Singapore stopover – my top tips 

Standard

Let me start by saying – these top tips are a work in progress.

A better title might have been – what I just learnt about stopping over in Singapore!

I’m not one for winging it when I travel. Hating to miss an opportunity, I usually have all my meals scoped out.

So it threw me completely when I found out my flight to India no longer lined up and I’d have to spend a night in Singapore. I haven’t been a fan of Singapore as a destination. It’s hard to get the same value for money available elsewhere in Asia.

I hastily booked the best I could find in the CBD on Booking.com and ended up with the Amara Singapore for $175 a night – no brekkie. It turned out to be a good spot nonetheless, with a very thoughtful upgrade thrown in.

I also psyched myself up to pay those Aussie prices I remember from my last visit.

But luckily I grabbed my ten year old Lonely Planet Guide as I left the house.

Between the Lonely Planet (never let’s me down), some helpful tips from friend Elayne, and very useful posts on trip advisor, we left Singapore having only spent another $25 between us.

So these were the top tips:

  • Take the MRT from the airport. Just $2.50 a person and less than an hour door to door, it was easy to navigate. The Amara is minutes walk from Tanjong Pagar Station. A few things to know, the ticket machine only takes $5 or less and you need to change trains at Tanah Merah (but so does everyone).
  • Eat with the locals at Tanjong Pagar Plaza Market and Food Centre.

img_1799

  • You’ll find it across the road from The Amara and one block up toward Tanjong Pagar Park (diagonally opposite Carlton City Hotel). Like all Singapore’s Hawker Markets (food courts), not only is it cheap, but it’s a great chance to mix and mingle with those who live here and geat a window into local life.
  • We  first got waylaid at the Si Xiong Ju Noodle House  which was directly opposite the Amara in Tanjong Plaza proper. Here we chose two types of tofu, green stir fried greens and mushrooms for $4.

img_1775

img_1788

img_1796

Then we found the Hawker market proper. We’d found our stride by then and when we saw someone eating something good we asked them where they’d got it. Following this approach we tried the Teechew Satay Bee Hoon for $3

img_1803

img_1808

..and the Healthier choice Singapore Health Promotion Board approved lower in calories $3 Mixed fishball noodles at Teo Chew Fishball Noodles. 

img_1813

img_1820

Sadly the Famous Peanut Ice Kachang in Singapore had moved.

But it was a opportunity to return to the gorgeous gal at Kueh Ho Jiak who had so thoughfully given us a delicious sweet potato with coconut sweet to try. I just had to have another of these as well as try the sweet potato with red bean paste. Do go here, it’s a real winner!

img_1824

img_1829

Lastly on the way back we stopped at Tea Royal on the corner of Carlton City Hotel
Purple potato icecream and Matcha ice cream $1 a scoop. (The matcha was not so great though).

img_1879

  • For something more upmarket, carry on a little further along Tanjong Pagar Road and you’ll come to some lovely heritage houses, filled with lots of fine eateries. These are also a great choice, although you will start paying Australian prices here (albeit the lower end of midrange).

img_1872

After all this deliciousness at just a fraction of what I was expecting, we headed to the airport for the next leg of our journey.

I’ve changed my mind about Singapore. I stopover is a great idea and breaks up the journey to India nicely so you can arrive fresh. No visa required for Aussies.

Next time though, I will be better planned.

  • I’m updating my Lonely Planet Guide to Singapore.
  • If it’s Ramadan, I want to stay near Paya Lebar MRT station and enjoy the Geylang Serai Ramadan Festival in the evening. This stop is only six stops from the airport.
  • And I’d love to stay near Little India MRT station and explore Little India. Village Hotel Albert Court looks good. A boutique hotel with good prices through Booking.com.
  • Or near Bugis MRT station (on the same line as the airport and closer than the Amara) to discover the Arab Quarter.

Next year!!!

