20 November 2015

Shopping with honestbee.com

I recently became aware of a fairly new shopping site in Singapore called honestbee.com and decided to give them a try for myself. I've used grocery shopping websites before, of course, though primarily when we lived in the UK. Here in Singapore, although I have in the past, I generally tend to just pop to the supermarket near my work or at one of the few that are very close to where we live whenever we need things and just pick them up as and when. However with some of the heavier stuff the thought of delivery is, I admit, far more appealing than lugging it home in weather conditions not generally suited for that type of strenuous exercise.

So what's honestbee.com I hear you ask and what's so special about them? Well the first thing that attracted me was that they offer delivery from various stores rather than just one as is more typical. This obviously gives you a whole load more selection and convenience when you shop. They offer delivery from both Cold Storage and FairPrice but also from a whole host of other shops, think Pet Lovers Centre, Watsons, Crystal Wines, GNC and Gastronomia to name just a few. 

You can also order and have delivery the very same day meaning that theoretically you could order everything you need to cook your favourite meal that evening in the morning and have someone else do all the hard work of going to the supermarket for you. Honestbee have a team of personal shoppers ready to take your shopping list to the store (or stores) of your choice and pick up those items for you once you submit your order. Also they have delivery slots of one hour, again meaning it's far more convenient and less intrusive on your daily life than having to be available for a large chunk of the day waiting for your delivery to arrive! 

Payment is only made after delivery of your goods and like any grocery online delivery service if an item isn't available they offer either the option of the delivery of a substitute or the option not to have the item replaced. Therefore before charging your card they'll make sure any adjustments to your final bill are taken into account.  

So with all this in mind I decided to give them a go for myself. Setting up my new account was incredibly simple, in fact it probably took less than five minutes. For my first delivery I decided to have a delivery on a different day from my day of ordering that was more convenient for me, but at the time I was ordering (late morning on a week day) I could have had my deliveries by late afternoon that same day if I had wanted to. I ordered from two separate stores selecting the same delivery slot for both and after selecting my items and quantities I received confirmation that my order was in process. 

On the day of my delivery (by the way they also deliver on weekends and Public Holidays) about an hour before it was due I received two text messages from the personal shoppers going to the stores I'd ordered from advising me that two items were not available. As I said you don't pay your bill until after delivery has been made and the final bill takes into account any adjustments required. 

Although my deliveries came from two different delivery drivers (because I shopped from two different stores) they arrived at practically the same time right at the start of my hour delivery slot so there was absolutely minimal disruption to my day! At the time of the delivery they just hand your shopping over to you, no fuss and no signing for items etc. The shopping is delivered in Honestbee re-usable bags (though the shopping inside it is still also in the bag from the store you've chosen to shop from) that you can either keep and use again or return on your next shop. Just a few days after receiving my delivery I received my final bill with all the necessary deductions made and charged to the card I registered with my account, so simple and so hassle free!

George checking out the shopping to see what is for him

I'll definitely be using them again, for the heavy items and bigger shops they are perfect and it is so simple to register and subsequently use the site. Of course, I'll still be going to the supermarket (and other stores) as well but it's great to know such a simple, hassle free online shopping service, covering so many different stores, is available. It really is like handing your shopping list to a friend to do it for you. Don't take my word for it though, go try them for yourselves and see if you too aren't converted!

This blog resulted from an invitation to try out honestbee.com's service for myself and represents the thoughts and opinions of the writer. All information on this blog is provided "as is", with no guarantee of completeness, accuracy or timeliness and the writer will not be liable for any losses, injuries or damages from the display or use of this information. All text and photos on this blog are the original works of the writer unless stated otherwise.

10 November 2015

Ruamrudee Roaming (Bangkok Food Tour of the Soi)

My travelling husband has been writing again, this time about some of the food and places he has eaten in on his numerous visits for work to Bangkok. If you like what you read you can follow him on Twitter, @asksirstamford 

I have travelled to Bangkok many times, always staying in the stay hotel (the Novotel at Ploenchit), which is a perfectly reasonable four star hotel with a pool and in a reasonably good location. An added advantage of the hotel is its proximity to a range of great restaurants and a couple of good bars.

