Surprising Horizons

The Joy of Travel. The Realities of New Experiences.

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Flight Review: Finnair | Economy Class | Dublin – Helsinki | A319

I can see the future.

I can see myself flying this route quite a few times in the next few years.

The Departure

Dublin Airport is a secret shame of mine being Irish. It’s just not the best airport in the world. Or Ireland. Far from it. Terminal 2 has tried to up DUB’s game but it all still comes back to the infrastructure of Terminal 1 and the whole airport. It’s just not the best. An express train connection to Dublin or even Belfast straight from the airport? Hell no, line up for the buses or taxis. A stress free check in experience where open space is in abundance? No chance; it exudes franticness. This is DUB 2018 yo.

The Flight

AY 1382 departs from Dublin daily (apart from Tuesday and Thursday which doesn’t make it daily I guess) at 10:25 and arriving in Helsinki at 15:25. It is served by a mix of Airbus 319s and Embraer 190s. We had the A319 on our particular day. And this particular A319 was an A319-112 (OH-LVA) which was born in 1999; making it 19 years old.

Today we would be delayed by roughly 40 minutes by some late refueling of the aircraft. Shell happens.

The A319 is a squat little Airbus but seating room in Economy isn’t too bad on the knees and you end up thinking you’re on an A320 until you look back and see the fuselage ending quite abruptly and quite near.

Boarding was fuss free and flights attendants welcoming. Finnair’s A319s have little overhead monitors that drop from the ceiling to keep any eye on our flight progress and gate information at your arrival destination. The screens, sadly, are really hard to read and quite dim in the daylight of the cabin.

Food is available for purchase in Finnair Economy but for a 2hr 40min flight on average I tend to stock up on food before the flight (and in particular some Tayto from Ireland!) as I don’t want to take out a second mortgage on board.

The flight went by very quickly and if you’re given a clear sunny day on your way over from DUB to HEL you will get to see some beautiful white snowscapes and coastlines of Norway and Sweden as you come into the descent down to Finland.

The Arrival

HEL is not hell. It’s a very manageable and quiet airport to either arrive or transfer in. They have some major upgrades happening over the next few years which is increasing the number of gates available. Here’s hoping this will decrease the amount of times you have to hop onto a bus when you land (which was our experience) as that’s always a little bit annoying after a flight not to just walk directly into the terminal.

I’m looking forward to having HEL as my home airport for the foreseeable future as I believe it is a relaxing point of departure and arrival which doesn’t get the stress levels up too much. That’s always a help. Next time I experience HEL I will be arriving in my new home. A few days after I arrive I will be taking a short hop over to the Aland Islands on a Finnair ATR72 to scope out the main town Mariehamm. Watch this space.

Singapore Food Staples: Laksa

Forgive me for being biased but I believe Asian food has the most willingness to surprise, scare, delight, and excite the weary eater. One of the most low key foods you can have in Singapore is laksa. I mean low key in a way that it’s a nice gate-way to the world of Singaporean/Asian dishes. There’s a lot more scarier dishes out there.

But, of course, there are different versions of laksa. But, of course.
I’ve had many. I like them all. I won’t stand in the corner and fight for one in particular but I will tell you why I like katong laksa. Because I had that today and that’s what I remember.

After walking back from the Istana where I had my improptu photoshoot with Donald Trump I wandered in a post-presidential daze to Janggut Laksa on the 4th floor of Wisma Atria. The Food Republic there is quite reasonable (for Orchard Road) and has an excellent range of local fare.

Ignoring and laughing at all signage directing me towards a meagre small bowl I opted for the $7.50 large bowl. Again, not cheap by hawker centre standards but cheap enough for Orchard Road.

