Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Pork ribs and lamb shanks, the new stars in the evolution from coffeeshop western food to coffeeshop western cuisine!

Let me start this post on western food in Singapore by giving a brief scene of how old school coffeeshop western food used to look like to true blue old school Singaporeans.

I remember old school western food by the mini portions of "Anchor" butter which came with a small bun, old school no brand thick french fries, baked beans and the main piece of meat which was chicken chop or chicken cutlet with brown sauce as a default. The other mains that one would choose would be fish and chips, pork chops and the ever popular mixed grill which always came with sunny side up eggs, sausages and mixed grills. Burgers would be limited to chicken or fish patties with only a slice of cheese. Some stalls would also throw in fried or BBQ chicken wings for those who wanted rice or extras to go with their mains. All this for the price of $4.50 for chicken chops and $8 for mixed grills. Does this description bring back memories of how coffeeshop western food was to you?

If it does sound nostalgic to you, that's because it no longer exists now. When was the last time you saw the small packs of Anchor butter or the forks & knife wrapped in a single thick ply of tissue? Coffeeshop western in Singapore has been reshaped by the days of Astons & Botak Jones and the industry has had to evolve to cater to new found Singaporean demands of western food. Look at ABC Grill, Happy Western or even Char Grill Bar (the not so new kid on the block). All of these coffeeshop westerns have modified or changed their menu and way of business. Gone were the days of only french fries or baked beans as fixed sides.

Many coffeeshop westerns now give you a mix of sides to choose from and they can range from fancy baked potatoes to cheese soaked fries. Coffeeshop western stalls have setup franchises, expanded everywhere and have even brought in premium western cuisine that you might only find in a restaurant. Astons started bringing in baby ribs and sirloin steaks, Happy Western did some chicken and pork schnitzel, Botak Jones did premium beef burgers and Char Grill Bar did grilled salmon steaks.

So what's new?

I'm going to talk about Adrian's food again but for a good reason. Chef Adrian (Crazie Chef) has broke common boundaries that none of the coffeeshop westerns have dared to cross. Not only has he brought western cuisine to the coffeeshop, he has done it in style by marrying both price and quality of food. His two recent "high class" or atas dishes are his Napolean Lamb Shanks and BBQ Pork Ribs. It has impressed me  for sure and even a famous food blogger (who we shall not name now) came by to try those dishes.

Chef Adrian also gives some sort of customization to regulars or ardent customers who call him to reserve Ribeye Steaks. Customers can order a pre-determined weight for their steaks and that is how I got to try 200g, 300g, 400g and even 700g! I finally settled at 300g as I found that was the best weight for eating Ribeye.

Anyway, while the two "high class" dishes are not priced at usual coffeeshop prices (the lamb shank is at $27 +/- and the BBQ pork ribs at $19.90 for a slab), I wish to shout out that there are NO coffeeshop price references for lamb shanks and BBQ pork ribs in a coffeeshop! I mean when we talk about having the best BBQ pork ribs, lamb shanks or ribeye steaks in Singapore, you won't even think of a coffeeshop in Crawford lane right?

So here's my review of Chef's two dishes:

Napolean lamb shanks

Fall off the bone doneness
Chef Adrian's trademark Napolean sauce makes a comeback in a dish of perfectly fired up lamb shank with mashed potatoes & herby veggies as sides. Before this, I was only eating lamb shanks at "atas" restaurants like Poulet or Tony Romans but here I was with my cup of Kopi O Kosong, enjoying a "meat so soft that it falls apart from the bone" lamb shank. The lamb was very juicy and the Napolean sauce brought the strong smell of lamb to a light tone. The shank was also slightly charred at some parts and I actually found that interestingly good to be biting into soft meat and crackling texture. On the downside, I found the accompanying Idaho mash potato drowned by the sauce and the potato's flavour got overturned by the lamb. Other than that, this dish is a 4.5/5


BBQ pork ribs - whole slab too big he had to stack it
Crazie Chef's BBQ pork ribs is in the same category as modern day pork knuckles. We don't usually eat pork ribs alone but as group dining outings got more common, it became a very popular food item to share among friends and family. The older generation first tasted the award winning BBQ pork ribs at Cafe Cartel but the craze started to died down. Will this craze of sharing pork ribs gain pace again as Adrian brings BBQ pork ribs back to the common folk? The pork ribs which also a fall off the bone affair and the BBQ sauce he used was very subtle and not very acidic (if you get what I mean). It had that slightly tangy kick and it didn't overpower the sweetness of the ribs. In fact, I had the whole slab to myself and the truth is I only used a fork to eat the whole dish! Same comments here... I couldn't really taste the mash potato. Perhaps some fries would be good so I can dip in that wonderful BBQ sauce... 4/5

Well, heads up! Chef Adrian is looking to bring in top grade Wagyu steaks to his stall so have a look out for that. He's also toying with his signature Beef Stew and Pork Chops... stay tuned for more meat!

