Pollen & Photobombing: An Afternoon at Gardens by the Bay

Even if you’re a lazy couch potato who hasn’t had any interest in going to Gardens By The Bay because it would probably involve being outdoors for a prolonged period during daylight, when your husband announces he’s booked lunch at Pollen just because he wants to spoil you a bit, you say “That sounds wonderful, dear, I’d LOVE to go to Gardens by the Bay!”

There are probably tons of spectacular photos of the Gardens out there by now – no doubt taken by the intrepid shutterbugs we saw toting their tripods all over the place – and mine won’t measure up at all. But here they are anyway.

This is the Rhug estate pork belly with broad beans, slow cooked squid and chorizo we had as part of the Pollen set lunch. As someone who isn’t actually that keen on pork or fatty meat, this was still quite tolerable for me because the fat was much less sickeningly rich than it might have appeared in the photo, and the beans, squid and chorizo complemented it perfectly. It wasn’t the best pork belly dish I’ve ever had (that honour belongs to the “slow cooked pork belly, potato puree, black pudding and sauce Robert” I had at Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner), but it was among the best. And yes, that big keropok-resembling thing behind it is crackling. Omnomnom.

Pork belly (Pollen, Singapore)

This dessert of chocolate roast cocoa nib ice cream with jasmine parfait and cherry might seem like just another chocolate dessert, but the jasmine parfait gave it a dimension I hadn’t expected. It didn’t take long for my tongue to go from “wow, this tastes interesting and different” to “why doesn’t every chocolate dessert come with jasmine parfait”? I loved this, and I’m not even that keen on chocolate. And, it wasn’t even the best dessert of the meal! (It was just the dessert I didn’t completely suck at photographing.)

Dessert (Pollen, Singapore)

The other dishes we had were:

  • Duck consomme with slow cooked quail egg and lapsong souchong tea (starter; rich and satisfying)
  • Roasted baby beetroot salad with goats curd and pine nuts (starter; nice but not cataclysmically tastier than the beetroot salad we make at home, even though the ingredients they are using are obviously several million times better than ours)
  • Roasted cod, creamed olive oil potatoes, lemon conserve and sauce grenoblaise (really good even though neither of us is that keen on cod)
  • Crispy burnt lemon meringue with cucumber sorbet (best dessert of the meal and one of the best desserts we’ve ever had)

After the meal I was very pleased to find out that as patrons of the restaurant, we could get into the Flower Dome for free. I may not be very interested in flowers but I am absolutely riveted by the idea of getting something for nothing, so I was all like OH HELL YEAH LET’S EXPLORE US SOME FLOWERS!

For about an hour, anyway.

I’m more of a cactus person, really. When I saw these two, the little easy-listening radio station in my head started playing Sometimes When We Touch. And then, because little easy-listening radio stations never last very long in my head, the retro porn music channel started up instead.

Sometimes When We Touch...

I’m not sure why, but when I saw this, the retro porn music channel switched to a crackly sputtering one with an old British man reciting Jabberwocky. (No, I don’t know what Pollen put in those desserts.)

Twas brillig and the slithy toves...

I’d brought along the ultra-wide converter I don’t use enough, and had some fun playing with it.

Flower Dome (Gardens By The Bay, Singapore)

Outside, I strolled down something marked as a viewpoint for the Supertree grove and was quite amused at the particular view it gave, which is basically a real tree photobombing whatever photos you might want to take of the huge fake trees. Nature can be such a troll.

Real tree photobombs photo of fake trees

Evening came, and with it an intense need for teh ping and a return to my couch. So Alec brought the wife he occasionally refers to as “Mrs Boo Radley” home, but not before she thanked him for the lovely afternoon out and admitted the Gardens by the Bay weren’t so bad after all.

Supertree Silhouettes (Gardens by the Bay, Singapore)

Aiyoyo, Aoyama!

Am I just fussy, or did I get a disappointing bowl of ramen from Menya Aoyama, the newest stall at Ramen Champion? Compare the menu’s depiction of their Special Tonkotsu Ramen to the bowl I was actually served.

Menya Aoyama Ramen - Photo vs Reality

To me, the shredded leeks are important because their fresh, sharp taste cuts through the richness of the tonkotsu broth. As you can see, I got barely any in my bowl. I’m aware that this sort of discrepancy between photo and reality is par for the course in many other F&B contexts, but given the importance which is placed on presentation of the food in Japanese cuisine, I  have higher expectations of a Japanese eatery than I do for McDonalds.

If you’re wondering whether I just opened my mouth and asked for more leeks, no, I didn’t. I didn’t really scrutinize my bowl when I collected it at the counter and only realized how lacklustre it looked once I’d carried it to my table some distance away. And I was starving, so I just started eating hoping it would taste better than it looked.

