23 December 2010

Champagne Brunch and High Tea

Singapore is known for being a place to visit if you are seriously into food and I've had the opportunity to sample a couple of local food luxuries recently.

Before I talk about those I must quickly mention the Lantern bar at the Fullerton Bay hotel, it's lovely and worth a visit.  It's another rooftop bar by the hotel pool and offers great views across Singapore.  I believe it is only open in the evening as the pool is for residents only during the day but in the evening it is worth a visit.  Going there was one of many moments when I've stepped back and had to pinch myself to remind me how lucky I am to be living here.

Anyway back to the food ..... firstly we took in a champagne brunch.  Champagne brunches are fairly common here, lots of the hotels offer them (everyone from Raffles hotel down) and it is usually as much as you can eat for a set price often with free flow champagne.  I've written about one we went to before at a restaurant called Mimolette which we had originally hoped to go to again but it is not currently offering brunches so this time we thought we'd try a hotel.

We went to the Mandarin Oriental hotel and to the restaurant Dolce Vita which offered an Italian themed brunch with yes, you've guessed it, free flow champagne!  Accompanying us on the brunch was another fellow Singaporean blogger and I'd recommend you take a look at his blog, http://singaporechap.blogspot.com/

The food was excellent and the brunch was very well managed in that you had the option of trying a taster of all the dishes for each course and then after that if you wanted to you could have more of anything that you really enjoyed.  This certainly stopped me overindulging on the starters so by the time the desserts came I couldn't eat any of them.  As you can probably imagine there were lots of hams, antipasto, pasta, meat and seafood dishes.  As those who follow this blog will know I'm not a massive seafood but I tried some new dishes again today, caviar, sea bass, barramundi and snapper.  All of which I have to say were really nice, I'm starting to wonder if I'm missing out but at the moment I'm still nervous of attempting a whole dish on my own - just in case!

I'm definitely a dessert fan and everything was beautifully presented as you can see from this picture, which being an Italian themed brunch included tiramisu. It was a lovely afternoon and I'd definitely happily go again or perhaps try a brunch at another hotel, for the purposes of comparison of course.

On the following Monday I went Christmas shopping on Orchard Road and in the afternoon went to high tea with some friends at the Shangri La hotel.  We assumed that high tea would consist of sandwiches, cakes and tea but it was much more of a feast than that!

High tea actually started with main courses which included cold meats, various Asian style dishes, rice, salads and even roast beef with mini vegetables.  There were also some sandwiches there too if none of that appealed to you.  You could have as much of this as you wanted but there was also a whole display dedicated to dessert so you need to make sure you leave room for that.  This included a chocolate fountain with strawberries and marshmallows for dipping, lots of cakes and pastries, cheesecake and fresh fruit amongst other things.  On my second dessert trip (yes I managed to squeeze more in) I'm absolutely certain there were desserts that weren't there the first time.  The picture above shows my first dessert selection.  All of this was washed down with your choice of tea.  The hotel had a vast selection and everyone got their own pot of whatever tea they selected.

Another thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, I think I could get use to this sort of lifestyle!

21 December 2010

Peranakan Museum

I haven't been anywhere new by myself for a while but recently I decided to make a visit to the Peranakan museum.

Before I visited I had been of the impression that the term Peranakan only referred to the Peranakan Chinese.  However I now know there are Peranakan groups across South East Asia and that the term can apply to other communities such as the Jawi Peranakan (Indian Muslim) and the Chitty Melaka (Indian).  Peranakan is the term used to refer to people of mixed ethnic origins.  South East Asia being an important crossroads for trade meant that traders came from other countries some of these married local women and the Peranakan culture was born.

The museum explores this culture and their traditions and has on display traditionally crafted clothing, antique furniture and porcelain amongst other things which all feature the Peranakan designs.  I was particularly interested in going as where I live in Singapore is an area which has been heavily influenced by the Peranakan community previously and this can still be seen in the buildings around there.

