UNA, One Rochester, Singapore

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Category: European/Spanish – Special Occasions

Just a month ago, we visited UNA for the first time over Christmas. My family has a family tradition of having brunch every 25th of December, and I, as usual, was placed in charge of making the reservations. I was looking for a place which served up hearty meats (beef/pork/turkey) – to me it just doesn’t make sense to have Asian cuisine at Christmastime – and a cosy atmosphere. Helmed by Chef Jean-Philippe Patruno, UNA, veiled by the lush greenery of One Rochester, was relatively new and had already received a number of good reviews.

1 Rochester Park, Singapore 139212

Located in the vicinity of Buona Vista, One Rochester is an enclave of classy restaurants. Parking is limited in the open air carpark, but you can always park next door at The Star Vista and take a short 5-10 minute walk over.

Damage: $$$$

They have several tapas-style options in the $10s to $20s. Mains of Hanger steak, suckling pig or Pluma Ibérica are around $30 – and the portions are decent but not that sizeable. So if you’re planning to do the entire suite including dessert, prepare for about $100 each. At Christmas, their brunch menu of 1 main and a buffet of starters and desserts was $65++ each.

To go: Sometimes, on special occasions

While the food was good, the thing that stood out to me most was the impeccable service. I think anyone who has experienced poor service on an important occasion would agree with me that it makes a whole lot of difference. The staff were very friendly, helpful in offering suggestions, prompt at checking-in on guests, and basically doing everything possible to ensure the best experience possible. They had some standout dishes as well, including the Spanish TortillaPluma IbéricaCrispy Cod Fish main and Pedro Ximénez Panna Cotta.


A MORE DETAILED REVIEW

We opened the meal with appetisers of cold meats, jamon iberico, and pan con tomate, which is a dish which I saw lots of when I was studying in Barcelona, and which we made at barbecues and gatherings by taking a tomato cut in half and then rubbing it into bread. The spread included pan-fried scallops & asparagus which featured thick juicy scallops, as well as spanish tortilla with prawns and aioli (see featured picture, triangular slice) which in Spain was referred to simply as a kind of “spanish omelette”.

Pluma Iberica Una One Rochester Singapore Review

For the mains, we ordered the pluma ibéricahanger steakbaby chicken and crispy cod fish. The steak was a bit dry and tough, but the pluma ibérica was incredible – the pork was tender, and its meaty-woody flavours sang powerfully to the accompaniment of a light but intense sauce made from natural jus. The mash which lay beneath was smooth and creamy, and balanced out the saltiness of the meat perfectly.

The baby chicken was beautifully charred on the outside, although not crispy, but the inside remained juicy and moist. The crispy cod was a good counterpoint to the heavy meat dishes and was fresh, falling off in large flakes when pulled with the fork, and the batter which encased it was crispy, light and non-oily.

baby chicken una singapore review

I was excited about the spread of desserts which included items like banoffee messbitter chocolate tart, and churros & chocolat. The bitter chocolate tart was a disappointment in spite of how it looked – the presence of salt in the chocolate was overwhelming and masked the taste of the cocoa entirely. The churros was too oily as well. The Pedro Ximénez Panna Cotta, however, was fantastic – topped with light crumbles of popcorn, the panna cotta was soft and creamy, with the sweetness of the grapes of the sherry coming through in its wake – and I just had to have three of those before calling it a day.

Una One Rochester Singapore Review dessert

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Travel Diary: Journey through Bangkok, Thailand

Our taxi came to a halt behind a row of cars as the light turned red. A little girl, barely seven or eight, was standing next to the front door of the car in front of us, speaking to the driver. She was motioning with her hands, showing off something. I leaned over to the right and caught a glimpse of orange and yellow. They were flowers. She’s selling flowers in the middle of a main road. The intersecting traffic slows, and the drivers ready for the green. She turns, swinging a pole with garlands of flowers hanging from its ends, and quickly dashes to the road divider just as the vehicles begin to pick up their pace and get back in tempo. As we pass, I notice her head bent at a slightly downward angle, her shoulders slightly slumped, her feet grubby. I noticed that she had no shoes.

