Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Taipei 2012 - Lunch at Five Dime Restaurant

We took a red eye flight from Singapore to Taipei, and by the time we arrived in Taipei it was around 7.00 a.m. There wasn’t much food served on the flight, and we were all quite famished. Unfortunately Taipei Airport is undergoing a huge upgrade and there weren’t many F&B options to choose from. In the end we all ended up buying some buns to tie over till we can get to some proper food.

Our first lunch had been arranged at Five Dime Restaurant. This is definitely one of the most unusual restaurants I have visited. It's the brain child of a Taiwanese artist and sculptor - Hsieh Li-hsiang. She designed the restaurant and personally created many of the sculptures and decorations that adorn the place.

The entrance ramp to the restaurant.

I was quite surprised by the size of the place. It is a 4-storey building, and the entrance is on the first floor which you reach through a twisted ramp designed like a cave tunnel. In fact the whole design of the restaurant is very reminiscent of Antonio Gaudi’s work - with lots of cave-like spaces and organic design touches everywhere.

The place itself is certainly very intriguing - but what about the food ? Well, it was not bad. We were served quite a number of dishes - which started with a generous serving of steamed rice with sweet potatoes. This was quite welcome by all as we were starving by then.

After that the dishes started rolling out. The food here I would say is Taiwanese comfort food - food that would be served in a typical Taiwanese home. They were all simple dishes - but delicious !

Stewed chicken in soy sauce.

Stir-fried cabbages - really fresh and sweet.

Stir-fried "Flies Heads". One of the signature dishes - the "flies heads" are actually fermented black beans, cooked with diced veggies, pork and some chillies. A dish with good flavours and texture.

Green salad - this was a bit of a disappointment as the dressing was nothing special, and they used seafood sticks in the salad ! Should have been some fresh prawns, or some squid would be nice.

Steamed fresh water fish. I am not a big fan of fresh water fish - and this tasted quite bland as I expected.

Stewed pork ribs. Fork tender and delicious.

Deep-fried mushrooms coated with salted egg yolk. This was the stand out dish - really nice and unusual flavours. At first we couldn't figure out what the main ingredient was - as it was chewy and meaty, and tasted like shellfish. I would go back for this !

Dining at Five Dime Restaurant is quite an experience. It is always great to see a unique vision of a talented and creative soul transformed into reality. The food also lives up to the standard, and you should have a very pleasant dining experience that you will not soon forget.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Taipei 2012 - Taipei City

Taipei is one of the top foodie cities in Asia and I have always wanted to visit, but never had the chance until recently. Originally the trip was supposed to be last year - in order to catch the Taipei Floral Expo, but due to the tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan it was put off until this year.

The city itself is as I have expected - as I have seen it countless times in movies. Taiwanese directors love to use Taipei as their backdrop, much like New York or Los Angeles. In many ways it felt like visiting an old friend.

Taipei city itself is laid out on a functional grid, with major roads running East-West and North-South. Shimin Boulevard divides the city into the Northern and Southern sections, whereas Jianguo Road divides the city into Eastern and Western sections. Due to this grid pattern, it is not difficult to find your way around town. Howevre it is the small roads and laneways behind the main roads that are the most interesting. During the trip, I must have walked around half of Taipei City on foot - it is not as big as you might think.

The Taipei undeground MRT system is one of the best in the World - and it is also the most convenient way to move around the city. If you are in a hurry - taxies are plentiful and relatively cheap. It is refreshing not to have to haggle over taxi fare, and Taipei taxi drives are some of the most courteous and friendly I have met.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Eating in Kuching - iChef Cuisine

Another week, another new restaurant in town ! Actually iChef Cusine has been around for a few months already, but it is new enough to still feel fresh. I drive pass it every day on the way to work, as it is along the main road. We usually wait until a new place has cooled down a bit before trying it out, and a couple of weeks ago we decided to finally check it out.

The restaurant is in a converted single-storey detached house. The house is quite small, but they have pitched some tents next to it to provide more dining space. As it was still early and the place was empty, we chose to sit inside the house which is air-conditioned. The space is expectedly small, but it was cosily decorated. 

The menu is mainly simple bistro food - pasta, steaks and grilled meat. We ordered some pastas and a pizza, with some garlic bread and onion rings to start off.

The garlic bread didn't have any taste of garlic at all - more liked buttered toasts. The onion rings were equally disappointing - with batter that was too thick and oily.

 The Spaghetti Bolognese looked nice enough, but the taste was a a bit bland.

Next came my Pasta Aglio Olio with seafood. The plating was quite sloppy. Though the taste was okay and the prawns quite fresh, the mussels were not in the best condition and tasted a bit past their prime.

The pizza fared a bit better - with proper salami and cheese.

