The Art of Discovering Florence

During our summer in Europe last year, we met an Italian guy and told him we were enroute to Cinque Terre.

He then spoke about his home country and said, You must visit Florence. Florence is an open gallery itself – beautiful! he exclaimed, in the usual excited Italian manner.

I got what that person meant when I stepped foot into Florence.

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What is to be discovered in Florence…

Florence is the centre of the Italian Renaissance and the city is still steeped in its history, with traces of that period trailing all over the place.

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What we saw when we turned round the corner from our accommodation… I must say, this first glimpse of the Duomo did stop us in our tracks momentarily.

So pardon my pun, but really, the art of discovering Florence is to appreciate the city itself as an artwork.

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Piazza della Signoria

And here’s how you can get the most out of Florence…

Be prepared to walk. To fully appreciate the beauty of Florence, you will have to walk through the city, and climb up the hill!

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Yes, after walking around the city, we may have walked to the bridge, crossed it, and climbed up THAT hill…

But take your time. Even when the sun sets early in winter, Florence is still as beautiful.

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But we were rewarded with this view at the top of the hill

Be ready for the crowds. Even during the off-peak season of winter, Florence is still teeming with tourists. So be prepared to jostle with the crowds, whether you are walking through the streets, queuing up for the famous Uffizi Gallery, admiring the view atop Piazzale Michelangelo or taking a day trip to Pisa. And remember that you’re in Italy – so be watchful for pickpockets!

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Christmas lights along the streets. See the crowd below?

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Managed to get a good shot of the family in the crowded streets

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Piazzale Michelangelo. We actually saw someone attempting to pickpocket here.

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Inside Uffizi Gallery, after queuing for an hour.

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The famous Leaning Tower of Pisa, which is a 30-40minute bus ride away from Florence. See the hordes of people below the Tower?

Be careful of tourist traps. There are lots of restaurants/cafes/gelato shops in the touristy areas but be warned, the prices are usually jacked up. Unfortunately, we fell victim to those traps – exorbitant prices for low quality food. So do your research if you want a good Italian meal!

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Gelato that we had, which was unfortunately, overpriced and forgettable. Quite unlike the gelati I had in Milan and Cinque Terre!

Be like a local. I like rooming with AirBnB because that usually gives you a sense on how the locals live. And Florence was no exception. We got to live in a local’s apartment and while our trip was quite packed, we took the time to find the local supermarket and stock up for breakfast the next day. So we took some time to relax in the apartment the next morning and munch on those local delicacies for breakfast. That turned out to be a simple but memorable meal for us.

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Peach juice, fresh fruit, wholemeal bread, salami, belgian waffles, coffee (Italian, of course) and that. hazelnut. yogurt. Can’t seem to find that yogurt outside Italy!

Be an art lover. Like what I said before, you have to look at Florence as a work of art itself. So even if you don’t consider yourself an enthusiast of the arts, just be one for a day in Florence. Just soak in the Renaissance atmosphere, and you will find yourself walking in history for moment.

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Think 1 ‘David’ is enough in Florence?..

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..Think again!

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Don’t mind us, we’re just hanging out with a bunch of Renaissance statues

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My bro showing his appreciation for the arts. Hurhur

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View of Florence at dusk from the Uffizi Gallery. Guess the artwork is not just confined to the paintings and statues

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And the Duomo from the top of the Uffizi Gallery, with the sun setting for the day

And that, would be the art of uncovering the beauty of Florence. And along the way, if you haven’t realise it before, you are bound to discover the inner art-lover in you as well.

Waffling Around in SG

Wonder where to get a good waffle in Singapore?

Well, ever since I’ve returned, I’ve been introduced to 3 waffles places so it seems that waffles are the ‘in’ thing. The competition is hot like a waffle iron indeed! (hurhur)

So let’s not waffle around and get down to these 3 places that I’ve checked out!

Seriously Ice Cream
Blk 4 Everton Park #01-44, Singapore

How I got to this place was by accident. I was actually having coffee with 3 other friends at Nylon Coffee Roasters

It all started out with coffee...

It all started out with coffee at Nylon…

…when we stumbled upon Seriously Ice Cream. It looked interesting so we decided to give it a go for dessert!

Mmm the smell of fresh waffles cooking was so good!

Plus, they were having a special of half-priced waffles so why not?

As you can see, we added 2 scoops of ice cream to our waffle. To our delight, we were allowed to have free samples before choosing. Seriously Ice Cream has some really unique local flavours and at that time, there were pineapple tart, pulut hitam and even a mystery flavour!

We were told that if we could figure out the ingredients of the mystery flavour, we would get that scoop free. We were given 3 tries but alas, we couldn’t guess the last ingredient. It had a pleasant cheesy taste and we got that with our waffle!

Although I found the waffle a little too crunchy, it was a decent waffle and we all enjoyed it. And with 2 scoops of ice cream, it was definitely a good idea to share the dish between the 4 of us!

Everton Park is a bustling area of cafes and has become a go-to place to hang out with friends. So if you are in the area looking for something sweet after a caffeine boost, you can give Seriously Ice Cream a go!

Sunday Folks
Chip Bee Gardens #01-52
44 Jalan Merah Saga, Singapore

This was a place that got on my radar even when I was still in Melbourne, thanks to their Instagrammable waffles.

