Thursday, 27 March 2014

Losing our lucky stars at Chuan Wang Szechuan

Ok ... Firstly we do miss Lucky Star! I'm pretty sure that hands down they served the best Chicken with Salted Fish Fried Rice, and their chilli oil with the crispy fried anchovies accompaniment was superb!

And I have to admit that Lucky Star was such a big hole to fill, that 190 Hopkins Street's new tenants barely garnered a fleeting glance every time we scoured the streetscape on subsequent CBA Friday nights for a place to hitch our grumbling tummies. 

But there is power in a name, and collusion in a tweet, so we found ourselves giving Chuan Wang not just the once over, but actually stepping into its environs and partaking of some of its vittles.

Now Szechuan food does not necessarily imply a tipping of the Scoville scale, although it is generally spicier than its Northern counterparts. But it should have big bold flavours.

Chuan Wang has the potential of big bold flavours, but our cook for the night was a tad heavy handed reaching into the salt cellar. Which is a shame really, because underneath that mouth stripping salty veneer lies some amazing and tasty food.

If you're new to Szechuan cuisine, let me recommend our family favourites: Kung Pao Chicken, MaPo Tofu, Spicy Deep Fried Chicken (with the calvacade of dried red chillies), Hot & Sour Soup, and possibly stir fried beans of some description.

We were in the mood for something approximating a reasonable home-cooked meal - i.e. A soup, a vegetable and something fried.

The first dish to hit the table was our Spicy Stir Fried Water Spinach. Nicely crunchy, not too oily, but as mentioned previously, a little heavy on the salt. They pretty much pile up the steam rice into a mound in the serving bowl, so mental note, one serve will do for 2 people.

Then we waited, and waited, and waited ...

Until about 20 mins in, our lovely waitress comes and apologises saying that the fish was taking a bit longer ... which is hospitality speak for sorry we forgot to actually cook the damn thing!

But lets just overlook this as a simple unintentional mistake. It was easily forgiven when our Salt and Pepper Stir Fried fish arrived at the table ... oh the visual drama!! Cubes of nicely battered fried fish sitting snugly in the Mort they were so recently tethered to in sinew and flesh.

And that framework crisp fried into a curlicue reaching for the skies, a shower of goldenfried egg filigree raining down from the heavens to kiss the deliciousness beneath ...

Yes and way too salty in parts! But you know what, there was nothing left on the plate at the end of it all. M even picked up that sorry empty carcass and practically chewed off all the bones.

To soothe the fatty throat, we also ordered a Pork and Vegetable Soup, which was suitably refreshing, with lots of lovely bits of winter melon, although precious little green leafy as depicted on the menu.

The soup was served with this wonderfully gingery-springoniony-chillioily sauce, which was an equally wonderful counterpoint to both the meatiness of the pork and the delicate melon slices.

So in summation, what do we reckon? Well I reckon its worth a few more repeat visits, the food is full of flavor (we'll slowly work on the excessive salt factor) and robust, and perfect for evenings that are gradually getting cooler as we slump our way towards winter.


Chuan Wang on Urbanspoon

Friday, 21 March 2014

This is what Heaven Looks Like - Kate Bush Before The Dawn

Ok ... this post needs no words ... except to say that I have died and gone to Heaven ... but I may never know what her sweet fruit tastes like ...


A Hazy Shade of Singers - Part 6 - Getting our Posh on at Ann Siang Hill

Ok ... its been an endurance test hasn't it?! Well I promise this is more or less the final post on my recent trip to Singapore. 

After our brunch in the delightful heartland of Tiong Bahru, we hopped back on the MRT and headed out to another cool area in Singapore - Tanjong Pagar - although you certainly would need to step up your game if you want to move here.

Tanjong Pagar bordering Singapore's Chinatown hosts many of the island's sexed up shophouses - now retailing for millions to get that white washed wooden slatted exterior with sparse minimalism interiors.

Many of the cool urbane clothing and design stores have gone, replaced by a myriad of cafes and bars each vying for the tourist dollar with special offers and artfully placed knick-knackery and kampung style alfresco seating - and by artfully placed I mean blocking the entire fucking footpath!

Anyhoo, PS Cafe is still here up on top of Ann Siang Hill, where a slightly less salubrious establishment stood not so many years ago, affording punters an amazing view of the CBD skyline, so impressive a vista it is during the day that you could almost reach out and touch a building, then exploding into a universe of twinkling lights as the sun sets.

After having a meal here a few years ago, I was determined to visit the place again with M, this time for cocktails ... which is exactly what we did.

I must warn you that this is not the cheapest of establishments, but if you work out the exchange rate, the prices really aren't that much different at a reputable bar here in Melbourne.

Oh but the list is tempting!!

