jeudi, août 28, 2008

Singapore Day Zoo

No, not Ah Meng, she died in Feb

I like to bring the kids to the Zoo in Singapore. It is wonderful having a chance to erase memories of animals in cages. And I can still see myself as a kid in a Zoo T-shirt with my name printed on it - for I am my mom's eldest and was her only love a very long time ago. And Ah Meng was still pretty young then.

Plus it was one of those days when I had a few birds to kill with the same stone.

I've always known the Singapore Zoo as the Mandai Zoo - since it is situated in Mandai. A few years ago, they built an important Cemetary in Mandai with some army training ground nearby since you can hear rifle shots when you're there. They probably thought it was a good idea since there is little chance of waking up the dead (and cremated).

I have almost all of my ancestors there. Lined up in Block ? Level ? Unit ?. In Singapore, dead or alive, you usually live in a flat.

And so duty called, asking me to bring my children to pay our respects to those who lived and died before us. Besides they have made it quite convenient for us to visit both the Cemetary and the Zoo - by bus (less than 30 minutes) from Ang Mo Kio.

Right before us

I love this Zoo. Orang Utans now swing freely above us as we walked. You can get really close up to many animals and those who tend to be a little dangerous you are separated from them by a little stream or glass panel - not cages.

They were still constructing the children's play area during our visit, but I'm sure that once it's ready it'll give us one more reason to bring our kids to the Zoo. On our last visit 2 years ago, we learnt that we should have brought along a towel and swimwear for the kids as they could play with water when they were there.

4 bucks per kid per round pony ride

Those with a lot of stamina could finish visiting the Day Zoo and continue in the evening with the Night Safari. We had loved it too the last time we were there.

mercredi, août 27, 2008

Club Med Nabeul, Tunisia

Muscle and Medals at Mini Club Med

For some reason the Hub has something for Club Med. Maybe it's a French thing, because when I was buying tickets at Wild Wild Wet in Singapore, the French ladies queuing up behind me talked about going to Club Med (Bintan) too. And if you've watched the cult movie Les Bronzés they were also waving their arms away in some Club Med. Sea, Sex and Sun...

So though I blanch at the idea of indebting ourselves just to spend a week doing nothing and stuffing/drinking oneself sick, I gave the details of my Carte Bleue over to said Club and condemned the family to another week of excess and certain weight gain.

Positive thing was that I've never been to Tunisia. And in my lost youth I've dated a rather cute Tunisian guy for a few days, so I've some interest in seeing (more than a decade later) his homeland (and countrymen).

We flew into Monastir from Paris and had the joy of hearing the same child scream from Orly Airport onto the plane into the bus all the way to our hotel. His chic mother looked absolutely helpless and hopeless. In fact many of those rich people's kids could be quite painful as we were to discover during our stay, made the Babies look like angels in comparison. Many a time I was really tempted to tell the parents that certainly a little swing of the cane from time to time couldn't do any harm.

Our part of Tunisia looked dry. Desert-like, with olive trees and cactuses everywhere, half-built houses and buildings and herds of goats on both sides of the highway. I was pleasantly surprised to see many Tunisian women in casual wear in the streets, sleeveless tops and all. In fact we could go topless on the beach or poolside and nobody would try to stop us from doing so.

Club Med Nabeul is more than 3 decades old from what I was told. About time it received a facelift. Our rooms were simple with 2 single beds each, a bathroom with shower and a ceiling fan. The cool thing though was that the rooms were cleaned and tidied up daily unlike in the cheaper French Clubs.

Now if you want to go to Club Med you must like to party a minimum. Which I don't. I know, I am a bore.

Senegal (made me want to visit the country)

At Club Med, they engage you 24h/24h. Music, dance, arm waving all the time. Peace and quiet is not a given. And best to like sports because they are really top for that. They have tennis courts, a private beach filled with top quality catamarans, surfs and kayaks, rollerblading grounds, archery grounds, outdoor gym etc etc. And those GOs (Gentils Organisateurs) usually have qualifications like "Junior Champion at Roland Garros in 2006", "Senegal's Top Archer", "France's Champion in Rollerblading in 2005, 2006..."


And to make it worth your money, you must like to drink. Now they only do all-inclusive packages which means that you can drink (even alcohol) 24 hours a day. I found myself drinking like 3 Sangrias and 3 Mojitos most days after Noon plus a few Diabolos here and there!

Dessert Buffet

Did I mention buffets 3 times a day? All you can eat and drink. The quality of the food is so-so, but there is variety and alot of effort usually goes into presenting our meals e.g. garden party, beach party, pool party etc.

Poolside Buffet cum BBQ

Lamb Tagine

There were also themes every evening and if you didn't have the right clothes for a certain evening, you could always purchase something in the Club Med Boutique (business 1st, babe). There's a spa (European prices), a mini Souk, afternoon tombolas, fried doughnuts at 4pm, a performance (in French, of course) every evening.

Cocktails on the beach before dinner

You could also go on excursions to visit Tunisia, ride a camel in the grounds and play golf in Hammamet (also European prices).


