Malaysia: a day in Hong Kong

On trips to Asia it often makes sense to spend a long layover in Hong Kong on the way back (much like we do for London on return trips from Europe) so we don’t have to catch crazy early flights for positioning.

Upon landing at the airport, I was delighted by all of the CNY decorations and couldn’t pass up standing in a short line for a free sample of dragon beard candy. :)

waiting for dragon beard candy at the airport  dragon beard candy prep

We’ve been to Hong Kong many times (2015, 2015 again, 2013, and 2011) so for this trip we made a point to explore a different neighborhood by staying in the Wan Chai area for the night. While we liked our room at the Hotel Indigo, we found the restaurants and shops to be a bit pricier than other neighborhoods like SoHo/Sheung Wan and

our charming room @ Hotel Indigo Hong Kong Island  the view from our room
our bedroom; the view from our room

Once we checked in and got our bearings, we walked around a bit through the Wan Chai market area picking up some socks and gifts in the street market, plus a curry puff and BBQ puff from Kee Wah Bakery. The quickly eaten pineapple cake also caused us to return and buy four more!

Wan Chai, Hong Kong  lanterns!
Chinese lanterns during the day and lit up at night

We checked out the hotel bar happy hour – it had some nice panoramic views of the city but the “buy one get one free” special couldn’t be split between two people, and since we didn’t want two drinks each we skipped it. Instead, we had a pint at Roundhouse – Chicken+Beer where they apparently don’t want you to know how much their beer costs. The prices are not listed on the website or their tap board. So! To be helpful I will tell you that pretty much every beer — even the locally brewed choices — were 88HKD or about $11USD. For a pint of beer.  Considering the prices in Malaysia, Hong Kong was a bit of a shock to our system.

taps @ Roundhouse - Chicken + Beer

After our pricey pint, we walked to Central Plaza for 46th floor panoramic views of the city. It was very hazy so the views were just okay but on a clear day I think it would be worth the stop.

view from 46th Floor Sky Lobby, Central Plaza

For dinner, we got a light meal at 22 Ships, I had the beef tartare (too salty) and Eric had a delicious strawberry and marshmallow dessert with a glass each of a pleasant rose wine. I wanted to see the laser show from a different vantage point so I hiked to the Golden Bauhinia Square around 8pm. The show is definitely better from the Kowloon side – don’t bother with the Hong Kong side!

dessert @ 22 Ships

As usual, we enjoyed our long layover in Hong Kong. Next time we will probably stay on the Kowloon side, likely in the Mong Kok neighborhood.

on our way home...

Vietnam 2016: food in Hoi An


Walking around town our first day, Leandra was ready for a snack and steered us toward Madam Khanh – The Banh Mi Queen. Just up the street from a row of tailor shops we found the small cart and attached kitchen with a small line out front. Within about 10 minutes she had her freshly made many-layered sandwich. Total cost – 20K dong (~$.90)

hoi_an_banh_mi  'bahn my queen' sandwich

Later that evening we went to dinner at Morning Glory. I went for a passion fruit juice and Cao Lầu,  a regional Vietnamese dish made with noodles, pork, and local greens that originated in Hoi An. It was quite light with a pleasant peanutiness, and the rice noodles were a bit chewier than wheat noodles. I pretty much ate it all! After seeing several orders come through while perusing the menu, Leandra ordered the fresh spring rolls with shrimp and was not disappointed. Morning Glory was quite busy, so we were glad we had made advance reservations.

Morning Glory restaurant  hoian-food-1


While Leandra attended her cooking class, I was left to my own devices. That included a rich and crumbly brownie from Cargo Cafe patisserie, and a light lunch at Hai Cafe.  I started with a lemon lime juice drink, then was tempted by the beef in lot leaf (Bo La Lot) which had a pleasant lemony ginger taste combined with the smokiness of grilled lot leaf and a medium spiciness. I hadn’t heard of it before but it was quite tasty. As a bonus, Hai Cafe did not charge a credit card surcharge.

