Thursday, 30 June 2011

Review: A Chilli Crab dinner on Boat Quay, Singapore

If there is one food Singapore is famous for it is Chilli Crab and so it is an essential on a foodie’s must try list when visiting the city.  If you head over to Boat Quay you will have plenty of choice of restaurants all serving fresh chilli crab.  We wondered along, did a bit of bartering and took our pick of a nice looking crab!  I had not eaten lots of crab before so I am no expert but I really enjoyed the chilli crab.  You will be asked if you want bread to accompany it as there is a lot of sauce with small bits of crab meat inside.You really need bread to mop this up with or perhaps rice to accompany it as it does become too samey and sweet after a while just eating it alone.

It’s a little messy, as to be expected when eating crab but its worth it.  The crab meat I ate was beautiful and the chilli sauce had a good strong flavour and made the meat really tender like it had been slightly stewed.  Wash it down with a cool beer and watch the boats go by and the lights around the bay and you are in for a nice relaxing evening.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Review: Singapore Sling@Raffles Hotel, Singapore

The Raffles Hotel is a bit of a Singapore institution.  When I asked advice of friends who had visited Singapore it was the one place to visit that everyone mentioned!  So we obliged and visited for the famous Singapore Sling cocktail.  There is no doubt the hotel is beautiful and takes you back to thinking about Raffles’ exploring days in the region.

The Singapore sling is a hefty $25 (approx) so it’s a bit crazy actually, but there we go!  We have ticked it off our list and I’m sure many more tourists to Singapore will do just that!  We didn’t eat there but there are so many restaurants to choose from at the hotel it would be good to check one out.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Review: Poste Kitchen + Bar, Jakarta, Java, Indonesia

Jakarta is hard to get your head around; it is SO large and sprawling and clogged with traffic that it takes a long time getting around the city…and that’s if you know where you want to go!  Many travellers only spend one or two days in the city and usually because they are using it as a base to get the next (chilled out, tranquil) place, don’t view it as interesting enough to stay in and are overwhelmed by the metropolis.In terms of tourist attractions there are not so many obvious ‘big hits’ as other major cities, however, I would argue that simply spending time in the city and exploring different areas is incredibly interesting and it lures you into the history of the city and whole Archipelago of islands that make up Indonesia.

After spending a week in the city hanging out with expats living and working there by night and exploring different areas by day, we were able to gain an insight into life in the lively city and how varying it is.  The modern metropolis is based around business, shopping malls and funky venues to eat, drink, dance and hear live music in.  I have recently learnt that the nickname for Jakarta amongst expats it the ‘Big Durian,’ after the smelling, shocking looking fruit, popular with some, hated by others, expensive to buy…it does seem an appropriate nickname.

My experience of the city is one that will remain in my mind and I think of Jakarta as a complex city of contrasts.  Vivid pictures of the old against the new, the poor against the rich and the old fashioned colonial against modern all meld together and provide a stimulating environment to contemplate your views on life and how you want to live yourself.

Jakarta for foodies I would argue is up there with other major cities as an exciting gastronomic adventure with a huge variety in types of cuisine available and setting in which to sample it and so the restaurants and food stalls were amongst the major tourist attractions for me!

The Poste Kitchen + Bar is an example of fantastic quality food, with inspiration from flavours and styles across the globe in a funky, relaxed setting with great live music acts.  The restaurant/bar is named after the French word for post office and describes itself as the ‘drawing inspiration from around the world…same as mail and packages passing through post offices, flavours from around the globe.’  The staff here were friendly and the food a delightful mix of food to enjoy casually with friends over a drink, or more fine dining options.  The place is busy and if in a large group you can be waiting a little while for your meals but the intoxicating environment make this easier to bear!  I absolutely recommend checking out this place.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Review: Santong Kuo Tieh Sue Kiaw 68, Jakarta, Java, Indonesia

Noisy, dirty, hectic, colourful, market stalls, bikes, temples…I’m describing China Town in Jakarta - a mosaic of smells and people and a great place to spend an afternoon soaking up the atmosphere and saying hello to the friendly locals in the area.

We were in search of dumplings and found a great restaurant with friendly staff, chefs cooking outside, and most importantly a constant flow of cool Bintang beer and delicious dumplings!  In fact…I believe the best dumplings I’ve ever discovered!  Since our visit here we have tried to seek out dumplings that are as tasty and have yet to find them.

In this small restaurant you cannot complain – a simple menu with about 10 varieties of dumpling at incredibly cheap prices.  You can sit amongst the locals – many of whom seemed to be return visitors which is testament to the fantastic service and quality of food on offer.  We ate and drank away a few hours here and definitely stretched our tummies as we couldn't get enough of the food!  You MUST seek this place out in Chinatown, Jakarta!  You won’t regret it!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Review: VOC Galangan, Jakarta, Java, Indonesia

If you read my last post on Café Batavia in Jakarta’s old town – Kota, then you will have an idea about the area of which VOC Galangan is situated in.  It is clear that the building is in a previously powerful location from the Dutch colonial days.  The restored warehouse is on the edge of the canal system and very close to the port.

The building itself dates back to 1628 and as a result provides an atmospheric location for a drink or meal.  At the time of my visit (Feb 2011) the inside restaurant was being renovated so we sat outside in the café on the terrace which is a fantastic setting.  Looking out from the veranda café you see an old vintage car, and a horse carriage and like in Café Batavia you feel that you have stepped back in time. 

