ION Orchard, Food Opera, Padang Padang

On earlier visits to Singapore I had breezed through ION Orchard as part of the Orchard Road experience. But something was missing. I was yet to experience the wonder that is Food Opera, the very upmarket hawker-style food court in the ION Orchard basement. Time to rectify that.

For those who haven’t been to Singapore, Orchard Road is THE premier district for shopping malls; mainly upmarket but with some budget-friendly, old school surprises lurking amongst the almost spage-age architectural statements.

ION Orchard is arguably the best of the best.  66,000 square metres in size, with 4 levels above ground and 4 levels below, ION offers over 300 retail, food & beverage and entertainment options.

The luxury brands are all there: Louis Vuitton, Dior, Prada, Miu Miu etc, as well as mid-range favourites like Topshop, Zara and Uniqlo. (Yes, I confess, i *may* have made some purchases here).

ION offers fine dining as well as food chain outlets, delis and confectioners, cafes and bars, mostly on the basement floors but also on the floors above.

It is the ION food hall on Basement level 4 that I gravitate towards, and the outlets here are outstanding. Old Chang Kee, Punggol Nasi Padang and the Wang San Yang Tea Pavilion nestle alongside Ginza Bairin and 4 Fingers Crispy Chicken!

Food Opera is the primary one, offering 22 stalls and 4 mini-restaurants in the hawker style. Aesthetically there is an immediately appealing sense of history and homeliness, as well as luxury and whimsy. Modern design trends, such as animal heads on the walls and large sculptures are everywhere, including animal sculptures such as deer, pigs, giraffe and even golden dragonflies and insects. Uber-glamorous chandeliers illuminate the space, throwing the beautiful gilt ceiling mouldings into sharp relief. Yep, you sure feel like you’re somewhere swanky!

But enough of me telling you about it; take a look for yourself:

Food Opera in ION Orchard Singapore

Peacocks and stag/deer heads look down on Hainan Chicken Rice & BBQ Seafood outlets

  

A large golden dragonfly looks down from the Draft Beer stall; an ornate ceiling at Ah Wok restaurant makes looking up worthwhile

  Ah Wok in Food Opera

I tell you, I walked around for AAAGES trying to decide what to eat. As I am very fond of the flavours of Malay, Indonesian and Peranakan cuisine, it is no wonder that I finally decided upon Padang Padang for my lunchtime repast.

Padang Padang (so good they named it twice!)

Padang Padang in Food Opera

Food Republic, which owns Food Opera, had this to say about Padang:

Padang cuisine is the traditional food of ‘Urang Minang’ (Minang people) who inhabit West Sumatera, Indonesia. The key to Padang cuisine’s rich flavour and mouth-watering aroma is the correct blend of spices. Padang Padang is owned by Mrs Wahyuningsilh and the recipes are inspired by her grandmother – a 3rd generation Peranakan in Indonesia. At Padang Padang, they are committed to using only natural ingredients and processing them traditionally to retain their original taste and health benefits.

Signature Dishes: Nasi Kuning Ayam Merah, Rendang Sapi (Beef Rendang), Ayam Goreng Bumbu (Padang Fried Chicken with Spices), Ikan Asam Pedras (Spicy & Sour Fish), Gado-Gado Padang (Padang Mixed Vegetables), Cabe Merah /Hijau Padang (Special Red/Green Padang Chilli)

Padang Padang was crowned one of the top 3 Hawker Kings at Food Republic.

Food Republic reviews some other Food Opera outlets Soup Guru, Ah Wok and Scott’s Beef Noodles here.

As for me, I ordered the Nasi Kuning with Ayam Merah, which is yellow rice with chicken in a red gravy largely comprised of tomato, turmeric, garlic, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, chilli and soy. YUMMERS!!

Ayam Merah & Nasi Kuning

The chicken was still still just a little crispy from having been fried first, and the sauce was extremely tasty without being burn-your-mouth-out hot. There was a beautiful balance of salty, sweet and chilli. I also could have chosen a multi-dish from their many meat and vegetable options (as you can see in the photo above). Next time I think I just might!

In need of some freshening up before I hit the street again, I encountered the splendour that is the ION Orchard ladies toilets! Honestly, how glamorous are these? And as I left the modern mall, I couldn’t help but laugh at these fantastic coloured sculptures of shoppers, seen at the front of ION Orchard:

 

So whether for the shopping or the food, ION Orchard is definitely worth perusing next time you’re in Singapore.

