband turned to me and explained, “That’s the sound of foundation being pounded into the ground.” He continued, “In Singapore, if you get this at construction sites, the PAP would have been thrown out! You notice how it is relatively quieter at the construction sites back home, and no vibration? They used the high-tech methods like drilling.  The site here must be using circa 19th century  technology.” Around us, the locals walked about nonchalantly, as if they could not hear nor feel the poundings.  My husband then said, “it’s amazing the people here accept this!”

    Luckily when we got to Gough Street, we couldn’t hear nor feel the pounding. But we could see a line outside Kau Kee as we got nearer, half of whom were tourists.

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    I was feeling rather full then, and not exactly crazy over beef brisket noodle. As Buddy started to doze off on my husband’s shoulder, I suggested I would wait with Buddy for my husband since there were benches next to the line. It moved rather fast though, and it didn’t take long before he got a seat. So this food review was done by him who described the eatery as small and cramp (this must be the typical description of any low-cost F&B outlet in HK), and he had to share a table with a family and another individual. Like at Yat Lok, Kau Kee is also a “chop chop, eat and leave” place. But here is where it deviates from the previous tasting. He raved about the fabulous beef noodle which doesn’t require any chili to enhance its flavor, the beef was really tender, and the broth was amazingly flavorful. He called it “the BEST beef brisket noodle I ever had!”. He liken it to the moment when he was bowled over by the beef pho at Pho Gia Truyen at Hanoi. Perhaps I should have tried it too, but it would be difficult to carry a sleeping child while having a hot bowl of noodle soup. According to my husband, he paid something like S$8 (US$6.50) for it.

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    That evening, we went to Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao restaurant at Popcorn Mall for dinner. I know it is strange that we would pick a Singapore restaurant in Hong Kong, but my husband wanted a simple dinner with double-boiled soup for dinner. I was initially hesitant because Crystal Jade does not exactly serve very good food back home, and I feel that Imperial Treasures (its competitor) has better quality. But he thought that Crystal Jade might have upped its game in HK considering the stiffer competition there. So we gave it a try. There were people waiting for their turns at the entrance, and we actually had to wait for 10-15 minutes before we were given a table. .

    We ordered (picture from top to bottom) a fried multi-grain rice with dried shrimp and conpoy, stir-fried Chinese spinach with broad bean, hairy crab with minced pork dumplings (it’s hairy crab season), and a double-boiled chicken soup.

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    What can I say? My husband was right, and I was wrong. The food was better than expected. The fried rice has a nutty flavor because of the added grains, and the dried shrimps and conpoy give it a slight crunchy texture. It’s a multi-dimensional rice dish which is very tasty. The vegetable is, needless to say, very well cooked. In fact I think Singapore Chinese restaurants should learn how to prepare a simple but very cooked vegetable dish. The hairy crab dumplings are even better than the crab dumplings from Din Tai Fung. There’s this distinctive flavor of the hairy crab which adds a smoky flavor to the dumplings. As for the chicken soup, it has such a full-bodied flavor that I feel it’s truly medicinal for the body. I highly recommend this restaurant for a very satisfying meal.

    To top it off, we decided to make a trip to Cong Sau Dessert (聰嫂私房甜品). I found out about this famous dessert shop from the internet, and it has three locations in HK. I had initially thought we could make it to the one at Causeway Bay for the second part of the food trip. But the Central food trek turned out to be too tiring for us and so we skipped round two. Cong Sau’s other two outlets are in the Tseung Kwan O area, which turns out to be more convenient for us. One of them is located at Hau Tak Estate, which is only 2 minutes’ walk from Hang Hau MTR station, one stop away from TKO station. So we went to look for it. Unfortunately we were confused by the signs, and went on a garden path before realizing Hau Tak Estate is only across the road from the station. (When you exit from the station, cross the road at the traffic light, and Hau Tak estate is right there.) The shop is not very big, but surprisingly it’s not as cramped as the usual cheap diners. Perhaps because we were there at around 9.00PM, it was not crazy crowded nor bustling.

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    Many customers highly recommend the durian ice puree with sago, even those from Singapore/Malaysia whom you can count on being durian experts. However, my husband preferred  the milk pudding with ginger sauce, given that the evening was turning a little chilly due to the rain.

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    Buddy and I went for the durian. Like us, he is a durian lover. But he kept asking for the durian flesh, which my husband mixed into the coconut-milk covered crushed ice. In the end I had most of it, which was fine by me, because it was reeeaaallly good! The durian taste like it was from Malaysia (which we get in Singapore), and I love coconut milk. So it was a perfect combo for me. I know that both have shockingly high calories, which I ignored for the sake of food  tasting.

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    Buddy was not satisfied with the durian dessert. So we decided to get a mango dessert for him: cubed sized mango with soya bean curd in sweetened soup. Again, he only wanted the fruit, and ate most of the mango. Of course I had to try this for review, and it’s quite good, but I prefer the durian dessert. The bean curd (aka Tau Huey) is nothing special, though it’s rather smooth. But we get pretty good bean curd in Singapore anyway. However we don’t get the durian dessert in Singapore, and I don’t know why considering that durian is a favored fruit in the country. Each bowl of dessert is around HKD 25 (USD 3.23).