My friend Licio had the Black Sesame Martini when she was here last and loved it. And I trust the girl's taste (apart from that brief misguided stone-washed phase she went through). And it was delicious - coconuty and rich - with 2 types of Vodka (Straight Belvedere and Vanilla infused), a splash of Malibu and milk - it went down all too easily.

M had the Ginger Margarita, with a sugar rim. A concoction of Tequila, Grand Marnier and Lime Juice, it was both spicy and refreshing. The heat from the Ginger and the sweet lime masking the strong heady alcoholic kick - this one is a bit of a creeper - Everything goes swimmingly until you get off your seat and then everything goes swimmingly!!

For our second cocktail (ppht ... duh!), we decided to pick one of their signature cocktails. I went for the Vodka Cheng Teng, which was HEAVEN! Cheng Teng is actually a popular local dessert made out of dried longans, dates, white fungus and barley stewed in a sort of sugar syrup and eaten out of a bowl.

Unless you have eaten this dish and love it, you're not really going to appreciate the magnitude of this next sentence. But for all my Singaporean and Malaysian readers out there ... this drink was like Cheng Teng but with Vodka added!! Genius!! I loved it. I can't tell you how very much I loved it.

M had the Bee Sting which is essentially a Vodka Gin and Tonic but infused with chilli, Lemongrass, Lime Juice, Honey and Kaffir Lime leaves.

Your initial sip is of the overpowering Kaffir lime, but as the drink wears on, the other flavours start coming to the fore ... all in all a very complex sophisticated drink!

This is a definite must-visit ... but bewarned, each cocktail on average is round the S$19.00 mark. But there are other drinks to be had, and also an a la carte menu. Its a great place to hang out in. And I dare you to try the Dirty Cheesy Martini - basically a Martini with Grey Goose vodka and Martini peppered with blue-cheese stuffed olives ... go on!

Thursday, 20 March 2014

If I was Amy Adams, and you were Christian Bale ... all smiles at the Mary Lipshut/Hawkeye Vintage designer sale

Ok ... so I used up my precious lunch hour to peruse the racks of the late Mary Lipshut's collection at the pop up Hawkeye Vintage Designer sale in the city.

A sea of Vintage Courrege Bell Bottoms

I felt like the Amy Adams character in American Hustle when the Christian Bale character invites her back to his Laundry and she tries on these amazing disco gowns that have been left uncollected ... only I'm not Amy Adams, let alone a woman ... so all I could do was pretend.

Missoni Heaven! Interesting fact - I was in Florence the day Ottavio Missoni died

Still if you love retro, and you're in Melbourne for the next 3 days, then hop on over to 377 Little Bourke Street and head up to the first level. Just ignore those nasty fashionistas, but keep your ears open for some delicious eavesdroppings (I'm patenting this particular conjugation!).

I Spy Vintage Versace resort - double breasted, complete with gold buttons and shoulder pads

Prices start from $20 upwards to $15000 +. Its worth the rummage even though most of these garments target the long limbed and anorexic-waisted amongst us. If nothing else, you can treat this like an exhibition piece and revel in a piece of Melbourne Fashion history, when colours and Rayon reigned supreme.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

"I'm Fucked ... but I'm Happy" A Night with Buika at the Esplanade, Singapore

Ok ... thanks to the largesse of dear friends RA & SH, we were treated to a night with Buika at the Esplanade, Singapore.

A guitar, a wooden box and a dark Iberian goddess dressed in pleated black crepe, with a voice that growled, whooped, ululated, and tore open fresh wounds only to stick its probing tongue in and have a feel around, unpicking the seams that held our emotions in tact for about an hour and a half ... leaving us exhilirated and feverishly exhausted at the same time.

Most of her material is in Spanish and at one point she expressed her "concern" that we didn't understand what she was singing, but then on reflection, emotion is a universal language, and the power of the music and her delivery would have been sufficient to convey her meaning. And convey that meaning she did! And she made us feel it too!

The highlight for me was her version of Abbey Lincoln's "Throw It Away" wherein she wrenched every simple nuance out of the song's lyrical economy.

"Throw it away
Throw it away
Give your love, live your life
Each and every day
And keep your hand wide open
Let the sun shine through
'Cause you can never lose a thing
If it belongs to you"

As RA said at the end of it all ... "so raw"! Indeed. If you ever get a chance to see her live, do it. It was magical.

Speed Dating Congee at HM Quan

Ok ... let me take a break from blogging about recent travels and do right by some of my drafts posts.

We went to this newly minted faux fastfood footscray foodstore (how's that for alliteration) on the corner of Hopkins and oblivion some time ago. We found HM Quan a treat!

First up, let me just state that I know where they're going with their slipped disc inducing kindergarten seating. They have the same ye olde set up at Satay by the Bay in Singapore. Difference is that Satay by the Bay offers proper seating at grown up tables for the less bendy amongst us, HM Quan does not.

That kind of limits the dynamic of your audience - so maybe only the young and limber are encouraged here. But never mind, the food is cheap and rather cheerful.

