the best things in life.
the best things in life.
With the Northern Lights dimming, it looks like many have turned to chasing the Southern Lights instead.
We have just completed a 10 days 9 nights self driven trip in the South Island of New Zealand with the same intent and since many were asking about our itinerary and recommendations, I've came up with this post for those who are interested :)
I'll be providing route, accommodation (all below SGD200 unless otherwise stated) and attractions recommendations below and if you have any questions, do feel free to contact me.
Travel Period: 21 Aug to 30 Aug
Season: End Winter (No snow or ice on road)
Start Point: Christchurch
End Point: Queenstown
Mode of Transport: Rented Car Ford Focus Hatchback with Zero Excess Cover (www.apexrentals.co.nz)
Renting a camper van could be an option for those more adventurous (http://www.maui-rentals.com/nz/en/motorhome-hire) but do remember to check for the parking sites in advance.
For those who intend to travel in winter, check the road conditions frequently as the roads can be closed from time to time due to snow and ice.
The roads within this itinerary are generally well conditioned and wide even on the mountain ranges but there were a few routes with consistent bends and a hatchback will probably be handier in these cases due to its low CG.
Day 1 - Christchurch
Recommended Accommodation: Rendezvous Hotel
Devastated by earthquake in 2010 and 2011, Christchurch is pretty much still in the midst of recovery.
Within the city itself, there's nothing much other than scaffolding and construction going on. As we only had one day here, we walked around the city centre and had wanted to visit the Re:Start Mall which was set up for businesses which had been ruined by the earthquakes. However, when we arrived, it was empty. I just checked and looks like they were in midst of being rebranding it to a Container Mall.
For those who have more time, you may want to take the Kiwi Railway and travel out of Christchurch for your first taste of scenic view.
The Caffeine Laboratory
This cafe was located opposite Rendezvous Hotel and it was a pleasant surprise to find good coffee and food randomly actually.
Day 2 - Christchurch to Tekapo
Dist/Time: ~228 KM , 3 HR (without any stops)
Hello Sunday Cafe
Prior to leaving Christchurch, we headed to one of the top cafes for a quick breakfast.
Hello Sunday Cafe is one of those warm and cosy places with natural light shining through the entire place and you wished you could stay there the entire day just to chill and stone.
We had the GRANOLA - Served with pomegranate and cranberry poached pear, fruit textures and greek yoghurt (V) . It was refreshing on the palate and was a great start to the morning. The poached pear was a great addition and quite unique compared to your usual granola bowls.
Farm Barn Cafe
As we near towards Tekapo Village, we saw the Farm Barn Cafe sign and made a turn in for lunch.
Farm Barn Cafe serves simple food fare like pies, sandwiches and pastries but don't belittle them. We ordered a quiche and was blown away by its buttery crust and fluffy filling. Coffee was good and strong enough to last you for your remaining drive towards Tekapo.
Most importantly, remember to go alfresco for some amazing view while you have lunch.
And we continued our journey to arrive in Tekapo Village...
Recommended Accommodation: Lake Tekapo Village Motel (Awarded Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence). There are rooms which open up directly to the view of Lake Tekapo but even if they don't, you probably just have to walk out of your room or turn your head a little for a lake's view so if you have to pay a lot more for a room that faces the lake, don't bother.
And here's the amazing view of Lake Tekapo within walking distance from our accommodation
Nearby is the Church of Good Shepherd which you can either or drive to for an alternative view of the lake on higher grounds.
For dinner, we decided to check out Kohan's Japanese restaurant which had really good ratings online and was also recommended by locals. When we arrived, it was filled with tourist groups and we found the food to be very average. The restaurants have a few seats accompanied by the scenic view of the lake so if that's what you're looking for, make sure you make a booking in advance.
If you're up for some activities after dinner, sign up for the Mount John Observatory Tour for a night of star gazing in one of the darkest town of New Zealand. Be warned - while the tour provides transport to the venue, it's quite a steep way up in the dark so be prepared for a bit of an adventurous ride.,
And for those trying to catch the Southern Lights, the Church of the Good Shepherd is one of the best spots to wait out (or so we've heard).