In the meattime, here's his Facebook page
https://www.facebook.com/adriancuisine

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Top 9 Phuket Travel tips from Baktao



Now it seems like this review took a very long time to finally take hold in my blog but I hope it can be of use to you during your next vacation to Phuket.

I've been to Phuket many years ago on a full package trip with my family and it was unforgettable because it was so pristine and untouched back then. The most memorable would be to see my grandfather ogle after the nude caucasian women on the beaches. Even more memorable would be the long tail boat offshore fishing that was fairly common in Phuket. In Singaporean fishing terms, it was the type of "Lo Jiak", "Bao Tong", "Tok Kong" fishing frenzy that one could ever experience.

Now it's 2015 though and is Phuket still as evergreen and pristine? Tourism always brings pollution and commercialization but in the midst of it all, I found that you don't need to rely on a tour package now. Reliable travel information about Phuket can now be found online and with a little planning, all I did was to book a cheap $150 budget flight and a room through Agoda!

I'm not going to blog about everything I did in Phuket but I am going to blog about the key information that you should note and some recommendations that you should not miss at Phuket.

Taxi from Airport

Taking a taxi from the airport is not straightforward as you think because the airport taxi drop off point will be crawling with touters and tour promoters. A quick check from Google on taxi prices puts the rate at 500 to 800 baht (2014 rate) towards Patong so you should be looking at that price range. If the charges are extravagant, kindly decline and if you still cannot get a suitable price, there should be a taxi stand where you can find taxis that use meters. It should be all the way to the left from the arrival entrance.

The taxi we took charged about 700 baht and since we did not want to waste time, we didn't bother to haggle. The taxi even stopped us at a tour company along the way where we took some brochures but kindly declined to make any commitment as we wanted to check out the tour operators around Patong beach.

 

Burasari Resort

Burasari Resort didn't make a lot of sense from a cost point of view because the location wasn't that good and the rooms weren't super fantastic but they had these nifty 'Mood Collection' rooms which are bespoke rooms customized with different themes depending on the mood of your holiday (or Wife). You can Google these rooms and I won't comment much here as you can find pictures and write-ups of the rooms on Google. Different mood collection rooms come with different facilities (such as Bathtubs, Jacuzzi etc.) so check on the facilities you want and narrow down the choice of rooms to your liking.

Booking a Tour from a Stall

The best part of Burasari Resort was it was just beside Patong beach (albeit the far end) and we even found a reliable and cheap travel operator shop beside the resort. It is run by a Chinese family and just beside the pharmacy. The tour prices were priced very competitively and we noticed that it was at least 30% cheaper than those we saw at the tour company (earlier on). 

As a point of reference, a round trip to Phi Phi island by speedboat was about 1000 baht per pax and an Island Kayaking trip at James Bond island was at 800 baht. These are the prices that you should be looking at when you are looking for a trip to hop on.

The tour operator also arranges taxi pickups from Burasari Resort to Phuket Airport at only 500 - 600 baht so that was also an easy choice to make.

We actually even hired a half day tour driver from the stall. Half day tour meaning flexible locations as long as they fell within half day. We had the driver take us to Tiger Kingdom, Upside Down House and Trickeye Museum.

That's all for my administrative tips when coming into Phuket and settling your accomodation and tours. Below you'll find some write ups about key activites/recommendations/things to do in Phuket.

 

Island Hopping and Snorkelling in Phuket

The first thing to look out for while planning for the above is the location. Tour operators usually lump a few locations together which can include Phi Phi Island, Maya Bay, Koh Khai (Khai Island), Similan Island and more.

The accessibility to these locations differ greatly over the monsoon season and if you're keen to have a full island hopping or snorkelling experience, it's best not to go during the monsoon season. Monsoon season would make the visibility of the water bad.

Another trip bugger that will affect you is the equipment selection. Tour packages often do not state the state or range of equipment provided but it is down to the individual to employ common sense here. If the package doesn't state the equipment provided, ask your operator or if you're not snorkelling during the trip, ask if you can get a better price. The last thing we want to do is to rent a snorkelling mask and fins if you're not even snorkelling!

You'll also encounter optional costs along the way that will be pushed to you. Your guide will likely encourage you to rent a beach chair at Khai Island (which most people do anyway because there are no other places to settle down and put your belongings). Random people will also take photos of you and then print them out in a nice frame to sell to you. Now some people will be disturbed or offended with it but I personally am impressed by these enterprising folks and if their prices are reasonable (I bought one photo + frame for 150 baht), I don't see why you shouldn't bring a small souvenir home!