Photo credit: Ms JQ

Photo credit: Ms JQ

So upon my return, this was high on my go-to places!

And did it disappoint?

Single slice waffle with Earl Grey Lavender Ice Cream, and Nama Green Tea toppings

Single slice waffle with Earl Grey Lavender ice cream, & Nama Green Tea toppings

Well, aesthetically, it certainly didn’t! (Although I must say that the ice cream swirls look alot nicer for the double slice waffles, as shown on the Instagram shot).

Taste-wise, the waffle was good – sweet, crisp but still having some doughiness. There was also an oreo-like biscuit under the ice cream which was quite sweet.

But I thought the star of the dish was the Earl Grey Lavender Ice Cream – true to its name, I could taste the earl grey with subtle bitter notes and very delicate floral notes (which is good because if the lavender taste was any stronger, it might taste like soap! ala our N2 Extreme Gelato experience).

I added the Nama Green Tea toppings as an afterthought and I was glad I did. Basically they are cubes of matcha powder that melt in your mouth. The bitterness of the matcha certainly balanced out the sweetness of the dish!

And yes, I may have liked this place enough to come back a 2nd time… hehe.

Single slice waffle with Pistachio ice cream

Single slice waffle with Pistachio ice cream

The Pistachio ice cream was good but I was more impressed by the Earl Grey Lavender – I found that flavour more unique.

It is a small touch but I appreciated the scattering of fresh fruit round the plate. It not only added to the vibrancy of colours but also that fresh edge to an otherwise rich dessert.

I guess the only thing that didn’t win me over was the drizzling of honey around the plate. I thought the dish was sweet enough and the honey might be an overkill for some who don’t have a big sweet tooth.

So be warned, the ice cream waffles will get you on a sugar high so I highly recommend sharing. This place is also really popular so be prepared to wait!

Revelry
21 Lorong Kilat, Singapore

Revelry‘ was a buzzword on a few of my friends’ lips so finally, I managed to settle on a dinner date with a couple of them at this place.

The decor was impressive from the outlook; come to think of it, I’ve not come across a cafe with a circus theme before!

Love how the circus theme extends to the coffee art!

Love how the circus theme extends to the coffee art!

I didn’t order one myself but stole a sip of the coffees. I found the Flat White smooth and robust, decidedly one of the better coffees I’ve had in Singapore. The company I was with found the coffee comparable to Melbourne’s so that says something about the coffee quality!

Before arriving, I read up some reviews on Revelry and found their Chicken & Waffles dish was pretty popular so we ordered just that.

Chicken & Waffles, with lettuce n some maple syrup to drizzle over

Chicken & Waffles, with some fresh veggies n some maple syrup to drizzle over

Wow, those reviews got it right. The balance of flavours and textures were all there – the fried chicken had a good crisp and was tender on the inside, while the saltiness of the chicken went perfectly with the sweet maple syrup, with the fresh salad to finish off.

And. the. waffle. I have to admit that out of the 3 places, Revelry served up the best waffles. While the waffles at the other 2 places tended to be on the sweet side, Revelry’s waffles were really buttery, making them more savoury-like which suited me just fine. The waffles also had a wonderful fluffy texture inside with a crunchy edge. Mmm.

OK Waffle Pizza – Otah & chopped kailan greens covered in melted mozzarella

We got this as it was the next most popular savoury item on the menu. Overall, the OK waffle was okay (hurhur) but I wasn’t sure if I was a big fan of the combination. I found it a little too adventurous to pair up such Asian ingredients with waffles and cheese. I guess to my subconscious, Asian sides should always go with rice!

However, my friends enjoyed the uniqueness of this dish so no harm giving this a go. I just know which savoury waffle dish I prefer!

Now, you may think that I found Revelry’s waffles different because I got savoury items instead of sweets (as I’ve ordered at the previous 2 places). So let’s see the true result of the waffle tasting with this dessert…

Monkey King - with chunks of banana bread, banana, walnuts & the side of maple syrup

Monkey King – with chunks of banana bread, caramelised banana, walnuts, side of maple syrup & a scoop of vanilla ice cream

Well, I’m pleased to say that even as a dessert, that buttery taste and fluffiness of the waffles were not lost. So yes, Revelry’s waffles trumps it for me!

As for the dessert itself, one of my friends commented that it tasted like the Post Cereal Banana Nut Crunch and it certainly seemed like it!

Overall, I thought the dessert was fine but a little too sweet. The maple syrup didn’t seem necessary to me. It might have been better to drizzle some chocolate sauce because… Bananas. Chocolate. They simply go hand in hand. And the bitterness of chocolate could help counter the sweetness of the dish.

If only there could be the pairing of Revelry’s waffles with Sunday Folks’ ice cream… that would be the perfect dessert!

Now you know when is a good time to check out Revelry!

Now you know when is a good time to check out Revelry!

***

And that settles the 3 waffles places I’ve visited so far. All 3 have given reason as to why the waffle competition in Singapore is so hot. But you can probably figure out by now where I thought housed the better savoury and sweet waffles…

…So if you’re craving for waffles and are still thinking of where to go, waffle around no more and check these places out! ;)

Of Cherry Picking & Afternoon Tea

Cherry picking. Afternoon tea. What comes to mind when you think of these words?

