Sibu BASE Jump 2013

Well, well, well, something exciting to wake the sleepy heads up – adrenaline pumping BASE Jump that is! An annual event organised by the tourism council to pull in some tourist $$ to an otherwise boring town. (Check out their FB page here)

Basically 35 jumpers from overseas will be taking their leap of faith by leaping off Wisma Sanyan, currently the tallest building in Sarawak (126m off ground) in their parachutes. They do this every hour on the hour from 20th to 22nd September 2013 and depending on weather, some night jumps as well.

I’m not sure how this works – to attract BASE jumpers to Boo Town or to to entertain the locals – it does get meh after watching a couple of jumps. Ain’t nothing like the real thing in Queenstown!

But if you have yet to plan anything over the weekend, do head over to the Sibu Town Square. Catch them before they head off to KL for the KL Tower Jump next week!

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Leaping off Wisma Sanyan, approx 126m off ground

Soaring like the birds!

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Wee…

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Wee…

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Slightly off mark

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Gently, gently

It’s a touch-down!

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Safe landing

One more time!

A Nyonya Breakfast @ Kuching, Malaysia

Date of Visit: September 11 2013

Before my flight back to the Boo, my friend S insisted that I should sample what she claims to be the best Popiah in Kuching. The coffee shop is somewhere along the 3rd Mile – the name escapes me – but she was kind enough to give me the directions should I want to visit the place in the future: “Opposite KTS village apartments, behind ‘Rice n Noodles’ shop. Few doors away from Hainan Cafe”. Goobledygook to me, but perhaps might make some sense to the Kuchingites who are familiar with the landmarks.

Our vegetarian breakfast consisted of 2 popular Nyonya snacks – popiah and pie tie. By the way, Nyonyas are Chinese women married to Malay men. Their descendents of this mixed-racial marriage are called Peranakans. Nyonya delicacies often involves a lot of work – julienning, dicing and pounding the vegetables or herbs.

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My Nyonya Breakfast: Popiah, Pie Tie and 3-Layer Iced Tea

The vendor of the popiah store is Joseph, a man in his 60s. What made his popiahs special were that the thin flour pancakes are stuffed with the julienned wholesome goodness of jicama, long beans, bean sprouts, cabbages and chopped up dried bean curds given a dash of life with sweet crunchy peanut and chili sauces then tightly rolled into a tight package as big as a burrito roll with a hefty tag of RM3. Being purely vegetarian, they were packed with minerals, vitamins and fibres. the notable thing about Sarawakian popiahs are that the ingredients used are all dried. In this case, the jicamas have been been steamed then squeezed dried.

Now, you may be wondering what is ‘Jicama’. It is also referred as Mexican yam or Mexican turnip. It is a large brown bulbous root. Inside the rough and tough skin is the white crunchy flesh, similar to a raw potato but wetter and crunchier. The flavor is slightly sweet, a little nutty. It can be eaten both raw and cooked, although my own favorite is raw, (a key vegetable in rojaks) since its crispness and colour can be retained over time.

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X-section: Stuffed Vegetarian Popiah

Kuih Pie Tee or ‘Top Hat‘, thus called due to the thin crispy shell casings when inverted look like a lot like a top hat. This crispy shell is usually filled with the same mixture of thinly sliced vegetables that popiah uses. Considering that making the little top hats is tedious work, it commands a premium of RM1 each. This is a popular Peranakan tidbit, something to amuse the mouth.

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Pie Tie

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X-section: Pie Tie

I have been seeing advertorial posters of an interesting drink called ‘3 Layer Tea‘ adorning walls in nearly all the coffee shops I have eaten at but had never ordered. Today, I decided to order one too.

The 3 layers of my iced 3 layer tea consisted of black palm sugar syrup at the bottom, creamy evaporated milk in the middle and brown brewed tea on top. It is a distinctively coloured drink when carefully layered. The sweetness has a refreshing pandan leaves fragrance to it which I enjoyed.

It was a good wholesome breakfast which I appreciated. So, thanks again S!

Steamed Rice Moon Cakes @ Sibu, Malaysia

4 more sleeps to the moon cake finale this Thursday night.  Hungry for more moon cakes but dreading the calories?

With a bit of creativity one can transform the unhealthy sweet guilty treats into something healthy.  What about steamed moon cakes that I got for tea today?

Steamed moon cake made from grounded rice and sesame  encasing the  yellow-peas paste (with possibly some cream cheese).

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Rice + Sesame Steamed Moon Cake Sibu-Style

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X-section

The rice and sesame layer is dry and crumbly as can be seen from the picture above.  Taste-wise, it is bland.  But for those on a diet and do not want to miss out, this will prove a saviour for this mid-autumn fest!  Ta-ta!

