Monday, May 30, 2011

Singapore 2011 - Star Cruise Day 1

Day 1 of the Cruise. We woke up around 7.00 a.m. The sun had just started to rise. As there were no passengers joining or disembarking at Malacca, the ship had by-passed it and was on the way to Port Klang. We spent some time on the balcony enjoying views of the sea. It was quite a nice feeling - floating on the ocean, especially after the nightmarish check-in experience the night before.

There are 3 restaurants on board which are included in the cruise package the Bella Vista Western Restaurant, Mediterranean Buffet and Terrace and The Pavilion Room Chinese Restaurant. You can choose to dine in any of these, but you can only have one choice per meal. We decided to go to Bella Vista for breakfast, and it was a good choice. There was a small buffet spread with bread, pastries, fruits and yogurt. You can also order cooked breakfasts - Western or Asian. We ordered both.

The Bella Vista Dining Room is quite big and impressive. Probably the most impressive interior in the entire ship. Located at the stern, there are three large windows which look out onto the sea.

The selection of pastries.

Also some fruits and salads.

The cooked to order items are nicer - you can have omelettes with bacon, ham and sausages.

The banana pancakes were really good.

Forget about the Asian breakfast which was mainly fried noodles.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Singapore 2011 - Star Cruise

This year I decided to take my family on the Star Cruise experience, having heard quite a lot of positive things about it in the media, and also among bloggers. It was a short cruise which goes from Singapore to Malacca, Port Klang and back to Singapore - a total of 2 nights and 2 days.

The journey starts from the Singapore Cruise Centre. I have never been there before, and it was surprising to see such an old facility in Singapore which has not undergone any major upgrades. The baggage check-in was smooth enough - it took just a few minutes and we were told to go up 1 level for the passenger check-in. Once we reach there - it was a nightmare. There were hundreds of people in endless queues waiting to check in. To make matters worse, there wasn’t anyone from the cruise line to usher the crowd, or to inform them what was going on. We were not even sure we were on the right queue !

The nightmarish check-in process took more then 2 hours. They gave us plastic cards which would be used as room key cards as well as credit cards on board. After the check-in we tried to make our way to the ship, but it was another long queue to hand in the passports which would be kept by the cruise line during the trip. We finally stepped on the ship around 11.30 p.m., and by that time everyone was too exhausted and not really in the mood to enjoy.

Once we got on the ship the situation was quite chaotic as everybody scrambled to get on the few lifts there were on board. We decided to take the stairs.

There was a welcome supper served in the Mediterranean restaurant, we went for a few snacks.

Though it was already so late, we couldn't resist a quick tour of the ship. The decor is kind of like a floating casino, understandable as the parent company for Star Cruise is the Genting Casino Group.

Views of the main lobby.

The swimming pool at the top deck.

We had booked a balcony room, and it was very small by hotel standards. After they put in another bed for our 2 kids, there was hardly any room to move, but it was home for the next couple of days. The balcony was a much welcome relieve from the cramped quarters. The ship set sail at mid night, and we were on our way to Malacca.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Singapore 2011 - Lau Pa Sat Hawker Centre

Lau Pa Sat Hawker Centre is located at the heart of Singapore’s CBD on Robinson Road. It was formerly built as a wet market, and was later restored and converted into a hawker centre. Due to its proximity to the financial district, this hawker centre is usually packed to the seams during lunch time. If you don’t have the patience to wait, it is best to come mid-morning or after the lunch hour rush.

This hawker centre is worth a visit due to its beautiful Victorian architecture. It is one of the largest cast-iron structures in South-East Asia and the original structure was imported all the way from Glasgow. Despite the huge crowd and the lack of any air-conditioning, the building is really pleasant inside owing to the very open design and high ceiling - which provide plenty of natural ventilation. The old architects do know their stuff.

We've heard good things about the fishball noodles so decided to give that a try. This is great when you want something light. Tasty clear broth with soft silky kueh tiaw, fishballs, pork balls and minced pork. Simple tastes but delicious.

The Char Kueh - pan fried radish cake is not bad. Crispy and flavourful, with a generous quantity of "chai poh" - preserved turnip.