#VisitSingapore #kuehhojiak #teochewsataybeenhoon #teochewfishballnoodles #ironladychef #singaporebestfoods #amarasingapore #singapore

 

 

 

Zaab brings Thai-Lao street food to Lonsdale St

Standard

The very lovely Ms Frugal Ears is keeping the blog warm today while I head to India to bring back a whole bunch of new tips for South India foodie travel. She’s treating us to a wonderful trip to the new Zaab! Happy and delicious reading!

Betel leaves

Zaab bills itself as providing Thai-Lao style street food. Often claims about providing authentic street food mean deconstructed, hip food that looks only a little bit like the original ‘inspired’ dish. But here the dishes really are similar to popular South-east Asian-style street food.

I felt that Zaab’s offerings probably looked a bit too much like street food, depending on what you were expecting. And I’m not sure what I was expecting, other than something that grabbed me as being unique and different. My dining companion had lived in Southeast Asia, and you know when you have been there that nowhere in Canberra can compete with the original backpacker/traveller atmosphere – nor the price – of South-east Asian dining. Even if the food doesn’t grab you, Zaab provides a great backdrop for reminiscing about travels to Southeast Asia and planning new ones. It is also a whole lot of fun.

We dined on a balmy mid-week night, arriving very early, and sat right out the front – the entrance is open to the street. The place was quiet – not dull, but subdued. A few weeks later I happened to walk by at the midnight pumpkin hour on a Saturday night, and Zaab was pumping. A street food cart, which was parked on the front verandah when we dined (I wondered if it was supposed to be part of the décor), had been moved out onto the pavement and they were serving up meals to passing Lonsdale St customers. It looked and felt like a pub in Southeast Asia, with music blaring and crowds of happy people drinking beer and cocktails.

I ordered (on the waitress’s recommendation) a Crazy Coconut cocktail, which was a vodka, strawberry and coconut concoction served in a coconut shell. I felt like I was on a cruise ship to Hawaii.  It didn’t taste very alcoholic, which can be dangerous. My companion had a Singha beer – Zaab has a selection of Asian beers including from Lao, Thailand, China and Japan.

Larb bites

Larb bites

We opted for small snacky things to share rather being bogged down with substantial meals. I liked the Betel Leaf canapés ($4) each, which we were encouraged to down like oysters. The waitress could not tell me where they source betel leaves from; presumably, they come from Sydney. Larb bites ($8) were potentially interesting but disappointing; they were more like Mum’s rissoles than the Lao classic larb.

Son in law eggs

Son in law eggs

But if you dine at Zaab, do order Son in Law eggs ($10). Why the name?  Apparently, this Thai dish is cooked by a mother-in-law if her daughter’s husband hasn’t been behaving too well. The not so subtle message of the deep-fried eggs communicates that he had better behave or a certain part of his anatomy could be deep-fried next. The story put me off these eggs a little bit at first, but I got over it quickly because the creamy, crispy fried eggs with sour tamarind sauce were yummo.

Seafood platter

Seafood platter

We were a little underwhelmed by the grilled seafood for two ($28), which was not as abundant or fresh as I would have liked it to be, although the grilled calamari had a nice flavour.

Crying Tiger

Crying Tiger

My favourite dish was the Crying Tiger ($16) which was served spicy hot, rather than the more usual extra fiery hot, at my request. The dish is kind of like a Thai style carpaccio of medium rare beef slices covered in a spicy sour sauce. While it wasn’t a super large serving, it is a great dish to enjoy with beer – or another one of those Crazy Coconut cocktails.

What:  Zaab Street Food

Where:  Unit 2, 9 Lonsdale St Bradden

Websitewww.zaabstreetfood.com.au

Facebook:  facebook/zaabstreetfood

Open:  5pm until late Monday to Sunday

Monster Kitchen – deserves Canberra’s top spot 

Standard

Monster Kitchen is Good Food’s number one Canberra restaurant – and it’s not hard to see why.

Quirky and welcoming, the eclectic decor is engaging.

img_0672img_0725

But it’s the food that is the real star.

Our lunch dishes were perfect! Beautiful, well priced and a unique combination of ingredients and textures.