A perfect summer’s day in Melbourne, perhaps? ;)

Summer's the season for cherries!

Summer’s the season for cherries!

Ms Gan and I seem to have done a lot of summer activities in 2014, with us traipsing around Europe in July…

Throwback to our European Summer Adventure (Barcelona, July '14)

Throwback to our European Summer Adventure (Barcelona, July ’14)

It just so happened that it was the beginning of summer as I was preparing to leave Melbourne. So I guess to add 1 more for the memories, Ms Gan decided to take me out on 1 last day trip.

There is a number of cherry farms in Victoria but we managed to find one in Seville, which was not too far away from central Melbourne.

At that time, UPick Cherries was also having a special of waiving the admission fee so that settled our pick!

So with the perfect weather, convenient location and free admission, we were all set for some cherry-picking!

Basically, you pick a box (priced according to its size) and fill it up to your heart's content!

Basically, you pick a box (priced according to its size) and fill it up to your heart’s content

Ms Gan was having a huge craving for cherries and initially wanted to go for the 2kg box ($16). But looking at the size of it, I figured it would take awhile to fill that up so I dissuaded her and told her to go for the 1kg ($8) box instead.

Aiming to pick the good ones

Aiming to pick the good ones

Wow it was a good thing we went for the smaller box. We didn’t realise how big the farm was and with the sun high up in the sky, cherry-picking turned out to be hard work!

Finally getting our fill of cherries!

Finally getting our boxes filled

Believe it or not, we sweated it out for 45minutes eeps. Cherry-picking is fun but it can be pretty tedious, especially if you want to pick the good ones!

Anyway, after getting our dose of cherry-picking, we went to our next stop, the Piggery Cafe – which I was pretty excited about!

The Piggery Cafe, which was just a 15min drive away from UPick Cherries

The Piggery Cafe, which is just a 15min drive away from UPick Cherries

I guess it’s a girl thing but I’ve always relished the idea of an afternoon tea with the company of good friends. But afternoon teas are usually pricey and it’s hard to find time in the day to do one.

But this time round, with both of us having the afternoon free and to spend some time before my pending departure, I guess the occasion was pretty justified!

Also, check out the price tag…

That’s right. For $25, you get savoury and sweet treats, scones and a hot drink – how’s that for value??

And to top it off, this cafe is opened by Shannon Bennett, head chef of Vue de Monde, so expectations of the food quality are naturally running high!

Ms Gan doesn't take coffee/tea so she was allowed to get hot choc instead - brownie points for flexibility!

Ms Gan doesn’t take coffee/tea and she was allowed to get hot choc instead – brownie points for flexibility!

Now you get my excitement??

How good do those platters look??

How good do those platters look?? And love the rustic ambience

Naturally, we started with the savoury…

L-R (from memory): Pâté sandwiches, smoked chicken sandwiches, potato croquettes, jamon & smoked salmon sandwiches

L-R (from memory): Pâté sandwiches, smoked chicken sandwiches, potato croquettes, jamon & smoked salmon sandwiches

Isn’t it exciting that we get to sample so many types of sandwiches?? I personally liked the smoked salmon ones :)

To be honest, we were getting full by the time we reached the end of the savoury platter. And we were hungry to start off with! That goes to show how filling the platter is.

But we had to make room for the sweets…

There were bites of dark choc tart, lemon tart, choc-caramel slice, lemon meringue & sticky date pudding.. with scones at the end of the platter!

There were bites of dark choc tart, lemon tart, choc-caramel slice, lemon meringue & sticky date pudding.. AND scones at the end of the platter!

My personal favourite was the chocolate-caramel slice. I adored the contrast between the bittersweet dark chocolate and sweet caramel, finished off by the buttery tart. Mmm.

However, as delectable as they were, we actually struggled to finish the sweets – oops. They were getting abit too rich for us towards the end.

So my advice? For the ladies, perhaps skip lunch for this! It’s totally worth it!!

For the lovely cafe setting, good selection of treats and affordable pricing, I highly recommend The Piggery Cafe‘s afternoon tea (and yes, it has made it to my Top Picks).It is a bit of a drive out from the city but if you’re looking to do a day trip out, I would suggest making a stop there!

Piggery Cafe on Urbanspoon

And that concludes 1 of my last summer afternoons in Melbourne. With it being spent with a close sister-in-Christ and having a heartfelt talk over afternoon tea, that certainly added to the good summer memories of 2014 :)

Venice, the City of…

I was thinking of how I should describe Venice as a single term – Venice, the City of...

So I did a Google search. And there emerged these terms – Venice, the City of Love, City of Canals, City of Waters, City of Masks, City of Bridges, The Floating City

Wow, so many names. And I thought, why can’t people seem to agree on a single term for Venice?

And then looking through my photos again, I understood why.

Echoing my mum’s thoughts, this city just seems unreal. A place that doesn’t fit into our concept of a city, especially if you live in an urban jungle.

So how should I describe Venice in my own terms? Perhaps, I shall let my photos do the talking first…

First glimpses…

Still air-borne as we approached Venice. This was 1 of the mountain ranges in Europe.

