Category Archives: Travel

Bali Eats: Merah Putih. GO. NOW.

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The beauty that is Merah Putih, its excellent food and warm service, left us completely blissed out and floored. Suffice to say that it is THE best meal I have had in a long time, one that sits so well on the palette and the soul, that I dream of it day after day, two months on since we travelled to Bali for our family vacation. The last time I felt this grand about a meal, was after being taken through the most whimsical, molecular gastronomical treat at The Fat Duck. And that IS saying something because we dined at Merah Putih with our toddler in tow; any parent would know that dining with children tends to take away the luxury of eating in peace, and that often means that mastication of food doesn’t take place long enough for us to appreciate the nuances of flavours in even the most delightful mouthfuls. Long story short, we tend to shove food down as quickly as we can before the kid insists that LUNCH IS OVER, MAMA, and the truth is, we would be thankful to simply finish our main course, let alone fully appreciate what we eat because meals are often over in a jiffy. It is with a tiny stroke of luck and stunningly good food that kept our toddler, and us, glued to the table for the entire meal.
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Soto Ayam

Merah Putih is located in a surprisingly quiet stretch along the long and winding Jalan Petitenget, segments of which are home to popular bars, restaurants, luxury hotels and chic boutiques. We took a cab straight to the restaurant after a mid-morning coffee break at Revolver Espresso (more to come on this hidden gem of a café), after realising that unit numbers don’t run in order for addresses in Bali. It was a wise decision because we would have gotten completely lost on foot, and it helps that Bluebird taxis are pretty safe to go with and fares are very, VERY easy on the pocket.
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Chargrilled Squid & Octopus
Banana blossom, chilli, tamarind, peanuts

Walking up the flight of stairs to the entrance of Merah Putih and into the bar, I cursed under my breath as I took in the swanky interiors; I was in a shabby tank top that has seen better days a decade ago, shorts and sandals and we were definitely under-dressed. I had expected some snooty wait staff to throw us glances of disapproval but there was absolutely none of that, and all we received were ooohs and aaaahs generously doled out to Faith, the littlest patron in the restaurant that afternoon. *phew* As we were led through the dark corridor to our table, both M and I let out gasps of delight at the gorgeous interiors. It was as if we had emerged from under layers and layers of foliage into a clearing. With lush greenery, fish ‘ponds’ skirting the perimeter and ample light coming through windows and the glass canopy above, it felt like we were walking into the most beautiful greenhouse (for all you annoying people, like me, who love to keep people from digging in by taking photos of the food, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful, naturally lit, restaurant to photograph your subjects). The only downside was the restaurant doesn’t provide high chairs for children, so we had to fashion a booster seat out of cushions that the staff provided and secured F to the chair with the buckle of our baby carrier.

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Fried soft shell crab salad, chilli, pickles

Merah Putih offers set lunches for only S$10 per person, but we ditched that and shared a few dishes over the signature Red (merah) & White (putih) Rice instead. Each course was about S$6-10, and the bill came up to about S$45+ for a very sumptuous lunch, including two mocktails (about S$3 each) and three individual servings of desserts (about S$4 each). Now, this may be rather expensive as compared to other meals we have had in Bali, but the quality of the food is unsurpassed, whether in Bali or other parts of the world.

To start off, we were served two complimentary portions of Soto Ayam; the warm, savoury broth was packed full of flavour from the chicken, shallots and herbs, and went perfectly with the fragrant Red & White rice. This was such a hit with Faith that we grudgingly gave up our portions for her. The waitress very thoughtfully gave us another on seeing this and Faith was much too happy to have an extra serving!

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Tahu Isi Jamur
Vegetable filled organic tofu fritters, oyster mushrooms

The Chargrilled Squid & Octopus proved to be one of the best versions I have ever had (the other stunner was an unforgettable octopus stew that our friend’s father whipped up when we visited them in Porto). The morsels were superbly tender, far from the chewy, rubbery nonsense that many others have served up, and boasted big flavours that were perfectly balanced – the dish was tangy, savoury and ever so slightly spicy for that tropical kick. It was absolutely mouthwatering, literally, in the best way possible!

Even though it was our least favourite dish in the repertoire that afternoon, Jangkang, the fried soft shell crab salad, was delightfully crispy and it came in very generous servings. This meant that M and I did not have to fight to the death for the last piece of crunchy goodness!
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Iga Sapi Bakar
Chargrilled beef shortribs, lalapan, sambal hijau

An underdog that made our hearts flutter, Tahu Isi Jamur, which consists of vegetable filled organic tofu fritters served with oyster mushrooms, was recommended to us by the waitress. We thought nothing of it when we first saw it on the menu and were not even close to ordering it as it didn’t sound all that interesting, but boy, were we glad to have trusted the waitress on this one. The perfectly deep-fried slivers of tofu, crispy, and quiveringly tender on the inside, were stuffed with well-seasoned sautéed oyster mushrooms, which tasted almost like chunks of very juicy and flavoursome meat!