New Spin on Tribal Dining @ Absolute Tribal, Kuching, Malaysia

Date of Visit: September 10 2013

Eager to try umai, my friend recommended me to Absolute Tribal, a modern Thai-Dayak fusion restaurant attached to Sarakraf. Sarakraf stands for Sarawak Arts and Craft Center, a semi-private initiavtive setup to conserve and promote Sarawak’s heritage in arts and crafts through cultural workshops and demonstrations. There is an art gallery, craft shop and a budget accommodation in the compound which is very popular.

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Sarakraf HQ is an old Colonial Building

My friend and I had a little tour of the centre before lunch and met with Gerald, the brains behind Sarakraf, the artist-in-residence who is also the owner. All the paintings on the walls were painted by him.

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Mini Museum/ Art Gallery

The entrance to the restaurant is through here – the yellow frame with a hot pink portico.

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Restaurant

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Entrance

There are a number of dining spaces designed in different styles – chairs or floor seats, indoor or outdoor, modern or tribal – to suit one’s fancy and to accommodate specific functions and the number of people.

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Jungle pond with a monkey swinging in the middle of the restaurant

This is where we dined, at the ‘tribal’ room. The walls are adorned with bamboos and attap leaves. It is very private, away from the main dining area and has a dark rustic feel which I liked.

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Tribal Dining Room

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Woven mats on floor, bamboos and attap leaves on walls

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Pua (traditional weaving), spear and shield adorn the wall

As soon as we are seated, we were presented a very lengthy menu listing Thai, Dayak and local food at our table. The ‘Durian Inspired Menu‘ has just been released and I noted with interest that this menu is available from 7:30am to 9:30pm. Seriously? Durian at 7:30am, anyone? Certainly ‘takes your breath away’…as the tagline goes. *phoof*

Well,  it’s 1:00pm and I am digging to try tempoyak.   I am currently into fermented foods for the probiotics benefits and am  making kefir and kimchi at home.  But so far, have never tasted tempoyak.  Tempoyak is fermented durian, if you repel from the stink of durian, wait for this one!

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Tempoyak Menu.
Source: Absolute Tribal’s FB page

So without much ado, the first to arrive was Tempoyak Ikan Bilis (RM8).  The speedy arrival was due to the waitress’s mistake in delivery,  it was our neighbour’s order, oh well, we didn’t realise until half-way through.  The white-baits were deep-fried first before re-frying with lemongrass, chili, onions and tempoyak. Additional fish sauce was added for seasoning. I identified the faint stinky tempoyak smell straight away, it also has a distinctive salty fermented taste. This dish is good source of calcium since you eat the fish, bones and all.

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Tempoyak Ikan Bilis

Tempoyak Curry Fish with Terung Dayak (RM25). I quite enjoyed this dish – especially the terung dayaks (sour eggplants)  which I have taken a liking to  from my dinner at  the.Dyak  last night.  This  is a thick salty tangy dish with a creamy santan base,  sour terung dayaks and faint hint of  tempoyak.   A mild tasting dish which is very moreish.  I think I am a new convert to tempoyak now.  A trip to the central market to get a few of these is in order. Talking about my laziness, here’s an interesting blog on a couple who went on a durian hunting trail all over the world for a year (link here). Now, if  only I have the motivation…

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Tempoyak Curry Fish with Terung Dayak

This is my friend’s favourite – Deep fried Kai-Lan with Chicken Floss (RM15) which she has high praises for. She liked the crunchy leaves and sweet chicken floss while I preferred the stir-fried stalks. It was drizzled with fish sauce which imparted a light sweet taste. A dish that looked healthy but certainly not!

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Deep fried Kai-Lan with Chicken Floss

Smoked Duck Kerabu (RM20). Kerabu means salad (I googled). This is smoked duck strips that is deep-fried then served on a bed of slaw and garnished with a lot of lemon grass and shallots. A very salty, yet delectable dish, served with a drizzle of light fish sauce (again) 😊

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Smoked Duck Kerabu

Umai (RM25). This is the dish I have been waiting SO long. Raw fish cooked in lime or cerviche. The presentation was nice – raw fish on a bed of slaw surrounded by a few slices of cucumbers and topped with shallots and lemongrass. Unfortunately, not what I had imagined because it was not ‘cooked in lime’. I detected fishiness from the fish and relied heavily on the accompanying sauce of chili padi, garlic, lime to mask the taste. In fact, I like the hot sauce so much that I burnt my mouth!😳 Lucky I have my cold glass of lemon -mint infused water at hand and half serve of rice to bind me over.

