Friday, January 30, 2015

Talking about the world. And all about a last supper with an ambassador.

Last night, in Manila living a #Travelife, I had dinner with an ambassador leaving the Philippines for good today, and it was just the two of us.

It's the second time this week that an ambassador has chosen to spend "the last supper" with me -- meaning the very last evening before leaving the country and returning home.

On Thursday night, I also had dinner with an ambassador and his wife, at the ambassador's favorite restaurant at the Fort, after all their official functions were completed.

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Yesterday was very nice, and it was the kind of dinner I needed.

It was very relaxed and, over a Japanese dinner of sake and tempura, we talked about everything -- from history and politics to the changes happening in the world, to culture and psychology.

In Tokyo, perhaps because it's a world capital, these kinds of conversations take place at dinners all the time -- and it's very stimulating. Manila is slightly different, and sometimes I miss the stimulation of Tokyo.

Last night's conversations also made me decide to keep on learning as much more about this wonderful world as I possibly can -- for, in the long run and my love of luxury hotels aside, that's truly what a never-ending #Travelife is all about.

Planning a Travelife to Sri Lanka, including a glamping experience in a tea plantation and a special afternoon tea in Colombo

This photo, from my very first trip to Sri Lanka,
just as I was about to ride a horse, brings back memories.
This was taken near the ancient city of Anuradhapura,
living a #Travelife.
So these days I've been quite busy finalizing a trip to Sri Lanka for a group of friends next month. It's going to be a nice luxury trip with lots of culture, good food, shopping and exclusive experiences.

We've even booked almost the entire business class section of an airplane for this pretty special trip.

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For this #Travelife to Sri Lanka, I'm pulling out all the stops and running through all my contacts to create something very special.

No one travels like us. Or writes like us. Or plans a trip like us, after all. And fortunately, I know a lot of people in Colombo.

Aside from the usual tourist stuff, we're also going to be visiting several beautiful homes, meeting some interesting and very prominent local personalities, and even watching a tea auction in action.

Sri Lanka is famous for tea, after all.


And speaking of tea, I'm organising two very special tea experiences in Sri Lanka.

One is an afternoon tea party in a beautiful home in Colombo, while the other is a high tea event in the middle of nowhere in a tea plantation up in the hills.

Then, of course, I'm taking everyone to some of my favourite shops and restaurants.


It'll be so nice to be in Sri Lanka again, as I haven't been here in two years.

I can't wait to stock up on ayurveda stuff and to shop for more local crafts, as well as to get away from everything and head for the hills of central Sri Lanka, full of natural beauty.

In other words, it's going to be another wonderful trip in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful #Travelife.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Happy birthday, Australia. And about a long, last dinner with an ambassador and his wife.

A children's choir performs at the
Australia National Day party tonight 

My long and happy evening tonight, living a #Travelife, began at the Makati Shangri-la for a party to celebrate the national day of Australia, hosted by the Ambassador of Australia.

I've had the pleasure of knowing the ambassador of Australia since his first days in the Philippines, as we'd been seated next to each other at a formal dinner when he'd first arrived.

And tonight, his party took up the entire ballroom of the Makati Shangri-la, and what a big party it really was. When I entered, I glanced around the room, and it seemed like everyone who was anyone in this small town was there.

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I was really happy to bump into a couple of friends I hadn't seen in a very long time.

If I had walked around the room a little more, I'm sure I would've seen more friends. Unfortunately, I had a 730 PM appointment in the lobby, so I could only stay at the party for about 30 minutes.

To make sure I made it on time for my next appointment, I even set the alarm clock on my watch, as I was sure I would get carried away talking if I didn't mind the time.


Then for dinner, an ambassador and his wife and I went to a popular restaurant at the Fort.

We met at the Shangri-la lobby and went together to the restaurant, which was the special request of the ambassador himself.


Tonight was their last night in Manila before leaving the Philippines tomorrow, and they'd only placed two appointments on their calendar for today -- one of them was dinner with me.

This ambassador and his wife are very prominent in Manila society, and until yesterday, they'd been wined and dined by the Who's Who of Manila.

I, too, had hosted a sit-down farewell dinner for them with a couple of surprise VIP guests.


But they'd reserved tonight for me, and the three of us went for a nice casual dinner, reminiscing about old times, and also planning for future ones.

At the last minute, someone else joined us, and the four of us had a very nice time, in Manila, living a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful #Travelife.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

According to feng shui expert Joey Yap, the Year of the Goat brings good luck for romance. And other predictions.

