Suckling Pig @ Catalunya, Hong Kong

Date of Visit: June 5 2013

So here is the newest and hottest tapas joint in The Kong. Positive reviews bestowed upon this contemporary Catalan eatery were presumably based on the El Buli alumnus who had spent a decade with celebrity Chef Ferran Adria. Catalunya Hong Kong is a second restaurant set up by Chef Alain Devahive Tolosa in Asia, sister to Catalunya Singapore. Interest was certainly generated, enough to pique my interest to convort a reservation 1 month in advance.

On the actual day, I and one other hailed a cab from Admiralty to Morrison Hill (near Happy Valley), only to be told by the taxi-driver that we will be countering heavy traffic because today is a Wednesday, and Wednesday is horse-racing day. Luck was on our side, we arrived at the restaurant right on time, 30 minutes later. The exterior of the restaurant looked every inch a bespoke jewel box on the ground floor of a non-descript office building, distinctively decorated with metal works and tiles on plastered wall – hard to miss.

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Source: Lifestyle Asia

Upon entry, we were quickly whisked to our table. I noted an army of waiters, around half are Spanish, the rest Filipinos. Could the Spanish economy be answerable to the influx of Spaniards to Hong Kong and the recent Spanish tapas boom here?

Earthly tones of the interior exudes sensuality and warmth. The timber panels on the walls, floors and ceilings completed the ambience with coloured walls in reds and browns. One cannot help but imagine oneself being transported to an elegant rustic Spanish country manor while sitting on the upholstered chairs. The room was dimly lighted with the central chandelier emiting a warm glow to the abyss. I especially liked the mirrored tiles on the walls which reflected in the dark. Since dimly lighted rooms do not photograph well with my camera phone (see example below), I had to resort to borrowing from Catalunya’s webpage for illustration.

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The massive brass and glass chandelier took center stage, dimly illuminating the restaurant
Source: Catalunya Hong Kong

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The walnut bar with warp around high stool seating for 40 people
Source: Catalunya Hong Kong

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Source: Catalunya Hong Kong

A bottle of Catalan Priorat was promptly ordered and imbibed while we took time to read the fun descriptions on each dish in the menu. We consulted with service who recommended that we start with 2-3 tapas and a main. I am intrigued to see what the kitchen will come up with.

Dinner started with the arrival of the Bikini (HKD115), a standard Barcelonean tapas staple. Who would have guessed that the ordinary looking toastie of melted mozzarella, aromatic truffle and Iberian ham sandwiched between 2 slices of Wonder Bread could elevate the ham and cheese toastie to a whole new level? “You won’t be wearing the bikini”, claimed the menu, too much of this toasted goodies would certainly mean that I won’t be wearing one!

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Our second starter of Catalunya’s ‘special surf and turf’, did not disapoint either. Sweetbreads with Baby Squid (HK$130) were unbeatable. Artichokes and olives were pan-fried together with the creamy sweetbreads and squids to give an acidic side-kick for balance.

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The star of Catalunya was also our Main. The Segovian Suckling Pig (HK$825) was presented to us with the piglet laying on a bed of herbs on a timber board. It was served table-side with the waiter cutting the piglet with a ceramic plate. The piglet could not be more than a month old from the crisp paper-thin skin lacking fat. Meat was tender yet firm, but needed the full use of the accompanying gravy to give some taste. I presume the piglet to be pressure cooked then reheated and subsequently its skin lightly torched before final serving.
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Service was attentive, however without the silver-service that one could expect at a fine-dining establishment. Usually in other premium restaurants, service would extend to frequently reaching in to refill the wine/ water from the bottle that rests on your table. This lack of extended service might deter some people, but I appreicated on being let alone with uniterrupted conversation.

For dessert, we chose Chocolate. The self-saucing chocolate pudding, accompanied with passion-fruit sorbet and poached spiced apricot was delectable and ended our dinner with a positive note.

