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Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Vietnam Vacation - Ho Chi Minh City

Heard that Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, was becoming vivacious, so piqued our interest to visit and see for ourselves. Had wondered how this traditional, once too laid-back city has transformed, and to what extent. However, when we stepped off the plane, we saw alot of tall buildings in the distance, and professional-looking executives were all over the place. In fact, it was rather delightful to learn that there were a lot of French Colonial style buildings around the city and also, French restaurants, since they used to be under French control.

I have stayed at the Amara Hotel Saigon and New World Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City before - both recommended, depending on where your preferred location is.  The latter hotel has a casino in it, so those seeking to try their luck at winnings may be duly occupied.

Transport-wise, there are plenty of cabs available. The roads are filled with scooters as these are the main mode of transport for their people there - manual workers as well as office workers in executive wear, alike.

For upscale shopping, one may like to check out Thuong Xa Tax (Saigon Tax Trade Center) located at District 1. This is where one could find malls and stores selling clothes, accessories, books and crafts. I did not see anything suitable as I thought the style of the clothes, accessories and crafts were not my kind of style...the designs were stll leaning very heavily on the Vietnamese intricate patterns.

Many tourists and locals love the Ben Thanh Market as well - a large marketplace in central Ho City Minh City (District 1, as well), housed in yet another gorgeous French-styled building, boosting rows of vendors selling foodstuff, souveinirs, textiles and clothes.

One is rather spoilt for choices for food here.

Let's not talk about the pricey ones like Ly Club, Temple Club and Le Jardin etc - there are lists that potential diners could search for, online. Fine dining and French / French-Vietnamese Fusion restaurants are readily available in most areas.

For traditional Vietnamese food, one may like to try the Pho (Vietnamese soup noodles) - two recommended locations would be Pho Hoa and Pho24 - tasty soup noodles, tender beef and healthily infused with an assortment of vegetables such as mint leaves, beansprouts etc.  Vietnam is also famous for its Broken Rice dishes - I did not get to try, but heard its crispy and tasty. Finally, the spring rolls - either deep fried ones containing pork, shrimps and vegetables or fresh ones containing just shrimps and vegetables - are equally tasty and healthy food for thought.

It is not recommended to try their curry though - the sweet curry made me feel funny after eating it - not funny due to sickness, but felt kind of nauseous.

My personal favorite was the Cruise Dinner onboard one of the large vessels and dining on the scenic and romantic Saigon River. Different cruises served different cuisines - we went up on all three and finally settled for the one that served Chinese cuisine (craving of the day) along with the best music. There were live performances during dinner comprising of fire-eating shows and dancing. It was very entertaining.

There are also a number of cafes and bars scattered around - it depends on whether one is seeking for refreshers or more hardcore chilling out. Try Windows Cafe (Park View) at District 1 - a lavish, three-storey modern-esque building devoted entirely to serving its patrons - drinks or food, all welcome.

Cultural Infusion
For those who love cultural and historical pursuits, worry not, Ho Chi Minh has plenty to offer you in this aspects as well.

There is a score of museums around - such as the Vietnam History Museum, Vietnam Fine Arts Museum and War Remnants Museum - I've been to all three, but the one that left the deepest impression was the latter. The warplanes actually looked very intimidating and creepy, and I kept having this odd fear that they would suddenly leap to life and come at us. Maybe I was just spooked by the war stories and deaths associated with it thus why.

In lieu of museums, there are also many fine arts galleries along the rows of shops. While some of the art pieces may be replicated or distributed all throughout the city, they were all really rather impressive works of art. I wanted to buy one of the Marilyn Monroe ones, but was afraid it would be too big for both carrying around and for the spot I intended to hang it at.

Tourist  Attractions
Finally we have come to the end - touristy spots in Ho Chi Minh City! There was a half-day city tour that we had embarked on, and brought to a Pagoda, a Notre Dame Cathedral, and the Post Office - all apparently places of interest to tourists, showcasing the different religious beliefs of the Vietnamese.

One may also wish to visit more adventurous spots such as Cu Chi Tunnels - an elaborate and immense network of underground tunnels.

Then the Reunification Palace - showcasing the grand halls and living quarters of the high-ranking government officials - this parliamental place, also the downfall eventually. When we were there, our tour guide informed us that these businesses were now being conducted in Hanoi.

