Travel: Our Macau/Hong Kong Getaway (6D/6N)!

Follow our 6 day, 6 night adventure in these lands of amazing food, awesome culture and astounding sights. See how we ate, shopped and laughed our way through Macau and Hong Kong! :)

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Food: Amarin Heavenly Thai @ Mid Valley Megamall

Amarin Heavenly Thai should be a familiar name to anyone staying around the Klang Valley. Think of Thai food, and most probably you've either been to or heard of Amarin in Mid Valley. It's been around for ages; ever since the opening of Mid Valley around 10 years ago I think! 

Business hasn't always been kind to them though. Unlike the bustling Madam Kwan's downstairs that never seems to be short of customers, the Sea Cuisine Group's Amarin used to paint quite a lonely sight occupying that huge space on the 2nd floor. It's a strategic location, one with a view of neighbouring highways which they tried to capitalize on with full length glass panes for maximum view. Alas, not even that could keep the people coming.

So recently, Amarin has gone through an overhaul, cutting down the floor space by half (with the other half turning into Bumbu Desa) and totally redecorating the inside with a cosier, more colourful atmosphere with multi-coloured cushions and booths. Our verdict? 2 thumbs up! =D

The menu at Amarin has also gone through a revamp, although on a smaller scale. The classic favourites that are synonymous with Thai cuisine are still here. Take this Tom Yum Goong (RM13.90) for example; a delightful soup that can be done in a clear or milky form, and with either prawns or seafood inside. I always prefer my tom yum with milk, and Amarin's version has just the right amount for our taste buds, with a perfect balance between the spicy and sour levels, laced with lemongrass and lime. 

Other crowd-favourites (including mine!) are like this Chicken wrapped in Pandan Leaf or Gai Hor Bai Tuey (RM18, 4 pieces). I love having a portion of this during Thai meals to balance all the curry and chilli that's in all the other dishes. =D

Unwrapping the chicken can be a tough job, but thankfully no other tools are needed beside the already-available fork and spoon. Waiters are also quite adept at quickly picking up all the leftover wrapping so it's not left strewn all over the table. The chicken itself is always well-cooked, with mild herb flavors that are distinctly present yet never threatening to overpower; the perfect complement.

For vegetables, nothing beats a healthy dose of Kangkung Belacan, Phad Pak Bung Ga Pi (RM 15.90)! Perhaps not the most authentic Thai vegetable dish on the menu, but one that goes well with the rest of the food we feel. =D  The vegetables here are crunchy, served in generous portions and sufficiently spicy for a good 'kick'!

Lastly, for us, there can never be a meal of Thai food without at least one curry! Green Curry or Gaeng Keaw Wan is our usual choice, although if there's more than just 2 of us then we'll try to order a red curry as well. I prefer green curries because it's usually more flavourful, thanks to the extra basil leaves and other herbs that go into it. 

And if you ask whether we go for chicken or beef, my answer is always Beef, or Nuae (RM 20 for beef)! Somehow I feel the flavour of beef always goes better with curry. Also because there is already pandan chicken, so we don't fancy a second chicken dish. Green curry at Amarin is always comforting; there's ample gravy for the mountain of rice everyone undoubtedly has, and it's usually not too thick or too watery. The beef itself is well-marinated, tender and in perfect bite-size pieces. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it. =D

After a satisfying dinner, round it all off with some Thai desserts! Wendy's favourite is usually the Tab Tim Krob (RM 8.90), which is red waterchestnuts and jackfruit in coconut milk. The ice-cold temperature and crunchy texture of the waterchestnuts make this a cool, refreshing end to a fiery meal! 

If you're like me and you don't enjoy the crunchy water chestnuts, try opting for a Kluey Kai Cheum (RM 8.90) instead, which is steamed banana served with vanilla ice cream and a dash of coconut milk. I'm sure we're all more familiar with fried banana fritters, but steamed bananas taste just as nice if not better since the sweetness is not dulled by the fried batter. Amarin does have quite sweet bananas, so add that with the coconut milk and a real sweet treat awaits!

