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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

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Replacement - Lodge & Kitchen (Johor Bahru)

After yoga class one Saturday morning, my husband asked, "Eh want to go JB?" We had not gone to JB in years and decided to have an impromptu trip. Armed with our passports, we set out to check out JB beyond City Square Mall.

The Replacement seemed to be one of the more popular cafes in JB. It was located a short walk away from City Square Mall. Even at 3 p.m., the cafe was full. It is your typical Scandinavian-styled cafe, with white washed walls and plenty of lights. 


I ordered the Eggs Benny (RM 26.90). You could choose between smoked salmon, beef pastrami or portobello mushroom. I liked how the hollandaise sauce was used to decorate the plate, instead of spamming it over the eggs. The hollandaise sauce was not too overpowering and was well-balanced, without being too sour. They decided to up it one notch- it's not simply poached eggs, but "63 degrees celcius eggs". The natural question is, "What the Heck is a 63-Degree Egg"? The eggs were done just the way I liked it- firm on the outside and moderately molten in the inside. The eggs were served on juicy portobello mushrooms, and laid on lightly buttered and toasted ciabatta.


My husband ordered the Berries Compote French Toast (RM 20.90). The homemade brioche bread is pan-fried with egg, butter and cinnamon mix. There was a hint of cinnamon with each bite and if you have a sweet tooth, this would delight you.


The food was pleasing but we felt that the portion was a little small. That said, the portion size is probably proportionate to the reasonable prices. 

The Replacement - Lodge & Kitchen 
33 & 34 Jalan Dhoby
Johor Bahru 80000
Malaysia
Tel No: 0167132714

Monday, January 1, 2018

Tiong Bahru Bakery (Raffles City)

Tiong Bahru Bakery used to be crowded all the time at its Eng Hoon branch. It was therefore good news when they set up branches in the city as well. 

After a heavy lunch, we decided to get some dessert. I got an Almond Croissant ($4.20). I didn't use to be a fan of croissants because to me, they were just pastry loaded with butter. However, recently I tried the almond croissants at AM Bakery and got hooked onto it. The Almond Croissant here is flaky, crispy and dense with almond paste, with a generous sprinkling of sliced almonds on the exterior. 


We also had a Lemon Tart ($6.10). The sweetness and sourness of the lemon tart were well balanced, with neither overpowering the other. It made for a nice post-lunch perk-me-up.


Tiong Bahru Bakery 
Raffles City Shopping Centre
252 North Bridge Road
Singapore 179103
Tel No: 6333 4160 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Shamwari Game Reserve (South Africa)

We have never spent anything above S$300 for 2 people when choosing our accommodation. It was therefore a crazy splurge when we decided to pay S$1,200 per night for our accommodation at Shamwari Game Reserve (Sarili Lodge). We had to do it because we knew that we were not going to visit South Africa without visiting a safari. 

1. Accommodation 

The lodge was clean and felt luxurious. The bed was large and you could choose from a menu of pillows. We had good views of the grass plains. 


If there is nothing to do, you can always lounge around at the sofa and watch TV. The staff placed some fudge next to our bedsides each evening as well. I am not a fan of the exceedingly sweet fudge but appreciate the gesture. There was also a mini booklet with legends surrounding particular animals- that proved to be an interesting read although the words were a little small for my old eyes.



The toilet was large. There were basins for two and a large bathtub.


My only gripe was that when I first turned on the tap, yellow water started flowing out, which freaked me out a little. After running the tap for a while, the water finally became clear again. That said, I am not sure how clean the water supply is.



There were also great smelling body and hair products.


They were also thoughtful to provide a bag of essentials, including a hand sanitiser, some tissue paper and a bag of nuts. There was also a Species Check List on the animals that you may possibly encounter, although I highly doubt if anybody seriously looks at it. There was also a weather report that they prepare, probably so that they can moderate people's expectations. However, what we learnt from our drives, was that the weather could be rather unpredictable.


2) Food 

Everything, including food and the drives, is included in the package. You would definitely not go hungry. We ate so much on the first day that we decided that we had to refuse some food on the second day, or risk feeling bloated all the time.

When it was warmer, we sat at the balcony to enjoy our meals. When it was cooler, meals would be indoors.

Meals consist of pre-breakfast (if you are going out for an early game drive), breakfast, lunch, teatime, snacks in the evening as well as dinner. Breakfast and teatime would be together with the ranger, you are on your own for lunch and dinner is with the ranger every alternate night. If you are awkward with people you are not familiar with, there may be moments of awkwardness during your meals with the ranger.


The food presentation looked good and their menu made each dish sound incredibly scrumptious. The portions were large, although the quality of food does not really match its presentation. The meals were largely average to slightly above average. They cater for vegetarians as well.