Day 3 - Tekapo to Mount Cook Village
Dist/Time: ~120 KM , 2 HR (without any stops)
Before leaving Tekapo, we drove to the Mount John Observatory for breakfast. Just when we thought there's nothing more we stunning than the view of Lake Tekapo from our accommodation, we were greeted with this. For this, be prepared to drive up and down steep slopes...
As we drove down Mount John Observatory.....(follow the speed limit, folks!)
We began our journey towards Mount Cook until a huge lake came in sight...
Stop by Pete's lookout for the magnificent view of Lake Pukaki. Its tranquility brings breathtaking to a whole new level. It's an amazing place for photos since there's a background draped from any angle.
There are multiple stop points along this huge lakes so do watch out the for those little slip roads to turn into.
From here, we continued our journey towards mount cook but i'll leave that for the next post so stay tuned !
Let's face it. The cafe scene has become a little boring recently. It's always about who has the best eggs benedict or where the top 10 eggs benedict are. If it's not egg benedict, it must be that english breakfast or wait, that egg florentine. In any case, I got bored of chasing after the new openings because I have not seen a new menu intriguing enough to stir my curiosity...until I saw the menu of Sacha&Sons.
I'll say this upfront. I'm a big fan of the Four Seasons Chinese Restaurant LONDON since 5 years ago when I learnt about it whilst studying in Southampton.
This is the restaurant my friends and I would always head to whenever we were in London.
This is the restaurant that was worth queuing in the snow and cold for.
This is the restaurant that comforted our homesickness.
This is the restaurant which served the BEST ROASTED DUCK.
As with all other restaurants, quality is a huge challenge with expansion and what more, overseas expansion. And, this is the reason why I have hesitated trying their overseas outlets. I didn't want my bubbles of expectations to burst overnight.
However, I gave in last night because I wanted to bring my mom for some chinese food to celebrate her birthday and since we were in the vicinity, decided to try it out.
For a start, we had the Deep Fried Beancurd with Salt and Pepper ($8). Deep fried Tofu usually means crispy ends on all sides of the tofu cubes but since this is beancurd, it is a bit of a different definition. It was fried, yes and soft but at a point, I wondered if the chef forgot the salt and pepper. It's alright but I won't name this as a must try.
Then came the Aubergine Hot Pot ($24) which was a mix of aubergine, bamboo shoots, black fungus and minced meat. Now this is quite an ol' school dish which I am not expecting many to like because of its ingredients but my taste buds for chinese food is very much influenced by my grandma so I really liked it. Aubergine and minced meat has always been a perfect combination and the sauced just tops it even further. The bamboo shoots had a good crunch and most importantly, still soft enough for my grandma's dentures.
While they recommended the House Special Pei Pa Beancurd, I ordered the Pei Pa Beancurd with Salted Egg Yolk ($28) instead because I fell in love with this dish when my brother ordered it accidentally when we were in London. It's a mixture of prawn, pork and beancurd with the outer layer lightly coated with salted egg. It's quite addictive and I thought this is worth a try if you're a fan of salted egg related dishes. Just be aware though, they cost $3.50 per ball, pun un un un un un unintended.
If you have been diligently reading my post till this section, you must be anticipating the write up on the duck. Well, here it is. We had the Half Roasted Duck ($36). Now, there are four main reasons why I love the Four Season Restaurant LONDON duck. The crispy skin, the layer of fat that melts in your mouth once it gets in there, the tender meat throughout the entire duck and the delectable sauce. The verdict - the Singapore version only met at best, two of the four expectations. The meat was tender until you hit the breast portion, so that's half a point gone. The sauce was more or less the same. However, there was no crispy skin and the duck was too skinny for my liking.
Should you try? Well, if you haven't had the chance to try the one in London, this wouldn't be as disappointing as I had just described. My grandma thought it was quite good. However, if you're expecting it to be exactly the same as that in London, you will be disappointed. And for those who tried it in Bangkok Siam Paragon, I thought that one is actually better.