Have you already been? What are your fave shops or food outlets?

 Food Opera @ ION Orchard
#B4-03/04 Ion Orchard
2 Orchard Turn
Singapore 238801
Tel: +65 6509 9118

Operating Hours:
ION Orchard
10am to 10pm

Food Opera:
8am to 10pm Monday – Thursday
8am to 11pm Friday, Saturday, Eve of Public Holidays
10am to 10pm Sunday

Tonchin Ramen Restaurant & Kabukicho by night

On my last visit to Tokyo, I became addicted to ramen. And it was due to this place:

Tonchin

Situated on the main drag of Kabukicho (where all the lovely host boys hang out), behind KOMA theatre and right near the Honky Tonk building with the ape on it, lies the wonder that is Tonchin:

Heck, it’s so much fun walking the streets of Kabukicho, here’s a little video compilation from my last trip, as I seek out the (not so elusive) host boys…


Now, back to Tonchin itself, as you walk in there is a vending machine, as many restaurants have – which saves you talking to anyone if you’re an extremely introverted otaku. IN my case, as I was trying to make out the various options available to me, a lovely staff member came over to explain in English which ones were miso/soy based, which pork, and which seafood, as well as the various sizes you could order, and side dishes. I took the miso broth base and waited.

Watch while the guys assemble the ingredients of the ramen:

And when my dish came – what a revelation!! The aroma! The flavour!! I fell in love with ramen right there and then, and went back a few days later. I went to a few other places in Shibuya, but this place remains my fave.

Tonchin Ramen Restaurant, Shinjuku branch〒 160-0021 1-11-10 1F Shinjuku Kabukicho
TEL.03-3207-5887
OPEN AM 11:00 ~ AM 4:00

The Sakura Fleur Hotel in Shibuya/Aoyama – a lovely place to stay in Tokyo

I’ve previously listed my fave hotels in Shinjuku – Hotel Kent being my overall pick for location, quality and price.

Well, on my last trip I wanted to stay in Shibuya for a few nights, in order to go to some events that were on around there, without having to wait til morning for a train, or cabbing it home.

Where possible, I like to be able to walk home when I go clubbing late-late. (Just as well too – by the time I left Walpurgis, a mini-monsoon had hit, and rain and high winds assaulted me for the entire 5 minutes it took me to walk home).

And so it was, when looking to stay near Club Walpurgis (see my post on Walpurgis here), that I stumbled upon the tres genteel Sakura Fleur Hotel in Shibuya/Aoyama.

The outside and interior were lovely, and very girly. It used to be a hotel just for females at one point, but now anyone can stay there…as long as they don’t mind the feminine style. With rooms at around 9,000 yen a night it’s perfect for short stays.
Contrary to some comments I’d read on some travel sites, the staff were absolutely delightful and friendly to me..even when I was goth’d up and going out after midnight…and rocking in at 5am. Oh yes, there’s no curfew here; they are open 24/7 which is also a bonus for we nightcrawlers.
There’s a cafe onsite for cakes and tea..or even dinner. But I have to fess up that I ate at nearby establishments instead (including the farmers market mentioned below).
So, the rooms themselves. As you can see, there was a desk with bar fridge (important for storing your kombini food for morning..and the odd Kirin or Asahi, neh?) There was enough room to store my suitcase and shopping bags and still skirt round the bed.
There were also floral curtains, a sweet lamp and mirror, tv, tea/coffee making facilities and free net access, which I was pleased with :)
Look how fluffy that doona is! The pillow was fab too.
And behold the floral flocked wallpaper! It was slightly more burgundy than brown, with silver accents. Great for Holly Hobby. Not so much for butch males.
And now for the important subject of the bathroom – it was clean and about the size I was used to at the Kent. There’s a bath to the right of this picture, and it was lovely and deep.
Check out the Rakuten page for pics of the other rooms – some are blue, some pink, some red and some yellow! The Sakura Fleur is 10 minutes walk from Shibuya station. It is located conveniently at a road overpass…as you see below. It is the brown brick building behind the stairs. There are cafes galore nearby, as well as convenience stores, restaurants, shops and even bargain fashion stores.
Further up the road (on Aoyama Avenue) was the United Nations University, and on the weekends there they have a brilliant Farmers Market, with fresh organic produce, and fab cooked dinners as well as live music.
If you keep walking further, you hit a Citibank (great if you’re just about out of yen, as I was!) and eventually get to the end of Omotesando. It was also pretty close to Cat Street, when I wanted to hit Harajuku.

