Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Steam inhalation

Fever, sweating, muscle aches and pains, dry chesty cough that feels like coughing up razor blades from your lungs, sneezing, running nose and a blocked nose ... yes, it's flu time again. I don't think I've caught flu (as opposed to just a cold) for years and it's really knocked me for six. I've been in bed for three days but at least it's given me time to read a bunch of new manuscripts, two of which are great and are definitely worth publishing.

As well as swigging back various over-the-counter medicines, I'm also trying to relieve congestion by sticking my head in boiling water.

If this doesn't work I'll have to break into our secret stash of Tamiflu.

Civility test

According to an article in The Times, Reader’s Digest magazine recently sent its reporters into the principal city of each of the 35 countries in which it publishes to conduct a survey of local politeness. "Three tests were employed: dropping papers in a busy street to see if anyone would help; checking how often shop assistants said “thank you”; and counting how often someone held a door open."

Try dropping papers on the street in Singapore and you'll only be cursed by passers-by or fined for littering. Eliciting a thank you from a shop assistant is easier with purchases over S$1,000, and opening a door for somebody will only mean you being stuck there for 10 minutes as everybody files through.

Sure enough, the results of the Reader’s Digest survey ranked good old Singapore equal 30th (with Moscow) out of 35 countries; in fact, no Asian country was ranked higher than the bottom ten.

Top Three
New York

Bottom Ten
Hong Kong
Ljubljana (er, captial of Slovenia?)
Kuala Lumpur

London also did extremely badly, ranking equal 15th (with Paris!!!) — no great surprise there either.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Pulau Redang

Another fantastic Nuts Ideas and Black Studio holiday. This time we caught a propellor plane to Pulau Redang, an island on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia (off the coast of Terengganu). From the left: Henry, Sandy, Yeoh, Collin, Sharina and Jonathan.

Is this a plane or a bus with wings? The seats face each other!

The view from the bedroom balcony

and from the bed!

Jolin, as adorable as ever

and her brother Joey, what a clown!

we did a couple of snorkling trips, saw a total of nine sharks and one sotong!

Yeoh, Eric and Phil

Jonathan and Collin

tough life ...

Dinner at the Malay restaurant outside the resort

Standing in a Pink Floyd album cover as bubbles float surreally on the beach

Goodbye Redang

Thank you Nuts Ideas!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

David Attenborough

On Saturday we found a Paradise Tree Snake living in a hole in the concrete wall right outside our front door on the second-floor landing. I set up the webcam with a motion sensor and attempted to make my first nature film. Three hours later all I had were five movies of fluttering leaves. The snake kept poking its head out but it wouldn't leave the hole. Maybe it could sense the heat from the webcam. Or it could hear me slowly chomping my way through four bacon, poached egg and blue cheese sandwiches. I'm sure that's what David eats on location!

OK, here we go. David Attenborough eat your heart out ... (just click the play button in the centre of the screen once, don't double-click or you'll be redirected to YouTube)

Saturday, June 03, 2006

new makan finds

A couple of restaurants we tried recently:

Beijing Steamboat, 271 Geylang Road
Located in the heart of the red-light district of Geylang, which is also home to some of Singapore's best Chinese food, this steamboat restaurant is a real find. I've never been a fan of steamboat ... tasteless soup, boring dipping sauces, fake seafood items ... but eating at this place was a revelation. Steamboat can be delicious! The 'boat' is split into two halves. One half has a clear soup with jujube (boxthorn), the other a super spicy bubbling soup with an indecent amount of chilli oil and dried chillies.

The staff were all from mainland China and ... begin the drumroll ... were so polite! Obviously they're not Singaporean, they smiled all the time, always countered a "xie xie" (thank you) with a "bu yong ke qi" (my pleasure) and were actually helpful. The meal began with the staff kicking the table-top gas stove into action before wheeling over the dipping-sauce trolley. Luckily Sandy knows her Beijing dipping sauces so she mixed us both a bowl of sesame paste with sesame oil, chillies, garlic, spring onion, more chilli and fresh coriander. We ordered two kinds of green veggie (kangkong and bak choi), enoki mushrooms, pork and chive dumplings, silken tofu, vermicelli noodles and the house specialites sliced lamb, pork balls and pre-cooked dish of cold sliced pork in garlic and chilli. Wow! The lamb slices cooked for thirty seconds in simmering chilli oil soup then dipped in the sesame-chilli-coriander was just the best. Closely followed by the pork and chive dumplings! You can drink the clear soup ... very nice with the vermicelli noodles ... but there's not a chance in hell you could drink the chilli oil soup. Even Sandy's eyes were watering the food was so spicy.

We sat by the glass-fronted entrance so we could check out the action on the street. Groups of busty illegal mainland Chinese girls plied the street in low-cut short dresses propositioning every single guy who walked past while inside the restaurant, rather bizarrely, we were listening to French singer Edith Piaf! A gaggle of fake-blond Russian hookers walked past, followed by a six-foot-tall crossdressing blond Chinese guy and hundreds of Singaporean men and foreign workers. This was midnight on a Saturday (we were having a late dinner having just been to see a three-hour-long play) and there were still lots of people coming into the restaurant, which is open from midday to 5am every day! The staff don't speak any English (ordering a coke will get you a coconut!) but if you can solve that one then we highly recommend this place. Pretty cheap, we paid S$50 for two with soft drinks.