  Eric's view at lunch  hoian-food-3

For dinner we made reservations at Nu Eatery, a small restaurant down an alley that was well worth searching out. We split the pork buns to start, then Leandra ordered the sesame chicken, while Eric got the pork ragu that was incredibly flavorful, and just the right amount of spicy heat. After seeing the dessert list we couldn’t resist the coffee ice cream.

Sesame Chicken Com Ga  hoian-food-2

Nu Eatery dining room


We were wandering around town in search of lunch but couldn’t decide where to go. We knew that Mermaid had the same owner as Cargo and Morning Glory, so we decided to try their restaurant on the farther side of town. Eric got the beef rice noodle bowl (very limey, with peanuts too) and a pineapple shake, while Leandra ordered the Cau Lok bowl and a local Larue beer. Our food was OK, but service was middling – it wasn’t a problem of language, but rather they were incredibly indifferent, especially considering it was 3p. This was quite surprising given the other restaurants in the group, and we wouldn’t recommend going to this one.

Given the service we skipped dessert there and instead picked up a chocolate passion fruit cake at Cargo for takeaway – it was amazing!

For our final dinner we made a reservation at Secret Garden. Tucked away down a back alley, you would never expect a restaurant much less the beautifully landscaped outdoor space. We were seated outside near one of the ponds. I ordered a lime juice and the chicken curry, which was really tasty. The potatoes were cooked perfectly, spiced but not spicy. Leandra ordered the local specialty “white rose” appetizer (a shrimp dumpling), then the beef curry. Two items to note- Secret Garden has a rather large wine list, and an overall swankier air with nice presentation and service. Of course, it was also the most expensive meal of Hoi An, but not bad by US costs and completely worth it. Also, we found that the online menu is not accurate at all, as they have many more items.

Secret Garden restaurant
'white rose' dumplings @ Secret Garden

UK 2015: London – Day 2

Friday morning we awoke to a beautiful morning of blue skies, so we decided to explore Notting Hill. We started along the famous Portobello Road, and quickly found several interesting shops and road stalls, bringing home several origami butterflies from one store, and a sketch of St. Pauls Directly from an artist with a stall on the street. Part way up the road we took a detour to explore some of the beautiful homes nearby (!) then met up with our crew by the Tube station.

Notting Hill  Notting Hill

St John's Church  flowery stairs in Notting Hill

Everyone was hungry so we decided to go to First Floor Restaurant for lunch. I ordered the chicken caesar salad (Leandra had my anchovies – she said yum) and a half-pint of cider, while Leandra had the mussels (yet again) and a glass of rose. The food was tasty, but service was a little slow and we may have been better off with street food or one of the other cafes.

Down the street there were some great dessert stalls, so we got a florentine (almonds, cherries and chocolate cookie) and a chocolate pecan tart. Leandra searched for the blue door of the eponymous ‘Notting Hill’ movie and eventually found it.

Notting Hill Market  the blue door in Notting Hill
Notting Hill market on a Friday; the blue door from the movie ‘Notting Hill’

From here we decided to give our friends a taste of east London, so we took the tube to Shoreditch and walked over to the Old Spitalfields market. It was a little after 4p when we arrived, so parts of the market were packing up, but we managed to find some fun t-shirts and a good deal on four decorative dessert plates. As we learned on our last trip, this area has some great street art, so we spent about an hour exploring the side streets off Brick Lane; finding some old faves and quite a few new ones too.

Otto Schade  rude kids

street art  hug


pumpkin face  secret society

After a quick change of clothes at the we headed back out for dinner. We were a little early for our reservation so we stopped off for a quick cider (me) and Cottage Brewing street porter (Leandra) at the Fitzrovia pub.