And here’s the map to make it a bit clearer. As I was trying to decipher my map somewhere near the hachiko statue, a gentleman came up and showed me the right direction to go (NOT towards the huge crossing or 109, but to the right instead). If in doubt, there’s a police box right near the station; ask there.

All in all, I loved the place, and the area it was in. It had a less frenetic, cluttered pace than Shinjuku, and I will definitely stay there again. Maybe in the blue room, though :/

Hotel Name :SAKURA FLEUR AOYAMA
Address: 2-14-15 SHIBUYA, SHIBUYA-KU, TOKYO 150-0002, JAPAN
Phone Number :03-5467-3777

Do you have a fave hotel in Japan? What is it and why?

Sihanoukville, Ocean Walk Inn, Otres Beach and M’lop Mean Seafood Restaurant

And so we returned to Sihanoukville, after 3 idyllic days on Ko Rong Saloem. Being high season, we’d booked our accom for the next 3 nights before we went away, to save being stranded.

Disembarking from the boat and having to swim/walk to shore, we were wet from the chest down when we went to our next hotel to try to check in. Up the dusty, bumpy road we walked to Ocean Walk Inn, the next place we would lay our heads.
Conveniently, the Ocean Walk Inn is next to the Lazy Beach booking office, and run by a young English guy, Matt. Situated halfway between the beach and the Lion roundabout area, it’s not too far from anything, and pretty quiet. The only exception to this is when you’re eating there of a day, as the Cambodian Children’s Painting Project is just to the right, and the kiddies like to express themselves verbally as well as artistically :)
Our room wasn’t quite ready, so we had some cool drinks while we waited. Dom was well pleased when we got in – it had fans AND air-conditioning! You can imagine, we had constant fights about the temperature, as it was way too cold for me. The room was really big though, with mega high ceiling, 2 double beds, WIFI (!) a TV, table and couch – and a bar fridge – WAHEY!!
After settling in, we rented a motorbike and took off to explore the other beaches.  First stop – Otres, via the Queens Hill Bungalows. They were really nice, and had a great vantage point overlooking Ochheuteal beach – not a bad place to stay if you don’t mind being out of ‘town’.
The Otres came into view. What can I say? We immediately felt at home, seeing the lazy chilled atmosphere of the very low key develoment (if you can call it that). The bungalow and beach bar operations were spaced nicely, so you could see ocean between them, and trees. The beach was wider there too, so plenty of room for walking along the beach without stepping on some bar-hopper’s toes.
Having heard good things about the Otres Shack, we headed there for cold drinks (again! you easily get thirsty in Cambodge).  THIS is the Snooky we love, even if it wasn’t here the first time around. Yep, all the huts on this beach have been built since we were here last time, when  the beach was almost deserted. Now it is the place to be, if you don’t want to feel like you’re in Ko Phangan.
We really wanted to stay on this part of the beach now we’d seen it, but then we wanted to stay in the thick of things for New Years Eve. Dilemma. We decided to stick with our booked accommodation, for now at least.
Lunch beckoned, and so it was back on the bike for a visit to a Khmer seafood restaurant with the funny name of M’lop Mean, in the downtown area.  The plastic chairs were packed with locals when we got there, although we spotted  a couple of white faces who were probably NGO’s. Everywhere people were chowing down on crab, squid, prawns and fish, and throwing the toilet tissue that they use for napkins, on the floor afterwards! Something you have to get used to in this part of the world :)

Weird blow up dolls, porpoises etc hung from the ceiling and it had a ramshackle quality to it. Nonetheless, the food was great -
WHEN you could catch their eye to serve you! We had prawns stir-fried in the famous Kampot pepper, with rice. And again with the cold drinks. By 2.30 the place had almost emptied – there’s definitely a rush hour around here, so you might want to have either an early or late lunch to miss the chaos.
We couldn’t believe how cheap it was when the bill came, either. At first we thought it was a lot – $17US dollars!! “Bloody hell, tourist prices!”, we thought. Then we realised – it was 17,000 riel – or $4.40 Australian.  So, definitely a bargain.
A nap was definitely in order after the feed, and then a trip to rediscover a beach from yesteryear in the evening, possibly rounding out the night with drinks in the Monkey Republic.
Next up, we revisit Sokha, Independence and Hawaii beaches, chase glorious sunsets…..and celebrate New Years Eve with a mad Full Moon Party on Serendipity Beach. Stay tuned.