Coffee Bean by Dao

On one of my first trips to Bangkok, whilst I worked for a regional bank in Singapore, a colleague took us to one of her favourite restaurants. Looking at the menu I was amazed to see that it was a selection of Thai and Italian inspired dishes, as well as an enormous selection of cakes and buns, I know, it’s a strange combination, I always go for the Thai dishes. I cannot vouch for any of the cakes as I do not have a sweet tooth and have never sampled any of them. Now, on my visits, I stay at the end of the street and go to the restaurant regularly.

I usually order a starter or appetiser, the Thai Fishcakes, the prawn balls (minced prawn, deep fried and served with sweet chili sauce) or the spicy chicken wings are always excellent winners, followed by a main course with steamed rice. The mains I usually have are often based around the Thai curry theme, red / green / massaman / jungle with beef, chicken or duck. The curries all feature a good level of spice but little chili heat (perhaps I am immune these days, so don’t take my word for it) and the oriental flavour shines up from the pristine plates and bowls. For something a little bit different, why not try the soft-shell crab (I always feel guilty eating a crab that was in the process of moving house), it’s crunchy, sweet and very tasty.

Price-wise, the restaurant is reasonable, the above meal usually costs between 600 and 800 baht, with a couple of Singha beers.

Baan Glom Gig

This is a restaurant I would never have found on my own, as it nestles at the bottom of a dimly lit street, just off the main Ruamrudee Soi, that serves a street food market during the day and a paradise of food scraps for the local stray cats by night. Once off the street you step into an oasis of calm with both outdoor and indoor dining areas (there is a function room upstairs), with the decor being white and clean with interesting artifacts / photos on the walls (there is a statue of Chairman Mao, I am not sure why). Having discovered the place, I come here on every trip, usually more than once, but why? Simple the food is truly excellent. As with Coffee Bean, I usually order a starter and a main (two starters and a main is way too much for one person, please believe me). My starter of choice is a de-constructed chicken drumstick, with the chicken minced and combined with glass noodles and then moulded back into the shape of a drumstick and deep fried. This is very tasty and a little unusual, it puts KFC to shame. Mains are usually the aforementioned curries but on my last trip I selected the large river prawn dish, truly excellent but not that healthy as it is cooked in rather a lot of delicious garlic butter, with the fish’s flesh being sweet and flavoursome (it is a monster prawn).

Hyde & Seek

Hyde & Seek is a gastrobar (whatever a gastrobar is) at the top of the Soi, next to the Plaza Athenee Residences and Hotel and close to the BTS station at Ploenchit, serving western style dishes and a good range of beers and wines (including the ever popular Beer Lao). Just before last Christmas I had to spend a weekend in the city and decided to have Sunday lunch in the bar. Choosing the rack of lamb with roasted potatoes although there is also a creamy dauphinoise potatoes option. The lamb was perfectly cooked, very pink for me and was followed up with a few chilled out beers on the outside terrace. If you happen to be hungry, I’d advise against ordering the scallop dish (although it is fantastic), as it contains only one solitary breadcrumb encrusted mollusc, served in the shell (this does however save room for much more booze).

03 November 2015

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station

When we first moved to Singapore the Tanjong Pagar railway station was still open with a train service linking Singapore and Malaysia. The station closed in June 2011, having opened in 1932, and I recall at the time of its closure there being lots of interest in the station and what would become of the building. Sadly I never got to travel on the railway when it was in use, nor did I get to take it on its final journey, though I know several people who did. After its closure I passed by the art deco building many times and wondered what would become of it. Lots of rumours and suggestions circulated but nothing concrete seemed to happen until earlier this year (I think in time for Chinese New Year) it was announced that the station would be opened to visitors on Public Holidays. As a lover of history and also abandoned buildings that seem to have stories to share this instantly went on my list as somewhere I had to get to on one of the numerous holidays.

We decided to wait a couple of Public Holidays before heading down there and finally went not so long ago. In case you didn't know it's free to enter and then you can spend as little or as much time as you want exploring the place. The day we went it was not excessively busy and there were a mix of families, photographers with some impressive gear making the most of the backdrop to do photography shoots of the buildings and site or with their latest muse in place.

