Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Mandarin Oriental's Ocean Grand Room: A Singapore Luxury Hotel review!

If you haven't heard of the staycation concept, here's a quick primer: Rather than spending hundreds of dollars travelling hours somewhere, just skip the flight and take the vacation in your home city! It makes a lot of sense for short weekend breaks, and is particularly popular in Singapore, where presumably the dozens of luxury hotels around the city provide a perfect backdrop for rest, relaxation, and a little family time.

Having stayed in exactly none of these aforementioned hotels, we aren't in any position to say which are better than others. Instead, in today's post we'll take a first baby step by reviewing the Ocean Grand Room at the Mandarin Oriental Singapore - and maybe in a year (or ten) we'll publish a "top 10" list!

Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Layout

Built in 1987 and renovated in 2004, the Mandarin Oriental is a triangular building with rooms overlooking either the Marina Bay, City (North towards Suntec) and 'Ocean' (South towards Gardens by the Bay). As you can see in the layout above, the Ocean Grand Room's 570sqft is larger than many studio condominiums, and has a living room sort of partitioned off by a desk. It's a handsome desk, with a very comfortable chair. The location of the television is sort of a let down, though: thanks to its compromised location it isn't in an ideal viewing angle from either the sofa or the bed.

Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Bed

The sofas are comfortable and great for relaxing on. On the small coffee table you should be able to make out the fruit 'basket' - bananas, oranges, apples, and pears.

Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Living Area

Taking a closer look at the bed - As expected of a hotel of this calibre it's a huge, king-sized behemoth and feels insanely comfortable. The bed itself is medium-firmness, with plush, softer padding on top. Naturally, a choice of a half dozen pillows are available from housekeeping if the 'standard' ones are too soft for your liking.

Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Bed
Sorry, Disney Bears not included!

On each bedside is a modern-looking switch panel with which to control the room's lights, a telephone, fancy looking clock, and a complimentary bottle of water which is also replenished during the evening turn down service. One notable omission: A USB port or power socket with which to charge phones or tablets.

Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Bed

The balcony, frankly, is a huge disappointment and I can't imagine anyone spending much time there. For starters there are no chairs, and because the wall juts out at the corner you actually get a worse view than from inside the room.

Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Balcony

Speaking of the view: it's spectacular. We don't have a good daytime photo, so you'll have to just use your imagination (oops!). If you're a visitor to Singapore you might perhaps prefer a room overlooking the Marina Bay, but the darling and I both prefer this wing of the hotel; we think having the Singapore eye, Marina Barrage, Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands makes it more interesting.

The room has huge, eight-foot-high floor to ceiling windows so you get this view from anywhere other than the bathroom.

Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Panoramic View

Speaking of the bathroom; it's a bright, nice, twin sink design, although rather strangely there's a full length mirror directly opposite the toilet bowl. I guess the designers thought looking at yourself while you're sitting on the loo is a common behavioral trait of the luxury traveler?

Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Bathroom

There's also a bathtub that's big enough for one, and amenities by Aromatherapy Associates (a UK-based company), and a small shower room tucked away in the corner (also just big enough for one).

Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Bathtub

Let's also look at some other features of the Ocean Grand Room! Mandarin Oriental provides HDMI and Audio cables for you to connect your laptop/phone/mp3 player to the room's multimedia panel and speaker system. The speakers are a pleasant surprise, although they aren't particularly high fidelity or particularly strong.

Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore HDMI and Audio Cables
Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Multimedia Panel

Some basic stationery is provided: Pen, pencil, paper, postcards and stapler. Which we didn't use.

Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Stationery

A kettle is filled up with fresh water daily, which you use to prepare your Segafredo instant coffee and TWG tea. It's a step up from nescafe and lipton for sure, but at this price point would a Nespresso machine be too much to ask for?

Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Coffee and Tea

The minibar is generously stocked, but with everything at 'hotel' prices we didn't dare partake. Besides, we had access to the The Oriental Club, with almost all-day free-flow tid bits, soft drinks and other hot beverages (we'll cover the review of the Club in a separate post).

Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Minibar

In the evening we headed down to the 5th floor to check out the Mandarin Oriental's Swimming Pool. It's definitely a 'have fun, relax, and splash water' pool, so if you're looking to do some serious swimming you might be a bit disappointed. For just chilling out it's great, though: The pool staff serve you free flow iced water to keep hydrated while you laze your afternoon away. Of course drinks and food's available if you want it.

Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Swimming Pool

Since it's Christmas Eve, we're pretty stoked to find a Christmas stocking hanging on our door handle at midnight! Goodies inside were quite nice as well - oranges, santa and christmas tree gummies, candy canes and cookies. Now we just need to come back next year to get a second stocking ...

Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Christmas Stocking

If your room comes with access to The Oriental Club, we highly highly recommend having your breakfast there. If it doesn't, then you'll be with the rest of the hotel at Melt - The World Cafe.

Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Breakfast Melt the World Cafe
Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Breakfast Melt Christmas Decorations

There are quite a number of ala-minute stations strategically located around the restaurant - like this eggs station:

Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Breakfast Melt Eggs Station

The breakfast spread is very extensive - there's all sorts of juices, fruits, cold cuts, western, asian and indian hot breakfasts, noodles, pastries, bread, cereals, yoghurt, waffles, etc; anything you'd expect in a hotel breakfast is probably here in some form or other.

Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Breakfast Melt the World Cafe
Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Breakfast Melt the World Cafe
Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Breakfast Melt the World Cafe
Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Breakfast Melt the World Cafe
Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Breakfast Melt the World Cafe
Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Breakfast Melt the World Cafe
Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Breakfast Melt the World Cafe

Food overall was ... just decent. After all, the Mandarin Oriental is a big hotel - over 500 rooms - which means on high occupancy days this single restaurant has to fill over a thousand hungry bellies. Melt does admirably on the quantity and variety measures, but quality definitely suffers.

Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Breakfast Melt the World Cafe
Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Breakfast Melt the World Cafe

In addition to the food being rather mediocre, it doesn't seem like the restaurant can actually handle the crowd that well - particularly after 9.30am or so. It ends up being a little chaotic, really, with dozens of people thronging the buffet lines and egg stations, and dozens more standing in line waiting for us to finish our food and clear out. Definitely not the most relaxing of breakfast experiences.

Ocean Grand Room Mandarin Oriental Singapore Breakfast Melt the World Cafe

In concluding, we'd like to borrow some terminology usually used to describe trips on airplanes. As a luxury hotel, Mandarin Oriental has an amazing hard product. the furnishings are luxurious and modern and the floor-to-ceiling windows are a perfect complement to the gorgeous view.

The soft product, however, didn't really feel very luxurious at all. Outside of The Oriental Club, staff were generally polite but disinterested, well-mannered but aloof. And the Mandarin Oriental lacks a little in other minor aspects as well - for example, private in-room check-in, or being addressed automatically by name at restaurants. You can't help but feel like just another anonymous face in the sea of guests - inevitable, perhaps, given the hotel's sheer size.

Don't get us wrong, though. Despite the hotel's shortcomings, the darling and I still thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and are desperately hoping to strike the next toto or 4D so we can pay a visit again soon.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Korean Pancake aka Pajeon Recipe (includes different varieties ideas from Seafood aka Haemul and so on)

Korean Pancake is one of my favorite Korean food. Love the crispy, slightly chewy and yet flavorful taste.

This recipe makes 4 pieces of 12" size pancakes.

Pajeon Dipping Sauce Ingredients
1 tablespoon Soy Sauce
0.5 tablespoon Rice Vinegar
0.25 teaspoon of crushed Sesame Seeds
1 teaspoon of Garlic Powder
0.125 teaspoon of Sugar (optional)
1 teaspoon thinly sliced Scallion (optional)
0.25 teaspoon of Korean Chili Flakes or Spicy Korean Chili Seasoning (optional)

Measure all the amount in a small sauce bowl and give it a light whisk to combine all the ingredients for the dipping sauce and set aside for at least 20mins or while you prepare the Korean Pancakes.

Korean Pancake Base Ingredients
140g Top Flour
1 teaspoon of Baking Soda
240g Filtered Water
1 Egg
0.5 teaspoon Salt
0.125 teaspoon White Pepper
0.5 teaspoon Sugar
4 cups of Korean Pancake filling of your choice (our mix & match below)
180ml Vegetable Oil

1. In a large bowl, beat the Flour, Egg, Salt, Water, White Pepper, Sugar until no lumps. Set the batter aside to rest.

2. Preheat the pan to medium high heat and 3 tablespoons of Vegetable Oil and swirl around.
3. Put 1 cup of Korean Pancake filling of your choice, and stir fry the ingredients to semi cook it.
4. Pouring the Korean Pancake Base mix to cover the bottom of the pan. Approximately fry each side for 4 to 5 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.
5. Place cooked Korean Pancakes in the oven set at 50°C to keep it warm.
5. Repeat step 3, 4 & 5 until all 4 Korean Pancakes are done.
5. Cut the Korean Pancakes into wedges and serve warm with the dipping sauce.

