Mmmmortons!

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DC and I had a special occasion to celebrate and celebrate we did! We dressed up and went to Morton’s for a blow out meal. The onion bread that started our dinner was an omen of things to come – see how huge it is? We only nibbled a  bit of the soft bread while waiting for the typical show and tell that the menu was about.

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Already being forewarned that we would eat until we couldn’t eat no more, we shared half a dozen fresh Pacific oysters ($36.50) to start. They were fresh and sweetly briney, going very well with just a squeeze of lemon juice and less well with the cocktail sauce and grated horseradish. The saltines – crackers in cellophane packets – were an inexplicable, yet totally American addition to the appetisers.

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Then came the mains. DC was rather restrained (!) and went for a 400g double cut filet mignon ($97). Sorry for the poor lighting in the picture, but look at how high the steak is. It was done nice and rare. While a very tender cut, it wasn’t the tastiest I’ve had. Perhaps in aging the meat, all the blood is drained out and a lot of the taste is gone. Either that, or my main stole the show.

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When the server showed us the live Maine lobster ($50 per lb) in the menu demonstration, I knew that I was destined to have it. It was 3.5 lbs and was baked in butter. They even gave me a bib so that I could get cracking! This was lobster like I’ve never had before. I never really understand why people like lobster so much, because I’m such a fan of the tender, sweet flavour of crab. This lobster was incredibly sweet, tasting of the sea. It was firm and full of flavour, needing only a dab of melted butter at first, then a squeeze of lemon as the richness of lobster and butter began to sate. The head bits were the richest parts of the lobster, and the best part was that it could be eaten with a spoon. The lobster was amazing, huge and way too much for me. I gave up after eating half the lobster tail and a chalky tasting claw (weakest link). DC had to help with the rest so that I could have room for dessert.

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We finished off the meal with a slice of key lime pie, compliments of the restaurant. The custard part was tart and incredibly sweet, for once the cream was an absolute must so as to cut through the sweetness of the filling. It was a fitting end to our calorie-laden and very American dinner.

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At Morton’s, the service is impeccable. People come here for celebrations and the staff do their best to make everyone feel like it’s a special treat. In fact, it seemed that half the restaurant was celebrating birthdays. For us, the staff went all out to make sure we were OK (three different staff, from the manager to our own server asked if the food was fine and that we were having a good time) and even printed out a menu with our names and a congratulatory message on it as a souvenir. As an overall experience, Morton’s, while terribly expensive, is worth the while, simply because you and the food are the stars for the night.

Morton’s
Mandarin Oriental Singapore
Fourth Storey
5 Raffles Avenue
Tel: +65 6339 3740

Quick Eats: 7th Storey Steamboat

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DC and I met up after work to go for a run at Marina Barrage but we got rained out. What better to do than the next best thing there: eat. 7th Storey Steamboat moved here from the now-demolished site at Bugis. It still serves the same charcoal steamboat and we opted for the pomfret set ($48). They gave us a rather large and very fresh half pomfret all sliced up, with a separate plate of fresh vegetables and two raw eggs.

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Into the charcoal steamboat it all went, the spout shooting fire for the first 10 minutes of cooking. We enjoyed the freshness of the ingredients and the tasty soup. There was more than plenty for two and it was very healthy too… until you factor in the chicken rice that we ordered. The restaurant also sells chicken rice and we opted for that instead of plain white rice. The rice, having been cooked in chicken stock and fat, was aromatic and went exceedingly well with the steamboat.

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In summary, fresh food, yummy chicken rice and an authentic charcoal steamboat on a rainy evening by the barrage made for a very satisfying meal indeed.

7th Storey Live Seafood and Charcoal Steamboat
Marina Barrage, 8 Marina Gardens Drive, #01-05/06
Tel: +65 6222 7887 / +65 6222 9880
Email: 7thstorey@sunrestaurant.com

Lombok: A Great Stay at Villa Sayang

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DC and I needed a break and we decided to really not do much at all to recuperate from all the craziness of the year. Lombok was a-calling. There wasn’t a huge lot to do there aside from hardcore mountain climbing and casual snorkelling or scuba diving and, more crucially, there were still air tickets available at short notice.

