Thursday, February 28, 2013

24/7 in Hong Kong, and then a cruise with Resorts World Manila and Star Cruises


Everyone in Travelife Magazine lives a Travelife.

You know all about my Travelife. But, as I type this out, Travelife General Manager Gel Bayona, who incidentally has been with Travelife Magazine since Day 1, is on her way to Paris on board Malaysia Airline's first brand-new A380, non-stop Kuala Lumpur-Paris.

That's a new and very comfortable way to get to Europe now from Asia, by the way...

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Meanwhile, Travelife Associate Editor Carlo Velasco has been scouring the markets of Barcelona for good things to eat and photograph. Hope he manages to bring home some jamon jabugo for me... 

Travelife GM Gel is on her way to Paris today.

But last weekend she was in Hong Kong for a few days of fun. And then she hopped on a Star Cruises boat to take literally the slow route to Manila



She emailed me this update, from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, living a never-endingly eventful Travelife:

HONG KONG TO MANILA IN STYLE

"I have been going around the world, living a Travelife.

However, Hong Kong never ceases to amaze me with its vibrant busy, cosmopolitan lifestyle. It's always good food, never lacking great entertainment and shopping experience.



If there’s one thing that I really love with my job, it is getting up close and personal with some of the best or most interesting travel experiences in the world. I also like being constantly on the go, visiting different destinations.

Last weekend, after a fun time in Hong Kong, I boarded the cruise ship Pisces of Star Cruises and sailed with it towards Manila.

EVERYTHING IN ONE BOAT



The Pisces was a wonderful ship to experience some exciting downtime on the way from Hong Kong to Manila.

It's got shopping, world class entertainment, casinos, and good food all in one venue; and with all the necessary, comfortable amenities.



On-board, there were different Southeast Asia restaurants, including a big buffet restaurant called Mariners Buffet, Chinese restaurants called Taipan and Ocean Palace, and a Japanese restaurant called Umigawa.

MY SUITE IS A FLOATING HOTEL ROOM



Each of the suite rooms offered distinct and colorful decor, with big bath tubs and a separate dining area.

The suite I stayed in, which was called the Spanish Suite, certainly made me feel like I was in a floating five-star hotel.






Meanwhile, the Pisces offers the most daring entertainment show in water world.

The “Galaxy of the Stars” offers a mixture of multicultural entertainment and acrobatic show featuring talented entertainers.





Perhaps the best part about Star Cruises is that it's affordable and value-for-money compared to most other cruise packages on offer.

Certainly a wonderful and realistic option for those wishing to live a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife -- but on a budget.

www.starcruises.com




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Join ActiveFun Bonifacio High Street's Cool Summer Fun Party for Kids



If you're looking for something fun for your kids to do this summer, then join ActiveFun Bonifacio High Street's cool summer fun party for children and their parents.

It's a cool way to beat the heat this summer.

COOL SUMMER FUN PARTY 
ActiveFun Bonifacio High Street
Friday, March 22, 2013 
3pm 

There will be a mascot and magic shows, games & prizes, snacks, a raffle, giveaways, photo booths, unlimited play and more.

PhP 500 per child 
PhP 250 per adult, inclusive of snacks

For more information, please call:
Tel 869-0800 or 869-9509
www.activefun.ph



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Oysters and caviar at Bo Innovation in Hong Kong, one of Asia's best restaurants

Our second course of caviar at Bo Innovation.
This was one my many favorites.


I really like Bo Innovations a lot, both for their ideas on food, the great and fun service, and the overall dining experience. They take their cooking very seriously, but the end-result isn't serious at all

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Each time I'm there, I encounter a wonderful meal and a great group of people who smile and joke around a lot while still serving meticulously prepared food that borders on molecular gastronomy. It probably is molecular gastronomy. 

But since -- unlike in places like Fat Duck where I struggle to recognize what's on my plate -- most of the dishes still feel like food to me, I hesitate to label this as molecular gastronomy


LOVE AT FIRST BITE

I've liked this place since the very first visit. 

