Marina Bay Sands’ Gastronomique Tour de Force (Day 1 Part 1)

Sept 3, 2012 (morning – noon)

A surprise came just a few weeks ago during the month of Ramadhan about a possibility to be nominated as a blogger/media participant for a gastronomic tour at Marina Bay Sands – Singapore. Many official tours already had been carried out previously and mostly to introduce MBS in general or to cater medias specific mission aside from culinary, but this time it’s solely only for gastronomic tour! It’s the first time carried out and also the first time ever I seen bloggers and mainstream media altogether under the same team.

We all know how exciting MBS can become for somebody who hasn’t been there before, like me for example. Last time I went to Singapore, I witnessed from across the waters that it was still under construction and that time I ponder what it’s going to be like when finished. That time I bet it’s going to be massive! Time passes by and the opportunity came eventually. It’s the usual routine like every morning but I woke up anxiously and had a sore throat. Probably it’s not a good sign but eventually I’m all hyped up and head for the airport around 4.45 in the morning, leaving my lovely wife behind on a jet plane.

The rest of the team arrived at Soekarno-Hatta airport later and we gathered up before checking-in for the flight. Alongside me were good friends of mine, Mr Burhan Abe the senior journalist turning blogger, a fellow food blogger Ms Ellyna Tjohnardi, Mr Arie Parikesit the expert culinary consultant and organizer, and Mr Jed Doble a fellow alumni or Time Out Jakarta now the managing director of Dreams magazine. The rest were the media people such as Mr Graham Pearce, Ms Galuh Tathya, Ms Bunga Sirait, Ms Muthia, and Mr Reza Idris– all came from Jakarta’s best media.

Shaky start

Another surprise came even before we departed and it’s not good news because Mr Abe didn’t notice that his passport has only one month left to go! Garuda Indonesia was a bit hesitant to let him go considering problems that may appear at both immigrations, not to mention also their reputation, but they managed to convince them anyway. That’s a halfway job because finally he had to encounter Singaporean immigration and that would mean another ugly business.

It was my first time with Garuda by the way and it’s pretty much the same as other economy class commercial flights I’ve been with, except that this one got an entertainment system and meals are ‘complimentary’. At around 10 am, we arrived safe and sound at Changi.

As predicted before, my friend had to be brought to the immigration office for inquiries. Equipping himself with his iPad and the official invitation, it seemed that he’s pretty confident that time. On the contrary, we all anxiously waited for him. For about 10 minutes or so, he’s finally emerged from the immigration and allowed to enter Singapore! It was a joyful time for us as we now head to our shuttle confidently and ready to take on the busy schedule ahead.

My first encounter

It was my first time at Terminal 3, pleasant and less crowded indeed. We then headed for the exit where a guy was standing by awaiting our arrival and to take us personally to MBS. Singapore was hot and humid back then but we get to enjoy a cool short ride inside a spacious van. The view of Singapore was still pretty much the same – full of greenery, clean, and generally pleasant. The newest spectacles for me were definitely the F1 circuit and MBS as clearly seen from the highway bridge. As we get closer, we witnessed also a huge skybridge heading for the latest Singaporean destination known as Gardens by the Bay. Well, plenty of things to do while I’m there but so little time also. My personal mission was to also find a chance to visit these wonderful third wave coffee shops.

It was pretty impressive to see MBS from close range. The unique architectural curves, the aesthetics, and everything about the façade gave me good first impression but once you’re inside you will witness how busy and crowded it has become. We entered the building from the basement, the drop off terminal for all the coaches heading to and from the airport. Almost every half an hour a coach will be available and it’s very convenient to use it because you don’t have to spend for taxi or even using the MRT that will took forever just to change the lines and stop at every station.

The ground floor of MBS was not that broad but certainly lengthy as it connects all the three towers. Guests queued at the receptions, people were passing by, securities were everywhere, but all the hustle bustle in the lobby were vanished as I marveled upon the architectural finesse and how bright the place was. We already received our keys and the moment of truth came as we had to head for the room first to drop our luggage.

My room was at the 20th floor out of 57 and overlooking Gardens by the Bay. The room itself seemed very enjoyable and all the view is yours to breath and savor. While I was tempted to just lie down for a while and enjoy the coolness of the room, we were already required downstairs immediately.