One of the most interesting parts for me was the gallery about the Peranakan wedding traditions.  The marriage ceremony lasted for twelve days and involved both families exchanging gifts with special significance for the marriage and performing a number of rituals during the process.  As well as this the museum also looked at the importance of the women or Nonya in the families, their religious beliefs, their involvement in public life and of course their food.

Peranakan culture has been enjoying a renaissance here in Singapore and is recognised as an important part of Singapore's heritage.  As I walked around I could instantly think of links to this culture that I'd witnessed firsthand.  Firstly in the uniforms of the air stewardesses on Singapore Airlines which are based on the traditional sarong kebaya worn by the Nonya's.  Secondly as I read about their traditional dishes that I had eaten food of this style or at least based upon this since moving here and that I was aware of restaurants in Singapore that serve Peranakan food or dishes based upon this.

Peranakan style decorated shophouses not far from our condo

It was a really interesting morning and somewhere I'd definitely recommend for a visit if you are interested in finding out a bit more about the local culture.

17 December 2010

Christmas Tree, Christmas Tree, Wherefore art thou Christmas Tree?

Before Christmas came I did wonder how much it would be celebrated here.  Clearly the weather is very different to what I'm used to at Christmas and as only a small percentage of the population are Christian I wasn't sure what to expect.  Thinking about it further I reasoned that Christmas day is a holiday here, Singapore celebrates other days for other religions with appropriate decorations etc. and there are a lot of expats here who whether or not religious would be used to celebrating Christmas in their own way.  As November progressed I was rewarded with copious amounts of Christmas trees and decorations in streets, shopping malls and public places, festive music and a reassurance that Christmas wouldn't be forgotten here!

When we returned back from the UK at the weekend I decided it was time to get the tree and decorations up but first I needed to buy the tree.  We had a real tree last year and yes I was finding needles for months afterwards, even when our furniture arrived here and was unpacked!  As a result we didn't have a fake tree (other than a 3ft one) so I needed to go and buy one.  At this point I tried to recall where I'd actually seen trees on sale and the only place I could think was one of Singapore's department stores.  I hadn't take any notice of the price previously but headed off there to buy.

When I arrived I was a bit taken aback by the price, a 4ft tree (so barely big enough for more than a couple of baubles) for nearly £40 and the prices rose considerably from there!  Needless to say I didn't buy as the same price in the UK would usually buy you a much bigger tree than a 4ft one!  It was then that I realised I didn't know where else to go to buy a tree, I knew where I could buy a real one but I didn't want a real one!  In the same shopping mall I found a massive hypermarket which sold absolutely everything ..... except Christmas trees!  A colleague of my fiance suggested a furniture store where he'd bought a tree several years before.  This shop was right by the serviced apartment we stayed in when my fiance moved over here and I was confident I knew the place and where it was without checking first.  When I arrived it looked to be closed with a sign indicating that the building was due for demolition.  So I felt a bit deflated after my trip especially there.  In fact my memory has obviously faded in the year since my fiance came here the store was still there but behind the back of the hotel (I could have sworn it was next to it and the sign for the shop was certainly in front of the building due to be demolished) but never mind ......

Although the particular hypermarket I'd been to had no trees I was advised that another one in the same chain on the west of the island did have trees, so I kept this as a back up but hoped against hope I'd find somewhere a bit closer.  Although it isn't far (given the size of Singapore) and is on the same MRT line that we live close to I decided it did seem a long way to go for a tree, but if all else failed they would hopefully be able to resolve my tree dilemma.

I then thought about where you can buy trees in the UK, supermarkets!  The first two I thought about are all locally based and from looking at their websites and my own recollection of recent trips to both I couldn't recall seeing trees for sale.  Then I remembered a certain French hypermarket chain based here, surely they couldn't let me down and yes when I checked their website there was evidence of trees for sale and one of these stores was a lot closer to us than my other option.

So off I went to the hypermarket and bingo they came up trumps!  In fact they surpassed themselves as they had a promotion and my 7ft tree which originally cost nearly £40 only cost me about £15.  I think I had the last one as well!

So thank you hypermarket you've made our first Singapore Christmas complete and the tree is looking lovely in our now very festive condo.