I'm especially impressed with the wine pairings that accompany the 15-course tasting dinner (yes, 15 courses!) because none of it is particularly expensive, but they really are picked so carefully to complement the food.

Because we were seated at the counter,
everyone took very good care of us,
and took time to talk to us and make sure we had a good time.
The counter seats are highly recommended for foodies.


HONG KONG'S AND ASIA'S BEST

Bo Innovations was recently chosen as one of Asia's Best Restaurants by the S. Pellegrino. It's #15 on the list. 

So I'm reprinting an entry from my dinner here last December, for readers thinking of heading for Hong Kong for some very good food.

A GREAT EVENING AT BO INNOVATION




One cool December night, in Hong Kong living a TRAVELIFE, we had a huge dinner at Bo Innovation in the neighborhood of Wanchai. I had dinner here earlier this year, and then I enjoyed the tasting course very much.

So, on this most recent trip, when someone asked me where I wanted to eat on my last night in Hong Kong, this is where I chose to have dinner.

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Bo Innovation is a famous and multi-awarded restaurant with a brave and ambitious chef and an extremely hardworking staff.

It's in a very gentrified section of somewhat generally rundown Wanchai, surrounded by new or refurbished buildings with very nice restaurants and just a few minutes away from the Cantonese dining institution Fook Lam Moon.



They've had two Michelin stars for a long time now, and now they've just made it to the top of the list of Hong Kong's best restaurants and Asia's best restaurants, as deemed by the S Pellegrino.

The Chef's Table menu at Bo Innovation:
15 wonderful courses over three hours.
If you eat here, you should definitely do this.

Molecular gastronomy is so difficult to make compared to most other types of cuisine, so you really have to appreciate their efforts whether you're a fan of molecular gastronomy or not.

And what makes Chef Alvin Leung's concept very different from others is the fact that he uses local ingredients and Chinese techniques as much as possible. So it's a really local and unique molecular gastronomy experience, in this sense.

That's our first course,
being prepared right in front of us.

Understandable, this is quite a controversial restaurant because it's pretty extreme in its experimental cuisine. You either love it or you don't, and I'm firmly on the "LIKE" side. 

For me, this is experimental but it's still pretty palatable stuff compared to the extreme experimentation of Heston Blumenthal of Fat Duck or Ferran Adria of El Bulli, before it closed temporarily.

Instead of table bread, we had the equivalent of a local savory hot cake.
It was baked with mustard for a slightly spicy taste.
Fresh from the oven.


Here's  a close-up.
It's fantastic freshly baked,
although locals have it sweet rather than savory.


FIVE HOURS AT THE TABLE
AND I DON'T FEEL I'VE EATEN

At Fat Duck, I never felt I had properly eaten even if I'd sat through multi-course meals for five hours. But it's one of those things you have to do every so often, if you fancy yourself a foodie, because it really changes your perceptions of eating and food.

Whereas at Bo Innovation, you feel your perceptions of food and your senses are being challenged, but not in a negative way. It's a very pleasant experience and this is why I was back here again for dinner on Monday night.

Our first course of a single plump oyster (along with some other people's orders)
was prepared right in front of us.
It takes a brave kitchen to make everything
in full and such intimate view of the customers.


We had the 15-course Chef's Table tasting menu. Yes, you read right. 15 courses, although mostly small portions, of course, so that we were full but not uncomfortably so at the end of it all.

We also decided to have the wine pairing course to go along with it, and so we must have tried about 12 different types of alcohol to go with our meal.

The sommelier pours the first of our 12 glasses or so of wine.


The wines for the pairing course at Bo Innovation are very well thought out, by the way, to ensure that they go excellently with the food. If you read this blog, you'll know that we're in great restaurants all the time, and we're often doing wine pairings with meals.

But this year, the wine pairing at Bo Innovation is among the most enjoyable I've had in 12 months of countless wine and food pairings -- and I've already had Bo Innovation's wine pairing on two occassions. (The other very enjoyable food and wine pairing this year was the very fancy Chateau Margaux dinner organized by Bacchus recently at the Makati Shangri-la...)

