Saturday, 30 November 2013

Crystal Jade, Changi Terminal 2, Singapore (Alissa and Don Eat Asia Day 6, Part 2)

We arrived back in Singapore from Hong Kong in the mid afternoon, and given our last meal was at 8am and that it was late for lunch time we were ravenous. Having missed out on dim sum in Disneyland and Tim Ho Wan for breakfast, we headed up the stairs in Terminal 2 for a meal at Crystal Jade. Crystal Jade is a well regarded dim sum chain founded in Singapore, which has now opened branches throughout Asia, including Hong Kong. I'd had an enjoyable meal at one of their other restaurants in Singapore, so this meal would be a safe bet. We filled out our order form and waited for our dim sum to arrive.

I'll do the usual blow by blow but in writing this post I've realised most what I want to say can be summed up fairly succinctly; for the most part if there was a direct comparison with Tim Ho Wan, Crystal Jade's dim sum was simply outclassed.

Har Gao? Crystal Jade's is larger from my recollection, but it was about the same standard as Tim Ho Wan's in terms of flavour. Both were excellent.

By now we've had Teo Chew Dumplings a few times so I feel a bit more able to comment. Crystal Jade's is good, seeming to hit every required flavour (the pork, the shrimp, the peanut etc) but the version at Tim Ho Wan did it better.

Fried Yam – I've had better in Australia. Seemed a bit too oily... maybe it had sat for far too long but its flavour was overpowered by the oiliness. This could well be our fault considering we came so late in the afternoon.

Fried Wantons – these were very good, about what I would expect from a juicy fried wanton with a generous prawn filling.

Barbecue Pork Chee Cheong Fun – lighter than the pig liver option at Tim Ho Wan. Not necessarily better or worse – an excellent chee cheong fun in its ow right.

Char Siu Bao – chalk and cheese of course, but after Tim Ho Wan pork buns I can never go back to the usual bao without feeling like I'm missing out. So yes; Tim Ho Wan did it better. In a like for like comparison to the usual char siu bao, though this was a very good example of tried and true classic.

Steamed Custard and Pine Nut Bun in Piggy Shape – Alissa liked it, mostly amused about eating a tasty pig. She can't remember the flavour as much, but it definitely was a successful dish visually.

Siu Mei – sure, this had generous slivers of shiitake mushrooms as well, but the pork and prawns didn't seem to be melded together in flavour compared to the variety at Tim Ho Wan, even seeming to separate a bit as we picked them up with chopsticks. So again, Tim Ho Wan's trumped the Crystal Jade version.

I was surprised by this chicken feet. It had an overpoweringly strong flavour of cinnamon, and while I like cinnamon this should not be the most forward flavour in chicken feet – I would argue the black bean and chilli should be closer to the fore. As with the other dishes, this was better at Tim Ho Wan.

The Verdict: Very Good
Look, I don't mean to be disparaging of Crystal Jade. The service was beyond reproach, much better than the utilitarian 'eat and leave' attitude of Hong Kong dim sum joints, including Tim Ho Wan. Crystal Jade is very good quality dim sum, no doubt about it, and getting a feed this good at an airport is something you'll find in only a few places in the world. So I'm really appreciative. However, considering the price of Crystal Jade was close to twice what we paid at the Michelin Starred Tim Ho Wan just a few days ago it simply is not at the same level, nor can it be said to be good value for money.  

Salon de Joel Robuchon, Hong Kong (Alissa and Don Eat Asia Day 6, Part 1)

We knew it was an outside chance but we had to give it a go. We had to have Tim Ho Wan one more time. Just two serves of the pork buns, please. Three for me, three for Alissa. That's all we needed.

Unfortunately, the IFC outpost of pork bun deliciousness didn't open until 9am, and we simply did not have the time to wait til then plus the cooking time for our char siu bao. If we were to have Tim Ho Wan again, it was gonna have to wait until Singapore.