For breakfast, there was a menu you could choose from and a side table where you could take some ham, cereal etc. For lunch and dinner, it was a three course meal where there was quite a variety to choose from. During the meals, you could also choose the drinks that you will be enjoying on your game drive.

Teatime consisted of a variety of pastries which differed each day. On the days we were there, we had some scones and lemon rosemary cake. There were also some light snacks such as liquorice or sunflower seeds that you could bring along for your game drive. Every other night, there would also be a braai, where you could choose from a variety of grilled meats.



3) Amenities 

While spa treatments are available, we did not go for them. There was also a swimming people which looked rather miserable in size. But I guess you don't really go to a safari to dip in the pool.


4) Game drives 

Now, the most important part- the game drives.

There are 2 game drives a day, each lasting around 3 hours, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The game drive in the morning would usually start at 5:30 a.m. thereabouts. However, our ranger suggested that since it would be cloudy anyway, it is likely that there would be no difference even if we went out at 9 a.m. So that was what we did. The evening game drive would start at around 4 p.m. There were blankets on the vehicle, which proved to be extremely useful as it could get pretty windy on the drive.

Being on the game drive was like watching national geographic live. It was interesting to see the animals do their own thing, and you would never know what you would see on every game drive.




Our ranger was humorous and obviously knew quite a bit about animals. On drives where all the animals went into hiding (because it was raining), he would try to point out other things, such as identifying the animals' footsteps or talk about certain vegetation.

During the evening drives, the ranger would drive to some spot in the reserve and set out a picnic of sorts, complete with snacks and drinks.


5) Service 

We encountered very good service. Every time we came back from a game drive, there would be someone giving us warm hand towels and ready with a cup of hot drink, such as hot chocolate or apple tea.

6) Others

After checking out, we visited the Born Free Big Cat Sanctuaries. The sanctuary collaborates with the Born Free Foundation, which rescues animals from captivity and cares for them for the rest of their life. It was around an hour's walk and it was more of an educational tour to draw the public's attention to the plight of animals held in captivity.

7) Conclusion 

Overall, it was an eye opening experience, complete with a luxurious stay. It felt like 2 days was just right. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Betty Blue Bistro (Hermanus, South Africa)

Every trip, we hope to find that one place where we yearn to go back a second time, or even a third time. This time, we found Betty Blue Bistro in Hermanus. 


The interior is splashed in bright colours and is radiating positive energy. Lots of natural light filled the bistro. It is the perfect place to have a relaxing breakfast / lunch.


We first ordered the Red Juice - Beetiful (R45) which consisted of beetroot, carrot, orange and mint. The refreshing fruit juice came in a huge glass which was enough for both of us to share.


There is a Betty's Choice of the Day on the menu, which happened to be Fishcakes (R85). I was at first a little apprehensive as I didn't know what to expect. It turned out to be like crab cakes, and is essentially deep fried breaded fish meat, accompanied with salad. The salad comprises a variety of quality ingredients, including avocado, instead of the usual garden salad that plays second fiddle to the main dish.


My husband ordered the Spinach Pancake (R95), with the interior loaded with chicken and bacon, and drizzled with hollandaise sauce.


We typically do not splurge on breakfast. However, we knew that there was no way we were going to leave Hermanus without going to Betty Blue a second time. After a morning kayak session where we saw some seals, we headed back to Betty Blue.

This time, we ordered the Lemon Meringue Pancake (R57). Smooth lemon curd cream was encased within the pancake topped with little blobs of meringue. This was accompanied by a scoop of ice cream. Perfect balance of sweetness and tartness.


We decided to balance the meal with something more healthy and ordered the Cinnamon Oats (R65) which consisted of oats, sweet poached guava, sliced almonds and cinnamon. If oats were this good all the time, everybody will be eating oats! We are no stranger to oats but this really breathed new life into the otherwise old boring oats.


After we had a dish each, we told ourselves- is this really all?

No.

We opted for something savoury for a change and ordered a Red Breakfast (R85) which consisted of shakshuka and two beautifully poached eggs. While this was good, it was missing the surprise factor that other dishes had given us thus far.



By this time, we were deciding whether to go for a fourth dish for breakfast, just for the two of us.

But we figured that the weighing scale may shock us and left reluctantly.

Beautiful, honest and value for money food, with a creative twist to the dishes.

Betty Blue Bistro
126 Main Road
Hermanus, South Africa
Tel No: +27 28 125 0037 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

AM Bakery

I seldom gush about bakeries. There aren't many categories for bakeries- (1) cheap and good enough to fill your stomach (e.g. BreadTalk, Four Leaves), (2) not cheap and better than the first category (e.g. Cedele, Duke Bakery) and (3) slightly expensive and very delicious (e.g. East Manhattan, Bread Table). In life, you can't have everything, so quality is usually proportionate to price.