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After 2 hours of eating and drinking, it was time for us to make a move. As I was leaving, I saw the next table which was seated at around the same time as us, being served their first tapas. Perhaps this is how one makes the 1-month long wait list worthwhile, by warming up your tooshie on the seat a wee bit longer.

A Bowl of Salad and Chippies Ahoy! @ Ben’s, Pavilion Kuala Lumpur

Date of Visit: June 10 2013

Following a hearty lunch at Tonkatsu earlier on (my review here), I was still feeling rather full. But it’s dinner time and rather than raiding the fridge in the middle of the night by skipping my dinner, I opted for a lighter salad fare. However, finding a place that serves proper salads in KL is hard – I have tried Pavilion’s TGI Friday where they offer an uninteresting single varietal salad of iceberg lettuces, sweet corns and cherry tomatoes heavily drenched in dressing which  defeats the purpose of a ‘light fare’.

Meanwhile, I have walked passed Ben’s countless times and perused its overly lengthy board menu placed at the entrance. The restaurant aims to please all its diners by offering an array of choices, unfortunately, this was a put-off for the indecisives. But because I remembered that they have salads on offer and since I had already decided on what I am going to order – a salad – hence the mission of ordering should be easy.

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So, here we are, Mom, Bro and I, ending up at Ben’s to be quickly ushered into the restaurant.   I am not sure about the replica of  a living room at the front.  Perhaps, the big blue sofa is for the take-away patrons to rest their tired derrières while waiting for their orders.  A huge lamp for reading the Hello! magazines were very thoughtfully provided.   Nonetheless, the standout is the colour of the bright yellow feature wall which I thought absolutely stunning (I love bright colours).

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The restaurant itself is a long space.  A banquette with throw cushions was set against one wall, making excellent spatial economics for when the restaurant has to accomodate for a large group.  The tables need only be joined together and some chairs borrowed.  The space spills out to an outdoor dining area on the balcony overlooking the Bukit Bintang strip which would be perfect for an idle afternoon tea or to partake in the vibrancy when BB comes alive at night.

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Cleverness in details is one thing that I noted about Ben’s.  Everything from the napkins, to the box of card games for ideas to kick off conversations on the table right down to the details of the waist-coat-aprons on the wait-staffs.

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Despite my simple plan of ordering a salad, the extensive menu of 10 different salads on offer still required a decision from me.  Finally, I went straight for the vegetarian option. Ben’s House Salad ($15.90) came with all my favourite goodies – endame and avocado. I have asked to have the dressing on the side since nothing can be more annoying than a salad drowned in dressing.  I was taken in by the freshness of the roasted pistachios, almonds, walnuts, sun-flower seeds, flaxseeds et al, which were noted as ‘7 seeds’ on the menu.   So stuffed to the brim with vegies, I am rest assured that I would not be raiding the fridge when night falls.

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For my Mom and Bro, the process of eliminating Sandwiches, Pies, Pastas, Asians and Soups narrowed down to the Traditional options for them.  My Mom opted for  the Fish and Chips ($29.90) .  This came with a small side of coleslaw. With such an array of choices to choose from, it would not come a suprise if the fish fingers and chips were from the  frozen prepackaged supermarket origin rather than from the markets.   Nevertheless, how can one resist the seduction of a Machiavellian piece of crispy fried  temptation?  As in trance, I reached out for a piece, then another, and another, and soon half the chips were in my stomach! Oh dear!

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My brother’s normal dinner at home is always a piece of steak.  His Steak Frites ($52.90) was a pretty ordinary chargrilled strip loin with black peper sauce.  Together, the chips and  plateful of green beans ensured that he is taking in his recommended vegetables for the day.

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Although we did not have dessert, the lovey-dovey-gooey  looks exchanged by the couples at the next table while they tucked in their luscious slice of chocolate brownie cake said it all.   With my induction done, I shall be back for more salads and dessert the next time!

A Crunchy Piece of Piggy Heaven @ Tonkatsu, Pavilion Kuala Lumpur

Date of Visit:  June 10 2013

Tonkatsu – a piece of crunchy deep-fried pork heaven – is an ubiquitous cafeteria staple in Japan.