Lastly, we also had the Ho Fun with Prawn & Egg ($26). Honestly, other than that three prawns staring in your face, it probably did not look very good. That's what I thought, until my mom tried it and said otherwise. Over here, they use the kway teow looking hor fun instead of the square ones you get at the normal zi char. Now, there is this hint of burnt taste which some people look for and you will find it in this one despite the look of it. The prawns were really fresh and the ingredients certainly mingled well to bring out the flavours.
In total, I spent $172.90 (including all other charges, gst and a single serving of soup which my mother attacked before I had a chance to take a photo) for 3 people. Do note that we 3 women have an amazing appetite and our orders could have easily satisfy a family of 4 to 5. The assistant captain did warn us of over ordering but I think she was convinced when we finished everything.
To conclude, I think this is worth a visit but given its pricing, probably due to its location in an "upmarket" mall, I don't think it's worth repeated visits.
Four Seasons Chinese Restaurant
13 Stamford Road
#02-27/28/29 Capitol Piazza
To Singaporeans, most hotels in Singapore are usually known for one or more of these three cuisines - Buffet, Steak, Dim Sum. A good gastropub (without being overpriced) is something quite unheard of.
At the Westin Singapore (hang on, don't associate exorbitant prices with 5* hotel just yet), Cook and Brew serves up some really good pub food and a extensive range of beer at amazing prices.
The Steak and Egg (SGD17++) is a dream come true for those who love your breakfast dishes. The protein filled dish had a petite but intensely seared tenderloin, eggs crispy on the bottom, fried pancetta ham and just a good portion of potatoes for those who still need a little carb.
For any gastropub, the one thing you should be able to count on when you have no idea what to order, is the burger. As expected, the Cook & Brew's Burger (SGD23++) was put together with a super juicy beef patty, an egg, melted cheese and of course some lettuce between the 2 lightly toasted pita bread. With the crunchy onion rings and fries, this is not a burger to be missed.
Few places serve up good ribs in Singapore but you can be assured of the Honey BBQ Ribs (SGD28++) here in Cook & Brew. Not only was meat well marinated with the BBQ sauce, all it took was a gentle pry for the meat to come off.
We also had some side dishes to share and I actually liked every one of them. Try the Sweet Potato Fries, Grilled Vegetables, Mashed Potato and Fries with Nacho Cheese if you are afraid your main dishes might not be sufficient.
Overall, I thought Cook & Brew is a nice place to have your dinner and drinks, complemented with its stunning view as some parts of the restaurant has full glass windows facing the whole of marina bay. I'll leave you to explore that on your own but trust me, you won't regret heading there for a date or just for drinks.
Cook & Brew
The Westin Singapore
12 Marina View, Asia Square Tower 2
If fresh and succulent seafood is all you hanker after in a buffet, the Carousel at Royal Plaza on Scotts is where you should have your next treat.
The seafood would have made your trip value for money but what's more impressive was the fact that the selection and quality of cooked food. Naans, tandoori and curries, you name it, I had it. These dishes tasted as well as they smelt.
Moving on, we arrived at the European section where you are spoilt with an array of dishes from spanish to french. The dishes were made up of mostly seafood and meant. The seafood was fresh and the meat beautifully cooked, I thought it was the one of the best sections of the night.
There was a good variety of local zi char dishes as well.
Well, I usually end off my buffet with at least 2 rounds of dessert but over here, I'll say it's optional, there is a better use of your stomach space for the main dishes. If only dessert was good, the Carousel would have been made my favourite buffet of all times. Nevertheless, for those who haven't been there, I think it's definitely worthwhile to give it a shot because the food is still great without pork and lard
Royal Plaza on Scotts
25 Scotts Rd
This is the 13/30 cafe I am visiting in search of my fave coffee...
