Monday, February 27, 2012

Hawker Centers, Singapore

Our first morning in Singapore was spent wandering around Chinatown, a colourful area of shopfronts, market stalls, cafes and the odd Hindu temple. Of course all of this aimless wandering in the sweltering humidity was merely me circling the Maxwell Food Center waiting for lunchtime to arrive. Tick tock, tick tock - is it lunchtime yet.

Maxwell Food Center

Maxwell Food Center is a HUGE Hawker Centre on the edge of Chinatown with well over 100 little food stalls selling every type of Malaysian, Singaporean, Chinese and Indian food imaginable (and probably the unimagined too). I ensconced The Boy at a table directly under a ceiling fan and went off to explore.

The general rule of thumb at a Hawkers Center is to go for the stall with the longest queue - it doesn't actually matter if you know what's on offer or not. A long queue basically equates to a top feed. But those guidelines don't apply to hot, grumpy, sweating, tired tourists like moi - so I did a lap of the place and settled on somewhere with a "medium to short" sized queue.

My first foray into the Hawkers Center saw me return with a Watermelon Juice for The Boy and a Soursop Smoothie for me.  Man, I LOVE Soursop and it was on offer EVERYWHERE in Singers. Soursop tastes a little like a mix between an orange and a banana and it is so delicious. I'm addicted.  Lucky for me it is available at home and you can find an excellent Soursop Smoothie in Cabramatta.

My second lap around Maxwell saw me bring back a plate of Roast Pork with all the fixings for the The Boy. This cost about AUD$3...really.

Two (of the many) things I REALLY wanted to try in Singapore were Rojak and Popiah. I happened across this stall that sold both of these plus Cockles.  We got a small plate of Cockles to share but to be honest they weren't to my taste...the texture and flavour were something my palate couldn't quite embrace, and I've to tell you they were impossible to open! After about five each we gave up much to the joy of the lady cleaning our table - I think she went in to a dark corner somewhere and scoffed the lot. 

The Popiah was fantastic, a thin pancake-like wrap which held a filling of vegies like lettuce and carrot along with some noodles and tofu.  We both really enjoyed the Rojak too - a fruit and vegetable salad with quite a thick, sweet dressing. The whole lot is sprinkled with crushed peanuts.  Apart from a crunchy cucumber I'm not really sure what was in our Rojak, but it was GREAT!

After an hour of solid eating we head off for a bit more sightseeing. Right across from Maxwell Food Center is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum which is air-conditioned *happy dance* and has a lovely roof-top garden which is a nice place to sit and let lunch digest.

Newton Circus Hawker Center 

Another day, another opportunity to visit a Hawker Center - but not without a bit of sightseeing around Little India and a visit to the ENORMOUS Mustafa department stall (where we spent ages and The Boy walked away with five new ties). We also paid a visit to the elaborate Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple.  What an amazing place - full of life and colour. We had no idea what was going on but it was fascinating to watch people go about their daily worship rituals.  This guy in the photo below insisited I take his photo and posed quite seriously for a series of snaps - bless him!

After our wandering we headed over to Newton Food Centre - a short train ride away.  This place is a bit more "open" than Maxwell, with not much a roofed area - we managed to find a seat under a fan though.

We started off with drinks - a Soursop Juice for me (surprise surprise) which contained slices of real Soupsop and a Milo Godzilla for The Boy which is some sort of cold Milo drink topped with whipped cream and chocolate topping. You won't find Milo Godzilla in your Jenny Craig lunchbox, but it was pretty tasty.

Our first meal was a small serve of Hainanese Chicken Rice. To be honest I've had Hainanese Chicken Rice in Sydney and didn't really like it at all - I'm not fond of the texture of the cold chicken and I always thought it was a bit...flavourless.  I wasn't really keen to try this...but I did and I'm glad I did as it was really lovely, so flavoursome and just...perfect! We had a few Hainanese Chicken Rice in Singapore after this and they were all amazing. Another dish on my hit list was Carrot Cake - it is available as Black Carrot Cake (which was more like a fritter shape) and this White Carrot Cake which was similar to Cha Kway Teow I guess, although fermented carrot replaces the oodles of noodles. Loved it.

