A Whirlwind Work Trip: Summertime in Paris

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The next part of our trip brought us to Paris where we stayed at Le Grand Hotel, run by the InterContinental. It was indeed a nice hotel with typically Parisian and very opulent rooms. There were soft beds (which my head of delegation didn’t like – oops) and plush carpets. There was also peeling wallpaper and the shower flooded the whole bathroom.

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Something weird happened: as I was settling in, room service rang and set up this elaborate set of drinks and cookies in the room. It was well and good until I excitedly rang my boss and asked if he was enjoying the complimentary drinks. (He wasn’t.) Then I realised that the welcome card had the wrong name on it! Horrified, I called our local representative office who booked the rooms for us to check if that was the name of the secretary doing the booking. (It wasn’t.) So I took their advice to “just whack.” and did exactly that. If you didn’t mind the odd service, the InterCon Le Grand is a nice though horribly over-priced place to stay. Thankfully, we had a free upgrade so the rooms were expensive but not quite horribly expensive for the company.

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We had a while to wander about town and enjoy some cakes at Laduree, which was thankfully still open on a Sunday.

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It’s such an institution there and if you haven’t tried their macarons, you haven’t really tasted one before. Their desserts are all very yummy too.

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Laduree
16 rue Royale 75008 Paris (there are also other branches in Paris, CDG and Versailles)
Tel: +33 (0) 1 42 60 21 79

Thereafter, we went for a bit of a meander through town, passing by the Place de la Concorde and the gardens in the area. There were so many people out in the later afternoon after the shops were closed, simply enjoying the sun. While it was inconvenient for us that we weren’t able to shop in the little time we had in Paris, I liked the idea of life going on in the daytime in spite of the dearth of shopping and commerce.

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I took the requisite touristy photos at what I think is the Place de la Concorde and its obelisk.

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And I grabbed some other pictures of the beautiful buildings sitting pretty in the afternoon sun.

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One of them could be Hotel Crillon, but I can’t be sure. The weather was too beautiful for it to matter.

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On the day with business meetings, it was a rush from stop to stop, with quick photos taken out of the rented car window.

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And this is the only decent shot I got of the Eiffel Tower, taken in the distance.

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When we finally got back from our business meetings, it was only to get a quick round of shopping before the shops closed. One of the incongruous ones I saw was this thoroughly modern Apple shop in an obviously old and well-preserved building.

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We finished off our Paris leg of the trip with a lovely meal at Oscar Restaurant, a favourite of our local representatives. I started with a lovely giblet salad topped with a duck liver terrine. It was typically Parisienne and a much wiser decision than my earlier choices of stodgy food in Milan.

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I was feeling quite heaty from all the travelling and eating (and being stuck in a boardroom for a whole afternoon without getting even a sip of water – poor organisation on the part of the hosts). The beef tartare as a main was very welcome. It was the best one I’ve had, the fresh and tasty raw beef being seasoned just right and not being overwhelmed by the pickle and onion chopped into the mixture. The fresh herbs and side salad helped lots too. By now, my dining companions were looking askance at my rather different choices and wondering what I was going to have for dessert.

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I eschewed the usual chocolate puddings and ice cream and gunned straight for the Faiselle, a type of sweet cheese topped with creme fraiche and accompanied with berry coulis. It was just the right creamy ending to my dinner.

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Oscar Restaurant
6, rue de Chaillot 75116 Paris
Tel: +33 (0) 1 47 20 26 92
Closed for Saturday lunch and on Sunday

3 Inches of Goodness

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After a burger lunch at Relish, we trooped to 3 Inch Sin to try out the chocolate cakes there. Between the four of us, we shared three desserts. One was their eponymous 3 inch molten chocolate cakes – we had one in the bitter orange flavour. I’m not normally a fan of molten chocolate cake as it’s awful when not done well – either too floury and gloopy on the inside or not molten at all. This one was truly worth setting up a shop for. It was well set on the outside, with just the right cake to ooze ratio and was deeply chocolatey and beautifully rich. And the ooze? It was a thick sauce (not floury) and had plenty of bitter orange – kinda like grown up marmalade. Very good.

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DC had the Fudge and Smother cake. It was really excellent too. I liked that the cake stayed as cake in that it was still fairly light like proper sponge cake instead of being dense pound cake. The fudge also was proper chocolate fudge, which is paradoxically not very chocolatey – just a touch that’s all. It’s great in being light, just having the right touch of chocolate yet still being a really good chocolate cake.

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My favourite was my choice (yes my choices are normally very accurately good). The Dark Side chocolate tart was insanely good. If they hadn’t already set up this shop I’d urge them to set one up just to sell chocolate tart. Let’s start with the filling – deep, intense, dark velvety chocolate ganache that melts beautifully in the mouth. DC and the others thought it was like eating pure chocolate. But of course not! It’s good quality dark, dark chocolate melted with cream; and that’s what makes it so lusciously good. The ganache was good enough to hook me, and to reel me in was the excellent oh so short pastry. The pate sucree was yielding with just the slightest crunch, crumbling to perfection in the mouth. I almost resented the rest with whom I had to share the dessert. I almost tried to fend them off with my fork!

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I’m not normally a chocolate dessert person, but this place may make a convert of me yet!