LOTS OF THOUGHT INTO THE WINES

We started with a lovely sparkling wine from Italy...
really perfect with the oyster.

I'm sure the wines aren't crazily expensive on an individual basis, but they were so obviously chosen very carefully to enhance each course.

Taken together as a 15-course meal with accompanying wines, this is certainly not an inexpensive meal. But I think it's worth the bill because of its so enjoyable and yet an out-of-the-box experience.

That's one of the kitchen staff
putting the finishing touches on the 2nd course:
a beautifully arranged caviar dish.


Instead of sitting at a table, or outside in the terrace under heat lamps as I'd done on my first visit, my friend had reserved two seats at the counter so that we could see all the action -- and we really enjoyed having the chefs and the counter all to ourselves.

We could talk to everyone and see most of our dishes being made. What a fun evening that was.

One of the two Filipino chefs at Bo Innovation
baking the "bread" right in front of us.


1st COURSE: A SINGLE OYSTER



To start, we had a single plump and juicy oyster, sprinkled with spring onion, lime, ginger powder and seaweed jelly.

I just love oysters so this was a big winner with me.

That's the oyster again, being sprinkled with ginger powder



2ND COURSE: CAVIAR



Our second course was a smoked quail egg -- we could really taste the smokiness, and it went so well with the quail egg -- wrapped in a crispy taro shell and topped with a caviar of an excellent quality. This was one of my favorite dishes because it was so decadent.

To be continued in the next blog entries...we did have 15 courses after all!



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From Manila to Palermo: Seeing the world via AIESEC



In college at the Ateneo de Manila University, I was very active in the student organization AIESEC.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to spend much time in the university local chapter as I worked immediately and mainly for the AIESEC Philippines National Committee as the public relations officer.

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THE MOST AMAZING JOB EVER

I also did a stint at AIESEC International as the Regional Development Officer (RDO) for Asia-Pacific.

This was just about the most amazing job a graduate with a travel bug could have. I traveled the entire region, visiting AIESEC chapters in each country and living out of a suitcase.



What an experience that was. So I know first-hand the transforming experience that AIESEC the world over offers its members and even non-members who participate in its traineeships.

AN AIESEC ATENEO TRAINEE'S EXPERIENCE

Monnik Togle, an exchange participant from AIESEC Ateneo de Manila University (AIESEC AdMU) spent six weeks interning for an NGO in Palermo, Italy.

 Get to know why she went on the AIESEC exchange program and how it made a difference for her - as it did for me.



A GREAT ADVENTURE AWAITS

Monnik writes:

"Strapped to my seat on the flight from Manila to Palermo, Italy with all strangers beside me, it finally struck me that I was going on this trip to Europe alone.

I was already 19 years old, but this was my first time to go outside the country.

Working in AIESEC for three years and hearing about Exchange first hand from participants who left, as well as those who arrived here from different countries, I decided I could not possibly ignore the opportunities that AIESEC had to offer.

INTO THE UNKNOWN

I finally decided to take up this “challenge” last summer: to be independent in an unfamiliar place, with people I did not know, and who came from different backgrounds and cultures, working on a project created by locals who did not speak English.

The internship itself was in Palermo, Italy.

Palermo is part of the region of Sicily that's already a mosaic of different cultures: Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Norman, Spanish, to name a few.



WORKING FOR AN NGO

For six weeks, I worked on a project to raise funds for a local NGO in the city.

It was a new experience, being able to organize events successfully with the help of fellow AIESECers in a foreign place. Although executing and organizing the project well ensured a successful internship, the fulfilment and rewards of the whole experience certainly did not end there.

It helped me with self-development and re-shaped how I perceived the world.

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IT'S A SMALL WORLD

I also realized how small this big world can get when you travel, and I enjoyed the moments I spent with people from diverse backgrounds.


Hostel searching and Couch Surfing helped me get around Europe on a budget. This is where I met more student travellers from different countries.