I remember the countless number of street-side stalls as being one of the most striking things about Bangkok. We would walk down pavements along shop fronts which felt more like narrow back alleys. The street-side stalls formed a blockade between us and the road, and would go on endlessly – light cotton apparel, thai boxer shorts, cheap plastic sunglasses stacked high, in between which were food stalls – letting in no air and no light. People walked past in a constant viscous stream, squeezing past each other to go in opposite directions, while groups of bored-looking Thai girls sat outside massage parlours, fanning themselves in the midday heat, calling out every once in a while to prospective customers an invite to come in.

Bangkok was everything I’d expected it to be. Crowded, lively, chaotic. In Platinum Mall, you would see that people from all around the world have come, dragging huge plastic trolley bags going from shop to shop to source for bargain apparel to sell at a profit. It was energetic yet exhausting to be part of, and we ended up finding solace at Starbucks.

Street side food stalls in Bangkok Roadside stalls in Bangkok Thailand

Food in Bangkok was cheap and readily available, although I did end up rushing to the toilet about 4 times a day (which, by the way, is not usual). Every once in a while, smells of food would be interrupted by the smell of sewage coming from the gutters and drains, and would inspire cringed noses and a quicker walk.

Corn based dessert at a street side stall in Bangkok Thailand

Whilst touristy, Jaktujak Weekend Market was a highlight of my trip. The sections selling apparel did not appeal to us but we did find much to our fancy at the other end of the market where they sold dried food items ranging from mango to ginger, and also aromatic oils of bergamot, rose, and lemongrass, packed into display-worthy bottles forged from glass. Leaving Jaktujak, cabs were lined up alongside the road near the exit, their drivers standing by the curb. A cabby approached us to ask where we were headed. Upon hearing Sukhumvit, he made a face, waved and said that it was “very very far” but would take us there for 600THB. I’d seen the map; it wasn’t that far at all. We walked farther from Jaktujak and got into a metered cab which ended at 150THB.

Sad to say, the cabs were a major reason for my schlocky impression of Bangkok. We once boarded a cab waved in by a Bo.lan staff from the road which claimed he was on “meter”. It was a sort of van that looked more like it belonged in a zoo; heavily dented, with masking tape around the handles and on the doors where parts were on the verge of falling off. We were even more appalled at the state of its interior – cans stuffed between the top of the seat and the ceiling to prevent it from collapsing, a stool supporting the seat where my mother sat, and a lot of rubbish everywhere else. We were laughing about how shocked the hotel staff would be at seeing this “sampan” (a Chinese flat-bottomed boat, but literally meaning “3 planks”) come into their lobby, when my dad noticed the meter was off. The driver then insisted we would pay 250THB, and when we refused, veered to the side of the road and forced us out- but not before he demanded 50THB from me.

Cabbing in Bangkok Thailand

Nightmare cab in Bangkok Thailand

I didn’t know much about the Somboon Seafood scam until I got back to Singapore after experiencing it first hand. We’d tried to get to the restaurant several times, and every cabby we’d encountered said there was no Somboon Seafood, only some variation pronounced Som-boon-dee. We eventually got into a cab whose driver said he knew where it was, only to inform us halfway that “Somboon Seafood doesn’t open on Sundays. I take you to Somboondee. When my friends say they want Somboon, I bring them to Somboondee because Somboondee is better! I know the boss – he will give you 10% discount because you’re my friend.” The liar took us down some quiet gravel road where a wire light was poorly bent an attached to a flimsy fence to form “somboondee” in a wiggly writing. He lowered the side window and hollered to the owner, who’d been sitting at a table smoking and didn’t look at all like he’d been expecting guests, and straight away we knew something was amiss. The “restaurant” was practically empty except for a poor family of four seated in the dark, all of whom promptly looked up, surprised, stared at us miserably and totally halted their meal. The seafood selection was miserable, the prices steep, and the whole place was barely even lit. It was eerie, and we promptly said we’d had too similar a meal the previous night and started to walk briskly back out to the main road. The cabby had parked by the side, and upon seeing us, ran up to us to ask why we were leaving. As we walked, the discount steadily increased from 10% to 15% to 20%. We kept walking.

