Saturday, January 29, 2011

First Experience with 1-star Michelin Dinner

Chef Serge Chenet

I had initially wanted to dine at Spoons (Hilton's resident fine dining restaurant), but diverted to Ginza Hohsen (the resident Japanese restaurant) after I checked out the menu and noticed they had a visiting 1-star Michelin chef. There was only 1 reason for the diversion - I didn't bring enough money! I promised myself I'll return the next evening for this, and so I did!

Complimentary bread & olive pate

I had very high expectations, or rather very hyped up and excited over the experience. After all, how many Michelin starred chefs are there in KL, now especially if there is one in Colombo! I knew it was gonna be an opportunity not to be missed. So last Sunday, I returned to Hilton again which was my 3rd night on the row (I swear the tuk tuk driver outside my apartment was starting to have this impression on me as 'the girl who goes to Hilton every night for dinner' and knew my standard offer would be 200 rupees per trip). I casually walked in to the fame restaurant, looked through the menu and picked a duck dish for mains and a mille feuille for dessert. Don't ask about drinks - usually I go for complimentary iced water but in this case I had to pay for a bottle of cold mineral water.

"Duo of Duck" Pan fried duck breast and honey lavender caramelised leg, turnips confit, and vinegar jus- Rs. 2,200 (RM60)

I requested for my duck dish to be done in medium rare, just like how I like my red meat to be. When the dish came, presentation wise it's decent. As for the taste, I like it because it taste decent too but it's not what I am expecting for a Michelin-starred chef... I was expecting more! There was no burst of flavours, melt-in-you-mouth sensations, not orgasmic definitely... just another plain and expensive duck dish in a nicer restaurant which happens to be in a hotel.

Chocolate coated mille feuille with fresh mint and fresh cream with cocoa sherbet- Rs. 750 (RM21)

Attracted by the 'mint' flavour in this dessert, I was expecting a strudel-pastry texture, crispy and fluffy with cream to melt it all down but instead (again, presentation is good, BUT...) the bottom layer of the mille feuille was just hard, the mint didn't have any minty refreshing taste I was looking for, instead with my eyes open as I was eating this it felt like a green tea cream. I was not sure if it's supposed to be hot or cold as it was served room temperature and to me desserts should either be H or C, a room-temperature dessert is as good as eating melted ice cream or unchilled beer - yucks! Despite the many huge flaws in this dessert, the only thing I love was the cocoa sherbet... cold and strong cocoa taste.

Foamy chocolate mousse flavoured with arabica and cream cheese sherbet- Rs. 750

The General Manager of Hilton was making his rounds at the restaurant and I spoke to him on my less than impressed experience with the dessert. He offered me another one which was supposingly one of the best. I accepted with good gestures, preparing to be wowed.

While it's not not half as bad as the earlier mille feuille, this does not impress me much either. I'm not even sure if it's appropriate to say my favourite item of the whole dessert was the chocolate deco (I'm not sure what is the proper term to describe it, enlighten me if you do). Certainly doesn't leave much to say when you like the little side dishes/decos more than the star of the dish iteself, huh?

In my most humble opinion, it was a disappointment.

Spoons @ Hilton Colombo
2, Sir Chittampalam A. Gardiner Mawatha,
Colombo 2, Sri Lanka.
Tel: +94 11 2544 644
For the regular menu, refer to here

[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are based on my personal views, tastebuds and preference and may vary for others. Please don't sue me, I don't have money. Kthxbye.]

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Bayleaf Restaurant, Colombo

The Yuletide season decorations adorned The Bayleaf ; White furniture and brown wooden planks... these are a few of my favourite things

On Christmas day last year, I spent the afternoon at The Commons Coffeehouse and the evening dinner at The Bayleaf Restaurant. While the cuisines on offer at both eateries is a world of difference, the former a coffeehouse with sweet and savoury rotti and western style burgers and sandwiches on its menu, and the latter is an Italian themed restaurant with a more exquisite dining environment, both are connected by a single line to the Harpo's F&B Group. Visiting The Bayleaf actually completed one of my gastronomic resolution here which is to dine at all 4 of the Harpo's restaurants.

