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Lake Toya, Japan

Spot of Tranquility.

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Little India, Singapore

Spices, gold and splashes of colour!

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Singapore Flyer, Gardens by the Bay

Garden City, City in a Garden.

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Bryce Canyon, USA

Thor's Hammer

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Chocolate Test, Singapore

"All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt." -Charles M Schulz

Monday, April 24, 2017

Sushiro

We read reviews about how Sushiro had snaking queues (partly due to its popularity and partly due to its small size) and were pleasantly surprised when we went and immediately were shown to our seat- I guess it helped to have a late lunch. 

Although they are known for their chirashi don, we were a little wary of raw food ever since there was a bacteria outbreak. I still miss sashimi and will eat small quantities of it when the craving strikes. 


I ordered the Salmon Mentaiyaki Don ($13). Needless to say, I wiped off every bit of the generous mentaiyaki. I know I said earlier that I have cut down on raw food but I was hoping for a tinge of rawness in the salmon- the sublime state between raw and fully cooked. Nonetheless, the pairing of the fully cooked slab of slightly charred salmon with the mentaiyaki still made a pleasant meal.


Extremely friendly service- the waitress knew the menu inside out, was enthusiastic to make recommendations and her energy was infectious- give her an employee's award!

Sushiro 
Thomson Plaza
301 Upper Thomson Road
#01-113 F
Tel No: 9450 1020 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Swatmobile

As I recently moved house, travelling to work takes significantly longer and I was introduced to an application called Swatmobile.

It says that it is "Cheaper than taxi, faster than bus". Does it really live up to its claim?

1. App

The app is clean, user friendly and intuitive. It is extremely easy to get the app going. The bot will speak to you and you just need to answer accordingly.


Once the application is set up, you are ready to make your bookings. You can prebook your ride up to 1 day advance or up to 30 minutes before departure. Of course, there is a risk that if you don't prebook early, you don't get a slot.

You don't have to remember to pre-book everyday because the app will send you notifications asking you whether you want to pre-book for the next day. They also keep your preferences in mind and give an estimated travel time.

After you request to pre-book, they will let you know later in the day, for example, at around 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. whether you have managed to secure a seat, together with your pickup points and drop off points, and what time your pick up time will be. You can then decide whether to accept or reject the trip.


2. Price 

Prior to 31 March 2017, it was a flat fee of $5. After 31 March 2017, they have launched a distance-based pricing model where rides start as low as $2 to a cap of $7.99. Where I stay, they are charging $6.30, an increase of $1.30 from the previous $5. For those who stay close to their destinations, I guess the distance-based pricing model is an incentive. This $1.30 increase, together with other reasons, as elaborated below caused me to stop using the app. I wouldn't completely rule out using the app though, as it may be useful in days when I just want to sleep through the journey instead of standing in the MRT.

3. Punctuality 

The first time I used the app, I was extremely impressed. I was ready to write a glowing review of the app, but I thought, hey let's try this a few more times to see whether it's really that good. I am glad I did.

The app will let you know the vehicle number and when the vehicle will approximately be reaching. This is of course all good and well because it gives you an idea on when you need to go out. While the van was very punctual the first time I took it, the ETAs subsequently were not very accurate. It caused me to run to the pickup point only to wait there for the next 10 minutes.


4. Time taken 

How this app works is where their algorithm inserts new people along the way without affecting the ETA. So if you look at the estimated time, that should give you a pretty good indication on how long it will take to your destination. The problem is, there were times I reached my destination around 10 minutes than I would otherwise have taken if I had taken public transport.

From where I am to my destination, the fastest way is by expressway. However, their "smart" algorithm suggests that it's better for them to go through the long route so that they can pick up more passengers along the way. So when they say it's "Faster than Bus", it really depends on your luck who else pre-booked.