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Umai

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Garlic, shallot, lemongrass, lime sauce

Overall, an hour of satisfying meal in the company of an old friend in a totally relaxing atmosphere.  A different experience from  the.Dyak  and a different way of cooking traditional Dayak cuisine.

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Orang Hutan

Dining the Headhunter’s Way @ the.Dyak, Kuching, Malaysia

Date of Visit: September 9 2013

As a foodie-culturalista, I am keen to find out what the Dayaks and their much feared forebears, the headhunters ate.

Although the indigenous tribe in Borneo collectively known as ‘Dayak’ comprises 40% of the population in Sarawak, it is perplexing to discover that there is only 1 fine dining restaurant in Kuching serving authentic Dayak cuisine – the.Dyak which opened in late 2011.

The restaurant is an attention-grabbing corner shop in a shophouse, with 2 big red pillars decorated in Dayak florid motifs. One enters the restaurant through the elaborately decorated gable entry into an Aladdin cave of Dayak treasures. Every single inch of the wall is adorned – mirrors, beadworks, weavings, family portraitures, blowpipes, sapes, just to name the few – totally making a cultural anthropologist swoon. One can truly chillax chief-of-the-longhouse-style in the air-conditioned comfort, perhaps even updating one’s Facebook status or write a review on TripAdvisor (which is a popular mode of advertising for the competitive restaurant market in Kuching) with the free wifi provided.

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Elaborately decorated gable entrance in traditional motifs

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Indigenous artefacts adorning the wall

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More artefacts towards the back of the restaurant

I am especially intrigued with the Dayak motifs and designs – each piece tells a story. (Some introductory background info here)

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R: Sape (3-string musical instrument)
L: Table cloth

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Motif of a Dayak man on the gable entrance

Navigating a Dayak menu of unfamiliar food is a breeze with a pictorial menu with English descriptions and an attentive waiter on standby to explain the intrinsics of the dishes. There are many items in the menu ranging from grilled, roasted and fermented meats; fermented durians, jungle shoots and vegetables, many of which I have never tried. I was disappointed to find that sago worms, puffer fish and raw fish which were the dishes I had especially came for needed 2 weeks advance notice.

Despite that, there are other interesting indigenous Dayak cuisine that impressed me.

First to arrive at our table was the Tilapia Terung Dayak (RM35). A giant fish head thrusting out from the platoon of aromatic lemongrass, fried garlic and shallots in a thick piquant yellow turmeric soup. The star here is the unassuming ‘terung dayak‘ or sour eggplant , an indigenous fruit to Borneo resembling tomato, socking a KO mouth-puckering sour punch to the soup. I am very drawn to the toughness of the terung dayak which did not disintergrate in the cooking process, thus giving me enjoyment in every bite. The fish on the other hand was so-so with lots of small bones, so best eat with caution. My dining companion who has strong aversions to fishiness told me that this is a farmed fish because she detected ‘muddiness’ in the fish. Little wonder, since fresh river fish is hard to come by due to water pollution and over-fishing of the past.

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Tilapia Terung Dayak

With the plethora of salty-tangy-aromatics, rescue came in the form of red unhusked rice (RM3 per person). Perfect for soaking up the gravies and soups to placate my over-worked taste buds.

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Red unhusked rice

The dish that I was looking forward to was Manok Lulun (RM23), also commonly known as Ayam Pansoh. This is traditional Dayak cuisine of chicken cooked in bamboo with ginger, onions, lemongrass, ginger flowers and tapioca leaves. However, the zingy soup is a tad too salty and I could not detect any bamboo fragrance at all, perhaps it was overpowered by the use of lemongrass.

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Manok Lulun

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Chicken pieces in Manok Lulun with ginger flower petal

In the hunter-gatherer nomadic tribes around the world, fresh meats are scarce and usually preserved for important events and festivals. With fermented foods all the rage at the moment, I am eager to test out indigenously cured meat dishes.

Jani Kasam (RM25) is fermented pork with fat and skin intact (3 -layered meat), sautéed with tapioca leaves and garlic. This is my favourite dish, unfortunately not for the uninitiated. It has the pungent smell of stinky beancurd, very salty and very sour – but for me – totally appetising!

This is the first time that I have eaten the slippery and mushy tapioca leaves. It has a very interesting soft textures which I enjoyed. Apparently, tapioca or cassava leaves were part of the Dayak’s staple diet. They have a lot of beneficial minerals and were foraged plants that grew in the wild. Nowadays, they are cultivated at almost all the longhouses.