Of course, there is also the Saigon Zoo for the superbored or animal lovers. It was a rather ill-maintained zoo with mediocre living conditions for the adorable animals trapped within. The admission tickets were dirt-cheap though, so who could complain...

Overall, Ho Chi Minh City is a rather vivacious city indeed, and a lovely experience.

Merry Macau

It was a short 4-Days, 3-Nights trip to Macau (also spelt as "Macao") - most people would just take a day trip over, since it is a really small city and the main mode of entertainment to offer is gambling - at its lavish casinos... Or is it?

Well, I wouldnt be too sure if I were you, because I sure found plenty to do there during my stay at Macau, a vivacious and vibrant city. Having arrived in January itself, the weather was chilly, but very pleasant.

So we managed to experience Ponte 16 Sofitel Hotel, Grand Lisboa and Venetian Hotels - three grand and luxurious hotels in Macau itself. Situated within most grand hotels in Macau are boutiques selling luxury good and casinos - so for the shoppers and those looking to try your luck, entertainment is pretty much taken care of.

I loved Venetian Hotel the most - elegant in its quiet magnificence, it gives off a warm, never-night illusion because of the ceilings painted an azure shade of blue with cottony clouds. I also love the gondolas, canal and bridges.

Food and Shopping

There are the fools who love food, and I am one of them.  Whether it was the gluttony indulgence of quality Chinese food such as dimsum or Cantonese dishes in traditional Chinese restaurants, nibbling on Portugese egg tarts or Koi Kee almond cookies on the sidewalks, or sitting down formally for a tantalizing Portugese meal, I just loved the sumptuous delicacies.

The above is an example of a Portugese meal consumed at Venetian Hotel itself - some chicken stew, baked duck rice and chocolate mousse dessert - all excellent in taste and service was impeccable. Trust me, diners having meals with a view certainly find their food enhanced threefold, at least, as with great companions.

As for shopping, luxury boutiques are available in the galleries of grand hotels. There are shopping malls as well as smaller shops scattered all over the tiny, exuberant city itself. Some examples would be the One Central Macau, The Red Market or shops along Portugese Square.

Portugese Square / St. Paul's Ruins
Speaking of Portugese Square, do not miss out on Macau's most prominent landmark, St. Paul's Ruins.

This college and cathedral was originally built in the 16th century but was burnt down and rebuilt several times until 1835 when a fire arising of a typhoon left it beyond repair - leaving just one stone facade standing atop the stone steps leading up to it.  Today, this facade is a popular tourist's attraction allowing tourists to view the intricate carvings close-up, and offering a panoramic view of the lovely city. Beneath the ruins lies the Museum of Sacred Art and Crypt.

Lastly, for the culturally-inclined or touristy types, there's an assortment of places to see - The Museum of Macau surrounded by a cannon fortress, or a number of beautiful cathedrals around the city as well. Feel free to explore.

I enjoyed my Macau stay very much, and I believe, so would you.

Maneuvering Malaysia - Just Johor Bahru

Most of us drive across the Causeway into Johor Bahru, Malaysia, without even giving it a second thought. It is so near, so convenient, and the petrol price was half due to currency conversion. The food lovers travel in for delicacies such as Bak Kut Teh, Wanton Noodles and Lok Lok (strands of food on sticks, to be dipped into a shared pot of gravy); the shopaholics raid the malls and stores.

Yes, so what does one do in Johor exactly?

Let's shop? Yes, let's do. There are many shopping malls in Johor Bahru itself - older ones like The Store and Pelangi have been slowly fazed out, replaced by more trendy malls such as City Square Mall (just right across the Causeway), a couple of Jusco Shopping Centres,  KSL City Mall and of course, the Johor Premium Outlets.

Their local brands are low-priced and rather trendy, really. Feel free to indulge and enjoy the lower currency exchange rate. Stock up on clothes, shoes and groceries. It is not advisable to purchase imported brands there, though, such as Mango, Guess, etc - because the prices are higher than if purchased locally (due to high import taxes).

Besides the great malls as mentioned above, doing manicures / pedicures or getting hair cuts / perms / rebonding / treatments there are well worth it too, as well as watching movies or singing Karaoke. Spend a lazy afternoon in JB and save half the costs, if you please.