On first slurps of a Katong Laksa you get a gritty texture to the soup base. Which is nice. It adds a bit more depth to the taste and feels more wholesome. The grit is ground up dried prawns for your curiousity. Maybe you didn’t want to know that. Another difference between other laksas I have had is that everything is spoonable in a Katong Laksa; the noodles are cut up into more scoop-upable sizes. Which is why they only gave me a spoon until I asked for some chopsticks. Which probably insulted them on many levels. Then I realised I didn’t really need it. Laksa lesson learned.

This laksa was delicious. Both sweet and spicy. Both gritty and smooth. The Laksa noodles, coconut milk, curry soup base, chili, dried shrimps, cockles, prawns and fishcake marry each other perfectly. The fish cake slices with a hint of faint fishiness contrast the punchy cockle taste which hits you with an ocean wave flavour. Getting a mixture of everything with each spoonful is the beautiful part of eating a laksa; and one that I will miss when I leave Singapore.

You should leave a laksa behind with slight spicy after burn on the back roof of your mouth from the spice and sambal, with the remnants of sweetness on your tongue from the soup and shrimp, and with a salty aftertaste from the cockles. And all of those tasty memories are very much welcome.

R.I.P. Anthony Bourdain

Bite Size Review: Thai Tantric

There is a building in Singapore called Orchard Towers. It goes by another rhyming moniker… It has four floors. And certain females “work” there. Do the math.
It’s a dodgy building which you can’t really walk around as a lone male without getting cajoled or cat-called into a darker realm.

Nestled between the business emporiums on the third floor is Thai Tantric. Out of the way, tucked into a corner, it stands alone and looks very very average. At best. Behind the banality though lies a very authentic and very very tasty Thai food experience.

Having been there twice now I have seen two sides to the Thai Tantric experience. The first time it was around 500pm or so and the place was empty and we had the pick of seats (so we chose to sit outside in the dank corridor).
The second time visiting there was about 7pm or so and the queue snaked outside as every table was bursting at the seams. We waited thirty minutes to get a table. And it was worth it. But give me no wait any day.

The service is fine but it’s the food that will linger long in your memory. On both occasions I had the Thai Spicy Chicken Wings and they are. Truly spicy. The kind that stings but gives you that pleasure soon afterwards. The burn lingers. And it’s welcomed.On the first visit there one of the surprisinghorizoners got the Tom Yum Soup I believe and it nearly blew his brains out. But in a good way. On the second occasion we shared some other dishes; the green curry was tasty and flavourful, the phad thai juicy and succulent, and we got some sort of shredded beef which was also delicious. Beer wise you can wash everything down with a Singha beer.

Go there. With friends.

Review: Singapore Airlines Business Class 787-10 Singapore – Bangkok

With Singapore Airlines miles to burn before I shuffle off this mortal coil island state I decided to experience SQ’s very new Boeing 787-10 business class offering on a local route. Bangkok was (and is) being used by SQ to ease the 787-10 into their network of flights. So Bangkok it was and it was quite fitting as Bangkok was my first introduction to Asia way back in 2006 and so it would be my last city to visit in Asia whilst living here. This time around.

On this journey, I was very happy to have TravelogyDepartment along for the ride.

Changi Departure

Our flight number was SQ982 (9V-SCB which is listed as Brand New on FlightRadar) and we would be taking off from Terminal 2 which meant a nice wait in the SilverKris Lounge Business Class area. This lounge has a very nice low key vibe in the quite large sitting area. Muted colours and comfortable chairs.

The food and beverages on offer are immense and I was happy with the chicken rendang that I had. Taittinger champagne was the order of the day (happy birthday to me) which was fine.

The three hours and > 3 Taittingers went by very quickly and before we knew it we were heading towards our departure gate of E11. We timed it perfectly to saunter on board without queuing and we veered off to the left to the awaiting cocoon-like business class section.

On Board

Welcoming us on board with a smile at the front door were our crew who would become friendlier at different parts of our flight individually…it just took some time for certain ones to warm up to some eager 787-10 fliers!

