Saturday, May 30, 2015

Morocco 2014 - Marrakesh

We drove from Casablanca to Marrakesh and the journey took around 3 hours. Along the way you will see a changing landscape from greener hills which gets browner and dryer as you near Marrakesh. Marrakesh has a semi-arid climate with mild Winters and very hot Summers. We were there in the beginning of Spring - and the temperature was just nice.

As you approach Marrakesh, the first thing to catch your eyes is the majestic Atlas Mountains. As it was early Spring, the peaks are still covered in snow and looked really beautiful.

Once you enter Marrakesh City - you will be surprised that it is actually quite a modern city. Being a popular tourist destination, Marrakesh is not lacking in modern amenities and modern hotels and resorts. All the buildings have the same colour - the salmon pink that you see on all the postcards of Marrakesh. If you don't like salmon pink then this is probably not the right place for you.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Morocco 2014 - Hassan II Mosque

As our main destination in Morocco was Marrakesh, we only had half a day in Casablanca - not enough time to see much. In hindsight we probably should have planned more time in Casablanca as it was a very interesting city to explore
The guide recommended that we must see the Hassan II Mosque which is one of the main attractions in Casablanca. It is the largest mosque in Africa, and its minaret which is more than 60 storeys tall - is the tallest in the World.

The size of the mosque is certainly impressive. It is afterall the 7th largest mosque in the World. Architecturally though it  is more like a huge decorated box. The details are more interesting than the overall composition.

The mosque sits on a promontory which faces the Atlantic Ocean. It is quite an interesting experience looking at the Atlantic, knowing that across the ocean is America.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Morocco 2014 - Casablanca

Mention Casablanca, and probably the first thing that comes to mind is the famous movie featuring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, or the song by Bertie Higgins. Many people probably watched the movie without knowing that Casablanca is actually in North Africa - it looked like somewhere in Europe.

Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco - and also its business and industrial centre. The city was first colonized by the Portuguese and then the Spanish, and eventually the French in the 19th Century. It remained a French colony until after the 2nd World War.

Due to the French occupation, Casablanca is full of French Colonial buildings. In fact it looked a lot like parts of Yangon and Hanoi - 2 cities also Colonized by the French. Of course here you also see the African, Islamic and Spanish influences, making it a fascinating city with a mix of different cultures and architectural styles.

The Old Medina in Casablanca is a great place to wonder around. It is not as old or interesting as the Medina in Marrakesh or Fes, but still interesting.

The coffee culture is strong here, and it is good to see the ladies joining in the fun. Though you will see mainly older ladies. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Eating in KL 2015 - S.Wine at Publika

People used to swoon over Wagyu Beef, but the star now seems to be pork. There are so many pork-centric restaurants in KL you would think that you were in Italy or Spain. S.Wine at Ben's Independent Grocer (B.I.G.) at Publika was one of the earlier ones to join the porcine craze. After a few years since its opening, it is still popular as ever.

One of the great things about S.Wine is that it is right next to the Salume counter. You can go the the counter and order any of the cured meats you like - and they will slice it and serve at your table.

BIG's restaurants are all big on concept and S.Wine is no exception. The interior is dark and chic with raw concrete floor, black walls and and open kitchen.

One of the best items on the menu is the Pork Confit Salad with Water Melon and Lychee. A decadent salad that tastes as good as it looks.

Another favourite is the Pork Bolognese - a very rich sauce made with minced pork and red wine.

If you still want more pork - order the Pan Fried Pork Chop with Sauerkraut and Mustard Sauce. The pork chop is very tender, and the sauce packs a flavour punch. All that richness is cut through nicely by the tangy sauerkraut.

While new porkie places come and go, S.Wine remains popular due to its nice and casual ambiance and well executed food. A place that will reward you with a nice dining experience each time you go.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Eating in KL 2015 - Pigs & Wolf

The Pavilion in KL is like a transformer that keeps on changing. The latest addition is a huge dining area called the Dining Loft on the 7th floor, with an overall area of 30,000 sq ft and 7 new restaurants. The popular Three Little Pigs & The Big Bad Wolf in Bangsar has opened a branch here - and the name is thankfully shortened to Pigs & Wolf.

