For me, the 90s marked the era of the American diner, grill and steakhouse. I remember the excitement when Dan Ryan’s first opened in Singapore next to the Regent Hotel. Famous for its free kid’s… More
Tapas is everything but a light meal especially when downed with a jug of good Sangria. Despite how often I convince myself that this meal is or could be a light affair, I often succumb to the temptation of ordering more than I should. And that’s exactly what happened at this new go-to that I recently discovered in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong or as the locals call it ‘TST.’
Playa De Papagayo is my latest find, in terms of Tapas outlets. Located at Observatory Road just down from the Mira Hotel, next to the Empire Hotel and across from the Audi Showroom, you can’t miss this cute place with its patio setting, bright blue exterior and distinct beach hut hangout feel.
The enterprising owners apparently also own another smaller tapas restaurant of the same name, at Hanoi Road nearby and they also own the fantastic Japanese yakitori restaurant right next door.
Papagayos, as it is called short-form beckons with a fun vibe. It’s not your typical Spanish joint but has a nice laid back feel and if the weather is nice, you can sit outside on the patio where there is casual seating.
Wandering inside, the surprisingly spacious interior has a mix of sofa seats, lounge chairs, high tables with stools and bench seating, amidst the usual tables and chairs.
A neon sign or two, a large open bar and the quirky menu with its beach theme feel add to the chill-out vibe.
The drinks are creative, portions good and not the nasty watered down version you get at most places. In terms of food, the menu is extensive from Spanish Tapas to Soups and Salads, Pastas and Mains, things from their Fire Grill oven and a small selection of dessert. The tapas portions are over-all ‘smallish’. I was not overly impressed with the usual tapas favourites like the Garlic Shrimp and the Octopus. Don’t get me wrong, they are definitely tasty but you would need two portions if you are more than 3 people sharing.
However, with a menu this extensive, normal should not be what you order at a restaurant like this. We decided to be adventurous and that spirit landed us some amazing eats like this list of top things to order that we are recommending. We are quite sure that you won’t get tapas like these anywhere else.
1. Foie Gras Terrine, Fig and Rice Crispy Treat – HK$88
This bite-sized gourmet looking morsel looks like its ready to be served at a high end cocktail party. It is the perfect size to daintily pick up with your fingers and pop into your mouth. You get more than a generous bite and an explosion of tastes out of this very decent bite-sized piece of medium-rare foie gras, topped with delicious fig jam, a slice of fig with a delicious popcorn morsel perched on the top. Wash this down with a glass of fruity red and you are immediately ready for another piece. I would definitely order two portions of these as one of these beauties as one plate is simply not enough.
2. Crab Meat and Avocado Roll with Salmon Caviar – HK$88
I am clueless as to how they make the gold coloured gel-like skin that looks like a wonton wrap and envelopes the tasty crab meat and avocado filling inside this almost beautiful h’or oeuvre. Garnished with a dash of mayonnaise and Japanese caviar, this is delicious to the boot.
3. Iberico Ham in Raw Tuna Roll with Half Boiled Egg – HK$78
Not quite a main course, but this is a good sharing portion that you want to order a side of garlic bread for, just to mop up the runny egg. The tuna is just lightly seared, the way you would see it at a Japanese restaurant and really goes well with the egg.
4. Kurabata Pork Chop with Apple Paste – HK$298
This pork dish makes an excellent main course if you are dining alone or slice it up and you have a decent main course to share along with the other tapas treats that you have picked.
5. Spanish Style Beef Ribs – HK$368
The beef on the bone that was served was literally huge. More than adequate for sharing and way too much for one person to finish alone. Beautifully coated and grilled in black sesame seeds, this gave the meat a juicy and tender texture. Definitely, a new favourite meat dish for those with carnivorous leanings, like me.