Still air-borne as we approached Venice. This was 1 of the mountain ranges in Europe.

Despite the overnight flight n time difference, the family was still in high spirits as we boarded the water taxi

Despite the overnight flight n time difference, the family was still in high spirits as we boarded the water taxi

First glimpse of the City of Waters

First glimpse of the City of Waters

Docking at our stop, surrounded by waters of course

Docking at our stop, surrounded by waters of course

Gondolas just outside our accom. Unlike the touristy gondolas, these are gondolas that the locals use to get across the waters.

Gondolas just outside our accom. Unlike the touristy gondolas, these are gondolas that the locals use to get across the waters.

Our Airbnb host leading us to our accom

Our Airbnb host leading us to our accom

Our cosy abode

Our cosy and tastefully decorated abode

Small but well-equipped kitchen where we whipped up a meal from goods bought from the local supermarket (yes, Venice has supermarkets!).

Small but well-equipped kitchen where we whipped up a meal from goods bought from the local supermarket (yes, Venice has supermarkets!).

The alleys…

Seeing Venice as the City of Canals as soon as we walked out of our accom

Seeing Venice as the City of Canals as soon as we walked out of our accom

Discovering the many art shops in the alleys

Discovering the many art shops in the alleys

Venice the City of Masks

Venice the City of Masks

Our 1st meal in Italy. Unfortunately, it was nothing to shout about. We had our best Italian meal in Rome - hold up for that!

Our 1st meal in Italy. Unfortunately, it was nothing to shout about. We found our best Italian meal in Rome – hold up for that!

Walking through the alleys again

Mum looking thoughtful

Stopping by the marketplace to get a pair of gloves. It was freezing!

Stopping by the marketplace to get a pair of gloves. It was freezing!

The architecture…

St Mark's Square. Don't they look cute here? Heh

St Mark’s Square. Managing bright smiles despite fatigue and jetlag.

Doge Palace

Doge Palace

St Mark's Basilica

St Mark’s Basilica

Now you can see why Venice is also the City of Love? Awww...

Now you can see why Venice is also the City of Love? Awww…

Don't forget sibling love too!

Don’t forget sibling love too!

..Or parent-child love..

..Or parent-child love..

..Or just family love :)

..Or just family love :)

Final glimpses

The City of Bridges

The City of Bridges

Arrivederci Venezia

Arrivederci Venezia

So how could you possibly narrow down Venice to a single name? Of waters, bridges, canals, love and masks, I find Venice is all of these and more.

Because Venice has so much character that a single name just cannot fully describe it.

So if I have to really to use my own terms, Venice is the city of the surreal for me – with land being scarce to waters, gondolas gliding through the canals and under the bridges, and with classical architecture lining the waterfront, Venice is like a city in its own world.

And then perhaps, I should describe Venice as simply, the City of… Venice, because there is no other city like it.

Finding My Next Meal

Hello hello! It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?

I have been leaving you all hanging for awhile so I guess it’s time for some updates… i.e. where I’ve been finding my meals since my last post and where I’m going to find my next meal! 

Since Dec 2014, I bade farewell to my home for the last 9 years, Melbourne…

1 of my last brunches in Melb, where I had a delish quiche at Aviv Cakes & Bakery

1 of my last brunches in Melb, where I had a delish quiche at Aviv Cakes & Bakery

Had a lovely afternoon tea at The Piggery Cafe just before I left - hope to blog about it sometime!

Also had a lovely afternoon tea at The Piggery Cafe just before I left – hope to blog about it sometime!

…and made my move back to my first home, Singapore.

Shortly after my shift to Singapore, I jetted off to Europe with my family!

Misty & mysterious Venice

Artsy Florence

Artsy Florence

Historical Rome

Historical Rome

Cosmopolitan London

Cosmopolitan London

Charming & delicious Paris which was my fave city (mainly cos' I love French cuisine!)

Romantic & delicious Paris which was my fave city (mainly cos’ I love French cuisine!)

Frankfurt where we had a day layover before our flight back

Modern yet charming Frankfurt where we explored for a day before our flight back

So we were on the other side of the world spending Christmas and New Year together. Wasn’t such a bad way to end 2014 and starting the new year!

With the first quarter of 2015 flying by us, I guess you can say I’ve finally settled into a routine back in Singapore. As for this blog, this means I’ll be doing up more reviews on the Singapore food scene which is slightly different but just as exciting as Melbourne’s!

From the local cuisine...

From the local cuisine…

...to hipster cafes...

…to hipster cafes…

...to sweet treats... Singapore has it all!

…to sweet treats… Singapore has it all!

So wow, I do have some backlog to clear eh? It’s going to be quite a challenge as I still try to fit in this blogging routine in with my new schedule so please bear with me!

Nevertheless, I hope this post is enough to whet your appetite for my upcoming posts – I’m excited to share with you all about my recent adventures so do watch this space!

Brother Baba Budan vs. Market Lane Coffee

Where’s your favourite coffee haunt in the city? Well, as far as I know, when I ask people to name the best coffee place in the city, these 2 names tend to pop up in the conversation.

So Brother Baba Budan or Market Lane Coffee – which one would be my choice of poison in the city? Let’s find out!