At night the streets beside Lau Pa Sat transform into an open air food paradise. The barbeque here - seafood, chicken wings and satay are famous.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Singapore 2011 - Marina Bay Sands (MBS)

One of the latest additions to the Singapore tourist map is Marina Bay Sands (MBS) - the “Integrated Resort” which offers shopping, conference facilities, accommodation and gambling under one roof. Situated at Marina Bay, it couldn’t have occupied a more prominent location. The iconic design and scale of the building also makes it very visible. My kids actually asked me what was a ship doing on top of the buildings. If you ask me, I don't think that "ship" is very well integrated into the rest of the buildings.

Not being a gambler myself, we were only there to checkout the building and the shopping. From Marina Bay, you walk through the “Helix Bridge” to reach the resort. This “Helix Bridge” is another engineering marvel. Constructed entirely out of stainless steel, the structure twists and turns in 360 degrees. The views from here are quite spectacular.

The shopping mall at the podium is probably one of the biggest in Singapore at the moment. It is definitely premium brands only.

Many big names in the gastronomic world have opened up at the MBS. DB Bistro Moderne by Daniel Boulud, Mozza by Mario Batali and Cut by Wolfgang Puck are here. If that's not enough, there's also Guy Savoy, Hide Yamamoto, Santi Santamaria (who incidentally passed away while working in his Singapore restaurant this year), Waku Ghin by Tetsuya and many more. This is definitely a gastronomic heaven by any standard !

The Architect for MBS is Moshe Safdie - a Canadian architect famous for his design of Habitat 67 - a cutting edge residential prototype which was a part of the 1967 Montreal World Expo. He has also designed may other notable projects around the World. The Marina Bay Sands has the same monumental scale as some of his other projects, but somehow feels a bit lacking in terms of the fine details. It lacks a certain soul, and can only be seen as as a temple to consumerism.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Singapore 2011 - Chinatown (Niu Che Shui)

What was once a thriving community known as Niu Che Shui is now commonly known as Singapore’s Chinatown. The name Niu Che Shiu (literally meaning - bullock-cart water) was derived from the the fact that the water supply to this area used to be transported mainly by animal-drawn carts.

This used to be quite a colourful place with its mix of Chinese and Muslim residents. Today - like many other parts of Singapore, it has been transformed into a tourist attraction – sort of like a real world theme park. I think they may have gone a bit overboard here, as the original character of the place is lost and taken over by street bazaars which is a common sight in most Asian cities.

You can still have your fortune told here.

A German sausage stand has become a popular local attraction.

The Chinatown Heritage Centre is worth a visit if you want to know more about the Chinese immigrants in Singapore.

It is still worth a visit becasue of the architecture. The buildings here are very prime examples of shophouse architecture in Asia - with Portuguese, European, British and Colonial influences. The richer the owners are, the more elaborate the design - so you can usually tell from the facade the wealth and status of the original owners. That’s not to say that there may not have been a few pretenders here and there.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Singapore 2011 - Chatterbox Chicken Rice

Chicken rice is almost a national dish in Singapore, and foodies here can be very obsessive about this simple yet perennially popular dish. Chatterbox in Mandarin Orchard has long had the reputation of serving one of the best chicken rice in town. I had a taste of it many years back and frankly have not much memory of the experience. This trip we made it a point to try it again.

Eating chicken rice here is not cheap. You are paying for the ambiance and also top quality ingredients. The chicken apparently comes from a specially selected farm, and the rice is also specially selected for the purpose. It costs SGD 22++ per order - around 3 times the price of a normal chicken rice shop, but they will give you unlimited refill of the rice.

Our orders came and it looked impressive enough. A generous serving of chicken breast meat, a small bowl of rice, a small bowl of soup and 3 condiments - minced ginger, chili sauce and soy sauce. The rice was very good - nice aroma of chicken, very subtle - fluffy and not oily. The chicken however was a huge disappointment. Breast meat is usually tricky, but a good chicken rice stall would turn out perfectly tender and moist morsels form any part of the chicken. this was dry and chewy - definitely badly cooked. Of the 3 condiments, my favourite was the minced ginger and soy sauce. The chili sauce was not really my cup of tea - I prefer the chili garlic and vinegar combination we are more used to in Malaysia.

One word on the decor - green flourescent lighting is neither very flattering on the food nor on skin tone. They should change it immediately !

There is apparently a chicken rice shop opened by an ex-Chatterbox chef in Pasir Ris. I haven’t tried it yet, but based on the Chatterbox experience I am not impressed.