Gardens by the Bay’s Flower Power

Tourists take a selfie underneath the orchid display

Visitors take a selfie underneath an orchid display

Over the past few months, Gardens by the Bay has put on some temporary displays at its Flower Dome that have been fun to photograph. First there was Lilytopia in June and then the Orchid Extravaganza that was part of the Singapore Garden Festival. Having missed the events earlier this year (tulips, cherry blossoms), I now make a point to check their website for upcoming features. I think it’s time I bought their annual membership!

A decorated vespa set amidst the lilies in Lilytopia

A decorated vespa set amidst the lilies in Lilytopia

Overhanging orchids - definitely looks like a took a lot of time to put these displays together

Overhanging orchids – definitely looks like it took a lot of time to put these displays together

The colourful cacophony of lilies were accompanied by some fun 1960s music

The colourful cacophony of lilies were accompanied by some fun 1960s music

The lilies on the floor of the Flower Dome

The central display area of the Flower Dome is covered with Lilies

More photos from Lilytopia below (there may be some from their regular display).

More photos from the Orchid Extravaganza:

Otowa Yakitori – My Vote for Singapore’s Best Yakitori

Otowa 2016-08-05

Chicken with leek yakitori

Otowa Yakitori is possibly Singapore’s best yakitori restaurant – it’s an authentic, hole-in-the-wall place with no frills but an intense attention to the quality of its food. The chicken skin is grilled evenly crispy and the quail eggs melt-in-your mouth.

As a measure of its authenticity, Otowa serves a variety of raw chicken which is only possible because the restaurant gets its chicken delivered on the day that it’s slaughtered. However, it’s the cooked food that I like.

Located on the third floor of Orchard Plaza, the restaurant seats up to 12 diners around a counter (so reservations are recommended). The only drawback is that its chairs are possibly some of the most uncomfortable ever. So it’s a good thing the food is served efficiently. Owner-chef Yoshino cooks the yakitori with the attention of a surgeon. He’s not the type of chef you’d joke with while he’s cooking. That’s left to his wife Yuki who is perfectly amiable and handles the preparation and also makes good sake recommendations. They’ve been around for 10 years, focusing on honing their food to near-perfection.

Duck foie gras, the exterior is grilled crispy

Duck foie gras, the exterior is grilled crispy

Besides the various chicken yakitori, Otowa also serves wagyu, and duck foie gras. The foie gras is simply grilled with just a hint of balsamic glaze on the plate. The home made fishcake is a treat and I’d highly recommend this on the occasions that it is available. And if you’re looking for carbs, there are rice stew and noodles available but I’ve not tried this. Some of the starters they have include boiled chicken skin with ponzu sauce that is served cold and finely sliced with lots of spring onions and sesame. My husband likes the raw octopus with wasabi.

There’s a choice of having the chicken grilled with a slightly sweetish sauce (like a bbq sauce) or with salt. Generally I’m happy with the salt but the chicken meat balls with the sauce are really good. Overall, I’d say the must haves are the quail eggs, chicken skin and the chicken tail (“bonjiri”). And then there are the chicken wings and meat balls too. Most of the yakitori is around SGD4-5 per stick while the foie gras is SGD18 for the piece and the beef is SGD28.

Otowa is open only for dinner (no lunch) on Monday through Saturday (closed Sundays). Call (+65-67335989) to make reservations.

Boiled chicken skin with ponzu sauce

Boiled chicken skin with ponzu sauce

Raw octopus in a light wasabi sauce with some pickles

Raw octopus in a light wasabi sauce with some pickles

The house-made fishcake is grilled

The home made fishcake is also served grilled

Gingko nuts

Gingko nuts

Chicken meatballs - a bit of cartilage adds crunch

Chicken meatballs – a bit of cartilage adds crunch

Quail eggs

Quail eggs

Bonjiri - the tail

Bonjiri – the tail

Chicken wing

Chicken wing

Chicken skin

Chicken skin

Grilled wagyu

Grilled wagyu

 

 

Andre – Still the Premier Restaurant in Singapore

A ruban of butternut squash sits on a burnt beef tongue salad dressed with a foie gras soup

A ruban of butternut squash sits on a burnt beef tongue salad dressed with a foie gras soup

Restaurant Andre remains on top of my list for fine-dining restaurants in Singapore. My one gripe is that dinner here is quite pricey so coming for lunch was much more palatable and no less satisfying. Frankly, its two Michelin stars were no surprise to me. I’ve always found that Chef Andre’s cooking is pleasingly creative but easy to eat as well and that his standards are on par with that of many illustrious restaurants elsewhere.