Dinner was at Da Paolo with our group and Leandra’s Aunt Kim and Jules, then drinks afterwards in the bustling and expensive Charlotte Street Hotel’s Oscar Bar. The big hit of the night was discovering a new (to us) drink called “Scottish Lover” that we need to recreate at home!

photo courtesy of our waiter via Jules’ phone

posing @ the Charlotte Hotel
We didn’t leave till they were shutting the bar down at 1am!

By the time we left the tube was closed, so we had ~1 mile walk back to hotel – as usual, we had a memorably fun evening in London!

Memory Monday: dinner at TAPA

For our last dinner in Bali, we knew we didn’t want to hang out in the strip mall next to the hotel so we searched Trip Advisor for a nearby place with good reviews that would have pickup service from our hotel. TAPA fit the bill perfectly!

We joined the small mob of people in front of the Grand Hyatt awaiting pickup and eventually found our driver. As with other places in Bali, this system is a bit unorganized and you need to be proactive to find your assigned ride. The 5-8 minute drive to the restaurant was pleasant and we discovered on the way there that TAPA was attached to The Balé, the sister hotel of The Menjangan — and where we had stayed earlier in the trip! Talk about coming full circle.

As the name would imply, they do small plates here and we found the prices to be quite fair for Nusa Dua. We each received a paper menu where we could check off the plates we wanted and there was a 15% discount on grilled items during our visit. We wound up getting 3 plates each and it was plenty of food for the two of us including caesar salad crostinis, Balinese fish satay, steak tartare, noodle salad, and rendang.

caesar salad bites @ TAPA
ceasar salad crostinis

steak tartare @ TAPA
steak tartare

We finished the meal off with a selection of chocolate ice cream bonbons (and we were too busy eating to take photos of those apparently!)

The service was very friendly and attentive — almost too much so. I think our willingness to chat made the wait staff pay more attention to us as other tables weren’t visited as frequently. All told, I would definitely recommend TAPA as a great dinner option in Nusa Dua.

Nusa Dua: Grand Hyatt

We wanted to be relatively close to the airport for our final night, and since I had a free night with Hyatt, we decided to stay at the Grand Hyatt in Nusa Dua. I’d seen the Nusa Dua area described as a grouping of sterile large resorts, and those descriptions are fairly accurate. For example, the area has three guarded entrances, where guards open the car door, see tourists, and then let the taxi pass. A second ‘safety’ check was performed at the Hyatt driveway entrance, and to get into the open air lobby we had to pass through a metal detector. It was the most absurd security theater, as no one seemed to actually be looking for anything, beeps were pretty much ignored, and it was easy to get around. A similar detector was staged at the mall across the street. Basically it felt like the Cancun strip crossed with the TSA.

The Hyatt property itself was certainly lovely, with lush landscaped grounds that felt like a botanical garden.

Grand Hyatt, Nusa Dua

Check-in was a bit confusing as there are about 10 desks and it was not clear which one was available – some where for Chinese speakers, other for English, etc. Our check-in agent disappeared for a while, then invited us to sit on the couch while they worked something out. After about 15 minutes she came back and we were escorted to our room. Thank goodness, as the resort was absolutely massive… it was at least a 15 minute winding walk.

Our room was quite nice, with a large indoor day bed section, a nice TV with international channels, and a very comfortable bed.

our bedroom @ Grant Hyatt

our bedroom @ Grand Hyatt

indoor day bed and access to the small patio

The bathroom was also quite impressive with a nice shower, separate tub, and plenty of room. It was especially appreciated after our outdoor adventure in Candidasa.

About 10 minutes after we got to our room the front desk called and asked if we had any questions or needed anything. This was nice, as we made our reservation for airport transfer, arranged for a late checkout and made dinner reservations for that evening.

Given the grounds we had already passed getting to the room we grabbed a map (!) and headed out to explore the rest of the property. The beach is expansive with lots of chairs in shade or sun, massive pool with slides, koi ponds… really, the entire resort was beautiful.

Grand Hyatt, Nusa Dua

Bali 2014!