Pu Tian, 127 Kitchener Road
One of the few Heng Hwa restaurants in town. Heng Hwa? Er, apparently this is a Hokkien sub-dialect. People who speak Heng Hwa come (came?) from Putian, a coastal town in Fujian, China. Anyway, this unassuming but award-winning restaurant hidden away in Little India was recently rennovated and now looks quite funky with black walls ... black, surely that's bad luck? We were a party of four and the other couple had a business connection with the China-born owner so we left it up to the restaurant owner to order for us. What arrived was some of the best food we've eaten in Singapore. I should have written about it closer to the event as I can't recall exactly what we ate but I do remember Fried Hing Wa Beehoon, with mushroom, taupok, clams, prawns, pork belly, peanuts and vegetables, and topped with deep-fried seaweed; Steamed Prawns in Bamboo, with it's heavenly herb-infused broth; Fried Pig's Trotters with Five Spice Powder, which weren't beautified for the benefit of the faint-hearted as is the norm but were just plain old pig's trotters but with meat so succulent you could just suck it off the trotter; Steamed Razor Clams; Deepfried Fish Slices; and Fish Soup. It was a fantastic meal and the restaurant is well worth a visit. While walking to the car we stopped at a tiny, very dirty looking Muslim restaurant to packet some Mutton Soup for the other couple's teenage kids. That place looks worth trying too.

Can't remember the name but it's in Far East Shopping Centre facing Borders (where Sidewalk Cafe used to be)
In twelve years of living in Singapore and Malaysia this place ranks right up there with the worst restaurants I've ever been to! The food was so bad that there was no point complaining. Sandy had a beef noodles soup which was basically noodles in hot water with some pepper. I ordered "braised pork on rice with egg". It turned out to be a huge sloppy mess of sliced pork in a bright red tomato ketchup-based sauce mixed with egg totally covering all the rice. Appalling. The staff were rude and I felt so sorry for the unsuspecting tourists walking in. Not particularly cheap either -- about S$10 for a bowl of noodles. I have a feeling the chefs might be from Macau. If they are then I'm going to drop Macau from my list of must-see places. Like it was on there in the first place.

Prata Cafe, Evans Road (100m from the Botanic Gardens main entrance)
This has now become our regular Sunday brunch restaurant. There's nothing like a slap-up brunch of plain, banana and masala prata, chicken curry, mutton curry, thosai and murtabak (not all at one sitting) to get you going. They also serve Italian prata (who knows?), cheese prata, mushroom prata, garlic prata, tissue prata, chip-chop prata and biryani. Open until 3am at the weekend so a popular post-drinking supper venue.

Island Creamery
Also on the Sunday brunch circuit. After roti prata we take a long stroll through the Botanic Gardens to Serene Centre (on the corner of Farrer Rd and Bukit Timah Rd), where we visit our fave ice-cream shop Island Creamery. Delicious homemade ice cream free of additives. Try the coconut, pulut hitam, burnt caramel and gingerbread ice cream (full of delicious gingerbread-man bodyparts!). Last stop on the Sunday circuit is Tierney's Gourmet in Serene Centre (good European supermarket -- bread flour, duck breasts, freshly baked olive bread, German cakes and biscuits) and Cold Storage for the usual groceries.

Überrated Überburger
We stopped ordering burgers long ago, preferring instead to cook the occasional burger at home but we read about Überburger at Millenia Walk and decided to take a look one Sunday since we were shopping nextdoor for Sandy's glasses. What we didn't realize was this place is a owned by Coudroy & Finch. C&F is famous for good food and terrible service. Sure enough, their new trendy burger joint was no different. My South African Sauvignon Blanc arrived red! When I said Sauvignon Blanc is usually white the waiter said he was given red. Yes but it's not what I ordered. It turned out they had run out of Sauvignon Blanc (so thought we might not realize the difference with red!) but they finally admitted to having Chardonnay and luckily it was white! When the two main courses arrived we asked what happened to the starters. They arrived ten minutes later. The burgers were OK, the meat was good and was cooked medium rare but they certainly didn't warrant their S$25 price tags. The fries were good and the salad quite fun with sweet dragonfruit. The starter of mushroom soup was tasty, when it finally arrived. For dessert we shared a bowl of delicious homemade vanilla and strawberry ice cream but the waiter just dropped the bowl on the table without clearing any of the other plates first! We had to flag down another waiter to clear the empty plates so we could reach the ice crream. The waiter apologized profusely, removed half the empties then forgot to come back for the rest! Naturally the bill arrived within 10 seconds of asking. The food wasn't bad but as with Coudroy & Finch, who needs the hassle? If you can cook the same or better at home, why pay for crap service? Final verdict: you can never beat burgers cooked at home using your favourite fillings.