At a lunch hosted by Kingson Sian at the Genting Club of Resorts World today, living a #Travelife, I met Joey Yap, a feng shui expert who is supposedly one of the world's top experts. He told us what to expect from the upcoming Year of the Goat.

According to him, the Year of the Goat will be lucky for most, and especially for those looking for love.

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Those who are single will stand a good chance of finding someone significant, while those who are already attached may have many opportunities to strengthen their bonds.

Those born in the Year of the Goat will also be lording it over everyone else, as they will have lots of good fortune and happy moments compared to others.

And in between the predictions for the Chinese New Year today, we were treated to some incredible acrobatics and a happy song and dance number. 

Pretty amazing lunchtime fare, even in a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful #Travelife.

A drink called Piscine, enjoyed a lot in the south of France

Piscine is usually served in a larger and rounder glass than this.
But this was certainly fine tonight,
living a #Travelife.

Today I won't bore you with details of what I ate or cooked, somewhere in the world, living a #Travelife.

Instead I'm going to write about what I drunk, at a dinner that began way later than my usual time.

Midway through dinner, I finally had the drink called "piscine." Someone I was having dinner with had began cocktails with it, having glass after glass next to me. And then he continued with glass after glass at dinner.

Just like water.

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Meanwhile, I strenuously resisted anything alcoholic, as this was my nth night out, and always with lots of wine. I even said no to offers of champagne. So I actually began the evening with a pot of peppermint tea.

At dinner, though, I finally couldn't resist.

He was drinking the piscine right in front of me, you see. It's a glass filled with ice (and if you're one of my friends, you'll certainly know how I feel about ice) and a pink-ish coloured liquid. It looked just beautiful. And absolutely irresistible.

So when the waitress offered me a glass midway through dinner, I finally said yes.

Just one photo of the first course tonight:
smoked salmon with slices of grapefruit


Piscine actually means swimming pool in French. But in France, it's also the name of this drink, enjoyed a lot in St. Tropez and other glamorous and sunny parts of France.

The drink itself is just rose wine, and it's usually served in a very large and round glass.

But the magic is when the glass is filled with ice and then the wine is poured, so that it looks beautiful and fresh, and it makes you feel like you're drinking  a very cold glass of juice.

Of course, it's far from juice. But it was very good, and perfect for a nice evening in balmy Manila, living a never-ending, and never-endingly delicious #Travelife. 

PS: So perfect, in fact, that I'm going to serve the piscine at my next dinner party. I just so happened to spot in my fridge a lovely rose from Cloud Estate, a winery and luxury hotel in Western Cape, South Africa, that will make a wonderful few glasses of piscine.

A trip to Hokkaido in a Travelife minute, July 19 to 25, 2015, will include Sapporo ramen and Hokkaido's best sushi

Get a taste of real Sapporo ramen
on a Travelife to Hokkaido this July 2015

For those who have been waiting for details of our Hokkaido trip, I'm happy to report that we will be releasing these very soon.

It will be a nice and intense trip that will incorporate the best of Hokkaido, including lots of foodie experiences and opportunities to enjoy the views that Hokkaido is famous for.

No one knows Japan better than us, so you can be assured of a fantastic Travelife of a trip.

This is tentatively scheduled from July 12 to 18, 2015.

Please take note of the dates and contact Travelife if you're interested in getting on our mailing list for a Travelife to Hokkaido.

Ron Hernandez

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Awesome Lego Sunday brunch at the Spectrum Restaurant of the Raffles and Fairmont Makati Hotel

Sundays are all about family-time.

And what better way to spend it than indulging on a most festive  Sunday brunch at the Spectrum restaurant of Raffles and Fairmont Makati, living a #Travelife.

This brunch will feature a lavish spread of international delicacies, with live stations offering sumptuous dishes and fun activities for the children.

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It's on every Sunday of February and March, from 12 noon until 3 PM, and the dining experience begins with a mouthwatering selection of local and international gourmet temptations.

Then it concludes with an impressive dessert buffet extravagance guaranteed to bring delight to all children and also to those young-at-heart.


What makes this Sunday brunch different from the rest is the participation of LEGO.

Look forward to an impressive hotel and Spectrum show kitchen scene built with LEGO bricks, including LEGO flower centerpieces and other interesting displays.

A separate play area also awaits kids ages four to 14 years old featuring LEGO bricks and play tables, movies and a “My Own Creation” contest complete with exciting prizes.

Spectrum’s Awesome Sunday Brunch is at Php 2,777 net per person, and children from 6 to 12 years old get 50% off on the buffet price.


