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28 February 2011

I May Be Nearly 7000 Miles Away But....

I have had the chance to go to Chinatown, admittedly London's version but it did feel a tiny bit like I was in Singapore, just a touch cooler!  Yes I'm away from Singapore at the moment wedding organising but a friend and I went to London's Chinatown last week to gather together some ideas for my wedding in October.

I used to work with Lynne when I lived in the UK and she writes a blog about everything she gets up to since retiring, believe me she is very busy!  She has written a piece about our trip and I thought I'd share it with you.  Her blog can be viewed here, http://lynnes-diary.blogspot.com/ enjoy!

24 February 2011

Icon of Singapore - Raffles Hotel

Although I've done lots of different things since moving to Singapore last July, some of what might be seen as the essential Singapore experiences are so far lacking from my blog.  This is mainly because when I came to Singapore on an initial two week holiday I did a lot of them then as many tourists do.  At the time I wasn't writing my blog and I've not thought about writing about them since I have been.  However I do intend to gradually put that right and I'm going to begin with possibly the most famous building in Singapore and certainly an icon of it, the Raffles hotel.


I have mentioned Raffles in previous posts but I've never actually written about the place and of course the ultimate must do when there, a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar.  Before I went although I'd heard of Singapore Sling's I didn't actually know what was in it.  I know now that it contains amongst other ingredients, gin, benedictine, pineapple and cherry liqueur, is bright pink in colour and was originally designed as a drink for ladies.  It was invented by a bartender at the Long Bar called Ngiam Tong Boon in the early 1900's. 

Despite being fairly sweet it is very nice and very drinkable, although as many of you will know they don't actually mix the Slings at Raffles as you ask for them rather they are premixed beforehand.  The only time they do mix them for you is if you ask for a Sling with a specific gin but those versions are more expensive than the already expensive traditional version.  Having tried a number of Slings in various locations I actually prefer the Slings from the Post Bar in the Fullerton Hotel and they do actually mix them for you there, but that's just my preference.  The other thing you can do in the Long Bar is munch on peanuts and throw the empty shells on the floor.  It may feel weird to do but it is perfectly acceptable here and even if you leave them neatly on the table the bartender's will come along and brush them on the floor once you leave.

I should say as well that they do nice bar snacks in the Long Bar, the satay sticks and the mini slider burgers being particularly tasty.

The Long Bar

Away from the Long Bar there are other bars accessible to non-residents including the Bar and Billiard Room, here you can sit out on the veranda and enjoy a barmy evening sipping whatever tipple you prefer.  The Long Bar is a definite tourist pull and whenever I've been there everyone you look at is sipping on the famous pink cocktail.  However the Bar and Billiard Room does not appear as popular with the tourists and in contrast seems a little more relaxed.  You can also sit out in the bar in the courtyard as in my photo below, again nice to do as a change from the busy Long Bar.


Raffles Hotel is a beautifully colonial looking building, lovely to wander around and soak up the atmosphere and like all hotels in Singapore seem too has an arcade of shops attached to it.  However given this is Raffles the shops seem to be suitably fitting with amongst other things a Tiffany's and a Jim Thompson silk shop.


Another thing I would suggest is worth doing on a visit to Raffles is to have a look in the hotel's museum.  It's only three rooms of exhibits but is free and is basically a collection of items from the hotel's history.  A lot of these are items that previous guests 'acquired' on their own visits to the hotels and fabulous photos of parties and guests enjoying the hotel's facilities from a bygone era in Singapore's history.  There is also the scribbled down note of the original recipe for the Singapore Sling alongside a photo of the bartender who invented it.

Of course the hotel has a shop and for all the, as to be expected, expensive souvenirs that can be purchased there are also items that won't break the bank and will make for a nice memento of your visit.  Despite the Long Bar being a real tourist hub I still think Raffles is definitely worth a trip.  How can you say you've been to Singapore if you haven't been there after all?


The veranda of the Bar and Billiard Room

18 February 2011

Japanese Steamboat

A number of my recent posts have been food related and thanks to another new food try - here is another to share.  We recently went with friends to a Japanese restaurant which offers steamboat on its menu.  The restaurant, called Akashabu, was not too far away at the Kallang Leisure Park.  I've not previously been to the Kallang Leisure Park but from my brief wander around it looks like it could be worth another visit especially as an ice cream parlour has recently opened which was offering a yummy selection of flavours! 