Brother Baba Budan

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This cafe lies in the heart of the CBD area which makes it a central place for coffee pick-ups for the working crowd and tourists.

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You can’t really miss it with its characteristic chairs hanging from the ceiling, giving off a really artistic feel. I guess this helps to add to the hippie vibe.

When Andrew and I got there, it was absolutely packed. So we decided to order takeaway coffees.

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Blends of the day

We waited for about 10minutes for our coffees and by that time, the crowd inside the cafe has cleared a little. So we decided to have a sit down to properly enjoy our coffees.

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Latte – $4. Would have preferred some coffee art but oh well! 

Verdict? Well, the coffee was all right and had a slight nuttiness, but there was a sourish aftertaste that I wasn’t a fan of. I’ve tried the Seven Seeds blend before but so far, I’ve yet to warm up to it.

But I know of others who like the blend so I guess it’s just my personal preference. Anyway, the popularity of this cafe is undeniable so it’s best to get in early or be prepared to get takeaway!

Brother Baba Budan on Urbanspoon

Market Lane Coffee

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This cafe is situated in Queen Victoria Market, making it a good perk-me-up for those who make it down to the market for some grocery-shopping!

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The setting of the cafe is minimal and sleek, making it quite a contrast to the cluttered feel at Brother Baba Budan.

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I’ve been to this cafe a few times now and the busyness of the cafe can vary – it can be really crowded during the market hours but when I got there once at 9am, it was pretty empty. Overall, the feel here is a lot more relaxed as opposed to the more upbeat momentum in the CBD area.

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Latte – $4. Love it that they do coffee art even for takeaways!

Okay, more importantly, how was the coffee? The blends at Market Lane change quite frequently so that makes it quite an interesting place to check out. I do prefer some blends more than others but overall, I would say that you are almost guaranteed a good cup every time you are there – full-bodied and smooth.

Market Lane Cafe on Urbanspoon

So I guess Market Lane would be my favourite of the 2 as I much prefer the blends at this cafe and the texture is usually smooth. However, both places do take their coffee-making seriously and I reckon you wouldn’t lose out checking out either one of them anyway, whether you are wandering in the heart of the city or doing your grocery shopping at the market!

Red Spice Road

While I’ve expressed previously that I’m not a huge fan of Modern Asian cuisine, I’ve always counted Red Spice Road as an old favourite for a few reasons:

1. The Express Banquet is under $30 and the portions given are generous, giving you much bang for your buck.

2. The spacious setting creates a nice ambience for conversation over food.

3. That famous caramelised pork belly. Mmmm.

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So when Ms LT an old high school friend was meeting us (Ms TY, Ms YY and myself) in Melbourne, I suggested Red Spice Road as it had been awhile since I last went.

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And yes, since we were going to meet up for an early dinner, we decided to go for the Express Banquet!

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Soy & Ginger Chicken Wings

As the menu suggests, the food came out pretty quickly, like express service! The starter of chicken wings was moreish and had that slight hint of spice.

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Braised Beef Cheek, Green Beans, Bok Choy, Star Anise, Ginger, Soy

The beef was really tender and I liked the addition of greens to cut through the fattiness of the beef. However, I thought the spices didn’t come through enough and I found the gravy quite salty.

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Chicken, Gailan, Red Peppers, Ginger, Spring Onion

The chicken was stir-fried nicely as it retained its tenderness. There was a nice mixture of savouriness and sweetness in the gravy with bursts of freshness from the veggies and sprinkles of basil leaves. There was also that hint of spice.

So with that complexity of flavours of textures, I really enjoyed this dish!

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Pork Belly, Apple Slaw, Chilli Caramel, Black Vinegar

Yes my friends, this is the one and only pork belly. Just as I remembered, the pork belly was crisp on the outside and inside was this succulent goodness of the fatty rich pork.

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And of course, there was the sticky sweet sauce to cover the pork, with those fresh shreds of apple and lettuce to cut through the richness… yum!

So yup, the pork belly was and still is the star dish at Red Spice Road.

Even though, the Express Banquet is meant to be shared among the whole table, Red Spice Road does accommodate to dietary needs. As Ms YY doesn’t eat beef or pork, they kindly gave substitute dishes.

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Green Curry for Ms YY

As for a substitute to the pork belly, they gave Ms YY a piece of fish with the same dressing as the pork belly. I thought that was really good that the restaurant catered to fit the special dietary needs of the diners!

Even though we were supposed to leave the table by 7pm, we were not chased out by the waiters when it struck 7pm so we stayed for awhile till 7.30pm. So overall, although it was meant to be an express meal, we didn’t feel rushed.

It was good that we didn’t get chased out of the restaurant – we had quite a lot to catch up on!

So with quick and good service, good food at a reasonable price, Red Spice Road’s Express Banquet remains on my list of recommended dining-out experiences in Melbourne. You just have to give that pork belly a go!

Red Spice Road on Urbanspoon

Jinda Thai

The hint of Jinda Thai’s popularity was already given when I tried to call 2 days before to book a table.

The staff who took my call said that they were ‘fully booked’ but ‘feel free to walk in’. I found that a little strange; I mean, how can you get a table if the restaurant is fully booked?

But as I’ve been wanting to go there for awhile now, I thought we would give it a go. After all, it should be easy to get a table for 3 right?

