21 years ago, Mr T and I said “I do” on December 21st. And every year, we find a way to celebrate on what is either the longest or shortest day of the year, depending on which hemisphere we find ourselves living at the time.
This year, being in Sydney and working over the festive season, we brought the celebration forward and decided on a staycation at the Shangri-La hotel in the city. For these of you not in the know ( and that was me until a few weeks ago ), a staycation is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “A holiday spent in one’s home country rather than abroad, or one spent at home and involving day trips to local attractions “. I believe in the old days, we would have called it a “weekend city getaway” or something like that but I am trying to keep up with the trend…
The Shangri-La is located on the edge of Sydney harbour, in the historic Rocks district. It is one of Sydney five star hotels, and staying here is definitely a treat with fantastic views across the harbour and a first class restaurant Altitude. We actually dined at Altitude earlier this year, during Sydney’s Vivid festival: it was my way of convincing agorophobic Mr T to enjoy the lights display, from the comfort of a dining room high up on the 36th floor! We had a terrific night, a romantic dinner followed by a long cab ride home…during which we agreed that it would be nice to stay over next time so that we could stagger only a few floors to bed and wake up to that spectacular view!
While deciding on the hotel accomodation was easy, choosing a restaurant for dinner proved a challenge. There are literally dozens of fantastic establishments in the city, but Mr T’s criteria can be pretty strict at times: we need to have a great view or a killer menu, preferably both. And take reservations, or at the very least offer a bar where to sit and drink while you wait for a table. Oh, and noise levels have to allow for comfortable conversations. Then the kids (who I believed to be busy either working or partying that weekend) declared themselves free and keen to accompany us! Seeing how this getaway was taking quite an unexpected turn, we decided to go with the flow and make it a bit of a shopping trip and family lunch with Anne and Marc, sending them home afterwards while Mr T and I would stay back at the hotel for the night.
Not without giving them a peek preview of the room first! We were lucky enough to be granted early check-in, so that we could drop our overnight and shopping bags on our way to lunch. One look at the near-panoramic view of Sydney Harbour, and all the kids could say was “ Wow!”, followed by “ why can’t we stay with you?” by Anne who loves hotel stays. “ Because we have plans “ was my answer, “part of which is to take you on a walk across the bridge for lunch. You can see it from here!”
We booked a table at Ripples in Milson’s Point, across the bridge, where I had previously lunched at with my parents and friends. It seemed to tick all the boxes: views, nice food, relaxed outdoor setting next door to Luna Park amusement park…the sort of place where I like to take visitors. Only, it was a very busy Sunday, a month before Christmas and it seems that all of the North Shore had decided to come down as well. The restaurant was packed, our table reservation was for 2.30pm and as we arrived 15 minutes early, we ( along with several other diners ) were asked to wait until the designated times. That was Ok with Mr T, until he realised that the waiting “ area“ was outside and there was no bar where to sit and drink, just the concrete bollards by the wharf. I nearly lost him at the adjoining Aqua restaurant, a much more upmarket version of Ripples…”with a bar!”
Once seated, service was prompt and friendly with our waitress very efficiently keeping Mr T’s drinks flowing. The menu leans towards mediterranean fare with a lot of Italian influence. For starters we ordered 2 plates to share: Beef Bresaola Carpaccio and Buffalo Mozzarella.
The first, came with pine nuts, cornichons, shaved parmesan and lemon dressing. The other is served as a big ball of mozzarella cheese split in half with onion marmalade, cherry tomato salad and toasted brioche. We all loved the flavours and finished these in no time ( the kids were hungry after their walk across the bridge!)
The choice of mains was fairly simple: no one was in the mood for red meat or roast chicken, so the boys played it safe and ordered fish and chips
, Anne surprised me by selecting rigate pasta which is full of mixed seafood and botarga in a napolitana sauce ( that’s quite a departure from the usual steak and fries!) and I went down the “gourmet” road by picking the pork belly served with caramelised peach, buckwheat and creme fraiche. The pork was fork tender and the skin text-book crispy.