Raffles and Fairmont Makati 
Restaurant Reservations at Tel 555-9840

Philippine food including a green mango salad, pancit Malabon and kare-kare for dinner tonight

Tonight in Manila, living a #Travelife, I hosted a Philippine dinner for an ambassador and his visitor.

I decided to have it at home and to make it very relaxed as we all attend way too many events that require grace and fortitude for serious conversations and eight-course dinners.

As neither the ambassador nor his visitor had had proper Philippine food yet, I prepared a typical Filipino dinner tonight. Or at least my version of it.

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To start, we had green mango salad, with tomatoes, cucumbers and grilled eggplant as well. And I deliberately kept all the ingredients separate so that we could make our own salads and season these ourselves.

Then, I made a sinigang soup with salmon belly.

This proved to be a very big hit, with everyone asking for seconds. Actually, I make this a lot for foreign visitors, and especially for ambassadors, and they always seem to remember my dinners for this.

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For main courses, I had a pancit Malabon and a kare-kare, and I chose to serve the latter because it's my favourite dish. Again, they liked these very much and everyone had repeats.

Even the cake for dessert was a hit, which made me very happy, indeed.

I served a gooey chocolate sans rival, which is one of my favourite cakes in Manila, and this had some of my guests in raptures.



As for the evening itself, we had a very nice time talking about things we ordinarily can't discuss when other people are present.

I also talked about my upcoming travel plans. I just came back from a happy foodie trip to Hakone and Tokyo, and I'm now in the midst of final planning for an ultra-luxury and culture trip to Sri Lanka, plus a skiing trip somewhere in between these; so I should have more than on my plate enough for the next few weeks.

However, I really want to go somewhere exotic, and that's what we discussed tonight.

Towards the end of the evening, the good food and conversation really made me so relaxed -- which made me then think about inviting my guests for tomorrow evening to my home instead.

Yes, I'm hosting another dinner tomorrow for a visitor from Europe, but this time I decided to hold it in a hotel restaurant instead of at home, on just another wonderful and interesting evening in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful #Travelife.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The best tempura in Tokyo, and how eating at the counter and 20 seconds matter

Two Sundays ago, some friends from Manila were over in Tokyo, living a #Travelife, and we all met up for a nice Sunday lunch before they headed off to the airport to return to Manila.

I'd been quite busy with on a hot springs and foodie trip with another visitor until that same Sunday morning, but fortunately we were able to catch up for Sunday lunch.

I'd asked them what they wanted for lunch, and they chose tempura as they love tempura and understandably so. It's pretty hard to get truly good tempura outside of Japan, for some reason.

Shrimp head tempura


Tempura looks quite simple to make. 

You dip some shrimp or some vegetables in batter and then fry it in lots of oil. This process is quite straightforward, indeed, but excellent tempura is far from elementary.

Everything matters in a good tempura: from the freshness of the ingredients, to the type of batter used and its consistency, to the freshness of the oil and its temperature when frying.

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There are many good tempura restaurants all over Japan, of course, as Japanese love tempura with a passion.

But when I want to eat very good tempura, there are only a handful of places I go to.

One of them is Mikawa Zezankyo in downtown Tokyo, and this is where we had lunch two Sundays ago, in Tokyo, living a #Travelife.

This restaurant is located in a pretty nondescript neighbourhood in the older part of Tokyo, and it's pretty hard to find but not impossible.


I like going here on Sundays because the neighbourhood is completely quiet, there's no traffic on the road, and the parking lot nearby is empty.

The best seats at Mikawa Zezankyo are at the counter.

I've eaten many times in the second-floor private room when I book late and these are the only seats available. But the counter is still better for the quality of food.


When we booked for two Sundays ago, the counter at Mikawa Zezankyo was full and so we were once more relegated to the second floor room.

This made me worry as my friends from Manila were keen on getting excellent tempura and the tempura quality really suffers whenever I eat in the second floor of this restaurant, for some reason.

So I asked them: "How long will it take to bring the tempura to the second floor?"

I know this sounds like an incredibly minute detail, but I had to ask as my Manila friends are serious foodies and they know their tempura.

The answer of the chef was "20 seconds from the fryer to the second floor."


So I decided to book the second floor room and just keep my fingers crossed that the tempura would be very good.

Well, it was okay -- in fact, it was good enough for almost anywhere -- but I still prefer eating in the counter.

When I explained this to my friends, they said: "We actually like this better. The tempura is good enough and at least we can talk while eating."