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    So this was our food tour on the second of the trip. Our views are that in term of quality, Singapore has caught up in many areas, and there not many food where Hong Kong is better than Singapore. One thing we feel is that the local cuisine seems to have stagnated and there is little experiments with spices or a reluctance to do so. I have to go back to the use of chili. Singapore/Malaysia cuisines have become unique because of the marriage of cultures, and local Chinese were adventurous to add spices to their food and created interesting dishes as a result. We have learned to use pepper, chili, curry to make the food interesting and multi-dimensional. But the HKers seem happy to stick to the traditional Cantonese culinary style. Perhaps the high-end restaurants do have innovative dishes, but my husband feel that innovation should not  be the domain of only the expensive restaurants. 

    My husband also made an interesting observation while we walked around the Soho area: segregation of diners by race in the different restaurants. The eateries that serve western cuisine tend to be filled with mostly Caucasians while the local eateries are packed with the Chinese. I am not sure if this is a true situation or just coincidence. It’s just that in Singapore, you see a good mix of both foreigners and locals in western restaurants though there are also lot more locals in local eateries here.

    Anyway, during this trip, I admit we didn’t try as many food as we had wanted, like dim sum, seafood or congee. We didn’t go to Causeway Bay nor Sai Kung Town (though our hotel is relatively close to it). The food trek at Central was exhausting for us, plus inhaling the smog in the city also added to the toll. Though it’s convenient taking the subway, we now know that it’s not a good idea to bring along babies, young kids or old folks for a cheap food tour in HK. The problem is that unlike the newer MTR stations in the new territories which have disabled-friendly facilities like elevators, those much older stations located in central HK are lacking in them. When we walked around, we hardly see young children or babies, and the numbers of strollers I saw can be counted on just one hand.  There are not many old folks either, and needless to say, I have never seen anyone on wheelchairs. My friend, J, told me that most old folks are relegated to certain towns in the new territories. Honestly, with the central areas (inclusive of Tsim Sha Tsui/Kowloon) being so unfriendly to the disabled and the frail, this not surprising.

    The city seems perpetually covered in haze during the days we were there.  The place is not littered with garbage, and generally clean. But the pace of life is rather frenetic, and people tend to rush about. I got bumped aside quite a few times at Central and was pretty annoyed because it wasn’t as if the path was packed with people and nobody offered any apologies. My husband suggested that I stick out my elbows. (He didn’t get bumped because he has a “don’t mess with me” look.) It turned out that I wasn’t the only unfortunate one, because J also got bumped too when she was here. She used her shopping bags to jab them back, and because she is taller than most (and HKers are comparatively petite), they tend to stumble, and would (quoting her) give her the “I am f**king hurt” look. She refused to back off because she felt that they could have walked around her instead of pushing her aside, and I absolutely agree.  These people just bulldoze their way through!

    But my husband was more empathetic though.  He feels that the HKers live a generally hard life, and all they can care about is trying to make a living. They are like zombies, unthinking creatures moving about in pursuit of money.  Perhaps this is why they ignore the construction poundings, they don’t bother with politeness or graciousness, they allow the property tycoons to take charge (which cause escalating property prices beyond the reach of many), and they take risks (whether right or wrong). The city is a reflection of its people.

     

    And they are truly delicious

    On the title, I am referring to the bakery, And All Things Delicious, which I discovered a month ago after my husband sent me an article on a list of  bakeries that cater to our Muslim friends. It’s halal-certified, which means no pork and no alcohol, but the products are yummy.

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    Located at 462 Crawford Lane, #01-61, it is on the ground floor of a HDB block, alongside a Chinese restaurant, hardware and kitchenware store, and next to a Bistro. The mix of retail and F&B stores is rather strange, and yet interesting. Anyway, if you decide to take the train there (which I have been doing), you should alight at Lavender station, walk past the immigration building, and continue along the road until you see a HDB block ahead of you, near a traffic junction. Follow the left turning of the road as you walk under the sheltered walkway, and you will reach this cozy little bakery cum cafe.

    AATD offers a light and healthy lunch menu, which I haven’t tried any yet, as I have been more interested in the sweets. But I will definitely get lunch there during my next trip.
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    If you are looking for beautiful looking cakes or those with fondant icing, this is not the place for you. Instead you find good quality, no frill cakes made with passion. There are not a wide selections, but the taste rivals that of the more prominent bakeries. Like the carrot cake for instance. Personally I don’t like those with raisins in them, and thankfully AATD version has none of that, and is covered with lots of chopped walnut which I love. I find that it is almost as good as the one from Cedele. I said “almost” because I wish it has julienned carrot in it, like the one from Cedele, which adds crunch to the texture. Other than this, the cake is wonderfully moist with a lightly sweetened cream cheese frosting.

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    Here at the window display, there is the mushroom gruyere quiche on the left, and scones. On a regular day, only two types of scones are available: Gula melaka and orange cranberry. Most scones I tried tend to be a little dry and rather crumbly, but not these, which are moist. I like both: in the former, there is a light saltiness imbued into the sweet palm sugar, while for the latter, the cranberry adds a nice crunch to the texture.

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    I understand that the sticky toffee pudding is rather popular, but I must say I am not a fan of sticky toffee and so haven’t gotten myself to try it.

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    There are two types of brownies available: the cherry brownie and the salted caramel brownie. I tried the latter which I was told is less sweet. Though I am not a fan of salted caramel, I fell in love with it! Again the mix of salty and sweet makes for a yummy combination. In fact I like it more than the Gula Melaka cake which was unexpected since I love palm sugar. I gave Buddy a taste of the brownie and he demanded to finish all of it.
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    I will be making another trip to AATD to try other cakes available. Admitted the location is not very convenient for me, but the delicious food more than make up for it.