Sunday, January 31, 2010

Kuching Shopping - The Spring Shopping Centre

For a very long time Kuchingites have been longing for a proper shopping centre - like the ones in KL. That wish was finally fulfilled with the opening of The Spring in January 2008. It remains the largest shopping mall in Sarawak, with a floor area of over a million square feet. Now 2 years later, the shopping mall has matured and is about 90% occupied. A new cineplex MBO just opened on the upper floor of the complex and it has the latest 3D theatres.

The anchor tenant of The Spring is Parkson Grand which is gigantic - it rivals their outlets in KL. There is also a huge Padini Concept Store, and my favourite - Factory Outlet Shop where you can get nice T-shirts at a bargain. There are also lots of food outlets. The better ones are Silhouette - an up-market pasta and pizza joint, Secret Recipe, Kluang Station and Sushi King.

The layout of the shopping centre is modeled after megamalls in New Zealand and Australia. Most of the shops are spread out on 2 levels, with a cross-shaped atrium promenade in the centre. Promotional events are organized regularly in the generous atrium space.

The food court with quite a wide selection of stalls.

The developers must have been a bit nervous in the beginning as the crowd was a bit thin the first few months after the opening. Now the place is doing roaring business especially during the festive seasons. Kuchingites have finally taken the bite - and they like it !

Kuching Travel - Sheraton Four Points

Besides The Pullman, the other international hotel to open in Kuching recently is Sheraton Four Points. Actually Four Points was opened about 5 months earlier then Pullman, even though it had started construction much later. Granted, it is not as tall a building as The Pullman, but the speed of construction was still impressive.

Being a Sheraton franchise, a high level of quality in finishing and service is to be expected. On the whole the lobby and F&B outlets do not disappoint. Designed by ZDR from Kuala Lumpur - the overall look is modern, chic and colourful. The all-day-dining cafe called The Eatery is huge - the biggest in Kuching at the moment. There is also a lobby lounge next to the reception, and a casual cafe serving coffee and light snacks. One great thing is the Starwood Privilege Card is accepted at this hotel, so you get the usual great discounts.

While the overall impression is quite positive, the quality of finish might have suffered due to the speedy construction. There are rough edges here and there, and parts of the basement carpark still looks like a construction site. Reviews of the rooms have also been mixed - generally it s not the design but the quality control. Hopefully the hotel can get these sorted out soon.

The hotel is cladded entirely in a glass curtain wall.

The lobby is very spacious.

The huge all-day-dining cafe - The Eatery.

The casual cafe.

With around 400 rooms, the Sheraton Four Points is located just 5 minutes from Kuching International Airport. It is very convenient for business people on a short trip. Though not far from Kuching town centre (about 10km), with the rush hour traffic we get nowadays it can still be a hassle getting around at the wrong time.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Kuching Travel - Kuching Waterfront Lodge

It has taken a long time, but Kuching is finally coming up to speed on developing interesting alternatives to standard hotel accommodation. You've seen Basaga Residences in my previous post, now I am introducing another nicely done boutique hotel which is located right along Main Bazaar - one of the oldest streets in Kuching. The location can't be beat - it is right in the historical part of town - close to India Street, Gambier Street, the Kuching Old Courthouse, etc. It also faces the Kuching Waterfront - a 1 km stretch of beautiful riverside promenade which is great for an evening walk. There are also some of the best eating places in Kuching dotted around here, so you wouldn't have any problem satisfying your food cravings.

The Kuching Waterfront Lodge is more of a B&B then a hotel. It has shared male and female dormitories, and also private rooms with attached bathrooms. Converted from an old shophouse, the front facade has been completed remodeled - but it is good to see that they have retained much of the character of the shophouse inside. There is an open courtyard right in the middle, and the overall ambiance is not lacking in old world charm.

Due to the shophouse location, some of the rooms do not have windows. The rooms are a bit small and basic in terms of decoration - but nevertheless clean and comfortable. For the price they are charging, this is very good value.

The lobby occupies the entire front section of the shoplot. Antique decor and terra cotta tiles give it an old world charm.

A front balcony looks into the Kuching Waterfront.