That's true.

If we had been at the counter, we would have had to quietly whisper instead of laughing and talking about Travel and Life, while eating tempura, on just another wonderful Sunday in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful #Travelife.

A tale of three popes and six presidents of Sri Lanka, and Pope Francis as a nightclub bouncer

At Noma in Tokyo twice last week,
with Chef Rene Redzepi,
living a #Travelife...

So last week, upon landing in Manila from a big week-long foodie trip to Tokyo, living a #Travelife, I headed straight for two parties hosted by two ambassadors.

The first was a cocktail party hosted by a European ambassador for a fellow ambassador about to depart for Manila soon.

It seems all I have been doing this month is either going to or hosting sayonara parties for ambassadors who are leaving, and this month, several who I am particularly close to are saying goodbye.

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Fortunately, after this sayonara party, I went to a welcome dinner for a change.

Another ambassador just down the road from the first party hosted a dinner for a visiting guest, and he assembled for a sit-down a very merry but pretty eclectic group of guests.

We were of all ages and inclinations, but everyone was such a good conversationalist that dinner lasted so long and we had such a good time exchanging stories.


I'd not been in Manila for the visit of Pope Francis, so I wasn't really up to date on the stories. But someone at my end of the table said: "Did you know that Pope Francis was once a nightclub bouncer in a previous life?"

No, I didn't know this. So, of course, I almost fell off my seat. But apparently, it's in the official Vatican records.


Then there's the interesting story about six Sri Lankan presidents and three different Popes.

Apparently, for three times now, including the visit of Pope Francis to Sri Lanka just two weeks ago, a Sri Lankan president officially invited the pope to visit Sri Lanka;  but when the pope finally landed in Colombo, it was a different president who welcomed him.

This is what I've been doing, by the way, in my spare time,
living a #Travelife...

Yes, three times in a row, the Sri Lankan president who invited a pope to visit Sri Lanka ended up losing the elections.

So now, apparently Sri Lankans are joking that their presidents should not invite popes to visit Sri Lanka -- at least not if they wish to remain in power.

There were all sorts of interesting stories like these, at a sit-down dinner last Thursday in an ambassador's residence in Manila, living a never-ending, and never-endingly eventful #Travelife.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A home-cooked dinner on a Saturday night, and remembering a wonderful stay in the Selous of Tanzania

Last night, in Manila living a #Travelife, I attended the launch of the Philippines Yearbook at the Peninsula Manila. 

As always, it was a very well-attended event, with wonderful entertainment and good food.

I had chicken wonton soup at the Peninsula last night

However I had an appointment for dinner with some friends that same night, so I left the party early to sit in the Peninsula lobby catching up with friends as well as saying hello to other friends walking by.

It was a Friday night, after all, and it seems the whole world was at the Peninsula, living a #Travelife.

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Then tonight, I hosted a dinner at home.

It was rather spontaneous and I decided to cook the meal myself, and three ambassadors came over. We all sat around talking about the world, and it was so interesting and enjoyable.

In fact, that's why I enjoy meeting up with the diplomatic corps so much. Almost everyone is such a good conversationalist, and they all have truly engaging stories and insights.


At Noma Tokyo last Saturday, living a #Travelife

Tonight, for instance, we talked about our experiences in the world.

My own contribution was my recent trip to Tokyo for an epic food trip that included two meals at the world's best restaurant and a couple of fantastic lunches and dinners in Tokyo.

Everyone listened with fascination about my meals at Noma and about my lunch at a kaiseki restaurant in Tokyo that needs an introduction from a regular client when booking.


In Tanzania, living a #Travelife

Then an ambassador asked: "What's your most amazing experience so far, among so many amazing experiences?"

That was a really tough question as every Travelife of a trip is amazing and enjoyable. No kidding.

But off the top of my head, out of the hundreds of things I could have mentioned, my experience at The Retreat in the Selous of Tanzania popped into my head. It's not an overly luxurious place, but it was perfectly wonderful and we were in the most middle of nowhere that we could possibly be.


Hippo Point in The Retreat, Tanzania

The more I think of that stay, the more I understand how special and surreal it was to be there, having champagne and cocktails by a river full of hippos, in the same villa that Steffi Graff and Andre Agassi stayed at when they wanted to get away from the world.

We also talked of a million things -- from the global diamond industry to the business of religion, to the beauty of Australia and New Zealand, and a nudist beach in Cyprus that's patrolled by a priest with great zealousness.

In other words, it was just another wonderful evening in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.