For those with children, there are clubs for children of different ages and they look after them almost all day long from like 9am till 9pm with a shower break in-between (5:30 to 7). The babies preferred to stay with us though and we usually had to threaten and bribe to get them to spend a few hours in their Club.


One thing Hub and I took a liking to was archery. Almost every afternoon at 4 sharp we would turn up to shoot a few arrows. And he also did a bit of wind surfing now and then. I regret not taking the opportunity to learn how to rollerblade or play tennis (didn't bring tennis shoes), apparently they were good even with total beginners.

Mini Souk at the Pool

Finally, guess what? I didn't buy anything. I stood amidst rows and rows of ceramic bowls, leather slippers etc and I didn't buy anything.

Mom's Birthday

Strawberry Shortcake from Four Leaves

For once I happened to be in Singapore (or actually it was the day of my departure) when mom turned another year older, so together with the family (nearly 20 of us!) we threw her a dinner at a Tze Cha stall in Buangkok the day before. They do pretty decent Golden Fragrant (basically with curry leaves and spices) dishes and a rather mean Salted Egg Yolk Crab. I love salted egg yolks, so I'm definitely won over by the dish.

Salted Egg Yolk Crab

A few days earlier I was at a local-expat BBQ organised by Viv (before she left to work in Phuket) and got the chance to try 2 different tasty cakes from Four Leaves. That was where I ordered mom's Birthday Strawberry Shortcake from. Baby Boy ate at least 2 slices of the cake, what a little pig.

Hope you'll enjoy very good health and lots of happiness, mom, in the years to come. Happy Birthday once again!

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon, Paris

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon (1* Michelin)

We never got round to dining at l'Atelier de Joël Robuchon when we were living in Paris. Probably due to the fact that you can only make reservations for dinner for 6:30pm which is a little too early in a country where you usually dine at 8. But a few weeks ago we managed to squeeze in lunch at said restaurant and absolutely love it.

Entrance to the open kitchen (we were given a tour)

At l'Atelier you eat at the counter surrounding the open kitchen. Not very comfortable and certainly not to be done in a group, but when you're just 2 or 3, it's quite fine. Since it was our first visit to the restaurant and since we liked everything in their Menu Découverte, we went for it.

The Kitchen

The menu consists of 9 tasting portions. They were small but added together made up a full meal. We actually had to refuse a complimentary portion of very good potato purée when it was offered to us. We had a few glasses of different wines to go with our meal and they were served a little too cold. Low temperatures help to mask the bad qualities of a wine which shouldn't be the case of our grape juice.

The Wines

I am not endowed with the gift of describing food like my guru Umami. I'm a basic person who either like something or not at all. And I certainly liked/loved everything that I was served in this restaurant. Everything was cooked just right, the lamb was so tender it melted in the mouth (yet it was served pink), the desserts were refreshing, everything was perfect as far as I was concerned.


LA TOMATE en gaspacho aux petits croûtons dorés

LE CRABE ROYAL aux fines lamelles de raves épicées

L’ŒUF cocotte à la crème légère de morilles

LE FOIE GRAS de canard chaud aux sucs d’hibiscus, cerises et amandes fraîches

LA MORUE fraîche poêlée aux fins aromates

L’AGNEAU DE LAIT en côtelettes à la fleur de thym

LA CAILLE farcie de foie gras et caramélisée avec une pomme purée truffée

L’ORANGE à la mandarine givrée avec un voile friand à la cassonade

LES FRUITS ROUGES rafraîchis d’un sorbet au citron vert et basilic

We were seated next to a Mexican family of 4 (the father is a friend of Ferrari's L. Montezemolo) who were returning customers. They loved the food there too.

But behold the bill. Nearly 300 euros for 2. Thank goodness I had the whole afternoon to digest it.

L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon
5 rue de Montalembert
75007 Paris
Tel : 01 42 22 56 56

mardi, août 26, 2008

Meeting a Few Friends in Paris

YR's Terrace

We were in Paris for just 3 days in early August - en amoureux. Eldest Son was in Singapore for 2 months and the Babies were spending a few days with MIL in the countryside. We rarely have time to be alone just the 2 of us since we started having children, what with our families being far away and all. In any case, most people we knew were away from the Capitale when we were there. So we had to make the best of our couple time.

However, we did reserve an evening for Hub's former colleague YR and his Russian wife. They live near Montparnasse and have a terrace outside their flat which gave them a view of the roofs of Paris. Sympa. That evening, after watching Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis and walking through the weekly Sunday Art Market in Montparnasse (nearly bought a painting, still thinking about it, check out and tell me what you think of her paintings), we went to YR's place and spent the evening playing hide and seek with the rain on his terrace. Always lovely meeting them, a really intelligent, kind and interesting couple.

Then on Tuesday (our last day in Paris) we went our separate ways Hub and I to meet our respective friends for lunch. Hub lunched wonderfully at Le Clocher Pereire (Umami, he loved your recommendation!) with P while I had pork ramen and gyoza in a Japanese noodle shop in Rue Ste Anne with my Chinese friend B.

That should have been it except that P made a big fuss about wanting to meet me as well and so we found ourselves making our way to Argenteuil that evening to have dinner with P and his girlfriend S. We had just arrived in their street when we saw quite a scene before us : just minutes before, 2 cars had crossed each other's path and one of them had flown across and turned turtle!