14 December 2010

Back to Blighty

Last week we returned to the UK for a flying visit.  My fiance is fortunate to be able to work remotely now and again but as he has to keep to Singapore hours (not fun in the middle of winter) and I'd get in the way I'm sure, I use it as an opportunity to catch up with family and friends back home.

As always the time went too quickly and my diary was incredibly busy with hardly room to eat but it was so worth it as well.  We were very worried whether we would actually get back given the heavy snow that the UK had recently.  Fortunately though we did but the extreme change of temperature was a shock to the system, although not altogether unpleasant either.  Even though it was dark by the time we got to the UK I could make out the snow in the fields and it looked so lovely as we came into land at Gatwick.  I think my body is wondering though what on earth is going on at the moment as I have gone from one extreme to another in barely a week.

I managed to get some lovely photos of the sunset as we flew over Europe (Turkey to be precise).

The cold weather did also get me well and truly in the Christmas spirit as I had struggled to do so despite all the decorations everywhere here.  I also got to enjoy my Mum's cooking and those dishes you just can't get here or if you can don't exactly taste the same.  I managed to cram in some Cadbury's chocolate which tastes exactly as I know and love!  The only good thing about the Cadbury's here being different is that I have cut down on my chocolate intake considerably as a result.

Asides from catching up with friends and seeing their children who have grown so much since I saw them last or as in one case meeting a brand new edition to my friend's family and catching up with my own family I was also perusing wedding reception venues for the big day next year.  I think I've found somewhere now so just need to confirm that and pay the deposit.  Then I can start thinking about everything else I need to organise. 

It was lovely to be back for a visit and doing the simple things like going into my local town again and spotting new shops and other changes to the town.  I also managed to buy some bargain summery clothes in the pre-Christmas sales, ideal for here but not so good for back home, but at as little as £3 in some cases who can complain?!? 

A really good week but it is nice to return to the warmer weather and leave the snow and ice behind for now.

03 December 2010

Fort Canning Park

Earlier this week I spent the afternoon at Fort Canning park with a lovely fellow expat I've recently made contact with.  Natasha also writes a blog of her experiences since she moved here and I'd definitely recommend you take a look, http://livinginsingcity.wordpress.com/   

I have been to the park previously but this was when I visited Singapore for two weeks in January so it was nice to visit again now I've been here longer.

The park is another example of just how green and lush Singapore as a city is, this park being right in the heart it.  Just as when you are at the Botanical gardens it's hard to believe the hustle and bustle of a city is so close by.  Apart from the obvious clues like the towering buildings of the Central Business District beyond the park boundaries. 

The hill where the park stands was originally known as Bukit Larangan (Forbidden Hill) and one of the five ancient Malay kings of Singapura, Sultan Iskandar Shah is said to be buried here.  When the British arrived they built a residence on the summit for the governor which was then replaced in 1859 by a fort.  There are also the remnants of an early European cemetery in the park which can be seen in my photo below.

It now makes for a very pleasant escape and when we visited there was hardly anybody else around.  Apart from a couple hosting their wedding reception in one of the park's buildings.  As you wander around you can take in various trees and shrubs with many different types of spices and also take a look at the site of an archaeological dig which houses Javanese artifacts from the 14th century Majapahit empire.  Having done a little investigation I understand that the Majapahit empire was a vast empire based on the island of Java from 1293 to approximately 1500.  During this time they conquered much of South East Asia which included present day Singapore.

Away from the historical interest in the park another little thing that I found intriguing was that at one entrance there were escalators exactly like you'd find in a shopping centre but built into the side of the hill.  So on either side of you as you travelled up or down was the grass bank of the park, you don't see anything like that in the UK!

On maps at least the park looks to cover a fairly large area and I'm sure I've only scratched the surface so I guess that gives me opportunity to make a return visit before long.

02 December 2010

Storm Over Singapore

In keeping with my last post and given that the weather is currently causing chaos in the UK (where I hope to be flying back to on Saturday for a visit) I thought I'd post some weather related pictures. 

There was some spectacular lightening over Singapore the other evening and although my camera is not really powerful enough for picture taking of that kind I did manage to take the following few from our balcony.

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