Buoyed by our chicken rice experience The Boy decided to try the Duck Rice which was on offer at Newton. Not as good as the chicken rice (the flavours weren't as clean with it being more of a saucy dish), but still really nice.  Meanwhile I developed a total obsession with the colourful lady who was working the CKT stall - she seemed like the Godmother of Newton, buzzing around and chatting to everyone.

After lunch we headed down to the harbour for some more sight seeing and a ride on the (un-airconditioned) cable car.  We also had a quick look around Sentonsa Island - the "playground" of Singapore. Meh.

Gluttons Bay

On our last night in Singapore we headed down to Gluttons Bay - an open air, outdoor Hawker style eatery on the waterfront. Gluttons Bay is a mix of street carts selling Singapore's most popular, and delicious, Hawker fare and it is really aimed at tourists but we spied lots of locals there chowing down.  We LOVED our night here - it was so vibrant and fun, and as the sun had gone down it was blissfully cool.

We grab a table, along with two Sugar Cane Juices, and pull out our arsenal of Hawker Center staples - tissues and wet ones. Let the eating begin!

This time I sent The Boy out to forage for food and he came back with a plate of crispy BBQ Chicken Wings (yum) and a mixed plate of Chicken and Beef Satay Skewers (also YUM). 

Half way through our meat-fest I left The Boy to go in search of the one thing I was DESPERATE to try in Singapore - Kaya Toast. Holy mother of God Batman, this simple little dish of grilled toast, spread with Kaya Jam (a jam which is a combination of coconut and egg), adorned with generous pads of butter is the most delicious thing I've eaten in a LONG time.  We dipped the Kaya Toast into two soft boiled eggs that are mixed with a splash of soy sauce and white pepper...sigh. Simple, but total perfection.  Whilst each of the ingredients is simple in its own right, mixing everything together is a flavour sensation, helped along by the cool pad of rich, creamy butter. I'm in LOVE and I was really quite upset that The Boy wanted to go halvies in this.

Despite our groaning stomachs we decide to finsih our last dinner in Singapore with another Cha Kway Teow.  CKT in Singapore is studded with cockles and it didn't really have that smokey Wok breath" that seems so elusive to many CKTs. I have to say, the CKT I've had from Jackie M in Sydney beats any of the CKT we had in Singapore hands down. 

Maxwell Food Center is at 1 Kadayanallur Street, Singapore.

Newtown Food Center is at 500 Clemenceau Ave,  Singapore.

Gluttons Bay is at 8 Raffles Ave,  Singapore.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Estabar, Newcastle

After a few hours bobbing around like a cork at the lovely Newcastle Ocean Baths it was time to head back to our hotel, clean up and check out. This left me with a few hours to kill whilst The Boy finished up his water polo "stuff" over at the local pool.

I decided to wander around East Newcastle and check out more of the lovely houses that have me dreaming of packing up life in Sydney and becoming a Novacastrian.

After this I caught the bus over to Darby Street, a very hip young area bursting with cafes and cute boutiques like High Tea with Mrs Woo and Blackbird Corner.  I actually saw a Chat Thai on Darby Street with NO QUEUE at all and I thought I'd head there myself and have lunch for one.  The Boy thwarted those plans though and rung to say he'd meet me for lunch back at the hotel.

Determine NOT to eat at Elemental Cafe Deli for a fourth time, even though we loved it there, I suggested we check out Estabar cafe just opposite the beach.  I really liked the "vibe" of this cafe, a bit less mainstream than other cafes I'd see about and it also offered a host of healthy (but tasty) options.