6. Must-Order Paella – HK$288
We saw many people order this dish which comes served in an impressive Moroccan style tagine instead of the usual paella pan. I was intrigued and ordered the Squid Ink version (not shown in picture – as squid ink does not photograph well) which truly turned out to be one of the best paellas I have ever eaten. Moist, full of exquisite flavour – each bite leaves you abandoning all courtesy so that you can dig your spoon in for another bite. At the end, all I could see was the satisfied smacking of everyone’s slightly-stained black lips.
7. Excellent Sangria, Beer and Creative Cocktails
This restaurant gets my vote for good Sangria. The bartender serves an excellent mix – not too sweet, just the right amount of fruit and definitely enough vino to give it a good ‘kick’ start to a fun evening. My 12 year old swears by the Mango non-alcoholic cocktail.
By the end of the meal and a few more jugs of sangria later, we were too full to try dessert which definitely gives us a reason to return.
Playa De Papagayo is at
Shop N3, G/F, Podium Plaza, 5 Hanoi Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
Tel: +852 – 2739 1808
Shop 2 , 5 Observatory Rd Tsim Sha Tsui Tel: +852 – 2323 1379
If there’s a city with a proud cafe culture, it is Hanoi. The locals are immensely proud of their local coffee, and sip it all day in their inimitable style. I wish Singapore was as proud of their own coffee – local coffee that is. (Yes, the one you brew in a sock, while wearing your blue striped pyjama pants.) In nooks and crannies, tucked deep inside narrow ‘tube houses’ or in the upper levels of old French colonial buildings are a hidden world of coffee joints. They are vibrant, happening places crowded with mostly young patrons, and few tourists. They aren’t easy to find, but our guide Trang of Hanoi Voyages brought us to a couple, having found out that we were ardent foodies.
Her favourite and a local institution is Cafe Giang (39 Nguyen Hu Huan) — pronounced ‘Jac’, with a soft ‘J’ — opened since 1946 and still going strong. You can easily miss its dark, distressed entrance way, dismissing it as an empty, derelict passage. But that’s because the action is deep down the narrow corridor, and up an even narrower staircase.
As you reach the top landing, suddenly sunlight pours down from a skylight and you’re in a lush, plant-filled landing, crowded with customers. In typical Vietnamese style, seats and tables are low. Don’t wait to be seated – just head to the nearest available.
Typical Vietnamese coffee is served here, so potent it’ll keep you up for the next few days of touring. And it’s good, believe me. ‘Gao’ until cannot ‘gao’. But what most people come here for is its egg coffee – a supremely thick coffee with condensed milk and an egg. It doesn’t sound particularly enticing initially, but you don’t really taste the egg much; it acts more like a thickener, and the texture is rich, ‘puffy’ and somewhat custard-like. It’s really thick, sweet and delectable; rich enough to be a dessert. Definitely a must-try for the food adventurer when visiting Hanoi.
Another delightful coffee joint we visited was Cong Caphe . A very successful local coffee chain, its name makes reference to the Viet Cong who fought the Americans and South Vietnamese in the American War (Americans calls it the Vietnam War). But it’s all about coffee and a fun experience at Caphe Cong, not propaganda or politics.
We visited the outlet at Ma May Street, which occupies a narrow colonial building, with a crumbling but still beautiful European facade. Inside, the cafe is decked out in vintage wooden furniture with clever details that play up the military/retro theme — a bucket or wok for a lampshade, a green leatherbound menu, retro photos and posters on the wall. It’s rather worn out and a little dusty inside, but that’s the look. We head to the upstairs balcony, with distressed walls as a backdrop, overlooking the street and a tangled mess of electric cables. It’s a quaint and atmospheric place to wind down after a day’s exploration.
Drinks here are typically Vietnamese in style given a modern yet authentic spin — a delectable mung bean smoothie with coconut milk, a rice smoothie, espresso with condensed milk, Vietnamese coffee and happily, even cocktails. Sit down, relax and let the sun set, casting the terrace in weakening light. With the mess below and the worn out walls around, there is something quite charming about this. And it’s a really nice way to soak in the local youthful pop culture of Hanoi, of which this cafe is very much a part.