The two of us first shared the:

Fried tofu with pickled shitake, boito soy, spring onion oil and sesame $18

img_0677

Eggplant, smoked goat’s curd, katsuobushi and sesame $20

img_0686

Pulled lamb shoulder with pistachio, yogurt, vine leaf, pomegranate and brik $30

img_0698

I especially liked the pairing of the goat’s curd with the eggplant and the yogurt with the lamb shoulder. Thses gave the dishes a delightful creamy highlight. But I also loved the salty elements of the soy with the tofu and the katsuobushi with the eggplant.

The textured coating on the tofu had a lovely light crunch. I loved the colour and crunch of the pistachios and pomegranate with the lamb’s shoulder and the gorgeous green tinge on the tofu.

We finished with a dessert of Soft chocolate with mandarin, almond and rosemary $20.

img_0718

This was also a perfect balance of textures and flavours, especially the ice-cream that came with it.  The crisp garnish was excellent as was the puree garnish but the fresh mandarin would be better preserved.

Still on my wish list for another time is the Yabby Waffle $20, the Boxgum grazing beef tartare $23 and the Green tea dessert with coconut, raspberry and mille feuille $18.

I also want to try the Monster Light Lunch that offers specials like Spagetti with wagyu tongue, peas, capers, reggiano and chilli $17, Baby beet salad with wild rice, pear, walnut $16, Pork belly banh mi $13 or Boxgum grazing ham, pyengana cheddar and green tomato pickle $15 sered 12-5pm daily.

Monster Kitchen and Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mercado, Sydney – my new Sydney favourite – delighted by such generosity!

Standard

Ever since Mercado was named one of the best new restaurants of 2016 by the Good Food Guide, it’s been on my wishlist.

img_0773

So it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to dinner.

I was not disappointed! No, much more than that, I was surprised and delighted at the generosity of Mercado’s service, approach and prices – something that can be hard to find now in popular, trending restaurants.

Let me tell you how:

Mercado takes bookings at the time you want – not set sitting times.

Mercado lets you order a la carte or from set menus – it’s up to you – no compulsory degustation or tasting menu. (Unless you are a group of 8 or more when you must have the $80 set menu).

Mercado has great service from thoughtful, knowledgeable wait staff who care about their guests and their product. They establish warm, but respectful rapport and anticipate your needs. They provide continuity from start to finish.

Mercado has good value prices – coffees are $4.50 not $8.

Mercado has great food – every dish was a winner.

Mercado offers you a $65 set menu on the house for your birthday (if you subscribe) when you book as a group of 4. (Available lunch or dinner Monday – Thursday).

As we were heading to Vivid, we arrived by 6pm and went for the Pre-Theatre set menu for $55 per person. This turned out to be a great choice.

The food reminded me of both Stanbuli and Continental Deli, having a style that falls somewhere in between.

The Pre-Theatre menu offers:

The Chickpea puree with brown butter was wonderful with great crispy chickpeas and deliciously warm flatbreads.

Marinated olives

A selection of cold cuts cured in house – all excellent and perfect with the Mixed pickled vegetables

img_0774

Turkish ravioli of pumpkin with yoghurt & burnt butter – we loved this.

img_0792

Chorizo with salsa mojo verde – very good.

img_0797

Chef’s selection from the rotisserie – we had the wonderfully succulent and flavoursome rotisserie chicken with lemon & aioli and a great house made sauce.

Salad of mixed leaves & herbs.

img_0806

Dulce de leche ice cream served dramatically with butterscotch & candied bacon – delicious!

img_0813img_0821

$55 per person the Pre-Theatre set menu is available in the evening before 6pm

I estimate it provides the equivalent of $171 of dishes for $110 for two people, so it’s excellent value.

However, the table to us was ordering a la carte and their dishes looked wonderful too. They loved them especially the Foie gras parfait, Braised Octopus and Beef carpaccio – all dishes I would order next time to try. Instagrammers agree.