So, as Alissa sometimes puts it with great concern in her voice; 'but what about breakfast!?!?!!?' Thankfully, our reconnaissance mission to find the best way to Caprice held the answer. Located in IFC and on the way to the Four Seasons is Salon de Joel Robuchon, the cafe side of Robuchon's vast restaurant empire that includes many L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon restaurants around the world. We checked out the food on the way to Caprice, and everything looked delicious and reasonably priced considering it came under the brand of the world's most Michelin Starred Chef.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Mak Man Kee Vs Mak's Noodle, Jordan, Hong Kong (Alissa and Don Eat Asia Day 5, Part 2)

To understand the Mak's Noodle story is to understand the complicated web of a family dynasty that goes back three generations. Mak Woon-chi brought wonton noodles to Hong Kong, where the dish become a popular street food. Mak's Noodle in Central became the original Mak's, and was handed to the second son. Here is where it gets complicated so I'll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that the first son opened his own shop - as did a granddaughter, a protege and an uncle, and the original Mak's opened many other branches. Today there are a whole range of wonton noodle shops that can trace their origin to Mak's Noodles, and after our trip to Disneyland we decided to head to the uncle's store – Mak Man Kee in Jordan.

Confusingly, Mak Man Kee has no English signage at all on the outside. I can understand not bothering with catering to English speaking westerners – Tim Ho Wan do well with just the Cantonese signage – however, in the case of Mak Man Kee the fact that a branch of Mak's Noodles is two stores down means I'm sure a lot of confused people go there instead. Thankfully I knew there was difference, and the busier Mak Man Kee definitely seemed to be the more popular of the two.

Hong Kong Disneyland (Alissa and Don Eat Asia Day 5, Part 1)

Friday was Alissa's day. When we first started looking at different places in Hong Kong, a very excited Alissa exclaimed with joy when she saw something she absolutely had to do - DISNEYLAND!

While we were here I thought we might as well try the food at Crystal Lotus, an award winning dim sum restaurant located within the Disneyland Hotel that specialised in Disney character dim sum if you book 48 hours prior. In the end however, we decided against eat there due to a number of factors.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Yat Lok, Central, Hong Kong (Alissa and Don Eat Asia Day 4, Part 2)

"Now I like pork, and I know I talk about it a lot and how it’s like the best thing ever.
But in fact, the best thing ever is actually goose" - Anthony Bourdain

Before we departed for Hong Kong, my Uncle Keiron implored that I absolutely had to have roast goose everyday. With so many items on our 'to eat' list, it was inevitable that daily goose eating was simply not going to be on the cards. However, it has to be said that no omnivorous food tour of Hong Kong can be complete without trying roast duck's even more delicious big brother.

Tim Ho Wan, Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong (Alissa and Don Eat Asia Day 4, Part 1)

Ask anyone who has been to Tim Ho Wan and they'll all tell you the same thing: Its all about those pork buns. Those amazing, incredible, delicious, salty-sweet, crispy, melt-in-your-mouth soft pork buns.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Caprice, Four Seasons Hong Kong (Alissa and Don Eat Asia Day 3, Part 3)

Living in a country without a Michelin Guide, the idea of dining at a 3-Michelin Starred restaurant can seem like an unattainable holy grail. Sure, we've got some truly exceptional restaurants in Australia but the allure of the prestigious Michelin Star remains. So when we realised that Hong Kong had a guide with a few Three Star restaurants, it was inevitable that we'd have to make a gastronomic pilgrimage to at least one of them. Almost immediately I was drawn to Caprice - the French restaurant  headed up by chef Vincent Thierry (formerly of Le Cinq) and located in the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel. Listed as the No. 12 Restaurant in S. Pellegrino's Best Restaurants in Asia (and no. 73 in the world) and No. 20 in the world on the Elite Traveler list, the consensus seemed to support my immediate impression and I made reservations almost 6 months ahead.