It’s almost 12 in the afternoon and it’s time for us to hit the mall for lunch! Today’s lunch will be at Todai – an all-you-can-eat eatery originated from the States since 1985. Mr Parikesit once told me a story about the Alaskan crabs that will available there alongside other fresh seafood and good stuffs from the many regions. He even downloaded the map of the restaurant back at his iPad. Hopefully, it’s not going to be too much of an expectation.

TO BE CONTINUED

Staycation: First World Hotel – Genting, Malaysia (Resorts World)

Taken from: http://daytripswashbuckler.wordpress.com/2012/09/09/first-world-hotel/

I lose count whenever people ask how many rooms First World Hotel has and indeed this hotel is huge! A good starting point for you who wants to scour a bit for Genting but then again, perhaps it’s just too much just to stay here aside from just wanting to savor the cool air. Find out why next.

My two visits were marked with easiness in checking-in. The first one was organized by lovely tour people who were so helpful and secondly, though with a little bit of waiting, was done by the PR of Resorts World to fulfill an invitation for a certain event held there. If it weren’t up to them it may took like forever to do that thanks to the crazy amount of rooms there and people flocking there for the affordable rooms.

The lobby is just massive and you had to cling to your number and queue for your room. Waiting seats and counters of fast check-in are available in front of the receptions. After you’re done with it, the bellboy counter is located at the end of the eastern part of the lobby to help you with your luggage. A lot of people waiting or just passing clearly create a noisy environment, not to mention also that sometimes ice cream man rings his bell or clowns act by playing loud music. So waiting here would be the first test of patience, especially for a room with a quality that you might already had a doubt before judging from the conservative design of pretty much everything.

Both of my experiences were actually quite pleasant in terms of the quality of the room. The first one in 2008, I had a double bed room which was quite small but nonetheless clean and has amazing view downhill to the untamed mountains behind the resort. The last one was even better, the room was already huge with a comfy and clean queen size bed. Additionally the room got sofa, a space to do my prayer, a proper bathroom with a bathtub! The only downsize was only the view – limited with shades and overlooking a very old looking and creepy apartment or hotel, well I couldn’t care less.

On top of that the cleanliness was the highlight of my stay as housekeepers were also quite attentive with our needs even though more smiles would be better. So it’s pretty much an improvement since the last visit although some of my friends here had bad experiences but I’m sure it’s quite different now thanks to renovations done after the first time I had been here assumingly.

The second test of patience is probably to witness how chaotic First World Café during breakfast time as hundreds of guests rushing every stations to get their eggs, bread and so on. Not to mention also the availability of the tables where you might have to share it with strangers, especially those who do not have manners in doing so. The masters of every station are usually not in a good mood as well since they had to serve so many people and the quality of the food is also a mediocrity. It’s hard to expect a tasty breakfast in this kind of ambiance and when it feels as if the food is cooked for the sake of maintaining the quota only. Well, pricewise that’s what you’ll get anyway.

For this, I would definitely recommend you to have your breakfast at the top floor of the hotel, World Club Lounge, for a peace of mind. But then again, having breakfast there is probably only exclusive for patrons who rent more expensive rooms. If you can’t do that, other alternatives such as eateries in the mall are quite limited until the opening time at 10 am.

But to raise again your spirit, the proximity of this hotel to attractions at Genting Highlands is top-notch. Firstly, the mall and the theme park are nearby. Selections of food and shops are also plentiful and that will indeed make you forget the chaotic breakfast. Even so I still found the design of the mall as shabby as the hotel. Again, it’s already old and even a good friend of mine who happens to have traveled to many places around the world deemed this place as dodgy. For that, I rest my case.

Contrary with the check-in procedure, you’ll only need to plunge your room card at machines available on every corner of the ground floor just to check-out. Yup, it’s that easy because there’s nothing to be charged back at the room – no drinks or food in the fridge, no amenities that require payment, and that’s all.

Not to forget, my last time there was colored by a brief visit to witness the surroundings of Chin Swee Temple, just a one stop ride by bus downhill of First World Hotel. It’s a must visit if you want to spectacle great view and for some pilgrims, your spiritual needs can also be fulfilled here alongside a visit to a decent vegan restaurant there.