But, did you know that tonkatsu has European roots?  Katsu is the Japanese pronunciation of ‘cutlets’ (pronounced ka-tsu-reh-toh in Japanese), whereas Ton means ‘pork’ in Japanese, thus tonkatsu, thus pork cutlets.   As a very amateur cook, the Chica is pleased to explain that the underlying difference between the European’s pork cutlets and Japanese tonkatsu lies in that the Western pork cutlets being coated with bread crumbs then pan-fried with butter, whereas the Japanese Katsu is deep fried in vegetable oil rendering it crunchier while maintaining the juice and tenderness of the meat inside.

Never mind…

As you probably notice, there are also many restaurants specialising in tonkatsu around.  In Pavilion Mall, there is Tonkatsu by Wa Kitchen, located on Level 6.

I should state that I am very apprehensive to anything deep-fried especially for calorie-sake and the type of oils used in the frying.  Having been to China, I have heard too many horror stories about re-using dirty recycled oil.  Nevertheless, I was prompted to try since there is not many eating establishments on Level 6 that I have not eaten, besides, I wanted to tick-off  Tonkatsu by Wa Kitchen on my list.

Following a quick welcome by the staff at the door, we were seated promptly.  I am thrilled to see Japanese bankers (they were wearing their tags) having their lunch as their presence vouch the authenticity of this tonkatsu place.  On the table was a tray of condiments – vinegar, dark soy and a bottle of sesame seeds.  Seeing that a grinding bowl and wooden pestle is provided, I took it as a DIY exercise to grind my own sesame dressing.

Should I point out that one should grind the dry sesame seeds before adding in the liquids?  A major faux pas on my side, see the picture below.

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My tray of Katsu Soba arrived shortly after.  On the tray was  a small dish of Japanese chilli flakes for me to sprinkle on my soba and my crispy pork loin katsu resting on a rack (I am not sure whether other orders come with their katsu on the racks, but I had asked for my katsu to be separated from the noodles since I don’t like my katsu to be soggy).   In my bowl of steaming soba are some seaweeds, bamboo shoots and half an egg.  The soba was cooked to my liking – al dente, however, perhaps this is a Malaysian-thing, the soup was simply too sweet for me to drink.

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Needless to say, it was wonderfully satisfying to sink my teeth into a crispy golden piece of juicy katsu and hearing myself chomping away.  With limited stomach space, I had to guiltily leave 2 pieces of the katsu heaven behind, thus hoping I am pursuing the greater karmic goodness through feeding those creatures less fortunate in the food chain

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The other set that my dining companion ordered was the very simply called Set 1, which has pork-cutlet tonkatsu served with shredded cabbage, rice, mixed egg plant and miso soup.  Unbeknownst to us until later, the shredded cabbage is refillable gratis

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Minced pork with egg plant topped with scallions for a bit of colour.  A very flavoursome side dish

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The accompanying katsu for the rice set is a piece of choice pork-cutlet with a different texture to my pork-loin being a different cut of meat.

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A hearty meal tucked in deserved a little rest before heading back to our erstwhile duties.  While we would be happy to spend more time in the pleasant environment, time beckoned for us to leave and around RM35 lighter each (including drinks).

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A Un-Chocolate Chocolate Afternoon Tea @ Cafe 103, Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Hong Kong

Date of Visit: June 1 2013

Ritz-Carlton is the highest hotel in Hong Kong, located at the International Commerce Center (ICC). Now, if you are a first-timer to ICC , navigating the shopping mall can be particularly frustrating. I have also seen numerous travellers with luggages roaming around the shopping mall completely clueless as where the W Hotel and Ritz-Carlton are. The problem with way-finding I believe is contributed no less by designating the 2-storied mall into zones denoting the 5 Chinese Elements; thus the malls’ namesake ‘Elements. Rather than putting up signs, the designers should have used different floor colourings to denote Metal, Wood, Water, Fire or Earth to easen the confusion. That said, my advise is that you come an hour early and be prepared to get lost!