Otto e Mezzo Bombana, Hong Kong (Alissa and Don Eat Asia Day 3, Part 2)

When I was in art school, I used to proudly proclaim myself a maximalist. More is more. As such, when we decided that our 3-Star Michelin experience would be a degustation dinner at Caprice I couldn't help myself – we had to have lunch at another 3-Star restaurant too, and on the same day. In making the decision, we didn't want to do another French restaurant so L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon was ruled out. Additionally, as much as I would like to try Lung Kee Heen we already were going to be experiencing Tim Ho Wan and the cheapness of Tim Ho Wan was enough to convince us to go with the 1 Star dim sum experience instead (plus we had to have those buns). That left us with Otto e Mezzo Bombana, the only 3-Star Italian restaurant outside of Italy, and home to Umberto Bombana – a man so famous for his advocacy and use of the white truffle that he's even called 'The King of the White Truffle'. As luck would have it, we timed our honeymoon and trip to Hong Kong during what is white truffle season, meaning Chef Bombana's seasonal white truffle menu was available for our selection.

Classified, Wan Chai, Hong Kong (Alissa and Don Eat Asia Day 3, Part 1)

After our meal at Ichiran, I convinced a very tired Alissa that we should take the tram from Causeway Bay to Wan Chai to eat at 2/3 Dolci, an Italian pasticceria I had read about on Open Rice that sounded fairly delicious. After taking the tram and walking the short distance to its Star Street location, we found that it was already closed for the day, and we vowed to give it another shot on our 3-Star Michelin day.

So on our third day we headed out to Wan Chai yet again. We had been too tired to read the opening hours properly and to our disappointment 2/3 Dolci was again closed! I felt bad to have dragged Alissa for another trip out here and wasn't sure what to do. As we walked back to the train station, we passed by a little cafe and Alissa suggested we pop in for breakfast. The place was called Classified, a premium cafe chain that specialise in fine wines and cheeses, but as luck would have it do an all day breakfast and coffee.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

I Scream Caffe, Hong Kong (Alissa and Don Eat Asia Day 2, Part 5)

Feeling full after our delicious dinner at The Monogamous Chinese, Alissa and Iwalked the Mid-Level Escalators back to Central. The reason for our walk was three-fold: to work off some of the calories from our dinner, to work out how to get from the IFC shopping complex near in Central to Caprice for dinner the next day and to have some ice cream at the well regarded gelateria I Scream Caffe.

My initial plans to dine at I Scream Caffe came about because it used to be located immediately above Monogamous Chinese. Due to expensive rent and either upgrading or downsizing, restaurant relocations are very common in Hong Kong and I Scream Caffe has relocated to IFC's high end shopping complex.

The shop looks like a typical gelateria, featuring a great array of flavours with the tubs displaying that wavy poured-in surface that screams legit gelato.

Alissa always says ice cream is a dessert that you can eat even if you're full as when it melts it can fit in the gaps between all the other food, and having recovered slightly from the dinner I had three scoops to Alissa's two.

My three were in order from the top: Black and White Sesame, Lychee and Ginger. Alissa's were Pistachio and Earl Grey Tea. To begin with the texture of all five flavours was spot on gelato, having that fluffy airy texture I come to expect from good quality gelato.

My three were the more Asian flavours, and I Scream Caffe were very successful in combining these flavours with Gelato texture. The Black and Whit Sesame was my favourite – I've had sesame ice cream before but this was by far the most successful I've had. The lychee had decent chunks of fruit within, and the ginger was well balanced, neither having too little or too much ginger.

Alissa's favourite combination of flavours is salty and sweet, and the pistachio ice cream got this balance perfectly. The Earl Grey was even better, not just tasting of tea but actually tasting like Earl Grey tea in particular.

The Verdict: Very Good
Its not quite on the level of Gelato Messina in Sydney (my favourite gelato joint in Australia), but as an ice cream fiend, its great to find quality ice cream in a new city. With its very central location I Scream Caffe makes its easy to recommend.

The Monogamous Chinese, Hong Kong (Alissa and Don Eat Asia Day 2, Part 4)

Planning an eating excursion to some of the more popular places in a country requires a lot of forward planning. Of course there are a lot of places you can just kinda wander into without a problem,but if its got a Michelin Guide recommendation (especially a Bib Gourmand or a star rating) its a bit riskier leaving it up to chance.