Below are my creations: All here to share! Will update more soon and hopefully add on the step by step guide photos. Below are the experimented best measurements & other required ingredients.

Prawns & Octopus Cake Seafood Ingredients
2 cups of Prawns
2 cups of Octopus Cake

Vegetarian Ingredients
1 cup of Carrot (shredded)
1 cup of Red Bell Pepper (seeded and sliced)
1 cup of Zucchini (sliced)
1 cup of Green Onions (cut 1" long)

Click here for our blog page Cooking Classes for more recipes. Hope you will be inspired~

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Shin Kushiya's Charcoal-Grilled Yakitori at Vivocity.

Yakitori (焼鳥), when it's done properly, is amazing comfort food. Just in case you're not sure what yakitori is: The word describes meat skewers, grilled and salted or lathered generously with sweet sauce. In our opinion, a good yakitori place needs to fulfill two conditions:

(i) There needs to be a good variety of meats and different cuts & parts; and
(ii) The skewers must be grilled over charcoal (preferably of the binchotan variety).

One place that seems to check both boxes is Shin Kushiya. This venerable Vivocity restaurant has been open since 2006, but for some shameful reason we'd never even heard about it til recently. Better late than never, though ... right?

Shin Kushiya Charcoal Yakitori

Anyways we walked up and got a table, and then placed our orders! There are a number of different yakitori sets on the menu but we ala-carte'd it all the way:

Chicken: Yakitori (dark meat), Tsukune (meatballs), Bonjiri (tail), Kawa (chicken skin) and Uzara Tamago (quail eggs)
Pork: Chizu Maki (pork-wrapped mozarella), Enoki Maki (pork-wrapped enoki mushrooms) and Buta Bara (pork belly)
Beef: Gyu Karubi (short ribs)
Others: Toumorokoshi Shoyu yaki (corn on cob), Garlic Fried Rice

Shin Kushiya Charcoal Yakitori

Overall, the yakitori was fairly good: Meats were cooked well, especially the skin & tail (our favorite yakitori parts); Certainly among the best skewers we've had in Singapore, and a big upgrade from 'stall'-type yakitori like Tori-Q. Still nowhere near the deliciousness of proper Yakitori places in Japan, though.

Oh, (dis)honourable mention needs to go to the karubi, which was so overcooked it was like eating beef jerky.

Shin Kushiya Charcoal Yakitori

The restaurant also offers up other Japanese food types like sushi/sashimi and soba noodles, which we didn't bother trying.

At a price range of around s$20-s$25/person of average appetite, our opinion is that Shin Kushiya provides average value for money. The charcoal grilling, while not being particularly outstanding, is good enough to make the restaurant our default go-to place whenever we have yakitori hankerings in the future. Reservations not really needed. Non-halal.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Certified Authentic Kobe Beef at 50RP's SEAR Steakhouse (Singapore Land Tower)!

Of all the beef produced in all the cow-producing countries in the world, none carry as hallowed a brand name as Kobe Beef; Due, perhaps, to legends of Japanese cows lazing around munching pristine grass, listening to classical music, drinking beer and getting massages all day long.

The legends aren't quite true, of course. The tajima cattle from which Kobe beef comes don't actually drink beer; nor do the farms employ armies of cow masseuses. They do, however, go through a strict treatment and diet that ensures any cow certified by Japan's Kobe Beef Marketing & Distribution Promotion Association as worthy of carrying the "Kobe Beef" brand is as marbled, as fatty, and as delicious as it possibly can be.

By now you probably know the rest of the story; Japan's Kobe Association, up until 2012, never exported any of their cattle. So any "Kobe beef" you ate outside of Japan earlier than 2012 was simply a fake. In 2012 limited quantities were exported to Hong Kong, Macau and the US. In 2013, Singapore added its name to the list, so for the past couple of years you no longer need to fly to Japan to partake of this legendary meat!

At time of writing, Meidi-Ya Supermarket (in Liang Court) stocks various cuts of Kobe Beef. If you don't really feel like cooking, though, several steakhouses in town sell Kobe steaks - one of which is the SEAR Steakhouse up on the 45th floor of the Singapore Land Tower!