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My original plan was to have the English Afternoon Tea at Ritz-Carlton’s The Lounge & Bar with my friend and her toddler. Although at the time of my booking, it was still a month away, the tea service was already been fully booked, so I was offered Chocolate Afternoon Tea at Cafe 103 instead.

The price of the afternoon tea is compatible with the other 5 star hotels (need I say, expensive too?). Here are the deets: Mon-Thur $278 for one $528 for 2; Fri-Sun and public holidays $308 for one and $568 for 2. On specials are Louis Roedere Brut Premium NV Champagne $170 per glass or Moscato d’Asti, la Spineta $88 per glass. (Please add 10% service tax)

After riding the countless escalators and lifts, we were pleased to be served very quickly at Cafe 103 upon our arrival.

We have balcony seatings looking out to the Ocean Terminal/ Harbour City (the BEST shopping mall in HK) at Tsim Sha Tsui where the Giant Rubber Duck is currently anchored.

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Views of Tosca, the acclaimed Italian Restaurant downstairs. Being a sticky beak, I was keen to find out what the diners were having but since it was past 3:30pm, towards the tail end of a very late lunch, I only got to see some very enticing desserts especially the petit fours served on a bed of fair-floss. Perhaps, a visit from me is due?

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Our Chocolate High Tea for 2. The pastries came in a boxed book-case, and all looked very interesting. We started with the savouries at the bottom tier, working our way up.

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Source: Lifestyle Asia

Bottom Tier: What worked for me was the Foie Gras Mousse with a sprinkle of chocolate nibs in Sweet Bun. The Pickled Cucumber and Cream Cheese Sandwiches were a bit stale while the Smoked Salmon with Squid Ink Bread did not excite.

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Smoked Salmon with Squid Ink Bread, Foie Gras mousse with Sweet Bun

Middle Tier: The Choux de Bouda looked like the ‘Pineapple Bun’ from the Chinese bakeries. It is actually 2 round eclairs filled with chocolate custard held together by a burnt matchstick with a red bead; looked good, but tasted bland. Both the Triple Citrus Shot and Mandarin Sable were OK – not as chocolatey as I would like.

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Choux de bouda

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Triple Citrus Shot

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Mandarin Sable

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Mandarin Sable w thin layer of chocolate

Top Tier: I am not sure whether I was given the Passion Fruit Chocolate Tart as per the menu, but in any regards, I enjoyed the dark chocolate brownie with cherry kirsch the most.

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Compressed pecan cake w Cinnamon Cream and Lemon Praline in Black and White Chocolate Cup

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Chestnut confit cake and Passion Fruit Chocolate Tart (?)

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Chestnut confit cake with a thin smidgen of chocolate

All-in-all, my final verdict of the Chocolate Afternoon Tea was at best only very ordinary. Personally, I do not find it chocolatey enough to be worthy of a true Chocolate High Tea. The pastries were somehow stale. I am also guessing that a lot of shortenings were used instead of butter because I felt my stomach getting gassy and bloating after the tidbits.

Whilst surveying the lounge, I noticed that nearly all the patrons were females (girls) with only a handful of 3 or 4 guys in the entire lounge. No doubt girls love bonding over teas and gossiping about their work, i.e. how very important their roles are at their respective companies (which sound very close to home.. LOL..). Nonetheless, where else can a more relaxing ambience be found, other than Ritz-Carlton if you are in Kowloon?

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Source: Ritz Carlton Hotel

Sweet Deception @Melur & Thyme, Suria KLCC, Kuala Lumpur

Date of Visit:  June 9 2013

The last time I was at Harrod’s Cafe at Suria KLCC, I noticed that there was a new bistro opposite serving Malay food.  Melur & Thyme it was called, but somehow, I couldn’t help getting the name confused with ‘Melur & Telur’ , I guess ‘Telur’ rhymes better with ‘Melur’.   To those non-Malay speakers out there,  ‘melur’ means ‘jasmine’ and ‘telur’ means ‘egg’.

