My love for Champagnes, plus a few suggestions

My wife S and I, like so many in our generation, are passionate about wine. That doesn’t make us experts. In fact, I’d say we’re pretty far from being considered experts. But we’ve tasted enough to both know what we like as well as to appreciate something really special. Unfortunately, the kind of wine we both enjoy the most, and drink the most of, is Champagne… I say “unfortunately” because Champagne is far from cheap. Sometimes it feels like we’re constantly stocking up and running out of bubbly, while our other white and red wine supplies stay pretty much constant. Continue Reading →

The Warung, Bali

A friend of mine said something really interesting the other day. He asked me if I’d ever noticed that while Bali has several stunningly beautiful restaurants, with gorgeous views and great design, and some great local restaurants, that serve both fantastic Balinese and other regional Indonesian dishes, it was pretty much impossible to find a restaurant that combines all of the above. The more I thought about it, I realized he was right. It was hard to name a restaurant that could offer breathtaking vistas, a cool vibe with great style and design, and really sumptuous, authentic local food. The combination was only logical. Why wouldn’t some smart restaurateur design a restaurant like this? Why shouldn’t there be a place as cool as Ku De Ta, or as pretty as Mozaic, that offered really delicious Balinese fare? After all, when I travel somewhere, I want to explore and learn about the local cuisine. I want to tuck into really well-prepapred authentic (and not touristy) dishes. But I’m also a slave to style and I’d like to not have to always be eating such food in less than chic environments.

Enter The Warung at the new Alila Villas Uluwatu resort. This swanky casual restaurant at this glamourous new property, perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean on Bali’s southern coastline, delivers the total package. And I know I was just recently waxing lyrical about another Alila property, but I have good reason. These guys, at least at the Alila Villas level, just seem to be able to get things right. And that’s worth shouting out about. The Uluwatu resort, an ultra-luxe (and yet also sustainable) development designed by Singapore starchitects Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassel of WoHA, is strikingly chic. All clean lines, bright colors, and natural materials, Alila Villas Uluwatu is the kind of place you’d expect to see movie stars and billionaires sunning, sipping cocktails and trading secrets. (Keep Reading)

10 Things To Do at Alila Villas Hadahaa

NOTE: The resort is no longer managed by Alila. It is now the Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa.

So you’ve finally amassed enough leave days (and moola) to plan that dream vacation. She’s been pestering you about escaping the cold weather for weeks now. And you want to surprise her with something really stunning — so special that all her friends’ husbands and boyfriends are going to be hating you for months to come. You’ve scoured travel magazines and surfed the right websites and you’ve made your decision. You’re going to bring your hunny bunny to Alila Villas Hadahaa in the Maldives. Continue Reading →

Two reasons to head up to Hunter

Now, you might not need any convincing to head up to the Hunter Valley on your next trip to New South Wales, Australia. Knowing it’s the country’s oldest and one of its most exciting wine regions may be all the reason you need. But just in case you needed a little extra motivation, S and I have sussed out two amazing places that alone are reason enough to head up to Hunter.

1. The Rock restaurant and Andrew Clarke’s stunning food

There are good vineyard and wine country restaurants and then there are great ones. The Rock restaurant at Poole’s Rock Wines is definitely one of the latter. It’s been named the Australia’s Best Restaurant in a Winery at the 2008 Restaurant and Catering Association awards. It is the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide’s highest ranked restaurant in Hunter, and the only restaurant in the region with two hats. Housed in a glass-walled building, overlooking a block of 90-year old shiraz vines, the clean modern room and its views are equally inviting. The Rock is actually two restaurants in one. By day, it is the Firestick Cafe, a cool, contemporary cafe that serves simple but beautifully made cafe food: wood-fired, thin crust pizzas; a luxe wagyu burger with caramelized onions and fries; pork schnitzel and crushed potato, rocket and waldorf salad. The pizzas looked especially gorgeoous. And I love Chef Andrew Clarke’s combination ideas, like the confit pork belly, caramelized fennel and gherkins pizza. (Keep reading)

