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

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July in Vietnam: The Cao Dai Holy See

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From Mui Ne, I moved on to Ho Chi Minh City and almost immediately found myself on a tour out to the Cao Dai Holy See. Cao Dai is a new religion founded in Tay Ninh province near Ho Chi Minh City in the 20th Century. It’s a fusion of eastern and western religions and, according to Lonely Planet, incorporates elements of Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Confucianism, native Vietnamese spiritualism and Islam. Services are held four times a day at midnight, 6am, noon and 6pm. It was one of these services that my tour took me to see.

The architecture of the temple, just like the religion, had a mishmash of influences. The outlying pagodas had a pastel wedding cake feel so typical of western fairy tale castle architecture yet were unmistakeably shaped like  Chinese pagodas.

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The main temple building was much the same, where a Muslim-inspired dome that sat on Chinese-style tiled roofs was detailed with vaguely Baroque styling and topped with a Chinese qilin (unicorn).

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The oddly disjointed design was somehow unified by the pastel colour scheme.

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Worshippers in long white gowns were starting to stream in, a stark contrast to the colourful temple. Outside, venerated saints looked benevolently down from the pastel blue sky dotted with fuzzy clouds.

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I couldn’t help my amusement at how the real weather was fair more threatening than the one painted on the walls, giving the temple an even more surreal feel.

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And just inside the temple was a large mural with Sun Yat-sen, Victor Hugo and Viet poet Nguyen Binh Khiem writing out God and Humanity, Love and Justice in French and Chinese. My mind boggled trying to figure out the link between them.

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The tourists then herded onto the balconies along the main sanctuaries, gawking at the blue skies and fluffy white clouds on the ceiling and the dragons plastered on the pastel pink pillars.

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To my delight, the priests were dressed in stark primary colours, standing out brightly from the white-garbed laypeople. Each colour represented a different branch of Cao Dai.

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The service commenced with lots of bowing, chanting and singing.

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I very much enjoyed admiring the blocks of different colours and how they contrasted beautifully with the very cool floor tiles.

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Too soon, the signal was given for tourists to leave, and we headed out of the temple past the choir singing dreamily, accompanied by traditional Chinese instruments.

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The time for the surreal was over, now it was time for war tunnels and Cu Chi.

So-so Park Hyatt Seoul: Potential to be Better

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I stayed at the Park Hyatt when I was in Seoul for business a couple months back. The room was lovely and I was very pleased the first night in. The room was big and very comfortable, with good views overlooking the city.

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The bathroom was huge, with separate shower and toilet areas, plus a vanity area. I liked how the wardrobe opened on both sides: one side facing the bed and the other facing the vanity area.

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The shower area came complete with separate rainshower and deep bathtub. Plus, it all came with Aesop toiletries which I like but think are horribly overpriced. They made for a happy me since I essentially got a set of toiletries thrown in with the hotel stay.

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So the room was great, but the service left quite a bit to be desired. I had a sense that while everyone was trying desperately hard to do his or her job, there was invariably something lost in translation. This not just because of the language barrier, but also because the different departments of the hotel didn’t seem to communicate well with each other. Some of our luggage took ages to be sent to the rooms, even though specific instructions and descriptions were given to the hotel rep in charge of our rooms. One of them didn’t get sent to one of our higher-ups because he accepted an upgrade from the hotel and word hadn’t been sent to the bellhops. His luggage sat outside the old pre-assigned room for four hours even though he had been upgraded (by the hotel mind you) to another room. Subsequently, a box of chocolates and a bottle of wine were sent to his room, but bearing no sign saying that they were complimentary, both remained untouched.

If you’re on business and anticipate having to rush in and out of the hotel, the Park Hyatt Seoul probably isn’t your best bet. The lifts have the oddest configuration ever. There are 5 lifts in total, but only 3 serve the ground floor entrance. When entering for the first time, my party was taken up to the top floor where the lobby was. Here was where we realised that 2 more lifts served the room floors. In essence, the middle lift shaft served all floors from ground to rooms to lobby, while the pair on the right served only rooms to lobby, and the pair on the left served only ground to 2nd floor restaurant to lobby (and not the rooms). It was a bit mind-boggling and it took ages for us to wait for the one middle lift serving the 4th floor breakfast area and the rooms. Such a difficult system for busy people on work trips.

Other little annoyances? The lack of thought in housekeeping. The first night, I knocked over a bottle of water. Nothing was done to get rid of the huge wet patch on the rug. I’m guessing that by now the rug would have gone mouldy since no one bothered to replace it in my three nights there. (The damp grey spot was still there when I checked out.) Occasionally, housekeeping would stash the complimentary water in a drawer together with the mini-bar snacks. It didn’t help that the bottles weren’t labelled “Complimentary” and only had the hotel label on it. Not friendly. My room package included complimentary in-room internet access, but it didn’t come on automatically. We all had to select the “one day” option which would be charged to the account and then removed on checkout. It was ridiculous because almost all of us dialed 0 to check with the reception. What was worse was that we had to be vigilant on checkout to make sure that we were mistakenly charged for complimentary stuff (I had to get them to reverse one day’s internet fees. Ridiculous.) Last grouse? On the final night, the turn down people didn’t bring down the blinds properly. Somehow the automated function jammed and I had to climb up and pull the blind down myself. Such a simple thing as doing a last all round check that the room was OK wasn’t done.

There was also another major no-no that involved promises made but not met. Let’s just say that insufficient followup and service recovery came from this. They had lovely rooms and a lovely hotel, but as always: the devil is in the details.

Park Hyatt Seoul
Korea Seoul
995-14, Daechi3-Dong
02-2016-1234