My favourite dish has got to be Iga Sapi Bakar, which is a meltingly soft slab of chargrilled beef short rib that has just about lost all of its integrity, in terms of texture and morality because it made me gasp much too audibly. It was shockingly tender, I was most definitely too loud when I exclaimed, ‘OH-EM-GEE, THIS FEELS LIKE TOFU!’ when I cut into it with a fork, with nary a Newton exerted. Thankfully, the restaurant was rather empty and I only drew an embarrassed glance from the husband. Or maybe two glances, because I rolled my eyes and went, ‘OH MY…..’ after I popped a generous chunk of shortrib that was smothered in the rich peanut gravy (not unlike the best satay sauce you would have had) into my mouth. The shortrib came with a green sambal, which delivered the perfect spicy hit to cut the richness, almost unctuousness of the meat. I was annoyed when M took the last bite (‘I KNOW I SAID IT’S OKAY BUT NO, IT’S NOT OKAY’).

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Dessert board with our three picks

We were stuffed at this point but given the merits of the dishes before, we couldn’t leave without having some sweets. After all, we don’t know when we would be back in Bali again (although I have sworn the husband to making this an annual family pilgrimage…we have been to Bali four times and love it more and more each time we visit). M and I often talk about how meals are never quite perfect, with the starters and mains impressing us, and desserts letting us down, or vice versa, so we were very eager to test this theory out with Merah Putih, especially when it is touted to be one of the rising stars in Bali.

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Spiced chocolate tart, hibiscus jelly, cashew praline, vanilla ice cream

We were more than happy to have our theory proven wrong. The spiced chocolate tart was rich, lusciously smooth and subtly laced with cinnamon (I believe), and it went swimmingly well with the slightly tart, yet sweet, hibiscus jelly and crunchy, sweet praline. Of course, good quality vanilla ice cream couldn’t hurt!

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Kelapa Tart
Young coconut pannacotta, mango, palm sugar crumble

The coconut pannacotta was such a refreshing change from the usual English renditions I’ve had. It had the perfect wobble, and the mildly sweet coconut flavour was the perfect backdrop for the rich, smooth and tangy mango puree. The palm sugar crumble lent good crunch for a well-balanced contrast in textures.

201405 Bali Eats Merah Putih 9Kue Lapis
Calamansi lime brulee, spiced layer cake, nashi pear

M didn’t enjoy the Kue Lapis as much. To be fair, he has never liked the spiced layer cake. But I thought the spices in the cubes of kueh lapis went really well with the calamansi lime brulee. It’s a surprisingly good combination that works! My only complaint was the cream in the brulee has somewhat masked the tangy and citrusy fragrance of calamansi lime a little too much. Nonethless, I’d be happy to pay for this again!

201405 Bali Eats Merah Putih 10Faith absolutely working on the lychee and kemangi mocktail and her signature wave

You can probably tell by now that we had a whole lot of food and spent a fair bit of time at Merah Putih. We were pleasantly surprised by how amazing the food was, and we could eat in peace only because Faith thoroughly enjoyed the food too. Whenever she got impatient, waiting for the food to arrive or for the check to be signed, we took her to the sides to peer at the fishes in the ‘ponds’ and she was thrilled! The staff obviously love children too, so it made the lunch, which was tops to begin with, even better. Both M and I utterly regretted not having dinner at Merah Putih on our last day in Bali – we wound up at this tourist trap known as Warung Taulan, no thanks to touters, and had the worst food we have ever sank our teeth into in Bali. Well, there is only one thing left to do…I shall count down to our next trip to Bali and this time, I’d be sure to head to Merah Putih again. And I think you should too.

Merah Putih is located at:

Jl.Petitenget No.100x, Kerobokan
Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia 80361
Tel: (0361) 8465950

Everything Is More Beautiful

I love to write when I am inspired. The story simply…flows. The process of stringing words together becomes so effortless, and the by-product, a memory that evokes and stirs. I may not be a wordsmith and I may not have a flawless command of the English language, but being able to pen my thoughts delights me to no end.

These days, inspiration plays hide-and-seek with me. Too busy, too tired, I often find myself psyched for that moment, only to be distracted or rudely snapped out of it. But yesterday evening, I was all alone. M was hard at work on a night shift, and little Faith was fast asleep. I didn’t realise how much I miss being by myself, until the quietude consumed me. I didn’t realise how much I miss being able to revel in nothing but my memories. I didn’t realise how much I miss being able to think. It was nice, being alone.

I found myself reaching out for my laptop and leafing through the tens of thousands of photos I have taken over the past three years. You see, I first fell in love with photography back in London and have been quite the shutterbug since, albeit a very amateurish one. Every photo brings me right back to the moment that I captured. There isn’t a single image that I couldn’t put my finger to. In a mere few hours, I took an epic tour of my life and it was, for the lack of a better phrase, pretty freakin’ awesome.

Some moments were better than others, of course. Some were good AND bad, such as the ones during our first family vacation in Perth. The three of us were just grasping the concept of FAMILY, and learning how to live with one another. Faith was barely three months old then and fell rather ill during the trip (think at least eight watery, colourless poopy diapers a day). We were worried sick and comforted her as much as we could, but we were also pissing mad whenever she screamed in the car seat. And she screamed EVERY SINGLE TIME. M and I tried to relax, but there was so much going on that we couldn’t. When the nights fell, we shuddered as we braced ourselves for hourly wakings that a sleep regression had brought upon us. Yet, there were the moments, when we felt so much love from our lovely hosts (the McLeans, who have never met us in person but generously offered to put us up and even welcomed us with our first Australian barbie), tilted our heads back with our eyes closed so the warm and inviting rays hit our faces, and held hands as we silently strolled through the campus of my father’s alma mater with his granddaughter nicely tucked into the carrier.