When the dessert time comes, we were suitably full and all we could manage was affogato, the dessert you have when you don’t have room for dessert! The boys and I had fun selecting different liqueur to accompany the ice cream and coffee: Frangelico for Marc, Kahlua for Mr T and Amaretto for me.
Unable to find anything she liked on the menu, Anne asked for a plain bowl of vanilla ice cream, her favourite in any circumstances. She’s easy to please!
As no one was willing to walk back across the bridge after lunch, we hopped on the ferry instead which is a mere 10 mn ride across the harbour, sailing under the bridge and along the opera house before landing in Circular Quay.
This is where we bid goodbye to the kids and headed back up the hill to the Shangri-La.
I reckon these rooms are made to stay in: I could sit on the lounge and sip a drink watching traffic go by on Sydney harbour for hours. As a matter of fact, I decided to do just that, as I got a new camera for early xmas present so I set up my gear and film cars, boats, and planes crossing the bridge, plying the waters or flying over the city. Seen from the comfort of a 13th floor hotel room, commuting traffic looks quite fascinating…and these city lights!!
I would have been quite content to order room service and watch the night sky but Mr T was feeling peckish and wanted to try the hotel all-day restaurant. Cafe Mix was very quiet on this Sunday night, and the atmosphere was fairly laid back, with what appeared to be hotel guests returning from a big day of sightseeing and all after a comforting meal. The majority of the clientele appears asian, and the menu has a fairly large selection of asian dishes as well as western ones. Interestingly both menus are titled “ Comfort menus “ and feature our favourite version of Asian comfort food: Nasi Goreng for Mr T and Black pepper beef Short ribs for me. It is a far cry from the sophisticated food of Altitude’s fine dining menu, but just what we felt like before retiring under the bed’s big soft doonas and enjoying a blissful night’s sleep.
Cafe Mix is also where the buffet breakfast is served, and what difference a weekday make! The place was busy with a mix of corporates and tourists, our table was squeezed between a guy in a dark suit, sipping his coffee while pouring over the Financial Review and an older couple, meticulously dressed for a day on the golf course ( or a cruise ship, I am not sure) The lady glanced over at the yoghurt parfaits I just picked up and asked in a drawling american accent “ these looks delicious, where did ya find them?”
I sent a photo of the pastry section to Anne who was no doubt fixing herself something quick at home before catching the school bus and her reply was “ I want some!”
We all love a good buffet breakfast and the Shangri-La’s is pretty good: beside the usual selection of fruits and cereals, there are salads, cold meats, smoked seafood, baked goods to die for…and that’s just for the continental option. Should you wish to order the fully cooked option, you will be offered items like bacon, sausages, eggs, as well as eastern dishes like congee, miso soups,…Maybe next time.
I am glad we were granted a late check-out, so we could not only enjoy breakfast at a leisurely pace but also make good use of the hotel’s facilities. I initially planned on a spa session, but was told it was really busy and first available booking was for the next day! Lucky the swimming pool was not busy ( a rarity I was told ) so I indulged in a few laps instead, trying to wear off all the food from the weekend.
And just like that, it was time to head home, staycation over…thankfully recharged for the busy month ahead.
Since I started to write this post a couple of weeks ago, the festive season kicked in full swing and as always, this is the opportunity to reflect on the year nearly gone and thank you all for following me and reading my ramblings about everything and anything food and travel related. It always warms my heart to know that someone somewhere is finding it worthwhile and (hopefully) enjoyable to share my little corner of the globe. So again, thank you.
From our family to yours, Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Joyful and Safe Festive Season.
Singapore isn’t all about street food, though a lot of it is.
Out of the 12 days we spent there, we wanted to at least try a couple of fancy restaurants, if only to escape the stifling heat and humidity and have the opportunity to dress up. The Lion City abounds with high end establishments: from the outposts of famous establishments like Sydney’s Tetsuya’s or California’s Osteria Mozza, to local prodigies like Andre and revered classics such as Raffle grill…you could spend a lifetime eating your way around, not mentionning depleting the kids inheritance!