The seating in SQ’s 787-10 business class section is in a 1-2-1 configuration with alternating rows changing their specific layout a little bit as you can see in the below official layout diagram from SQ. It is worth noting when I booked this flight Seatguru didn’t have accurate seating map for the 787-10; they have since rectified that.

As you can see for couples the even numbered rows in the middle would be more suited. Or the other rows; depending on how your relationship is going. For solo travellers or for a couple who both like to sit by the window the side seats on the odd numbered rows are best and also have the feeling of more privacy and cosiness (see video report for more seat antics).
The seat itself is comfortable and testing the lie flat feature led me to believe it would be a very good seat for long haul flights and trying to get some shut eye. Around the seat you have a crazy amount of nooks and crannies to store everything you could possibly need. USB ports and power port are also part and parcel with this seat.

As a business class flyer you can “Book the Cook” which gives you a wide variety of meals up to a few days before the flight departure. I went Singaporean and opted for the chicken rice. As I stuffed my face in the lounge beforehand it still was very tasty but I was pretty full. Before the meal I was presented with a very nice birthday cake from the head purser Mr. Pan (pre-arranged by the travelogydepartment guru). Much appreciated for the gesture on both SQ’s and TD’s behalf. Also more champagne was had.

There are two toilets at the front of the business cabin and two economy toilets behind the iron curtain. I went to the both of them and the business class one is only slightly bigger.

So a word on the crew. They were nice just not overly chatty. We got in to a nice long conversation about the plane and staffing duties with a female attendant at the start of the flight who was more than happy to give us more details about her role and the planes she flies. Mr. Pan as head purser was attentive but not overly so; but he brought the cake so there’s that. The other female attendant didn’t really make herself available for chatting or inquiring into if we needed anything until I offered the rest of my birthday cake to the crew. She was pretty happy after that..
To compare this to my return flight on the A330 service I was being called by my last name with every question put to me; it just came across nicer like they really appreciated me more. Has to be said too, that the 787-10 business class was nearly empty and the return A330 was completely full so it wasn’t down to passenger load.

In flight entertainment by SQ is probably the best there is on any airplane. Ever. A never ending supply of movies and TV. Screens are touch screen with this new business class setup but with the option of using the remote in your armrest also. It’s only when I fly on other so-called top class airlines that I realise how much Singapore Airlines cram into their in-flight entertainment; other airlines’ offerings just pale in comparison.

So what else? I’m not sure. It is certainly an amazing hard product on offer. The seats are fabulous and the rest of the Singapore Airlines experience that comes along with it just makes it a top class business class offering.

Arrival

Nothing too much to report here apart from the Priority/Express lane pass you get as a business class passenger that allows you to skip the general throng of tourists at immigration and head to the indicated express lanes. A nice welcome after a flight. It was my first time to grab the Airport Express train from BKK and it was very convenient and cheap (40 Baht). Staying at a hotel near one of the stations on this line is highly recommended. No more taxi scrambles…unless you have a tonne of luggage I guess.

Get yourself on a 787-10 to experience what it’s like! As of writing only Singapore Airlines have the 787-10 in service with 4 aircraft in service (9V-SCA, 9V-SCB, 9V-SCC, and 9V-SCD) servicing Bangkok, Perth, Osaka, and Kuala Lumpur (not sure for how long though).

 

Iron And Wine Live in Singapore 2018

Source: Instagram @minniebean

On a forgotten and cold January evening back in 2008 after a long day at work I took two trains from mein Zuhause in Düsseldorf through Köln HbF to Koln-Nippes. The destination was the Kulturkirche Köln and an Iron and Wine performance. The fact that I almost fell asleep standing up was not entirely up to Sam Beam’s lullaby-ish crooning vocals slathered atop soothing drifting melodies. As I mentioned it was a long day at the office and the venue was manically centrally heated (which was unusual for an ex-church). The commute was a killer too.