Southern Forests

After spending an incredible day attending the Mundaring Truffle Festival, S and I decided we had to see The Wine & Truffle Company‘s operations in Manjimup first-hand. Manjimup is located in the very beautiful Southern Forests area of Western Australia. By car, it’s a four hour drive. But one that is well worth it. The Southern Forests, while not as popular or as widely known (internationally) as the Margaret River region, is rich with vineyards, cute places to stay, picturesque towns, fabulous produce, and amazing scenery. It really is a gorgeous part of WA. Having always stopped at Margaret River, I was kicking myself for not having discovered this area sooner. (Keep reading)

El Bulli 2008

My greedy but gorgeous wife S and I have wanted to try El Bulli for almost a decade. We first heard about this exciting Spanish restaurant in the late 90s/early naughties. In 2001, at Tasting Australia, we were lucky enough to attend an incredible two-hour long private demonstration during which Ferran Adria showed off some of his more innovative cooking techniques to a room full of journalists. Later that day, we were given a few minutes to interview this revolutionary artist-philosopher-cook.

While theoretically we’ve wanted to dine at El Bulli, I have to admit we never really did anything about it. We never tried making reservations or tried planning a trip. We just assumed that we’d get around to it one day. Of course, as the years passed by and booking a table went from hard-to-get to almost impossible, we started to wonder if maybe we’d been waiting too long. So, when a good friend — a restaurateur who is friends with Ferran — called me two months ago and said, “Hey, I’ve decided to swing by El Bulli on the way to the States in May. I have a table for 6 and am calling you first. Do you want to go? But…um… I need to know right now,” S and I jumped at it. And even though we had just decided to postpone a trip to Italy that we had been planning for September 08 to sometime in 2009 because we weren’t sure we could afford it, we said, “what the halibut” and have put ourselves into even greater credit card debt than we already are. (Keep reading)

A hot property outside of Bangkok

One of the great things about my job is that I get the chance to visit some really amazing hotels. Last week, I spent several days in Cha-Am, which is about two and half hours from Bangkok or 30 minutes from Hua Hin, art directing a photo shoot at a stunning new property. The Alila Cha-Am (soft) opens 1 February 2008. It’s been designed by one of Thailand’s hottest architects, Duangrit Bunnag. Architecturally, it’s brilliant. The lobby is accessible via a manicured lawn and a sweeping marble staircase. The raised marble reception area offers panoramic views of the property. Two rows of residences run down from lobby towards the main (active) pool and the beach. The centre of the resort is a low 1-story strip, covered by water, that houses the spa, another pool area (called the Chill pool), a bar, and the resort’s casual dining restaurant, Motion. Directly opposite the lobby, above Motion, sits Cloud Loft, a chic dining and drinking spot.

The hotel has 72 rooms and 7 pool villas. The very chic room interiors mix industrial elements and warm wood furnishings smartly and comfortably. The floors are polished concrete; the walls are raw concrete. Each room has a 37 inch Samsung flatscreen TV and an Apple TV. Upon booking a room, I’m told that guests will be given a movie menu. By the time they arrive, all their pre-selected films will already be downloaded into their Apple TV units. The property — as you would expect of any new and 5-star property — offers free WIFI access in the rooms and all around the property.

Every bathroom has a rain shower, which is something also pretty standard these days. But these rain showers are amazing. The whole bathroom area is the shower area, i.e. there’s no shower cubicle, just a flat steel square panel built into the bathroom’s very high ceiling. I have to admit that I’m not usually a fan of rain showers, but these were both effective and really beautiful.

Sadly, during my visit, the spa was still being finished. What I saw though was really exciting and I can’t wait to return soon and book a few treatments.

As mentioned, Alila Cha-Am opens 1st February. If you ckick over to the resort’s website, you’ll find a couple of attractive pre-opening offers worth considering. I’m already making plans to head back to check out the resort when it is fully operational. So is the rest of the team that worked on the photo shoot with me. It really is that cool.

Holiday Gift Guide 2007

Well, it’s that time of the year again. Time for giving and receiving joy, hope, charity, good tidings and, of course, gifts. This year, S and I have picked 12 (well, actually 16, but 4 are in the same category) wonderful gifts ranging from the very affordable to the uber-splurge that we love (own) and highly recommend. And–as we did two years ago, when we first started posting our holiday gift guide–we’ve picked 12 things to signify the 12 days of Christmas. So, happy holidays and happy shopping. (Note that most titles below also a hyperlink to the product or brand.)