Talking about them, we thought we’d have 2 nights out: one with them, one without.
Teenagers and fine dining are not really compatible in our family: not that they misbehave ( they don’t ), but they eat a lot and always feel uncomfortable staring at a menu where mains cost over $50. Invariably they end up ordering the burger or the pasta of the day, and finish with ice cream, too financially self-conscious to expand their culinary repertoire. I know I should be happy they have this mind set rather than expensive taste in food, and believe me I am. So what works with them is All-You-Can-Eat Buffet, and we found this great Seafood Buffet at Melt Cafe at the Mandarin Oriental. The main reason we chose to dine there on a Saturday night, was that we had been looking for a venue from where to watch the National Day Celebrations rehearsal and particularly the fireworks finale. This was in July, and preparations were in full swing to celebrate Singapore’s Independance Day in August. Our tour guide gave us the tip, telling us where the best viewing spots were. The problem was, Singaporeans are either very patriotic or hungry for entertainment, so it felt like half the country was lining the streets and the shores of Marina Bay in anticipation. Mixing with the crowd was out of the question for Mr T who tends to suffer from agorophobia at times, and since every bar with a view ( rooftop or not ) were charging a hefty cover charge that night it didn’t make much sense to bring along a 14 year old who can’t drink.
Enter Nisha, from Melt, who hearing what we were trying to achieve ( i.e have our cake and eat it too!) assured me the problem could easily be solved: we could come in anytime and start eating; just before the start of the fireworks she would come and fetch us so we could watch the finale from the rooftop, while she would keep our table available, and we could resume our dinner afterward. I could have hugged her! The drinks waiter became Mr T’s best friend when he mentionned the S$20 free flow of wine and beer ( though I wish we’d known about this before we spent S$80 at the bar for beers and cocktails beforehand! ) On to the food: we were taken thru the buffet selections, which were quite varied: seafood, western style, bbq, indian curries, asian stir fries, sushis, cheeses and desserts…there was definitely enough to please everyone and we certainly ate our S$85 worth of it. Terry found the indian selections and would not eat anything else ( he is a curry fanatics and always laments that he is missing the “real” thing only found in Asia!),
Anne dabbed into the savouries ( mostly sushis and caesar salad ) but really saved herself for sweets and I swear she must have sampled every morsel on offer!
Marc bypassed the seafood and went straight for the BBQ, carvery and spicy food, followed by numerous plates of desserts.
All within 30 minutes. Luckily for him, Nisha came in to announce the fireworks were about to start. By then, I was so engrossed in my 2nd ( or was it my 3rd? ) plate of seafood that I could not be swayed away from the table, so I handed the camera to the kids and sent them off to walk off dinner and take shots of the firework display for me. The food was just too good: tiger prawns, oysters, Maine lobster claws, spanner crabs, …seafood is my weakness, along with cheese, so that is pretty much all I ate that night.
As we sat at the table, full and happy, I looked around at the other diners: a mix of single travellers, some young families, Nisha introduced us to a British family who was staying at the hotel on a stopover and they raved so much about the food and the service saying they chose to eat in most of the time. Anne replied that “Had we been staying here, I would have done the same! “ That was the lure of the chocolate sensation bar talking, I think.
When the time came to choose a restaurant for our anniversary dinner, the decision was made simple by Mr T who wanted local Singapore foods. As he had missed out on a lot of our hawkers expeditions ( either studying or keeping Anne company ), he figured he would kill 2 birds with one stone: romantic dinner with wife AND hawker food. I agreed on the condition that the restaurant had to be fancy enough for me to dress up, have a view and a rooftop bar.