Mango Sticky Rice at Siam Paragon Bangkok Thailand

Unfortunately, Bangkok just wasn’t my kind of city and left much to be desired, but it still could be yours, just as I’ve had friends who’ve gone back twice or thrice. While there was beauty in some of it, such as their piousness and cuisine, and of course, it is an inexpensive holiday destination, I especially wished the cabbies were more friendly and honest (to me, they’re sometimes tour guides who can teach you about the city, and are often the first locals you encounter extensively upon setting foot in a country; the ones in London were fantastic) – that would’ve helped preserve the impression that I’d gone to Bangkok with but sadly departed without, and that is “the land of a thousand smiles”.

Religion in Bangkok Thailand

White Flower Factory, Bangkok, Thailand

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Category: Desserts – Thai-inspired

This was another accidental discovery on our last day in Bangkok and I don’t know why, but it seems like things just always seem to come when you’re not looking for them – just like how you never seem to be able to find blue shoes when you want blue shoes – wouldn’t you agree? I really liked this place for it’s cosy and chic vibe, but above all, it was the spin that they did on otherwise ordinary desserts which made them all the more special.

Siam Square One (Opposite Siam Paragon), 4th Floor

Siam Square One opened in mid December 2014 and is just situated right across from Siam Paragon. Both malls are connected by a link bridge which cuts through the Siam metro station, so going from one to the next is a natural progression. It is a pretty oddly designed mall with long slopes and an scattering of staircases and escalators. White Flower Factory was located on the fourth floor with its glass windows supported within vertical black frames, beyond which cakes lay in a tantalising display and a crowd had gathered.

Damage: $$

This is definitely a more upmarket cafe, with prices almost comparable to the upper-mid-tier cafes in Singapore. I noticed that it really depended upon what you ordered, considering that some items such as the milkshakes were reasonably priced at 95THB (~$4) whereas other items, such as the cakes, were pricier (~$6-7).

To go: Yes, especially for the desserts with a thai twist

It was a great place to hang out and have a tea or a coffee as well as some cake, and that’s what we did. Desserts are slightly on the pricier side given the modest servings, but where else can you get a Thai Tea Mille Crepe cake?? I noticed that many of the other customers (locals) were having their meals there, and since the place was almost packed full, I gather the food must be pretty good as well. Also, the wait staff were helpful and attentive even during the busy lunch hour.


A MORE DETAILED RECOUNT

Our last day in Bangkok was a Monday. Between checking-out at 11am and our flight at 6.30pm in the evening, we had time to kill. We’d spent the previous day at Platinum mall and every other mall next to that, but they weren’t quite our cup of tea, so we decided to check out Siam Paragon since most other places (ex. shopping) are closed on Mondays. We alighted from the cab and dragged our luggage up the overhead, and decided to take a short detour into Siam Square One simply because it was on the same side of the road. The fourth floor was filled with a tonne of restaurants and cafes, many offering very good value-for-money set meals and dishes. While passing one of the floors, I also spotted Somboon Seafood (but I’ll save that nightmare story about the whole Somboon saga for another time).

Then, as we came round a corner, I first saw the modern sans-serif “White Flower Factory” lettering in white on a black square sign against one of the tall windows of the cafe some distance away. As we got closer, I noticed the warm cosy lighting and the tall shelf housing what seemed like over a dozen cakes (!). And then I noticed the crowd – the cafe was packed and there were even people standing next to the door. That sealed the deal for me, and I had to go in. I hurried the last few steps and soon, we were seated.

Cakes at White Flower Factory Siam Square One Bangkok Thailand

Looking at the menu, I really had to refrain from getting trigger happy. They had everything from the traditional stuff like affogato and milkshakes and vanilla, caramel and hazelnut lattes, to the more exciting stuff – which were really the cakes. Staring at the display of cakes, I really wanted to try Everything, but we eventually settled on two which were the Thai Tea Crepe Cake and the Coconut Cake.

Thai Tea Crepe cake and Coconut Cake White Flower Factory Bangkok Thailand

Okay, let’s just take a moment to relish those cakes with our eyes. How great do those look? I’m a huge fan of well-executed mille crepe cake so when this reached the table, I had to concentrate on remaining calm and keeping still. When the waitress said to pour the cup of creamy Thai Tea sauce over the cake before eating, man, I quickly started snapping pictures so I could get down to the actual eating, pronto.