Unfortunately, it didn’t. The chashu was really, really bland, more or less tasteless except for an odd chemical tang I can’t put my finger on. The soup was okay, but again, blander in taste than the soup from Bario, Iroha, Ikkousha or Gantetsu. (Obviously I can’t compare Taishoken because tsukumen-style “soup” is totally different.) The egg was also okay, but similarly unremarkable. The noodles were fine. Had I ordered this bowl of ramen in a food court for $6, I would have shrugged my shoulders and said, “Well, you get what you pay for.”  The problem is that I paid $15.

Hong Kong Photoset: Funerary Offerings (Sheung Wan)

On our second day in Hong Kong, we spent several hours wandering through Sheung Wan, where I found the shops selling funerary offerings quite amusing. (For anyone who isn’t familiar with this practice, some Chinese burn paper representations of real world things for dead relatives in the belief that the burnt offerings will be sent to those relatives in the afterlife.) Although these shops exist in Singapore too, I haven’t had any personal experience with such practices – we burnt “hell money” for my paternal grandparents at the time of their deaths, but never any paper goods – and I suppose there’s just that odd thing at work where something you don’t pay much attention to in your own country suddenly becomes exotic and interesting when you’re a camera-brandishing tourist somewhere else.

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Read on for full size photos with captions

Can’t Take Him Anywhere Part II: Catholic Edition

I thought it would be good to share this story, which took place the day after the last one, just to make clear that Alec is an equal opportunity offender.

On Sunday, I slept in and stayed at home, and Alec was out and about. I was still pretty sleepy when he left the house, but we agreed we’d meet at our church in the evening to attend Mass.

The following interchange of text messages took place during that afternoon:

This is the T-shirt:

And this is the best gif I can find depicting a “double facepalm” to represent my weekend:

Double facepalm

Can’t Take Him Anywhere

We went to see Platform65’s Rites & Regulations, a well-conceptualized and creatively staged doublebill of funeral-themed plays aWake (by Lin Mingyu) and Mok Cui Yin’s adaptation of Kuo Pao Kun’s The Coffin Is Too Big For The Hole. The production was at 5 Foot Way Inn on Aliwal Street, and once it was over we decided to go to good ol’ Zam Zam for our murtabak fix.

Discussing the plays as we walked to Zam Zam along North Bridge Road, I admitted that my reaction to a particular situation which arose in aWake was not very compassionate. “The void deck was booked months ago for the Malay wedding!” I ranted. “If this Chinese family just went and started setting up for a funeral without even checking whether the space was available, then too bad for them!”

Alec then observed that, regardless of how crystal clear it may seem to people detached from the situation, he thought the reasons for the Chinese family’s refusal to yield up the space had been quite realistically portrayed as arising from a mixture of grief, fear and superstition.

As one might often do in a conversation as a way of expressing one’s point, Alec chose at this point to speak from the perspective of the Chinese family i.e. speaking in the first person as if he were part of the Chinese family.

Which is how, in the midst of channelling a distressed old Chinese lady who doesn’t want to move the funeral site because her mother’s ghost will get lost, Alec exclaimed “I don’t care about the Malay family!” Right next to an elderly Malay gentleman in traditional baju. Just outside the Sultan Mosque.

Dinner For Two: Onion Pandade + Curried Carrot Pear Salad

This isn’t a food blog, but I’ve decided to try making a note here of our nicer dinners. While I can store my own ratings of the individual recipes in Springpad (which I also use to store recipes, make shopping lists and generally do all our kitchen-related planning), I like the idea of also keeping track of which dishes worked especially well together.

I had the following conversation with Alec a while back, which entertained people on Facebook at the time but didn’t get recorded here:

Me: How should we use up this shitload of onions?
Alec: Hmm, maybe an onion soup.
Me: Isn’t that quite labour intensive though?
Alec: No, it’ll be fine with the food processor.
Me: Food processor?!
Alec: Ah right, we haven’t got one. Back to the drawing board then.
Me: ……

After unfreezing my face from the pained WTF grimace I reserve only for the person I love most in the world, I went looking for an easier way to use up that shitload of onions, and found this onion pandade. Paired with this shaved carrot and pear salad with curry vinaigrette, it made for a meatless meal which was hearty, savoury and refreshing all at once.

Because this was an afterthought, inspired simply by being halfway through this meal and never wanting it to end, I don’t have any photos, but it wasn’t the most photogenic meal anyway, for reasons I will now explain.

Although the onion pandade recipe is intended to yield what its author described as a “savoury bread pudding”, we discovered that by screwing up, you can actually make it into a really delicious onion soup. Alec decided to disregard my suggestion of a suitable oven dish and instead use one which was simultaneously too deep and too small, which meant that a fair amount of the stock didn’t get absorbed into the bread, and we got the golden, crunchy topping the recipe promised…but on the floor of the oven. No matter. Our onion pandade “stew” was still bloody tasty, and the oven floor got the clean it probably needed – not by me, of course.