I had suggested to Swatmobile that they could perhaps indicate in their estimation whether expressways would be taken. Who doesn't like going on expressways- most of the time, that's the fastest way! They didn't reply me, I guess they aren't that keen on feedbacks.

5. Pickup and Drop off points 

Their pickup and drop off points may be at bus stops, taxi stands, lamp posts, petrol kiosks or landmark buildings. However, you will not be required to walk more than 300 metres. However, do note that the pickup and drop off points might differ from what is stated.

The service does not currently cover all areas. You can download the app to see whether your commute locations are within the geofence.

6. Mode of transport 

The vehicle used is a 13-seater Toyato Hiace High Roof vans. The seats are comfortable and there is air-con. Depending on the driver, they may sometimes like to blast music, which caused mild annoyance to me because I wanted to sleep. Another passenger asked the driver to lower the volume and the driver obliged.

Conclusion 

All in all, I think it's an app with a lot of potential. But some tweaks can definitely make the service a lot more attractive. 

Cafe & Meal Muji (Paragon)

Muji is the kind of shop that I enter just to satisfy my eyes' need to look at beautiful things, yet not buy anything from because the prices aren't exactly cheap. While doing my usual rounds, we decided to get a meal from the cafe. 

You could either order the dishes ala carte or get a set meal. There were two Basic Deli Sets ($8.80)- Japanese (minced chicken, 1 cold deli, white rice, onsen egg and miso soup) and Western (minced chicken, 1 cold deli, bread, hijiki and mushroom bisque). You could also choose a set of 3 delis ($12.90), 4 delis ($16.90) etc. I wished they had the Basic Deli Set with the hot deli instead. 


I ordered a combination of Japanese and Western- Sakura Chicken with Curry Miso and Dried Chilli ($4.80) with Mushroom Bisque, Onsen Egg and Bread. This felt a bit kopitiamesque and I would have expected it to be served on prettier plates. Leaving that aside, the mushroom bisque tasted like it was made from scratch (i.e. certainly not your canned soup) and the onsen egg was very slurp worthy. The tender Sakura Chicken with Curry and Dried Chilli was an interesting combination and was slightly spicy.


No prizes for guessing what we did after the meal!

Cafe & Meal Muji Paragon 
Orchard Paragon
290 Orchard Road
#04-36 to 40
Tel No: 6735 0123 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Poulet (Raffles City Shopping Centre)

Poulet is one of those places that we go to when we can't decide what to eat and want something safe. 


Poulet is of course best known for their Roast Chicken with Mushroom Chardonnay. We wanted to try something new and went ahead with the Roast Chicken with Black Pepper Sauce ($30.90). I guess it helps that since their main draw is their roast chicken, they constantly roast a few at the same time, and our order got served very quickly.

We are never disappointed by the roast chicken at Poulet, always timed to perfection - slightly crispy skin and moist inside. The sauce tastes different from the usual black pepper sauce and was mildly peppery. I guess if you wanted, you could eat the peppercorns which would lend a stronger peppery taste- they made this dish look almost Christmasy. Between the Mushroom Chardonnay and the Black Pepper Sauce, I prefer the Mushroom Chardonnay.


We can also never go wrong with the Tiramisu ($9.90) which in this market of over-priced desserts, is one that we think is value for money because of its large portion. It is also not too sweet and has enough soaked lady fingers, instead of some desserts where it is just 90% cream.


Good and attentive service.

Poulet 
Raffles City Shopping Centre
252 North Bridge Road
#B1-65/66
Tel No: 6336 3119 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Kucina

Kucina is situated at OneKM, housing many restaurants with halal options. As I was craving for pizza that day, we headed straight to Kucina, a Halal-certified restaurant. Their menu was rather extensive. 


As we were famished, we ordered some Pane ($5) to satisfy our hunger. It consisted of a basket of warm bread with sundried tomato, herb foccacia, garlic pizza bread and country slice. They sure do their breads well- I especially enjoyed the herb foccacia.