Like it or not, I realized I represented my country when I went travelling – both to locals and to other travellers. I actually wanted to know more about the Philippines because we were all sharing stories from home.



LESSONS FOR A LIFETIME

AIESEC made it possible for me to experience this adventure at a very young age, and it was priceless. I urge you to grab this same opportunity if you can.

My AIESEC internship was merely a two-month experience, but the lessons learned here will last a lifetime. It was a humbling yet overwhelming experience. I became a sponge, absorbing every detail and sensation of a new location.

AIESEC AdMU regularly hosts a series of orientation seminars on its exchange programs.

Visit www.bestsummerever.net to learn more.





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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Travelife picks Andre Chiang's restaurant in Singapore very early on as among Asia's best restaurants


Restaurant Andre in Singapore, another early favorite of Travelife Contributing Editor Jerome Velasco, recently made it to the S. Pellegrino list of Asia's Best Restaurants.

Jerome has a knack for picking culinary winners, as I've already mention in a previous blog entry. His very early favorite, Les Creations de Narisawa, was once again picked the best restaurant in Asia.

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Although I like this restaurant, it's never been a great favorite of mine, mainly because it's too radical for my tastes.

But Jerome has been a loyal fan from the start, and obviously he's been right on track with it. And earlier today, he was quick to remind me about how I've never really liked this restaurant that's been once again named as Asia's Best...



TRAVELIFE GETS SOUTH AFRICA RIGHT

Meanwhile, Test Kitchen, his top pick for South Africa, was chosen as South Africa's Restaurant of the Year for 2012.

In November last year, living a Travelife, we had three top choices for meals in South Africa: Test Kitchen, The Tasting Room, and La Colombe.

The latter two were equally my requests as well as his choices, although he did the legwork.  But Test Kitchen was entirely his choice, and this made it to number 1.



The Tasting Room and La Colombe made it to the top as well. Read more about these three world-class dining experiences in the current issue of Travelife Magazine.

Here's an excerpt from Jerome's previous column on Andre, another top finalist to the Asia's Best Restaurants list.

NEW KID ON THE BLOCK

Travelife Magazine Contributing Editor Jerome Velasco gets a headstart on Singapore’s rising culinary star. He writes: 

Restaurant Andre is located in a beautifully restored three-storey shophouse adjacent to the Majestic Hotel in Singapore’s lively Chinatown.

By the entrance, Andre transplanted an 80 year old olive tree from the south of France, where he spent many years as an apprentice. Astonishing. I do not know of any other olive tree in Singapore.

“It is my source of inspiration, where my cuisine and I come from,” he explained.

Singapore, with its sizeable expatriate community has managed to attract chefs with weighty accolades, and Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa have a plethora of celebrity chefs.

However, this restaurant -- probably the best in town -- is located far from the maddening casino crowd.

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STRONG CONNECTIONS WITH FRANCE

Born in Taiwan, Chef Andre has strong French roots, having lived in France for nearly 15 years and trained under some of the most revered names in gastronomy: Pierre Gagnaire, Joel Robuchon, Michel Troisgros, Pascal Barbot and the Pourcel brothers.

Perhaps no other young Asian chef today has a resume of this caliber.


EIGHT POINTS OF COOKING 

Chef Andre’s dishes are based on French techniques with some Mediterranean accents and a great respect for his products, which are his inspiration. He calls this Octaphilosophy.

As the name suggests, this cuisine is expressed through eight different points:

Unique
Pure
Texture
Memory
Salt
South
Artisan 
Terroir

He applies this hypothesis to many of his creations, and diners are taken on a journey of eight dishes, all themed after Octaphilosophy.

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PURE 

A ravioli made of raw Hokkaido scallops lightly spread with seaweed paste and wrapped around Japanese chives in a pool of purple cauliflower consommé.

Everything was natural and pure, with no seasoning or cooking -- just drops of olive oil and a sprinkling of dill flowers and purple shiso. The plating and presentation was exquisite and so pristine that I found myself staring at his creation and hesitant to destroy his artwork.