For the foodie, there are delicacies to be found everywhere in JB. There are coffee shops strewn around serving traditional Zi Char (stir-fried dishes such as sweet- sour pork, soy sauce shrimps, shrimp-paste fried chicken etc), Bak Kut Teh, Wanton Noodles.

For scumptious and cheap Zi Char and Seafood, many Singaporeans like to check out Taman Sentosa, a huge non-airconditioned eatery with many stalls serving good local dishes.

Inside the shopping malls are an assortment of fast food restaurants, HongKong cafes, Chinese restaurants and Western cuisine as well.

If you are looking for more up-class Chinese / Seafood Restaurants, my two personal recommendations are Grand Straits Garden and Kong Inn Seafood Restaurant. They serve fresh, superior seafood dishes done Chinese style, provide rather hospitable service, and offer lovely ambience.

A staycation in JB??? Why not? Whether you decide to leave town on a last-minute basis, cannot take long leave, or have budget constraints, JB is a place where you can enjoy an affordable night or two away from the hustle-bustle of Singapore citylife. Stay cooped up in your rooms ordering room service and cuddling, or explore the city while returning at night to your room for a good night's rest.

Nice hotels such as Thistle Hotel (formerly Hyatt Regency) or Austin Hills Golf Resort provide comfortable and even sophisticated accommodation at good rates, good facilities and offers respite for a relaxed weekend for families, friends or lovers alike.

Feel free to party too, if you wish, but take heed to beware of drugs and fights - have fun, but provoke no one. It could get rather messy or dangerous in there.

Other Attractions
Besides the great city attractions, one might also like to visit the JB villages to see the simplistic ways of how the villagers live. I have watched them -  totally comfortable lifestyles where their days were spent cooking, mahjong or chatting, rearing their little poultry pets, growing a little fruits and vegetables and sowing what they reap. Children attended schools, and then came home to watch TV, help their parents on the family farm or tend their mini-marts; if not, it was a childhood filled with playing in the sandboxes, chasing butterflies or wading in the rivers. They lived stress-free, contended in their own chosen paths.

These are the kind of experience that are truly humbling to one's soul, and made me miss a real childhood and at the same time, realize how fortunate we are, to be this advanced.

There are also plantations and aquariums for visits, if one would like a natural indulgence for the senses.

Lastly, do drop by Danga Bay (Teluk Danga) if you are seeking recreational activities, fine dining restaurants, lavish malls or simply would like to spend a relaxing or romantic day at the seaside with friends, family or partners.

Tantalizing Taiwan - Taipei Tour

I could not believe that it took years of persuasion for me to decide that I should visit Taiwan – prior to the invasion of Taiwanese dramas in Singapore, I had thought that Taiwan was just another Chinese country with lots of temples and mountains – at least all the photographs I’d seen of Taiwan were of such!

My only experience with Taiwan so far is restricted to its capital city, Taipei, but it was such a lovely trip filled with different activities to try, very hospitable people and delectable food that I am looking forward to explore more of Taiwan, for sure.

So, what did we do in Taipei, Taiwan and what did we miss out on?

We got busy the moment we reached Taoyuan International Airport. Transport in Taipei is very accessible, does not matter whether one chooses to travel by taxis, train (Metro) or buses.

We visted the popular Ximending – a neighborhood shopping district that is the ultraconsumerist heart of Taipei’s youth culture. Our hotel was nearby, the Look Hotel that was situated neatly at the Citibank Building, was new, and boosted of very friendly service. 

So we combed the bustling streets, stepping into select shops but bought nothing as everything was too “young” for our taste. We tried the Fried Chicken Cutlet and Beef Pie there, both from street stalls. The street stalls were clean and situated along the Ximending pedestral streets instead of along the roadside like other countries’, which was also why I had no qualms about giving the food a shot.

Sad to say, I preferred the Fried Chicken Cutlet in Singapore – crispy and boneless. The one I tried here was rather greasy and I found the bones cumbersome to remove. The Beef Pastry was tasty though – a dough roll filled with tender minced beef patty and best of all, the piping hot soup within the bun, like a giant Chinesee Xiao Long Bao! We also got to eat the famous Ah Zhong Mian Xian (vermicelli with oysters) - it was very tasty - piping hot, delicious vermicelli with big white succulent clams and chicken meat.