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Jani Kasam with Tapioca Leaves

Another beneficial plant that I have never tried is the Daun Ubi Randau Guring (RM12) or Sweet Potato Leaves. This is a delicious sautéed vegetables with garlic and desiccated coconut, the original version has dried shrimps which I have asked to be omitted due to my allergy.

According to a new report from the University of Arkansas, sweet potato leaves has the world’s richest source of disease-fighting antioxidants and poised to become the next big health-food craze – Glad I’ve tasted it now!

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Daun Ubi Randau Guring

The finale to our meal is the much lauded Tuak ice-cream (Rm6.50). Tuak is fermented rice wine akin to Chinese rice wine. The alcohol content ranges from low 10% up to 50%. This is an easy to assemble dessert at home (provided one knows how to make tuak), a scoop of vanilla ice-cream on top of fermented rice or jiuniang, which happens to be my favourite dessert (my review of the jiuniang in Hong Kong here ), doused with tuak and finished with crunchy pralines toppings. A decadently refreshing dessert.

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Tuak ice-cream

My general verdict of traditional Dayak cuisine is that it is healthy food consisting of previously foraged (now cultivated) and fermented foods. I am sure that the.Dyak had modernised the menu to suit modern tastebuds, thus the afinity to Thai cuisine in the use of aromatics such as lemongrass, shallots and garlic. Taste-wise, I find the overall taste of the dishes to be quite similar and a bit salty. Food is on the expensive side, with a glass of warm water costing RM1.

While googling info on Dayak cuisine, I found this write-up on capitalising on Sarawak cultural food (here), the.Dyak’s proprietor is one of the restauranteur interviewed. Let’s hope for new Dayak restaurants openings!

‘P.Ramlee: Celebrating A Legend’ Musical @ BCCK, Kuching, Malaysia

Date of Show: September 10 2013

P Ramlee is a Malaysian icon. Ever the ladies man, he was also a hero for the macho set with his moustache, dimpled boyish grin and twinkling eyes. He was a megastar akin to George Clooney in his days. From his beginning as a musician in a kampung (village) in Penang, his talents exceeded from composing 360 songs to script writing and directing/ producing 66 movies.

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P Ramlee Banner at BCCK

(My Update: 10 days in the town of Boo, seemed an eternity. Whilst deciphering non-sensical letters letters issued by a local Datuk Pemanca and his daughter whose name totally contradicts her namesake – angry, venomous and NOT happy- had kept me amused, I still need a breather!)

As if the heaven had heard my prayers, I received a text from my friend Sandy, that she had secured a ticket for me to see a P.Ramlee musical in Kuching. This is the first time a professional troupe of artistes had flown in to stage a musical in the outback state of Borneo and I was truly excited to see my first Malay musical.

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Ticket

The concert was scheduled for a 7:30pm start but as usual in the serfdom of Sarawak, there is always a delay to accommodate some self-important VIPs who insist on making an entrance by arriving late. Even though this evening’s performance was sponsored by the State Government of Sarawak to commemorate 50 years of entering the Federation of Malaya together with the state of Sabah to form Malaysia or under the political banner, ‘Sarawak’s 50th Year of Progress in Malaysia‘ – a free event should still start on time, especially with the time costs of over a 1000 eager audiences -young and old – seated and waiting for the show to start! (Sir Elton John never tolerate give sh*t like this! Nor Rolling Stones for that matter! 7:30pm means 7:30pm!)

In the short 2-hour musical, the show chronicles a summary of P.Ramlee’s life romances and career highlights through the use of lightings, props and video clips amid the singing and dancing.

The story begins with P.Ramlee’s early days in Penang wooing a lass called ‘Azizah‘ by penning a song after her. This song became a runaway success for him, giving him the opportunity to work in Singapore to pursue his dreams. In Singapore, he met his first wife, Junaidah. Unfortunately, Junaidah could not handle her husband’s rising fame and decided to leave him. A broken hearted P.Ramlee then met with his second wife, Nurizan who had left the Sultan of Perak for him. During their marriage, he directed his first movie ‘Penarik Beca’ (Tricycle Driver) – a story about forbidden love due to the different family backgrounds. The movie was an instant hit. Naturally, P.Ramlee got engrossed in his work, thus putting a strain on his relationship with his wife. They later divorced. P.Ramlee then met Saloma, his third wife. They remained together until the day he died. The downfall of P.Ramlee’s brilliant career ended with the separation of Singapore from Malaya. As a patriot, P.Ramlee decided to move to Kuala Lumpur. In the final scene, P.Ramlee and Saloma reminisced about their life, singing a meaningful rendition of ‘Air Mata di Kuala Lumpur‘ (Will I be remembered, Sally?) which reflected his life and his worries that he will be forgotten.

