Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Asia's 50 Best Restaurants Awards Ceremony 2014 at Capella Singapore - New Entrants, New Countries, New No.1!

Wow what a night.

The Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2014 have been unveiled. We've now got Taiwan and Korea represented, although Malaysia looks sorely missing. Quite a few new entrants, and Singapore did well with eight restaurants in the list, including two in the Top 10 - Waku Ghin (no.7) and Restaurant Andre (no.6).

My full story on the awards is up on Yahoo and Makansutra (cover story right now)

But here are some event photos, so you can take in some of the fun. This year the event at Capella Singapore is a bit more exclusive with very limited tickets available.

Media Roundtable with Eduardo Tobon, Ivan and Carrie Li
We started the day with a media roundtable with the Winner of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Lifetime Achievement Award 2014, hosted by award sponsor Diners Club International. This year it is Ivan Li of Family Li Imperial Cuisine. Here he is seated (centre) with his wife (right) and Diners Club president Eduardo Tobon (left).

The award lauds Ivan's efforts at preserving and promoting imperial court cuisine from the Qing dynasty. Ivan's great-grandfather oversaw the imperial kitchens under the formidable but food-loving Empress Dowager Cixi. He passed down handwritten recipes to the subsequent generations. But it wasn't until 1984 or so that the family opened their first restaurant in a humble hutong in Beijing, after one of Ivan's siblings won a national cooking competition.

Family Li Imperial Cuisine tries to retain original flavours of the ingredients used with simple seasoning (salt, sugar, soy, vinegar, etc) as was used in the courts. No modern additives or condiments like oyster sauce, tenderiser or MSG. It all boils down to cooking techniques.

Eduardo Tobon (Diners Club President) and Ivan Li (Family Li Imperial Cuisine)
From that small one-table restaurant in Beijing, the cuisine won favour with many dignitaries and celebrities (Bill Clinton, Mohammad Ali, Mick Jagger). Ivan helped the family open more restaurants. Apart from the two restaurants in Beijing, Family Li Imperial Cuisine is now in Tianjin and Tokyo (two Michelin starred), and one in Melbourne.

They are planning to open in Taipei and Paris, But their main challenge is finding and training the right chefs. "It is not experience, but passion that matters. They must like cooking and have a feel for it," says Ivan.

With Ivan Li, of Family Li Imperial Cuisine, who was given the Lifetime Achievement Award
It was fascinating learning about what the imperial kitchens and etiquette were like in the Qing dynasty under Cixi. They served 130-150 dishes at every meal, under tight supervision and security. The Emperor had his own personal kitchen and dined alone (no, no romantic dinners with concubines).

Some of the ingredients used then are rare today, like elephant trunk, bear's paw and belly, tiger meat, and swan. Venison was popular, but we learned the Manchurians did not eat horse, dog or snake. Lobster was not part of court cuisine, but the Li family has managed to use the old cooking techniques to bring out the best in this crustacean.

Bobby Chinn pulled me over for a photo
I was walking by when Bobby Chinn waved me over for a photo together. No, he doesn't know me. Probably thinks I'm a Chinese waitress. Oh, he's moved to London where he's opened the "House of Ho"... Hmm, that is so him. Oh well, he is quite the character.

Chefs Registration
iPhone 4S photo
Meanwhile, over at the main event, it was a Who's Who of culinary greats. Everywhere you look, there's an accomplished chef or restauranteur.

The chefs registration area
Chef Andre Chiang really stood out with his blue shirt and pink pants, when most people were dressed in black.

Narisawa-san obliged for a photo
iPhone 4S photo
Narisawa-san kindly obliged for a photo (thanks to Jeffrey Merihue of Chowzter/Mofilm who knows him well). Narisawa was no.1 on the 2013 list.

Chef Julien Royer giving a video interview
Chef Julien Royer from JAAN giving a video soundbite. He was last year's "One to Watch".

San Pellegrino is one of the award sponsors
San Pellegrino is of course one of the key sponsors.

The India contingent
The contingent from India, with Manjit Gill from Bukhara (no.27) later to win the S.Pellegrino Best Restaurant in India. In total, India has six entries on the list.

Andre Chiang, Yoshihiro Narisawa, and Seiji Yamamoto
Chef Andre Chiang (left) won the respected Chefs’ Choice Award, voted for by his peers on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Restaurant Andre is also the San Pellegrino Best Restaurant in Singapore. Here he is with Yoshihiro Narisawa and Seiji Yamamoto.