For more about Hanoi’s food, read about the food tour of Hanoi’s Old Quarter which Trang brought us to as well.
(This trip was my own personal holiday, and nothing written in here was sponsored or paid for in any way.)
Despite the organised chaos that prevails on its streets and walkways, Hanoi is a charming, fascinating, delightful city. I am constantly amazed by how you can cross the scooter-laden streets at a steady pace and the wall of vehicles bearing down on you — nevermind that you’re using the zebra crossing — will fan out like a swarm of swallows, then skirt and meander past you like a well-rehearsed dance, allowing you to reach the other side of the road with limbs and life intact. What’s more dangerous to me are the great vats of boiling soup stubbornly straddling the narrow walkways, with low stools and tables scattered nearby, threatening to trip you over if you so much as take your eyes off the pavement for a moment to snap a shot.
It was to these street side food stalls in the Old Quarter that we went to taste and explore on a recent trip to Hanoi. Our private tour with Hanoi Voyages included a walking food tour on our first night, led by our guide Trang Ta. It was a dizzy, three-hour trek to a number of food stalls and small restaurants – I have lost count – to taste various dishes. A plate here, and nibble there all came together nicely to form a very filling and stimulating feast.
First, we popped in to Mr Bay Mien Tay (79 Hang Bac), a buzzy little restaurant well known among the locals for its excellent banh xeo. Cooked at the front as you order, it was a sizzling crisp-edged egg pancake filled with prawns and beansprouts, eaten with fresh herbs and rolled in rice paper.
A dessert stall next door caught our eye, run by this cheerful young lady. We bought some of her rice mochi balls filled with peanuts. Sounds quite familiar indeed, but it also carried a sprinkling of coconut shreds which is a little different to how we eat it back home.
Then it was on to another stop for salad. This eatery (38 Bat Dan Road) could do with a bit of a clean up, and touch of aesthetics; but the beef jerky salad with fish sauce dressing — the only thing on the menu — which they sold was really delectable. With the jerky, there were green papaya, cucumbers, carrots, coriander and mint, beansprouts, and some peanuts which gave light, bright flavours, and crunchy textures. According to Trang, people would drop into this eatery early in the evening for a pre-dinner salad before heading home or moving on to their dinner venue.
Then it was on to Countryside Restaurant (29 Bat Dan Road) for two unusual dishes. First, fried snakehead fish with dill, beansprouts, crisp fried onions which you had to assemble yourself, wrapping it in rice paper with coriander, mint and peanuts. The fish was just nicely cooked and moist, lifted by the aromatics, resulting in a complex marriage of flavours in each mouthful, and a delightful mix of textures. The other was a juicy, hearty dish of fried frogs legs served with peppery betel leaf. It was certainly not among the usual suspects in Vietnamese cuisine and absolutely more-ish.
We were to move on to a famous pho shop (49 Bat Dan Road) down the same street but the queues were ridiculously long, snaking down the road. So Trang decided to give it a miss and move us on to other options which Hanoi’s Old Quarter offered. As an alternative, she brought us to another pho shop but unfortunately, it wasn’t that great.
Our last stop made a fine finale — a well loved hole-in-the-wall dessert stall (95 Hang Bac) run by a cheerful aunty. It was packed, but we managed to find some plastic stools, squeezed them into the nearest empty spot we could find – nevermind that it was right in the middle of the entrance way — and ordered up her icy specialties. Without a table, we ate our desserts off a metal tray which we perched on our laps.
They are quite similar to what we have at home in Singapore, but yet a little different — such as a creme caramel with black glutinous rice (like our pulut hitam) which was quite good, but I’m no fan of creme caramel in general. Surprisingly, as unexciting as the black bean soup with coconut milk sounded, it was excellent. The soy ice cream with glutinous rice was also most enjoyable. That brought us to the end of the food tour. By the time we meandered back to our hotel, it was close to 11pm.