Wooden staircase and a Christmas tree; Ravioli di Anatra- Rs. 1150; Soup of the day: Mushroom Soup - Rs. 400; The Grand Colonial mansion

I love colonial buildings and mansions. There is something about them that exudes architectural charms and character, history and nostalgic values that modern buildings lack. The Bayleaf is a winner in terms of dining ambience, after all, where better to have a 'cultured' meal than a 'cultured' place? I chose to sit at the upper balcony overlooking the big garden (one more reason to like colonial buildings, they always have big gardens and long driveway!) and Christmasy lights lit up the rather dull Gregory Rd.

While ambience takes full points, the food is less than inspiring in my humble opinion. I had a struggle to choose either from the special Christmas menu or from the regular menu. Since it's not exactly cheap even after currency conversion and with the mentality of 'seasonal menu are often a rip off and food quality is always low due to mass production', I opted for a soup of the day and a ravioli dish from the regular menu. It was mushroom soup- looks and taste as ordinary as the can of Campbells at home. The ravioli portion was generous but the skin is thick and the duck stuffing tasted like pate (and I don't like pate) though the tomato + cream + oregano + vodka sauce was right, not overpowering.

I decided to save my bucks and skip desserts. Perhaps I would return again to give it another try, on a non festive day that is.

Also read:
Cafe Che at Stratford Avenue
The Commons Coffeehouse at Flower Road
Park Street Mews at Park Street

The Bayleaf

Gregory's Road,
Colombo 07, Sri Lanka.

[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are based on my personal views, tastebuds and preference and may vary for others. Please don't sue me, I don't have money. Kthxbye.]

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Park Street Mews, Colombo

Park Street Mews

Having been to all the eatery options from the Harpo's F&B Group, I find Park Street Mews the most plain Jane of all. Or perhaps the word to describe it is 'casual'. While Cafe Che has a certain Che Guevera theme to it, The Commons Coffeehouse has a home-away-from-home ambience, and The Bayleaf with it's colonial charms, Park Street Mews didn't quite fit in to any of the categories simply because it just seems like any other cafe to me. Unfortunately when I visited the cafe it was quite empty and it's emptiness magnified especially when the space it occupies is considerably huge. On the positive side, it would make a great hangout place for big groups of people.

Tortilla wrap of baby shrimps tossed in garlic mayonnaise with chillie, mango, coriander, onion and tomato- Rs. 500

I had a humble birthday lunch celebration for myself here last year. Park Street Mews menu is similar to Cafe Che's but has a more extensive dinner options of steaks and seafood. The tortilla wrap option I chose was simple, perhaps even out of this world combination of shrimps and mango but it tasted fine though I would love the shrimps to be bigger in size and juicier and the tortilla wrap thinner.

Tiramisu ice parfait- Rs. 340

Since it was my birthday and I usually skip desserts especially when dining alone, I decided a birthday cake/ dessert would be appropriate. I love tiramisu (the authentic ones with mascarpone cheese, rum/ brandy/ coffee soaked layers of biscuits and cocoa powder dusting- yums) but the ice parfait option didn't quite cut it. Perhaps I should known better that coffee flavour ice cream is NOT tiramisu.

Oh well, Happy Birthday to me last year and the Year of Rabbit beckons.... My Year, My Way!

Also read:
Cafe Che at Stratford Avenue
The Commons Coffeehouse at Flower Road

Park Street Mews
50/1, Park Street,
Colombo 02,
Sri Lanka.
Business hours: Mon - Fri : 8am - 11pm, Sat - Sun : 8am - Midnight
Delivery service is available: 486 9000

[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are based on my personal views, tastebuds and preference and may vary for others. Please don't sue me, I don't have money. Kthxbye.]

