So I am working from my hotel room, and too busy to go out and get some lunch. I decide to order room service and press the number for in-room dining. “I would like to order some lunch, please” “What would you like Sir?” “I would like the Thai Red Curry Chicken please” “Certainly Sir. It will be there in 30 minutes.” 5 mins later my phone rings. “Sir, the Thai Red Curry Chicken you ordered” “Yes” “Do you want Chicken or Beef?”
Living in India, I had forgotten that Christmas was coming up. I knew it was soon but had forgotten how soon, as there is very little indication here of the approaching festival.
Unlike in Europe and I am sure in the U.S, the streets aren’t decorated and most shops don’t display anything Christmassy at all.
Even when I lived in Auckland, the Christmas decorations were pretty sad. To be fair it may have changed now as I haven’t been back for 6 years, but there used to be a few lonely stars strung up in Queen St, (the main shopping street) and there was a large and creepy animatronic Santa on the side of one of the buildings. Creepy because one of his eyelids went up and down in a very slow wink as he beckoned passers-by with an equally slowly bending fore- finger, giving the impression of a dirty old man inviting you to sit on his lap.
Asia does Christmas really well. If you are ever in Hong Kong at this time, for example, you must take a boat trip on the harbour and see the massive skyscrapers lit up with different Christmas scenes; 40 storey Christmas trees, or Santa and his reindeer flying around the building (in light form) Last year one of the malls had even built a mountain complete with a working Ski-lift ferrying half-size model humans up and down it’s slopes.
I used to deliberately take a route home that meant crossing through the Lobby of the old Mandarin Hotel so I would be given a bag of freshly roasted chestnuts by the Hotel doorman.
It was only when I arrived in Singapore last week and left the airport that I realised what time of the year it was. It was the herds of red Reindeer gambolling under the Banyan Trees that gave it away.
The decorations here are fantastic and it doesn’t take long to get over the incongruity of Snowmen, Reindeer and Christmas trees in 32 degrees heat. The main shopping street Orchard Rd looks stunning at night with beautiful lights strung all along it, icicles hanging from the trees and outside every mall beautiful Christmas trees, each one different and many of them 2 or 3 storeys high.
In between staring with my mouth agape I took a few photos but my cell-phone camera can in no way capture the atmosphere or do the light sufficient justice.
Guess you will have to visit yourself!
There are macarons and there are macarons. I like to think I am becoming a bit of a connoisseur although this is a little big-headed of me as my sole experience of good macarons is when I partook of the delicious items at Laduree in Singapore(which I posted about here) after which I realized that all other macarons paled in comparison. A Macaron snob is probably a more apt description.
A recent trip to Hong Kong gave me the opportunity to indulge my new passion once again as there is a branch of another famous French Patissiere called Pierre Herme.
The shop is in the IFC Mall on HK Island, located very conveniently on the route I took every day from the office back to my hotel. Never being one to resist temptation I popped in on the first day to sample Monsieur Herme’s wares. Purely of course in the interests of culinary science as I wanted to compare with the Laduree macarons I had eaten in Singapore.
It’s a small shop. Smaller than Laduree in Singapore, perhaps reflecting the higher cost of real estate in HK, however there is still plenty of room for the glass display case filled with brightly colored macarons, like Blackbeard’s chest filled with treasure.
The first order of business is to choose a gift box, all different sizes and designs, the boxes themselves being quite collectible. One then gets down to the serious task of deciding what to fill the box with.
There are 17 different flavors plus there are often special flavors which are not on the regular menu. When I was there they had 4- 5 yoghurt filled macarons to choose from.
This makes it very difficult for a glutton like me, because I have to try all 17 flavors to decide which ones I like but by the time I have tried all 17 I have forgotten my preferences and have to start all over again. Terrible but sometimes one has to make these sacrifices!
In the end I settled for a small selection and took them back to my room for a little feast.
The macarons are truly a delight to the taste buds. Crispy on the outside with just the right amount of gooiness on the inside and each flavor distinctly different.
Some of the flavor descriptions are fantastic. How about “Pure Origin Peruvian Dark Chocolate, Morropan Province, Village of Asprobo”, or “Pistachio, Ceylon Cinnamon & Morello Cherry”? “White Truffle & Roasted Piedmont Hazelnut Slivers”? Or the Boss’s favorite” Mandarin Orange Olive Oil & Cucumber Water”. One even sounds like an aftershave: “Vanilla, Old Gold Agricultural Rum & Cedar Wood”. I wasn’t sure whether to eat it or rub it all over my face!
I loved the South American dark chocolate varieties (dark chocolate being another one of my numerous vices) but my overall favorite has to be the “Infiniment Café Au Café Vert Et Au Café Bourbon Pointu De La Reunion” or Green Coffee and Refined Bourbon Coffee from Reunion for the linguistically inept like me.
The big question is whose are better? Laduree’s or Pierre Herme’s? I honestly can’t say. Both are delicious and the flavors so varied it is hard to compare. Both places, the macarons are so moreish it is really difficult to restrain oneself from gorging on them. Also to be fair I had a little too much gap between visiting Laduree and visiting Pierre Herme so it is difficult to have an accurate flavor comparison. There is only one solution. I am back in Singapore at the end of the month so it looks like I will have to pay a repeat visit to Laduree to refresh my taste memories.
Remember I am doing this all for you my readers!