As we had just landed in KL from Hong Kong.  I wanted to check out the Diane Von Furstenberg shop here.  In particular, I wanted to buy the silver beaded top shown in the SS13 catwalk collection which was sold-out in Hong Kong.  As luck went, no luck for me, I couldn’t find it in the shop,  I did notice that the DVF here is more expensive by probably 20% .  No bargain for me, since I can get 10% off all tax free DVF stock in HK.

A couple more shop hops later, we turned up at Melur & Thyme for lunch.  (FYI, Ladies, KL fashions are far more colourful than the boring office wear for the OLs aka ‘Office Ladies’)

Mom and I ordered Mint Kombucha which we saw advertised on the blackboard on our way in. What arrived were 2 very sweet drinks, tasting like Sprite and can be passed off as Sprite. Isn’t Kombucha a probiotic tea drink, so it should at least look a teeny-weeny brown? Moreover, there was no hint of mint and this left me puzzling whether I got the wrong order… and  whether the scrounge on a sprig of mint?

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The menu is lengthy mix of Western and Malaysian.   I skipped through all the ‘Western’ selections of eggs, pasta, grills and settled on the ‘Eastern’ local delights.  This is after all Malaysia, and I should try improved Malaysian food right?

My Nasi Lemak is one-dimensional. One word – SWEET.   Earlier, I saw the waiter taking a parcel wrapped in leaf from the bar counter top, presumably, my nasi lemak to zap in the microwave.  But it was not warmed up properly, a tad cold, another disappointment.  On top of my nasi is half a hard-boiled egg hiding some peanuts at the bottom.  Also accompanying the nasi were cucumbers and 2 sambals; the sweet sambal ikan bilis and sambal cuttlefish.  My mom liked the cuttlefish sambal and reckoned its been rehydrated from the dried cuttlefish.  The nasi was fine, but didn’t tickle my fancy much.

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Mom ordered a bowl of Grandma’s Hokkien Mee which is a huge bowl of rice noodles with shredded chicken, veggies, bean sprouts, prawns, fish balls, fish slices, a hard-boiled egg as well as other condiments.  The comment that I got from her was ‘the broth is very flavoursome but simply too sweet’.

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My brother ordered Curry Mee.  Again, it’s huge.  It had the same ingredients as  my mom’s big bowl of noodles, but had the extras of  fried tofu pieces and snake beans.  The soup looked very thick and smelt nice.  I presume that it uses coconut milk.  It came with 2 types of noodles, pretty unusual for us…

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Round yellow noodles

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Rice vermicelli noodles

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Looking around, I noticed the other patrons at the next table ordered pasta.  I like the look of big juicy tiger prawns, but the amount of gravy that came with the pastas would be too much for me.  In hindsight, after reading other foodie blogs, I realised that Melur & Thyme’s speciality is duck, and I should have order a duck instead, oh well, next time…

I actually liked the interior of this bistro more than anything else. It’s very very cost effective and simply done using white tiles as backdrops for the metal wrought filigree of a sketch of caricatures eating out at a bistro.  This gave an interesting twist and instant quirkiness to the interior.

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If you look closely at the photos, you see the bottles at the bar sitting on glass shelves.  Again metal lattices were used to give a 3-dimensional visual layering of the wall as well as presenting the ‘presence’ of an actual drinks-shelf without the heaviness.  Even the timber ceilings have metal swirling clouds to give a visual interest to an otherwise boring ceiling.

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Unfortunately, the use of hard surfaces on walls, floor and ceilings made the side-walk cafe to be overbearingly noisy.  With uncontrollable screaming children dining at the other end of the bistro, I had a rather miserable evening with ringing ears.

On Beating Haze and My Blurry Vision

How was your week, dudes and dudettes?

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June 23rd 2013 @ 7:20pm: The closest the red burning moon is to the earth for the year.