DC booked Villa Sayang at Mataram, the main town on Lombok. We made it our base out of which to explore the island and what a lovely stay it was! It was set among the padi fields at the base of Mount Rinjani and we had this lovely view from the restaurant every morning.

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There was plenty of greenery. Every morning we saw birds, like this sunbird, flitting about the trees. There were also plenty of butterflies flitting about in the trees. It was such a serene setting for breakfast.

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Until the resident cat turned up and tried to order us to give us food with its commanding stare.

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Breakfast was excellent, either a generous buffet spread when there were enough guests at the Villa or a la carte courses starting with fresh fruit…

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… followed by toast and jam, and then yummy mains such as the fantastic fried noodles a la Villa Sayang. They had a fresh vegetable garden and included lots of their fresh in-house produce in their food.

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The room was really lovely too, with plenty of space and a little gazebo-porch lounge area outside. The bathroom was such a highlight: it was divided into two, with a spectacular outdoor shower set in a granite (or was it limestone?) wall.

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Inside, there was a low bathtub and a lovely aquarium full of fish to entertain us in times of, ahem, boredom.

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We went out in the day and came back in the evenings, sometimes eating in. They were very obliging and even served us dinner in the lounge area outside our villa. They had some delightful dishes such as the fish palumera, a soupy stew with plenty of ginger, local herbs and Thai basil.

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One of the evenings, we had a delightful nasi tumpeng, compliments of the Villa. It was a very yummy combination of rice in a cone shape, representing Mount Rinjani, and plenty of dishes to go with the rice. We had fish satay – served on sticks, the fragrant herbal fish mixture was grilled to perfection; curry chicken, begedil – heavenly fried potato croquettes; spicy beef rendang; egg omelette; fried keropok – prawn crackers; dry-fried sweet-sour tempeh – absolutely lovely with sweet kicap manis, sour assam and crispy, unbelievably good tempeh; and stir-fried vegetables.

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On our final night, we had yet another evening of good food, with specialities like urap urap – a salad dish of blanched vegetables accompanied by a spicy coconut dressing, kangkung pelecing – more about that in a later post, more fish palumera, more beef rendang and yummy fried chicken.

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What made our stay extra special was the personal touch of Ibu Rosa, the lady boss of Villa Sayang. She was amazing at making arrangements for us, from getting us a rental car, to sending us to various really yummy restaurants in town (notwithstanding them being competitors to her in-house restaurant), and getting hold of our crazy shopping items. We went home with 10kg of Lombok mangoes and 5 kg of their signature belacan – again, more of that in a later post.

Villa Sayang was a lovely place to stay, a great place to eat and had such lovely people, we’d not hesitate to go back.

Villa Sayang
Jalan Sonokeling
Lingsar, West Lombok
West Nusa Teggara 83371
Indonesia
Tel: +62-370-6609022
Email: info@villasayang-lombok.com

Quick Eats: Bedok North Hawker Centre

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I like Bedok North Hawker Centre quite a bit because while there’s plenty of good food, it’s also unpretentious and doesn’t have super long queues. I like the ban mian a few stalls down from Joo Chiat Chiap Kee. It has a clear, robust stock that tastes like there’s both pork bone and chicken in it. They use round spinach (bayam) in it, giving the soup a special fragrance. The noodles are decently chewy and don’t get too soggy after sitting for a while. I also like how the ikan bilis and onion bits taste like they’re fried in-house rather than taken from factory-made industrial-sized packs.

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For dessert, I love the taufa quite a few stalls down. It’s soft and silky and slightly creamy at the same time. I couldn’t ask for more.

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Bedok North Hawker Centre
Blk 216 Bedok North St 1

March in Laos: The Real Monkey Business

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Did you figure out how we got from tree house to tree house? Check out the picture below and see if you can now.

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There were cables strung up across different parts of the valley and also to each tree house. We were all kitted up with harnesses and a pulley and we were all set to go across the zipline. After a few zips across picturesque valleys and a couple of treks on foot, we went across the final cable to get into our tree house.

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It was loads of fun because of the incredibly high speeds. It was hard to appreciate the scenery while going past really fast. I think it was also less scary seeing the river coursing down the valley so far below when you’re worried about whether or not you’ll crash into a tree on the other side.