To others, this may just be another holiday, with a wee bit more drama, pitstops, and a bigass diaper bag, but to me, our first family vacation taught me love, patience, endurance, strength, generosity, friendship and the faith that we can get through anything as long as we are together.

Everything was more beautiful. Even the skies were bluer.

It was lovely, being alone.

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Florence Eats: Best Truffle Pasta at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco

201301 Florence Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco

The world ends today*. I’m looking for the best dishes to tuck into before I croak. What do I go for?

Definitely the taglierini al tartufo (taglierini with fresh truffle) from the kitchens of Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco. It was so good, that we replicated this dish at home. Seductively heady and nutty, I couldn’t stop gushing over this rendition, much to the amusement of diners at the next table.

The pappardelle al cinghiale (wild boar ragu) comes a close second. I am not really into game, but this was smokey and very flavoursome, without being nauseatingly pungent (a smell that I have come to associate with game). The silky ribbons of pappardelle were the perfect accompaniment to the chunky wild boar sauce.

I’m a pasta aficionado, so I would do away with the roast meats and so-so desserts at Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco, and hit the streets for some good ol’ gelato!

*No, the world isn’t really going to end today….well, I wouldn’t know, would I?!

Check out our trip to Pisa and other adventures in Florence!

Osteria del Cinghiale Bianco is located at:

Borgo San Jacopo, 62r
50125 Firenze, Italia

Florence Eats: A Very Quick (and Cheap!) Bite

Let me put it this way…there is waaaay too much good food in Florence. We were spoilt for choice and I would have hoovered every pasta dish that I came across on the menus, if not for the fact that there is such a thing as a satiable appetite, even for a glutton like me.

Every meal in our itinerary was accounted for, but S from Breadetbutter urged us to try the sandwiches at Il Fratellini, a hole-in-the-wall kiosk that offers delectable yet affordable sandwiches and a good selection of wine, so  of course we HAD to have tea.

Now, I ain’t a fan of sandwiches, having once lived in London for too long and grazed on good and bad ones for a fair number of years. But this was DA BOMB. Warm crusty, yet fluffy bread with prosciutto arrosto and smothered in crema tartufata (roast pork ham with truffle cream) for only €3! Very good indeed. I mean, just look at the truffle cream oozing out of the sandwich! I regret to inform you that my husband devoured most of it. Tsk tsk.

201301 Florence Il Fratellini sandwich

Check out our trip to Pisa and other adventures in Florence!

Il Fratellini is located at:

Via dei Cimatori 38/r
50122 Firenze

The Tapestry of Firenze

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[Clockwise from top] Duomo, Santa Maria Novella, another facet of Duomo

It’s been more than 1.5 years since we travelled to Florence (yes, I know this post is waaaaay overdue) but time has not stolen the memories I have of the city. In many ways, Florence is not unlike other European cities, woven into a tapestry of the old and new, the classic and the kitsch. But it is somewhat richer, more flavourful and vivid than others.

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[Clockwise from top left] The Cart, Men and Women in the parade for Scoppio del Carro

We were there during Easter of 2011, and as with every poorly planned holiday we’ve had, we were greeted by the deafening surprise that is Scoppio del Carro, otherwise known as the Explosion of the Cart, an Easter Sunday tradition of Florence in which a cart chock full of fireworks is lit outside the Duomo. The Singaporean in me writhed when we heard the explosions and bells ringing as we stepped out of the hotel; I was kiasi (Hokkien for ‘afraid of death’) and kaypoh (meaning ‘nosey’) at the same time, a most clashing combination of traits that eventually leaned towards curiosity and led us to the source of the mayhem. Yes, there was the most elaborate cart I’ve ever seen, shooting flames at the cheering crowd in dangerously close proximity. Men and women dressed in the most colourful robes with plush feathers adorning their heads, arms yielding fake weapons and trumpets, were lined up in the most chaotic and loud parade I’ve ever come across. M and I almost lost each other in the crowd and it got a little scary when a stampede threatened to break but the festival was utterly brilliant!

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Carvings (at Duomo), sculptures (Benvenuto Cellini’s Perseus with Head of Medusa can be found at Loggia dei Lanzi) and random alley in Florence

The city does offer quieter sights. We admired ornate carvings that so often adorned the magnificent buildings in Florence. The open-air gallery at Loggia dei Lanzi is an inspiring collection of sculptures, punctuated by the clusters of tourists lounging in the sun. We also wandered down many alleys, which in my opinion, were most beautiful when dusk fell.

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Vintage trinkets at Mercato delle Pulci (located at Piazza dei Ciompi)

Florence is home to a number of flea markets as well, my favourite being Mercato delle Pulci, which carried trinkets that made me, a vintage junkie, hyperventilate.

We also ate like kings in the Italian city. Huge slabs of Florentine steak, silky gelato, the simplest yet most flavoursome pastas and fresh produce (more reviews to follow, so watch this space!) were not uncommon on our food itinerary.

There’s only one thing to do after visiting Florence. Visit again!

Check out our trip to Pisa and other adventures to follow in Florence!

Florence Eats: The Great Gelato Battle

20121213 Gelato Florence

One of the greatest pilgrimages that we made in Florence was to various gelaterias to fill our jelly bellies with scoops and scoops of gelato.