At this point, I must give a shout out for Hanoi Voyages (pronounced with French flair – “voy-A-es”) who organised our entire four-day private tour, of which this evening was only one part. The company is run by a young staff who are pretty intuitive about what we were looking for. Beyond just taking us to these places to eat, Trang, who spoke fluent English, also filled us in on the background about the different foods, and told us about the individual eateries’ histories, and local food and cafe culture. She was also great fun to be with. Best of all, Hanoi Voyages specialises only in private tours and pride themselves for bringing guests off the beaten track, which means that for some part of your tour at least, you will be assured of a more unique Hanoi experience.
(This trip was my own personal holiday, paid fully by myself. Recommendations here are not paid for, simply that we want to share the great finds.)
If you have a thing for world’s first and engineering marvels then this is one trip that you would want to make this Summer, and have it ticked off the bucket list.
The Three Gorges Dam or the Sanxia Da Ba (三峡大坝) is the world’s largest hydroelectric dam created to both produce electricity and increase the Yangtze River’s shipping capacity as well as reduce downstream floods. A project that started construction in 1994, it was fully functioning from 2012 complete with five ship locks and fully completed with a ship lift in December 2015. See TEN interesting facts that you may want to note about the Dam project here before you book those tickets.
As for us, we were curious to see what a project that saw China relocating 1.24 million people in 2008 to achieve, costing them US$27.6 billion or RMB180 billion to construct-looked like in reality.
Getting there was easier than expected, there is a 3 hour train ride option from Shenzhen but we decided to fly domestic. So we took the train from Hong Kong to Shenzhen via Lo Wu. From there, boarded a 2 hour flight from Shenzhen’s Airport into Yichang.
Seeing the entire Dam and the expanse of land that is home to almost 360 million people is no mean feat and the most common way to fully appreciate it is to take a 4 to 6 day cruise and there are many cruise companies that arrange tours with English-speaking agents and guides.
With limited off days from school and work, we opted for the shortest way to see the Dam – via a Day Tour and got it arranged via the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Yichang (where we were staying). They recommended an English speaking tour guide, Christine who turned out to be a real gem. With a good command of English, knowledgeable, friendly and passionate about her job, she arranged a 2 day itinerary which included a day out on a tour boat down the Yangtze river and a second day out to see explore the Ba tribal village, one of the many small ancient villages that snake around the Yangtze.
Saw us getting on to a tour boat that would take us on a leisurely cruise down part of the Yangtze to cross the ship lock of the Gezhouba Dam, go inside the Dam area, view the museum, have lunch, and then take a bus back to Yichang.
Entering a SHIP LOCK – think of it as an elevator of sorts but this SHIP LOCK allows the vessel to sail in and brings you 22 metres down stream in 20 mins (about the rate of 1 metre per minute). The ship is literally “locked” into the contained area that you see ahead to prevent the water from rushing in and then carried down stream.
You can’t fly over the Dam because of security issues and you need special military permission to do that – so a bird’s eye view of how the Dam operates and comes together is pretty much out of the question. Thus, a visit to the Dam museum to look at the model of it and how it all works and comes together is mandatory.
We headed by bus to the catch another boat that would bring us to see the Ba Village, a tribe of people who have lived in the region for centuries and in a village built by the banks of the Yangtze River. After which we would catch a bus to eat at the famous cliff side Weng Restaurant, one of the only 8 cliff restaurants in the world.
Leaving the serenity of the Yangtze behind, we hopped on a tour bus back into Yichang city but not before stopping for dinner at the world-famous hanging Fang Weng Restaurant.
The most famous dish there is a fish dish in milky soup where the fish has a distinct gelatinous texture. Look out for our detailed review later.
Total cost for the 2 day itinerary – 500 RMB per person (inclusive the boat and bus transport and minus a tip for the guide, the meals, an Uber or what China calls a “didi” back to the hotel). Definitely a great way to spend a long weekend.