To conclude this section, I know that many of us compare prices just by looking at the figures and in most cases, this is a bad way of making decisions for this activity. It is best to gauge the activity and price based on your travelling crew or needs. For example, a large family of 10 might be more suited to the cheap Island Hopping package tour on a big ferry because it is cheap and you're going to crowd the whole place anyway. This changes totally if you're a group of 2 couples looking for a nice cruise to undisturbed islands on a private speed boat (which will probably charge much more).

In all cases, always use a mixture of common sense and mandatory bargaining.

Phuket Tiger Kingdom

Phuket Tiger Kingdom is going to be a natural choice when it comes to visiting Phuket. It's quite tough to see why not... after all who wouldn't want to be up close with Tiger(s). The husbands can be macho here and the wives can grab their husbands and be a little feminine so why not? You get to choose from baby tigers, medium tigers and adult tigers.

Now it must be said that there have been widespread complaints and rumors that they are mistreating the Tigers here although we saw no such deeds and I don't want to play the role of an investigator here.

Also, don't try to save up on the photos. Hire a Photographer there and get good photos of your outing. You may be a good Photographer but you also want to be in the picture right? The Photographers there also know the various poses and angles that work well with the Tigers.

Do a Google for the prices. Then invest in some heart soup and you're good to go.

 

Phuket Trickeye Museum

I sincerely have no comments nor suggestions for this one since I haven't been to the Singapore Trickeye Museum. Still, I am pretty sure it will be a hit if you are a basic Singaporean bro/bitch. Do you identify with girls posting Trickeye photos on their Instagram and Facebook? If that's you then I'm pretty sure you'll want to show off to your friends that you actually went to Phuket's Trickeye Museum right?

Nuff said, please Google.

 

Phuket Upside Down House (baan teelanka)

I think I'm getting lazy but Baan Teelanka aka Upside Down House is the same category as the Trickeye Museum except that it's more arty farty and a little more original. Instagram and Facebook addicts can figure out a 10001 angles to take selfies and pictures while doing strange things in a strange house. Everything in the house is built Upside down so go figure. I had to turn myself down to take photos and I had to balance! Tip for the ladies - It's an upside down house, don't wear skirts unless you're trying to impress.

 

Patong Seafood

Phuket Seafood? You think of Lobsters, Crabs, all sorts of Shellfish and bla bla right? We had an excellent driver who dropped us at a "Seafood" place called no.6 Restaurant on some hill that was crowded with Singaporeans. We tried the food and the only Seafood they had was eggs with crab meat. Now when I think about it, I was thinking whether Singaporeans love cheap Seafood and that was why our driver's understanding of "Seafood" + "Singaporean" led us to this hill top cheap zhi char tuah.

But don't worry I didn't stop there because I actually took another taxi and went around visually LOOKING for Seafood and settled after I saw Lobsters being displayed randomly outside a fairly crowded stall. So folks, if you are looking for real seafood in Phuket, please tell your guide or driver that you want lobsters and they'll know what type of Seafood you want.

I stumbled across this gem of a restaurant called "99 Seafood Patong" which had decent fresh Seafood that was displayed prominently at the front of the stall. The Seafood was also relatively fresh (I'm a Seafood person so trust me) and we chose big Crayfish, fresh live Oysters (to eat raw), live Tilapia, Tom Yum Soup and BBQ Seaprawns. Food was done well, service was good and the price wasn't cut-throat (just about right)

 

Jungceylon Mall Pimnara Massage & Spa

I have good news for you if you have a picky or fussy partner because look no further than Pimnara Massage & Spa for your luxury massage experience. Located in Jungceylon mall, this place is top class because everything from the decor, scent, experience of masseuses was done professionally. They weren't cheap at 750 baht/1.5hrs but if you want a better than usual Thai massage, place your bets here. This place will be good for fussy partners that avoid roadside Thai massages or faint when the pretty roadside Thai massage ladies warm up to their husbands or boyfriends. Guys, own up... I'm sure you wanted a decent (I really mean decent and not hanky panky) Thai massage in a cheap roadside massage parlor but then your partner said... "eeee so dirty..."...


Endnote

And that's it for my very random Phuket travel tips and places to go. If you noticed, I didn't really state popular places nor information such as cost about the Phuket attractions because I believe that such information can be readily found in the Internet. On the other hand, I would think that my personal tips and sharing would add more value to your planning of your travels on Phuket. If you would like to ask me more tailored or other questions, do Email me or PM me at www.facebook.com/baktao and I'll be glad to help!

Baktao-rians

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