Taiwan's Lanshu Chen (lady in middle) is Best Female Chef
Taiwan's Lanshu Chen (lady in middle) is the Veuve Cliquot Best Female Chef. Her restaurant Le Moût in Taichung City entered the list this year at no.24.

Best Pastry Chef this year is also female - it's our very own Janice Wong of 2am:dessertbar, winning the title for the second year in a row.

But of course, everybody wants to know who is no.1!

David Thompson's Nahm gets top honours
We were met with some surprise when Narisawa was announced at no.2, also the Best Restaurant in Japan. Which meant no.1 was a restaurant not in Japan. It was David Thompson's Nahm in Bangkok.

All the stars of the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants up on stage
As usual, it ended with everyone up on stage. All 50 of Asia's best.

Daniel Ang et moi
Photo from Daniel Ang
It was an awesome evening, with fellow foodies and fabulous friends. I was looking disheveled towards the end, but Daniel remained impeccably stylish (thanks for the nice photo, Daniel!).

Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2014 awards ceremony was held at Capella Singapore
So here is the full list of award winners. I just had Waku Ghin and am going to Andre's tonight, so I will bring you reviews of both places in coming weeks.

Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2014

1. Nahm – Bangkok, Thailand
2. Les Créations de Narisawa – Tokyo, Japan
3. Gaggan – Bangkok, Thailand
4. Amber – Hong Kong, China
5. Nihonryori Ryugin – Tokyo, Japan
6. Restaurant Andre – Singapore
7. Waku Ghin – Singapore
8. Ultraviolet – Shanghai, China
9. Lung King Heen 龍景軒 – Hong Kong, China
10. 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana – Hong Kong, China
11. Mr & Mrs Bund – Shanghai, China
12. Iggy’s – Singapore
13. Caprice – Hong Kong, China
14. Les Amis – Singapore
15. Bo Innovation – Hong Kong, China
16. Kagurazaka Ishikawa – Tokyo, Japan
17. Jaan – Singapore
18. L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon – Hong Kong
19. Fook Lam Moon 福臨門 – Hong Kong, China
20. Jungsik – Seoul, Korea
21. Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin – Bangkok, Thailand
22. Quintessence – Tokyo, Japan
23. Tippling Club – Singapore
24. Le Mout – Taichung City, Taiwan
25. L’Effervescene, Tokyo, Japan
26. Fu 1015 – Shanghai, China
27. Bukhara – India
28. Bo.Lan – Bangkok, Thailand
29. Indian Accen, at The Manor – New Delhi, India
30. Dum Pukht – New Delhi, India
31. Issaya Siamese Club – Bangkok, Thailand
32. Varq – New Delhi, India
33. 28 Hubin Road – Hangzhou, China
34. Takazawa – Tokyo, Japan
35. Shinji by Kanesaka – Singapore
36. Wasabi by Morimoto – Mumbai, India
37. Eat Me – Bangkok, Thailand
38. Sukiyabashi Jiro – Tokyo, Japan
39. Robochon Au Dome – Macau, China
40. Imperial Treasure Super Peking Duck – Singapore
41. Sawada – Tokyo, Japan
42. Hajime – Osaka, Japan
43. Sushi Saito – Tokyo, Japan
44. Nihonbashi – Colombo, Sri Lanka
45. Yardbird – Hong Kong, China
46. Family Li Imperial Cuisine – Shanghai, China
47. Sarong – Bali, Indonesia
48. Franck Bistro – Shanghai, China
49. Karavalli – Bangalore, India
50. Tenku RyuGin – Hong Kong, China

FYI: How Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list is compiled

Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list is created from The Diners Club® World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy, an influential group of over 900 international leaders in the restaurant industry, each selected for their expert opinion of the international restaurant scene. The Academy comprises 26 separate regions around the world. Each region has its own panel of 36 members including a chairperson to head it up. The panel is made up of food critics, chefs, restaurateurs and highly regarded ‘foodies’, each of whom has seven votes. Of the seven votes, at least three must be used to recognise restaurants outside of each voter’s region. At least ten panelists from each region change each year. None of the employees of any of the sponsors associated with the awards, including the main sponsor, votes or has any influence over the results.

Nice ice sculpture

All photos (except where indicated) are taken with the Canon EOS 70D, kindly loaned by Canon Singapore. I am so glad I had this camera, cos my old 400D would not have done this well in the low light conditions!