The Pizzotto ($16) consisted of turkey bacon, mushrooms, egg, tomato and mozarella cheese. The portions at Kucina were large and this was more than enough for two of us to share. The chef was liberal with the ingredients and this was certainly on par with the better pizza restaurants that we have been to. If you don't fancy the ingredients that they have put on the pizza, you can choose to customise your pizza.


Kucina Italian Restaurant 
OneKM Mall
11 Tanjong Katong Road
#B1-0910
Tel No: 6493 2154 

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Osmanthus Jelly

We had a gathering where we wanted to prepare some food. Taking into consideration the target audience in mind, which consisted mostly of people above 60 years old, with a number of young adults with their kids, we wanted to prepare something that was delicious, healthy and presentable.

After some googling, we decided on osmanthus jelly. The osmanthus jelly they sell in restaurants are exorbitant, once you know the cost of making this jelly.

The first task was to hunt down some osmanthus. Osmanthus is supposed to improve complexion and rich in antioxidants. We bought a bottle of osmanthus from Hockhua Tonic for $7 (60g).


The fragrance of the osmanthus hit us the moment we opened the bottle- it is a very delicate, sweet and subtle fragrance.


The reason why I used a glass tray instead of a konnyaku plastic tray was because people were worried that the plastic tray will melt. That said, we still managed to cut the jelly into pretty diamond shapes- just that it will wobble around when you plate it. 

Receipt modified from Noobcook and Misstamchiak:

Ingredients

1 packet of konnyaku jelly powder 
500 ml water (use the amount stated on the box)
2 tsp dried osmanthus flowers
2 tsp wolfberries soaked in water until puffy and drained 
Chia seeds soaked in water and drained 

Directions 

1. In a pot, add water and bring to boil. Lower heat and add osmanthus flowers. Simmer for about 2-3 minutes.

2. Add konnyaku jelly powder. Stir until the powder is fully dissolved. Switch off the flame.

3. Pour the mixture into a jelly mould, or in my case a glass tray. Add about 2 to 4 wolfberries to each mould. 

4. Add chia seeds (which will give an added crunch) to the mixture. 

5. Let the jelly cool down in room temperature and chill in fridge until jelly is set. 


The jelly is inexpensive, healthy, presentable and a crowd pleaser. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Elemen (Thomson Plaza)

The vegetarian landscape in Singapore is changing. Gone are the days when you can only find vegetarian food at hawker centres and old restaurants near temples. Now, nearly every menu has a vegetarian option and more exquisite vegetarian food are aplenty. 

We visited Elemen which reminded me of Sufood. The set meals at Elemen are cheaper, at a price point which is more palatable. 

We got the 5 Course Set ($23.80++ per person) which comes with an appetiser, salad / soup, main, dessert and beverage. 

When the appetiser came, we were told to eat the appetiser from right to left, supposedly from sweet to sour. The mushroom with edamame sat on bed of teriyaki sauce / soy (?) sauce and we didn't really taste the sweetness in that. In the centre was tofu with sesame dressing- anything with sesame dressing is delicious! To the left is a large juicy cherry tomato in tart plum sauce. 


As I am a fan of mushrooms, I chose the Mushroom Salad. This is a mushroom lovers' dream. I haven't seen / tried such big mushrooms before. They were chewy and released a burst of juice with every bite.


This was my favourite dish. Eating the Spicy Shiitake with Purple Rice Roll felt entirely guilt-free: purple rice, shiitake mushrooms and crunchy carrots. To add to that, the chilli added a slight kick to the rice roll.


Drinks are served after the main course is completed. I chose the Iced Lychee Green Tea and totally didn't regret it. Light hints of lychee without being too sweet, and a sweet big juicy lychee at the bottom of the glass!