I wasn’t interested in wasting sacred room in my tummy, and calories, so I looked to Breadetbutter for her recommendations on various gelateria she visited in Florence, and to the hotel concierge, Andreas, for his favourite shop in town.

Amidst all the steaks and pastas that we tried to fit into our pits, we could only drop by three. All are well worth a visit, although there are some differences that made my favourite stand out a little.

(Anticlockwise from top)

1. Perché no!

The gelateria is a tiny little thing tucked away in a small street in town, but packs a power punch in certain rather innovative flavours. I had the hazelnut and sesame flavours, hazelnut being my staple at any gelateria and sesame being a fascinating combination of chestnut honey, sesame caramel and mozzarella. The hazelnut was a little icy, much to my disappointment (it could be a batch problem, because streams and streams of people were coming in to check out their favourite gelateria). Sesame, on the other hand, knocked my socks off! It was creamy, very nutty, and well-texturised with crunchy specks of sesame caramel without being the least bit cloying. YUM. M, a fan of citrusy notes, was floored by the extremely tangy lemon flavour. Let’s just say that the lemon is so tangy, that I’m pretty sure it moves mountains…and chronically Botox-ed faces.

Via Tavolini 19r50122 Firenze

2. Gelateria La Carraia

This was the first gelateria we visited, after our steak dinner at Osteria del Caffe Italiano. The long walk from the osteria, across the Amo River, and finally, to the shop gave us plenty of time to digest the cow we had devoured. I went for the chocolate and hazelnut flavours; they were delightfully creamy but were unfortunately a little too sweet for me. I wish I had room to try more flavours before passing a verdict, for there was a painfully large crowd at the gelateria, a testament to how good the gelato is touted to be.

Piazza N. Sauro 25/r50124 Firenze

3. Vivoli

Andreas, the cheerful concierge at NH Porta Rossa, let us in on his favourite gelateria, and boy, were we glad to hunt it down on our last day in the city. It is a shame that we didn’t drop by sooner as Vivoli is just a stone’s throw from Osteria del Caffe Italiano, the restaurant we visited on our first night in Florence. This gelateria houses a good number of seats, and quickly won us over with the best gelato we have ever had. Perfectly creamy, clean flavours done to the perfect sweetness…do you need a better reason to check this gelateria out? I’m very partial to the hazelnut over here, by the way.

Via dell’Isola delle Stinche 7r, 50122 Firenze

Check out our trip to Pisa and other adventures in Florence!

Florence Eats: I Didn’t Know My Husband Is A Carnivore

The shadows fled the city of Pisa and descended upon Firenze, prowling the cobbled alleys in search of flesh and blood…

Oh, alright…who am I fooling? We were nothing like ghouls and vamps, but we were certainly making a hasty beeline for a bloody (no pun intended) good Florentine steak dinner. After checking into NH Porta Rossa, we wandered down the street, awestruck by the architecture before getting lost at the rather worn-out end of Via della Vigna Vecchia. It was pretty dark in the alleys after the sun set, with the meagre number of street lamps in that area. At the risk of sounding like a complete chicken, I was convinced we were going to be killed by someone…or something. I was starting to hurl expletives at my friend for recommending this restaurant to us, when we circled the peeling block for the 163rd time and finally found the osteria.

The restaurant was empty. I thought we were done for but decided we should give the food a chance as the friend who recommended the restaurant used to be a chef. Also, Italians don’t go for dinner till late in the night, unlike us who were right on time (London time, that is…) to fill our bellies. We sat down and hoped for a meal so good that it would make up for all the worries about getting killed.

Now, we did have an excellent dinner. The crostini was lovely, especially when piled on high with nutty cannellini. The buffalo mozzarella was such a delectable, creamy incarnate of perfection that it was almost worth getting killed for one sinful bite. The tomatoes in the salad couldn’t get any sweeter, or fresher. And the steak, oh that divine piece of meat! We devoured a massive 1.3kg porterhouse and drew astonished/disgusted/I-don’t-know glances from other diners. Well, M had the most of it; whilst I was quite taken by how succulent and tasty the steak was, I couldn’t quite stomach more of it as the hunk of meat looked too rare for a visual eater like me. M was delighted of course, he didn’t have to fight his wife over the other love of his life! I sat through most of the meal, watching in awe as M alternated shoving morsels of steak and sipping Chianti like a well-oiled eating machine. Amazing but scary, the feat and my husband, that is….

We finished our first Florentine dinner off with a romantic walk across Ponte Santa Trinita for some gelato, naturally, feeling really quite chuffed that we made it out of the alleys alive, and more importantly, that my husband’s love for giant hunks of juicy steak, could explain his tall stature. Hmmm. We learn something new everyday.

Check out our trip to Pisa and other adventures to follow in Florence!

Osteria del Caffe Italiano is located at:

Via Isola delle Stinche 11/13r, Firenze

Tel. +39 055 28 90 20

The Beauty of Pisa in Black & White

It was long my dream to visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa, having read so much about it during my school days when I was a teen. When M and I organised back-to-back weekend trips last spring to take advantage of the Easter weekend and the specially designated Bank holiday for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding, Pisa and Florence just had to be included in our holiday plans.