Both cakes were delicious. The sauce on the Thai Tea Crepe Cake was like a happy pill, although I must admit the texture of the mille crepe cake wasn’t nearly as good as Lady M’s. The flavours of the milky thai tea were unmistakable though, and that was lovely. The Coconut Cake was really good – the sponge layers were extremely lightweight, and they were generous with the coconut cream which had bits of fresh coconut flesh in it. Those, together with their house blend tea and some latte – Divine.

Zabrina Alexis Chew at White Flower Factory Cafe Bangkok

Personal: The Diary of Scent

I was late to work this morning because I’d sat at my dresser a little too long. I’d lifted the cap and was captivated- yet again.

Three years ago when I was studying in Europe, I was looking for a special scent – one that I could call my signature scent. I never really knew what that meant because I’d never had one. All I knew, was that it was supposed to feel like you. A scent which somehow managed to describe you, epitomise you. I’d figured that out on my own because doing a google search on “What is a signature scent” yielded a million different answers and more questions from people as confused as I was.

I guess in a way it’s a bit like falling in love. You think you know what it is, but you don’t – at least not until you actually fall for someone. At least, that was how it was for me. I’d religiously gone to Sephora every few days to smell the various perfumes over and over again, enthusiastically priming my nose by smelling coffee beans in between. Once or twice I’d come close to buying one that I’d liked but not loved, simply because I thought there was something wrong with me in not being able to find a scent that I could truly feel for.

My first perfume purchase was Flora by Gucci. I wanted to like it – everyone was telling me how gorgeous it was, and even how lovely it looked sitting on the dresser with its sophisticated hexagonal bottle and little black bow. But then a few days later, I found myself back along the fragrance shelves at Sephora again.

The first time I inhaled the scent, I immediately knew that this was me. It was me through and through – and I didn’t even know why or how a scent could have that kind of an impact. It opened beautifully – a floral with spicy undertones. But what I found most intriguing was what lay beneath. There was- a certain mystery, a hint of something, dangerous- like a gaze held for a little too long, a gentle brush of an elbow against another, the sweeping of a strand of hair in the wind. There was a certain boldness in the scent which spoke volumes to me about adventure, courage, dreams and romance.

Three years on. Even the slightest whiff, I would still consider arresting – a stir in my heart, an excitement coursing through my veins. Even as I write this, I’d closed my eyes and breathed in to ignite the scent memory from deep within, and it sweeps me back to Paris- to the Eiffel Tower, to the Gardens of Versailles.

They say that true love is worth the wait. And if true love is this, then truly it is.

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Express Yourself.”

Poetry by Photography: The Ninth Army

Love, the Giver of life

Joy, the Bearer of light

Peace, the Prince of nobility

Patience, the Protector of faith

Kindness, the Deliverer of humanity

Goodness, the Messenger of gold

Faithfulness, the Knight of salvation

Gentleness, the Healer of old

Self-control, the Defender of the soul

March 2014, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Express Yourself.”

De Zaab, Bangkok, Thailand

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Category: Thai, Northeastern – Casual Dining

On the morning of our last day in Bangkok, we decided to explore the UP Rama 3 mall (ดิอัพ พระราม 3) which newly opened, just down the street from where we were staying at the Chatrium Residence Sathorn. The mall was barely a month old, and we’d gone down to scout it out for a place to have breakfast. Unexpectedly, one of our most value-for-money and best meals happened there at a new restaurant, which we hadn’t even heard of, called De Zaab on the first floor.

The Up Rama 3, Narathiwat Ratchanakarin Road, Yannawa, Bangkok

Chong Non Si ช่องนนทรี The Up Rama 3 ถนนนราธิวาสราชนครินทร์ ยานนาวา กรุงเทพฯ

The UP mall is located at the corner of a major street intersection. If I had to draw parallels, it would be a version of Singapore’s Chijmes, with its elements of old world european architecture. It’s pretty small but has several food establishments including Singapore’s very own Boon Tong Kee chicken rice restaurant alongside a significant number of medium to high-end Japanese Restaurants; from Japanese barbecue to handmade sushi and sashimi from fish flown in from Japan in an omakase format.