The station's ticket hall

When you enter the station you first go into the large airy ticket hall with its high vaulted ceiling and quite beautiful murals high above you. The murals depict various economic activities including rice planting and shipping activities. As I said I never got here whilst it was an operating station but I imagine this being a hive of activity, full of people about to embark on their journeys and others waiting to meet loved ones and friends. The signage is still up for places like the station police office and the office for the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. Off to the sides of the main halls are a few rooms, now empty but once upon a time no doubt teeming with life. I don't know what happened in these rooms but I imagine maybe a waiting room, various eateries, a lost and found office and so on, all the essential parts of any busy terminus station.

Just one of the empty rooms off the main ticket hall

The platforms in some aspects seem (I guess) to have been left as they were at the time of the station's closure. Although I was also a little disappointed that none of the platform signage indicating you were arriving in Singapore (which I assume there must have been) had been left. In contrast though the platform shops seemed simply to have been closed up with their signage still clearly on display. I wonder where the people who owned, ran or worked in these shops ended up or where those shops moved to. The platforms too have a collection of small rooms, some of which are open, some not. Again I guess these were booths for station staff, eateries, toilets perhaps (a few still had sinks attached to the walls) and one booth that must have been an immigration point as there were still signs up requesting passports. Seeing all these abandoned rooms and sections of the station I couldn't help but think more about all the people that must have past through it over the years and wonder what their stories were. 

Platform shops

Once you are out on the platforms you can walk the full length of both sides. The platforms are a substantial length, long enough apparently to accommodate long mail trains. Of course now the majority of the track has been removed and grass has grown over the open space. But closer towards the station buildings track still remains and provides great photo opportunities. It is strangely fun to stand in the middle of a railway track, something you would never normally be able to do, even if you do know that no trains will be coming into the station.

We walked down the one platform almost to the end and then back up on the other one towards the main station. On this far side one you also get to see a little bit of some railway sidings and track that have also been left. We left via the main station building taking in again for one last time the beautiful high ceiling and amazing murals.

Looking towards the main station buildings

Looking down the track

Get your passports ready

F M S R stands for Federated Malay States Railways

I wonder where that door leads to?

It was a fantastic way to spend our holiday morning and I really recommend that you take the chance to visit the railway on one of Singapore's many Public Holidays when it is open. It's a great opportunity to see a little bit of Singapore's past that is usually off limits to the general public. For me it was amazing to be able to see these now abandoned places that were once such a hub of life. I couldn't help but imagine all the stories these buildings could tell if only they could talk. 

Only this past week, as I've been finishing this post, I've actually been reading that parts of the station platforms will, in the future, be making way for the construction of the next sections of the Circle Line. Whilst they are looking at ways of preserving the platforms, as the buildings and parts of the platform were previously gazetted as national monuments, who knows whether this may, in time, limit chances to visit this site. I'm so glad I've had the chance to see the station now even if I never got to experience it whilst it was in use.

25 October 2015

Candlenut - Peranakan Dining

For our wedding anniversary this year we decided to utilise some of the hotel loyalty points I have acquired through the course of my travels for work (mainly to Hanoi, Saigon and Bangkok) to have a staycation in a Singapore city hotel. As part of the celebration we decided to have dinner at a Peranakan restaurant we had previously visited in January (when some friends headed back to Europe).

Peranakan food is unique to South East Asia, well really to the Malaysian Peninsula and Singapore and is an amalgamation of traditional Malay food with the food of the eighteenth century Chinese merchantmen and settlers to the region. The story goes that an early trader visited the region to sell his wares, fell in love with a beautiful local lady and decided to stay. In order to please him she started to incorporate the flavours he missed from his Chinese home into the local dishes she knew how to cook. And so Peranakan or Nonya cuisine was born.

A key ingredient of Peranakan or Nonya cuisine is the fruit or nut from the mangrove growing Keluak tree, found extensively throughout the South East Asian countries of Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Singapore. The fruit or nut is highly poisonous when it is harvested from the tree and contains Hydrogen Cyanide (not a great plus for the human diet) but can be made edible through a fermentation process involving boiling and burying in ash and banana leaves. It is thought that the process makes the cyanide soluble in water and can therefore be washed away. I often wonder how people discovered these processes to convert seeming dangerous items into something that can be safely eaten (the other one I really want to try is the Japanese fish, fugu), especially as these processes were developed in the distant past without the benefit of modern scientific practices. In Singapore and Malaysia the nut is known as Buah Keluak or the Candlenut (hence the name of the restaurant).