G&T Bar, Soho, Hong Kong (Alissa and Don Eat Asia Day 2, Part 3)

Alissa loves her gin, so when I found out that Hong Kong's Soho actually had a bar completely dedicated to gin I knew we had to go. Located conveniently on the way to Monogamous Chinese just under the Mid-Levels Escalator on Hollywood Road, G&T Cocktail Bar is a little difficult to find as its above the ground floor, with its entrance to the side. Luckily, I'd done some research so after a bit of orienting ourselves we made our way to the empty bar. It was a little early for a drink, so this is understandable but I hope that Hong Kong's ever-growing rent does not make this situation untenable for them. 

With 80+ gins to choose from you're really spoiled for choice here. We started with some gin and tonics. Being proud of her Dutch heritage, Alissa went with an aged Genever and wanting to try something different rather than go with safe choices I asked for their recommendation. Their pick – the highly regarded German gin Monkey 47.

The drinks arrived with fairly premium tonic and one giant carved piece of ice in each glass. Sadly, as a bit of a blog rookie mistake I did not write down the tonic name so forgive my vagueness. Alissa's Genever had been aged for a year, and had developed flavours that reminded both of us of rum. Very interesting and unusual. We both agreed that my gin was even better. Featuring 47 botanicals, Monkey 47 is full of flavours ranging from the usual juniper berry to... well, so many more we couldn't possibly put our finger on all of them. As someone always on the lookout for something unusual for the liquor cabinet, Monkey 47 is something we'd be looking for when selecting our duty free liquor on return to Perth.

With a bit more time to kill but not wanting to get too smashed before dinner, we decided to share a cocktail before heading to Monogamous. We went with the Thyme for Gin, a cocktail consisting of gin, sweet vermouth, lemon juice, raspberries, thyme and egg white. This was a very good cocktail – the thyme blended naturally with the gin botanicals, and had a nice crisp acidity from the lemon juice and muddled raspberries. Delicious, and all the better for the huge raspberries used as the garnish.

The Verdict: Very Good
Obviously a bar this niche is not going to be for everyone, but if you're a gin lover looking for your next new gin and are in the Soho district, you've gotta pay a visit to G&T Bar.

Sgt Chicken Rice Tung Chung, Hong Kong (Alissa and Don Eat Asia Day 2, Part 2)

Shopping on Hong Kong can be expensive. In our first few days in Hong Kong Alissa looked around dejectedly at the big brand shops that dominate the main shopping precincts of Nathan Road and Central, and felt she just couldn't afford anything. For this reason, a visit to the Citygate Outlet Store in Tun Chung is well worth it, given that many of these same name brands are well represented here but at a much lower price. And while you're there, it helps to know that you can have a decent meal, too.

During my last visit to Hong Kong the taxi driver taking us to our hotel had struck up a conversation with my parents, and upon hearing that they were originally from Singapore informed them that very good chicken rice could be had in the Food Republic food court in Citygate.

The shop is called Sgt. Chicken Rice, and is located to the centre-left of the food hall. From what I can tell Sgt. Chicken Rice is a Singaporean chicken rice chain that can be found in Food Republic food courts in Singapore, too.

We ordered the traditional chicken rice. There must have been some breakdown in communication, as instead of the white steamed chicken of traditional chicken rice, we were given the brown barbecued variety. Not wanting to make a fuss, we accepted the order and took it to our table.

As with my previous experience, the chicken rice did no disappoint. The chicken rice was flavoursome, with the ginger and chilli sauces spot on for what I expect for the dish. The really hero of chicken rice is the chicken however, and this always the real test. While not the chicken I had actually wanted, the texture of the meat had the same silky, melt in your mouth quality I expect from good quality chicken rice.

The Verdict: Very Good
It may seem strange to recommend a chain store in Hong Kong for chicken rice, but Sgt. Chicken Rice is to my mind better than many chicken rice stores I've eaten at in Singapore – I've queued for supposedly amazing chicken rice in Singapore that was a let down in comparison! I wouldn't make it a mission to eat here, but if heading to Lantau Island, shopping at the Citygate Outlet or simply in the area, Sgt. Chicken Rice is a cheap and satisfying eat.