After my second stay I still conclude that a visit to Genting is something that you have to plan first. If you want to just visit the theme park, well it’s better to just stay at KL and take a bus to Genting, have fun, and then return back in the evening. But if you want to savor the cool air, to shop, and to play then one night tops it all because two nights might be too much. Unless you want to stay at Awana Genting downhill then two nights would probably good for you and stories about it will be posted here soon!

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FIRST WORLD HOTEL

Genting Highlands Resort

69000 Genting Highlands, Pahang – Malaysia

+60.3.6101.1118

http://www.rwgenting.com 

The Haute Cuisine Experience: The Burmese Kitchen Session with Chef Will Meyrick

Who doesn’t know Chef Will Meyrick nowadays? He’s the mastermind behind all the mythical culinary excellence of Sarong and Mama San as well as a food adventurer himself. Returning back from Myanmar and amassing newly found local cuisine knowledge, he held another series of Kitchen Sessions at Mama San. I was there to witness his wizardry.

It seemed back then that my planned trip to Bali was overheard by many people including my former colleague back at Time Out Jakarta, Mr Jed Doble. We’ve been working together also to promote a bit about Otel Lobby back then in my blog and this time he hinted me about Mama San’s event as well. Since I was about to go to Bali soon then he gave me an idea to visit establishments under Mr Meyrick’s governance. I thought that day instantly that it’s going to be a very interesting experience and TGA will be moving faster and broader by this particular event.

Hence the day came but not without troubles. My trip organizer mistakenly arranged my trip to start a day after the Mama San invitation but lucky that they can arrange the plane ticket in accord with my needs. Nevertheless, I had to find my own hotel for a night and I was searching for the nearest possible hotel with Mama San. So without further due, here’s the story after my falafel experience.

A different crowd                                      

As we all know, Bali is a land of infinite worldly desires and that attracts tourists or pilgrims of any purpose from all over the world. Over the years, perhaps mostly owing to proximity advantage, legions of Australians enter Bali every day. Some of them reside there for years and working in many professions – being the closest to what I’m doing now would be on journalism, hospitality, and F&B.

Add those facts with ‘lifestyle-refined’ people coming from Jakarta to invest on what they all know about food, fun, and fashion. As a result, many uneducated tourists know Bali as a nation instead of Indonesia! But for many years now, this unique condition created the Bali as what we know right now – rich, vibrant, and full of dynamics.

That night as I entered Mama San for the first time in my life, I immediately realized that the impact had become so huge and Mama San appeared more like a leisure den under the shade of foreign embassy – meaning that the patrons are mostly bule! Apart from that, Mama San is dark but beautifully designed and serves as both watering hole and casual dine out establishment, quite different with Sarong. One thing that caught my attention from all was actually a huge painting of a Chinese woman, appears more like a beautiful geisha judging from the place’s name – by the way the terminology of Mama San came from Japanese language meaning the owner of a pub or geisha joint. Additionally, Mama San also decorated herself with plenty of mostly grayscale photos, assumingly from Mr Meyrick’s travels all over the globe.

I headed upstairs for the rendezvous and found the second floor more as a lounge with a live kitchen as the center of the attention. This is where Mr Meyrick usually cooks for the chef’s table. Finally I met Ms Raechel Temily, who’s so kind in taking care all of my needs back at Bali, and several other foreign journalists. Among them to my surprise was a fellow Sundanese food blogger, Mr Bayu Amus (Epicurina Indonesia)! I immersed myself with exciting conversations about the life in Bali and its culinary scene. Personally, it’s a really a different crowd even though I had been to numerous events that involved foreign chefs or them but upon seeing this happen in Bali, it was just enthralling.

An exciting feast

Mr Meyrick is a prolific chef that appreciates and learns a lot anywhere he’s at. Currently he’s living in Bali with his Indonesian family and that motivates him a lot to scour all over Indonesia more than most of us do. During his travels, he seeks places that can teach him about the know-how of local cuisine and even stays with the natives for that purpose.

This time he hosted a media dinner to introduce his newly found knowledge acquired during his trip to Myanmar a few months earlier and branded the event as Kitchen Session which will be continuously held especially upon returning from a particularly enlightening trip.