Grand Hyatt, Nusa Dua

Along the way we checked out a few of the restaurant menus and quickly surmised that they were not charging Bali prices here… breakfast was easily $20-$30 a person, and dinner even more. Ouch! Instead, we went across the street to the Bali Collection Centre where there was a Coco Supermarket for snacks. Still not as cheap as the rest of island, but significantly more affordable.

Overall, we enjoyed our room and the beautiful grounds at the Hyatt for one night, but it is not the kind of place we would personally want to spend a vacation due to the size, number of people, and unnecessarily expensive food and drink.

a local restuarant, Revolution

Eric has been wanting to try Revolution for weeks and after a little scheduling drama and realizing on Thursday that we should probably make reservations for a Friday night, we finally made it over there last week.

We sat in the back right corner, a table for two in a quiet spot all to ourselves. The attention from our waiter was immediate and friendly and he was good natured about our typical wine menu negotiations. :)  We decided on a Sauvignon Republic sauvignon blanc from Stellenbosch which we originally tried at Hope Valley Bottle shop last December. It was a great value here at $30, and all our dishes went spectacularly with the slightly creamy and peanut-y flavor of the wine.

I probably could have picked anything on the menu and been delighted, but I since I had to choose something, I went with the beef tartar with rosemary crisps, fried capers and roasted garlic as my starter. I enjoyed my tartar but wondered about the need of additional red onions on top when they were already (nicely) added to the beef mixture. The fried capers were a unique salty addition. Eric sampled the romaine salad which consisted of a romaine spear lightly coated in dressing and sprinkled with tomatoes and roasted peppers. He thought the dressing was a bit too sweet, but the presentation was lovely.

For our main courses, Eric ordered the pork chop with sweet potatoes and I got the beer-braised mussels with tomatoes and basil. Upon checking the menu online (which is out of date), I discovered that this dish used to come with frites… wonder why they were absent last week? Our waiter did mention that the chef revamped the menu that afternoon, so hopefully the online version will be changed soon.

Eric thought the pork was delicious on the outside but lost a bit of flavor toward the whiter interior meat. The sweet potatoes in a tomato sauce were very unusual and tasty. All I can say about my mussels is that I would have bathed in the broth had it not seemed rude to do so at such a nice restaurant!  Instead,  I soaked some of our bread in the delicious liquid.

Thankfully, we both left a bit of room for dessert and split a chocolate icebox cake with fresh whipped cream and ginger cookie that was just the right size and sweetness to end the meal.

Throughout the meal, several people were serving us, and all were very friendly and courteous. We really liked the atmosphere, and besides a few minor dings on the food, were happy with our meal. We will definitely be back.

a local restaurant, Toast

In the midst of throwing together my bags and papers before the flight yesterday, I met my friend at Toast in downtown Durham for lunch. The first time I attempted to eat here I was thwarted by a sign stating the restaurant was closed for a week back in the summer. Disappointed, I was looking for an opportunity to try again.

We arrived just before the lunch rush and ordered our food at the small counter and grabbed an open table with our number sign and drinks. They serve all sorts of specialty sodas and beers as well as the standard tea and water.

It only took about ten minutes for our food to arrive. I ordered a lentil, speck and parsnip soup that was very pleasant and had a interesting minty flavor to it. I also had the bruschetta with NC shrimp, pancetta and raddichio. I could have handled more pancetta and less raddichio, but the overall flavor was good and the bread was perfectly toasted. They should probably add garlic to the list of ingredients, however!

My companion mentioned that her three cheese sandwich was a bit greasy, but good, and her turnip soup inspired her to try something with the root veggies currently sitting in her pantry.

It got quite noisy in the small place as a crowd piled in for lunch, but I saw the food servers consistently delivering food, so it didn’t look like people waited very long. Overall, I thought the price was reasonable for the amount of food and everything tasted freshly made. I would definitely go back.