Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Usher in Chinese New Year with Amara Singapore [Media Tasting]

With Chinese New Year around the corner, are you still looking for a place to have your reunion dinner? With awesome packages ranging from $68 to $138 per pax for both CNY Reunion Dinner on 4th February and CNY Set Menus running from 21st January to 19th February, you can usher in the year of the Pig in style with Silk Road Amara Singapore!

And here's a few dishes you can expect from their 2019 CNY Reunion Dinner & set menus!
(Dishes available on ala carte menu shall be tagged with prices)

Eight Treasures Prosperity Yu Sheng (with Salmon) - $88 (S) , $118 (L)

This definitely earned ALOT of oohs and aahs for the night. Isn't it cute to have the sliced veggies in the form of a cute little piggie? 
The yu sheng set comes with salmon, and you can also get additional toppings of both salmon, abalone and also crispy fish skin to add more dimension to the taste and texture of your yu sheng. Also included in the yu sheng set are jellyfish, ikura (salmon roe) and tobikko (flying fish roe) and Amara Hotel's special housemade Spicy Sze Chuan dressing, which gave the yu sheng a rather unique, mildly spicy & savoury aftertaste.

Before dinner was served, we were all mingling around in the ballroom, getting excited over the pretty cakes at the dessert buffet table and also getting awed by watching the chef hand-making some dumplings, which is one of the lucky food to eat during CNY for it signifies wealth. 

Love these dumplings, for the skin isn't too thick and doughy nor too thin and flimsy. Every bite is a good ratio of the dumpling skin to flavourful filling, and of course the special dumpling sauce that tasted remotely like some garlic soy sauce vinaigrette added a beautiful final touch to the dish. 

Traditional Beijing Roast Duck - $68

Frankly speaking, I'm hardly a beijing roast duck person as I typically do not eat skins. 

Pardon my messy eating, but I just have to show off the meat!
Unlike some other Beijing Roast Duck I've tried elsewhere, the chef at Amara Hotel has very generously sliced off a good amount of the meat along with the skin, which added a lot more flavour and texture to the rolls. 

Braised Golden Pumpkin Soup with Superior Fish Maw - $20

Isn't this so pretty? It looks like a pot of gold! 

This soup is like a unique blend of east meets west, a rather rich and creamy thick pumpkin soup base (almost like cream of pumpkin) served chinese style with a generous serving of ingredients like mushrooms, dried scallop and fish maw. A very satiating soup to start the meal indeed, with a well balanced flavour of the pumpkin sweetness with the distinctive savoury taste of fish maw and dried scallops. 

Braised Pork Ribs in Black Beer

I know, this looks rather funky with the jet black colour, but it really tasted a lot better than it looks. Don't judge the pork by its colour, guys. >.<

I shan't deny that I'm hardly a fan of pork in general, and absolutely dislike is exceptionally sensitive to the very distinctive pork smell.
The slightly sweet braising sauce has hardly any alcoholic taste (so even if you absolutely cannot take beer, do not worry about it), and is rather pleasing on my tastebuds, but unfortunately it failed to mask the strong pork smell from the pork ribs. The meat is also a little more on the chewy side and definitely not the literally falling off the bones kind of tender. 
I know, if you're a pork lover, you will be scratching your heads right now and wondering, what's wrong with pork having pork smell? 
So I can't only say, sorry pork ribs, it's not you, it's me. 

Soy Baked Sea Perch with Spinach in Bonito Sauce (bottom left)

Can some fish expert tell me what's the local name for Sea Perch? 

And I'm elated to find not just spinach, but edamame (my love) and cherry tomatoes in my Sea Perch! Tasting almost exactly like Codfish, but less of the rich and heavy oily-fatty taste, the Sea Perch was definitely one of the most loved dish at the table. With an exceptionally tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture and paired with the savoury bonito sauce, I could probably eat the entire fish if we weren't being served single portions. 

Fragrant Rice with Chinese Sausage & Mushrooms

I'm a huge fan of lotus leaf rice in general, but always prefer mine with a more peppery and savoury taste. With a rather generous serving of chinese sausage (lap cheong), the rice tasted a lot more sweeter than I would have enjoyed in a lotus leaf rice. 
But no doubt, this will be a good choice if you're a fan of a sweeter tasting lotus leaf rice.