Their drinks list has also improved and expanded. Here we had a Muay Thai Punch (RM 11.90) and Thai Iced Tea (RM 10.90) - 2 refreshing beverages that went well with all the yummy Thai food! =D

So, even after all these years, Amarin Heavenly Thai still remains a regular fixture in our Thai food directory; some place we have yet to be disappointed.

Amarin Heavenly Thai | Site
Lot S045, Level 2,
Mid Valley Megamall,
59200 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: +6 03 2938 3187
Email: [email protected]
Opening Hours: Daily, 12pm-10pm

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Travel: Bandung Day #1 - Restoran Sederhana Masakan Padang

Continuing our Bandung expedition, we were in need of sustenance after our first foray into one of many fabric wonderlands aptly named Bali Heaven. Without a clue where to go for lunch, we relied on our trusty driver Pak Dodi to recommend. Our only request - nasi padang!

Nasi padang originates from the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra in Indonesia, but is widespread to most Indonesian cities by the Minangkabau people. A common sight around Bandung, you'll be able to tell a nasi padang shop by the small white stacked dishes in its windows. Can you see them in the picture above? (And Padang is actually a city in West Sumatra, so no, nasi padang has nothing to do with grass or fields, as padang also means in Malay :P)

So, not long after we arrived at Restoran Sederhana Masakan Padang! The name strikes a funny chord in me, since 'sederhana' means 'moderate' or average' in English, so to have a name like "Average Padang Cooking Restaurant" (a direct translation from its local name) is either painfully honest, or ill-conceived!

The serving style is a little like our local mixed rice, or economy rice chap fan back here or even a little like Hong Kong dim sum; all the dishes are brought out and displayed on your table, and then you pick and choose which one you want.

With so many dishes and a language barrier to boot, we never got the proper names of all the dishes. A few were quite nice, but most were just so-so. Special dishes include the squid in creamy sauce (bottom right), which were such big pieces that the girls were slightly grossed out! Personally I wasn't too sure how clean that squid was either.. =P There were also some paru (lung) dishes which neither of us were game enough to try.

Our two favourites were the beef rendang (top left), a dry version that was too salty on its own but good with the white rice served, and the milky gulai ayam (bottom left).

On the left is our first taste of fried tempeh in Bandung, a local Indonesian staple! It's actually just made from fermented soy beans, but deep fried to a crisp instead of the common tempeh patties we get back here; the whole thing is like a dry cracker. It's a very popular Indonesian snack though, which we bought a lot of before we came back. More on that in future posts. =P

The mutton dish we picked was tasty, tender bites of meat though very oily. The chillied eggplant with tempeh (yes, again!), packed with the flavour of fresh green chillies, was also amongst the favourites with the girls.

Other common yet not-so-commonly found dishes in a lunch - boiled eggs in curry sauce (top left), and fish chunks in a watery coconut sauce (bottom right). We especially liked the tea (top right) there; just simple unsweetened hot tea, but yet so fragrant and pleasing. In fact, some thing has to be said about their local tea in Bandung - we had many cups because it was just so good. If you're ever there, give it a try and you'll know what we mean.

All the above food was interesting and new, but what really piqued our interest and that we ordered on our own was sate padang

Obviously "padang" doesn't refer to any type of meat, so when we asked the waiter what it was, he just told us "daging", which we take to mean meat, or beef in back here. Thinking it should be safe, we ordered about 10-20 sticks to share. Their version of sate is rather different from ours in Malaysia; none of that sweet charred meat and peanut sauce, sate in Bandung is served in a thick, starchy sauce with ketupat (rice cakes) instead. 

The meat tasted strange to us though, it had a strong game taste and a little mushy in texture. Nobody could really decipher what it was, so we were left second guessing ourselves, with Ming jokingly settling on cat meat (at this point, Wendy's stomach started feeling queasy).

When the waiter came for the bill, we finally asked him:

Us: "Ini daging apa?" (What meat is this made from?)
Him: (pause) "Daging lembu." (Cow meat - beef)
Us: (hesitantly) "...lembu bahagian apa?" (Which part of the cow?)
Him: (laughs nervously) "Lidah."