P's House

We had a lovely (if tired) evening. S made us a delicious Scallops in Champagne Sauce and we caught up a little, visited their new house etc.

Scallops in Champagne Sauce Saffron Risotto

Meanwhile, sorry K that I couldn't join the other Singaporeans at your house for a super BBQ, would have loved it but we had to return to the countryside for the kids as you knew. Hopefully another time...

Brunch at the Blue Elephant, Paris

Soup with Vermicelli and Sliced Beef

Many moons ago I invited the Hub to the Blue Elephant on his birthday which was generous of me since in those days I was still living with a student mentality and had difficulty buying the need to spend a few hundred Francs on a Thai dinner. Nowadays of course in accordance with my glorified maid status I no longer bother with prices or at least if I do I would pretend that I didn't.

A few years later I had Sunday Brunch in said Thai restaurant with my Singaporean girlfriend MF and I remembered being happy with it though still whinging about the lack of Thai desserts as we know them in Asia (namely the steamed tapioca and tako that I just adore). At that time we paid 29 Euros per head. A few Sundays ago when I brought the Hub there to brunch using his funds, the price had gone up to 39 Euros. And still no Thai desserts as we know them in Asia.

But as I had expected, he was happy. The restaurant is situated in Bastille in a seedy but interesting street filled with lots of restaurants, bars and cafés. It's actually in some kind of cheap between-2-walls transformed into an exotic paradise with wood, bamboo, flora and fauna, a bridge and a pond. We arrived early and got a table on the mezzanine overlooking the buffet area and it was just perfect.

View from our table

The buffet consists mainly of a fresh salad station, a soup station (you choose your own noodles and ingredients and the cook prepares it for you), a starter section (e.g. satay, fried hors d'oeuvres, tim sum...), a main course section (e.g. different types of curries, stir-fry dishes, rice, pad thai...) and a dessert and fruit section. The quality is quite good and the selection while not as important as buffets come in Asia is OK, I guess, especially after years of living away from Asia. Unlike many Thai restaurants in Paris where the owners are usually Chinese of some sort, the Blue Elephant has a real Thai cuisine with a nice and gentle Thai service. I sometimes do wonder why Chinese waiters are usually so rude and impatient, though it doesn't mean that we are not good people as a race. Anyway I digress.

Soup Station

Salad Station

Dessert and Fruit Station

So the Hub was really happy with his brunch and I gained a few points in his book for that.

Blue Elephant Paris
43-45 rue de la Roquette
75011 Paris
Tel : 01 47 00 42 00

Shopping at The Mall, Firenze

How could summer be complete without a teeny bit of Summer Sale, right? When the Hub was off to play golf at Lésigny I drove myself to the Outlet Village La Vallée Village. When the rest of the family went to the beach at Viareggio near Florence, I spent my day at...THE MALL. Yes, the famous designer outlet 35Km from Florence.

Before that, let me touch quickly on our hotel in Lésigny. The Best Western Abbaye du Golf Hotel was situated in the golf course itself and is part of an ancient abbey. For those living in Paris, this would be quite a good option for playing golf especially in August when they actually discount the green fees. For those visiting Disneyland Paris, a few hours of golf could also be factored in as the golf club is less than 30 minutes from the Theme Park itself. Can kill many birds with the same stone.

View from our hotel room

Golf Hotel at Lésigny, France

Fendi, Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci, Burberry, La Perla, Armani, McQueen, Ferragamo...
It was like arriving at Ali Baba's cave, I didn't know where to start. But of course being fat and poor made things easier which probably explained why the Hub didn't bother to warn me not to overspend or set me a budget.

I've actually never gone near any Fendi or Gucci boutique before truth be told (or at least I walked in and out very quickly in the ones in Singapore last month). So when I finally did, I honestly do not understand what the fuss is all about. Why would anyone want to pay hundreds of Euros for canvas or stiff leather with the Gucci logo all over? Though the super high Gucci heels were quite fabulous - except that I'll never have any occasion to wear them. I finally settled for a raffia and leather purse from YSL and I still feel so happy whenever I think of the soft feel of its leather. My other purchases include a black linen skirt, cream leather key purse and a pair of golden leather sandals from Ferragamo.

I took a bus from The Mall to Florence after my shopping. The trip lasted an hour and cost 3 Euros (best if you could buy the ticket beforehand, they run out fast on the bus itself). I actually prefer this option to driving as the road is very windy, narrow and steep. Also, taking the bus allows one to enjoy the lovely Tuscan landscape.

I was last in Florence 2 summers ago. But one doesn't forget 3 weeks spent in the Tuscan city. My feet led me to all the boutiques that I've visited on my last trip, all the way to my favourite gelato shop Coronas, across the Arno river to the street where the Hub would drive past to pick me up and bring us all to dinner near the Piazza Michaelangelo. The restaurant's name is Chalet Fontana and it offers good quality al fresco dining in a lovely garden terrace.

Voici one good way to spend a hot summer day in August.

The Mall
Via Europe, 8
Leccio, Regello.