Alas, the meal ended off flat with the Raspberry Vanilla Dome. On first bite, I was horrified by how sweet the dessert was- could it be because the rest of the meal was so light and clean tasting? The bright pinkish-red hue of the dessert was enough to throw me off (but I won't complain about that since I ordered the dessert knowing that this was how it looked like). The dessert comprised layers of incredibly sweet mousse and vanilla cake. I took two bites and left the rest to be cleared away.


Service was friendly and efficient. Minus the Raspberry Vanilla Dome, this is certainly a nice presentable place for vegetarian dining options. Comparing Sufood with Elemen, Sufood is more creative with its food options but at a more expensive price tag. 

Elemen @ Thomson Plaza
Thomson Plaza
301 Upper Thomson Road
#01-113
Tel No.: 6452 0351 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Elafonissi Beach (Greece)

Every 2-3 months, I get hit with a bout of wanderlust. While searching for new destinations to travel, I will look back at photos taken during previous vacations just to look back at the great times. 

Two things about travel that are certain.

Firstly, I don't regret anything about my travel decisions (albeit sometimes on hindsight!)- the ending up in the middle of nowhere, the staying in crappy hotels etc. Even something unpleasant can teach us a thing or two. Secondly, travel is a drug- it leads to a never ending craving. 

Last July, I went to Elafonissi Beach- also known as the beach with pink sand. We went early because we wanted to avoid the crowds and reached at around 9+ a.m. The crowds were out but we managed to secure vacant deck chairs. You have to pay something like 6 Euros for a day to rent the deck chairs. 


We are not beach goers and I am a heavy sunblock user. But we were left in awe when we saw the clear and azure sea- never saw anything like this! The water was so cold that it took a lot of courage to plunge into the water.


The legendary pink sand occupies an incredibly small strip. If you tried hard enough, you will find it at the intersection between the sand and the sea. After a while, the focus shifted from looking for pink sand to just enjoying the play of light on water and taking dainty steps on the soft sand.


There was another area which had very shallow waters with considerably warmer waters. This is safer for children who have not learnt how to swim but would like to soak in the waters- 50 magnificent shades of blue!


To get here, it is around a one and a half hour plus drive from Chania. For such views, it is worth it even if you are not a beach-goer. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Fish & Chicks

Fish and chips in food courts are common. But fish and chips doused in chilli crab sauce and salted egg yolk sauce? 


As we were in a dilemma whether to choose the chilli crab sauce or the salted egg yolk sauce, the only rational thing to do was to order both.


The Best of Both Worlds ($14.80) comprises salted egg and chilli crab sauce over two pieces of fish, together with fries and a choice of side. One portion is good for a hungry teenager. But if you are inching towards 30 like me (or older), it would probably be a good idea to share. The moment my partner took a bite of the fish, he declared that he liked the batter of the fish - not too thick, not too oily and crispy.

Between the chilli crab sauce and the salted egg yolk sauce, I preferred the salted egg yolk sauce because the flavours weren't as overpowering as the chilli crab sauce.

Like my partner, I enjoyed the fish. However, I took issue with the onion rings. There was a grand total of 5 onion rings which tasted frozen. The onion rings were hard and lacking crunch and juiciness.


This is pretty value for money and innovative. They just need to get those onion rings in order.

Fish & Chicks 
Cathay Cineleisure Orchard
8 Grange Road
Basement 1 (Koufu)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Ministry of Crab (Sri Lanka)

Ministry of Crab has been included in Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2016. To round off our trip in Sri Lanka, we visited Ministry of Crab. Try getting reservations ahead of time. We were lucky that we went before the lunch crowd started streaming in and managed to get a table. 


Ministry of Crab was set up by former cricketers from the Sri Lankan cricket team and a celebrity chef. Their website is very interesting- which is rare for a restaurant's website. In their Constitution, they state things like "We are proud of the reputation sri lankan crabs enjoy in singapore- thank you singapore! But we're even prouder of bringing the finest institution in sri lanka dedicated to serving you the best of our crabs here in their home country."