Needless to say we didn't finish the plate. We've had thinly sliced ox tongue before but chunks of cow tongue on a skewer were a little hard to handle... and those who did try it were left with the image of cows tongues slithering down their tummies.. =D

So it was all smiles before and after lunch at Restoran Sederhana Masakan Padang! Nasi padang, with its strong and pungent flavours may not result in the most scrumptious meal ever for everyone, but for a first taste of Bandung, it did the trick. The entire meal was Rp 390.000,00 (yup, over there it's the comma for the decimal and the period/full stop for the thousand indicator) which worked out to approximately RM 15 per person.

Next up: Restoran Sederhana Masakan Padang is just a stone's throw from Rumah Mode, one of the most popular factory outlets in Bandung, so on to more shopping and eating!

Restoran Sederhana Masakan Padang
Jl. Dr. Setiabudi No. 33,
Setiabudi, Bandung
Tel: (022) 2032860
Opening Hours: Daily, 10am-10pm

Monday, September 17, 2012

Food: Sparkalite Sunday Brunch @ Serena Brasserie, InterContinental Kuala Lumpur

Warning! You are about to start reading our longest post yet!

Here's a riddle for you: Where do you find unlimited flows of sparking wine, red wine, and white wine together with a homegrown Australian barbecue all under one roof? 

A grand array from the sea.

The answer is at the Sparkalite Sunday Brunch happening at Serena Brasserie, located just around the corner from the lobby of Intercontinental Hotel, Kuala Lumpur. Thanks to their gracious invitation, we were given the opportunity to sample the latest that they and their new executive chef, Darrell O' Neill, hailing from Australia, had to offer! Food is aplenty, including several Live Action Stations where you can watch your food being cooked and customised, right before your eyes.

I had been to Serena Brasserie a few times before when there was a work event held at the hotel. But on the Sunday when we went, the place looked much different with champagne glasses on every table, and little stars sprinkled all over to create a "sparkling" feeling. =D

Seating outdoors is also available for those who prefer it. There's a mini waterfall outside, so there's more to outdoor seating here instead of the usual watching-cars-go-by! There's none of that here, only serenity and smoky barbecue.

But the Sparkalite Brunch is not just about adults and alcohol; it's also about the children and their sweet tooth! Our invitation from Intercontinental Kuala Lumpur also extended to any children we might want to bring, which we duly made use of to invite Amelia, Wendy's niece, along to the brunch as well. But more on that later... =D

What's a buffet without our Japanese friends?

First, we focus on the food! The usual buffet at Serena Brasserie is already pretty complete, so with the new additions for the Sparkalite Brunch it was nearly impossible for us to try a bit of everything! We did try our best though, starting with the cold appetizers that ranged from the oysters, lobsters and clams to sushi and sashimi.

A Japanese restaurant this is not, but fresh salmon do they serve! We certainly couldn't fault the slices of sashimi we ate, or the peeled prawns at the prawn cocktail. If not for having to exercise a great deal of self-control, I would have definitely polished off a few more rounds of sashimi, as I usually do at other buffets. =D

But if you're the kind that rather pile up on oyster shells instead of salmon, then head over to the oyster bar, where friendly staff labor continuously at shucking oysters for all to share! We didn't manage to have any, but we heard they were very fresh. In fact, we even heard someone went through 40 of said oysters! (you know who you are.. =p)

Moving on from the appetizers, pasta is available from one of the live action stations. Whether it's macaroni, angelhair spaghetti, or fettuccine, it can be cooked in styles ranging from tomato bases to creamy carbonara! Thank goodness for this, otherwise I'm not sure what else Amelia would have fancied eating...

Oh yea she was pretty happy with her pasta alright.. =D
It's nice that they actually allow customers to choose how much pasta they want first before cooking, so everyone gets the exact portion they want instead of just cooking standard sizes. Thumbs up for that.

If Italian pasta isn't your thing, then how about a local laksa flavour? There's no shortage of meehoon and kuey teow here as chefs churn out bowl after bowl of curry laksa, assam laksa, Penang laksa, Johor laksa, and Sarawak laksa (you didn't think East Malaysia would be left out, did you?) with a wide array of condiments that any hawker stall would be proud of!

Not far down from the pasta booth (no, definitely not 500m away!), is where there is Peking Duck.

Peking duck, all rolled up and ready!