After a short flight to Pisa and an easily-hitched bus ride into the Piazza del Duomo, we found ourselves dwarfed by the magnificence that could only belong to the Baptistry, the Duomo and the Leaning Tower. It was a lovely sunny day, with clear blue skies setting the scene for our little rendezvous before we moved on to Florence, but as I weaved through the buildings, I couldn’t help but feel the history seeping through the very pores of my skin. I thought to myself, after all these years, finally made it here. The ancient vibes inspired me to do some black-and-white editing on some of the photos we took that day.

Tourists and touters were running amok in the ancient Piazza. Market stalls selling fridge magnets, puppets and I Love Italy memorabilia lined the entire street parallel to the trio of buildings in the Piazza, which somewhat dampened the experience a little. I did wish that we had the entire place to ourselves, even though I was one of those annoying tourists who probably bombed every single photo. But, really, silly poses and oh-please-would-you-just-get-your-ass-out-of-my-sight-I’ve-got-a-REALLY-good-angle-here aside, if you would just quieten your mind and walk hand-in-hand with your loved one through the Piazza, take a deep breath and look up into the history that you are now physically part of, it is pretty amazing.

At least it was, for us.

Check out our travel stories in Florence!

The Fat Duck – Get A Table or Die Trying

Some of you might have caught wind of my desperation when I couldn’t get through the very, very, very hot line. Some of you might have also heard that I made more than 160 calls to this very, very, very hot line. Those who know me personally, might also know that I managed to get through once, on my very last attempt to the very, very, very hot line, and was told by the lovely robo-voice to have my credit card details ready. I whipped my card out in a second, and listened patiently to a Scottish man regale the tales of Alice in Wonderland, as I wait for someone in the real world to goddammitjustpickupthedamnphone. Someone who is flesh-and-blood, warm and hopefully able to coax me into giving him or her my card details as I play bratty coy, just to annoy the millions of frustrated callers who don’t even know who I bloody am. HA!

As I plot my evil ways to Alice, a chirpy ‘Good morning!’ snapped me out of it. Everything kinda picked up speed inside my head. Who am I kidding? I don’t have to be coaxed into giving up my card details. This is money that I’m dying to spend. Here, take it, take ALL of it (okay, maybe not..).

Me (tentatively): Oh gosh, I thought I would never get through. Can I make a reservation for two for [date: I can't remember the original date I asked for, but it was exactly two months after the day I called them] please?

Reservations team: I’m so sorry, I’m not sure if we still have something for this date, please let me check…….Nope, we’re fully booked up.

Me (can you hear my heart breaking): Oh dear…do you have any tables available right up till that date (because you are only allowed to make reservations up till 2 months before your desired date)?

Reservations team: No, I’m afraid not…


Reservations team: Would you like to be put on the waiting list?

Me (in a huff): No. That’s fine.

Reservations team: You sure?

Me (still seething with anger and hopelessly steeped in disappointment): Yes.

Reservations team: I’m really sorry..Have a nice day ahead.

Me (only realising in horror what I just turned down mid-sentence, no, mid-word): Bye.

What the hell did I just do?! Did I just make more than 160 calls, finally get through, and reject going on the waiting list?! Was I possibly, legally insane?! It felt like someone pickled and dried my heart out, and wrung it slowly but surely into a million pieces. I called M to tell him what I did, and ever the optimist, he reassured me that we will get a reservation and he will sort it out. I wasn’t so sure of what he said.

About two weeks later, I was at work and have almost gotten over my stupidity when I received an email from M. It was titled, ‘Booking confirmed at The Fat Duck’. I was in disbelief. I rubbed my eyes to make sure I wasn’t still legally insane. The short text from him read, ‘I only managed this. You want?’. Of course I want it!! And so we did. If you want to know, we were really lucky; M called as one table freed up in a cancellation.

One fine morning, we drove out to Bray, making sure that we had an early head start to avoid any donkey situation i.e. punctured tyre, lost our way, kidnapped by aliens who want to dine at The Fat Duck too, that might cause us to lose our reservation. It was a reasonably short drive and we got there an hour earlier than our lunch reservation. The town is small, and buildings are pretty in a nondescript kinda way. We couldn’t find where The Fat Duck was and wandered into the one shop that was opened along High Street, to kill time and to ask for directions. Another couple looked lost as they hovered outside the shop. The sweet lady pointed them, and hence, us,  in the right direction; lo and behold, The Fat Duck was just opposite her shop, in the most unassuming building. The couple and us looked equally surprised. The owner of the shop chuckled and remarked, ‘Heston doesn’t need to show off.’. Indeed. 

Since we were no longer lost, we headed over to The Fat Duck to see if we could be seated earlier and to our delight, we could. At first glance, the restaurant is very small and cottage-like with cream walls, wooden pillars and incredibly simple furnishing. It seats a maximum of only 45 diners each for lunch and dinner, and since only the tasting menu is served, only 90 individuals get to spend 4.5-5.5 hours of their lives here in a typical day at The Fat Duck. According to the manager, the restaurant boasts a 55-strong team, including the researchers, and that works out to more than a 1: 1 ratio between staff and diners. Granted, the menu stands at a whopping £160 per person, but knowing Heston and his tricks, the dedicated team and a strong staff-to-diner ratio, I knew we were paying for something special. Indeed, it was really something that we got at our excursion to Bray.

We started with a pretty pair of Aerated Beetroot with Horseradish Cream as M deliberated over the long list of vino in the encyclopedia-esque wine menu. A playful twist to the classic salad, these burgundy gems were almost honeycomb-like in texture and fun to eat. They certainly gave a hint of what’s-to-come on our 15-course menu.