1. Eva Solo Fridge Carafe
I personally adore these fridge carafes. The neoprene cases come in 5 brilliant colors (black, red, yellow, blue and green). They’re perfect for keeping your water, juice, milk or other liquids cool. And they look sexy and feel luxurious. They’re also designed perfectly. They sit upright in most fridge door shelves and the rubber stopper keeps your liquids fresh. The bottle has a flip-top lid that helps prevent spillage if you’ve added ice cubes into the carafe for some super cooling.

2. Baccarat Glasses
S is currently obsessed with collecting (thankfully, collecting slowly) Baccarat glasses. Last year, we spent a week in December in Osaka, Japan. While there, we had drinks a few times at B Bar, a stunning Baccarat-owned cocktail bar (it also has branches in Tokyo). All drinks, as you can imagine, are served in gorgeous Baccarat glasses. Since then, S has been determined to have her own collection of cool Baccarat crystal to serve cocktails in. Buy your Baccarat both old and new. While the one on the left is brand new, we bought the one on the right (a vintage Rohan tumbler) on eBay ridiculously cheaply.

3. Black Solstice plastic cocktail shakers from Habitat Bangkok
To help you make those drinks that you are going to serve in those chic Baccarat galsses, you’ll need a couple of cocktail shakers. While it’s great to have one stunning silver one, I find that it’s also very useful to have several cheaper ones lying around. That way, you can make several drinks at one time. These black plastic shakers from Habitat in Bangkok are less then US$5 a piece (on sale that is, they are normally priced at US$10), which makes them perfect for either hoarding at home or giving to friends.

4. Cusipro silicone baking spatula with stainless steel handle
S believes these are the very best spatulas she’s ever used. First, of course, is the silicone, which is heat-resistant, non-stick and a breeze to clean. It also makes this spatula super efficient at scraping every last bit of cake batter from your mixing bowl. Then there’s the great design, the sexy metal handle and all the colors you can choose from (ours is from a couple of seasons back). This is not just a great gift but a kitchen-essential. In Singapore, get your Cuisipro products direct from the distributor, Razorsharp.

5. KitchenAid Stand Mixer
Sure, it’s expensive. But doesn’t your loved one deserve only the very best? The KitchenAid Stand Mixer is THE mixer, the standard by which all other mixers are measured (and the only one your loved one really wants anyway). The fact that it looks amazing and comes in a variety of colors only makes this incredible kitchen-tool that much sexier.

6. Microplane Rotary 39000 Series grater
S and I have tested a lot of graters over the years. And the one we’ve come to love the most is this rotary grater (we’re onto our second one, and this is truly a new and improved version). The easy to use handle makes grating mountains of the fluffiest shavings of cheese the simplest task in the world. Where we used to argue about who would get stuck grating the cheese for pasta dishes and other foods, now we both volunteer for the duty. The 39000 Series grater comes with two blades for grating different kinds of foods. S also loves it because it can be adapted for left-handed use. In Singapore, you can purchase Microplane products from Ruiter Far East. Email heng@ruiter.com.sg.

7. Teastick by Gamila
Some of the coolest things come in very small packages. S and I love Gamila’s teastick for its size, design and usefulness. The tiny stainless steel tea-steeping tool is slim and sexy. To make a cup of tea, slide open the tea stick, pack your tea in, slide it shut and slip your teastick into a cup of very hot water. When done, remove. The water flows through perforated holes in your teastick, but the leaves stay trapped inside. It’s also easy to wash and dry. And at US$18, you can easily afford to have several, a couple for home, one for travel and one for the office.

8. Some very special books
It’s no secret that S and I love books. Here are 4 that we think make great stocking stuffers this year.

Ashley by Heng San San
Singaporean Heng San San lost her daughter Ashley two years ago. This beautiful child was just seven years old; she was five when she was diagnosed with malignant tumors in her brain. This moving children’s book, illustrated gorgeously by Ximena of Lobster Squad, talks about Ashley and her love for food, how she got sick and then how she came to terms with both her illness and her religious beliefs. This is a very beautiful book. San San self-published it and is selling copies at just S$25. Further, all proceeds are going to a children’s charity in the Philippines. To buy a copy, contact San San at bookashley@gmail.com.