Saturday, February 22, 2014

JAAN Lunch at Swissotel The Stamford: Autumn/Winter Menu Celebrates Rustic Harvest Flavours with Artisanal Sophistication

UPDATE 24 Feb 2014: Congratulations to JAAN for rising to no.17 on the San Pellegrino Asia's 50 Best Restaurants List this year!
UPDATE 2015: Julian Royer has left JAAN and started his own restaurant Odette.

Lunch at JAAN is always lovely. The wonderfully talented Chef de Cuisine Julian Royer has come up with a seasonal menu capturing the best of harvest produce. The nostalgic and comforting flavours of autumn and winter are particularly close to his heart.

“During the cold European seasons, an abundance of fresh wholesome fruits and vegetables are harvested back in my hometown of Cantal, France. I am inspired to give my guests a taste of the countryside by highlighting a variety of Autumn and Winter produce in my new menu, presented in their purest form to best enjoy the rich flavours and textures,” says Chef Julien.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Chope Online Reservations Website/App: Restaurant Table Bookings Made Easy! See How Mine Went at "A For Arbite"

I have a confession. I hate making reservations.

Having to pick up the phone alone is a hassle, what more waiting sometimes endlessly for someone to answer. And I know I am not alone in this. I have readers who will write in and ask me all kinds of things about a restaurant instead of calling the restaurant to find out. And then they ask me if they really need reservations.

I also did not pay much attention to online reservations services. But I recently tried out the most well-known one - Chope.

Wow. I'm quite blown away - by how gorgeous the site is, and how well-organised it is. They've made it very simple to navigate the site, search for restaurants, make/change/delete bookings. Clean, simple and effective.

You search firstly by cuisine and location, or restaurant name if you already have a place in mind. If you're still undecided about where to go, the site is a great way to look up and discover new restaurants too. There are 250 eateries with more being added every week.

The results come out very quickly, and all the listings are laid out with stunning pictures, key information and suggested booking times.

Cuisine and location may be the key search criteria, but you can further refine your search results by promotions, price range, functions and meal types.

This (above) is a result for all cuisines, all locations that are good for romantic dates and drinks that are easy on the wallet (S$30 or less per person).

Well, I was going for a nice, casual place which serves all-day breakfast for the family. And I picked A for Arbite, a place I've been wanting to try for some time now (had promised Marc Wee I'd drop by from last year since they opened).

The restaurant listing page has more photos, all the pertinent information, map, and useful reviews from Chope itself and media. Many restaurants also put up their menus here - see the blue menu links above? That's so helpful, and not to mention enticing too!

Making a reservation is really easy. Select number of pax, date and time, and just hit the big orange button - Book Now! You don't even need to sign up for the free account, but signing up will enable you to keep track of your bookings. 

If you have an account, all your details will be pre-filled, so you only really need to hit the Confirm button. Well, it's nice that you can enter special requests like dietary requirements too.

The final confirmation will also be emailed to you, so you don't have to worry about copying down details. You can also send a copy to your friends to notify them.

So you can make reservations any time of day, without worrying about whether the restaurant is open or not. And the confirmation is instantaneous.

You can track all your upcoming and past bookings at the "My Reservations" page. This is where you can easily edit (including delete) or share your reservations.

So now you are all set. But what if you need to change reservations while you are out and about? It's really convenient if you have their app (iOS and Android)! It's also useful to make bookings anywhere you are.

I'm glad to say the app has the same clean layout.

The restaurant listings and individual pages are lovely to scroll through and browse.

The search function lets you refine your results according to more criteria, just like on the website.

Booking is really simple too. Just a few finger taps. And if you need to change your reservation details, just tap, scroll and select.

That's what I did. Just as a test, I changed the reservation time less than two hours before we were due to arrive. I got an instant confirmation. Did the restaurant also update its list?

Why yes it did! I was curious at first, because the waitress was looking at a paper list with pencil scribbles. Well, somehow, they do manage to get the latest changes reflected.

A for Arbite
That's A for Arbite. This building was formerly a school, and it's nice that they kinda kept the feel. I'm glad we made reservations because they were pretty packed on a weekend.

Jolie just started primary school
How appropriate to bring Jolie too, as she just started primary school.

Truffle Fries
Truffle Fries (S$13)
Fries are always a treat for kids. Truffle fries - the adult version! With truffle salt, truffle oil and a truffle infused dip, these fries smell great. First time I've seen truffle fries in chunky steak house fries format. Most places do them shoestring style.