We took in a couple of museums, namely the National Museum and The Palace Museum. I love museums overall - they help us to understand the country's cultures better, and also showcase interesting stuff that we would otherwise not be exposed to.

The National Museum comprised mainly of Taiwan's cultural and historical exhibits, some arts and paintings as well. I thought it was not unlike national museums in other countries, but then that's the general purpose of museums.

The Palace Museum displayed mainly more ancient, historical Taiwanese artefacts and exhibits. We were fortunate to catch the Louvre Exhibition when we were there, and that was more fascinating.

Night Market (Ye Shi)
We visited a couple of night markets – Shilin and Shida, basically for food and bazaar-style shopping.  Within the night markets , it is typical to find food stalls selling hot, palatable-looking homely food items such as Oyster Omelet, Hotplate Beef Pasta, fried chicken cutlets, braised meat rice (Ru Rou Fan) and a variety of other interesting dishes not found in Singapore. We also tried the Pig's Blood Cake (Zhu Xue Gao) and Bing Tang Hu Lu (strands of preserved fruits on long wooden sticks).

I had been expecting the stalls to resemble the ones in the Taiwanese drama – tiny stalls with makeshift tables and chairs for eating on – but Shilin had been converted to a hawker-centre style food spot that was no doubt more hygienic looking.

So we tried the Oyster Omelet and Hotplate Beef Pasta . The omelet was not nice at all in my humble opinion – the eggs too soft and tasteless, and the chilli sauce was not spicy – I was still more accustomed to the typical Singapore-style oyster omelet with crispy omelet and spicy chili flavors. The other dish was  sumptuous though – tender beef sizzling on hot plate, drenched in a delightful black pepper sauce, served with fusilli.

Then the bazaars where there were myraids of stalls selling clothes, accessories, ornaments, shoes etc to entice the patrons. The items were cheap but I did not buy much. It was bustling with activities and chatter, a very heartwarming sight.

Hot Springs
Trying out the natural hot springs in Taiwan is a must, so we worked it into the itinery as well.  We ditched our original plans to travel all the way to Beitou (famous for its hotsprings) and instead settled for the one at Yangming Mountain.

We took the private hostprings – so we had a room with our very own hotsprings tub. Wewere told to fill up the tub, soak no more than 5 minutes; change the tub and repeat the process. While immersed in the water, the water level should be below chest level. The boiling hot water was invigorating, and felt very therapeutic once the initial shock of the heat was over.  The minerals from the hotsprings were supposed to contain healing properties, and good for our health and skin.

Mountain Trips
First, we hiked up onto Yangming Mountain (Yangmingshan) – a long two-hour non-stop walk amongst trees and smooth tracks. The sole reason was really because we were trying to hunt for those traditional-looking shack-like teahuts I’d seen in the shows. I thought it would be rather  atmospheric to sit in one sipping hot flavored tea from tiny teapots. Sadly, we did not find any – well, none that were opened anyway.

The next day, we headed up to Jiufen, an ancient site filled with rows of old-fashioned shopfronts housing cafes, and selling food and souveinirs. It was lovely, made one feel trapped in time,  in the olden days of the pugllistic era – cobbled stone paths, red lanterns hanging at the front of the shops, wooden doors etc. 

We bought Taiwanese snacks such as the Sun Cookies and Pineapple Tartlets, and tried their Beef Soup Noodles – it was raining heavily, so the steaming hot soup provided solace, and the noodles were yummy. We also shared an ice-cream wrapped in sheets of flour (popiah skin) with sprigs of spring onion and ground peauts tossed in. It was an amazingly tasty concoction, albeit its deceptively simple ingredients. We chilled out at a tea hut where we snagged an alfresco seat, drank hot teas and took in the breathtaking mountain views from above.

Shifen had been on the agenda – another mountain site where one could put up the huge lanterns (named “Tian Deng”) – sending them into the sky inscripted with our wishes or desires written onto them. Sadly, it rained for the next few days so our plans were thwarted.

Other tourist spots
Taipei 101 – a distinctly tall tower in the heart of Taipei, housing an observation deck offering amazing night views of Taipei, restaurants and boutiques.