However the whole place had a rather run down/shut down feel and as a result a rather strange atmosphere pervaded almost making you feel like you are intruding!  The café was not busy at all and it made me wonder if it still receives that many visitors.  However, we enjoyed our lunch none-the-less and the oxtail soup (a Jakarta speciality) was delicious and a great value meal.   I hope the business picks up here as the location is beautiful, the staff friendly and the food tasty.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Review: Taste of London June 2011, Regents Park, London

Last week I was lucky to be invited by the lovely San Miguel to attend the annual ‘Taste of London’ food festival that takes place in Regents Park, London each summer.  Having missed the festival last year due to working out in Nicaragua for the summer I jumped at the chance to attend this year!


San Miguel's terrace bar was a fantastic set up and had the chilled out feel of a bar by the beach in Ibiza.Unlike many of the other bars at this years event, it was not a complete wash out due to the weather as they had a great gazebo over the main bar area and fantastic wooden decking down which meant you didn't sink into what quickly turned into a bit of a bog around the rest of the park!  Sadly the weather wasn't ideal for the Friday night of the festival...a night that I'm sure usually stays busier later into the night and is more lively, none-the-less, those there enjoyed the experience hopping from tent to tent to escape the weather!

The event is described as 'the most serious, indulgent and exciting food festival in the country' and it certainly was a great set up with food and drinks from a huge range of restaurants and brands with something to suit all tastes.  From breads and jams, to scallops and veal and chocolate and donuts it wouldn't have been possible to eat your way around every stall there!  One thing I would say as a 'globe troffer' is that it would have been nice if a more diverse range of world foods were on offer to try at the event or even if some of the food was presented in more 'street vendor' style to showcase the fantastic food accomplishments in simpler ways.  However the quality of what was there was fantastic, along with great service and enthusiastic staff who made the best of the terrible weather by having as much fun as possible (particularly the guys at the Bread stand!)

Amongst my favourite stops in the evening were Bentley's Oyster Bar and Grill, Gordon Ramsey's Maze, Barbados and Quo Vadis with my top dish being the Veal from Gordon Ramsey.  All presented their dishes beautifully and cooked the seafood and meat to perfection.  Mmmmmm, in fact thinking about it again now is making my mouth water!  I think the festival is a great way for people to try out a few michelin restaurants they might have considered or wished to visit but haven't afforded to!  By getting to sample a few smaller samples of dishes you can work out if you think a visit is really worth it and save your pennies!

It was nice to have a mix of restaurants and independent retailers, however if some of the independent retailers had sold their produce in places other than Harrods and WholeFoods they might have been more inviting to a wider audience.  The cooking lessons at Waitrose were executed really well - they had a great set up with plenty of space and cooking stations for the public to get involved with great presenters and a clear, style.  I believe though that it was difficult to get into these and the other masterclasses due to the masses of crowds.

I'm sure the weather again played a part in making the festival feel much more crowded than it should have been as people simply dived under any cover that was around to get out of the bitter wind and rain which meant that queues at some of the stalls were very long and it was difficult to enjoy the food easily as you were crammed in elbow to elbow with others!  Some stalls simply closed up as they were washed out and had no cover to offer to people.  This was a real shame and something the planners overlooked?  I guess a festival like this relies on great weather to make it a huge success as it has a massive impact on the use of the outdoor space and people's moods...for those women tip toeing around in their stiletto heals...I'm not sure how much fun they had (but then I question why one would wear stilettos to a festival in a park anyway?!)

The festival is definitely not a cheap day/evening out at £26 entry before you have purchased any food tokens - however given the opportunity you have to sample so many different foods from top restaurants that many of us simply can't afford to go to then it can be seen as a good deal.

Overall I had a great evening at Taste of London which would have been made better with sunny, dry weather and the time to get to more of the stalls without waiting around so much.  The access to so many top restaurants and being around so many food enthusiasts makes a fun night out and I certainly would love to go back next year and sample more delights!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Review: Café Batavia, Jakarta, Java, Indonesia

This café named after the Dutch colonised Old Jakarta ‘Batavia’ takes its customers back in time.  The restored 19th Century building and its famous upstairs Churchill Bar are situated on the Fatahillah Square, overlooking the old City hall in the area now named ‘Kota’ which is the old part of Jakarta.

Batavia, once known as the ‘Queen of the East’ and the ‘Jewel of Asia’ (in the 16th Century) was once the central commercial hub in the whole continent due to its strategic location and the abundant resources available.

A walk through the old town will certainly give you the sense of a grand colonial powerful city, left to decay and now home to some of the city’s poorest communities.  It is quite enchanting though to meander through the roads and lanes where the bustling markets are and to see the mighty old port.

However it is also a shocking area of the city – the world’s 10th largest city and the most populous in South-East Asia, as the poverty and sheer contrast to the high-rise towers and extravagant shopping malls of the CBD area of the city.  It is also one of the area’s of Jakarta where you can actually walk around as the majority of the modern city is much more catered to cars and taxis with few choosing to walk around.

So a visit to this famous café really is a must see for those interested in the history of this fascinating sprawling city.  Walking in you can immediately imagine how business was conducted back in the colonial days and it conjures a similar feeling to some of the colonial buildings in the large Indian cities also.  The picture-covered walls display just how many notorious characters have been inside those walls over the years and the sense of nostalgia really oozes.

Today Café Batavia hosts a whole range of customers and events such as product launches, theme nights, fashion shows, afternoon tea parties and weddings.  It is popular with both tourists and the ex-pat community living in Jakarta.  A great place for a traveller to loose a couple of hours reading a book and learning about the history of this global city and enjoying a (pricey but nice!) cocktail.