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Err… NO.

As you can see from the above, the restaurant was packed on a weekday night.  Ann got there first and she was told it would be a 30minute wait. There was a huge crowd in the waiting area as well.

So we waited, and waited.

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Finally, Ann went to check with the waitress and found that her name was dropped out of the waiting list (?!). Ann told the waitress we had been waiting for 30minutes already and we were bumped up to 2nd on the current wait list. But that meant more waiting!

Seeing how others on the waitlist were dropping like dead flies, I was also ready to give up. But Ms JQ really wanted to try out Jinda’s food so I relented.

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Matriach Jinda looking over the busy restaurant

And yes, finally, at the 50minute mark, we were told that they had a table for us – hurray!

Seriously, in my entire history of dining out in Melbourne, I’ve never waited that long to get into a restaurant. Maybe there were those times at Chin Chin and Beatrix but never up to 50minutes, never.

jinda

Upon being seated, we immediately placed our orders – we had a long time to study the menu, duh!

And just before it made it to my blacklist, the restaurant found its way to redeem itself – our orders were served out pretty quickly, whoop!

And I must say, this first dish that was set before us looked pretty impressive…

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Som Tum Soft Shell Crab – $12.90

Wow, upon the first crunch, it was so good. No, this is not hunger talk. The flavours on this dish was impeccable – sweet, salty and fresh, brought out by the mix of fish sauce, sugar, nuts and thinly sliced radish. In fact, I found myself slurping on the dressing after the soft shell crab had been demolished!

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And lookie here – whole pieces of soft shell crab!

I found this particular dressing quite similar to the flavours in Chin Chin. But unlike Chin Chin, there was more of a spicy kick in this dish and it wasn’t as sweet. A really good appetiser to kickstart the tastebuds (not that we really needed that after all that waiting haha)!

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Boat Noodles – $9

We ordered this because I’ve heard a lot about this and personally, I’ve never seen this dish featured in any Thai restaurants.

It seems like a lot of Asian countries have their own beef noodles and I guess this would be the Thai version of it. There was that thick beefy broth and fat pieces of pork lard for that crispy texture. And for the final touch, there was shards of coriander to give it that fresh edge.

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The noodle texture was absolutely beautiful – not overcooked with abit of bounciness left. I wonder if this is made in-house!

It was such a good bowl of noodles – we absolutely lapped it up!

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Tom Sab – $15.90

I’ve heard good reviews of this dish and have never tried it before at a Thai restaurant as well.

So what does it taste like? Think of this as the Tom Yum soup with a pork broth and with a less sourish taste.

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And let me warn you, this dish is SPICY. As if the pieces of chilli AND black chilli in the soup aren’t enough, you are hit by a peppery aftertaste with each spoonful of soup – this is definitely not for the faint-hearted!

We found ourselves slurping one spoon of the Tom Sab and then quickly scooping another spoonful of the Boat Noodle broth to counter the spiciness. Soooo delicious but soooo spicy! :P

Although there were many other items on the menu that looked delicious, we decided to save our tummies for dessert…

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Pandan Crepe Cake with Coconut Ice Cream – $18.50

Yes, this is the famed crepe cake that Jinda is known for. And because they come in so many flavours (Pandan, Matcha, Taro etc.), we just had to get another one…

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Thai Milk Tea Crepe Cake with Coconut Ice Cream – $18.50

And yes, these cakes have earned their reputation well. They are like flavoured kueh lapis and the accompanying sauces totally sealed the deal.

The 3 of us were split on which cake we preferred. Ms JQ and I liked the Thai Milk one because well, we like the taste of milk tea and this flavour was really brought out in the cake. On the other hand, Ann found the Pandan one more unique and she liked the floral edge to the pandan flavour. Oh well, each to her own!

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We really could not fault the food we had that night. I daresay that Jinda has become my all-time favourite Thai restaurant, thus earning a spot in my Top Pick category!

Now I understand why Jinda is so popular and of course, my only gripe would be the wait time we had to endure. So if you’re thinking of checking out Jinda, I highly recommend making a reservation – you wouldn’t want to start off your meal on a grumpy mood!

Jinda Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Nora

If I were to describe Nora in 1 word, it would be ‘abstract’. Nora is not quite your average Melburnian cafe with poached eggs, smashed avocado, toast or usual espressos and let me show you why…

This cafe first came on my radar when Andrew chanced upon it while walking home from uni. He tried a coffee there and said the menu looked interesting. So that was the first time I caught wind of this cafe and shelved it somewhere in my memory bank.

The next time, I read this and I was intrigued. I’m a huge fan of Ottolenghi and my friends, if he is impressed by this newcomer in the Melbourne cafe scene, there’s got to be something about this place.

So from the back of memory bank, I pushed it out and to make it top on my wishlist. And that’s how we wound up here!

The very interesting menu

Nora is run by a Thai-Australian couple and the Southeast Asian influences can be seen in the menu

So what gives Nora that interesting edge?

4 reasons.

Firstly, you don’t get tap water. 

Bubbles!

Bubbles!

Surprise surprise, this is the first cafe where I’m served FREE sparkling water. I guess that makes the experience pretty novel but some of my brunch companions don’t like sparkling water and requested for tap water.