Peking Duck, made to order, is not a common sight at buffet spreads, so we wasted no time taking advantage of this unique opportunity! We thought the flesh was very tender, with just the right amount of sweet sauce. On the other hand, I think I'll still prefer making my own peking duck wraps, because then I can make sure no spring onions go into mine, unlike those we had here. Wendy enjoyed them very much, though.

Peking Duck is not a common sight at buffets, but roast beef certainly is! Not one to be left out, the Sparkalite brunch also features a full leg of Roast Beef. Notwithstanding all the beef at the barbecue section, we still tried to do this roast beef some justice! The meat was tender, and load up on some yorkshire puddings, roasted root vegetables, brussel sprouts and potatoes, and you've got yourself a Sunday roast! 

Round 3... or was it 5?

And how could we not, when the beef was so tender and succulent? Frankly, the poor roast beef does get outshone by the barbecue items on offer, but we think a slice is worth trying, especially with the fluffy tiny Yorkshire puddings at hand.

So far I've just skimmed the surface on what's available inside the restaurant, but by now you might be wondering where all that Australian barbecue is. All that's happening outside, by way of Sparkalite's Live Action Stations

What would Australia be like without Fish N' Chips? Some of the freshest fish can be found in Australian waters, and it's commonly turned into a simple fish and chips meal over there. At the Sparkalite Brunch, they have brought over that same simplicity and satisfaction. 

The fish n' chips and the perfectly cooked eggs, sharing the limelight at the station.

Each portion may not be very big, but that's a good thing since it keeps us from overindulging in the same thing. You'd be hard pressed not to go back for seconds though, because the fish served here is undoubtedly thick, and deep fried in a light batter that doesn't overpower the fish! With a dollop of tartar sauce and a small serving of fries on the side, not many things can taste as good on a Sunday afternoon. 

I was particular thankful for the french fries, because that was nearly the only thing Amelia wanted to eat that day! Thank goodness for fries indeed.. =D

150km away from the  Fish N' Chips  booth (a.k.a. just next door) is a booth for you to build your own burgers!

Alas, we didn't manage to sample any of the Mini Angus Beef Burgers or Chicken Satay Sliders that they had. Instead, we focused on the Create Your Egg Buddy station, that was whipping out plenty of egg-cellent creations like this mini egg bun!

Though it looks simple, we're sure the art of poaching an egg just right to get that perfect runny yolk can't be easy! Top it off with some tomato sauce and some grated cheese and turkey ham, and these are the things we wish we could make so well ourselves at home. We would have gladly polished off more of this, but there were just too many things to try, too little stomach space.

But while the fish is fresh and the burgers are hearty, the star of the afternoon is still the variety of meat available at the barbecue station! Diners can choose from a selection seafood including tiger prawns, marinated tuna steaks, white fish, or slipper lobster at the Bruce’s Australian Barbeque station.

Or if red meat is more your fancy, than stock up on as much chicken, beef, and lamb as possible! Besides the meat, there's also 3 types of sausages on offer. Spoilt for choice? Most definitely!

I thoroughly enjoyed all the sausages, with the lamb being my favourite and the chicken and cheese being Wendy's pick. The meat was good too, though the beef came out slightly undercooked, which the helpful chefs quickly put right again. The prawn we had was also delicious, grilled to a smoky perfection. Since the barbecue station is the most popular, expect some queues and longer waiting periods. 

I commonly find hits and misses in each buffet, but I'm pleased to announce that the Sparkalite Brunch does a great job of keeping everything to an excellent standard of taste. I was too full after I was done with the Barbecue Station, but Wendy took a little of everything to taste and especially liked the Veal Milanese and the Spanish Meat Balls with Tomato and Rosemary Sauce.

More buffet line items, including a fluffy, light Potato Mausseline that went well with all the roast items.

Asparagus with Thai King Sauce, Chicken Kurma, Mutton Curry and Singapore Noodles

But still, if you're a buffet with your parents or your grandparents who still prefer a some Asian dish, Sparkalite Brunch has got that aspect well and covered as well. 

These two dishes, Chilli Crab and Beef Rendang, caught our eye when we went on our rounds, but alas! we forgot all about them, once we were done with all the other food.

Pizza is also available, a meaty one that counts beef seruling amongst its toppings, and our favourite of the two, a creamy smoked salmon with lettuce.