After writing all that out I now realise that I actually saw Iron and Wine along with Calexico in Krefeld (on the back of their collab album In The Reins) which is a little northwest of Düsseldorf back in 2006. From what I remember I had a sick stomach. So, man, I have not had a lot of luck with watching Iron and Wine.

So I was happy to test out my stamina and sickness levels now in 2018 in Singapore after a long day at work to see Iron and Wine again. Ten years later. At least there would be air-con to keep me sitting up-right. But sitting is more conducive to sleeping so I was worried.

Before getting into the concert allow me to….allow myself…a minute to dissect why I like Iron and Wine. I have no clue how I got into them. Their first release The Creek Drank the Candle in 2002 was followed up in 2004 by Our Endless Numbered Days. I guess Iron and Wine just clicked with me on an emotional level; most of the songs are melancholic and soothing. I think I needed that type of music in my listening repertoire. Songs like Sodom, South Georgia, Bird Stealing Bread, and Love and Some Verses still stand out to me as meaningful over 16 years later. I’ve lost track somewhat of Iron and Wine’s offerings from 2009 or so on (the last album I remember delving into was 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog and then I just lost track) until 2017’s Beast Epic but I’ve put in some listening time recently to get back into the Iron and Wine listening mood. There is a mood involved. It’s not work-out music.

So to the concert then. The last time I was in the Capitol Theatre was to watch The Force Awakens. It’s an historic theatre which dates back to 1930 or so and has been renovated numerous times with the last face-lift taking place only a few years ago. There are no food or drinks available once past the ticket collectors. The sound seemed to be very good. The seating is quite flat so you end up craning your neck around whoever sits in front of you.

Iron and Wine came on stage with a subtle musical nod. Starting off with the meandering Trapeze Swinger the scene is set for the rest of the night. Sam Beam’s vocals are like polished wood. Not mahogany or something heavy; more like willow or ash. Yeah, that’s it. His vocals carry each song to places where they wouldn’t go without him. He is a great talent and it was a pleasure to hear him perform.

But wait. I had a problem with the performance.

It’s just that every song is warped into new and weird melodies and in different keys to the studio albums. I love live music and I appreciate artistic expression but I’ve never witnessed any artist radically change the melody so much as Iron and Wine. Bird Stealing Bread, which is one of my favourite songs, lost it’s sweet chorus line which brings together the song beautifully. The live version just aimlessly went along with no central hook. Does Fever Dream really need to plod along any slower? It’s one of Iron and Wine’s slowest songs on track and the live version just stretches it out and again the melody gets warped into something unrecognisable. Call me old fashioned but I want a live version of the album song. Sure, tweak it a bit but don’t make it a mutant.

Anyway, that’s my gripe but I did enjoy the night. Musically it was very polished and Sam Beam’s voice is something to behold live (even if it’s a twisted version of the album songs!).

I will leave you with two versions of Bird Stealing Bread and you can decide which one works better.

Bite Size Review: Wild Honey

Wild Honey has two branches in Singapore; one in Scotts Square and one in the Mandarin Gallery. We rolled into the Scotts Square establishment early on a Saturday evening. Decor is quite homely and living roomy. We were greeted by a hostess at the door and in a brain spasm I said we had a room booked instead of a table. That was fun. And also the last form of non-robotic human interaction we would have.

Wild Honey’s raison d’etre is an all day breakfast menu. It’s a wide ranging menu with a lot of choice. These were our choices:

I opted for the Norwegian to get my brain ready for the type of fare I’ll probably be stuffing my face with for the coming few years.

Here’s what they looked like when served ala expectation vs reality:

Not bad.

Not bad again.