The Fullerton Bay Hotel fitted the bill perfectly. From the moment we stepped into the lobby and checked our reservation with the Clifford Pier restaurant, the evening ran effortlessly smooth. This is a plush and stylish number, deco-inspired and full of so many exquisite details, my eyes kept darting from one beautiful flower arrangement to a jaw stopping chandelier or the reflection of the curved beams onto the marble floor!
The view greeting you coming out of the lift at the rooftop Lantern Bar is priceless! The drinks on the other hand are quite pricey ( cocktails S$25 and local beer S$17 ) but that’s standard practice in Singapore and the price to pay for such a great atmosphere, surrounded by shimmering lanterns and overlooking the bay. As a matter of fact, I could drink that killer view over Marina Bay!
The Clifford Pier is famous for its “heritage menu “, offering typical Singapore delicacies in the sophisticated setting of a restored British colonial building . Mr T had a craving for prawn laksa, a comforting bowl of prawns, rice vermicelli, quail eggs, puffed bean curd and bean sprouts in a spicy coconut gravy. He loved it so much he nearly drank the sauce out of the bowl.
I chose the roasted duck pancake which bizarrely looked and tasted more like a duck quesadilla rather than the chinese pancake i was expecting.
I had more luck with my main, Wagyu Beef Rendang, beautifully presented along traditional achard pickles and rice. The meat was the right amount of spicy and melt in your mouth tender.
Mr T went for his favourite dish, Nasi Goreng, an indonesian style fried rice with crispy chicken and a fried egg. This was quite a generous serving, and after polishing off his bowl of laksa beforehand, I have no idea how he could fit a plate of fried food!
But he managed to finish his main course, then decided to order a key lime pie for dessert! I joined in, though I was pretty full by then, and chose the classic tiramasu. This came as a mousse in a clip-on jar, with double espresso and lady finger biscuits, It was not bad, but was not great either, I’d say it needed more coffee.
Same issue with the key lime pie, a layering of ginger biscuit crust, key lime filling and meringue. While it was refreshing and tangy, it missed “ a bit of oomph!”, as Terry put it. Maybe western dessert tasted bland, because the courses we had during the meal were redolent in so much spices and flavours, our tastebuds expected more of the same for dessert.
Still, we really enjoyed our dinner, the surroundings were magnificent, service was faultless and judging by the numbers of families dining there that night, heritage cooking isn’t going anywhere!
And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I must mention the stunning surroundings, both inside and out: I don’t think I could ever tire of Singapore city lights and I fell so in love with the architecture and myriads of bespoke artefacts that without even seeing the guestrooms, should money not be an object ( which sadly it is!) this hotel would be our pick to stay at next time.
What happens when the freshest of ingredients meet some past their prime in my fridge? Some would say, get rid of the old and make room for the new. My answer is mix them up, giving leftover cooking a fresh twist.
It all started with a quick trip to the shop for milk with Mr T. I should have known we’d end up with more, especially when I spotted him at the fish stall next door eyeing out scallops and wild Canadian salmon. The latter in particular is rarely seen fresh in australian retail shops, and very much a delicacy for us. Unlike the farmed Atlantic salmon usually available, wild sockeye salmon stands out for its brighter colour, drier and firm texture as well as a distinctively pronounced taste ( more fishy, less fatty ). While it is pricey, in my opinion the superior flavour makes it well worth buying. If only for the memories it brings back… Read More
Welcome to our first Halloween party! Yep, it has taken that many years for us to succumb to the Halloween madness, always finding an excuse: French people don’t celebrate it, our generation didn’t grow up with it, treat or tricking makes no sense on a boat, don’t like scary things anyway…then we had kids, we spent some time in the USA during fall season, and lately social media is swamped with Halloween references!