We kick things off with drinks - no Chunky Monkey here so The Boy goes for the next best thing - a Gelato Milkshake ($6.50) with banana and local honey.  I can't seem to go past a Frappe ($6.50) when I see it on the menu and the mixture of Strawberry Apple and Mint was so refreshing.

I had my eye on a Quinoa Salad, but alas they had run out, so it was a Carrot and Chickpea Salad ($14.00) for me which was SO filling that I couldn't finish it (must be a first for me).  The salad was packed with lettuce, house made hummus, carrots, chickpeas, Tamari seeds. I enjoyed this so much I made it for my lunch during the week and of course it was so GROSS! Fail.

The Boy enjoyed a light lunch of English Cheddar Cheese with locally smoked Ham ($14.00).   The cheese had a fantastic flavour, and I'm told the ham was top notch.  The cheese and ham was served with a lovely Morpeth Sourdough and a little pot of Tomato Jam.

And with that we sadly say good-bye to Newcastle (via Elemental Cafe for a takeaway Chunky Monkey)!

Estabar is at 61 Shortland Esplanade, Newcastle.  You can phone them on (02) 4927 1222

Friday, February 10, 2012

Gone eatin'

Please excusez-moi as we duck over to Singapore and Thailand for two weeks of much needed relaxing and eating (well, we don't really need to eat, but we really WANT to).

Hurry up with my luggage Bell Hop!

I do hope our economy seats on Singapore airline are a bit more comfortable that traveling seemed to be for this other Miss Piggy....deary me.

Image source

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Elements Cafe Deli, Newcastle

To be honest I’m a little surprised at how much I enjoyed our beach side stay in Newcastle last weekend. Whilst wandering around the area near our hotel (The Sebel) on my way to the beach I was struck by what a lovely area this is – beautiful weatherboard cottages are interspersed with terraces that wouldn’t look out of place in Paddington. These jut up against a huddle of new apartment blocks and cafes all vying for a prime view of the glorious coast line. The area feels a little like a beach side suburb of Melbourne, or Balmain by the sea...I like it.

We were in Newcastle as The Boy had a weekend of refereeing water polo. I thought I’d tag along for the ride and maybe work on my tan, relax, read a book and see what this city has to offer.

Before The Boy dashed off to be sporty for the weekend we grabbed a quick lunch near our hotel . Not knowing anything about the area we settled on the cafe that was the most busy and right near our hotel – Elements Cafe Deli – which had ocean glimpses.  If we’d walked another 50 meters and turned the corner we would’ve found a cafe with a full-frontal ocean view. Oh well, next time.

We started things off will a cool drink - we were visiting Newcastle on one of the first sunny weekends all summer. My inner-child couldn't resist the Raspberry Slushie ($4.00) and The Boy fell in love with the wickedly naughty (but oh so tasty) Chunky Monkey ($6.50) - a divine concoction of Banana, Coffee, Chocolate Syrup and Choc Chips.  The Chunky Monkey has got to be the best thing on offer at this cafe - trust me, I had enough "little sips" to know.

The Boy choose the BLAT Sandwich ($14.50) for his lunch - toasted brioche sandwiching bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado with a side of Beer Battered Fries. Judging from the silence at his end of the table whilst eating this I'd guess it was pretty good.

Because I really wanted Beer Battered Fries myself I ordered the Falafel Burger ($15.50) which comes with a healthy (or hefty depending on which way you look at it) serving of these awesomely fluffy-on-the-inside-yet-crunch-on-the-outside fries. 

After lunch The Boy headed off to the local pool to do his thing and I wandered down to the Ocean Baths to bob around in the water for a few hours.  I can say without a doubt that this was one of the most blissfully relaxing afternoons I've had in a long while which was much needed after we started the morning with a beyond HORRIBLE nasty Body Corporate meeting. The sky was blue and cloudless, and the water clear and heartstoppingly refreshing.  The pool wasn't very crowded, just filled with people happy to bob around and enjoy themselves too.