Andre only serves a set menu and lunch consisted of a three-course starter, followed by four mains and two desserts. It’s a fair amount of food for lunch at SGD200 per person. The produce quality is high as expected and we had a good Bresse chicken as one of our mains. This is a highly lauded chicken from Bresse in Burgundy and is the only chicken whose production is held to specific standards and must only come from Bresse – “Appellation d’Origine Controle” or AOC – not unlike the same classification one sees on french wines. These chooks are reared for a longer period of six to nine months and given more room to roam so their meat is flavourful and with a firmer consistency. Only around 1.2 million birds are produced annually and exports are limited.  You could say that this is the penultimate chicken.

Bresse chicken is cooked in a salted ash bread and sliced at the table

Bresse chicken is cooked in a salted ash bread and sliced at the table

Having experienced Chef Andre’s cooking from the time he was at Jaan and at the beginning few years of his current restaurant, it’s nice to see that his cooking (I think) has continued to get better. The dishes have gotten increasingly sophisticated mixing a wide variety both Asian and Western ingredients. Also, his desserts have improved markedly. Our meal’s two desserts were both very good and not heavy. I’m not a dessert person but I happily ate up both.

The restaurant has a decent wine list and sommelier Ken has selected some nice burgundies. We enjoyed a Jean Jacques Morel 2013 Traversaine St. Aubin. Honestly, prices of wine in most restaurants in Singapore are eyebrow raising so the St. Aubin is just about in an acceptable range. In the end, lunch, wine, water and coffee cost us around SGD300 each including taxes and service charge.

Restaurant Andre is open for lunch on Wednesday and Friday only. Dinner is available on all days except Monday and alternate Sundays. Details and online reservations are found on its website (restaurantandre.com). Best to reserve at least three weeks in advance.

Starters consisted of a seafood tamara, abalone/liver/crispy combo and fish & chips

Starters consisted of a seafood tamara, abalone/liver/crispy kombu and fish & chips (the fish is wrapped in potato)

Scallop with mushroom and tofu accompanied with a kombucha granite

Scallop with nicely charred mushroom and tofu accompanied with a kombucha granite

"Terre et Mer" or Surf & Turf consisted of the best horse mackerel (on left) and a mussel tartare with cured lardo and a pork trotter sauce

“Terre et Mer” consisted of the best horse mackerel I’ve had (on left) and a mussel (oysters for others) tartare with cured lardo and a pork trotter reduction

The Bresse chicken is wrapped in seaweed before it's baked in the bread. Once removed, it's served with grilled leek flower, egg noodles and a truffle and mushroom emulsion

The Bresse chicken is wrapped in seaweed before it’s baked in the bread. Once removed, it’s served with grilled leek flower, egg noodles and a truffle and mushroom emulsion

Dessert #1: Porcini "iced cream", yuba (soy milk skin) and buttermilk curd

Dessert #1: Porcini “iced cream”, yuba (soy milk skin) and buttermilk curd

Dessert #2: The most amazing carbonated grapes and peach parfait is underneath the raspberry ice layer and the scoop of honey ice cream - excellent!

Dessert #2: The most amazing carbonated grapes and peach parfait is underneath the raspberry ice layer and the scoop of honey ice cream – excellent!

Petit Fours - we ate up all of these as well

Petit Fours – we ate up all of these as well

 

 

Fancy Garden Gnomes? Singapore Garden Festival 2016 Pics

Garden Festival 2016

A walk along the Secret Garden display, lots of garden gnomes amid orchids

The Singapore Garden Festival is biennial event that showcases floral and garden designs with global contributors competing for prizes. Lasting just one week, it was evident that participants took a lot of time to put together the exhibits, ranging from floral displays to the latest landscaping ideas to large fantasy gardens and back to plants displayed like bento boxes. There were giant twirling floral arrangements in the lake at the Gardens by the Bay and tons of garden gnomes in a rendition of the Secret Garden. This year’s event just ended so we’ll have to wait until 2018 for the next edition. Here are some photos from this year’s festival.

One of the international floral designs at the Floral Windows to the World display

One of the international floral designs at the Floral Windows to the World display and others below

One of the Floral Table Series and others below

One of the Floral Table Series and others below

Twirling flowers in the water

Twirling flowers in the water

One of my favourites was the Secret Garden display full of gnomes, pixies and colourful orchids.