Sear Steakhouse Singapore

Meals at this steakhouse open up with a fluffy, crispy-crusted onion-flavoured loaf. With butter. It's a gorgeous loaf of bread - and one that's light enough not to totally demolish your appetite if you touch more than a slice.

Sear Steakhouse Singapore Bread

After wolfing down the bread we check out our first appetizer - the Lump Crab Cake ($38), which tastes terrific with the tomatoes, beetroot and sesame-based dressing. One slight disappointment, perhaps, was that the crab cakes were shredded crab meat, with some crab lumps heaped on top. We'd have preferred lumps throughout.

Sear Steakhouse Singapore Crab Cakes

Split Bone Marrow ($18) - served with salsa and tangy vinaigrette'd salad. We've tried bone marrow several times now, but haven't quite gotten the hang of it. It's fatty but quite bland, and really needs to depend too much on the accompaniments that the chef chooses (in our opinion).

Sear Steakhouse Singapore Bone Marrow

With the appetizers sitting in our tummies, we turn our attentions to the Pira-grilled Tasting of Rib Eye ($149). What you get on the plate are sampler-sized portions of grain-fed, grass-fed, and kobe rib-eyes - absolutely perfect for experiencing the very stark differences between each type of meat.

In the Grain-Fed corner: Australian Jacks Creek 450 days grain-fed rib-eye. Fatty and supremely tender, yet with a very strong beefy flavor.

Representing the Grass-Fed camp: Wakanui 21 day Dry-Aged New Zealand Hereford. This was the leanest cut of the bunch, and had a somewhat grainy/stringy-texture. Our least favorite.

And of course, Certified Kobe Beef (we forgot to ask if it's A4 or A5). As you might expect, this is by far the fattiest of the three contenders. Every single chew of the steak resulted in bursts of juices and oil from the rendered marbled fats.

Sear Steakhouse Singapore Rib Eye Tasting

So the Kobe wins hands-down, right? Well ... surprisingly enough, not really. Our favorite actually went to the Aussie grain-fed rib-eye. Even though it was less juicy / fatty, we really enjoyed its clearly stronger beefy flavours, whereas the Kobe's flavour profile skews towards "fatty." Too fatty: towards the end of the meal we suffered a bit from "fats overload" - super jelak liao in local parlance.

Oh, and the cooking method - almost flawless. The charcoal-fired Pira grills that SEAR uses is superb in imparting a terrific crust on the steaks while maintaining a perfect medium-rare center. Our only slight complaint: Seasoning was a tad bit uneven, with some parts of the steaks a little too salty.

Sear Steakhouse Singapore Rib Eye Tasting

We don't have similar accolades to heap onto the side dishes, though. The Creamed Spinach and Onion Rings with Nori Salt ($16 each) were just par for the course for steakhouses, and didn't help much in cutting through the fat from the rib-eyes.

Sear Steakhouse Singapore Sides

Finally we finish off the night with a Chocolate Mud Cake (normally $15, but for our visit it was complimentary for some strange unknown reason). With the benefit of hindsight a rich, thick, slab of chocolate cake isn't the best choice after stuffing yourself with fatty steaks. It was, nevertheless, an accomplished dessert.

Sear Steakhouse Singapore Dessert

We ended the night extremely satisfied with our dinner! We thought the pricing wasn't too bad (considering the restaurant's prime location and quality of meats). If it's your first visit then the Tasting of Rib Eye is the way to go; otherwise you can ala carte your way from a $66 Canadian Angus Tenderloin all the way up to a $340 A4 Kobe Rib Eye.

SEAR is in the Singapore Land Tower (Raffles Place MRT) and is open for Lunch & Dinner on weekdays, and Dinner on Saturdays. Drop them a mail at hello@50rp.com.sg for reservations; Non-Halal.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Singapore's Best Restaurants (4th): Les Amis' Modern French/European cuisine!

A quarter of all restaurants fail and close shop within the first year of opening; a whopping 70% are out of business within ten (Muller & Woods, Cornell/Michigan State). By this statistic alone, the fact that Les Amis has remained relevant for twenty-one years is pretty impressive. It also happens to be the current fourth best Restaurant in Singapore, and thirteenth best in Asia, which is quite the achievement!

Don't expect too much nostalgia when you visit, though. The fine dining scene in Singapore is très competitive, and in efforts to remain relevant the restaurant completed a s$1.5 million renovation earlier this year. The resulting dining area is gorgeous, with chandeliers lighting up tables dressed with thick, luxurious tablecloths. The only minus point, perhaps, is the lack of a view.