The waiter pulled up by our table with a trolley full of gadgets that almost made me pee (in excitement) in my pants. Liquid nitrogen, dangerous-looking canisters, things that I was so used to seeing when I was still doing scientific research, but never quite at meal times. We were asked to choose from a selection of Nitro-Poached Aperitifs; I went for Vodka and Lime Sour while M went for Gin and Tonic. Much to Heston’s liking for pretty much anything that is out-of-the-box, these aperitifs were made from flavoured egg white mousse balls that were frozen immediately in liquid nitrogen and dusted with pairing flavours.

I didn’t get to taste the Gin and Tonic, as we were meant to pop the whole thing in our mouths and consume it in one bite, but my Vodka and Lime Sour, which was swiftly dusted with matcha powder (the powder puff was impossibly cute), went down pretty well with me. The ice-cold shell gave way to citrusy nothingness and cleansed my palette immediately; the waiter even spritzed some citrus-y fragrance over my head as I had it, and that made for a very special, ‘all-rounded’ aperitif.

Next, we had the Red Cabbage Gazpacho served with Pommery Grain Mustard Ice Cream. Easily one of my favourite soups in the world now, even though I have never been a big fan of cabbage, the flavours were somewhat contrasting and complimentary at the same time. The gazpacho was laced with distinct cabbage-y notes (for the lack of a better word) and the mustard ice cream tempered it well, giving a tangy edge to the sweetness of the gazpacho. M was very pleased with this soup too.

The multi-sensory theme that we saw in the Nitro-Poached Aperitifs continued in the next dish, which was the Jelly of Quail, Crayfish Cream, Chicken Liver Parfait, Oak Moss and Truffle Toast. I’ve always loved chicken liver parfait (done properly, of course) and truffles, so I was eager to see how this dish was presented. The waiter brought a bed of oak moss with two strips of film that resembled the Listerine breath freshener film, to the centre of our table. He then placed the truffle toast and parfait at our place settings, explained that truffles are naturally found amongst oak moss and that this dish was meant to be tasted in its ‘natural environment’. He asked us to open the little boxes and put the film on our tongues; instead of breath freshener, I was getting a delicate hint of woody oak. The waiter then poured some water into the bed of oak moss, and billows of oak fumes flowed out immediately, turning our little lunch to the natural grounds for truffle hunting. We tucked into the parfait and truffle toast as this happened, and it was just brilliant. I felt like I was there, right where truffles are naturally found. The parfait was savoury and incredibly smooth (heck, in a nutshell, it was just pretty damn tasty); it gave way to sweet pea puree and deep-flavoured jelly of quail. This was the perfect pairing for the pleasantly heady truffle toast. I joked to M and said that I could have this toast any time of the day, even though I’ve developed an aversion to bread because I had too many sarnies in London.

I was pretty bowled over by what we had thus far, so imagine getting the breath knocked out of me when I was told Heston’s famous Snail Porridge was next. I didn’t know how to prepare my senses for the next avalanche of flavours, but oh well, someone has got to do it, no? The snails were perfectly cooked and lent a delightful chew to the thick, buttery porridge oats. Although the chef was a little heavy-handed with the salt (or maybe it was the saltiness from the Iberico Bellota ham), the porridge was still a gem to have with the shaved fennel. It was warm, comforting, deceptively down-to-earth but damn right, possibly, the poshest porridge I’ve ever had and ever will have.

Another one of my favourites at The Fat Duck was the Roast Foie Gras with Barberry, Braised Konbu and Crab Biscuit.  I thought this was a superior twist to the foie gras and berry pairings that we usually have, as the flavours used here were Japanese-inspired and worked very well indeed. I would advise picking up a little bit of everything before you have a bite. The thin film of braised konbu at the bottom of the foie gras gave a thrilling umami kick, which worked so seamlessly with the crab biscuit (it really tasted like a potent dose of crab) and the toasted sesame seeds on sprinkled on top of the foie gras. You could say that this was the best form and a good twist to the conventional ‘surf and turf’. I didn’t care much for the copious amounts of barberry though, I didn’t feel compelled to finish every last drop of the barberry, and only felt the need to have some of it with alternate bites of the foie gras.

Next came the Alice in Wonderland part of the menu, when we were served the Mock Turtle Soup with the Mad Hatter Tea. The theatrics really came into full-form with this dish when two waiters arrived at our table with a jewellery box containing two gold pocket watches. The storyteller of the two, told us that we were at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and that I was Alice, he was the March Hare, his colleague was the Mad Hatter and poor M was the doormouse. With a flourish of his hand, he opened the jewellery box, presented the gold pocket watches to each of us and dropped them into the empty teacups. Then, he added hot water to the teacups and told us to swirl the pocket watch in the teacup to dissolve it, just as the March Hare did in the story. It turned out that the pocket watches were made of beef consomme enrobed in gold leaves. This deliciously deep Madeira-ish broth was then poured over a scene that wouldn’t look out of place in Alice in Wonderland – a caterpillar sitting atop a mushroom smoking his hookah. Flavour-wise, I would go as far as to say that it was a very tasty consomme, but I was way more impressed with the theatrics and all that work that went into creating this dish, than with the flavours.