Some of the Designer Gardens that were up for prizes. Some ideas were more familiar while others were unusual such as the sugarcane maze.

Designer gardens

Designer gardens

Designer garden - unique maze with sugarcane

Designer garden – unique maze with sugarcane

This one won the People's Favourite Award

This one won the People’s Favourite Award

Another crowd favourite were the Fantasy Gardens displays. The following was my favourite in this segment. It’s a shame we couldn’t walk in to immerse ourselves in the “garden”.

Shifting lights in the Fantasy Gardens section add to impact

Shifting lights in the Fantasy Gardens section add to impact

Other displays included a section of terrariums and one that featured useful tips on how to display plants. There was a series made to look like various Japanese cuisine. A community garden series saw one whimsical idea that incorporated a nursery rhyme into its “garden”. There were some unusual plans added to the Gardens and some luscious looking papaya trees.

Bento Plant display

Bento Plant display

It was a shame that rainy weather made it difficult to come out sooner for the event but it was good that the final Sunday morning was nice and sunny. However, much of it was in covered / tented sections with air-conditioning that provided nice respite from the heat. I’ll definitely look forward to the next event. In the meantime, the Orchid Extravaganza is ongoing at the Flower Dome in Gardens by the Bay, which is an extension of the Garden Festival.

A nice entry to the main Bayfront Plaza section of the event

A nice entry to the main Bayfront Plaza section of the event

Sonora – Stop for a Great Burger at Yosemite’s Gateway

Reflection of Sonora's main street in a patriotic store window

Reflection of Sonora’s main street in a patriotic store window

En route to Yosemite from San Francisco Airport almost two years ago, my husband and I opted to stopover in Sonora, which had promised to be a quaint gold rush era town with good food. This seemed the sane thing to do after a long flight but it’s probably also because we wanted to save the cost of a night’s stay at the pricey Ahwahnee. And we were intrigued by getting a good cheeseburger at the Diamondback Grill in Sonora.

See related post – Yosemite – Tips for First Time Visitors

Sonora's main street stores

Sonora’s main street stores

Sonora dates back to the California Gold Rush in the mid-1800s when the town was founded by Mexican miners. With fewer than 5,000 residents nowadays, the town now mainly caters to tourists en route to Yosemite and gets a spillover of visitors who can’t find a place to stay in the park. Sonora has a well preserved historical main street and some interesting stores, which unfortunately I didn’t have the chance to spend much time in. By the way, an evening walk evokes a somewhat spooky feel to the town.

Sonora 2014-09-3010-03-29

The town has a rather eery feel at dusk – but we were here in early October when the masses of tourists were gone

We originally booked to stay here but it may be slightly haunted

We originally booked to stay here but it may be slightly haunted

It’s basically a two and a half hour drive east from San Francisco to Sonora but given traffic in the Bay Area, it could take longer. Sonora to Yosemite village takes around another two hours. So it sensible for us to stay the night in Sonora and drive to Yosemite and the Ahwahnee (now called the Majestic Yosemite Hotel) first thing in the morning. This still allowed us to do some roaming in Sonora the evening we arrived as well as to take in a walk in the early morning.

One of the town's old mansions

One of the town’s old mansions

The historic church

The historic church

Barrett Gardens Inn - cute and large cats

Barrett Gardens Inn – cute and large cats

Our breakfast, cooked by Danny

Our breakfast, cooked by Danny

There are a number of Gold Rush era inns to stay in Sonora, where much of the town is centred around its main street. We opted to get a room at Barretta Gardens Inn (website link),  which is a charmingly furnished B&B with a lovely garden and an easy walk to the main street. The best thing, however, about Barretta is the service from hosts Danny and Astrid. Astrid has a great deal of info and suggestions on what to do and where to go in the area while Danny cooked us a wonderful breakfast and helped us lug our very heavy luggage up to the room. Coffee was brought up to the upstairs lounge outside our door in the morning – to perk us up before breakfast.

Best burger from the Diamondback Grill

Best burger from the Diamondback Grill

Given our short stay in Sonora, however, our one highlight was the burgers at the Diamondback Grill (website link). The restaurant owner breeds her own cattle. On the menu are amazing half-pound burgers at just USD9.00 per burger (before tax) and an extra USD1.00 to add cheese. But there’s also the Table Mountain burger which is the house local beef, which I recommend. Also, the garlic fries are great.

Would I come back to Sonora? Definitely if I needed a place to stopover and very much so for the burger.