(This trip was my own personal holiday, paid fully by myself. Recommendations here are not paid for, simply that we want to share the great finds.)
Somehow when I think ‘Spa’ – my mind wanders to Thailand and Bali. The concept of relaxation does somewhat equal resort getaway but what if being in the city is the only option … for now.
Just last night, I popped into the opening of the new Chuan Body + Soul, an in-city Spa on the 15th floor of the chi chi Langham Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Blame the twinkly fairy lights, the skinny cocktails (nothing over 250 calories) that I was plied with or maybe one of those uber healthy Acai berry bowls or the on-trend novelty multivitamin jellies that I was served, but my evening there, did somehow leave me lightheaded and open to the possibilities of a stealing a sneaky getaway right here, yes, during office hours under the bosses nose, right at the convenience of my Kowloon doorstep.
Opening its doors to membership for the first time, Chuan Body + Soul (previously just for Hotel guests) is offering a Health Club membership (with access to the pool and fitness facilities) at HK$1,800 per person, per month with a HK$250 per month fee for a locker.
The newly renovated premises offer stylish treatment rooms for massages and various treatments using private label essential oils saunas and showers, a rooftop swimming pool and a split-level fitness on demand health club.
What I actually thought was particularly ‘buzzy’ and exciting was their new retail element – the sale and launch of Deborah Mitchell’s, Heaven product line and her award-winning bee venom therapies. An award winning aesthetician, she created and patented the Bee Venom product line ABEETOXIN®, used as the natural alternative to Botox by harvesting bee venom. Her Bee Sting Facial Therapy (HK$1,380 for 1 hr 15 mins) is said to give that instant natural face lift without the injections.
Another notable – Chuan also launches her Bee Peel Facial (HK$780 for 30 mins), the first of its kind to launch in Asia, designed with organic coconut, apple, raw sugar cane and 18% glycolic peel to deliver Medi-spa results by minimising visible fine lines, scars, pigmentation, sallow skin, blemishes and enlarged pores. A definite must-try if you are into what I term a ‘prevention is better than cure’ mantra.
Members get the use of the gym, access to Personal trainer and can join the range of classes such as Tai Chi, Yoga, Meditation and Singing Bowl Sound Therapy or simply use the pool to swim or jacuzzi-away after a hard day at work. Members’ Friends and Family enjoy a HK$200 per person Monday to Friday rate / HK$300 per person Saturday, Sunday & Public Holidays. Not a bad deal if you want a fun girls’ day out!
And if you are afraid that you will undo all the good from your soak, work out and massage then meals at the Spa offer a nutritious menu with healthy Sandwiches and Wraps alongside dishes like Açai bowls, homemade cereal bars, artificial-free fruit popsicles and energy boosting smoothies packed with antioxidants for long-lasting fuel.
If its a getaway to mark a special occasion, book a retreat – their Chuan Retreat Package at HK $5,000 offers a night’s stay in a One Bedroom Suite, a Signature Balancing or Chuan Harmony body massage for Two and access to The Langham Club lounge. Reservations at +852 2378 9988
Membership details see HERE or call: call +852 2378 9988
I have been driving past Ginett every day since it first opened. The route home from my daughter’s school brings me past this restaurant along Middle Road with its eye-catching black-framed windows and glittering bar with a heap of wine glasses suspended overhead. Very NYC in style and most inviting indeed. I always told myself I would pop in one of these days. And I finally did over the weekend.
In a word, Ginett is a fabulous restaurant to linger over a lazy meal. Its interiors is Paris-inspired but with the laid back vibe of a Melbourne establishment; service is friendly and warm. Tables are arranged cosily, but with enough distance to be comfortable, and most importantly, the food is good and the prices even better.
If you want to have a light nibble with friends, order the 1 metre cheese board ($56), with four cheeses and four charcuterie, many of which are made inhouse. The chorizo in particular is very good. Pair it with a bottle of wine, or a parade of their very well-priced wines by the glass (from $6). As the restaurant sources and imports its wines directly, they have been able to keep prices at the sweet spot. Ginett’s more than 70 labels come from France and includes some unusual labels. Bottles start from $30.