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Coco Veranda, Colombo

32 Ward Place; Order & pay; Menu board; Cakes cabinet

I'm always on a lookout for places to chill, have my lunch, do a bit of web surfing and basically spend my weekend afternoons. I found Coco Veranda on the god's greatest gift to mankind: the internet and Godgle, oops I mean Google.

Virgin Chocolate Frappe- Rs. 340 + 80 for whipped cream; BFB Beef Burger- Rs. 700; Teriyaki Chicken Ciabatta- Rs. 420

Coco Veranda is said to be the local coffee place alternative to the likes of Coffeebean and Barista. Much to my dismay there is no Starbucks in Sri Lanka, not because I love the coffee so much but it gives me a comfort feeling that there are things that I can associate back home just like how spotting a McD is in a foreign land (yes I know Starbucks and McD are not Malaysian brands)

May I digress a little.

I have never loudly proclaim to be a fan of homegrown/ Made in Malaysia products but when you're away from the country, the slightest sight of a Malaysian brand or product or even spotting descriptions at the back of the cornflakes box in Bahasa Malaysia is enough to put a smile on my face (Knowing that hey I can read and understand the descriptions!)

At the 'veranda'; Virgin Vanilla Frappe- Rs. 340; Coco Veranda's version of the Starbucks lady; Peach Crush- Rs. 410

Back to Coco Veranda, it's located at Ward Place which I understand is an area to want to be seen and is mostly populated by expats and the rich... though so far I've never seen much foreigners in this area, but I have noticed that people who patrons Coco Veranda are usually the English speaking, young and modern Sri Lankans. It is a nice place to have a meet up with friends over a piece of cake and a cup of coffee.

Death by Chocolate- Rs. 390; Hazelnut Rocher- Rs. 380

The food is nothing spectacular to shout about, you get the usual sandwiches and burgers and a little selection of pasta while the beverages usually dominates the menu with an array of juices, frappe, ice blended, hot tea and coffee. I like the Virgin Chocolate Frappe but was disappointed with the Vanilla version and the Peach Crush was refreshing but really expensive! As for the cakes, though Death by Chocolate came highly recommended from the internet and Foursquare tips, I thought the Hazelnut Rocher was the better of the two as it feels like eating a melt down big piece of Ferrero Rocher. The burger and sandwich was ok.

I wouldn't mind returning again for a 3rd visit, especially when it has free wifi :-) 32 Ward Place also houses a few boutiques.

Coco Veranda

32 Ward Place,
Colombo 7,
Sri Lanka.

[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are based on my personal views, tastebuds and preference and may vary for others. Please don't sue me, I don't have money. Kthxbye.]

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Commons Coffeehouse, Colombo

The Commons

There is something common about The Commons with Cafe Che. It's another cafe concept from the Harpo's Group and it's all about providing a common place for people to chill, eat and meet up.

Bottom L-R: Rotti with Devilled Crab Meat- Rs. 265, Mandarin Juice- Rs. 295, Rotti with Brownie and Chocolate Sauce- Rs. 235, Mandarin Frappe in the background- Rs. 285

Coincidentally, this coffeehouse is a walking distance from the place I am staying put. I've been here on 2 occasions on the weekend. I must say I quite like the comfortable and cozy environment where one can choose to sit at the couch areas (great especially if you're with a bigger group) or at the normal tables and chairs area (the only downside is there fit too many tables at one place and can get slightly congested when there's more customers).

The cuisines are not anything extraordinary, you get the usual cafe offerings- sandwiches, wraps, burgers and pasta which are all very modern Western fares. Apart from that, you also get the rotti variety- Rotti: If you're familiar with Malaysian or Singaporean cuisines, it's the same as Roti Canai or Prata. Usually rotti is eaten with sambal or curry but here they offer a slight twist to cater to the non-Sri Lankan customers. There are a variety of savoury and sweet fillings to choose from. I had the Devilled Curry and Brownie with Chocolate Sauce versions. Both taste good and definitely simple but satisfying.