But at AM Bakery, no. You can have your bread and eat it too. It is cheap and really good. I have gone down a few times despite it being a 40 minute bus journey away, just to get my hands on these fresh bakes.

All the pictures are from their facebook page. The moment I step out of their shop, I sink my teeth into one of these goodies. Here are some of their bakes I have tried so far:

(1) Signature Banana & Pecan Bread ($3.80)

I like how healthy this bread tastes- a light banana flavour with crunchy pecans. It is not dry at all and with every bite, you get a whiff of banana.


(2) Tomato & Olive Focaccia ($1.80)

We are fans of focaccia because of the herby taste. The dried tomatoes adds a slightly sour edge to the bread.


(3) Almond Croissant ($2.50)

Hands down, my favourite from AM Bakery. If there is only one thing that you can buy from the bakery, make this your choice. There was once I entered the shop and bought one almond croissant. I finished one within 3 minutes from the time I left the shop. Before I knew it, I was walking back and getting myself another. At $2.50, this is incredible bang for the buck.

The buttery aroma, crispy and lightly sugar-coated on the exterior, containing beautifully light layers of almond-flavoured pastry. It feels like ... falling in love! Last week, I tried an almond croissant from a place that starts with D and ends with France, and knew that there was no way I could return to pre-AM Bakery-almond-croissant days.


(4) Orange & Lemon Brioche ($1.90)

This was one of the first pastries we bought from AM Bakery. Again, the citrus taste on a fluffy piece of bread with hidden bits of dried orange was simply refreshing.


(5) Signature Banana Cake ($8.80)

One of the items that customers regularly ask them to bake is their Signature Banana Cake. It is moist and dense, topped off with crumble. However, some might find this a little too sweet.


(6) Mango Cake ($33)

As I liked AM Bakery's bread so much, I decided to take a chance with them for my birthday cake. I have had more misses than hits with mango cake but wanted to see if they had equally high standards for their cakes.

I was impressed. Generous cubes of very sweet mangoes covered a sponge cake which had a light layer of cream spread over it. I do not like cream and always make an effort to remove all traces of it from cakes, but this cream was really light and easy on the palate. The sponge fingers also added some texture to the cake.


My favourite bakery in Singapore. It is a bonus that the people at the bakery are really friendly!

AM Bakery 
The Midtown
1187 Upper Serangoon Road
Tel: 6702 1163

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Meat n' Chill

I have a friend who is essentially a carnivore and he has been craving Meat n' Chill for the longest time because of the Value Lunch Platter, which is a meat platter comprising 200g New York strip, chicken chop stacks, fried fish, smoked pork and to make themselves appear as though they are not hard core meat guys, they throw in a token garden salad as well. That's exactly like me! I eat a lot and then decide to do nominal exercise just because it makes me feel better. But too bad my friend couldn't get to eat it because this promotion was only applicable during weekday lunch. 


The pork ribs here come with different combinations and if you like pork ribs, you will be able to find something. Being the boring old us, we stuck to the Signature Pork Ribs (Cajun) ($21). Each main came with 2 sides and we chose the garden salad and Southern biscuit. The well-marinated and juicy pork ribs were meaty and slid off the bone easily. 


We also ordered the Meat n' Chill Seafood Platter ($26)- looks amazing, tastes amazing as well. The calamari was coated with a thick crispy batter. The mussels were fresh but the star of the show has got to be the prawns- I caught a whiff of the smokey prawns before the prawns exploded in my mouth- it was so juicy! The thing about grilling food is that it often tends to dry the food out but this does not happen in this instance. The only issue I have with the prawn is that it is a little too salty. Other than that, this Seafood Platter is delicious and great for sharing.


We were surprised that food traffic was low on a Saturday afternoon. Chill environment with all that comfort (translate: unhealthy) food made for a great afternoon.

Meat n' Chill 
6th Avenue Centre #01-04
Tel No: 8812 4455 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Coconut Club

If our Prime Minister deems this a worthy place to bring the Philippines President for a meal, it must be really good right? So we headed down to The Coconut Club, some 10 months after their meal- patience is a virtue as we immediately had a seat on a weekend afternoon instead of having to deal with snaking lines. 


The interior was modern, with seating spaces both inside and outside of the shop.


The menu is not extensive but it didn't bother us because we were really only here for the Nasi Lemak ($12.80). If you compare this to the hawker centre nasi lemak, this may seem way too expensive. But these are the reasons why I think their price tag is justified:

1) The rental here is probably a lot higher.

2) The Ayam Goreng Berempah is not your usual deep fried chicken- the big piece of chicken leg was very tender, and marinated with ginger, turmeric, galangal and lemongrass, giving a new interpretation to the usual nasi lemak deep fried chicken. The crispy bits of marinade were addictive.