Happy Now! by Karen Yeo
The story behind this book is also pretty moving. A little while ago, a lovely old woman named Lee Kim Wah was conned of her entire life savings. She had worked for most of her life as a nanny and housekeeper. Karen Yeo was one of the persons who Ms Lee helped raise. When she learned about what happened, she tried to help her get her money back and the conmen arrested, eventually to no avail. Trying to find a way to help Ms Lee get back on her feet, Ms Yeo and some friends decided to produce a cookbook of Ms Lee’s recipes. Friends had always said that her homecooked Singaporean and Malaysian food was some of the best they’d ever eaten. All the proceeds from sales of this book are being given to Ms Lee. To purchase, please go here.

Wine Dinners: Pairing Asian Flavours with Bordeaux Wines by NK and Melina Yong
Dr NK Yong is one of Asia’s most famous wine collectors. His wife Melina is a legendary cook. Over the past two to three decades, these two have been instrumental in introducing fine wine to Asia and in introducing Asia to winemakers from around the world. This is their first book, a small volume that presents 12 wine dinners, each focused on the wines of a very special Chateau in Bordeaux. This book is also special to me as S was the book’s co-author. Wine Dinners is currently only available at bookstores in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and through Swindon’s in Hong Kong. Melina is also auctioning off a private cooking class at the Miele Active Kitchen in Singapore to raise funds for the Children Cancer Foundation. The reserve price for the entire session for 10 people (including a four-course meal with wines) is $3,888. Interested donors are invited to submit their bids (along with their full names and contact details) to Cheryl Yuen at cheryl.yuen@miele.com.sg.

In the Land of Cocktails by Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan
This lovely little tome is written by cocktail divas, Ti Adelaide Martin and Lally Brennan, proprietors of the legendary New Orleans restaurant Commander’s Palace. It is naughty and nice, and filled with great cocktail history and recipes that will inspire you to re-introduce the cocktail hour (as it was first practised) into your social calendar.

9. Indonique teas
Indonique Tea & Chai operated a cafe and wholesale busines on Magazine Street in New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina. During this horrific storm, the whole business was literally destroyed. Since then, owners Daya and George Constance have moved to Connecticut and re-opened their business. As you can imagine, it’s been tough. Please support this couple as they try to get their feet on the ground again. Their Indian teas are excellent and by buying from them, you’re helping a very worthy enterprise.

10. 1995 Les Echansons from Mailly Grand Cru Champagne
What’s the holiday season without Champagne? This season, I’m drinking a classic Champagne from a classic house. The 1995 Les Echansons from Mailly Grand Cru is simply beautiful. And, for all Singaporean readers, I have arranged a special deal in case you want some for yourself or to send to a friend. This Champagne is normally priced at S$195. I have arranged with the distributor, Estima, to make 14 parcels of 3 bottles available at S$420 nett (including free delivery). That is a savings of S$165. Again, only 14 parcels are available, so act fast. Email eric@estima.com.sg to place your order.

11. Louis Vuitton European City Guide 2008
I am addicted to these city guides and buy every edition every year religiously. They’re beautifully designed, surprisingly well-researched and just plain cool to have, look at and touch. Every global nomad will love this amazing box set.

12. Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2
I’ve written before how much I love this little but powerful point and shoot. With easy to use programmes, optional manual controls and a Leica lens, this is the best, small travel camera I’ve found to date. Give it to your favourite shutterbug and make his or her year.

On the road: travel notes from Indonesia

For the past week, I’ve been on a work trip in Indonesia. Unfortunately, several of the places I stopped over in were not particularly wired, i.e. I’ve had great difficulty getting access to the Internet, and thus I haven’t been able to post anything. I’m currently in Jakarta, en route to Manado. I started the trip in Lombok, then bounced over to Bali for a night, then to Sumba, followed by Yorgyakarta and Central Java. The following are just a few random notes taken from the trip so far.