Damage: $

De Zaab offered the most incredible value ever. At lunchtime, they had set meals which were between 160 – 190THB ($6-$8) which were fixed pairings of dishes from their regular menu. We’d thought that perhaps the portions would be smaller but alas, the portions were comparable to everywhere else, and my-, the dishes were all good!

To go: Definitely, if you’re in the vicinity

Leaving the restaurant, we were actually concerned about the restaurant’s viability, with prices almost comparable to the street-side stalls (except this was a proper restaurant). I do note that this may be out of the way for those staying farther up north in Bangkok. However, if you find yourself somewhere near to or in Sathorn, they’re definitely worth your while.


A MORE DETAILED RECOUNT

At 10.30am on a Monday morning, the UP Mall was still relatively quiet apart from the soft pipe-in Japanese music which reminded me of the Shiroi Koibito Park in Hokkaido. The signs of the mall’s recentness were fully apparent – the walls and floors were spotless, and some units were still in the midst of having their fixtures put up whilst one or two others were pending tenancy.

Since it was our last day in Bangkok, we thought it made perfect sense to indulge in Thai food, and so when we passed by De Zaab on the first floor and saw the tantalising pictures, we went straight in.

Pad Thai and Thai mango Salad Bangkok ThailandAll I can say is damn – we made a hella good choice. We ordered a set of Thai papaya salad and a seafood Pad Thai (rice noodles stir fried with eggs, firm tofu, a touch of sugar and spice and with peanut bits). When served, we were gawking at the heap that was the papaya salad. The papaya strands were a good rawness, thickness and had lots of crunch. Every stand of the Pad Thai was well glazed with the tamarind and fish sauce, with a good amount of prawns to boot. Personally, I prefer how they do it in Singapore, which is to stir fry the beansprouts in with the noodles, whereas here, the beansprouts were served raw on the side.

The Seafood Tom Yum Soup had so much depth of flavour as well – it was light but punchy on the spicy and sour, with just the right tone of sweetness – and was loaded with plenty of ingredients including fresh prawns, squid and a whole party of vegetables.

Seafood Tom yum Soup Bangkok Thailand

De Zaab Signature Stir fried Noodles Bangkok Thailand

Truth be told, I have no idea what the dish above (and also the featured image) is called, but I’d refer to it as one of the restaurant’s signature dishes because it was featured on the wall, and also had half a page of the menu dedicated entirely to it. It wasn’t part of a set, but either way, if you show them this picture, I’m sure their friendly staff will be able to figure it out – just look at the amount of ingredients in this thing – fresh and succulent prawns, fishcake slices, and a generous helping of vegetables on top of the fragrant and fluffy vermicelli. Such a delight.

Yaowarat Road (ถนนเยาวราช), Bangkok, Thailand

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Category: Thai (Chinese) – Street Food

Yaowarat Road in Bangkok, Thailand, is practically synonymous with “Chinatown”. At night, the streets are flooded with taxis ferrying tourists who flock there for dinner, supper, or to soak in the hustling atmosphere side-by-side with the locals. Vendors park their carts in front of the shops and begin business, practically forming a street-side barricade that effectively encroaches into the road, with more than 10 stalls every 20m or so.

Sam Pheng Lane ซอยสำเพ็ง, Bangkok, Thailand

The taxis inch along bumper-to-bumper. Bright lights, lots of signs. Noise. Vehicles all lined along the curb. People weaving randomly through the traffic, queuing, eating – here, there, everywhere. You’ve reached Yaowarat, alright.

Damage: $

Food here is inexpensive – as it should be, given that almost all the time your food will be prepared out of small push-carts, shelter-like things or even a wok precariously balanced on top of a gas cylinder, and you’ll be sitting on a stool that’s been planted on the road. Half the time you’ll be thinking and raving about how inexpensive the dish you were just served is, and the other half you’ll spend wondering if you’re going to get a stomach ache afterwards. Nonetheless, Yaowarat seemed, on the whole, to be noticeably cleaner than some other food streets in Bangkok.