Undoubtedly, this was one of the best dishes of the evening.


SALT 

A single plump, black oyster from Brittany was wrapped in seaweed and seawater jelly and topped with Japanese sea grapes and a green apple foam.

It had a metallic finish, and I surmised that the apple was used to balance out the dish with its sweetness. This was an oyster lover’s oyster, with its crisp, fresh seawater taste and the essence of salt in its purest form.

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ARTISAN 

This section of the meal focuses on heritage and limited produce from artisans across the globe.

The dish is presented like an artist’s plate that is in reality handmade and designed by Andre himself.

That night, a stunningly fresh, smoked eggplant (from Kyoto) cremouline with macadamia nuts and parsnip, and golden caviar from China displayed his French influence. I can’t remember a better tasting eggplant dish anywhere.

SOUTH 

Representative of the south of France, where Andre spent considerable time and thus greatly influenced his style, the duo of hot and cold dishes served feature both freshness and acidity, and are designed to resemble the flavors there and to offer both freshness and acidity.

The cold dish was a cured kinmedai (golden snapper) with tomatoes, Japanese seaweed, and a persimmon sorbet.

Meanwhile the warm plate consisted of seared sea bass, prawn and clams with paella and shellfish foam. I had trouble deciding which was better.

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TEXTURE 

This was an ingenious dish that was really a brilliant play on textures.

After laying down the plates – or rather, the rectangular slabs – the waiter asked the inevitable question: “Do you know which element on the plate is the rice and which is the squid”?



Upon tasting, I immediately realized that the “risotto” was in fact squid cut into rice size granules, while the overcooked risotto, made from Arborio rice, was in fact the squid that was hydrated with charcoal to create “squid ink crackers.”

These crackers provided a crunch that juxtaposed well with the soft cauliflower cream. Terrific, but not too flavorful, it is something you might expect from a molecular gastronomy restaurant like the Fat Duck.

UNIQUE 



This dish is a combination of the best and most unique ingredients: a slow- cooked blackbone chicken -- better tasting than the regular variety, and reputedly of better nutritional value -- and Singaporean egg, which is smaller than normal chicken egg, wrapped with Spanish jabugo ham and Italian black truffles.

MEMORY 



Linked to the first time he created this dish in 1998, bringing back fond memories of his days training and working in France, he tweaked to perfection a warm foie gras jelly with black truffle coulis. This unforgettable dish was luxurious and intensely rich, with great consistency in the smoothness and creaminess of the custard but with the truffle flavor always coming through with every bite.

It was the other standout dish of the evening and apparently a recurring item on Chef Andre’s menu. 

TERROIR 



This portion of Octaphilosophy celebrates the gifts from the land. In this particular case, pigeon from Bresse (a region in southwest France which is famous for poultry) with tarragon, green peas and a Cevenne onion puree.

This was a classic display of wonderful plating and artistry, and undoubtedly distinct because of the variety of flavors.

DESSERT 



This was a degustation of chocolate, perfect for chocoholics.

We had a light and airy sponge cake; followed by a spicy chocolate chip with a dreamy vanilla bean ice cream; and then a perfect chocolate sphere with cacao from Trinidad in the Caribbean, with fromage blanc on the bottom.

Inside the sphere was warm chocolate lava made even more interesting by the fact that it was chilled from the outside.

COMPLETELY PERSONAL



This is Southeast Asia’s must-visit restaurant today, and Chef Andre is the culinary world’s poster boy and man-of-the-moment.

I know of no other top restaurant which closes when the chef is not around. He personally plates each dish that leaves the kitchen, and the artistry of the cooking is further influenced by his other skills as a painter and sculptor.

“There is only one Andre and people come here expecting him to cook for them,” Chef Andre himself said. This is what makes this place very exciting. Highly recommended. Book early, as he is at the top of every foodie’s list.

Restaurant Andre 
41 Bukit Pasoh Road, Singapore 
www.restaurantandre.com



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