We did not get to go to Wu Fen Pu (the largest garment wholesale market / square in Taipei, and the scenic Fisherman's Wharf where we could take in lovely views over a meal or coffee. Also, we did not head to Sun Moon Lake (Ri Yue Tan), a place I heard offers enchanting views and romantic ambience.

Besides the savoury food as mentioned above, and the Taiwanese snacks, we also tried an assortment of pastries (some friends had raved on and on about Taiwanese pastries) - chocolate tartlet, pudding in egg shells etc. The bubble teas are must-trys as well.

Overall, I enjoyed my Taipei expedition, and will be back for more fun.

Brunch at Tea Leaf Beanstro

There are many coffee joints in Singapore, and I enjoy trying out different cafes for the beverages, chillout setting and delicious snacks / pastries.  Cafes are great places for catching up with friends or reading a good book in, and I am glad there are more choices sprouting up all over Singapore for consumers like us to pick and choose one that suits our mood for the day.

Though, nothing beats my decade-long devotion to Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. Besides serving my favorite Blackforest Iced Blended Mocha and mouthwatering hot chocolate, Coffee Bean also serves palatable pasta, salads and cakes. Plus, the relaxing settings never fail to soothe me in times of stress or distress.

Recently, they have opened the premier all-day casual  dining bistro, Tea Leaf Beanstro outlets, beginning with the flagship branch at Marina Bay Sands overlooking the magnificent fountain and canal. I love that place – one feels soothed by the scenic beauty of the (man-made, indoor)  water channels and gets to enjoy good food at reasonable prices at the same time. The service is rather slow, but the diners are usually in a lazy, relaxed mode so there probably shouldn’t be much complaints.

The trendy Tea Leaf Beanstro’s location is 2 Bayfront Avenue, B2-20 Canal Level, The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore 018972 and the number to call is 6688 7001.

It was Christmastime, so I ordered their festive Red Velvet Mocha in lieu of the usual signature drinks I take at Coffee Bean (as aforementioned).  It was rather saccharine and the aroma was not as distinctive as the original flavors.

For brunch, I had the Corned Beef with Egg, Tomato and Salad on Wholemeal Toast. This was a rather homely, wholesome breakfast set that tasted surprisingly good – tender corned beef cubes juicily-flavored. When consumed together with the tomato, lettuce and fried egg, it was literally a gastronomical connoiseur of goodness.

Katherine* had the Tiger Prawn Risotto – which I got to sample as well. The rice dish came with huge Tiger prawns that were succulent, crunchy and immersed with the delicious tomato flavor the rice dish was cooked in. The rice was just the right texture – chew without being too hard or soggy, and the taste left a sweet-sour sensation in the mouth that leaves one craving for more.

The two main courses were indeed not bad for bistro standards; we enjoyed our food.

We also got a serving of Breaded Calamari Rings to share – this was rather disapointing as the layer of flour was thick, oily and rather tasteless – I ate one whole calamari and for the rest of them, removed the crusts so I could just devour on the chewy squids encased within.

We spent SGD$30.00 each on our lunch here. Overall it was a great experience – rather delectable dishes, serene settings and I loved the tiny splashes of water from the fountain (not everyone does, sadly).

Monday, 30 December 2013

Happy New Year

Happy 2014 New Year to all!

                           Images courtesy from www.imghelper.com and www.viewallpaper.com

Time has spread its wings once more and brought away with it the remnants of 2013, so now we are cast into the embrace of 2014 - almost too soon.

New Year
New Year is the time when a new calendar begins, traditionally on January 1 every year, on the Gregorian calendar system and adopted by worldwide as the universal calendar. Hence, here begins a fresh chapter of another 365 days - the time it takes for planet Earth to rotate around its axis.

I quote one of my favorite poets T. S. Eliot in Four Quartets - "For last year's words belong to last year's language, and next year's words await another voice."

How do you welcome the brand new year? Have you made plans to attend New Year countdowns at various beautific sites? Have feast with your family and friends, or travel overseas? Or quieter celebrations or parties at home, cosily with just your loved ones?

How would you look back at your 2013? Has it been a year of fulfillment, filled with joyous memories and you are sorry to see it go? Or has it been a year of disappointment, filled with setbacks and memories you could not wait to get rid of?

If 2013 had been a nasty year, fret not. For Oprah Winfrey said, "Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right."

Cast away the old, welcome the new!