Secondly, do not expect your normal lattes/flat whites/cappuccinos etc.

On the Rocks & Saigon - $4 each

On the Rocks & Saigon – $4 each

I came in a little late and was immediately asked for my coffee order. A little flustered from the brisk walk I had just made, I instinctively asked for a magic. However, upon sitting down and studying the menu carefully, I realised that their other offerings were a lot more unusual!

So I promptly changed my order to On the Rocks – was perfect for the hot morning too!

At first taste, I found the cold brew coffee really bitter. I made that comment and the lady boss heard me. Immediately, she offered to make a sugar syrup to go with the coffee. (Wow is that good service or what??)

Trying out the sugar syrup

Trying out the sugar syrup

That sugar syrup made a world of a difference! After adding it, the coffee became really pleasant to drink. The use of sparkling water also made it quite refreshing. I would liken it to an iced kopi-O but with a bolder taste coming from the espresso. I reckon they should consider giving the sugar syrup to customers who order this particular coffee!

As for the Saigon, it had that Asian dimension with the pandan taste coming through. It also tasted really refreshing and was like an iced kopi :)

Thirdly, it’s not your typical brunchfare. 

Just look at the dish presentations... how artsy are they??

Just look at the dish presentations… how artsy are they??

We totally weren’t expecting the dishes that were set before us. I mean, we kind of knew what we were getting, but not presented like that!

Martin's place - $18

Martin’s place – $18

This was Andrew’s dish which had ox tongues. He let us try a bit and the tongues were really tender.

Dear Mitchell - $14.50

Dear Mitchell – $14.50

This was eggs with a Thai twist and I thought the flavours went well together. The flavours were sharp and fresh with the fried shrimps and spring onions. The eggs were also done in a custard-like way which I thought was quite creative.

The only thing that we found lacking in this dish was a little sauce. So overall, it was a little dry.

Pig from the ground it's raised from - $18.50

Pig from the ground it’s raised from – $18.50

The first thing that came to my mind when I saw this was, why is the plate only half-filled? I can’t say I’m a big fan of this particular dish presentation as it makes the portion looks smaller.

As you can tell from the above, this comes with a side of bread pudding and raw cabbage with peanut sauce. Again, the flavours were sharp and clean that countered the fatty pork. But again, overall we found the dish quite dry.

So yes, you getting my point now about Nora having an abstract edge? Have to give them props for thinking out of the box in terms of the food and presentation!

Lastly, CHARCOAL TARTS. Enough said. 

Charcoal Tarts - $5 each

Charcoal Tarts – $5 each

Haha again, we were given a surprise when this was presented to us. I don’t know about you, but because of the tins, it reminded me of chee kueh, served upside down!

Charcoal Tarts unveiled - Sour Cherry & Kafir Lime Cream, Lemon Grass & Ginger, Strawberry & Tamarind Cream Cheese

Charcoal Tarts unveiled – Sour Cherry & Kafir Lime Cream, Lemon Grass & Ginger, Strawberry & Tamarind Cream Cheese

So before Nora, there were these charcoal tarts that were already making their way round other Melbourne cafes and getting famous. Ottolenghi even made special mention of them – so what’s the deal with these tarts?

Upclose with the Sour Cherry & Kafir Lime Cream

Upclose with the Sour Cherry & Kafir Lime Cream

As exotic-sounding as those ingredients are, all 3 Charcoal Tarts were lip-smackingly delicious. They all had great combinations of flavours and we had a hard time deciding which was our favourite tart. All 3 we tried that day were winners!

And the thing is, the offerings of the charcoal tarts are different each day so there are more flavours to try out!

We also realised that the tarts were carefully divided into 5 portions, for each of us (as you can see above) – that’s really thoughtful service :)


So yes, Nora is quite your atypical Melbourne cafe, for the reasons given above!

Although I was not particularly blown away by their brunchfare, I thought the food was still quite interesting. I was also quite impressed by their personable service, which made our experience at Nora quite pleasant.

Their cold-brewed coffees were pretty good as well, and yes, I was most excited by their charcoal tarts!

So I reckon it’s worth checking out Nora for ’em famous tarts, and just chill over 1 of their cold-brewed coffees. With the weather warming up, it would be the perfect excuse for a cuppa cold coffee and tart for a treat!

Nora on Urbanspoon

Taste of Melbourne

I am blessed with some really good friends – when Ms JQ won a pair of tickets to the Taste of Melbourne event, she promptly asked if I wanted to go with her.

And of course I replied, ‘YES!’

YAY

YAY!

We were also blessed with good weather when we got there. Earlier in the day, it was raining and on Instagram, I saw many people still rocked up in ponchos! Whoa.

Beautiful weather when we got there

Beautiful weather when we got there

The tickets we got only gave us free admission so we still had to purchase some crowns. Basically, 1 crown is $1 and it is used to purchase food during the event. We thought we would start off with 20 crowns and see if we needed to top up later.

We decided to walk around the grounds first to scout out the stalls. As we walked, to our delight, we found that there were free samplings at some of the stalls!

Here are a couple of freebies we got…

Dish’d

Samplings of buttered scallop, roast lamb with couscous & a profiterole

Samplings of buttered scallop, roast lamb with couscous & profiterole

We have never heard of Dish’d until that day and we found out that it is a delivery food company, and it caters gourmet-quality food.

