Friday, April 30, 2010

Eating in Kuching - Lunch at Bamboo Leaf Cafe

The old Chia Heng Restaurant used to be an institution in Kuching. The restaurant was originally located at Carpenter Street, and it was one of the most highly regarded and popular Chinese restaurant in town. I remember my grand father used to bring back the excellent chicken in galangal almost every week. Till today I can still remember the wonderful aromatic taste.

The restaurant subsequently moved to another location in Pending, and most recently transformed itself into more of a casual dining cafe at the Jalan Song Commercial Centre. It has gone through its ups and downs, and I think the most recent incarnation is more in sync with the current food trend in Kuching - more modern and casual settings instead of stuffy formal Chinese style eateries.

I am glad to see that they have kept most of their popular dishes on the menu, and have added some new ones. The old chicken with galangal is still there, and so is the oyster omelette. But they have added a new crispy version which is excellent. The omelette is fried separately to retain the crispness, and the oysters with sauce served on top, with lots of fresh coriander. Seriuosly yummy !

The chicken with galangal - still one of my favourites. The simple combination of tender chicken pieces and the aromatic spiciness of galangal is a great match. I especially love the deep-fried bits of galangal, very addictive ! Haven't seen this great dish in any other restaurants, so this could be one of Chia Heng's original inventions.

The soy sauce chicken is another very nice dish. The chicken is tender yet with a slightly firm bite. The soy sauce seasoning done just right - not too salty.

Other dishes are quite standard and no different from other restaurants. Sweet and sour chicken.

Long beans with minced pork.

Braised tofu.

I think the best way to dine here is to order the set lunch or dinner which comes in different combinations for various group sizes. You can request for some of the pre-fixed dishes to be substituted, and order additional a la carte dishes that you like. It is good to see an old establishment able to transform itself for new tastes.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Eating in Kuching - Dinner at the Orchid Garden Coffeehouse

A I mentioned in my previous post, the Orchid Garden Coffeehouse at Kuching Holiday Inn (now Grand Margherita) used to be an institution in Kuching. It was so popular, the place would be packed even to the late hours at night. People would be drinking coffee, enjoy some grilled steak or nasi lemak, and Hungarian Goulash - one of the coffeehouse's specialties. When other hotels came up, Orchid Garden continued to hold its own until recent years when it just couldn't compete with the spanking new and better establishments in town. Still, it has its loyal followers.

The coffeehouse has undergone a complete makeover recently. Now it has a large open kitchen in the middle, with several other cooking stations on the front and back. The seating area is divided into 2 sections, one next to the river terrace and the other just after the entrance.

The central open kitchen. One of the main flaws of the design is that the kitchen is separated from the diners with clear glass. Although this helps to reduce the fumes from the cooking stations, it makes it unfriendly - and diners have to sneak in from the side to order some of the items. A better exhaust system would have made the glass unnecessary.

The food.

The new concept has made Orchid Garden more current, and the menu has also been given a refreshment. Unfortunately the quality of the food is a bit uneven. The salads were good. The sushi was just OK. Cooked items were not very good, and desserts were very limited. There are better buffets in Kuching, but when you have grown tired of all the other places then this serves as a pleasant alternative.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Kuching Hotels - Grand Margherita Hotel

The first International hotel in Kuching was the Holiday Inn. It occupied a building which was purpose-built for it next to the riverbank. Being the first International standard hotel in town, many Kuchingites have fond memories of the establishment, as it used to be the only place to get a decent Western meal. The coffeehouse - Orchid Garden, was a very popular local institution.

About a year ago the Holiday Inn was re-branded as Grand Margherita under the owner's management, after extensive renovations of the lobby and coffeehouse. The design is now more up-to-date, but some people might miss the old "ethnic" feel of the hotel. The new design follows the trend of modern clean-line aesthetics. I can't help feeling that the new design is a bit soul-less. There aren't enough visual cues to remind guests that this is a hotel in Kuching, one of the most interesting historic cities in South-East Asia.

External view of the hotel.

The renovated lobby.

Reception area.

Grand Margherita is very well located at the Golden Triangle in Kuching. It is right next to the Kuching Waterfront which connects to Main Bazaar and Gambier Street - the historical part of Kuching town. After the renovation the hotel feels fresh, and yet still retains a bit of its original charm. It is a good option for both business and leisure travelers.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Eating in Kuching - Breakfast at Seng Yuen Food Centre

I have been to this coffeeshop many times before, but never posted on it. It is about time I thought. This coffee shop is famous for its bak kut teh and kueh chap. It used to be easy to get good bak kut teh in Kuching, but somehow many of the good stalls have closed or lost their touch. This remains one of the better ones.