And now, over to the dessert buffet table!

This section is totally a lady's heaven, packed full of exquisitely crafted pretty looking dessert that also aced the taste factor. 

Lychee Charlotte Cake 

This tasted rather like a tiramisu, but with a lychee twist. Overall a rather mild and not so sweet kind of cake, it's refreshing to find that the addition of lychee helps to cut down the surfeiting (jerlak-ness) richness of the cheese-cream. 

Gold Ingot Fruit Cake (1kg) - $78

If I didn't tell you it's a fruit cake, you probably wouldn't have guessed it, right? The sheer outlook of this cake is worth every single cent of that $78. Enough said. HAHA!
If you're not a big fan of fondant, like yours truly, you can easily peel the fondant layer away and just enjoy the fruit cake inside that has its cinnamon flavour going strong. 

Cherry Blossom Sugee Cake (900g) - $68

Seriously, this is not a cake. IT'S A PIECE OF ART. 

I'm not even exaggerating to say that my heart screamed "NOoooo" as the chef sliced through the cake right over the bunch of cherry blossoms. Also fondant covered, I find that the fondant layer for this sugee cake is much thinner and easier to eat as compared to that of the fruit cake. And also, as sugee cake itself is a very basic and mild-tasting cake, having a thin layer of sugar paste also helped to add more sweetness to the cake, which is literally the icing on top (no puns intended). 

So, are you ready to roll for this year's CNY feasting with Amara Singapore? 
For more information of their 2019 CNY menus and packages, check out their website HERE

Till then,
Mia Foo

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

NZL Travelogue: Warkworth & Whangarei Central Holiday Park

Well, I have to say, taking the free campsite at Gulf Harbour car park last night was definitely one of the best choice, except for the fact that we didn't drive long enough to charge up our 12v battery system, and it was barely enough to give us like less than 5 minutes military shower each. Luckily, the BF packed an AA battery operated flashlight, and combined with the flashlight feature on both our mobile phones, we still managed to have a fairly great stay on our 1st campervan night, and woke up to this awesome seaview! 
There is a public toilet by the side of the car park, along with a PDS (public dump station), so running out of electricity after showering (means no more running water from our tap as the water pump wouldn't work anymore without electricity) didn't pose as that much of an issue. We parked right by the toilet so that it only took us a 10 metres' walk to the public toilet to wash up.

The place felt so convenient that we actually stayed around to make a quick breakfast! Chicken ham grilled cheese sandwich with scrambled eggs and a cuppa milk to start our day! 

And so, after our (rather) hearty breakfast, we set off for our first destination of the day, Roger and Heath Mackenzie Shiloh Farm at Kaipara Flats Road, Warkworth for horseback riding!

Quite reasonable priced at $50 NZD for 1 hour's ride and $90 NZD for 2 hours' ride, this pretty much made up the highlight for our day as the route in their farm was pretty scenic, full of adorable sheep and their horses very well trained to walk on the designated trekking trail. The group at 10am was also pretty small, and there's only another family of 4 that went along with us. Their staff are also very friendly and approachable, and also helped us took loads of pictures and videos (albeit shaky, because I didn't feel safe using the gimbal), for most of the time, both our hands will be busy holding onto the horse rein.

 I actually.... forgot my horse's name. I'm sorry horsie, but you did well! 

warning: unedited, shaky video

And so after the hour is up, the horses naturally return to exactly where they're supposed to go. Some to their designated stables; some, as if knowing that they're still up for the next round of horseback riding, went straight to the mounting area and waited (how cute is that!). The staff members will then start handing out pieces of carrots for us to give to our horse as a treat.

Do expect some grazing cows and lambs along the way. The entire trek is completed within the farm's premise, and it's HUGE!

And so, after bidding our horses goodbye, we hopped onto our trust Jucy Chaser again and headed for Brick Bay Sculpture Trail, which is roughly a ten minutes' drive away.