What are New Year's resolutions? They are basically secular traditions originated in the West where a person makes good his / her promise to make changes or improvements in the new year ahead.

Have you also made your resolutions for the brand new year? Are there old habits to kick or new goals to attain?

Have you achieved any of your resolutions made last year, and the year before?

For me, they're merely guidelines to set the directions right. Real attainment comes with efforts, and a set of circumstances we are not able to foresee before the year unfolds - hence resolutions really serve merely as reminders for me.

Having said all that, I wish you all a very Happy 2014 New Year filled with happiness and good health! Let's clink glasses and make a toast together to welcome 2014...

Lunch at Riders Cafe

I have been wanting to visit Riders Cafe for a while, but somehow because of the inconvenience of the location and the lack of companion who actually wanted to travel all the way there, I waited patiently. My desire was fulfilled when Priscilla* agreed to go.

Riders Cafe is located at 51 Fairways Drive Singapore 286965, and the contact number is 6466 9819. I'd heard from friends that it was a lovely place - one could actually sit outside and watch horses over brunch. The concept alone was sufficient to entice me.

 This is an overview of the quaint little restaurant situated at the edge of bukit Timah area - a longhouse at the Bukit Timah Saddle Club. There is no air-conditioning for this dining haven - an indoors area with old-fashioned ceiling fans, elegantly-simplistic interior design and a verandah where we sat. The exquisite design of this place actually exuded a kind of old world charm yet at the same time, very comforting atmosphere, perfect for brunch with family or friends.

 Curious about its "delicious contemporary comfort food", we got the chore of ordering out of the way pretty fast. It was a pity we were a little late for brunch, so we chose from the a la carte menu instead.

I had a Saffron Risotto & Seared Hokkaido Scallops with Baby Broccoli - a delicious rice dish cooked slowly with melted cream cheese sauce and very tasty, very succulent scallops that bounced into the mouth literally. The dish was delicious on its own, and even though they used saffron rice in place of arborio rice, the longer grains actually gave the dish a rather refreshing taste.

Priscilla* had the Market Fish, seasoned and grilled serve with mixed Bean Stew and Petit Vegetable. The fish was fresh, and grilled to perfection as the outside was golden and taut (not hard) yet the flesh within was tender and springy. The mysterious brown sauce added a savoury tinge to the otherwise rather subtly-flavored dish. It was a good choice on her part, as well. Her daughter, Candace* liked the fish too (yes, her cute toddler girl came along too).

We shared desserts of Salted Caramel Cheesecake after meal, when I had an English Breakfast tea as well. The cake was divine, heavenly - rich creamy fluffy all in one, conglomerating together in harmony to melt into the mouth seamlessly. The blends of sweet and saltiness was invigorating, and the texture of the cake was soft but creamily firm. I loved it. 

We spent SGD$50.00 each on our lunch, loved the food and breezy ambience and open hospitality - will definitely be back for more.

Sadly, as it was a weekday we did not see any wandering horses around the tracks, so after lunch we brought Candace* over to the stables whee she saw some white and brown horses. They're such magnificent and adorable creatures, though the smell was a little strong.

Dinner at Prego's Italian Restaurant

This was another remarkable recommendation by the good friend Damien* - after visitng Prego's for the first time, I went back at least thrice with different friends, simply because the Italian food was so good.

The address for Prego's is 80 Bras Basah Road, Level One, Fairmont Singapore Swissotel the Stamford, Singapore 189560, and for reservations do dial 6431 6156.

When one first enters the Italian Trattoria at the posh hotel's level one, they'd be struck by surprise at how simple and unostentatious the decor is - simple wooden furniture and an airy space of vibrant sophistication typical of an authentic Italian restaurant. The genial ambience warms one instantly, and the service crew is always friendly and polite.

Passing by the front of the restaurant, there is a huge display of Antipasti to tempt the diners - wide selection of cheese and Italian cured meats. We couldnt resist, and had to select some cheese assortment to kickstart a good, old-fashioned Italian meal.

I never understood what the fuss over Prego's bread was, until now. Huge and soft, served with an accompaniment of dips on the table to eat with (the dips consist of basil tomato, ricotta cheese with caramelized onion and ricotta cheese with black truffle) - it was a great start that we polished with relish.