Baked Crab- Rs. 560

On my second visit, I tried the Baked Crab dish which proves to be a combination of crab meat, onions, cous cous and a host of other spices, and cheese baked. It was quite comforting especially eating them with the toasted garlic bread and hot potato wedges.

The beverages are towards the pricier end in my humble opinion, but this is where I get my fix of Mandarin Frappe. There is nothing more satisfying to a meal than having a glass of chilled Mandarin juice or frappe.

Free wifi is also available here. Perhaps my only grudge is that the VAT + Service tax which amounts to 25% of the meal! Expect to spend at least Rs. 800 - 1000 for a decent meal.

Also read:
Cafe Che, Colombo

The Commons
39A, Flower Road,
Colombo 7, Sri Lanka.
Biz hours: Sun - Thu 11am - 10pm, Fri - Sat 11am - Midnight
Delivery available: 4869000

[Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are based on my personal views, tastebuds and preference and may vary for others. Please don't sue me, I don't have money. Kthxbye.]

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Celebrating NY in Colombo

Are we at the right place? It was kind of sponsored by an airline, hence the theme

Being away from Dec - Feb means I'll be missing out on all the major celebrations back home: Firstly it was my birthday, Christmas, NY, CNY, Valentine's Day and not including a few major celebrations/ parties at the work place. It's true- there's always parties, major events, and celebrations when you're not around!

And me being socially inactive (I usually choose to hibernate on 31st and sleep through till 1st) thought I'll just be hanging out at my apartment balcony, maybe have a solo toast to the year of rabbit (my year btw), watch some fireworks and snooze through the night. But then my colleague asked if I wanted to join her in the celebration at one of the hotels. It's never polite to say no to hospitality and who knows the Sri Lankans usher in the NY differently, right?

NY party at Inter Continental Hotel Colombo

Well, apparently hotels here tend to organize parties in conjunction with major commercialized celebrations like Christmas and NY, and these parties are done ala your high school prom / annual dinner & dance style. One would need to purchase tickets to get in and boy they are not cheap too! I've heard some of the better hotels were selling their party tix from Rs. 10,000 (RM280-300ish) and usually includes dinner. My colleague got a cheaper deal of Rs. 3,000 (RM80ish) which includes breakfast.

Now I had the same question in my mind as you have: Breakfast?? Doesn't the party starts at night?

Party like it's the last day of the year!

Well, then I found out... the parties usually starts at 8pm and ends about 6am! That's why you have breakfast- can't be partying till 6am without any food, huh? Anyway, I think you get what you paid for. The DJ (claimed to be from Down Under but seemed like a local dude to me) was horrible, the only consolation was the band (coincidentally the same band the company hired for the family day) but after the 12am countdown, they started belting all the Sinhalese songs... there were few other activities and some lucky draw giveaways but you bet I was already yawning. Also, I had in mind that it was going to be a poolside kind of party with fireworks- not staying inside a ballroom!

We left at 4.30am and I would have been happier snoozing my way through NY.

p/s: Another colleague told me this is NOT the way Sri Lankans party. Hmmm, I have no idea but it was definitely an 'enriching' experience!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Unawatuna, Poya Festival and Hikkaduwa

Unawatuna beach

Unawatuna is one of the many other coastal villages in Sri Lanka located 112km down south from capital Colombo. However, among the other southern coastal areas, Unawatuna and Hikkaduwa are the two more popular locations and here you will find more foreign presence, interestingly many European travelers especially Germans love to come here for vacation. Some of the locals can even speak German!

Unawatuna beach

I talked to one of the restaurant & guesthouse manager and he told me that there are many foreigners especially Europeans who are regular visitors here and even bought lands to build their summer villas! What a life! I also met a German who has since made Sri Lanka and Unawatuna his home and even have a resort & dive center business here.