In the restaurant we went to you can either sit at tables or (as we did) sit at a bar around the kitchen area facing the chefs so you also have the fun of watching them prepare the ingredients.  I'd definitely recommend this option as with the stove you are given to cook the steamboat and all the plates of ingredients you have this is by far the easiest way to reach everything you need, see what you are doing and everything else that is going on in the restaurant if you like people watching.

Steamboat is a very communal, fun meal and involves the use of a metal pot heated over a small stove on the dining table, full of broth.  Once the broth has heated up items such as meat and vegetables are added to it as you wish to be cooked in the broth and eaten.  The dish is eaten in many Asian countries and known by a variety of names and I gather is a popular choice during Chinese New Year festivities.

The dish can be cooked using a variety of meats, fish and vegetables but when we went we chose to have pork and beef.  My friends also selected some prawns but as I'm not a huge seafood fan I avoided the pot where that was cooked and just stuck to the meat and vegetables.  The meat is sliced wafer thin and as a result cooks very quickly when placed in the heated stock.  We had a variety of vegetables to cook including corn on the cob (which took a bit longer to cook and was a challenge to eat with chopsticks but I managed it), a variety of mushrooms and a variety of green vegetables.

Once all the food has been cooked and eaten you can then enjoy the broth which has been further flavoured by the meat and vegetables that have been cooked in it.  It certainly did not look a lot when we were given it to cook but by the time I'd finished eating I was pretty full.

I thoroughly enjoyed my steamboat evening, it is a very sociable dish so great for sharing with friends.  Definitely one to do again.

12 February 2011

A Good Old Pub Quiz - Singapore Style!

I recently had the opportunity to go to a pub quiz here in Singapore.  I really enjoy pub quizzes so when I was invited along I was more than happy to go.  The quiz was being held in a pub called Turnstyles on Circular Road behind Boat Quay.

The Turnstyles bar is a sports bar which I must have walked by many times but until I was invited to the quiz I don't think I even knew the bar was there.  The bar is run by a couple of English expats and by the sounds of it the pub quiz on Tuesday evenings is something of an institution.  The other main selling point for the bar is that even with only two staff (one behind the bar and one on the floor) on a very busy night there were no excessive delays in servings drinks to customers.  Something that is a bit of a rarity in Singapore!  The excellent service is mentioned on their website as a reason to come along and at the end of the quiz the guys running it asked us all to show our appreciation to the staff by asking us where else in Singapore would you get service like it?  True very true! 

There is no food cooked on the premises but bar staff will take food orders and place them with the Irish bar across the road.  This makes the speed of service even more impressive when the waitress was running back and forth between the two bars.  Obviously on the night I went along they were not showing any sports coverage but from the look of what was coming up they show a good variety of things including football and cricket.

So to the quiz, we did not win but we did not come last either and I think I earned my place and justified my invite with a couple of decent answers (which were thankfully correct too!)  It was good natured with out being too competitive even when teams did disagree with the official answer.  I get the feeling some teams attend regularly (including the team I was a member of) but if you wanted to go along and join in no one would mind either.  Best of all it was free to enter and had some decent prizes up for grabs.  Hopefully I'll get the chance to attend again soon.

11 February 2011

Three Top Spots for a Saturday Relaxing Walk

I've once again enlisted the help of my fiance in writing a post for my blog.  As before if you like what you read you can find him on Twitter @AskSirStamford - go on you know you want to follow!


In my last post on this fine blog I talked about places to go drinking, here I will highlight a range of cool places to recover from those chill out beers, wines or cocktails. Yes, I am going to talk about walks in Singapore again in no particular order my top three are :-
  • East Coast Park
  • Singapore Botanic Gardens
  • MacRitchie Reservoir

East Coast Park is a strip or sliver of land between the East Coast Parkway (ECP) and the sea in the east of the island, stretching from Kallang in the west, passed Changi Airport to the ferry terminal at Changi Village (trips to Palau Ubin can be taken from here).  Essentially the park can be used for swimming, cycling (bikes can be hired at various points), walking or for the acknowledged insane, running.  The park has a number of restaurant areas including the excellent German Thai brewery of Tawandang (great Thai snacks that can be washed down with a German pint), an Irish pub (of course), Maccas and many more.  For the adventurous chefs there are also a number of BBQ pits available for use, although I suspect one would have to be very keen to secure one (the day I went all were in use by very large Indian families, the cooking food smelled divine).  One word of warning, it can get very busy at weekends so if you decide to cycle extreme care needs to be taken.