And so with all that food, there has to be something to wash it down with. Thankfully at the Sparkalite Brunch, there's no lack of happy juice for the masses! Take your pick from not one, not two, but three different sparking wines, namely an Australian Seppelt Stony Peak Brut, Italian Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, and a French Arthur Metz Cremant D'Alsace Brut. If sparking wine is not your thing, then there's also plenty of white and red wine as well as beer on offer; plus fun mixers for your own cocktail concoction! 

Sadly because we were "parents" for a day, we didn't get a chance to savor as many drinks as we would have liked! In the picture above is the Prosecco Superiore, a good choice of sparkling wine to pair with food thanks to it's fresh and dry flavor, with hints of green apple flavour. 

The dessert bar was a hit with adults and children alike, the children for this tall chocolate fountain (I lost count of the marshmallows Amelia dipped in)...

And the adults for this magnificent Rocky Road creation - a wonderful gooey dessert made of crumbly biscuit bits, marshmallows and chopped maraschino cherries iced with powdered sugar. Wendy had tons of this during our university days in Melbourne (they're called Chocolate Hedgehogs over there instead) and thought these were just as good as the ones she'd had there, if not better. I've never had them before but I'm inclined to agree; this was the highlight of the dessert counter and a must-have, especially if you've a sweet tooth.

More colourful, enticing desserts... calling your name!

My favourite display of ice cream at a buffet - no pesky leaning into an ice cream trolley here!

By now Wendy and I were plenty satisfied, but what Amelia was looking forward to all afternoon wasn't the glorious food or wine on offer, but rather, the children's section!

I would say InterContinental Kuala Lumpur and Event Directus did a fantastic job with this gaily decorated corner. The colours were bright and vibrant and there were lots of fun activities to keep children occupied while you enjoy your food. A TV was playing childrens' movies throughout the afternoon, and there were board games, storybooks and colouring available on hand.

Amelia watching TV, popcorn in hand.

What was even more impressive were the additional treat booths to keep the children happy (and on a perpetual sugar rush after we left! Yup, we had fun with Amelia, but were quite happy to pass her back safe and sound and all sugar-rushed to Wendy's brother and sister-in-law after that =P) - fresh buttery popcorn was available in colourful Ikea plastic cups in one corner, and in the other corner...

...the I Candy Station where children can mix and match candies to their heart's content.

The kind staff let you choose your candies on a plate to be eaten there, but there are also bags available for the children to bring the candy home. We thought that was a lovely touch.

Wendy also brought Amelia to the caricature table where she got herself drawn, though she was very nervous to begin with. Kudos to the team of Event Directus! Celine, the artist was quick and deft, and Elaine managed to ease Amelia out of shyness very quickly.

The highlight for the children that afternoon had to be the lamington making session! The children all got donned up the cute "I had a Sparkalite-time" aprons and had a hands-on lamington "class" with the chef and the attentive staff of InterContinental KL.

Lamingtons are another Aussie dessert staple, and in this class, the square jam sponge cake sandwiches were pre-prepared. The kids got to skewer the cakes and dip them into a bowl of chocolate...

...and roll the chocolate-covered cakes into a bowl of coloured dessicated coconut as the grand finale! The kids were naturals at this, though it got a little messy in the end, but that's where the fun is, right? Amelia got to take home two for her parents to try too.

Amelia got to make friends with Evelyn's niece, Emily, too! :)
Amelia with (aunty) Wendy

Thank you Serena Brasserie!

And that concludes our nearly 3-hour Sparkalite Sunday Brunch at Serena Brasserie! Everyone went home happy, including Amelia who took a balloon home for good measure. For anyone considering giving this brunch a try, do note that they currently have a dine for 4, pay for 3 promotion for September. So why hold back? Get your friends and their kids together and head over to the Sparkalite Brunch for a spanking sparkling good time! =D

*For the full set of scrumptious photos, visit our Facebook photo album here.

Sparkalite Brunch @ Serena Brasserie | Site
InterContinental Kuala Lumpur,
No. 165, Jalan Ampang,
50450 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2782 6228
Buffet Hours: 12pm-3pm
Email: [email protected]
Price: Standard buffet RM 120++ / With wine RM198++ / Children RM60++

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