So to our dinner with the poisonous nut. Candlenut, located at the Dorsett Residences on New Bridge Road, on the western edge of the Central Business District, operates a tasting menu philosophy for dinner at the weekends (a different concept from when we previously visited) with the menu changing dependent upon what is available and fresh when the chef visits the local market. The menu comprises of a number of appetisers, main courses and a choice of dessert. When we booked the table we were sent the week’s menu and asked if there was anything we’d like to change due to dietary requirements / challenges. As I cannot eat mushrooms we requested beforehand that one of the dishes was substituted for something else.

Here is the menu we were dining to

The starters (as you can see) were Kueh Pie Tee, warm minced pork in a laksa leaf, chicken satay and tumbuk prawns with starfruit.

Kueh Pie Tee - little cupcake-like shells filled with yummy savoury goodness that come in self-assembly format at Candlenut. The filling was a prawn based sauce with ginger that is spooned into the shells and topped with crunchy peanuts. One needs to eat the shell quickly as the crispy base tends to absorb the moist sauce.

Before (above) and after (below)

Laksa Leaf Pork Relish – little parcels of minced pork wrapped in a laksa leaf. It was similar to a Chinese dish I had many years ago where the pork or chicken was wrapped in a lettuce leaf but this one had a tangy after-taste of banana chili. 

Chicken Satay – satay is one of our local favourites (in fact we ate a lot over the summer when we had some young visitors here) and is served at Candlenut with a sharp apple and mint dressing that contrasts excellently with the succulent chicken skewer. The apple and mint makes a great change to the usual serving of peanut and chili sauce. 

Tumbuk Prawns – this minced prawn dish was served on a slice of starfruit and was the perfect bite-sized morsel. The sharp freshness of the fruit complimenting the savoury deliciousness of the minced prawn. 

The main dishes were then served with a bowl of sticky Thai-style rice, and consisted of a rawon soup with beef cheek (containing the Candlenut), a vegetable curry dish (our substituted non-mushroom dish), braised pork belly, baby squid and tiger prawns.

Rawon soup of beef cheek, Buah Keluak and fried shallots – the dark colour and texture of the soup is dictated by the use of the candlenut (rawon refers to a rich gravy created by grinding the processed nut into a paste) with the once under-used and now trendy beef cheek being delicious and melt in your mouth smooth. Pleased to state that this dish was excellent and although it contained a once poisonous nut we are both still very much alive and kicking.

Braised Pork Belly – a wonderful pork dish in a soy bean and chili gravy, where the pork fell onto the fork with just the right mixture of flesh and pork fat to make the dish excellent.

Wok Fried Baby Squid, Cherry Tomatoes, Sambal – this was a great and spicy addition to the meal that gave a real chili kick with the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes. Usually I try to avoid sambal sauce as it can often be way too much and can over-power the dish it accompanies (a classic example of this is the BBQ stingray that many hawker stalls serve) but not in this case. The balance was perfect. 

Grilled Tiger Prawns – these were excellent and I ate them both as the blog owner is not usually one for overt sea food like prawns in the shell. The prawns were sweet and the coconut sauce complimented perfectly.

For dessert we chose the Buah Keluak Ice Cream (that nut again) which comes complete with popping candy and the Textures of Coconut, with both being excellent palate cleansing finishing touches to an excellent meal. Unfortunately we were too busy eating to take any photos of these!

Candlenut is an excellent restaurant with great service that aims to keep the Peranakan traditions alive whilst updating the dishes with modern twists. It is a great place for an informal dinner with tasty food that is tailored towards Singapore residents and tourists looking for an exotic taste adventure alike. Well worth a visit.

For other Peranakan restaurants the reader could also try Blue Ginger, the rendang is great, as is the achar, in Tanjong Pagar (take a look at this post for some photos of some of the delicious food we had on our visit) or Chili Padi, try the popiah, in Joo Chiat.

19 October 2015

Sofitel So Staycation(s)

We've been lucky enough to enjoy a couple of staycations in Singapore (take a look here and here for some inspiration for your own) and since these have taken the opportunity to spontaneously enjoy a couple more, this time at the Sofitel So on Robinson Road, just near to Lau Pa Sat.