We ordered the Golden Fried Calamari Rings - every bite was crispy succulence. Unlike some calamari rings where one could taste probably 70% flour and 30% squids, this was the reverse - the squids were there in flesh, for seafood lovers to savour. Being a squid lover, this definitely stole my heart.

Then the Mussels in White Wine Sauce - mouthwatering delicious. Fresh mussels filled with the essence of white wine - luscious to the tongue and delightfully-chewy.  It was tempting to order another serving.

Next, the King Prawn Risotto - jumbo marinated king prawns nestled on a bed of bright yellow, richly-flavored stracciatella embracing the delicious arborio rice. The harmony of different flavors was amazing - and the bouncy freshness of the prawns added to the enjoyment of this palatable rice dish.

Desserts and wine completed a perfect meal. We shared a Profiteroles with Gelato and a bottle of Bordeaux (very smooth).

The Profiteroles had a chewy crust like Chewy Junior's (for lack of a better comparison), filled the creamy chocolate custard inside. Coupled with redolent vanilla gelato, this dessert enters the lips like a dream and soothes the soul like a saint.

We spent SGD$110.00 each, on this dinner, a very worthy gastronomical investment.

Dinner at Balzac Brasserie French Restaurant

I love French food - gourmet or not - I love the dainty portions artfully arranged on huge plates, the delectable food items exotically prepared, and the enchanting settings of French restaurants.

Which was why when my good pal Damien* suggested going for dinner at Balzac Brasserie Restaurant located at 9 Bras Basah Road #01-01 Rendezvous Gallery Singapore 189559 (yes, at Hotel Rendezvous gallery, how neat is that?), I instantly agreed. Reservations may be made by calling 6336 0797.

It is a quintessential French restaurant named after the famous French playwright cum novelist Honore de Balzac, furnished in classical French designs that emit strong cultural vibes. French doors, French seats, and friendly wait staff scurry around to attend to the scores of diners filling up the bistro restaurant every night. We loved the semi-romantic, charming setting; our only grudge was that the tables were a tad tiny, especially if we wanted to order many items.

Without much preamble, we placed our orders and were eagerly awaiting our delicacies to be served.

While waiting, they placed the Amuse Bouche (bread basket) to tease our appetites first - and savoured we did! Soft, sweet, wheat rolls that were butter-compatible definitely, but the impressive item was really the Smoked Salmon Rilette. It was a godsend, rich in taste and a buttery-mushy texture like pâté. Smoothened over the bread rolls, it was a food match made in heaven.

Then we had the Appetizers of Pan Fried Foie Gras with Caramelized Apple and Duck Juz - another dish of supple, delicious meat so soft, it literally deliqueses on the tongue. Lightly-flavored, though a tad pale in comparison with Foie Gras I eat elsewhere usually- it was unique on its own. Whether nibbled in delicate bites or consumed with the wholemeal bread served with this dish, it was still rather tasty.

We enjoyed the Lobster Bisque soup - piping hot when it was served, tantalizing in its frothy creaminess, palatable to the tastebuds because of the sweetness of lobster essence, and uniquely served with sauteed mini black Qwheli prawns.

The Duck Leg Confit served with orange sauce and mashed potato made its entrance next. Disappointingly, the skin was not crispy and the mashed potato was so pulpy it was more like thick potato soup. The taste of the duck confit was a strong salty flavor, nothing original - though the meat was quite tough. All I could say was that I have definitely tasted better confits out there.

The Beef Cheeks a La Cuillere was the redeemer - tender Wagyu beef cheeks with redolent bourdalaise sauce and mashed potato. Delicious beef so mellowy soft, that even the mushy potato did not faze us.

For desserts, we shared a Valrhona Chocolate Moelleux - molten chocolate cake served with Taihitian Vanilla ice-cream. The cake was moist, sweet, delicious, paired well with the refreshing sweet ice-cream.

In this ebullient, unpretentious French restaurant, one could rest assured that there are no faux airs and graces from the service crew or patrons. Even the dishware they use are plain and non-fussy, setting one's mind at ease that indulgence of good food does not always mean a rigid, cheerless beautiful but soulless environment. Whether to be enjoyed as a dating grounds or for friends to foster better relationships, this restaurant definitely has all the elements.

We spent SGD$80.00 each on this meal.