So Mrs. Horizons was very happy with her bowl of grains but I was less so with my Norwegian. It tasted fine, don’t get me wrong (Pretenders, 1986) but it was just too soft of a dish. Gloopy. Mushy. Sloppy. Everything had a runni-ness to it. “What about the asparagus and brioche bread?” though I hear you yell. Didn’t help. The bread has a nice initial crunch but then that had the soft vibe to it. Then the asparagus was just too hard in the midst of all the splurge. Balance is what is needed. Remove the hollandaise, remove the salmon pearls, remove the avocado (tiny portion that is is). The poached egg yolk is all that is needed for a sauce component. The salmon ends up drowned in egg yolk and hollandaise. Respect the salmon!

Anyway this is what it looked like when you cut one portion in half. Nsfw.

It has to be said the beer choice is not wide; one IPA and one Belgian ale. A mojito was chosen under duress here. Both dishes were steep on cost and were in the mid to high $20s.

Service, as I alluded to earlier, was to-the-point and monotone when ordering the food. It was fine just not overly friendly. Getting the attention of the servers to pay the bill was more work than I wanted to put into it.  And I was full of gloop at that point too. Wild Honey is also cashless so don’t bring your birthday money. All cards that exist accepted. Probably.

I would go back again to appease the veg(etarian)an but would choose another dish. And grow a fondness for drinking Mojitos more.

 

Singapore Food Staples: Roti Prata

On a gloomy, overcast Saturday morning I uberred (soon to be Grabbed) my way to Roti Prata House on Upper Thomson road for some…roti prata.

Roti prata is….a kind of flatbread/pancake which can come with many different fillings. Inspired by south-Indian cuisine it’s found in Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia.
Roti means ‘bread’, and prata or paratha means ‘flat’ in the Hindi language. So there. Flat bread.

Roti prata can be served with a myriad of fillings (or toppings) which speaks volumes about the versatility of the dough/butter combination of the bread that they use. I opted for the popular egg and onion combo which comes in at a paltry $2.

All roti prata dishes come with a side bowl of curry to dip merrily away. And merrily away I dipped.

The dough is light and crispy and with the egg and onion combo it makes for a pleasing forkfull. With a slathering of curry on the roti another layer of taste is added on to the whole shindig.

I would probably order the egg, onion, and garlic roti next time to add a little bit more flavour. I found myself wanting a little extra kick of something. The curry, although tasty, was a little lacking or a little thin and the egg and onion combo needs something to help them get over the finish line. Garlic could be the answer. For a day starter roti prata is definitely a cheap and cheerful option to get the day off on the right footing.

The service was prompt and efficient and the food is really cheap. I was going for seconds but some fine workers started grinding boulders in the construction site next door. Next time. Next time. Find The Roti Prata House here:

Singapore Food Staples: Wanton Mee

Wanton Mee. Me want. Wanton Mee is basically Dumpling Noodles. Wanton=Dumplings in Cantonese.
Mee=Noodles in Hokkien.
∴ Wanton Mee= Dumpling Noodles.

I waddled along to Parklane Zha Yun Tun Mee House to taste their Wanton Mee offering. Contrary to their naming, they are not in the Parklane Mall nearby (they used to be) but in the Sunshine Plaza. Confusing. It wasn’t sunny when I visited either.

They have two small eating areas with a few tables set outside in the corridor. We sat ourselves down on a messy table just to annoy them. But they weren’t annoyed and they cleaned up our table quickly and we ordered the staple Wanton Mee dish. All good.

The food came extraordinarily quickly. I don’t know how noodles can be boiled that quickly to order. Hmm. The clumpiness of the noodles were a little meh on first impression too. The noodle dish came with a little broth bowl which included a little pork dumpling swimming nicely around in it.

The dumplings at Parklane are fried in their particular Wanton Mee dish and the noodles are served relatively dry in the Malaysian fashion. I felt that the fried dumplings on my plate were a little more…destroyed…than the other dishes. The pork pieces (char siu) were quite small and pretty bland. The noodles themselves with the dark soy based sauce were a muddle of tastes that really didn’t hit home and stand out to be in any way spectacular.