Beef Tataki Salad
Beef Tataki Salad (S$13)
Sliced beef onglet served rare, sauteed mushrooms, pickled onions, Japanese cucumber all doused with a shoyu and wasabi dressing. This strongly tangy and salty salad is not for the faint of heart.

Tri-pepper Spaghettini and Snow Crab
Tri-pepper Spaghettini and Snow Crab (S$27)
This is one of their signature items, so I had to try it. Green, pink and black pepper give the pasta an unusual fragrance, while the snow crab, seaweed and the dressing give it an Extreme Umami boost. I do like the knobby texture of the handmade spaghettini.

B for Breakfast
B for Breakfast (S$20)
Scrambled eggs, bacon, homemade braised beans, grilled tomato, beef sausage, confit button mushroom, roasted pumpkin and toasted brioche with seasonal jam. That's a LOT of food. We couldn't finish this. I like how the eggs came in silky folds, but the awesome-looking sausage turned out to be a bit bland.

Portions are really huge here. We had no room for dessert although we had been eyeing the Edith Mess. Much of the food is meant to be paired with beer (and they do have quite a selection), but the one we had wanted, the Jaipur, an India Pale Ale from Thornbridge Brewery, was sold out.

Somebody's Egg Benedict?
I was also eyeing someone else's Egg Benedict (I think). Looked so good, I had to snap a photo.

I like this back wall
Love the back wall - Live Well, Laugh Often, Love Much. That's all you need in life.

So that was how my Chope experience ended. Very smooth, fast and easy reservations any time of day, with a pretty good selection of restaurants to choose from.

28 Aliwal Street #01-01
Singapore 199918
Tel: 8321-2252
Tue – Fri, 11.30 am – 3.00 pm, 6.00pm - 10.30pm
Sat – Sun 11.00 am – 10.30 pm
Last Order at 2.30 pm & 9.30 pm
(Sun 9.00pm)
Closed on Mondays

Photos taken with the Canon EOS 70D kindly loaned by Canon Singapore

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Singaporeans Vote Taiwan as Favourite Culinary Destination, says Hilton Worldwide survery

What would you guess are Singaporeans' top culinary destinations? According to a survey by Hilton Worldwide, it's Taiwan, followed by Hong Kong and Japan.

Hilton Worldwide polled 2,700 leisure travellers from Australia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand on travel behaviour.

I'm not surprised that over a third (36 per cent) said food and drink is the critical determining factor in choosing a travel destination. I like to plan my travel around food too.

But Taiwan as a food destination above Japan? I must be missing out on something. Time for more Taiwan trips? I need more locals to show me the hidden good stuff. I do have some Taiwan food experience I have yet to blog. Like the lovely teahouse at Jiufen (photo above). But I'm still partial to Japan for its consistency and ability to amaze on the culinary front.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Ronin - 17 Hong Kong Street: Coffee, Breakfast and Mystery

Dark and grungy atmosphere

My friend and I wanted an early place for breakfast and coffee. Good coffee. I knew Ronin was nearby, so we ducked in to check them out. It's dark and grungy in here. Rustic industrial chic with no bearing on masterless samurai whatsoever.

Great coffee at RONIN

But the coffee is indeed a potent brew. Ronin uses the same Genovese blend as The Plain and Bravery because it's the same folks behind this joint.

There's no menu here, so everything is recited to you. Not a lot of items, but it must be tiring for the staff to keep a cheery face repeating the same menu all day to customers. And having them ask, "Can you repeat that again? What was the second thing after French toast?"

Breakfast: scrambled eggs with bacon and portobello mushroom

And breakfast, thankfully, was hearty. Scrambled eggs with toppings you can choose! We had one with bacon and portobello mushroom.

Breakfast: scrambled eggs with sausage and toast

Another one with a scrumptious sausage. The eggs lean towards the runny side, so it may be comforting to some, but too soft for others. I like them on the toast.

Wireframe art on the wall

Nice wireframe artwork lending a slight cowboy feel. Look at the shadows it casts.

RONIN has no signboard, no menu and no telephone number

There is no signboard here either so you will have to simply look out for the address. I still have no idea why it's called Ronin...and really, the name is fast fading. I just remember it as 17 Hong Kong Street.

And no telephone number either. Such a hush hush hangout, but it's got some hipster coolness to it.

Website or Facebook page? Don't even ask about it.

