Sunday, March 29, 2009

Shunjuu Izakaya, Robertson Quay

Continuing my current love affair with japanese yakitori (5 times in 2 months!), I found myself at Shunjuu Izakaya, Robertson Quay for lunch on Friday. I had good experiences at their sister restaurant, Satsuma Shochu Dining Bar and was curious to find out the difference between the two.
Ambience-wise, Satsuma definitely has the edge in their cute and cozy little round cubby-hole, while Shunjuu's setting is only average (but with the edge of having a nice river view). I also very slightly prefer the quality of the grilling over at Satsuma - my ribeye was a tad overdone and somewhat tough. However, the scallop at Shunjuu was juicy and wrapped in a crisp skin of tasty bacon, and the pork belly was absolutely lovely with its crispy, salty and juicy fats. Yums, so sinful but so good!! A good lunch for two can be enjoyed here for around $40.

Fast and Feast

I seem to have been on a bit of a drought recently when it comes to food. Sadly and boringly, I’ve either been sticking to the safe favourite restaurants / eating places, or cooking the same dishes. Having to work 12 hours and facing a two hour commute each day can drain most of the appetite and energy if not enthusiasm out of a tired foodie.

To get out of this rut, we are planning a line-up of feasts in the next few weeks ahead. Some are firmed up, while others are on my wish list, to be "activated" when an occasion demands it: Blu, Shunjuu Izakaya, Forlino, Bonta, the Tippling Club, Brussels Sprouts. Pity Wong Ah Yoke had to write about Spruce in Sunday Times today, which means that it's going to be overrun for the next couple of months. Watch out for the next few posts.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Mdm Sachiko Cookies

Siem Reap is one of the last places where one would expect to find mouth-watering cookies...and yet incongruously, Mdm Sachiko cookie store (run by a Japanese lady) delivers wonderfully crisp cookies that melt in your mouth with local flavours - coffee, palm sugar, kampot pepper. At USD5 for a small box of cookies, these are not cheap but don't quibble over the price since it is such a unique find. The store has a steady stream of Japanese tourists coming and going, who all leave with huge packs of cookies. Just outside the store is Cafe Puka Puka, under the same operation, which serves up absolutely yummelicious fruit shakes. It feels like a godsend on a hot muggy day (as all days are in Siem Reap) to feel that icy smoothness flowing down your throat.
Don't forget to look out for Mdm Sachiko cookie store and Cafe Puka Puka! It's on the road to Angkor, opposite Sofitel hotel.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Random Musings on Cambodia

It's sad to see the huge income disparities in Cambodia. Despite all the tourism dollars flowing in (mind you, Siem Reap is not cheap to tour), there seems to be so little of the money actually filtering down to the people. In the little villages just bordering the main tourist road, the poverty is still so acute that there is no running water, modern sewerage systems, or electricity. Two-thirds of the children in Cambodia do not complete even primary education. One would think that it is the duty of the government to provide public goods like transport infrastructure, electrical networks, street lights and so on. But sadly, the money is siphoned away by corrupt officials at every level (On the Corruption Index, Cambodia has one of the highest if not the highest scores in the world). In the meanwhile, the people suffer and the country languishes.
Back to happier food topics. Khmer Kitchen in the Old Market area (The Alley) serves wonderfully tasty khmer cuisine at very affordable prices (USD4 per pax on average), though it is jam packed with tourists (one could say that about every single restaurant in Siem Reap since the locals just can't afford to eat out). I like Khmer food since it relies very heavily on the use of fresh herbs like lemongrass, thai basil, galangal and has a very light and fresh taste to it -close to Thai food but with a sourish twist - not so rich and less chilli hot. We also tried this Cambodian BBQ place which was interesting if not exactly in the realm of great food.

Spa Heaven

Trekking around the Angkor temples is a really tiring business. The heat, the dust, the blisters, the aching muscles. Thankfully there's still the massages. The Frangipani Spa is a little gem of a spa oasis, a really lovely and welcome respite from the burning heat in Siem Reap. It's a bit difficult to find but oh, what bliss! At USD22 per hour, this is one of the best bargains that you can get around town (the cheap massages at USD 6/hour in the Old Market area are really not worth it at all. You will feel like a lump of meat being kneaded.)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Beautiful Temples of Angkor

The temples of Angkor are truly a wondrous sight to behold, and really deserve to be called "jewels in the jungle". This post and photos do not do justice to the beauty of these temples, which have to be seen to be believed. The most intricately beautiful carvings in pink sandstone are at Banteay Srei, a 1 hour tuk-tuk ride away from the city, but still as sharp and detailed more than 1000 years after they were first carved. And who can fail to be mesmerized by the enigmatic and creepy power of the Bayon faces (all 216 of them), gazing down upon you in the early morning light. The top photo shows a dance-maiden, also known as apsara, taken at the inner bas-relief wall of the Terrace of the Leper King, and is fascinating as each of the carvings show tremendous attention to detail - the expressions, features and dress of all the maidens are different.

Chez Sophea, in front of Angkor Wat

This was a great find, a place recommended by our friends Peter and Joanne and the Luxe guide. Chez Sophea is opened by a frenchman and counts mostly french expatriates amongst its clients. Located in front of Angkor Wat, it enjoys a stunning vista and is just the remedy for hot tired travellers and aching feet. The bread (home-baked, of course), was perfect. The grilled aged beef, succulent, juicy and tasty - even if one small corner ended up uncooked. We were glad of the opportunity to just sit back and laze around for a small window of time. Prices not cheap but reasonable at USD15 for a 2 course set lunch including salad and bread.
Open only from 11am, no takeaways. In front of Angkor Wat (it's the last shed on the row of food sheds).

FCC Angkor Hotel

The hotel that we stayed in, the FCC Angkor, was the former residence of the French Governor, right beside the river. It's a beautiful colonial-style property and exerts a magnetic draw at night, with its glowing lights, white-washed balustrades and gently whirring ceiling fans. The FCC is also centrally located, only about a 15 min walk to the Old Market (which is where most of the food and shopping is found). While service and the interior decor of the rooms were rather nondescript and lacklustre, we realised that this was par for the course when we visited Hotel de la Paix (supposedly the most upmarket hotel in Siem Reap) . Overall, not a bad hotel even if a tad overpriced. The FCC Restaurant is rated in the Miele guide of Asia's best restaurants - do take that with a pinch of salt since I don't think it stands up to the best elsewhere even if it is one of the top picks in Siem Reap.