Bali Boutique Hotel
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A couple of months ago, I made a quick work trip to Bali. While there, I had the pleasure of checking out 26 different (boutique) hotels: some old, some new; some modern, some rustic; and some small and some not so small. It was a fun but hectic trip, during which my colleague and I raced from hotel to hotel, covering most of the island from Lovina down to Uluwatu, over six exhausting days. Since returning home, several friends have asked me if I came away with any personal favourites. The answer, of course, is “yes”. Quite a few in fact. But if pressed to name just one that I would want to stay at again and again, I would choose The Shaba. The Shaba is a brand new, ultra-sexy, luxurious, slightly retro but unbelievably chic, 3 room hotel in Jimbaran. Built by a French-Moroccan couple (the husband is French while the wife is Moroccan), the hotel reflects both their backgrounds while also capturing an almost fantastical and timeless mood. There is one suite and 2 deluxe rooms, both of which are much larger than your average hotel room. Each room has a flatscreen TV, DVD player, iPod dock and the whole building has WiFi (which unfortunately got knocked out on my recent visit due to a storm). There are two public sitting rooms, a cool dining room and jaw-dropping show kitchen, and a great outdoor deck with a long pool and a dining area. Of course, everyone has different tastes. And while I am totally in love with The Shaba, it might not be for everyone. Travelers looking for a very Balinese property would be better served staying at a place like The Gangsa, for example.

Surfer’s Paradise
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I don’t know how to surf, but after visiting Nihiwatu, on the island of Sumba, I really want to learn. This very unique and very isolated resort offers private access to some of the world’s best waves. And in order to offer guests the ultimate, exclusive surf vacation, Nihiwatu’s owner only allows 9 surfers on the water at any one time. Of course, not all guests surf. The hotel also offers a host of other activities, from fishing and diving to horse back riding and mountain biking. For less active types (and surf widows), there’s also a spa, an incredibly long stretch of private and perfect beach to laze about on and private pilates and yoga classes available upon request. Nihiwatu also helps run a Foundation that is “deeply committed to assisting the Sumbanese people by improving the quality of their livelihood while at the same time carefully preserving the strong cultural traditions and heritage that make up the core fabric of their lives.” Guests are encouraged to get involved with the Foundation’s activities, which, I’ve been told, is often as memorable and rewarding an experience as catching that perfect wave.

Stupa-fied
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Borobudur was robbed recently. Not by looters but by the voters that decided that the world’s biggest Buddhist stupa, built some eight centuries ago, wasn’t one of the new seven wonders of the world. Well, that’s ridiculous, because to me, Borobudur is one of the most stunning, beautiful and interesting monuments on the planet. If you haven’t visited, I urge you to make the trip at least once in your lifetime.

By Appointment Only
It’s always interesting to discover a city’s secret restaurants, restaurants that either only the locals know about or that require both reservations and an introduction to gain entry. William Kafe Artistik, run by celebrated chef William Wongso, might just be Jakarta’s best secret restaurant. Located in a rather non-descript building, this charming French restaurant requires customers to book in advance. Walk-ins are not accepted. Not that anyone would walk in anyway. There are no signs on the building that give any indication that one of the city’s best restaurants is hiding upstairs. Patrons are asked to pre-order one of two menus, either the Symphony of Flavours Classic No 1 or No 2. I recently tried the Classic No 1, which consisted of 7 very satisfying and filling courses: Foie Gras Fantasy — pan-seared foie gras, foie gras brik cone with leek, apple and plum sauce, and foie gras in egg curd; Pan Seared King Prawn with soba, fermented black bean & rice wine vinegar dressing and nori; Baked Pear Wrapped with Smoked Duck Breast and bluee cheese cream sauce; Home Made Black Squid Ink Noodles, sauteed with garlic, sumac, chilli flakes and parmesan cheese; Veloute of Butternut Pumpkin with cheese straw; Tornedos “Kafe William” — grilled Australian premium tenderloin with mushroom ragout and vegetables; and Symphony of Desserts. Everything was very good. I especially enjoyed the squid ink noodles, the tornedos and my dessert platter. But I think what I liked most was the total experience of enjoying such a good meal in a charming, totally hidden but at the same time very famous, little restaurant.