So it all started with a Sunday lunch invite at our place last weekend. As always our family get togethers follow a theme, and this time being so close to Halloween, I thought it a good idea to make it the overall theme. It was initially meant to apply to the food, but as I poured over cookbooks, magazines and blogs researching related food props and table settings, I found myself at this party supplies shop loading up on more Halloween decorations that I ever bought in my life! I blame this particular blogger who I follow for her quirky and delicious posts, particularly at Halloween time and somehow made me believe I could throw a ghoulish party at a few days notice! Lucky it helps to have a teenage daughter who is into anything gory and gruesome and knows what it takes to achieve maximum effect.
The Set Up:
The party was to take place at home and after much consideration for our guests dislikes and phobias ( i.e. spiders and severed body parts ) we settled on a mixed theme of haunted house and skeletons. I went crazy starting with Haunted Scene tape on the doors, acquiring a couple of hinged skeletons, a dozen skulls, countless rats and baby spiders, enough spiderweb to drape over a couple of rooms, a little ghost and eyeballs to float into drinks! I even uncovered a ghost- like photo of myself taken 30 years ago which I framed and displayed next to more skulls and spider webs…
Couldn’t leave the toilets alone either and stuck a skeleton poster on the door while covering the seat with pictures of spiders ( that pushed the envelope a bit for some…hehe!). I will spare you the photos!
Anne helped with some edible decorations, carving watermelon and pumpkin, turning mandarins into mummies, and picked the music score, finding an already composed Halloween playlist on Spotify, mixing Thriller with Adams Family tunes.
Dress up initially optional, was heavily encouraged to keep with the party spirit.
I could not decide what to be, between a witch or a fairy so I mixed them both, figuring that the hat would fit either description. Mr T went for the Black Ripper, which looked oddly realistic and had the merit of being very comfortable to wear. Anne wrapped herself in a white sheet, intending to be a ghost but looking more like a medieval maiden. Shelley and Tania came as the Devil and Maleficent, accompanied by pirate Jai and monster shirt wearing Matt ( who I suspect played it tame because he had no idea what to expect! )
Top prize must go to the youngest kids though with Jesse dressed as vampire Dracula and Hannah eerily scary in her ghost outfit straight out of the Ring movie set. How can 7 and 8 year old look so spooky??
For drinks, I had peach bellini cocktails to welcome guests. It was quite popular with the girls in the kitchen, but the boys thought it too sweet and dainty and stuck to beer ( no surprise there!)
More success with the kids drink: fresh watermelon juice mixed with lemonade, pourable from the urn, went like a treat and kept them hydrated all day.
As is tradition, our guests were asked to bring a dish each as a contribution to our banquet. Shelley jumped in with the idea of a brain, made of salmon mousse and dotted with black fish roe to resemble blod clots. We ended up serving the former on a bed of lettuce and the latter separately, thinking the initial concept might have been to gross…
I liked the thought of serving black food for Halloween and came across the recipe for Black Hummus on this blog, which I tried to replicate not without some challenges. I had to order black chickpeas from Melbourne, my blender barely coped with the amount of black sesame seed to turn into tahini then mix with the chickpeas to make the hummus ( I am now officially in the market for a high-speed Vitamix-style blender ). But the result was a striking looking dip ( if a tad greyer than on the blog’s picture) perfectly matched with the colourful corn chips.
And while we’re on colours, you can’t go past a black wooden platter loaded with orange cheeses. We had 4 types; a mild Leicester, a not-as-stinky-as I’d like washed rind, a potent cheddar and black garlic we purchased a few weeks ago in Tilba and an evenly scented piece of truffle pecorino brought by Tania and which I tried to keep for myself! We served them alongside charcoal crackers and black seeded crackers I made after reading a similar recipe in NQN blog a few days prior.
Tania said she was dying to try a ribs recipe on our bbq, which was music to my ears as a) everyone loves ribs b) I had been meaning to make this for the longest time!
Danielle had the carb-lovers ( meaning everyone! ) covered with mac and cheese. Rosalie brought a tangy potato salad and I made a multicoloured coleslaw, which is not very Halloweeny but I figured people might feel like something green and crunchy at some point.