The park starts at the bottom of Tanjong Katong Road (incidentally Tanjong Katong means Turtle View Bay and is named after the now extinct Katong Turtle) at the Big Splash Play Area (apparently this used to be a water park but is no longer in operation).


Singapore Botanic Gardens – I first went to the gardens as part of a work based conference / training exercise (we had booked a meeting room in the Botany Centre) and had the opportunity for an early morning walk through the park, passed the old ladies engaged in Tai Chi, as the taxi driver dropped me in the wrong place (well he was badly directed by me).  I returned to the park a few days after my initial visit and walked around the lake (there is an enormous sculpture of a swan in the middle of the water) that teems with terrapins.  Also of interest is the timeline of life on earth, doesn’t half make one feel small and insignificant when you are told that T-Rex is a relative youngster and he died out 65 million years ago.

Plus there are a fair few plants too.

There is a food court next to one of the entrances, excellent Singapore Mee (noodles) was served here, washed down with a cold coke (is there anything better on a hot day to quench one’s whistle).

The park is located a short walk from the hecticness of Orchard Road and is an oasis of calm.  Although on the second day I went, a weekend, there was a party of noisy tourists shouting and taking endless pictures.


MacRitchie Reservoir – This is Singapore's closest thing to an area of wilderness, with wildlife including monkeys, snakes (I did not see any serpents), lizards and the very noisy Asian Koel (a crow like bird that makes an annoying screech from day-break to dusk).  Upon arrival you pass by a canoe club (this seemed very popular with younger Singaporeans) and onwards to the broadwalk which skirts the edge of the lake (you may see the odd monitor lizard taking a dip) and into the deepest darkest recesses of the jungle.  After awhile the broadwalk deck turns into the path of the nature walk.  There are walks of varying lengths (up to 12 kms), with all being hot and sticky.  The day we went it rained just after lunchtime, fortunately we were near one of the many shelters so managed to stay dryish (although the shelter was a little crowded).  The monkeys didn’t seem to mind the rain though, all were very cute (especially the babies).

As well as the walks at ground level there is also the Treetop Walk which as the name suggests is up amongst the tree tops!  You walk across a narrow bridge that does not feel safe at all (though they do carry out safety checks on it everyday)!  Needless to say I did not enjoy that part much.  We were so high up in fact that Laura's phone decided she was in Malaysia, changed on to a Malaysian network and she proceeded to receive the myriad of text messages welcoming her to Malaysia.  One may be high up but as far as I know you are still in Singapore!


07 February 2011

Thunder Tea Rice

Another recent food first for me was trying thunder tea rice  I'd never heard of it before I was invited by a Singaporean friend to experience it.  To sample this dish we met at the Thunder Tea Rice restaurant on Joo Chiat Road which luckily is walkable from our condo.


The Thunder Tea Rice restaurant on Joo Chiat Road

Thunder tea rice is a traditional Hakka dish which I gather is often eaten during celebrations for Chinese New Year (very apt that I got to try it in the build up) is full of good ingredients and was far more delicious then I could have imagined.  It is called thunder tea rice because of the bowl of green tea that you get with it (though I'm not sure where the thunder part comes from).  It is a rice based dish and you can have either white or brown rice, I had brown rice as this is meant to be more healthy.  The rice is served with a variety of vegetables including green beans, spring onions, cabbage, spinach and tofu, peanuts and dried fish.  The dish is then served with a separate bowl of green tea which also contains mint, basil and parsley and yes it is bright green in colour!  Thunder tea rice is renowned as a food to eat if you are looking for the healthy option.  Although, many I am sure, are put off by the colour of the tea which you pour over the rice and mix in before eating. 