Fab new island resort; Lazy Beach Bungalows, on Ko Rong Saloem

There is something really special about this island and this resort, just a few hours away from Sihanoukville.

Having seen several islands and beach resorts in asia almost ruined by overdevelopment, it is an absolute delight to find something that is still very new. Lazy Beach has been around for only 2 years, and is the only one at this end of the island. There are some EcoSea bungalows at the other end, and a Khmer fishing village too.

It is still very small and fairly rustic. The bungalows are big and roomy with en-suite and balcony, but there is no electricity during the day, unless someone wants a pineapple shake at the bar - in which case they’ll put on the generator for a little while.

All there is, is beach, bungalows and bushland. No wifi, no streetlights, no motorbikes, no touts, no music blaring along the seafront. Bliss.

Watching the sunset became an evening ritual – and what sunsets, viewed from the comfort of your own porch, perhaps whilst lazing on a hammock.

The thing that struck me most of all, was the feeling of being safe. No-one even locks their doors there! There’s no need, so few are the occupants of the island. It was like stepping back in time to an era when people lived this way, and as someone who grew up in a crowded city, I found it utterly refreshing.

We had the beach virtually to ourselves. Even when all the bungalows were occupied, there only ever seemed to be a few people around, as there are several beaches to choose from, and very long ones at that.  When we trekked across the island to the other main beach, the only ones other than us there were the owner’s dogs, who scampered ahead to show us the way.

The gorgeous dogs are called Spoon and Boysie. These two are smoochy types who love their bellies rubbed. Or they’ll take you for a walk in the bush and run along the beach with you.  Although Spoon is prone to spending hours curled up in her favourite papsan chair. Daww…

The guys who own and run the joint, Rich and Chris, are English, very nice and very funny. We felt right at home, as did the other couples and several families there. I reckon even singles would have a good time.

Helping out Rich and Chris when we stayed, were Carrie and Jay. Rich also had some UK friends visiting when we were there, so it was like hanging out with a bunch of mates from home, such was the great atmosphere.

D and I made plans to get a big bunch of friends to come next time – how fun would it be to have an island virtually to yourselves? The island is getting booked out for a wedding soon – what a great idea. 

There was nothing better of a nght, having watched the sunset and had a nice refreshing shower, than to sidle up to the bar for a cold Beer Lao. Or a cocktail. We got a special one from Jay, called the Choc-cock. Baileys, Kahlua and Frangelico – YUM!

And the food!! Quite a variety of Khmer and Western dishes was on the menu, though we stuck to non-western food. Whole fried snapper or trevally with sweet and sour sauce, garlic prawns, amok, red curry…

We could only get three nights there, but if you let Rich know when you first arrive that you’d like to stay extra nights, he keeps an eye out in case of cancellations. Those already on the island get dibs over requests from the mainland, so you never know…

Dom did a couple of dives nearby, but the snorkelling is just as good, especially around the rocky points. There are several walks on the island; as well as the one across the island there is a hike up to a lookout point, and a further one to the lighthouse (for the fit).  But really, swimming, lazing around, reading a book, and going for easy walks along the beach are the main attractions, I’d say.

While it doesn’t have the soaring karsts that characterise Phi Phi or Tioman Island, it has gentle pristine beaches, unpolluted bays, very little boat traffic so far, and is as laid back as an island can be. The tranquility and homeliness of the place will bring me back for sure.

So while Serendipity and Ochheuteal beaches at Sihanoukville left me a little disappointed  due to their development, this island put the smile right back on my face. This is what Ko Samui and Phangan must have been like all those years ago. The 2 1/2 hour boat ride from Snooky will keep this operation low-key for quite a while, I suspect.

But why not come now, while it is still an undiscovered gem?