3) Everything was XL-portion (whether the chicken, the sambal, the nuts or the ikan bilis)- I felt so full after having the Nasi Lemak that I fell into a food coma for the rest of the afternoon.

4) They use premium ingredients, such as young kampong chicken, mawa coconuts from Perak to extract the coconut milk and old jasmine rice from Thailand. Even the ikan billis is sourced from Pangkor, with the insides gutted for a cleaner and lighter taste. 

The rice was fragrant, but didn't have an edge over the good nasi lemak stalls.


We also ordered the Otak-Otak ($10.50) to share. Again, is the price tag justified? I guess I would have been more willing to fork out $12.80 for the plate of nasi lemak than to pay $10.50 for the otak otak, simply because there are more "sides" in the nasi lemak. The otak otak which is made fresh daily and cooked over a charcoal grill came in a large and thick slab with visible fish meat (mackerel) in it (not your usual blended-until-cannot-see-any-fish kind of otak).


For those with small appetites, you may wish to consider ordering one plate of nasi lemak for both to share, so that you save enough stomach space for their famous chendol.

The Coconut Club 
No. 6 Ann Siang Hill
Tel No: 6635 2999 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Plant Story

I requested for a DIY terrarium kit for my birthday this year. As my husband was of the view that it will be easier for us to attend the workshop with people guiding us through the process, I ended up selecting a workshop at The Plant Story

The Plant Story has its own peaceful little corner, complete with greenery. 


It felt tranquil and for that afternoon, it was as though we stepped into a separate world, one where we were not required to keep up with the quick pace of the corporate world.


We chose the Miniature Garden Workshop ($80 per person). Another couple also attended the workshop. While the course technically lasts for an hour, we were given all the time we required to complete our terrariums.

Our instructor gave us an introduction on the various types of terrariums, including the rainforest garden, desert garden, air garden and water garden. She also told us what kind of care each garden requires- this is very important because I learnt that the water garden requires quite a bit of maintenance, something that I was not prepared for.


After going through an introduction on the types of gardens, the instructor also explained how to build your own garden and the ideal environment for different plants to thrive in.


Thereafter, it was hands on time! We first decided what kind of jars, gardens and plants we wanted. I chose the air garden while my husband chose the rainforest garden. If you choose the air garden, you would be done in no time because the air plant does not even require any soil, which means that your only responsibility is really to decorate the jar, without having to care about issues of drainage etc.

We had a few types of sand, gravel and pebbles to choose from. The instructor was also very helpful and would be ready to assist with any queries you may have. Other than that, your only restriction is your creativity. If you wish to add some decoration to your terrariums, you may choose from the selection below, and add an additional $5 per figurine. They were all so cute, I knew that I would end up getting one!


This is my final product! It's not Christmas but who said you can't have a snowman in your terrarium?


If you are craving some food after the fun terrarium workshop, you may want to order some food at the Garden Cafe.


After the workshop, we put the jars back into their original packaging and brought them home. I was in an extremely good mood that night because I felt that I had put my time to good use and had a restful afternoon after soaking in all that green energy. While $80 may seem a little pricey, for that crash course on how to build your own gardens and having easy access to materials, it did seem worth it afterall.

The Plant Story
Passion WaVe at Marina Bay
11 Rhu Cross
#02-03
Singapore 437440 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Otoko

I have been going to Hougang Midtown more frequently ever since I discovered AM Bakery. Before getting my bread fix, we dropped by Otoko as we heard about their curry rice. 


The lower floor is where they have the cashier and the kitchen. The upper floor is where they have the seating space. Seating space is quite limited- basically, what you see in the picture. You can choose whether to customise your meal or to go for Otoko's Donburi. I chose to build my own curry.

The first step is to choose whether you want curry rice or udon and the second is where you choose from a variety of sides. The lady at the counter told us that it is usual for people to choose around 3 sides. There is a range of mostly deep fried sides, such as pork cutlet, chicken cutlet, salmon fillet, bacon tomato, onion rings etc. 


I first got a Curry Rice ($2.80), added on a Chicken Cutlet ($2.80), a Shitake Mushroom ($1.80) and a Bacon Tomato ($1.80). That worked out to be a dish slightly under $10. If you were to compare to it to Udon Goen, I think Udon Goen is more value for money as you get a huge slab of cutlet for around $10 - $11. That said, the food here is more than decent- they were generous with the curry sauce which was spicier than normal Japanese curry, the deep fried items did not taste oily, and there were interesting items such as the Bacon Tomato which was both salty and sour at the same time (in a good way) and gave a fresh take on the usual deep fried items. Although each portion can be quite small, these can be quite substantial when added together- 3 servings should therefore be just nice or slightly more than enough.


Otoko
The Midtown
1187 Upper Serangoon Road
#01-20
Tel No: 9274 6542