After a warm opener of interesting conversations over some refreshments, we hopped in to the dining table and Mr Meyrick introduced himself alongside his most trusted assistant chef, Mr Palm Amatawet from Thailand. Then off we went for the excitements displayed majestically the whole night!

Kachooris

The first dish was kachooris with mint chutney and yogurt. The kachooris reminds me of Indian’s  samosa or Indonesian’s (probably dated back from colonial times) pastel. But judging easily from the close proximity of India from Myanmar and the fillings, clearly it was influenced from there but blended nicely into a more herb-ish flavoring. A very enticing start from Mr Meyrick aided with the always-there-sidekick to neutralize the thick taste – the kimchi.

Soft Shell Crab Salad
Chicken Wings with Pickled Tea Leaves

More dishes came and took me by surprise that not only Mr Meyrick was very adept in refining these traditional dishes but also miraculously combining each element perfectly. Some of ingredients used were distinctively Asian and rarely seen here. It was a dining experience filled with thrilling rollercoaster ride of heavenly flavors! A commanding presence of sour fresh flavor of snapper mohinga soup that uses coriander and noodle; the black rice cakes that reminds me of ranginang/rengginang savored with interesting chili relish and lalapan a la Mama San alongside duck buns; chicken wings with pickled tea leaves; and a curious combination between soft shell crabs and pennyworth salad. All I did was to sit back and enjoy the glorious dishes, pausing in-betweens with kimchi to clear some heavy after taste. So far it had been a masterful performance of Mr Meyrick and Mr Amatawet.

Inle Lake Crispy Fish

Well, that was quite a treat right? But not stopping there because more and more kept on coming. A huge crispy carp with coriander, fried shallot, and garam masala which was quite frightening for some people there but I found it very tempting. Within this jungle of temptations, Mr Meyrick also equipped us with roti canai and pilaf rice to combine both the fish and the next alluring dish of duck curry with black pepper, turmeric, chili, and yogurt.

Duck Curry

The coup de grace in a form of dessert platter was also keenly prepared and colorfully presented – one of them was the Thai iced tea made into pudding and had a surprisingly very similar taste! Thus that ended the extraordinary feast, a night of its own worth remembering for many many years to come, and a story worth written in thousands of words indeed.

Mung Bean Cake

A visionary maestro

Mr Meyrick was clearly content to see the happy faces and after changing his attire, he mingled with every one of us to share his vision about his ideal version of culinary world in Indonesia. Alongside Mr Amus, we shared our fascinations of his masterful creations that night and I was personally amazed with his wonderful finesse in devising the Burmese cuisine into a modern presentation without leaving the original trace behind.

So far I haven’t found somebody as passionate as Mr Meyrick in learning what’s best from Indonesia the way he does. Therein lies the problem, are there any of us Indonesian that passionate enough or aware enough to promote the best of this country has? Many of us proudly learn too much about foreign cuisines and forgetting the nature of Indonesia as the only country that devises thousands of complex, distinctive dishes from huge multicultural backgrounds.

Mr Meyrick told us that there’s always a Malaysian chef for Malaysian dishes, or Thais for Thai cuisine. For him it’s rarely seen in Indonesia a restaurant that supports the growth of Indonesian cuisine capabilities ‘indefinitely’. They’d just hire another foreign chef to dictate again his staffs with foreign cuisines, never leaving them a real chance to demonstrate the best of Indonesia, or moreover to involve them all in a sense of belonging for the place they’re working for. It’s an insight that he asked specifically for me and Mr Amus as bloggers to deliver for our readers.

With that insight, he’s soon ready to takeover Jakarta by the end of 2012 with his groundbreaking restaurant concept that will introduce the pride of Indonesia there. It’s definitely a chance that I wouldn’t miss at all and something that I would proudly tell everyone to try.

It was a long but very enjoyable night filled with magical dishes by the passionate duo of Mama San and Sarong, Mr Meyrick and Mr Amatawet. That night I also told Mr Amatawet that I’d be visiting Sarong in a few days. So, dear readers, another beautiful adventure there will soon be posted here. Afterwards, we all parted ways with a natural contention but also mind clouded with thoughts on how to appreciate food better. It’s not an easy task especially as a writer or even more as a chef, but it’s a message that I have to deliver and I have my entire life to do that wholeheartedly.

-Pictures courtesy of Mama San and Will Meyrick’s personal collections-