To go: When looking for food in Bangkok at night

With probably over a thousand stalls operating along the streets at night, there is an abundance of food, although it once again (as with many other places in Bangkok) becomes very challenging to differentiate the talented hawkers. It is lively, chaotic – typical Bangkok style. It’s probably a good one-stop-shop at night, with the other food street option being Sukhumvit Soi 38.


This review contains a few sub-reviews on different stalls which we patronised. 

A MORE DETAILED RECOUNT

The cab hadn’t moved in 4 minutes. I’d pre-loaded my GPS with the wifi at the hotel (as we’d all learnt to do when travelling on exchange with no data plan), and I could see that the start of my planned food trail was barely 25m away. We thanked him, paid the fare, alighted and had to scoot out of the way of a hasty tuk-tuk,  before blending into the constant stream of people going up and down the street.

Nai Mong Hoy Tod (นายหมงหอยทอด) was our first stop. Acclaimed for their oyster omelettes (or “Orh luak” as they’re known in Singapore), it is a small shophouse just of Charoen Krung Road, 25m down Phlap Phla Chai Street, on your right. Rather than bother with the complex street names, you can search for the shop’s name on google maps and you’ll find that it’s so well-known that it’s already marked out with a star.

Nai Mong Hoy Tod Oyster Omelette Yaowarat Bangkok Thailand

Nai Mong Hoy Tod Orh Luak Oyster Omelette Bangkok

This was delish – topped with a generous serving of plump good-sized oysters, it was such great value at around $4. I can’t think of a better value oyster omelette anywhere else. Orh Luak tends to come with starch mixed in, which tends to be clumpy if not done correctly, but this one was excellent – the starch was tasty (it was actually, for the first time ever, tasty!). Well incorporated into the omelette, it provided a smooth springy texture which interlaced with the crisp of the omelette. Unlike when poorly fried to a dry crisp, the egg flavour was still apparent in the fluffy omelette and oysters were fresh. We ordered a plate of clams cooked in a spicy sauce from the shophouse to its right as well, and that was also great value and very tasty – so you could consider doing that if you’re paying Nai Mong a visit.

Seafood was up next, and for that, we headed back out to the main street. There are two very popular seafood stalls at the intersection of Yaowarat Road and Thanon Phadung Dao Street. The queue was so long at T&K Seafood restaurant that we settled, without much hesitation, at my originally-planned stop of Lek & Rut Seafood (featured picture) which was right opposite to that. Contrary to what some reviews say, the staff were not friendly – they were impatient when taking orders and would just holler an unhelpful response whilst looking everywhere else when customers tried to get clarification on the dishes. Their menu was a plastic folder of white A4 paper printed with pictures and some words, sometimes indistinct. I noticed the only exception to this was a caucasian family with two kids, who the waitress immediately offered Strawberry Collon snacks to and spent time recommending dishes as well as joking with the kids, and a group of young and boisterous caucasian men whom she (surprise surprise) greeted with a broad smile and open arms.

The seafood was inexpensive, surely, and of a decent value, but be prepared for a massive squeeze and terrible service. I particularly liked the prawns cooked in a chilli egg sauce, which I happily licked up with my spoon.

Chilli Egg sauce prawns Lek & Rut Yaowarat Bangkok Thailand

After walking along the street, I spotted a street-side stall operated by two teenage girls who looked like students helping to run a family business on the weekend. They were both dressed in tshirts and shorts, hair neatly tied up in ponytails, cheerfully chatting with each other and meticulously arranging the boxes of Mango Sticky Rice. The cart was neat and clean – boxes of sticky rice stacked on one side and boxes of sliced mangos stacked on the other, with a woven rattan tray of the mango fruit to the right.

I am a huge fan of mango sticky rice and theirs looked good so we got a box to try for 120THB (~$5), and sat at the blue tables just behind the stall. The rice was delicious – just the right amount of stickiness and chewiness, and drizzling the coconut milk over top was divine; a thick creamy coating of just the right sweetness. The uncooked grains sprinkled over the top weren’t as good though, and were not crispy but instead a little tough to bite through, but nonetheless could be ignored. With a generous serving of sweet mango at its side, we later concluded on hindsight after trying the same dish at several other places that this was one of the best mango sticky rice we had in Bangkok.

Mango Sticky Rice Yaowarat Chinatown Bangkok Thailand