3 Inch Sin
501 Bukit Timah Road
Cluny Court #02-27
Tel: 6314 1217

July in Vietnam: The Imperial Capital of Hue

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It was early morning when I got into Hue and hopped out of the night bus. A lovely long day of sightseeing across the Perfume River awaited.

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Here in Central Vietnam, there was a slight change in personality. Somehow I felt that people weren’t quite as hardened by war and that commerce, tourism and the free market had penetrated somewhat.

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The first stop was the Imperial Enclosure, a large citadel built by the Vietnamese emperors. These were largely in the Chinese style, given the vast influence exerted by their vast northern neighbour. First, I had to get past the outer moat.

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The walls surrounding the Enclosure were thick earthen ones with squat yet somehow very fitting gates and gatehouses built into the packed earth.

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And then there were the grand linkways between the various buildings topped by intricate carvings and prosperous sayings.

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The buildings themselves were very grand. Again, the strong Chinese influence was unmistakable, particularly in the Thai Hoa Palace, a receiving hall for the emperor.

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Further towards the back of the Enclosure were little residences of a slightly less grandiose nature, like the Truong San Residence, recently rebuilt after being devastated in the war. The pretty garden with rockery and pond added lots of charm to the place.

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I liked the little details I saw while wandering through the city in miniature. Looking up at the eaves of gates, I wondered why the decorations were made that way, whether for good luck or merely for ornamentation, perhaps to please the whim of a favoured concubine.

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Other decorations were more for impressing visitors, like this stone qilin (unicorn).

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There were also old cannon left behind from the old days. I wonder whether these were just for show or they really were meant for battle.

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Nonetheless, these weren’t spared the Fun with English sign of “No laying sitting on the selics.” Evidently done by someone with poor copyrighting skills.

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Outside the enclosure but still within the compound of the ancient city, there was plenty of living city. People carried on their daily business amidst the backdrop of beautiful lotus pond fringed by banana trees.

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After walking round imagining what life in ancient Hue would be like, I went to Y Thao Garden, a restaurant that specialised in imperial Hue cuisine. It had a little garden in the style of the imperial palace.

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The menu here is a Viet version of the degustation menu, with lots of little course that never quite seem to end. The only problem for a one-person meal was that the little courses weren’t as little as expected, as evidenced by this starter of deep-fried spring rolls masquerading as feathers atop a pineapple-carrot phoenix.

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Then came the less highly decorated poached prawns with salt and pepper.

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Followed by a slightly greasy but very yummy pancake called banh khoai. It was stuffed with meat and beansprouts and dipped in a peanut-based sauce.

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Next came a meat salad of sorts, a bit like the Lao/Thai larb gai. Combined with herbs and topped with ground peanuts, this aromatic mixture was eaten by scooping some up on a crunchy prawn cracker.

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I so full I was about to give up when the rice arrived. I thought it was going to be a run of the mill fried rice but boy was I wrong. This appeared to be fully vegetarian. The rice was cooked in a lotus leaf  with carrot, lotus seeds, black fungus and other vegetables. The fragrance of the dish blew me away. I don’t know what they did to make it taste so good but they sure did the right thing.

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Dessert was slightly less inspiring. There was only one, masquerading as table flowers. They’ve changed with the times and use plastic flower stems as the base, sticking on little soft pastry desserts. The filling was yellow mung bean, which was encased in a soft glutinous rice pastry, then painted over with some glossy jelly. It was pretty but not particularly tasty. Nonetheless, it was overall a great introduction to Hue imperial cuisine.

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Y Thao Garden
D Thach Han
Hue, Vietnam

[edited to include name and address of restaurant]

Dimsum Pigout

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Four of us were out for lunch and we started off at Lao Beijing at Novena Square. It was all a disappointment except for the prawns in salted egg yolk sauce. Although slightly greasy, the lightly battered prawns were covered with very yummy salted egg sauce. I liked how they served it up fast enough that the prawn was still crisp and the savoury sauce coated just enough so as not to be cloying. Very well executed.

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To make up for the disappointment of the non-prawn majority of our lunch, we went for what we thought was dessert at a nearby dimsum place. Who knew we just had to order the best of the best and in a blink, we’d over-ordered again. At least we had some lovely rose tea to wash it all down.

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First up was the very excellently done carrot cake. It’s like an upmarket version of chai tow kway and it’s very good. The carrot cake is light, silky and well-browned and is nicely complemented with shacha chilli sauce. Very yummy.

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I have a special spot in my tummy for salted egg yolk and more savoury than sweet desserts. Case in point is the star of the meal: salted egg yolk custard buns. It’s not quite the same as another favourite of mine, the lai wong bao (custard bun). Rather, it’s a variation with some salted egg yolks crumbled into the custard. The chef is masterful as it’s done just so the custard is still oozy. Salty, sweet and luscious goodness against the bland sweet bun is amazing.

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I also quite liked the black sesame wobing. A twist on the classic red bean filling, I found the black sesame version just the right sweetness and also enjoyed very much the crisp pastry and very generous sprinkling of white sesame seeds on top. To our small consolation, DC informed us that this was baked, not fried hence having fewer calories. I suppose a saving of 10 calories in a meal of maybe 3,000 calories counts as something huh.

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Lao Beijing
238 Thomson Road
#02-11 Velocity @ Novena Square
Tel: 6358 4466

Old Hong Kong Kitchen
10 Sinaran Drive
#02-80 Novena Square 2
Tel: 6397 7023