The hotel is in a beautiful heritage building, mixing the best of the old and the new in its style and decor. Owing some of its style and design features to Karl Lagerfeld it's really quite impressive. I particularly liked all the little extra details and nods to its location in Singapore. From the cushions in our room with Robinson Road and Joo Chiat cushion covers, the coffee table with the outline of Singapore painted on to it and the hand shaped towel and bathroom robe hangers in the bathroom, quite amazing. Of course we also got to benefit from a well stocked minibar with both complimentary tea and coffee, items you'd expect to pay for and some surprising little extras, some beautifully fragranced complimentary toiletries and, an absolute must these days, wifi access! 

We opted for two separate one night stays (having enjoyed our first so much) one over a public holiday weekend and one for our wedding anniversary. Both times we had the chance to enjoy both the hotel and also a little more of the surrounding area. Everything about the hotel was just lovely and second time around we were especially lucky as we managed to get an upgrade which gave us a bigger room and our own balcony giving us a fantastic place to sit amongst the grand pillars at the front of the building. 

On our first stay our room over looked Lau Pa Sat but we didn't notice any noise coming from there, the windows are obviously well glazed and we had a great nights sleep. The second time around we did hear a few cars being driven at ridiculous speeds outside during the night, but what can you do about that? Particularly as we hear them sometimes where we live in the east and used to hear them back in the UK too.

Hotel lobby from the bar area - love all the beautiful orchids

Robinson Road and Joo Chiat Road inspired cushion covers

Coffee table with an outline of Singapore as decoration

Our hotel room on our first stay

Our upgraded room on our second stay (above and below) check out that bath!

After checking in ( the first time we stayed there) we decided to go out for a late lunch somewhere close by. After an extensive search of what was in the area (and open as it was a Sunday) we settled on Blue Ginger, a Peranakan restaurant I'd heard amazing things about previously. It definitely did not disappoint, especially as we were served achar which is one of my favourite condiments, that was a definite winning moment for me! I really could eat it simply as it is. As well as the achar we, of course, did enjoy a variety of delicious dishes, including ngo heong and chicken and beef favourites such as beef rendang. All were beautiful prepared and absolutely delicious, it is definitely a restaurant to visit if you've never tried Peranakan food. By the way on our second stay we also went to a different Peranakan restaurant for our anniversary meal, check back on the blog shortly for a post about that.


As I said we stayed at the Sofitel So on a holiday weekend (on our first stay) and in the evening, after letting our lunch settle and having done some suitable staycation chilling, we went for a wander and something to eat in the Chinatown area. I guess because it was a holiday evening and also a Sunday Chinatown was pretty empty of life, though this may also have been because a lot of places were shut. However this made for a pleasant walk around this part of the city without the usual throng of people everywhere and despite this we still found somewhere to eat and enjoyed a pleasant meal.

Upon returning to the hotel we went to the rooftop bar for a couple of drinks before retiring. The rooftop bar has a funky, modern feel and decor overlooking the hotel pool. You can enjoy drinks by the bar or at one of the tables dotted around, admire the surrounding office buildings and skyscrapers and enjoy some funky beats as you do. Second time around we opted not to have a drink up there though as there was a private birthday party in progress and it was a little too busy and noisy for us that evening.

Breakfast the following morning on both occasions was the usual range of both Western and Asian options as well as fruit, yogurt and other lighter choices all washed down with fruit juice, coffee or tea. Again the breakfast area embraced the funky modern decor of the whole hotel and was a very pleasant start to both days. Of course with a one night stay breakfast means that all too soon it's time to check out and head home but, if nothing else, we knew we had a cat waiting to greet us and tell us off for going away for the night!

Down a backstreet in Chinatown

Looking towards the Central Business District

Chinatown temple

On both of our stays we had a lovely time right on our doorstep and without having to set foot on a plane or remember to take our passports. I've definitely become a fan of staycations since we tried it for the first time in Singapore on our first wedding anniversary three years ago. It's a great opportunity to enjoy just a little spoiling and explore your hometown just like a tourist. Where do you like to stay in Singapore and why?

BTW don't forget too to keep checking the blog for a separate post about our evening restaurant choice for our anniversary meal during our second stay.
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