Poya Parade

During the duration I was here, there was also a Poya Festival, which is a monthly Buddhist festival to celebrate full moon (there is a Poya public holiday every month- so that gives the Sri Lankans an automatic 12 public holidays a year!). There was a Poya parade and it was nice to see one as I doubt I would have the chance to see it in Colombo. During Poya, the people generally abstain from alcohol and all entertainment places are closed.

Hikkaduwa beach

Hikkaduwa is another famous beach, 98km down south from Colombo. Here, you'll find alot of guesthouses, budget inns, and landmark hotels lining the roads. I find the waves considerably strong here while the sea is blue and beautiful. Again, like the beaches in Matara and Unawatuna, there is only a thin fringe of sandy strip and you don't see a sea of beer bellies, beach chairs and umbrellas too! (read: Phuket)

Lunch stop at Refresh Restaurant; Grilled Shark Steak- Rs. 890; Default drink: Ginger Ale!

On my way to Matara and back to Colombo, my driver dropped me at Refresh Restaurant at Hikkaduwa for lunch (suspect that he is paid a commission for it). I know how much most of us fancy and get excited at the thought of dining at the beach side (like the famous Jimbaran Bay in Bali) but here, you'll get to dine in front of the sea and hear the waves pounding at the bay too!

Refresh Restaurant at Hikkaduwa; Hot butter calamari- Rs. 990

I had a shark steak on my first visit and a hot butter calamari on my second visit- am feeling the cholesterol! The food are priced at the lowest of Rs. 800 for mains and can go up to Rs. 2000-ish for seafood like crustaceans.

Although both Unawatuna and Hikkaduwa are considered touristy, I think it is still peaceful and less congested than the Patong @Phuket and Kuta @Bali. At least you won't trip over a beach chair and lost amongst the thousands of beach bummers here.

Also read:
Sri Lanka- Matara

Refresh Restaurant
184, Galle Road,
Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010 and looking forward

It is always interesting how we tend to look back in the year that has just passed and realized that there are so many things we could have put a little bit more effort and done better, did differently, or wish never done at all.

2010 has been a fantastic year despite all the comments going around that it's going to be another tough and challenging year (it is but I always believe that after every storm, there is a rainbow). There were times when the year just whizzed by but also slow and dreadful moments, whatever it is "in a blink of an eye" we have already stepped into 2011 and to sum it all up, 2010 was a great year!

Great times indeed!

Well, let's put the year behind in pictures!

> Been to the overcrowded, overrated and definitely oversunburnt Phuket

> Been to Hangzhou & Shanghai

> Could have gotten a super duper trooper epic swarm badge here at the Shanghai World Expo 2010

> Been to Bandung, Indonesia for shopping and just shopping

> Been to the magical Bali and had some best BBQ ribs in the world!

> White water rafting at Sg Padas, Sabah

> Currently posted to Colombo for 3 months, and it has been nothing but an eye opening journey

> Diving was in my 2010 NY Resolution list, got it fulfilled when I was in Unawatuna last week... in fact I failed cos I couldn't cope in the water but at least I've tried, and not lovin' it!

> The only sorrow that 2010 brought was the passing of grandma after months of coma. And I also lost a friend to a road accident.

Moving on to 2011, with years of experience in making empty resolutions, I've come to learn that I should just stick to those that is achievable (by spending a bit of money) and not vague stuff like 'be more hardworking and get more A's' - that is so high school.

So with this blog as my records keeper, my 2011 Travel Resolutions and things to achieve are as below:

> Visit the paradise of Maldives (since I'm gonna be in the region till end Feb '11, might as well make it happen?)

> Bungee jump at the world's tallest jump location- The Macau Tower (233m)

> Visit Cambodia & the breath taking Angkor Wat (which is happening in June- highly likely to achieve this)

> Perhaps revisit Hong Kong or Taiwan for a gastronomic adventure

> Tryout for the Amazing Race Asia Season 5! I know it sounds ambitious but it would certainly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience that money can't buy!

How does your 2011 list looks like?
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