Initially I was going to order a room-service dinner in my room as I just find eating dinner alone in a restaurant a really....lonely experience. I'll happily chow down a bowl of noodles at Mappen by myself or visit a Sushi Train as I don't feel so conspicuous being alone, but put me in a restaurant by myself and I feel like I want to cry.  When I was walking by Elements on my way back from the beach they were fairly quiet so I grabbed a table outside and embarked on a solo dinner.

Their dinner menu is quite small, just a few entrees and mains. I wasn't feeling like a heavy meal so I ordered the Smoked Salmon Stack with Wontons ($12.00) from the entree menu and a side of Garlic Bread ($6.50).  When I asked was was "in" the wontons the chef came out to have a chat to me and assure me no pork, just the wonton skin on its lonesome. I thought it was nice to see the chef come out of the kitchen and answer a customers questions. The salad was great, a zesty mix of capers and Spanish onion really complimented the smoked salmon.

The next morning I was ready to explore a new with a beach side view perhaps however The Boy had his little heart set on having another Chunky Monkey - he's become an addict as he got one to take away for the drive home later that same day. I decided on an Iced Coffee without the ice-cream and just a wee dollop of cream on top - it was a great cup of coffee, really got the heart started for the day.  I also enjoyed drinking most of The Boy's Chunky Monkey.

The Boy had eaten his own weight in room service the night before so kept things simple with Scrambled Eggs on Toast ($10.50).  For breakfast I chose the Breakfast Bruschetta ($11.00) which was a really enjoyable meal - loved it.  The grilled bread was topped with a creamy feta, tomatoes, avocado, rocket and a balsamic reduction.  Really really nice way to start the day.

After breakfast it was back to the local pool for The Boy and back to the Ocean Baths for me for more...bobbing and relaxing.

Elements Cafe Deli is at 3 King Street  Newcastle.  Phone them on (02) 4929 1588.

Elements Cafe Deli on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 06, 2012

Settlers Arm Inn, St Albans

About 20kms from Wisemans Ferry is the historic little pub, Settlers Arm Inn in the tiny township of St Albans. The drive is quite fun as you have to cross the Hawkesbury River by car-ferry, a bit of a novelty for these two city slickers. 

The Inn was built in 1836 and is built from convict hewn sandstone. Initially the inn was a stopover for Cobb and Co coaches travelling between Sydney and Newcastle. Amazing to think that what is now a 3 hour drive required an overnight back in 1836. 

The food served at the Settlers Arms is basic pub-fare. Nothing gourmet and nothing that you'd class as fine dining or Gastro-Pub food. It's simple Aussie pub food, and to be honest you're in St Albans more to soak up a bit of history, enjoy a country drive, have a beer and take in the surrounds.   The food hits the spot in an location that is as removed from 2012 (the year, and the postcode) as you can get.

The Boy and I both order to the T-Bone Steak ($27.00). They are ENORMOUS.

And...commence rant: I'd convinced myself that I was craving red meat and that eating a steak was OK as Mr Cow was probably grass-fed and thus lived a happy happy life in a paddock and met his maker whilst be stroked and sung lullaby's by caring abattoir workers.  This is basically a crock of shit I told myself to justify eating it as I had no idea about the provenance of the meat.  In short I didn't enjoy it - eating it made me feel really sad and my experiment with eating meat is over unless I buy it from a farmer's market or ethical butcher and know 100% that is free-range.  I want to support the free-range meat industry as I believe in what they do...just not horrible factory farming.  The boy really loved his steak though . End rant.

As with all good Aussie Pubs, this one is home to a fine pooch or two who will happily camp by your table hoping a chip or a stray piece of steak falls their way.

Settlers Arms Inn is at 1 Wharf Street, St Albans. Phone them on 4568 2111. You can reach the pub by taking either of the two Ferry's out of Wiseman's Ferry. Enjoy the drive!