17 Hong Kong Street
Singapore 059660
Open 8am to 8pm
Closed Mondays

Photos taken with the Canon EOS 100D kindly loaned by Canon Singapore

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

OSIM uShape: How to Burn Calories from All Those Chinese New Year Snacks!

Recently we attended an OSIM event for bloggers. The friendly OSIM folks showed us how their uShape machine works. It's a full-body vibration exerciser that helps to trim and tone the physique, and burn calories without exhaustive effort. Purportedly you can expend 136 calories in just ten minutes! If you've been on a treadmill or exercise bike, you'll know it's a lot of work to burn that amount of calories.

The strong vibrations cause rapid contractions to all muscles being exercised, as the body tries to keep its balance. OSIM says this helps strengthen muscles, increase metabolism and blood circulation. You can stand, sit, or hold various positions - squats, push ups, and lunges - and the machine will help increase the benefits.

But for me, the biggest draw of this is how fun the machine is.

Here's a video workout they've devised to help you increase variety and interest.

It's simple and yet so catchy. Plus the instructor Nick has such a soothing voice (speaking in Mandarin, but there are English subtitles).

But whoa, we had some shocking revelations at the event. We all found out just how many calories our beloved Chinese New Year food and snacks yield!

Yusheng! One serving has over 500 calories and has so much fat? Oh dear, I've been eating this like it's a negligible salad. But come to think of it, they do pour a whole bowl of oil usually into the mixture. And the wretchedly sweet plum sauce.

Bak kwa is so delicious but hey, 100g is not a lot of meat. Just a few slices and that's nearly 400 calories!

Another big shock - love letters or egg rolls. Holy crap! Two thin flimsy pieces will clog you with 120 calories? It's so easy to eat so many of these!

But it's all true, apparently. Here's a infographic from on the caloric value of common CNY snacks. Gosh, I am so going to have to ration my mindless snacking of these.

So how many of these did you eat? Darn it, I have a sudden craving for bak kwa right, looking at the pictures. I'm not very fond of counting calories, and even worse at resisting temptation. 

I think my worst caloric bust this year has come from yusheng. I had downed one too many by the time I found out they are 500 calories per serving. I tried to moderate the intake of all these other snacks above. To help me work off the extra calories, it had to be exercise to the rescue. 

The uShape is a great complement to my other workout routines like power yoga. The shaking helps warm up the body, and you can enhance moves like squats, lunges and pushups with the vibration.  If you're sluggish in the mornings, get on the uShape for a few minutes and do some stretches on it. 

But oh, don't try to workout immediately after a meal, no matter how guilt-inducing it was. Trust me, you will feel your food given a good whirl right inside you!

At the event, we also got to sample some of Xndo's products. I never really paid much attention to "diet food" but Xndo believes in real food with no preservatives. It manages to create lower calorie versions of tasty food by replacing certain ingredients with less calorie-dense options.

For example, they offer low-calorie but high fibre noodles made from konjac or konnyaku, which is springy and jelly-like.

But I was intrigued by the rice they have designed. It's long grain Jasmine rice interspersed with konjac pearls, so overall carbohydrate count is lower.


But back to the OSIM uShape vibration exerciser.

It's hard to imagine that you can burn so many calories without breaking a sweat. But I tried a ten-minute session on the machine, and I could feel my knees and ankles a little sore the next day from balancing on the thing.

I also tried to do some research on the validity of this kind of vibration training.

Here's a New York physical therapist talking about how vibration training works. Our bodies develop the right amount of muscle, bone density, cardiovascular and nervous system health to counter the contact force from gravity. When we are sedentary, we reduce the effects of gravity acting on our all those aspects. Whole body vibration training seems to be a relatively safe and easy way to increase the amount of contact force experienced by our bodies.

If this really does what other vibration machines do, then it seems it's pretty good for health overall.

Best of all - You don't need to drag yourself to the gym, you can work out right at home!

But as with all exercises, please check with your doctor before proceeding, especially if you have medical conditions. 

The OSIM uShape is now on CNY sale for just S$699 (usual price S$1288). It's available at all OSIM outlets, roadshows and online at - stocks are currently low (they were already selling fast even at full price), but we hear new shipments will arrive in Feb.

To complement the calorie reducing regime, OSIM is also giving away a Xndo Half Calories Meal, Black Pepper Fish and Milk Tea worth S$21.90 with every purchase of uShape. 

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