Lin Heung Tea House, Hong Kong (Alissa and Don Eat Asia Day 2, Part 1)

For most of us in Australia trolley service for dim sum is pretty much standard fare, so it is a surprise to find that in Hong Kong most modern dim sum restaurants have long forsaken trolley service in lieu of the order form system whereby the diners place their orders on a slip which is then handed to waitstaff. There are great benefits to the order form system. Firstly, without needing to allow space for trolleys you can fit even more tables into the room for greater capacity. Secondly – and this is something I greatly appreciate – by having everything cooked as you order it, food can come to the table at the correct temperature and texture meaning you don't have to eat tepid, rubbery fried items, or har gao that has gone around the room so many times the casing has become soggy and falling apart. Still, there is an old school charm to trolley service and there are a few places in Hong Kong that stick to the tried and true formula. I did my research and found such a place that was on many 'must do' food lists and located in close proximity to the Central station of Hong Kong's MTR.

By the time we arrived for breakfast at about 8am Lin Heung Tea House had already been open for two hours, but 2 hours might as well have been 80 years. The city around it has changed greatly, but at Lin Heung things are done much as they have been since they opened in 1928. We walked up the stairs to the already busy dining room, and were sat down at a large table that we shared with another group of diners. As we sat down it felt like everyone was looking at us, wondering who these non-Chinese people were and what we were doing in a place that seemed entirely designed with no consideration for anyone other than a local audience.

The first trolley around came close to us, and we got the chee cheong fun with char siu. This was one of the best items we had at Lin Heung, good silkiness with a good char siu filling.

Part of the Lin Heung Trolley Service Experience is that you don't wait for the trolley to come to you – if you want something, you've gotta get up and suss out the trolley yourself or risk not getting all the good stuff. I had no problem with this and was happy to jump into the fray for the sake of the culinary experience.

The steamed bean curd roll was excellent, similar to quality of the dish I've had at the better dim sum restaurants in Australia.

In Hong Kong the siu mei is often smaller and less impressive looking than what you get in Singapore and Australia, and the Lin Heung version was no different. Flavour-wise it was of above average quality, though I've had better in Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia.

As everything was in Cantonese and not all the staff spoke English, some of our next few choices were mystery lucky dips. One such example was what I think was some kind of jiaozi filled with pork and cabbage. This was not my favourite, but then I'm not much of a fan of the cabbage filled dumplings.

Alissa and I can't remember what this one was, some kind of pork something? Whatever it was, it was obviously not particularly memorable.

I've not had a lot of Teochew-style dumplings, but these were amongst the better dishes from our selection. We both really liked the peanut bits and mix of pork, shrimp and chive flavours – something we should definitely order more often.

I try to avoid beef as much as I can for environmental reasons, but with the slim pickings we decided to try what we assume were beef balls. This dish definitely did not make me want to eat more beef – it had a strange flavour we could not put our finger on, and with its pinkish colour inside we even questioned whether it was fully cooked. Probably my least favourite dish of the lot.

Perhaps fearing we were tourists who would find it weird or disgusting, the servers did not offer us the chicken feet, which is a shame as its actually amongst our favourites. I saw some go to a table near us and tried to chase down some for us to try. One of the staff tried to help us source some, but they had run out. By this point our choices were becoming a bit limited to dishes that did not look appetising or the same as things we'd already ordered, without a har gao in sight. 

As a final dish, I got the fried turnip cake. Sadly, this was far from the best I've had and I only ate half of it before deciding it was probably time to go.

The Verdict: Good

I've read a few guides calling Lin Heung an essential part of the Hong Kong experience. While it was nice to order from trolley service and the raiding of the trolley was fun, I can't say the food was the best dim sum I've had – I've had better in Singapore, and I'd even say our local in Australia is better. Perhaps it was just that Lin Heung's dim sum was so utterly geared towards an old school Cantonese taste that it simply did not translate to our more contemporary palate. If you're looking for something fun to do, Lin Heung certainly fits the bill, but when you can have Tim Ho Wan for roughly the same price, its hard to recommend doing anything other than multiple Tim Ho Wan visits instead.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Ichiran Ramen, Hong Kong (Alissa and Don Eat Asia Day 1, Part 3)