Oh, and when you get back to Wiseman's Ferry you can duck back to the shopping arcade for more Kitty spotting. This is Rosie, daughter of Reg and Rita. She doesn't like people and this is her best "get the hell away from me" look.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Riverbend Restaurant, Wisemans Ferry

The Boy and I took an extra-long weekend over Australia Day this year and headed up to Wisemans Ferry for some R and R. You won’t be surprised to hear that I’d nabbed a very good Scoopon voucher for two nights at the Australis Retreat, one of a handful of motels in the area.

Wisemans Ferry is an extraordinarily beautiful area located just an hour from our home. The little village sits on the banks of the wide, muddy looking Hawkesbury River and is surrounded by high rocky cliffs. It’s a busy weekend destination for water-skiers, boating enthusiasts and motorcycle riders looking for a winding road to unleash on as well as day-trippers from Sydney looking for a meal at the local pub and a ride across the river on the Ferry.

There are a few eating options at Wiseman’s Ferry – a lovely old sandstone pub, a bowling club with a bistro, a cafe, a little takeaway as well as the restaurant at our motel. But this isn’t just any old motel restaurant – it’s a little gem that sources and cooks beautiful food from locally sourced produce. The menu changes seasonally as the local produce available comes and goes. The food is lovely and the service very friendly.

We start the meal with a small bowl of freshly marinated local grown olives ($9.00) which were lovely - firm and tasty.

For my main I ordered the Wild Mushroom Risotto ($16.00 for an entree size - I needed to save room for dessert). The risotto was cooked with oregano and thyme and then finished with parmesan and truffle oil.  The vegies pictured below are part of The Boys main...the main that I wanted to order! Hurmph.  

The Boy tricked me out of ordering the Chef's Seafood Tasting Plate ($28.50) and ordered it himself...sneaky sneaky Boy.  He made it sound like it would be too teeny for a main. Hmmm. To say I had food envy would be the understatment of the century, but as we're married sharing is mandatory (when it suits me that is).

The platter is mouthwatering to look at - a selection of hot and cold seafood that taste like heaven on earth. Really!  The majority of the seafood is from local waters; oysters from Mooney Mooney, Hawkesbury River squid and local prawns, as well as Tasmanian Atlantic and smoked salmon, Coffin Bay scallops and Sydney caught flathead.  It's worth the drive to Wisemans Ferry just for this - what amazing value for such fresh seafood!

After being forced to share his main The Boy thought he'd get to fly solo by ordering the Individual Pavlova ($11.00) for dessert. Nice try buddy. It was beautiful, and I can tell you that from a first hand taste-test. The Pavlova is topped with fresh berries and Chantilly cream.  Being a sorbet fan I choose the Lemon Sorbet ($11.00) served in brandy snap basket with fresh berries.

After dinner we wandered over to say hello (or goodnight) to Reg and Rita, two lovely cats that we had met earlier in the day. Reg and Rita were dumped at the local shopping centre a while back and promptly produced two litters of kittens.

Karlene from the antique store in the arcade began raising money to have ALL of the cats desexed (which involved trapping a few who were too scared of people to be captured any another way) so no more kittens would be born.  She then found homes for all but five of them (so far).  The store-owners chip in money to keep the remaining cats fed which is noble as many strays are left to fend for themselves. But it also means that Reg and Rita (and the others) depend on the kindness of the store owners for their daily bread. We made a hefty donation to the "Reg and Rita Dinner Fund" in Karlene's store and collected a lot of pats in return.  I would love to have taken our two new kitty friends home but I think they would go bonkers in our little flat.

Reg and Rita have their own Facebook page, check them out here

The handsome Reg and lovely, shy Rita.

The Riverbend Resturant is located at Australis Retreat at Wisemans Ferry, 5564 Old Northern Road Wisemans Ferry. Bookings at the restaurant are essential. Phone them on (02) 4566 4422.

You'll find Reg and Rita chilling out at Wiseman's Ferry Vintage & Collectables in the shopping arcade.

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