Hong Kong Day 1: Lamb Bam, Thank You Ma’am

Hong Kong has always been near the bottom of our Asian to-go-list, because it seems more like Singapore than anywhere else within four hours’ flying distance. And if you can fly the same amount of time (or less) to see pygmy elephants in the wild or explore the 12th-century ruins of what was the largest pre-industrial city in the world, then why would you choose to go somewhere more or less like Singapore? But we felt like a short trip, most of Asia seemed swelteringly hot at this time of year, or prone to typhoons, or both, so we figured it might be a good time to visit the place most likely to have widespread air-conditioning and well-constructed buildings.

We landed on a Friday evening, so all this post will feature is photos of our rather decent-value hotel (because I’ve realized I sort of enjoy seeing those sorts of mundane snapshots in other people’s travel journals) and the first instalment of a magnificent 2-day roast meatfest.

Dorsett Regency Hotel (Corridor)

The Dorsett Regency Hotel is in the Western District of Hong Kong Island, which is not where you should stay if you are the type of Hong Kong visitor who’s just there to shop, shop, shop, unload your bags back at the hotel and then shop some more. But if, like us, you like the idea of staying somewhere with more of a neighbourhood feel and view taking public transport as a fun way of exploring a city (unless that city is LA, because I’ll need my own car to stalk Simon Cowell), this place is worth a look. It helps that the hotel’s rooms seem larger than the rabbit-hutch impressions I was getting on Tripadvisor of other hotels with similar prices but more touristy locations, and the hotel operates an hourly shuttle bus which will get you to the heart of Hong Kong island in about 10 minutes.

Dorsett Regency Hotel Room

Dorsett Regency Hotel Room

Once we’d checked in and established that the wi-fi worked – because that is obviously the correct way to order priorities: roof over head, check, ability to sit on ass under said roof squealing at cat videos, check – we headed out to Ba Yi restaurant for dinner. It specializes in Xinjiang cuisine, especially lamb dishes, although it also has camel!

Here is the filling of the lamb pancakes, which are served Peking duck style i.e. the filling, condiments and wrappers are served separately and you assemble your own. I realize it might have been better to show you a photo of a finished pancake, but that would have delayed me from cramming it into my mouth. These were as hearty and satisfying as you can imagine a pancake of mirepoix and meat to be.

Lamb Pancake Filling

One might not expect much from a vegetable dish in a meat-dominated restaurant, but each bite of these string beans with Szechuan pepper and minced meat was an umami-packed mouthsplosion.

Spicy String Beans

Although we had hoped to try the lamb skewers which Ba Yi is famous for, they’d run out, so we went with the roast lamb rack instead. Second choice never tasted so good. This was wonderfully tender, just fatty enough for me to revel in that juicy fat flavour without getting grossed out by too much of it (I have a fairly low threshhold for fatty meat) and Alec said it was some of the best lamb he’d ever had. A man from the West of Ireland has had a lot of lamb.

Roast Lamb Rack

Hong Kong Blip: Abercrombie & Fit

We went to Hong Kong, and as is par for the course for all my holidays, I’m still in the midst of that futile flail I always do while elbow deep in photos which will ultimately be half-processed and never published.

But a friend seemed particularly tantalized by this tweet:

So I thought I might as well throw her a bone in the meantime.

To explain, Abercrombie & Fitch just opened a Hong Kong flagship store in the historic Pedder Building for the jawdropping amount of HK$7 million (US$902,000) monthly rent. While it doesn’t make much sense to me to promote a clothing brand through the extensive use of men who are barely wearing any, you could say it enhanced my sightseeing.

Tram Man

If Only

Obligatory Instacat

Adorable, moi?

Mostly just done to test how easy it is to share Instagram photos to the blog. As it turns out, it is surprisingly inconvenient (both in iOS and Android), so don’t worry, you won’t be finding this blog plastered with nostalgically tinted latte art photos any time soon. Or ever, actually.

Dear London

I wrote this on Facebook a few days ago but wanted to save it here (with some linkification to give context to the sappiness), since Facebook will inevitably go kaput at some point in the future.

Dear London,

I was not physically there with you to celebrate winning the bid in 2005, or to stand in solidarity with you when terrorists attacked everything you stand for the very next day[1. Well, I was there soon after, but to be honest I had been quite a scaredycat about deciding to go.], or now in 2012 to welcome the world to your wonderful, unforgettable embrace. But (if you will forgive me an overblown poetic reference) just know that there’s some corner of this foreign heart that is FOREVER LONDON.

Have an awesome Olympics.

Love, Michelle