Pigs & Wolf is a pork-centric restaurant and bar. One look at the menu and the pork lover would be in 7th heaven - but the non-pork lover would have to look elsewhere. The restaurant has two main sections - a large area for dining, and a smaller section next to the bar which is set up more as a lounge. 

There are some Tapas selections from the appetizer section - so we ordered a couple to try. The deep fried cheese sticks is mozzarella cheese deep fried in bread crumbs and served with a strawberry jam on the side - not a bad combination.

The Bacon and Egg Croquettes are very good - crispy outside and soft and pillowy inside - and the hot and tangy sauce made a nice compliment.

The Caesar Salad came with crispy bacon, croutons and a poached egg. While the presentation was impressive - the dressing lacked depth and flavour.

The name of this dish was so good we had to order it - Crispy Garlic Pork. It turned out to be cubes of deep fried pork coated with a thick and slightly sweet soy sauce. The pork was not crispy at all, and the garlic flavour was missing - overall a bit of a miss. 

The signature Pigs & Wolf Pasta is a Carbonara with lots of crispy bacon, ham, mushroom and again a poached egg. Looking at the dish - with its great presentation and mouth-watering ingredients - you should be in flavour heaven. Strangely when you put it in your mouth - there was again a lack of depth and flavour. The saltiness of the bacon overwhelm all the other ingredients - which was a shame.

On the whole I find the dishes at Pigs & Wolf a bit too heavy on the bacon. Bacon is no doubt a crowd-pleaser - but need to be balanced with other ingredients to offset its richness and saltiness. There were some good dishes, and the overall ambiance is nice - so I would definitely go back to try some of the other dishes on the menu.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Eating in KL 2015 - Tim Ho Wan

Tim Ho Wan created a sensation in Hong Kong when it first opened in 2009. Basically a hole-in-the-wall outlet serving great dim sum at reasonable prices - the queue has been non-stop since its opening. The owner and chef is Mak Kwai Pui who was the head dim sum chef at Four Season Hotel's famous Lung Keen Heen restaurant. Tim Ho Wan won a Michelin Star in 2010 - which made the queues even longer.

Fast-forward to 2015, and Tim Ho Wan is now a big franchise with outlets in Singapore, Australia and now Malaysia. Having been disappointed at the original Tim Ho Wan a couple of times due to the long queues - I was really happy to find out that they have opened their doors at Mid Valley.

We went around 2.00 p.m. and there was still a queue at the entrance. Thankfully they have a great system and can tell you exactly how long the queue would be - it was around 20 min, not too bad. Once inside, the place looked a bit like a food court. The decor is quite simple - this venue was previously occupied by a Mediterranean restaurant called Blue Med but no evidence of that remained.

The menu is a printed sheet on the table. Like in many Hong Kong Style eateries - you write down your selections on an order chit yourself. The must-order would be the 4 Heavenly Kings -  Polo Bun, Carrot Cake, Cheong Fun with pig's liver and Ma Lai Kow (steamed egg cake). We ordered all except the egg cake.

The Polo Buns are very good. With a thin crispy shell, a velvety soft skin and sweet char siew filling - it is the perfect dim sum snack.

We did not like the Cheong Fun with pork liver that much - the gamey pork liver did not go well with the delicate Cheong Fun skin. Char Siew or prawns would have been nicer.

The Lo Pa Kow (Carrot Cake) was very good - one of the best versions we've tried.

Their Siew Mai was great - crunchy with sweet morsels of pork and prawn filling.

Actually the best items we tried were 2 unassuming items on the menu. The Congee with Lean Pork, Century Egg and Salted Egg was very tasty and comforting - what comfort food is all about. Would go back just for this.

The Steamed Rice with Chicken, Sausage and Mushroom had really tender pieces of chicken done the Cantonese way - still springy and had a nice bite to them. The sauce was very flavourful and appetizing.

There are not a lot of desert items on the menu. The one that looked most interesting was the Osmanthus Jelly which was what we ordered. It was quite good but nothing special.

We are not sure whether the Dim Sum at Tim Ho Wan Mid Valley represents the same flavour as at the flagship outlet in Hong Kong. From this tasting, we would say that the Dim Sums are very good and definitely among some of the best you can get in KL, but they did not blow us away. The prices they charge may be cheap by Hong Kong standards, but in KL would place them at the top end among Dim Sum restaurants here. Definitely worth a visit but don't set your expectations too high.