The style of the bak kut teh here is more of the clear soup type. If you like the thick and heavy soup of the Klang Style, then this is not for you. Slight hints of Chinese herbs and pepper, sweetness of the pork ribs, quite nice and tasty.

I also like the porridge here. As far as I know, this is the only place in Kuching which serves Pork and Cuttlefish Porridge - a common and popular dish in Singapore. This is a thick porride, topped with minced pork cooked in soy sauce, and cuttlefish is added to give it the extra “umami” taste. A dish that is simple yet satisfying.

Seng Yuen is located at Sekama Road, near the junction to Pending Road. It is not difficult to find - just behind the Hong Leong Bank block at the corner of Pending and Sekama Road.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Eating in Kuching - Lunch at Rumah Hijau Cafe

We have passed through this cute looking eatery many times but never had the opportunity to try it. One recent Sunday we made it a point to go there. Rumah Hijau Cafe is converted from a corner and intermediate terrace house. It serves a variety of Malay-Indian Food.

We ordered the Roti Chanai - very cheap at RM 1.00 each, and it was good - light and fluffy, not oily at all.

The Nasi Lemak Ayam Penyet is a twist on traditional Nasi Lemak - served with Indonesian fried chicken. The chicken was really good - well seasoned with spices and herbs, crispy outside but still tender inside. What I loved were the crispy bits of herbs and spices piled on top of the chicken which were so tasty !

The Nasi Beriani Ayam Madu was also good. Traditional Beriani Basmati Rice served with a honey-flavored chicken confit. It came with some side garnish of pickle vegetables and onions. Nice.

The assam laksa is one of the better ones in Kuching. The sauce is thick and flavourful, had an clean and fresh taste. It still can't rival the original in Penang or KL, but good enough to satisfy the craving.

Prices at Rumah Hijau are very affordable - the place is nicely decorated, and service is quite good. Highly recommended.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Kuching Hotels - Batik Boutique Hotel

I've been on the road for the past few weeks. Just got back from Hong Kong and Macau on a family holiday, then off to Shenzhen and Dongguan for about a week for work. Look out for my posts on these fascinating cities. But first, back to hometown Kuching. It's been a while.

Kuching is slowly waking up to the potential of tourism, and some interesting accommodations have been cropping up recently. One of the latest is the Batik Boutique Hotel, located at the top end of Padungan Road near Kuching's Golden Triangle. It is right next to the famous No. 1 Barbecue Char Siew Shop. From here, it is within easy walking distance to Hilton, Pullman Hotel, Kuching Waterfront and the historical Main Bazaar and Carpenter Street.

The hotel is converted form a 4-storey shophouse. The interior has been gutted and an atrium inserted in the middle of the building to provide light and ventilation. The lobby and circulation spaces are not air-conditioned.

The ground floor reception is done up like a bar which doubles as the reception counter. Floors are in bare concrete with coloured tile inserts. The hotel has a general cool vibe about it.

Rooms are on the 1st to 3rd floor which are connected with a single lift.

On the whole the hotel is quite nicely done - the main flaw being the atrium which let in too much heat making some of the internal spaces quite warm even at night. This could be easily remedied by blocking off the direct sun and installing better ventilation. Visitors to Kuching now have another interesting option instead of a standard hotel. Rates are around RM 250.00 per night. For more details visit their Web Site - Batik Boutique Hotel.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Chiang Mai Hotels & Resorts - The Veranda

If you are heading to Chiang Mai, don't miss a visit to Veranda - The High Resort. It is the latest luxury resort in Chiang Mai, and also the most breath-taking. Veranda is located on a valley slope in Hang Dong, about 30 min drive from the old town. Clear vistas of the beautiful mountains and valleys are what set this resort apart from others.

The design of the resort is modern contemporary, but with touches of tropical architecture in the details. The most unique part of the resort is the lobby - an open pavilion with an oval-shaped curved roof. The main structure of the roof is made entirely of timber, and is covered in timber shingles. It is a bold architectural statement and a stunning welcome to the resort.

The main landscape feature here - like The Four Seasons, are the rice fields, only here they are not rice but pretty little yellow flowers and native plants. Because of the hill side location, the fields are terraced and even more beautiful. The landscape is very natural and immaculately maintained throughout.

There are two main types of accommodations - rooms in 3-storey terraced blocks, and individual 2-storey villas. I find the 3-storey blocks more interesting - there is a roof terrace above the lowest level which double as a roof garden, and the 1st level rooms have a reflecting pool next to the individual balcony terraces. Very sophisticated and thoughtful design.

Most of the facilities are in a multi-storey block near the lobby complex. These include a spa, gym, bar, restaurants, and an infinity pool right at the top with breath-taking views of the mountains.

Rates are The Veranda are actually very reasonable. You can get internet rates starting from around THB 3,500 (about 25% discount) per night. That is a steal for a resort of this quality.