Everything about this place felt polished- the location, the decor, the service etc.


We wanted to order a medium crab (up to 800g) only to realise that they did not have such crabs that day. We ordered a small crab (up to 700g) to share which was a little small for two people. On the menu, they had options like chilli crab, curry crab, baked crab and pepper crab etc.

Given that we usually eat chilli crab and pepper crab, we decided to try the Garlic Crab (Rs 4400- small). Needless to say, the crabs were incredibly fresh- the meat was so tender and moist and we concurred that it was better than the ones we ate in Singapore.

This is a wok fried crab and the sauce is a mixture of Italian olive oil, Japanese soy sauce and garlic. Initially, it tasted a little too salty. But after a while, it was incredibly addictive to soak the oil up with the Kade Bread (Rs 320). The garlic taste was just nice, without being too overpowering.


The kade was nicely toasted, with crispy sides and fluffy centres.


After eating the crab, it was a little anti-climatic to eat the Chicken Curry Rice (Rs 1520). We swapped the Japanese sticky rice for Kade bread to dip into the curry sauce. It did not elicit the same kind of joy when dipping the bread into the garlic oil. The curry chicken was decent - it was slightly spicy and cooked well but a little underwhelming after eating the crab.


Ministry of Crab
Old Dutch Hospital, Colombo 01
Sri Lanka 00100 Colombo
Tel No: +94 11 2342722

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Horton Plains National Park (Sri Lanka)

A couple of years back, pictures of blue skies and vast plains appeared on my newsfeed. Upon some stalking, I found out that they were pictures of Horton Plains National Park

The views you get are weather dependent. If you want to catch the sunrise, I suggest that you get there before 6:30 a.m. 

We reached Horton Plains at around 7 a.m. After paying for our tickets, we entered the National Park where your bags would be searched. You would be asked to tear off the plastic labels on your water bottles and dispose of the same. 

You could either take the route from the left or the route from the right- in terms of distance, it does not make a difference because it is a circular route. The total distance is around 9 km. 

For the most part of the route, the walk was rather straightforward without requiring too much exertion. 


However, at some parts of the trail, you would have to navigate some steep steps or slippery rocks.

The vegetation of the National Park is rather distinct as well. It can be classified into two distinctive groups- grasslands and evergreen forests.



Our first destination was to Mini World's End, followed by World's End. We were pretty lucky because it was not misty on the day we visited. We heard from our driver that the previous day, another couple had to cancel their trip because it was too cloudy.

World's End is a cliff with a drop of about 4,000 feet. As usual, no matter how tempting it may be with your selfies, please exercise caution because you wouldn't want this to be the last picture you take.


According to Wikipedia, the largest and most commonly seen mammal is the sambar dear. We didn't see any animals during our trek, except this.


The final attraction is Baker's Falls. To reach here, there were some pretty steep slopes to overcome. Reaching here was probably the most difficult part of the trail. To be honest, the falls were a little underwhelming after all that effort to reach here.


After Baker's Fall, it was a stretch of plains again. As there is no shade, I highly advise that you start the trail as early as possible, so that it lowers the chances of clouds rolling in, and it wouldn't be super hot by the time you start the trail.


We took slightly under less than 3 hours to complete the trail. Remember to bring your water and sunblock! 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Eliyanth Udawalawa Hotel (Sri Lanka)

1) Location 

Eliyanth Udawalawa Hotel is located around a 20 minutes drive from the safari. It is located in a rather secluded area without any restaurants in the vicinity. There is a convenience store (with very limited items) around 200 metres away. 

2) Room 


The room was spacious. Insects are to be expected in the room given the proximity to the forest- spiders, mosquitoes, houseflies etc. The mosquitoes had a good feast when I was sleeping at night. 




There was a small TV monitor which had a limited choice of international channels, which included CNN and Discovery Channel. 

The toilet was good- the water was hot with good water pressure. 