On a recent flight to Singapore while waiting for the inflight entertainment to start, I was leafing through the inflight mag looking at the pretty pictures.
Suddenly a picture of some brightly colored macarons caught my eye.
Now Tommy doesn’t get along well with gluten which limits the range of sweets he can gorge himself on. However macarons are on the allowed list so the photo piqued my interest and I felt Tommy awakening in his lair.
Reading further I discovered that the famous French Patisserie, Laduree had opened up in Singapore and was not far from the hotel where I would be staying. Gently arousing the Boss from her slumber with a quick elbow to the ribs, I told her of the grand plan formulating in my stomach brain.
Sure enough after settling into the hotel room we headed down Orchard Rd to Ngee Ann City to sample some French sweetness.
The shop is a delight to the eyes with it’s chandeliers and pale green interior lined with gift boxes and macaron towers. Taking pride of place in the center is the glass case filled with multicolored macarons.
Not knowing where to start we asked the helpful staff for advice. They are not cheap at SGD$3.80 each so financial propriety won over gluttony and we chose four different flavors based on their recommendations. Macarons packed and paid for we walked out the door and after only a few steps unable to resist temptation any longer we decided to eat one. 30 secs later the bag was empty and we were back in the shop being greeted again by the knowing grins of the shop assistants!
Throwing financial caution to the winds we bought another selection of flavors and this time vowed not to eat them before returning to the hotel room, which was an exercise in extreme willpower as they are mouth-wateringly delicious.
The dark chocolate and the salted caramel were my particular favorites, although I have to say it is hard to pick one flavor over another as they are all very good. Tommy was just grateful for some sugar.
So if you find yourself in Orchard Rd in Singapore pop into Laduree in Ngee Ann City. Your taste buds will thank me.
By the way, I am off to Hong Kong this week and I hear another “Master of Macarons” (just made that up but it sounds like a French Superhero) has opened in the IFC Mall on HK Island. It is called Pierre Herme and another blogger reckons it is better than Laduree. Never one to believe something without testing it for myself I intend to pay Monsieur Herme a visit. Watch this space!
Takashimaya S.C., Ngee Ann City, #02-09 – Singapore
Spotted this on a Bus Stop in Singapore. I was quite surprised because there dont seem to be any mosquitoes in Singapore so I wonder why they are bothered about Dengue. Unlike in India where you cant go outside between 5pm and 7pm without a Haz-Mat suit on, I have spent many an evening outdoors in Singapore and not been bitten once!
I have been off the blogging radar for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately the demands of earning enough to pay for my wildly extravagant lifestyle got in the way. It has had it’s advantages and disadvantages though. The advantages are that the Boss and I got to spend a couple of weeks in Hong Kong and Singapore. The disadvantage was that because of the nature of my work (Guns, Drugs and People smuggling) I spent a lot of that time in windowless Hotel function rooms talking inanities with clients about stuff that in the big picture of life makes no difference to anything.
The highlight of the trip for me though was to return to Hong Kong, my home for 7 years previously and the place where I met, wooed, and swept the Boss off her feet. (She regrets it now!)
Hong Kong will always hold a soft spot in my heart. When the Boss and I first left and moved back to New Zealand we used to seek out noisy Cantonese Restaurants so we could feel at home. Luckily we get the chance to revisit quite often and every time it is exciting. It’s an inspiring place, filled with a buzz that grips you and carries you along. Everywhere there is some form of sensory stimulus, whether amongst the teeming crowds in Central at lunch time or on a ferry trip to one of the outlying islands, watching the myriad vessels of all shapes and sizes passing by.
It has also changed a lot since I was a resident. And I don’t mean the obvious continual development of towering buildings. Walking around the business district of Central at lunch time I was struck by the many young cool looking and smartly dressed HK people speaking in American accented English, the offspring of those who fled to Canada and the US ahead of the handover to the Chinese in 1997.Returned to the country of their birth, well-educated, polished and eager to partake in making HK their own.
Areas like Sheung Wan in the Western part of HK Island have transformed from the predominantly Chinese trading houses to wine bars, cigar lounges and “private kitchens”. The area known as SoHo (South of Hollywood Rd) in its infancy when I left, has expanded and is filled with restaurants and bars of all persuasions, successfully toppling Lan Kwai Fong from its position as the nightlife hub.
And the famous Shanghai Tang Store in Pedder Street, purveyor of Chinese clothing with a modern twist has been replaced by Abercrombie and Fitch, whose store is staffed by very buff young Chinese men stripped to the waist, flexing their abs and pecs as they assist their customers. For all my female readers (and maybe some of the men?) I apologise for not taking photos, but taking photos of half-naked men for the edification of my readers is a point where I draw the line.
An experience one evening summed up what life in HK is like. Winding down in the Captain’s Bar of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel one evening after a stressful day, with a client and friend. It was midnight on a Wednesday. At the next table an expat was fast asleep, still in his suit and tie, while his friend studiously ignored him and nibbled on a bowl of almonds. On the other side a couple of American Chinese guys in brightly coloured pants and suede loafers sipped single malts and listened as the African-American woman with a bleached blonde Afro sang mellow jazz tunes. The bar was full and showed no signs of closing for the night.
My friend emptied his silver tankard and turned to me. “Wednesday night in HK! Do you know what Wednesday night is in Melbourne?” he asked. “It’s bin night! At this time of the evening I’m struggling down a dark alley dragging a smelly wheelie bin out to the street in the pouring rain!”