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But you do slow down in the end. Occasionally if you don’t build up enough momentum you end up slowing down too fast and have to climb the rest of the, thankfully, short way back to the receiving platform.

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There were some problems with rats at another tree house and this cat was despatched to get rid of them. Of course it didn’t have its own harness, so into a sack it went. It wasn’t too happy about the disrespectful treatment and gave its ride a good scratch when freed. At least it must’ve been in cat heaven hunting all the rats on the tree.

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It’s a pity I didn’t get any good pictures while on the zipline. Most of the time I was going to fast to frame the picture well, other times it was unfocussed and most time I was just having too much fun to even want to consider marring the experience by watching my camera fall hundreds of metres into the river below.

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Nonetheless, the dusk views from the tree houses were pretty amazing. It was good enough seeing this, it didn’t matter that we hardly saw any wildlife.

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Except this lizard that one of the local guides gamely displayed on his shirt.

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It was a lovely two and a half days running round the forest ziplining like rabid monkeys across the cables over and over and over and over again. It was great getting to know the others in the group swapping stories by candlelight at night, then going to sleep and waking up to another day of ziplining again. It really was worth coming all this while to Laos for this.

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March in Laos: Tree Houses

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As I mentioned earlier,  Siamesecat and I were up to some monkey business. We’d booked a couple nights’ stay in what was touted as a gibbon sanctuary. To cut the suspense, we didn’t see a single monkey, gibbon or not, in our three days and two nights in the forest. It was probably because we made so much noise tramping along the paths that we hardly even saw birds, let alone simians.

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Anyhow, it was lovely being right in the thick of nature. After being dropped off from the van that took us to Ban Toup from Huay Xai, it was a good two-hour walk from the little dot of a village to where we spied the first sign to our accommodation for the night.

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I’d never stayed in a tree house before and this excited me to no end. Seeing the first one looming ahead in the distance filled me with awe. It amazed me to think of how the first plank had to be hauled up to the top and painstakingly assembled, of course by hand, plank by plank and nail by nail.

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As we approached one by one, we were amazed by how well-made the tree house was, and how much space there was inside.

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The view from the top was lovely. This particular tree house had a stream running below it. It was great just leaning against the railing and doing nothing except enjoy the scenery.

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There was plenty of space for the six of us. The tree house turned into a bit of a tent city at night as each pair of mattresses had a thick mosquito net strung over it. We were definitely glad to put up the nets so that we could escape from the incredibly lot of insects at night. It was the jungle after all. In fact the only entertainment at night ,given that there was no electricity, was chatting in the candlelight. That until Discovery Channel came on, live mind you, as someone spied a large spider champing in its prey in one of the webbed alcoves.

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Meals were lovely. It was mainly plainly cooked vegetables with rice, but they were always skilfully cooked with a deft hand that I couldn’t help marvel that none of us particularly missed meat nor did anyone complain that the food was monotonous. There was plenty of fruit and occasionally one of our guides would swing by and ceremoniously cut up a pineapple or mango for us to devour.

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Smoking was not allowed in case of forest fires and drinking was only possible if we’d paid our guides an exorbitant sum to go out to Ban Toup for a warm beer. It was worth the hassle at all, so all the exercise in the day, healthy food and early nights going to bed soon after the sun went down, coupled with the fresh, fresh air made it feel like we were on a health camp. It was lovely.

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We didn’t have electricity at the tree house but we certainly did have running water. It was a bit of a pleasant shock to come into a tree house and see the sink and tap and use it to wash my hands. They’d rigged up a series of pipes and pumps to get filtered water running to each tree house. It was fantastic. There was a toilet and shower in the tree house too. Toilet paper had to be disposed of separately because it took ages to break down and having squares of toilet paper litter the ground below wouldn’t do at all in an eco-sanctuary. It was lovely taking a shower in the open concept bathroom, though standing on the slats and seeing how far one could fall was a tad frightening. However,  looking out at the valley from this height really took singing in the shower to a new level.

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One thing you may wonder is: if we were so high up in the tree, how did we get there? Well, we certainly didn’t climb up, that’s for sure. Believe me, nobody in their right mind would walk under a tree house with this kind of toilet system. It wasn’t quite a boot camp. Guess, I’ll tell you in my next post.