Located at the corner of Neil Road, the Lokal has just been launched not too long ago. The word of mouth has proven its power on this hot sunday afternoon when there was a line of queue even at 2pm. We were first served our Flat White and Smoothie (Almond Milk, Banana, Home Made Peanut Butter and Agave Nector). I would have preferred the coffee to be a little acidic so the flavours could come through the milk but it was still reasonably good. The smoothie, was the bomb. It was so rich and the variety of different sort of flavours made it so addictive. You have got to try it!
Few places serve pork for brunch but thank god for the one at The Lokal. The Breakfast Burger had a broken omelette on top of some deep fried breaded pork belly and cushioned on top of a bed of spinach. They were then held together by a pork crackling. It was one of the best pork burgers I have ever had. You had all sorts of texture going on within that one mouthful, it was so goood I wanted to order a second serving.
The Roast Beef on Rye paled in comparison. The beef definitely went well with the water cress and caramelized onions but I would have appreciated the rye bread better if it was not toasted that well. I have mentioned this in my previous posts. I always thought that if the chef is expecting the bread to be accompanied by something (other than the spreads), it should toasted to an extent where the customer can cut through or bite on it easily but many seemed to be more obsessed with toasting bread to a perfect crunch and compromising on the meal experience.
Lastly, we pimped our own breakfast and had some poached eggs, sauteed mushrooms, dry cured bacon and smoked salmon. It's difficult to go wrong with poached eggs and sauteed mushrooms so I won't make a big deal about it. BUT, the bacon and salmon, both dry cured and smoked in house was filled with this taste of smokiness that you won't experience elsewhere. The bacon was crisp and addictive, the salmon was so smooth and tender. You need to try these when you are there.
The Lokal is defintely a place I would recommend and given the time, I would go there again to see if I can be impressed with the other dishes.
136 Neil Road
Opens daily: Mon to Fri 8am to 6pm
Sat to Sun 9am to 4pm
Saveur has been around for a while and is quite well known for its french food at remarkable prices. Having established Saveur as a French restaurant for the mass, they have decided to head in another direction with their new place, Concetto. This time around, it's Italian food for the mass. Will their italian food fare as well? Read on.
The Grilled Octopus withfennel salad and anchovy dressing ($10.90) was a great start with fresh octopus that was tender and did not require much chewing. The portion was great so I had no complains about this at all.
Concetto serves both fresh and dried pasta. Given that there has always been an ongoing debate on which tastes better, we wanted to try the fresh ones here as they don't come by often. The pasta, which were meant to be the stars of any Italian restaurant turned out to be a huge disappointment. We ordered the Prawn Aglio with fresh tagliatelle, tiger prawn & sakura ebi ($10.90) which had flavours deviated from your usual aglio olio. It had more of an asian spiciness to it more than anything else and I am not sure that worked with the fresh pasta. For those familiar with saveur's pasta, they had used the same sakura ebi in this and I thought, that limited the surprise element of this dish. And tiger prawn? Whereeeeeee areeee youuuuu? Okay, that was kinda expected given the price.
The Duck Tortellini with poached egg, potatoes and Parmesan emulsion ($12.90) fell short of expectations too. The pasta was tough at the folds and the filling was just bland.
Last but not least was the Tiramisu in a Concetto way ($10.90). At this time, I am no longer sure if the concetto way is a good way. In a line, it was alright but I have had much better ones at a cheaper price.
I have held high hopes for Concetto after trying Saveur twice and I hope it's just teething issues that's causing the food to fall short of expectations. Once is enough for me for now and I'll probably not head back anytime soon.
And perharps, saveur should just stick to french food.
2 Handy Road
Opening Hours: 12 noon to 9.30pm Daily
High Tea in Singapore Hotels is getting pricier by the day but if there is one that I wouldn't mind paying for, it has got to be the Tea Lounge at Regent's Hotel. Be warned, they are always fully booked due to the limited seating so make sure you call and reserve. In a typical buffet, we all know that some dishes will hit bull's eyes and others, would be simply a waste of your stomach capacity. At Tea Lounge, they have a very small variety but you would surprised at how they nail almost everything to perfection, you just want to keep having the same thing repetitively.