Most of you have would have heard of the awful haze blanketing Singapore and Malaysia since last week.  These were the effects of open field burnings for clearing agricultural lands in Indonesia, a yearly phenomenon. The air pollution index reached hazardous in Singapore and some parts of Malaysia that schools were closed.  I stayed indoors over the weekend and thought I would do some blogging, but the heat and the smog got the better of me.  Instead, I was rotating between sleeping on my couch and on my bed, the more I lazed around the more tired I got.  I also managed to surf the net while lounging on my sofa – I was reading a dude’s blog on on-line dating, aptly called ’28 dates’.  His quest was to find his Miss Perfect in 28 dates…  Good luck Willard!  (If you ever come to Malaysia, I’ll go on a date with you!)

And so, Monday rolled around and although the haze has improved a little bit, I am still feeling extremely lethargic today, with a puffy face and blurry eyes.  I am even smelling of a BBQ!  (Talk of a non-smoker getting lung cancer!  How under-rated!)

With the heat, the smog and irritated eyes, what could be worst than that?

I broke one of my Ortho-K contact lenses!  (The left one)  Drats!

How did that happen?  I don’t know.  When I took it out of my case and it was already broken in half.  Now, where can I get a replacement in Malaysia, let alone in The Boo?  I thought about asking my optometrist to send me  a replacement from Sydney but then again, my eyes are to due be rechecked – besides,  Ortho-K contact lenses don’t come cheap – at about AUD700 a pair.

So, what’s ‘ortho-k’?  It’s  also known as Orthokeratology to treat far-sightedness, astigmatism, and age-related loss of close vision, but it was first developed to correct myopia.  I wear my lenses to sleep and remove them the next morning.  My vision remains clear the next day, no need for specs and perfect for sporting – no need to worry about sand getting into my eyes or losing my lenses in the middle of a game.

While not guaranteeing a perfect 20/20 vision, I’m still thrilled that it was effective on me – a candidate in her 30s with far-sighted, near-sighted (myopic), and even astigmatism!  It took some time to get the focus right in the beginning as I was under wearing it, then over wearing it.  The optimal shuteye time I found out later for me, is 7 hours.

Back to the present, now what?  

Well, since vision in both my eyes are around the same degree, (except probably the radial circumsphere of tbe eyeball differing), I  decided to wing it by rotating the wear of the lense on each eye until I go back to Sydney end of July for a proper check-up.   Sure, my vision may be impaired the next day if I discontinue wear for one night, with headaches ensuing, but I’m used to it.  (*Tough it out*)

As for the heat, how do I keep my cool?  Stay indoors and eat ice-potongs, dudes!

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Ice-potongs – a traditional Malaysian popsicle, literally meaning ‘cut ice’

The Most Affordable Michelin Meal In Japan So Far… It’s 3 Stars! @ Wa Yamamura, Nara, Japan

Date of Visit: March 3 2013

The ancient capital of Japan, Nara is 45mins away from Kyoto (there is a direct trolley running hourly, but don’t hop on the train bound for the other direction like I did!).  Compared to Tokyo and Kyoto, Nara is a tranquil town, boasting temples and shrines.  Most significantly Nara is a World UNESCO Heritage site and my prime reason to visit Nara is to visit the temples there.  However, my quest to eat at Michelin-rated restaurants continued, and I was thrilled to find Wa Yamamura, a local Nara restaurant that has been awarded a 3 stars status by the Michelin Guide in Andy Hayler’s web of international restaurant reviews (here).  Since Wa Yamamura’s webpage is in Japanese, I asked my hotel concierge at Hotel Nikko Nara to book for me.

This husband and wife operated restaurant was packed by locals on the night we visited, so even though we made a bar seating reservation for 3 people, we were given a private room which is divided by a kimono curtain.  Our 10-course kaiseki was ¥12500 per person.   We were very well taken care by the wife of the chef and her team of young waitresses (with one speaking English).   True to being ‘omakase’, a hand-written description of the course on pretty notepapers accompanied each course.  Here’s what we had…

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