As for the sweets, the piece de resistance was a White Chocolate Mud cake Kathy purchased from New York patisserie, a local family favourite. It was such a pretty cake, we felt bad adding rats and spiders around it…only for a second though!
I had also made green goop ( i.e tapioca pearls in pandan coconut sauce ) which some of us partook in… the ones who were not full, that is.
Of course there was a lolly bowl, filled to the brim with wrapped candies and chocolates and for which the kids didn’t have to trick anyone.
We ate, we drank, we talked about scary shows ( Stranger Things Season 2 is on everyone’s radar at the moment!), laughed at each other, watched the kids slip out of their costumes into the swimming pool and scolded them for eating too many lollies so close to bedtime…waving goodbye long after darkness had fallen.
It is somehow nice to celebrate Halloween a few days in advance. That way you can stretch the fun a little longer, a bonus considering the effort of putting it all together. As I write, I am told how Kathy tricked the kids with spiders in their lunch boxes yesterday. The same way I laughed when Mr T found rats at the bottom of the sink last night. As for the ghost behind the toilet door? He is still there, oooohing the unsuspecting. I am told the joke is wearing thin, still one more day though…
To those who are into it, Happy Halloween!! For the ones who aren’t, here are a couple of black recipes for a Goth-like party anytime.
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks
In Australia, I found black chickpeas from a specialty indian grocer in Melbourne. They take longer to cook than white chickpeas, especially if like me you forget to soak them before hand, you will need to simmer them for at least 3 hours.
The black tahini is available online at Harris Farm and some organic stores. I wish I’d known. before I embarked on making my own and nearly ruined my blender in the process.
I used a food processor, as instructed in the original recipe. It took a long time, some extra water and the texture was still a little grainy for my liking. I am now investigating a high speed blender ( Vitamix or Nutribullet?) to achieve a “whipped” result. Stay tuned.
This recipe makes a lot, but it keeps in the fridge for months ( apparently!)
Makes about 4 cups
4 cups cooked black chickpeas
4-6 tablespoons lemon juice
4 medium garlic cloves, crushed ( I used smoked garlic, a gift from a friend, plain garlic will be ok )
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1 cup black tahini ( see comment above )
1 cup ice cold water ( or more depending on the consistency )
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- In a blender or food processor, puree the chickpeas into a thick paste. Add the lemon juice, garlic and salt. With the processor running, add the tahini. Slowly add the ice cold water, until you reach the desired consistency. Keep processing for at least 5 minutes.
- Taste and adjust salt, lemon juice, water as necessary.
- Serve drizzled with EVO and crackers on the side.
Black Seeded Crackers
Adapted from Not Quite Nigella
I was originally looking for a charcoal crackers recipe when I came across Lorraine’s gluten free seeded crackers. I already had a lot of seeds and nuts from granola making so it was not a far stretch to turn them into savoury treats. I only tweaked the recipe a little, adding charcoal powder and using black sesame seeds left over from the black tahini efforts! I also substituted soya sauce for nori seaweed. You can’t really taste the charcoal, but it is definitely crunchy and tastes nutty as! This is great to make in advance as it keeps in an airtight container for a few days.
Makes 2 large trays of crackers
100g almond meal
75 g pepitas ( pumpkin seeds )
75 g sunflower kernels
30 g black sesame seeds
30 g flaxseeds
1 cup cold water
1 tsp soy sauce
A few drops of sesame oil
- Pre-heat the oven to 160C and line 2 trays with baking parpaper. Place all the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Mix all the wet ingredients together in a small bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones, mix well and divide the mixture between the 2 trays, pressing down and spreading thin with a spatula or the back of a metallic spoon ( I tried with clean hands, and made a real mess!)
- Sprinkle salt over the crackers dough, bake for 40mn and remove from the oven. Break the cracker in half and turn it over to bake for another 15mn until crisp ( careful not to burn!) Allow to cool and break into shards.
- Serve with cheese ( as I did ) or with dip. I think it would also be great served with soup as an alternative to bread.