William Kafe Artistik
Vineth Bakery Building
Jl Panglima Polim Raya 63-65 Jakarta 12160
Tel +62 21 7244911, 7203877, 7392891
Email info@williamkafeartistik.com

Old world charm in BKK

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For the next 4 weeks, S and I will be filing reports from the road. Yesterday marked the start of a slightly crazy round the world trip. And while part of the trip is work, an almost equal portion of it is leisure. I’m personally very excited because next week we’ll be attending the wedding of one of my closest friends from university. She’s getting married at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna-Niguel, in Orange County, California (recognizable to most of us fanboys and pop culture buffs as the site of the wedding in the American Pie movie series). Other stops on our whirlwind tour include Bangkok, Tokyo, New York, Washington DC, Paris and Dubai. As you can imagine, my darling and always-snacking wife S has already put together a pretty long list of gustatory must-visits for each destination.

Yesterday, we spent the night in Bangkok. (We had to fly via Bangkok because I had purchased our round-the-world tickets from there; the price per ticket from there was considerably cheaper than what was quoted to me in Singapore.) Because we visit Bangkok pretty often, we decided to spend only one night there. Essentially, we had just enough time to check into our hotel, run to Emporium to pick up a few gifts for friends, chill out for a bit, have dinner with friends and catch a few hours of sleep before catching the 0650am flight to Tokyo.

During my last business trip to the City of Angels, I had visited The Eugenia and I immediately knew S would love it. It is a charming 12 room Relais & Chateaux property on Sukhumvit Soi 31. The hotel is very nice, decorated smartly with vintage and antique furnishings. Quirky and kitschy design elements, like stuffed animal heads on the walls, lend a bit of levity while the owner’s fleet of vintage luxury cars (a Daimler limousine, 2 sexy cream-coloured Mercedes, and a Jaguar S) sitting outside the hotel ups the sex appeal tremendously. (Guests staying at the hotel can choose to be picked up by one of these cars; we tried both the Mercedes 220S and the Daimler. We wholeheartedly recommend the Daimler. There’s a lot more leg room, the air conditioning is more powerful and it’s simply a much smoother ride.)

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We stayed in the Sawadee Suite, which was both elegant and homey. The copper hand-beaten bathtub was gorgeous and the duck down pillows and duvets were luxurious. The whole hotel has wireless Internet access and the room rate includes a complimentary minibar. The hotel also has a jazzed-up tuk tuk that is available to ferry you back and forth to the nearest sky train station. Just next door to the hotel is Le Vendome, an excellent little French restaurant helmed by Nicolas Joanny, who used to cook at Les Saisons in Singapore. Partly because we were lazy, and partly because we wanted to see what Nicolas was up to, we had dinner there. The food was very good. I had prawns pastilla served with a langoustine bisque to start. This was followed by a rack of lamb served with pork belly confit and eggplant caviar. For dessert, I had crepes suzette with almond ice cream.

If you’re heading up to BKK for a quick visit, I really recommend The Eugenia. It has a sexy old-world charm that few hotels are able to capture these days. Plus, there’s nothing cooler than being ferried to and from the airport in a vintage Daimler limo.

The Eugenia
267, Soi Sukhumvit 31, North Klongtan
Wattana, Bangkok Thailand 10110
Tel: +66-2-259-9017-9
Fax: +66-2-259-9010
Reservation: reservation@theeugenia.com

Le Vendome
267/2 Sukhumvit Soi 31(Sawasdee)
Klongton, Klongtoey
Bangkok 10110
Tel: +66 (0) 2662 0530-1
Fax: +66 (0) 2662 0529
contact@levendomerestaurant.com

Super-Sunday truffle pizzas

What do you do when a friend gives you a couple boxes of uni (sea urchin) and a jar filled with not one but two and a half summer truffles? Well, after whooping for joy for a good half an hour, you call some equally greedy friends and invite them over for a super-decadent Sunday lunch. It also turned out to be one of the longest lunches S and I have ever hosted. We started a little after 1pm and only served dessert (which was very kindly provided by the gorgeous, skillful and (annoyingly) skinny J of Kuidaore) a little after 5pm. Continue Reading →