Sleep deprived, jetjagged and disoriented upon exiting the MTR subway at Causeway Bay, Alissa and I stumbled our way through the streets of Hong Kong Island as we searched for a ramen joint that opened earlier in the year, and in spite of being open 24/7 was still inspiring locals and visitors alike to queue for a bowl of tonkotsu ramen. After initially walking in the wrong direction, we eventually arrived at the red, green and white storefront of Ichiran Ramen, a branch of the Hakata-style tonkotsu ramen specialists. Upon our arrival we dutifully joined the queue at the door, only to be advised that we had to join an auxilary queue located a few stores down the street. 

As we joined this queue, we were given a crinkled ticket as proof of place in line, but it might as well have been a Willy Wonka ticket given the exclusivity and anticipation.

Time passed, and we were soon at the original queue near the door. When we finally got inside (after queuing for 20 minutes at this stage) we would discover that there was actually another queue inside! At this queue we were given our order form for how we would like to customise our ramen experience. While they only serve tonkotsu ramen, Ichiran's system allows you to tailor your bowl to the specifications you prefer. Richness, amount of chilli, how hard your noodle are and if you want Kae-Dama (a noodle refill) are amongst the choices available to the diner.

Ichiran recommend first-timers to go with medium options. I opted to increase the richness up a level for more porky unctiousness, increase the chilli quantity to 5 times quantity, have a firmer noodle and include a half-boiled salted egg and Kae-Dama. Alissa ordered a more medium option with half Kae-Dama and a half-boiled salted egg.

5 minutes later we were sat next to each other at individual booths facing a individual curtain. Each booth had its own purified water dispenser. Apparently they are very particular about the water used in their ramen and as such offer the same water supply for drinking. Pressing a buzzer in each booth caused the booth's curtain to open. An anonymous waiter whose face we would never see took the form, bowed and closed the curtain. Shortly after the curtain opened again and a bowl of ramen was delivered to us by the bowing waiter before the curtain closed again.

Alone in our booths with our ramen, we agreed that the ramen was so good it was almost a religious experience. Less outrageously collagen thick than the gravy-soup of Gumshara Ramen in Sydney yet somehow just as umami-rich in its porkiness, this ramen was a revelation. 

The noodles were thinner than I am used to but undeniably delicious and toothsome to bite, the half-boiled salted egg perfectly cooked with a still soft yolk and the pork so soft and flavoursome Alissa and I both agreed we should have ordered more of it. For my tastes the chilli level +5 was about right, and Alissa was very happy with her level too. 

As something of a tonkotsu ramen fiend I never want a bowl of ramen to finish, so being able to order Kae-Dama was a welcome addition, and a great way of serving the noodles to ensure you don't end up with cold, oversoaked noodled by the end of your meal. 
As we left we purchased a box of Ichiran's instant ramen to try at home, and for review in a later post.

The Verdict: Excellent +
Ichiran is easily the best tonkotsu ramen either of has ever eaten, with the service by anonymous and yet utterly respectful and respectable waiters a nice, theatrical touch. Considering the crowds, they run a very smooth and efficient operation that I wish we could have visited again. Still, if you're in Hong Kong and suddenly have a ramen craving its comforting to know you're pretty much covered 24/7.

Chinta Manis, Changi International (Alissa and Don Eat Asia Day 1, Part 2)

The most stressful flight transfer in our entire holiday happened to be on the very first day. I had never intended it to be like this; I did my research, I knew that going to a Tiger flight from Singapore Airlines meant having to go through immigration, get our bags and go back in and I had booked a connecting flight that gave us enough time to do so. What I didn't bank on was that our flight times would change significantly, and that our only option was to allow a 2 hour, 20 minute transfer at Changi. Not a dangerously tight connection, but a lot closer than I generally prefer.