At this point, we were pretty impressed with everything we had. M told the waiter jokingly that this was getting out of hand and very ‘far-fetched’ but in a good way. The waiter told us we hadn’t seen nothing yet, and I agree. Just as we thought Heston couldn’t pull any more tricks that would raise our brows, he did. With an iPod and a beach holiday.

Yes, ‘Sound of the Sea’ was all it took to make us pause and check our screws. With this dish, we felt that we were far far away on a beach holiday, breathing in salty seabreezes, listening to the waves lapping on the shore and tasting the freshest offerings of the sea. And then we fell flat on our faces on the beach, but instead of gritty sand, we were eating very, very tasty sand with bits of fried baby sardines in it. We woke up when we were done with the sand. It was a very delicious dream.

Alright, alright, sorry, I must not make sense (don’t you see it now, nothing at The Fat Duck should but it does when you taste it).. Let me try again. Three pieces of sashimi – yellowtail, halibut and mackerel – were served on a bed of tapioca and fried baby sardine ‘sand’, and drizzled with sea water foam that was made from a seaweed stock.  I was pleasantly surprised by how the sea water smelled (just like a real beach), and I was even more bowled over by the crunchy, savoury, addictive sand. I could lick the plate clean, and many other diners gestured to do so as well when they had theirs. It was the perfect way to present sashimi on a plate, but Heston likes to go over the board, doesn’t he? So he takes everything further and makes sure we enjoy the flavours of the sea whilst listening to crashing waves and seagulls on the iPod. We must have looked silly, and this might come across as gimmicky, but I liked how listening to the waves helped us focus on the experience of a beach holiday as we had this course. No distractions, no nothing, just me and the beach, which was really nice.

We were snapped out of our beach holiday dream with a spot of Salmon Poached in Liquorice Gel served with Asparagus, Vanilla Mayonnaise and Golden Trout Roe on a bed of grapefruit pulp. I was least impressed with this dish. While the salmon was perfectly cooked (the best texture I’ve had), I couldn’t taste the liquorice (not that I wanted to because I’m not a fan..) and the sweet hint of the vanilla mayonnaise didn’t quite work for me. It was a decent dish, but it wasn’t something that jumped right out at me.

The Lamb with Cucumber, Onion and Dill Fluid Gel, however, begged to be eaten. It was one of the best lamb dishes I’ve ever had, so tender, so perfectly done and well-paired with the hearty sides of fried lamb scrag and sweetbread served on a bed of sweet caramelised onions. This was finished with a wonderfully cool and savoury lamb jelly with bits of mint in it to cleanse the palette. M was absolutely enamoured with this course.

Next, we had the Hot & Iced Tea to refresh our palettes. I didn’t know what it would be like until I had it and let’s just say that this defies any sort of bodily reactions that you would expect. Usually, we would have something hot or something cold, and hardly something that was both. But this Hot & Iced Tea was both, in equal proportions, if I might add, as one side of your mouth feels hot and the other feels, well, cold. Odd, but very cool indeed. This made me giggle.

Pre-dessert was A Strawberry Picnic with Macerated Strawberries with Olive Oil Biscuit, Chamomile on a White Chocolate Picnic Mat. This was served with an Earl Grey Ice Cream Cornet (a salted wafer cone, no less!). I thought the strawberry picnic was just too pretty to consume, and really, a brilliant way to add a fun touch to the old-school magic of strawberries and white chocolate. I would make gingham picnic mats out of white chocolate everyday if I had the tools, but what a shame…I don’t know how and I guess I never will..

We were also served The ‘BFG’ (Black Forest Gateau) with kirsch ice cream, and spritzed with kirsch scent as we had it (I think you might have noticed a lot of spritzing goes on in this restaurant – you won’t need perfume for your hot date). I’m a pastry enthusiast and again, I was wow-ed by how beautifully constructed this BFG was. I couldn’t bear to have it, but when I did, there were no regrets. There was enough alcohol in it to temper with the sweetness of the cake, and it was smooth, light, yet creamy and chocolate-y at the same time. The kirsch ice cream was a real winner too, boasting an impossibly matt texture when you look at it (so much so that it looks fake), and gliding so smoothly on your palette when you sink your teeth into it. The sour bits of cherries lined on the plate gave a brilliant touch of tartness to the dessert too.

As with most wonderful meals, some people like to finish with a good swig of whiskey. But we were so full as we approached the end of the tasting menu that we couldn’t possibly. So Heston came up with a good way of having it – Whiskey Wine Gums, that were made to be consumed in a particular order (by region, as you can see on the map in the photo frame). You could have it all, from the sweet and mellow to the oaky and smoky! M loved this naturally, as he likes a good whiskey. I was just in for the fun of plucking whiskey gums out of a photo frame. These were very, very potent by the way, a lot of whiskey was packed into each gum.

As we ambled towards the end of the meal with our unpregnant but ‘pregnant’ bellies, we were treated Like A Kid In A Sweet Shop. I was particularly excited about this one, as I’ve seen Heston’s ingenious takes on sweets in his TV series (Heston’s Feasts, including his edible cemetery and edible house from Hansel and Gretel), and I’ve always wanted to see what his creations would taste like. We didn’t get an edible house, of course, but we did get a selection of Aerated Chocolate (Mandarin Jelly), Coconut Baccy (Coconut Infused with an Aroma of Black Cavendish Tobacco), Apple Pie Caramel (with an edible wrapper) and The Queen of Hearts (a berry compote tart encased in white chocolate and printed to look like a playing card). M and I couldn’t get enough of the playing card, we had to fight over it.