The fried dumplings themselves were the most enjoyable part to eat in the dish with a pork flavour being faintly present throughout each crunch. I ended up finishing the dish (it’s not bad it’s just not fantastic) without projectile vomiting around the joint like a garden hose but I plan on hitting up some more Wanton Mee joints to compare and contrast. On paper Wanton Mee should be a tastier treat than what Parklane are offering up.

 

Singapore Food Staples: Tau Huay (Dou Hua 豆花) Beancurd

Consistency is key in every facet of life. People who drive cars need to consistently not crash. And food needs a consistency that your brain is suited to. So with an innocent western palate, tackling Tau Huay (beancurd) will be fighting the consistency from the start.

Rochor Original Beancurd is one of the most popular and established bean curd dessert places in Singapore. Founded in 1955 by a married couple when Singapore was, itself, finding its feet. So props to them.

It’s a simple dessert. At $1.20 it’s an affordable after meal refresher if you can get past the consistency. Served in Singapore with a simple sweet syrup in a small plastic cup, this beancurd dessert has a number of different variations throughout Asia.
For me, the problem wasn’t the consistency it was the blandness of the syrup. Tofu, in essence, is pretty tasteless so it relies on what accompanies it. The syrup was just not sweet enough and instead of syrup it just tasted of mildly sweet water. Like a cube of sugar was thrown in to a bucket. Perhaps other beancurd joints have more tasteful syrups…

Rochor Original Beancurd has a space upstairs if the few seats downstairs are taken. Apart from it looking like a prison cafeteria it was fine once lights are turned on and a few fans are whirred into action.

Tau Huay can be served both hot and cold and maybe the sweetness of the syrup permeates more with a little heat? I don’t know and I don’t think I will be trying it to find out. So, in summation, consistency might be a challenge (think phlegmy) but, in my opinion, Tau Huay is just too bland to register as a refreshing sidewalk side dish for me. I’ll stick with water.

Singapore Food Staples: Carrot Cake

No, you’re wrong. You just are. This is not the affable dessert that you have scoffed down at your grandmother’s on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. This is, in fact, a savoury omelette type concoction made primarily with diced up white radish, preserved radish, eggs, and garlic (or other seasoning). With a nice dollop of chili paste on the side if you so desire (or mixed through it if you so desire that). “But where are the aforementioned carrots!?” I hear you warble. There aren’t any. So there. It’s a lost in translation sort of thing with the Hokkien name of this dish Chai tow kway meaning radish or carrot (chai tow) cake (kway).

I went to He Zhong Carrot Cake stall in Bukit Timah Food Centre to taste this particular dish. It’s a busy place with a 30 minute wait for the dish. No hurry. Let’s do this. You give your table number and they deliver your carrot cake and grab your money when the food is served. And served it was.

On first appearance it looks all omelette-ly. Only when you start pranging and probing away with your chopsticks do you get the chunks of radish appearing. The light brown crust are the pieces that are top of the taste tree on this one as it adds a little crunch to this quite soft and gooey dish. Each mouthful is a mish-mash of radish and egg and is quite a low key taste; at first you wonder if it’s all that it’s supposed to be. After a few mouthfuls, though, you begin to appreciate the balance of tastes and the ease with which you can just, simply, eat. This is all good. And adding a little chilli paste to proceedings elevates the carrot cake to new levels; the sharpness and the little heat that the paste brings to each bite is a perfect balance to the undertones of radish and egg.

I think I would probably get the chilli paste on top or mixed through if I was getting it again. It completed the dish for me.

As you can see above the carrot cake gets prepared in one big wok. This looks like the start of another batch with the radish chunks and a bunch of seasoning kicking off proceedings. The man that served us was very friendly and was delighted to see us enjoying his food. I would hope I can make it back again before the end of times.
On a side note Bukit Timah Food Centre is also a place where I can see myself heading back to as it has a massive array of different stalls to try out.

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