I gather from the karaoke-style singing that the leading actor and 2 of the 3 lead actresses were not trained singers, but the humorous lyrics and jokes kept the audiences amused. The lead actor is Tony Eusoff, a Sarawakian architect-turned-actor who did a fine portrayal of P.Ramlee with his trademark hands-on-his-side chicken-wing style and speaking with an intonation.

Nonetheless, the success in the musical is not only attributed to the lively singing and joget-style/ à gogo dancings of the actors and actresses but also relied heavily on the change of props. One of the highlight was the steam train puffing with dry-ice rolling onto stage which later split into two to reveal the singing troupe on the train. It was exciting and wowed the audience. Flashing lights provided glitz, glamour and drama to the stage. The trio of paparazzo provided comedic relief as well as to fill in the gaps in background stories, making the story-line even more enthralling.

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Encore!

I should also praise the well-behaved audiences who did not push nor shove their way into the hall through the single 1-door entrance and for not standing up to get a better view of the low stage. Kudos to the best behaved crowds I have ever came across!

All-in-all, a marvellous night out! Thanks Sandy!

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Source: The Star Online

For more pictures, visit the local daily here.

While reading on P. Ramlee, I came upon an article written by Lim Kit Siang titled ‘Broke and Broken – Should P.Ramlee Have Came Back‘. He felt compelled to pen this article after watching P.Ramlee’s documentary in the History Channel. He used P.Ramlee as a case-study for any talented Malaysian contemplating on returning home to Malaysia. A provoking article as always from one of the Opposition Leaders in Malaysia.

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Exhibition corner

Additional resources on P.Ramlee can be found at P Ramlee Cyber Museum and P Ramlee Museum in Kuala Lumpur.

Something’s Amiss @ Steakhouse, Hilton Kuching, Malaysia

Date of Visit: July 11 2013

Not sure whether I am alone on this – but, do you get a mixed feeling of guilt + depression – when you stay sedentary the whole day, only shuffling between meetings and eating?   I often do.  And I have been eating sugar-laden food for 2 days in a row! (here and here)

Despite a more than filling lunch  at Bangkok Thai Seafood Restaurant less than 5 hours ago, we still have ample time for dinner since our flight back to The Boo is at 8:20pm.

Our meeting concluded at the Hilton, naturally we thought of having a quick bite  at the hotel’s cafe.  Unfortunately, but the cafe will only open at 6:30pm for the iftar buffet.  So we tried our luck at the Steakhouse, upon enquiry the kitchen was willing to accommodate us for an early dinner at 6pm.  I am pleasantly surprised to find that Steakhouse has been nominated one of Malaysia’s Best Restaurants for 3 years running, from the displays of their awards near the entrance.

This is a small restaurant modestly done.  Clean, no food smell along with  attentive service from the wait staff who made sure that our glasses are never empty.

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Interior

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Awards

First we were given drinks and then offered  complimentary brioche presented in a cup. A perfect break from eating the white spongy ‘mantaos’ from Breadsense which I am getting rather fond of in The Boo.

Speaking of which, I am wanting to cut out all things sweet, white and processed but it is proving to be very hard, especially since sugar creeps up on you – even in their most natural forms in fruits and vegetables.

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Brioche

For my main, I was deciding between a Oven Roasted Barramundi (RM49) or Grilled Salmon (RM57), in the end the fennel salad that was to accompany the salmon won me over.  As I was tucking in my perfectly grilled salmon which  was still pick inside, I thought that something was amiss, I pondered then remembered that there was supposed to be a fennel salad.  I then realised that the kitchen had very cleverly  masqueraded bits of celeries as fennels hidden under the orange segments and olives.  Not wanting to kick a fuss, I sucked up in finishing my course.  The salmon itself was not bad, the bits of oranges, olives and celery imparted a tangy sweetness and earthly taste to the fish.

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Grilled Salmon

While waiting for our bill, we were served house-made petit fours made of corn flakes, white chocolate and coconut butter.

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Petit Fours

The Steakhouse has a good priced $105 4-course set menu which I hope to try in my next visit.

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Set Menu

Opposite the hotel is a waterfront esplanade which is perfect for an evening stroll.

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Esplanade

Before I sign off this post, this is an aerial shot of Kuching before our plane landed this morning.  Kuching is a lovely quaint town, far superior than The Boo in terms of facilities and infrastructure – clean and rather pretty even the lawns by the roadside are manicured!   Since Kuching is only 40mins away, I must plan my next getaway to visit the Bako National Park and Damai Beach.

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Aerial View of Kuching