And this is how the menu works. You have your basic bowl of congee (or the alternative of rice if you must) at $2.99 a pop. You can then choose an accompaniment or more from a list of about 14 or so dishes, all similarly priced at $2.99 each.

You can prefer to be frugal and order just one or two or you can simply go hell for leather. We economized somewhere in the middle with 3 choices each.

If I remember correctly, I had the Caramelised Pork, Salted Pickled Melon (because you need to have preserved vegetable of some sort) and the Fish Cotton (which is basically floss).

M had the Caramelised Fish, the Fish Cotton and Salted Duck Egg.

Although I would have preferred my dishes slightly warmer in temperature, on the whole the experience was delightful, and not to mention delicious!

There are a number of sauces available to help proceedings along. My pick is the salt shrimp - salty, prawny crunch! Yum.

And if your still hungry after all that, you can share a plate of hot and trending Banh Trang. Although I think I prefer the one at Co Thu Quan.

It is teetering on the slightly willful side of Novelty snacks, but its worth checking out at least once, especially since it proffers decent value for money.

But like participants at a speed dating night, you just want to keep changing things up as quickly as possible until you're well and truly sated ... so exercise some restraint, or you could just kiss the diet goodbye and lose all pretensions to piety and pig the hell out!!!

Now if only they would consider proper seating ...

HM Quan on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

A Hazy Shade of Singers - Part 5 - High Above the Clouds in the Singapore Flier

Ok ... there's really no way of capturing the experience of being in the Singapore Flier and I'm not really going to try.

So here's a little video that might give you a bit of an idea. And then some random pics to follow ...

I haven't quite decided whether it was worth the SGD$30++ that it cost. I'm certainly not rushing to the Southern Star, or whateve the heck its called for fear of plunging to my death, or worse being stuck in a glass box with no air-conditioning for hours on end as someone invariably inept tries to rectify the situation.

And on such a hazy, smog filled day, it wasn't quite the "wow!" experience I was hoping to have.

Still its always great to see things from a different perspective. You might just discover some strange delights like this football pitch built over water ... I mean why not?

And the machinery itself throws up some interesting visual angles. So it was one way of passing about a half an hour before moving on to the next thing.

Monday, 17 March 2014

A Hazy Shade of Singers - Part 4 - On the Tourist Trail

Ok ... this time round we had one touristy item to tick off our list (well nearly two as I had half a mind to visit Sentosa, but then common sense and taste prevailed!). I was determined to visit Gardens by the Bay, the 2 temperature controlled conservatories in particular - the Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome.

Architecturally these are amazing structures. Apparently the Flower Dome is the largest columnless glasshouse in the world - just a little tidbit if you're concerned with matters monumental.

The Supertrees Grove in particular, cut the skyscape like sprouting biomechanical buildings in a 70s sci-fi mat painting or an illustration from a science fiction compendium.

The overall effect is dramatic to say the least. Its a must visit, but give yourself time to not only admire from a distance, but to also discover the botanical gems hidden within.

You can marvel at the man made waterfall and the mountainous flora within the Cloud Forest. M's first reaction was one of incredulity that a man made structure of such magnitude was completely air-conditioned. Personally, I wouldn't have it any other way. And I know what some people think about that!


Then there is the Flower Dome which was slightly dissappointing. Way too much Australian content for my liking, sections of which were like walking through your local Bunnings ... but hey ho that's just my opinion. The Baobab trees and cacti were pretty impressive I have to say. 

But frankly Flower Dome is a bit of a misnomer, as there was precious little variety to be had!

Time did not permit us doing the skywalk over at the Supertrees Grove, so my recommendation is that you head to the main ticketing booth and purchase tix for the Cloud Forest and Supertrees. The Supertrees tix will be cheaper this way.

We were wanting to fit in a ride on the Singapore Flier and also stop for lunch in between at Satay by the Bay. This food centre is a slightly punishing walk in the heat away from the main drag of the gardens proper. There is a shuttle bus that you can use at $2.00 per trip per person - I suggest you do so. But don't skip a visit here. If you are ever curious about what Satay actually tastes like (and if you live outside of Singapore and Malaysia, then chances are you have no clue! Because no one serves proper satay outside these countries), then head on down here and try them out over at the Sri Geylang stall (which is the better of the 3).

We had a selection of three meats: Ayam (chicken), Kambing (mutton) and Purut (tripe). Delicious beyond words.

And I also suggest that you head to the Boon Tat Seafood stall, which is just across the way and order their Mee Goreng. As its primarily a seafood stall, their version of Mee Goreng contains mainly seafood and there is a hint of prawn stock, making this a cross between Mee Goreng and Hokkien Mee (Singapore style). Amazing!

Next up - High above the clouds in the Singapore Flier.

PS check out the bark of this palm ... love it!!

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