The salad section had dishes hailing from the eastern and western sides.
Tofu, Mango and Prawn salad - sound simple? Try it. The ingredients were so fresh and crisp, it refreshes you for the beginning of a feast.
Coming up next would be the hot food section manned by Chefts whipping up your Laksa and slicing the Roasted Wagyu Beef. I found out later that they have a different roast every week so if you're into beef, make sure you check what's in for the weekend you're reserving for.
The Roasted Wagyu Beef appeared a little dry but let's just say don't judge a book by its cover. It was so tender I cannot remember how many slices I had eventually. The side vegetables complemented the beef well enough to make it almost like a meal on its own.
I know. Who has chicken wings deep fried with a coat of batter for a buffet high tea? I am not a fan of chicken wings but when I tried this, I knew I would go for a second serving. The chicken wings were very well coated and deep fried with the seasoned batter. The seasoning though, was in a world of its own. It did not taste like any other chicken wings I have had You would say, durh - how much are you paying for them here. Well, I'm saying the premium is worth it then.
There were other sections with Smoked Meat, Puff Pastries and Sandwiches which were equally good. I had a fill of my favourite smoke salmon which was much to my delight given that I always complain about the pathetic slices in my usual eggs benedict at brunch cafes.
Fans of Caviar, you have to be here.
And what's high tea without desserts? Waffle Stations, Chocolate Fondue and a variety of sweets and cakes. They're in good bite size so you'll probably be able to try the assortment of flavours within the variety of desserts.
At $58++, I would definitely come back again because of the food quality. The variey ain't much but trust me, the quality would make you go for second servings of the same dishes.
The Regent Singapore
1 Cuscaden Road
Available only on weekends
This is the 12/30 cafe I am visiting in search of my fave coffee...
Ronin probably has the simplest menu amongst all the brunch cafes I have had been to so far. No frills but they do well in all that they serve. I loved their creamy scrambled eggs, the simply buttered toast, the huge grilled portobello shroom and the sausage all whipped up in the small open kitchen.
Both food and coffee are done in a small open kitchen and is a joy to watch if you happen to be seated at the side. Don't think too lightly of the coffee, it's comparable to many of the other top notch coffees out there.
Given Ronin's small and simple menu, I'm not sure if I will head there again. Hmm, maybe on days when I am lazy to decide what to eat, I'll pop by again.
17 Hong Kong Street
Opens daily from 8am to 8pm
The serangoon/kovan area is beginning to get exciting. There's Arbite, Coffee Daily, Lola and now, Sunday Market. Replacing 'The Factory' at Lim Tua Tow Road, it has totally revamped the premises and is a lot more inviting than before.
The combination of Fried Chicken and Waffle (SGD11.90) is an old American soul food that's not at all common in Singapore. Sunday Market has done a good job introducing it to the Singapore market. The fried chicken is crispy and tender without having a thick cover of batter. And you'll be surprised at how well the waffle accompanies the chicken,
The Eggs Benedict (SGD12.90)was served with ham but they were kind enough to swop it for smoked salmon when I requested for it. The eggs were poached well and with the usual hollandaise sauce and brioche gives you your good ol benny.
Now you won't believe what I am going to write next but honestly, the highlight was actually the Sirloin Rendang Toast (SGD15.90). Okay, rendang for brunch is a lil... weird but I have it sometimes when I have my nasi padang fix for brunch. I was craving for it before I got to Sunday Market and I decided to order this to see if it could fix my craving. What a good call! I believed there was a mix of rendang and satay sauce and it simply blew me away. It looks gentle on heat but after a mouthful, the heat kicks in two second later and you could almost feel the flame burning in your ears and eyes (subjected) to your tolerance of spiciness).
We could not resist the red velvet cake at the end and while it doesn't come cheap (SGD10.90), it is an enormous slice which would probably be more than enough for two. It was a little hard though, not sure it was meant to be this way but nevertheless, was still quite good. As for coffee, we have had better of course but they weren't too bad. It lacked some sorta pleasant aftertaste which I was looking for.