To begin with, things were not stacked in our favour. As Singapore Airlines have two terminals, we had hoped the plane would land at Terminal 2 as its the same as Tiger. This was not to be as we were informed we'd be landing in Terminal 3. Add to this arriving a little late, being nearer to the back of the aircraft and the usual slow person who does not see the efficiency in gathering their things while we wait to disembark and then proceed to take forever to open the overhead compartment, slowly gather all their items with absolutely no consideration or awareness that other people are waiting and then walk with no urgency whatsoever to the front of the craft, and I was extremely stressed we were about to stuff up our schedule on the very day.

I had prepped Alissa for the possibility we would have to run, and run we did. Out the gate, down the escalators to the thankfully empty Immigration queues and then straight to a brief wait at baggage claim, then onward through quarantine, through to the terminal transfer train to Terminal 2, from the terminal transfer at Terminal 2 to the Arrivals Hall and to our counter for Tiger Air.

'Sir, you're both early for check in... if you want you can go to the early check in counter,' said the young man at the help desk. We'd gone so fast, and Tiger start check in so late, that we'd even beaten the check in time! Looking at the time, from the plane landing to checking in our luggage only took about half an hour. I suppose if you've got a tight transfer Changi is the place to do it. Truly impressive.

Early as we were, we decided to go downstairs for a bite to eat at Chinta Manis, a specialist in Nyonya/Peranakan cuisine. Other than a few small items cooked by my aunty, Alissa had never had Peranakan cooking before, and I thought that she would definitely appreciate their patisserie items at the very least.

But before ordering the sweets we had lunch. My initial choice was to try their sambal prawns however as it was already sold out I ordered the Chicken Rendang. The curry and rice were both very good. I particularly appreciated the extremely finely sliced fried shallots that gave a nice subtle crunch and onion flavour.

Normally I'm the one who has noodles, so it was ironic that Alissa would be the one ordering the Nyonya Mee Siam. This was her first time eating Mee Siam, and was the first time of many that she would declare the meal 'delicious'. I tried a bit myself to see how it compared to other Nyonya Mee Siams I've had. It held up well with the noodles having that chewy texture while being dry. It had that nice sour flavour without being overpoweringly acidic. We both agreed our portions sizes were good, as we were satisfied without being overly full.

For drinks we had iced kopi, very refreshing after all the running we did. With its strong and sweet flavour, we were definitely awake after drinking these.

As our gate would be open shortly we decided to get 5 of the Nyonya quehs as takeway to eat at the boarding gate.

We started on a bland note with the Ubi Ulap. I had picked it since it was topped with the orange coconut sugar I've always liked on appom. Apart from this however, we found the texture to be like a very plain potato cake. Definitely not our favourite.

Things thankfully improved with the Chendol Agar Agar that came next. I'm not usually a fan of agar agar jellies in terms of texture but this was a lot tastier that the Ubi Ulap with that fudgey chendol flavour and the red beans inside. This was a successful adaptation into jelly form.

Next was the safe bet amongst the lot – Mango Agar Agar. As is often the case when a dish is to her liking, Alissa nodded her approval. She declared this one 'classic', and I had to agree. Again, agar agar is not my favourite jelly texture but this was broken up by the softer, springier sago balls set inside. I appreciated this contrast.

Ondeh Ondeh was next. This again was very immediately likeable, being flavoured with coconut and deliciously sweet. What's not to like?

Finally, we had the queh that the staff and Chinta Manis said was their most popular – the Pulut Seri Kaya. Given how much he loves eating kaya, I could really imagine my Dad loving this one. The smooth texture of the kaya and the glutinous rice were like a sweet omelette and rice pudding cake.

The Verdict: Very Good
I'm not the biggest fan of quehs but these were of a very good standard and I was satisfied with our lunch in transit. 'Cheap and Shiok' declared an article on Chinta Manis' walls, and with our meal being both very cheap and very tasty, I couldn't help but agree.

Introduction & Dome, Perth Airport, Western Australia (Alissa and Don Eat Asia Day 1, Part 1)

As with all travelling stories in the de Souza family, it all starts with a coffee at Dome. Whenever any member of my family travels overseas we always make sure we’re at the airport with sufficient time for one last cup of coffee together, and in the ensuing years it’s become something of a family tradition. Not that the coffee at Dome is particularly special or there aren't any other options (albeit from Perth Airport’s very meager food and drink selection), but so entrenched is this familiar ritual that it just would not feel right to start a journey without it.