For brunch, the deceptively named Duck Gravy is soul simple food elevated to divine levels of comfort. The description in the menu falls short of reality: expect two sunny-side eggs on more than duck gravy, but a most generous heap of pulled duck cooked confit style (I think). It was a juicy, tasty, savoury slop but perfectly comforting. A must-have that tastes a whole lot better than it looks, it is also big enough for sharing. The eggs benedict was not that great though — the sauce was rather dry and the yolks not as runny as it should be.
Ginett’s signature dishes are the grilled meats cooked over apple wood charcoal. Have the ribeye or striploin (300g for sharing) at $42. We also tried the rotisserie chicken — it was all right but the breast meat was dry and overall, a little under seasoned.
For dessert, we had the profiteroles which, rather than filled in the classic way with cream, was sliced in half, with scoop of ice cream in between. I plan to try the baba au rhum the next time we head there.
At the end of the day, the stars were the cheese board and the wines. It is worth noting Ginett has about 30 types of cheeses in total, and next door, its sister outlet 25 Degrees offers good burgers.
Look out for Executive Chef Emmanuel Xu, a unique figure in the industry. From China, he had worked in Paris for 11 years, then back to Beijing for a few more years and now he helms the kitchen at Ginett. He is also the man behind the burgers at 25 Degrees.
Good to know: Ginett is open daily from 7am till late; last orders are particularly late — 10.30pm from Sundays to Thursdays, and 11.30pm on Fridays and Saturdays. On 23-27 May, award-winning French cheese master Gérard Poulard will be at Ginett to demonstrate the art of cheese pairings. He’ll be bringing along over 30 cheeses from boutique cheesemakers France.
200 Middle Road
Tel: (65) 6809 7989
Taste Singapore is not the sort of supermarket you’d go to look for your usual tau-gay, hae bee and pork bone (“One kg please”). Cradled in the Holland Village enclave within the Raffles Medical building, this newly opened gourmet grocer is the place to go for gourmet foodstuffs, but be prepared for correspondingly premium prices. We were really excited to find unusual goods here, with a different supermarket experience to match. Here are five reasons this supermarket stands out above the rest in our books.
1. You can grab a Spinelli’s coffee and sip while you shop. The Spinelli’s counter sits right by the down-escalator as you enter the shop.
2. There’s a super talented florist in the house as well. Yi Lian Ng’s floral arrangements are stunning, and definitely on a stylish tangent off from the conventional bouquets. Come here to pick a gift or the get a table arrangement for your dinner party while you shop for your groceries.
3. There’s a Japanese restaurant SENS in the middle of the supermarket. You can pick your meal from the menu, or get your favourite cut of meat from the butchery section of the supermarket and have the chef cook it for you at an additional cost of $8 per 100g. How cool is that?
4. Go to Taste Singapore for a gastronomic evening out. Book the table by the wine section, then wander around and pick out a favourite cut of meat at the butcher section, and ask them to cook it for you with some simple sides. Head over to the deli and pick out your cheeses and ask them to lay it out on a cheese board; and pick your bottle of wine from the wine section. You get the idea. All this will be brought to your table at the wine area and you can you tuck into your meal in the middle of the supermarket. Not enough? Have a wander around again, and pick up more food.
5. There are lots of fabulous finds on the shelves of Taste. The Cheese Room offers a fantastic range of cheeses including Croatian PAG goat cheeses (probably the first time Croatian cheese is available on retail here), a moreish pesto cheese, and a truffle cheese; while next to it, the wine section includes a particular lovely, floral French gin from Cognac. The meat section has a good selection of wagyu, and the bakery offers breads made on site fresh from the oven. If you need bread customised (eg. gluten free, etc), call in a couple days in advance.
118 Holland Avenue, Basement 1, Singapore 278997
Tel: 6264 8389