Having done a bit of research into the health benefits associated with thunder tea rice, the green tea is regarded as a powerful anti-oxidant and helps in lowering cholesterol.  The basil and mint are regarded as being good for relieving stress, the dish also contains fuliksum (which despite my best efforts I have been unable to find out exactly what that is - perhaps it is just as well)!!!  However whatever it is it's regarded as being good for removing body toxins and fluid wastes and generally strengthens the immune system.  The parsley and coriander are good for easing digestion, combating flu and headaches.  The ginger and ngal (again I haven't been able to identify what this is) good for expelling body winds and gas (nice)!  The sesame good for maintaining youth and enhancing beauty and the peanuts good as they are high in protein.

The meal was accompanied by side orders of omelette and fried bean curd topped with minced meat.  The bean curd was something else I've not previously tried and once again I was pleasantly surprised.  It did not look a huge meal but was certainly more filling than I anticipated and I struggled to finish it in the end.

I think it is something you'll either like or not a bit like marmite (I'm in the dislike camp there) and if you are not keen on mint you'll certainly not like it but I enjoyed it.  It was full of goodness and given the germs I've currently got I clearly need to eat more of it!

04 February 2011

Dim Sum Brunch at Raffles Hotel

It seems like a while ago now but once again I recently sampled another brunch option in Singapore.  This time at the Royal China restaurant in Raffles hotel.  On this occasion we went for the dim sum brunch. 

For those who do not know dim sum is a Chinese dish that is usually served in small individual portions so great for sharing and also trying new things.  Naturally being in Raffles hotel the setting for the restaurant was lovely but I did not feel out of place there either.  The restaurant was decorated in a lovely pale turquoise blue and the clever use of mirrors made it seem much larger than it really was.  There were also private rooms which I assume you could book as well.  The website suggests a strict dress code but on the day we went others were dining who were not adhering to this.  Although I would recommend you do, just in case ..... 





We had lots of delicious dishes that included dumplings like those you can see in my photos, char siu baau (a kind of bun filled with pork), Beijing duck and spring rolls.  I also managed to try some new dishes as well which included congee and egg tarts (yes amazing I know but I've never had these before)!  The congee is a type of porridge served with savoury items, in this case chicken and mushrooms.  I was a bit sceptical about it beforehand and had avoided the dish previously.  However I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised and it was really nice.  I understand it is often eaten as a breakfast dish and the version I tried even had what looked like cornflakes in it just to make the point.  I'm afraid I did not manage to find out what they actually were though!  The egg tarts were pleasantly sweet too although the first couple of bites did taste a bit more eggy than I expected but once you got beyond that they were definitely worth it.  All of which was washed down with lots of tea.

Naturally as the brunch was at Raffles hotel you would expect it to be good and it definitely was.  I'd say it is well worth doing if you have the opportunity to do so but I do need to try dim sum at some other places in Singapore too.

01 February 2011

Top 5 Chill Out Bars in the Lion City

For this post I've roped in the assistance of my lovely fiance and he has kindly written this for me based on his experiences.  He doesn't have a blog but he is on Twitter and if you like what you read you can find him @AskSirStamford (yes that's right Singapore's first expat has discovered the Internet and social networking)!  Anyway enjoy as he tells you about the coolest bars in the Lion City.

As my first guest post on this fine blog I thought that I would highlight five cool bars in Singapore that are just swell for a Friday night beer (or one any other time for that matter).

In no particular order of preference, the bars are: -

Loof, North Bridge Road (opposite Raffles Hotel, above the Supper Club)

• 1-Altitude, One Raffles Place (in the old OUB Centre)

KPO, Killiney Road, Off Orchard Road

No. 5, Emerald Hill

Blu Jaz, Ophir Street, Bugis


Loof

This is a cool roof top bar, that has a great Friday night happy hour (up to 8pm), with two for one on jugs of beer, cocktails and wines.  Also they will serve you the second drink of the order later (one could not be expected to drink warm ale, in this climate, just not the done thing, old boy), so the trick is to order and pay for drinks as and when needed up until the end of the cheap period and then cash in the chits to secure your free beers (all happy hour drinks need to be served by 9:30pm).  The snacky food is also excellent, with the lamb chops being a firm favourite.  In terms of ambiance you sit either on comfy sofas or on wooden stools at hip tables and watch the people as they relax into the weekend.  It was here that we met some Singaporean TV star / model, no idea who he was but he had a few hangers on attached to his coattails.