Foie gras parfait, pickles & toast 26

Escabeche of kingfish, fennel & lemon 29

Soft shell crab bun, harissa & aioli 24

Braised octopus, sobrasada, potato & olive 32

Roasted prawns, chilli oil & romesco 39

Beef carpaccio, ortiz anchovy dressing & caviar 28

Wine by the glass includes a very good 2016 Jauma y Mercado ‘Garnatxa’ Grenache McLaren Vale, SA $14 for a generous (150ml pour).

img_0770

Located in the cellar of a building off Angel Place, the setting is cozy and inviting.

img_0764

I’m not taking it off my wish list, but I’ve added it to my Sydney favourites – at the top.

Mercado Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Jugiong – Canberra’s new destination dining spot? 

Standard

The Southern Highlands is popular for getaways from Canberra. But head west down the Hume instead and you’ll come to Jugiong, a small country town reinventing itself as a boutique foodie day trip destination.

img_0528

Kim has arrived from Western Australia to open up The Sir George – country charm with style and fun.

img_0600img_0652

Bringing his artisan baking secrets with him, he serves up the most wonderful Bakers Lane sourdough bread that you can team with delicious share plates and tapas.

img_0531

WARM LOCAL & ITALIAN OLIVES $8

img_0593

HOUSE TERRINE $16 & DUCK LIVER PARFAIT $15

img_0589

KIM’S CHEESE SELECTION $18

img_0590

ANCHOVY BOARD TO SHARE $40 (spanish whites, rizzoli in extra virgin & salsa picante) – as Kim promised, bread dipped in the tin was divine.

img_0592

Team this with an excellent bottle of $30 Italian prosseco or some hill tops wine by the glass very reasonably priced from $7.

img_0577

img_0624

Or perhaps choose a main dish like the great looking fish and chips $19.

Enjoy the tables outside ….

img_0661img_0644

….or one of the gorgeous heritage nooks inside.

img_0630img_0639img_0623img_0642

Open 10am until late, Sir George is closed Mondays.

Then there’s also the famous Long Track Pantry next door open 8-4 every day except Tuesday and serving an interesting and varied menu.

img_0554img_0550

Browse the giftwares while you’re there.

img_0546img_0552

Or around the corner are a couple of lovely home decorating shops including Tillia’s brand new The Yard full of gorgeous art and flowers.

img_0607img_0616img_0610

If you’d like to make a weekend of it there’s some good Airbnb options.

Also, Sir George has exciting plans for boutique accommodation which I can’t wait to see.

I have a feeling Jugiong will just go from strength to strength. It’s a great discovery for those looking for something new which is close enough to Canberra for a spontaneous country lunch or weekend getaway.

Sir George Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Treated to amazing Pakistani cuisine at Cooking Circles Canberra

Standard

Last Sunday Cooking Circles hosted a small in-home lunch when Hina introduced us to her passion for Pakistani cuisine and treated us to a delicious lunch of dishes lovingly and delicately prepared.

Hina is originally from Pakistan where she grew up. She first learned cooking from her mother and now continues to learn from cooking shows, recipe books, the internet and shared recipes from others. Cooking is her passion and her we would say…her gift!

As Hina created and chatted we enjoyed wine and canapés and often jumped in to work along side her.

She started on the Rasmalai dessert as it needed to chill in the fridge. It is a dough of full cream milk powder, ghee and egg  rolled and flattened into small discs and poached in milk and sugar reduced and infused with cardamom.

Next Hina started of the Beef Seekh Kabab, roasting and grinding spices and chickpeas to add to the mince, chill and shape for frying.

Lastly the complex dum style Chicken Biryani. Rice boiled with spices is layered with chicken and potatoes (first boiled with spices) cooked in a fragrant spiced yogurt and tomato gravy, along with crisp onion and other flavourings.

It is topped with a special essence and some orange food colour (in lieu of the expensive saffron). Lastly it goes back on the stove with the lid for all the flavours to infuse through.

Wow! What a feast we enjoyed.

And as Hina said “I can’t believe I made that”!

How lucky were we that Cathy introduced her friend Hina to Cooking Ciricles. Can’t wait for Hina to cook for us again!

Many thanks to Ruth Ellison who generously shared her photos!