There haven't been many reviews written about iChef, and what's out there seem to have good opinions about the place. Maybe it was an off night, or we ordered the wrong things, but I don't think we will be going back in a hurry.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Eating in Kuching 2012 - Rock Road Seafood Restaurant

In Kuching we are still fortunate to be able to enjoy very good seafood at relatively reasonable prices. Though the variety can't compare to Kota Kinabalu, the quality and freshness of what we do get is usually pretty peachy.

You can find seafood restaurants almost anywhere in Kuching, but if you are looking for Halal outlets then there are really only 2 options - Top Spot Food Court right in town centre - or Rock Road Seafood. Rock Road Seafood has been around for a very long time, and they haven't changed much except the decor has been incrementally upgraded over the years. This is one of the most popular restaurants with our local political class, especially during the State Legislative Assembly Seatings. 

The ground floor of the restaurant is like a mini wet market. Here you can select the seafood and other items that you want, and let them know how you want the items to be cooked. You can also get them to weigh the items so you know exactly how much you will be paying - instead of getting a sticker shock later.

 We ordered the usual - starting with stir-fried midin with garlic. It was very good.

The Sweet Corn Soup was one of the best we've had - very tasty and with chunks of fresh crab meat.

 The Oyster Omelette was pretty standard - and with lots of oysters.

Buttered Prawns with Egg Floss - nicely done, with the prawns still tender and sweet.

The main reason we went there - Crabs in "Satay Sauce". This is one of their signature dishes, and it never disappoints. I don't know why the sauce is called  "Satay Sauce" because it doesn't taste anything like its namesake, but is sure is tasty. We picked two of the largest crabs they had - and they were both excellent - with lots of fresh, sweet meat inside the gigantic claws.

The food at Rock Road Seafood has steadily improved over the years. Today I would say they are one of the best seafood places in town, but you will be paying a bit  more then most other establishments. However since you get to actually pick the seafood yourself, you are getting what you pay for.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Eating in Kuching 2012 - Bayridge Seafood Restaurant

Damai Beach finally has a new attraction - Damai Central. Built by the government, this is a resort-style multi-purpose complex which houses shops, cultural venues, food outlets and restaurants. Located right opposite the Damai Culture Village and right next to the sea - the place is still new and not fully occupied. Expect that to take a few years as things in Kuching usually move at snail's pace.

The reason we went there was to check out Bayridge Seafood Restaurant - the latest dining sensation in town. It is operated by the Lok Thian Group - one of the most established restaurant groups in Kuching, so you can expect a reasonable standard.

The restaurant occupies one of the most prominent corner of the Damai Central complex. The internal dining area is quite basic, and your best bet would be to take a table on the terrace which offers great views of Damai Beach. 

Nice views of the sea from the terrace.

Being a seafood restaurant, the dishes are what you would usually find at any seafood establishment in town. However if you decide to splurge they can also amp up the menu for you - but pre-arrangement is required.

The food was of a reasonable standard - though not outstanding. The Midin with Garlic was nicely cooked and crunchy.

 The Braised Tofu - a dish we always order for the kids.

The Buttered Prawns were way overcooked.

Crabs in Spicy Sauce. This was the best dish of the meal, unfortunately the crabs were a bit small.

 The Oyster Omelette was Crispy but there were too few oysters.

Dinner at the Bayridge Seafood was quite pleasant  especially when you are in a leisurely mood. Prices are not exactly cheap, but you are paying for the location.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Eating in Kuching 2012 - Kim Joo Cafe

Kuchingite's appetite for "Kolon Mee" is insatiable and no matter how many kopitiams there are in town, there will always be the essential Kolon Mee stall somewhere. One of the oldest kolon mee stalwarts in Kuching, it is not far from another famous shop at Bishop's Gate Street, at the Eastern end of Carpenter Street. The name of the shop is Kim Joo Cafe, and they sell only one thing - the Kolon Mee. The good thing is they are usually not as busy as the other shop down the road where you famously have to wait for a table and then wait again for the noodles to be served.

While every one has their own personal favorites, in my view the Kolon Mee at Kim Joo is only second to the more famous shop - Min Joo. The style of  the Kolon is the same, and you normally order the Kolon Mee Kosong - which is just plain noodles tossed in oil, and a bowl of pork soup.

The noodles are cooked al dente - with a really nice bite. And because they are flavoured with a healthy slashing of pork lard with just a hint of vinegar, they are really delicious.

The pork soup also is no slouch. It is a very clear soup served with different cuts of pork, with various innards added for more interest. The soup is very clean tasting, and the pork slices very tender and flavourful.

Go to Min Joo Cafe if you want a taste of the best Kolon Mee in Kuching - but be prepared to wait up to an hour for it. Or you can just head down the road for the second best - or some say the best version of this defining Kuching delicacy.