The unique Glass House building designed by Noel Lane is the gateway to Brick Bay Sculpture Trail. Here we invite you to begin a journey exploring the very best of contemporary New Zealand sculpture carefully selected by a curatorial panel.
Embark on a compelling outdoor gallery experience, where an ever-changing exhibition of around 45 sculptures by leading New Zealand artists are sensitively sited along the 2km trail. Experience sculpture framed by towering native trees and majestic palms, abundant birdlife and green pastures, overlooking the celebrated Brick Bay Vineyard.
Smaller works are to be found in our Foyer gallery and Shrunk courtyards, perfect settings for their more intimate scale. All sculptures are for sale and change regularly as works are sold.
-credits to www.brickbaysculpture.co.nz-

Entrance ticket for the trail is priced at $12 NZD per adult and you can get $2 NZD off if you dine in at the glasshouse. It may get pretty crowded at the Glasshouse during lunch hours (12pm - 2pm) so I suggest that you grab a bite first before heading for the trail should you arrive before the lunch crowd. 

With a good glass of their in-house wine, good coffee, and yummy brunch food, this has to be (one of) the best meal we had in New Zealand. 

Just a small spoiler of what kind of sculpture you can expect to see on the trail....

It was quite a peaceful 1-hour walk on the trail, snapping tons of photographs along the way, getting wow-ed by some of the sculptures, and absolutely dumbfounded by some (for their pricetag). 

Make your way down from the side of the Glasshouse and you'll find a small pen of cute little lambs! I guess they mistook my green sweater for fresh hay or something.... I had absolutely no food in my hands but they all gamboled over to me as I neared the fence. HAHA!

After the hearty brunch and peaceful walk, we hopped back onto our Jucy Chaser and headed for our next destination on the itinerary, Tawharanui Regional Park, which was approximately 40 minutes' drive away. 

An ecology trail starts at the far end of the beach, beyond a protected breeding area of very rare New Zealand dotterel birds. The trail passes along a rounded-stone beach before climbing up across farmland to a valley of beautiful native forest. Points of interest are marked along the way and copies of the trail guide are available from the hut at Anchor Bay. There are several longer walking trails in the area, including one to panoramic views from high on the end of the peninsula.
-credits to https://www.newzealand.com/sg/-

The walking trails ranges from 1 hour to 4 hours return (do give it another 20 to 50% buffer for occasional phototaking stops along the way) and since it was our last destination of the way, we randomly picked one of the 4 hours trail (west end track), which led us into the pastures of grazing cows, which was quite a disturbing experience for us, as they're all pretty huge and will keep staring at you as you near them. However, now on hindsight, I think the cows were more disturbed than us. HAHAHA!

Treading on the grass was a challenge as the grounds were extremely "holey" from the cows' hooves. 

But after walking through hills after hills, we were finally rewarded with this awesome view at the tip of the park. <3

The initially plan for the day was to drop by Mangawhai Cliff Walk after Tawharanui Regional Park, but as online information stated that certain section of the track would be closed for lambing and calving activities during the time of our visit, we decided to skip it altogether and headed straight for Whangarei for the night, which was about 2.5 hours' drive away.

And of course, not forgetting to make random pitstops by the road (without a single clue on where exactly were we) to take photos!

And also, to grab some more food/snacks from the supermarket/convenience store whenever we spot one by the road. HAHA!

That Cookie Crumble ice cream was SO GOOD, OMG. It's the first time I prefer another ice cream over Magnum, no joke. 

And of course, after hearing about Puhoi Valley from Ron, I absolutely had to grab a few bottles of their milk when I saw them at the supermarket. NO REGRETS, people. Best (chocolate & coffee) milk, ever! Their white chocolate caramel flavour wasn't that fantastic though, I found it too sweet.

And via Campermate App, we decided to head to Whangarei Central Holiday Park for the night as we need to refill our fresh water and dump our grey water as well. 
Out of the 3 holiday parks in Whangarei area, Whangarei Central Holiday Park is the cheapest of the lot, charging only $19 NZD per pax per night, with check in closing at 9pm and kitchen & laundry room closing by 10pm. Toilet and bathroom are spacious and clean, with seemingly no time limit for hot water (unlike some other holiday parks).

Couldn't take any decent pictures of the holiday park as we arrived at almost 9pm (in the dark) and left the premise really early.

But here's a shot of our CV dinner for the night!

Day 4 is up HERE

Till then,
Mia Foo

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