Les Amis Singapore
Photo Courtesy of Les Amis Restaurant

As is quite common with fine dining restaurants, lunch service is significantly cheaper than dinner. An express three course menu for s$55++ is available for power lunches; we're slightly less time-constrained so we opt for the s$80++ prix fixe 4 course menu instead.

After orders are taken we start off with the bread basket, served with a gorgeous Bordier Butter. We particularly liked the mini baguette, which had a perfect crust - crispy, but not too tough. Amusingly enough there was also a bacon-stuffed version of the baguette. Bacon, mmmmmmmmmm. Everything is better with bacon.

Les Amis Singapore Bread Basket

The menu is split into four sections (one for each course): Cold appetizers, Hot appetizers, Main courses and Desserts. The restaurants is pretty flexible on the choice of appetizers, though, in that they'll let you choose two cold or two hot appetizers as you desire.

We start off with the Caviar on Mimosa (s$10 supplement): Caviar served on crunchy melba toast perched on top of a gorgeously dainty deconstructed silky egg mimosa. We liked this quite a bit - the salty umami from the caviar contrasting nicely with the crunch of the toast and the egg flavours. Though in hindsight, perhaps the deconstructed egg seemed to steal the show from the caviar somewhat.

Les Amis Singapore Caviar on Mimosa

Next up: Seared Scallop with organic seasonal vegetable pearls and salmon roe. Scallop perfectly seared with a rare center - sweet and delicious.

Les Amis Singapore Seared Scallop

Les Amis describes itself as French cuisine with Asian influences, and that sort of shows in the next appetizer of sweet Crispy Langoustine deep fried in crispy wonton-like wrapping, with a side of what can be best described as a caesar salad with dried seaweed strips in place of lettuce.

Les Amis Singapore Crispy Langoustine

Foie Gras is one dish that we almost always order if it's on the menu, so naturally for our fourth and final appetizer, we had the Foie Gras & Eel. We're not sure if it's obvious in the photo, but in all our meals we've never had a piece of foie this big. Perfectly seared fattiness which went remarkably well with the citrus compote.

Too bad, then, that the piece of French river eel was ... terrible: cold, mushy and thoroughly unappetizing.

Les Amis Singapore Foie Gras and Eel

Salmon Served Two Ways was the first of our main courses. We're thrilled that Les Amis serves Scottish wild salmon - none of that farmed crap - but less thrilled at the execution of the dish. We liked the textures and flavours of the tartare (and check out how gorgeous those little purple flowers are). We also quite liked the (presumably) sous vide'ed fillet.

What we didn't like was the very obvious "torch taste" left behind after the chefs blow torched the surface. If you've ever eaten aburi sushi at a cheap sushi joint you'll know what we're talking about - it's the taste of gas as a direct consequence of the chef not adjusting the blowtorch properly.

Les Amis Singapore Salmon Two Ways

Our charcoal-grilled carpathian mountains-sourced Pork Loin (served with mashed potatoes and carrots) was pretty nice. Although I would have preferred a little more fat on the loin for better flavour.

Les Amis Singapore Pork Loin

Moving on to desserts: We both agreed that the Chocolate Mille Feuille tasted way better than the (non-existent) presentation. In the background you can see some petit fours - served with your choice of coffee or various premium teas. Included in the price Complimentary, of course.

Les Amis Singapore Chocolate Mille Feuille

In contrast, our Ardèche Chestnuts was beautifully and immaculately presented. I mean, with how much work the chefs put in to plate this dessert, couldn't they have done something to the mille feuille?

Anyways, this dessert was pretty good too! The sphere in the middle is hand-blown caramel encasing chestnut ice cream; sitting atop roasted chestnuts in a few different flavours and textures. If you're a fan of chestnuts you'll adore this dessert. Actually even if you don't like chestnuts you'll probably still adore it.

Les Amis Singapore Ardèche Chestnuts

With a final after-taxes price of just under s$100, lunch here isn't too expensive. Although we really enjoyed ourselves and felt that the food rated strongly on the quality scale, quantity-wise it was perhaps a little weak, even for fine dining standards. Also, we thought that although the cuisine was solid, it lacked the flair and recognizable 'signature' from other top competitors.

Of course, these are total #firstworldproblems, but at this level of meal expenditure we would rate Les Amis as not quite as good as, for example, Jaan under chef Royer. Still a very good meal, though!

Les Amis is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week - email lesamis@lesamis.com.sg for reservations. Non-halal.