The Wifi was extremely slow and/or not working the first day we were there. However, the second day, it worked perfectly fine. 

3) Food


So bad. 


When we first arrived, we were served with a cup of watermelon juice. All's nice and well except that they added sugar to an already sweet cup of juice. 


That's still fine until we got presented with a New Year Eve's menu. There was a "special" menu just for New Year's Eve- when we asked whether they had the normal menu, they said no. 


We were very surprised when we saw the NY Eve's menu. They charged 3500 rupees for the BBQ chicken set (which included toasted bread, rice, meatballs, dessert etc.) and the cheapest on the menu was 2000 rupees for BBQ sausages. By any measure, this was exorbitant by Sri Lankan standards. 


Given that we had no food options in the area and did not want to starve on New Year's Eve, we decided to share one portion. Honestly, this was absolutely the worst New Year's Eve dinner I have ever had. Despite it being a "BBQ", everything on the plate was cold. The sausage which was supposed to be BBQed was cold, and so was the fried rice. They also served cheese biscuits which had softened. 




At the end of the meal, we were asked what ice cream flavour we wanted. We were not served with the caramel pudding that was supposed to be part of the set and had assumed that the ice cream was a substitute. We were shocked to find out when checking out that they had charged for this. After some to and fro, they waived the charge of the ice cream. 

Breakfast- definitely can be improved. Cups of watermelon juice were left untouched on the tables. Houseflies were circling around the bread. The eggs tasted weird I didn't finish them. 




Although I didn't get to try their Sri Lankan dishes, they may be better off not doing Western food until they get the hang of it. 

4) Service


Service can definitely be improved. 


The staff are friendly- but they need to be able to better communicate. When one of them asked whether we wanted any drinks at dinner, we said no. Five minutes later, he asked if we wanted any water, we said no. Ten minutes later, he put a bottle of water on our table.  For breakfast, he asked what eggs we wanted, I said "sunny side up". Once again, he looked very perplexed. 


The owner was the only person who could communicate fluently in English and he was willing to accept our suggestions / comments. 


5) Conclusion


This place has potential, but they need to have better food and better communication.


Eliyanth Udawala Hotel 
2036/4, Walawegama, Udawalawa 70190
Sri Lanka 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Udawalawe National Park (Sri Lanka)

I associate safaris with South Africa, not Sri Lanka. 

However, since the safari in Sri Lanka is known to be pretty popular, we decided to make a visit to the Udawalwe National Park. Food options and accommodation nearby are few and far between- do yourself a favour by not staying the night or at least pack some food (just in case). 

It was my first ever visit to a safari in a jeep and I must say it was quite an experience, trying to spot the animals. 

Two of us were on the jeep, while the driver would stop to point out certain animals. 

We saw so many elephants in the park. It was quite exciting to observe the elephants up close- the way they use their trunks to pull out the grass, how they feed themselves etc. We also learnt to identify male elephants from female elephants. 


After a while, the novelty of seeing elephant after elephant wore out a little. Till we saw the elephants having a mud bath! It was also rather hilarious how some white bird would always follow the elephants, apparently because they would like to eat the insects circling the elephants.


As we travelled on, we also saw storks. I was struck by how they were more or less facing the same direction.


We were ever ready to press the shutter button to take pictures of the water buffaloes- until we heard some angry stomping and frightened elephants running away. I never knew elephants could run that fast That scene was quite memorable because it was the only drama in the otherwise seemingly peaceful safari.


We got to spot a number of peacocks as well, their calls are unmistakeable.


While there were plenty of birds flying around, the most colourful was none other than the honey bee eater.


After the initial congestion of jeeps near the entrance, it felt as though you were the only people in the safari to enjoy nature for the remaining journey. This was a birds haven where birds would perch on the branches of these weathered trees.


The whole tour took around 2.5- 3 hours.

Overall, going to this safari was definitely an eye opener, seeing animals in their natural habitat and being in awe of nature.