We are quite amicable as two halves of a couple, but really, some dishes here at The Fat Duck are worth fighting for. I’ve come away thinking that I might never ever get to experience a meal like that again, and yes, I’m a whole lot poorer after this, but it was completely worth it. I don’t want to exaggerate, but a multi-sensory, theatrical meal like this that tastes equally good and surprises to no end, probably wouldn’t surface in my lifetime again. Having had my five senses (and possibly my sixth) so well taken care of at The Fat Duck, this could be the meal that takes the crown for me. Until, someone surpasses this, it seems….I can’t even begin to fathom how much work goes into creating every experience at The Fat Duck, for every plate is clearly produced with careful and calculated thoughts. Our reactions to scents, flavours, textures and the stories told at The Fat Duck have all been predicted by people who put themselves in our shoes, shoes of diners who are eager to be surprised. Oh, what wouldn’t the science geek in me give to be in the research team at The Fat Duck..

Anyway, I urge you to try and make a reservation. It is the experience of a lifetime – whether you end up liking it or not – well, that’s the way I see things when I am about to blow some cold hard cash on an expensive meal, so if you think like I do or if you love molecular gastronomy as much as I do, go for it.

Check out my other food adventures!

 Also read about my meal at Dinner, the other restaurant by Heston Blumenthal.

*Updated: This post has been featured on Foodgawker. Check out my profile on Foodgawker to see my other featured posts!

The Fat Duck is located at:

High Street, Bray, Berkshire SL6 2AQ

Day Out at Portobello: £7 for a Slap and ‘Kill’

What can £7 get you in London? Let’s see. A plate of roast duck rice. Too few tube rides into town. And, oh yes, possibly a slap and a kill, somewhere at the end of Portobello Road.

A slap and a kill, you say? 

Yes sir, yes sir, all for £7.

Puzzled? I thought you might be. Allow me to explain.

Yesterday afternoon, I had my eyes on a beautiful wood-handled silver butter knife back at one of the major antique dealers along Portobello Road, and was quoted £35 for it. I wasn’t about to splurge that kind of money on a knife (even if it’s made of silver, yes I’m shallow and I only require vintage-looking stuff – great if they are precious antiques but I’m not bothered if they aren’t). We moved on to some sort of a cul-de-sac of the market a the end of Portobello Road, which was infinitely less popular and where cheaper goods await. M remarked that I might be able to find something there, and indeed, the very same knife was going for £15 at one of the stalls.

We hovered round the stall for a bit, waiting for the owner to show up and were about to leave when the owner of the neighbouring stall sauntered up to us, asking if we needed help. Let’s call him X, who has the cutest watered down Scottish accent and who clearly took a fancy to M….

M: Do you own this stall?

X (dramatically opening his eyes and leaning forward): Well, I could be!

M: How much for this knife?

X (checks the handle and blade with an eyepiece): £15. It’s made of silver.

M (skeptical): Okay, let’s do it for 50p.

X (mock horror, complete with the tiniest flicker of the hand to mimic controlled spanking): I’ll ssshhlah-p you! No, I can’t do that. What do you want to use it for?

X: (Before we could answer…and in his most sinister voice and with a cocked eyebrow): To cut your wrist? (he draws the knife on his wrist like he was pulling a long note with the fiddle on the violin)

M and me (stunned AND stumped): …

X (recognising the semi-horror on our faces and he continues, matter-of-factly): Okay, it’s a butter knife.

[Writer's note: Imagine a super quick running dialogue now, like Federer and Nadal playing tennis. Think back and forth banter that's impossible to stop.]

M (recovers): Well, I could use it to file my nails.

X: Yes exactly (proceeds to pretend to file his nails with the knife). Okay, I’ll give it to you for £10.

M: No, £5 and we’ll take it.

X (mock horror and speaking to his friend this time): If he weren’t so pretty, I’ll ssshhlah-p him! (Turning to us and in a whisper): No, give me something more than £5 and I’ll sell it to you.

M (reaches into pocket and pulls out another £2): Here, this is all I have.

X (smooth as baby’s bottom, and raising his voice so other stall owners could hear): Okay, if you give me £7, I’ll sell it to you.

M (playing along): Okay, I’ve got £7. There.

And so, for a fraction of the price I was first quoted at one of the main dealers, I walked away with the exact knife I wanted, witnessed a most delightfully-engaging banter with my mouth wide open, and stifled plenty of giggles. We think that X is just going to take the £7 and not tell his friend that something was sold from the stall. Beats me, but I don’t really care what happens after, for it was a joy for me to watch. I spent the rest of the afternoon in a mock Scottish accent, air-spanking and teasing M about how X was going to ‘ssshhlah-p him’. M spent an unhealthy amount of time thinking, ‘Damn, I thought I only had a few pence in my pocket, not £2!!‘. Oh well, £7 for a Slap and ‘Kill’, it’s alright!

[Another writer's note, just because: We also bagged a whole carton of incredibly sweet and plump cherries for only £5, a dozen of flat peaches for only £4 and smacked our lips to the tune of burger and double-cooked fries from Bangers Bros., and mango & passionfruit froyo from Bee Me. Very wonderful day out indeed.]