1-Altitude

This bar is on the top of one of the tallest buildings in Singapore and therefore has great views across Marina Bay, the Central Business District (CBD) and in fact if you went on a clear night to Malaysia (Truly Asia - as the tourist board advertising campaign states) and Indonesia.  When I attended it started out as a rainy evening (with lightening, whereas I thought that would be cool it was deemed to be a tad unsafe by the management, wusses).  So we were holed up in the downstairs sports bar at first (downstairs is not really accurate as it is on the 59th floor of the building), which has a series of golf simulators available for use.  Once we were let back upstairs we ordered a few drinks, there is a good range of cocktails, beers and wines and a load of comfy sofas and armchairs to lounge around in, but the real reason to be up there is the view.  One quirky thing with our visit was that there were a few spiders, fake body parts and a few zombies dotted around the place, it was Halloween (the waiting staff were also covered in blood and bandages) but I don't think this is a regular thing!


View from 1-Altitude across the Marina Bay


KPO

The key feature of KPO, which stands for Killiney Post Office (given that the bar is attached to a Post Office, therefore if the queue in the Post Office is long, one can get a beer while you wait to post your letters back to Blighty), is that there are always flash cars parked outside (the odd Lambo, red or yellow Ferrari, Aston Martin or Porsche). That said one would assume that the drinks prices would be steep, they are not and are in fact amongst the cheapest I have encountered in twelve months in the Lion City (about ten bucks for a pint of draught lager). Additionally the bar sells a wide range of weird and wonderful beers from Belgium and good cocktails (my friends often have a variety of differing martinis, lychee is a favourite). The place to be is outside on the upstairs terrace, lovely on a warm evening (aren’t all Singapore evenings a tad barmy).  Or bliss on a chilled out Saturday afternoon in the sunshine and a perfect escape from the shopping frenzy of Orchard Road, (chaps please note this when your better half is wanting a shopping trip, agree and then slope off for a cool beer).


No. 5

No. 5 is the reason why I have renamed the Emerald Hill area Downhill, because a trip here on a Friday night is excellent but will lead to a dodgy Saturday and in extreme cases a wiped out weekend. Seriously it is a great place for a cheap martini (two for one on Fridays) or indeed for the nutcases amongst us (I include myself in that assessment) it is not bad for a Jager Bomb or five.  Just stay away from the chili vodka (to be found in a couple of huge vats in the middle of the bar, taunting the unsuspecting victim with its evilness), it is foul, rancid and horrid, never accept one of these from a well meaning adventurous friend.  Bombs aside, the food is good (chicken wings get scoffed very quickly), atmosphere brilliant and boisterous and it is one of only two places in Singapore that allows you to throw the peanut shells on the floor (no prizes for guessing the other one).  Additionally, if it is too busy there is always Ice Cold Beer a little further up the Emerald Hill strip or indeed the aforementioned KPO across the t’other side of Orchard Road.

 
Blu Jaz
 
What can I say about Blu Jaz?  It is great.  Food is good (I would recommend the chicken curry or the bar snacks, including fish fingers shaped like fish), service is good (a rarity in Singapore, I mean how difficult is it to get the right drink to the right person in a timely fashion, seems it is a struggle in many bars in the city) and the atmosphere is always chilled out.  A chance find given that it is not in the city (I stayed around the corner when I first arrived in Singapore twelve short months ago) but a good one.  In summary KOOL!
 
 
Other notable additions to the list could also be Red Dot (either at Dempsey or Boat Quay), BQ Bar (also on Boat Quay), Harry’s at Chijmes (especially to watch Liverpool play and sadly lose more often than not), the Indochine on Club Street or Ying Yang (also on Club Street) or perhaps Muddy Murphy’s (off Orchard Road) for a Sunday roast.  Smith’s Chippy on Tanjong Katong Road also serves beer and GREAT fish and chips (only missing being wrapped in yesterday’s edition of The Sun).


Interior of Harry's bar at Chijmes

For the weirdest bar though of the last twelve months, The Handle Bar wins (for hairy Harley-Davidson riding bikers only), it’s in the wild west.
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