For most of these cups of coffee Dome was as far as I was going. This was my parents’ travelling story, and my role in the adventure ended with goodbyes at the departure gate. Sometimes I went with them too - in 2009 and 2011 I joined my parents on their then-biennial voyages to India. But this trip is different. For the first time it is my parents staying behind in Perth. For the first time this travelling story belongs to me – and my favourite dining partner.

Friday 25th October, 2011 was the last time I went through those departure gates, travelling with my parents for a food odyssey to Hong Kong, Mumbai, Udaipur, Munnar and Singapore. This was an exciting trip that I’d been looking forward to for months; however a part of me didn’t want to go. See, just 5 days before departure I’d met a girl. Or rather, it wasn’t that I met her (we’d been friends of friends), but that we’d started seeing each other. And I liked her, and felt immediately that I’d found someone truly special. With the bad timing of my departure we chatted online just about every night I was away, and though we’d only been on two dates beforehand I felt even then that I wished she had been there with me for all of it.

6 months later we were engaged, with November 23rd, 2013 being our wedding day. And now exactly 2 years after I left for my last overseas holiday, I’m correcting the wrong of that last trip by taking Alissa to all the cities I told her about every night I was overseas. With meals booked at 5 of San Pellegrino’s Top 50 Restaurants in Asia - 2 of which also boast 3 Michelin Stars – and 5 weeks of amazing meals planned it seems only fitting to open the Ministry of Gluttony with our first travelling story – Alissa and Don Eat Asia.

Alissa and I have talked about ratings for food. With food varying from 3 Star Michelin to a simple temple meal, how does one rate a meal on its own merits? Additionally, as people who enjoy eating we probably find most food is at least passable, therefore its probably more important to distinguish between varying levels of good. Rather than allocating a star rating of giving a score, we've come up with a rating system for our blog that we feel better reflects our experiences in a straightforward manner:

Poor - Food that is of an unacceptably low quality. Best avoided
Okay - Passable food of acceptable taste and quality. Not bad but not exactly 'good' food.
Good - Worth a try; a satisfying meal if not exactly mindblowing.
Very Good - Recommended food to eat if you are in the area; a satisfying meal +
Fxcellent - A very satisfying meal; food that you should eat if you are visiting this place.
Exceptional - The very best food of its class. Food and/or a food experience so good that you should make travel plans to eat here!

So with this in mind... back to Dome. Alissa and I ordered long macchiattos (a strong or double shot latte in correct terms) with Alissa eating a chicken wrap and a ham and cheese croissant for myself.

The coffee was okay. Not a bad or a particularly excellent coffee. It served its purpose of waking us up after getting out of bed for 3:15am. What wasn't so good though was the paper cup - I'm fairly certain that in the past we've been given proper cups at Dome, so someone made the unenvironmentally friendly decision to switch to disposable since our last trip. 

My croissant was not very good. The pastry had obviously been given the microwave reheat treatment and was lacking the crisp flakiness I associate with a good croissant. The filling was very poorly spaced out - so much so I basically ate half of my croissant before I even got to the ham and cheese, and then it felt as if they'd put way too much in this half as it seemed overly generous. I would have preferred a more evenly spread out filling, and I finished my meal wishing I had ordered something else, like Alissa's chicken wrap.

Alissa's order looked a lot more appetizing, and had clearly been seared in a sandwich toaster, making me wish mine had had a similar treatment. I had a bite and appreciated the well-seasoned chicken. Thankfully I hadn't taken a large enough bite to have noticed something Alissa later pointed out as a fault - as the wrap had been microwaved to reheat, the thickly sliced cucumber had become warm and semi-cooked with a weird texture. As someone who doesn't like thickly sliced cucumber, perhaps the ham and cheese croissant was not such a bad choice after all.

The Verdict: Okay
Its a family tradition, so we'll keep coming back. However, as the food is only of a passable standard I cannot exactly recommend it as a place of interest.