From what we sampled, the food was really of high quality! The lamb was tender and we both really liked the profiterole – the chocolate sauce was rich and dark and the pastry was light.

I was pretty impressed with the generosity of the samplings offered by Dish’d. Looking at the above, you can see that it is a mini take of a full meal – entree, main and dessert. They had an ample amount waiting to be served as well and we might have gone back for a second round. Hehe.

After Dish’d, we proceeded to sample some salsa and corn chips, really fresh sashimi (mmm), thick pieces of steak (yummos!), chutneys, Dilmah tea, bread buttered with Lurpak butter, and some wonderful ham and prosciutto from Primo.

Yes, we were too busy sampling that I forgot to take pictures! Whoops.

But this kind of forced me to whip out my camera-phone…

Cacao Fine Chocolates
Cacao Fine Chocolates & Patisserie on Urbanspoon

It was kind of funny, because lots of people (including us) just stopped dead in their tracks right in front of the store, whipped out their phones and started snapping/typing furiously. The concentration was quite intense!

Haha the things we do for free food…

Salted Caramel and Milk Choc & Peanut Butter

Salted Caramel and Milk Choc & Peanut Butter

…But it was all worth it!! The macarons were well-made and we especially loved the salted caramel one – it had that slightly chewy texture and had the right balance of salt to cut through the caramel.

And because we loved the macarons so much, we got a tad sneaky… so we may have made 1 full round before coming back to the stall to present them another snap…

Raspberry & Pistachio - my favouritest combi ever!

Raspberry & Pistachio – my favouritest combi ever!

Haha but the stall people were really nice and generous with giving out the free macarons that I don’t think they would have minded!

Anyway, those macarons were delicious – the pistachio one had the intense nutty flavour and was slightly chewy too. The raspberry had that slightly sourish cream that brought out the refreshing flavour of the berry.  Of course, when eating the 2 together, it was a great combination!

Okay okay, enough of the free loading, we DID spend some crowns all right? Here’s what we got!

Gazi
Gazi on Urbanspoon

Yusss.. we were 1 of the last 300!

Yusss.. we were 1 of the last 300!

Out of all the stalls, Gazi seemed to be serving up a pretty decent portion and we just couldn’t go past the idea of a soft shell crab in a souvlaki (ingenious – why didn’t anyone think of that before??)

Soft shell crab souvlaki - 12 crowns

Soft shell crab souvlaki – 12 crowns

We are big fans of Jimmy Grants and I have to say that George Calombaris has done it again with this reinvention of the souvlaki.

Just like his souvlakis at Jimmy, the portion of meat was generous – I mean can’t you see the soft shell crab spilling out?? – and there was that signature addition of herbs (parsley and mint in this one) to give that clean and refreshing finish.

I wonder how much this is priced at Gazi which is a more upmarket restaurant – I was telling Ms JQ that if this was sold at Jimmy, I would make a beeline for this!

Pope Joan
Pope Joan on Urbanspoon

Having spent our 12 crowns (quite happily, I would say), we decided to spend our next few crowns on the #1 voted dish in the Taste of Melbourne event!

Smoked yoghurt with freeze-dried raspberries & pistachios - 6 crowns

Smoked yoghurt with freeze-dried raspberries & pistachios – 6 crowns

So what on earth is smoked yoghurt?! At first taste, we couldn’t detect it but after a few more bites, I could taste a slight saltiness coming through the sourish yoghurt. Having read other reviews, I realised that it was meant to taste like bacon!

Enjoying our yoghurt in the spring sunshine

Enjoying our yoghurt in the spring sunshine

I guess this is a pretty creative dish, with a good combination of the savoury and usual dessert flavours. This is taking frozen yoghurt to another level and we were again quite happy to spend our crowns on this interesting and delicious dish!

With all the free samples we had, we were actually quite full by this stage and didn’t even bother to top up our crowns. We even got our remaining crowns refunded. So in total, we only spent $9 each?? Whoop!

So besides eating our way round, we had a field day of spying celebrity chefs dotted throughout the grounds!

Chef Jacques Reymond presenting for Dilmah

Chef Jacques Reymond presenting for Dilmah

Chef Matt Wilkinson fooling around with me before giving us our fro-yo

Chef Matt Wilkinson fooling around before giving us our fro-yo :P

And it's Masterchef contestant Alice !

And it’s Masterchef contestant Alice!

With so much going on, the 2.5hours we spent there just flew by!

Yay thx Ms JQ for bringing me along :D

That’s it for our experience at Taste of Melbourne 2014!

A very nice and delicious experience indeed – tasting the best of Melbourne with the finest of spring weather, and with a good friend for company ;)

After exiting out of the grounds, we had a lovely stroll around Albert Park

After exiting the grounds, we had a lovely stroll around Albert Park

It can be quite a pricey affair to go for this if you have to spend on the admission ticket and crowns. But I guess this is 1 of the iconic events of Melbourne so if you’re in Melbourne during this time next year, you should give it a go!

And maybe leading up to it, look out for deals, offers or contests for this event! Who knows? You may just score something free like Ms JQ!