The Kuching Waterfront Lodge is the type of accommodation I like - full of character, nicely located, reasonably priced and run by friendly people. If you don't need 4 or 5 star hotel luxury, this could be the place for you. Check out their web site here - Kuching Waterfront Lodge.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Eating in Kuching - Old Town White Coffee at KIA

Old Town White Coffee, Ipoh Town White Coffee, Old Time Kopitiam, Uncle Lim, etc. - in the past few years these fast service restaurants have been cropping up all over Malaysia, riding on the mass nostalgia for comfort food especially from Ipoh - that small town in Perak which is famous for it's kuih tiaw soup and chicken rice. The concept is great for time-challenged urbanites - you get almost instant gratification with a bit of mental trip down memory lane. Problem is the decor and colour scheme of many of these outlets are very similar, and sometimes it is very difficult to tell one from the other.There have been a few occasions when I have stumbled into one only to find out that it is actually another chain, and the quality of the offerings do vary quite a lot.

Old Town White Coffee is the biggest chain of kopitiam restaurants in Malaysia. They have finally come to Kuching in a big way - opening a few outlets in close succession. The latest is at the Kuching International Airport. With F&B outlets such as Starbucks, Coffee Bean, KFC, McDonalds and now Ipoh Town, waiting for your plane need not be so boring anymore. This is what I had on a recent trip while waiting for my flight.

Their nasi lemak looked quite good, and it was - served with sambal, ikan bilis, fried chicken, eggs and cucumber.

Their white coffee also didn't disappoint - thick and rich with the authentic Ipoh Coffee taste.

With an extensive menu covering not just the Ipoh staples, there are many items waiting to be tried out. I will definitely make a visit again on my next trip.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Eating in Kuching - Freemasons Dinner

The Freemasons used to be a secret society and all its members and proceedings were kept in strict secrecy. Nowadays it is more of a gentleman's club, but still members don't go around trumpeting their affiliation. People still wonder what goes on behind the closed doors of a Freemasons' Lodge, but many of the activities - mostly centred on charitable work, are quite public.

I recently attended a Freemasons Installation Dinner which was catered by Mr. Ho's Fine Foods Kuching. It was a very grand affair held at the Sarawak Freemasons' Lodge at Jalan Kumpang - an unassuming building which most people would not have noticed if not for the mysterious square and compass symbols on the porch.

The table setting.

Dinner started with an appetizer platter which was placed on the table to share. There was cheese, quail eggs, smoked ham, pate, dates, cherry tomatoes, olives, prawns and grapes. Quite a nice selection, all delicious.

First course was a green salad with smoked duck. I've always liked Mr. Ho's balsamic vinegar and onion dressing, and this was as expected.

The salad was followed by a prawn dumpling soup. Very nicely done - plump and juicy dumplings in a delicious broth. The taste was clean and fresh.

Main course was an Australian Black Angus Ribeye - medium rare. Most steaks outside a restaurant are dry and disappointing, but this one was done just right. My only complaint was that it was a bit cold.

The guest next to me was a vegetarian, and Mr. Ho did a vegetarian pasta for him. It looking quite appetizing.

Dessert was a champagne jelly with grapes - a light and refreshing finish to quite a heavy meal.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Eating in Kuching - Dinner at Rock Road Seafood Restaurant

Rock Road Seafood Restaurant is one of the oldest specialty seafood restaurants in Kuching. It was also one of the first to feature live seafood in tanks. Located at Rock Road - hence the name, the restaurant has gone through its ups and downs in the past, but in recent years has done very well. In fact it is so popular with local politicians, during the cabinet sessions in Kuching the restaurant is normally filled to the brim with politicians of all stripes from all over Sarawak - so avoid going there during those times.

The food at Rock Road Seafood is quite typical local "chi-cha" style. Deep-frying, steaming and wok-frying are the order of the day. The range of live seafood available is a bit limited, but there are also other frozen items to choose from. The restaurant is famous for its prawns and crabs cooked in "satay sauce" - one of the must-order dishes here.

This is what we had at a recent dinner there. The traditional Cold Platter - it had sliced conch meat, prawn salad, ham and jellyfish salad.

Abalone slices with broccoli. Standard but nicely done.

Steamed Soon Hock Fish. Soon Hock is one of the nicest local fish and best served in the simplest way. It was perfectly cooked and delicious.

Stir-fried asparagus with abalone mushroom and scallops.

The famous Prawns with "Satay Sauce". The sauce is actually not a typical Satay Sauce, but an aromatic sweet and sour sauce with quite a thick consistency and the crunch of crushed peanuts and sesame seeds. Really tasty and appetizing, and is thoughtfully served with some deep fried buns to mop up the sauce.

Not having been sated after the prawns, some soft shell crabs in Satay Sauce was ordered up. This was also polished up with relish.

Some tropical fruits to finish off the dinner. The pomelos are really nice this time of year - sweet and juicy.

For good tasting seafood, Rock Road Seafood Restaurant is one of the best bets in Kuching. If you haven't tried it, you owe it to yourself to give it a go.