He who eats alone chokes alone. ~Proverb

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Consistency 2012

You would have thought that hungry Bear and Cat have died of starvation, but worry not, we're alive and well. Bear has even put on weight and now rolls around on the floor when trying to zip up her pants.

We have been to a few new places, reviews coming up, but mostly we went back to our usual haunts.

It would seem that only Sri Malaya, Isaribi Tei and Miraku have managed to remain consistent from the first time we visited them till now. (Review on Miraku incoming).

We were very sad to learn that Shinjutei has changed management. The food is somewhat the same, but not quite, better in some ways but worse in others.

La France no longer does omelettes, which pretty much removes the entire point of going there.

Il Bacaro is inconsistent. The food can sometimes be fabulous and sometimes makes you cringe.

We stopped going there for a time because not only was the food bad but the service was even worse. The waitress seemed annoyed when showing you to the table, annoyed when waiting for your table, annoyed when serving etc. She does the catwalk and struts to her own beat and trust me when I say, she walks damn slow. I want our old waitress back!! Heard our favourite waitress was actually from China House and was on loan to Il Bacaro for a while. I thought it was just me being impatient, but the very next day, my best friend called. She read our reviews and decided to give it a try, and she too complained about the very same waitress.

Thankfully, the last time we went IB, the dumb waitress was gone.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Japan Trip - Day 1

CAT: After dinner, we needed to make our way to the Tune Hotel @ LCCT. Deciding not to give good money to bad taxi drivers, we decided to try the new KLIA Transit, which takes you by train to Salak Tinggi, at which point you transfer to a Shuttle Bus to LCCT. The combination ticket costs only RM12.50 per person, which is very cheap compared to the RM80 - RM100 that taxi drivers would charge you. The entire journey takes just under an hour and was quite comfortable. We definitely recommend it.

At LCCT, I dumped Bear at Coffee Bean while I went to check out the Plaza Premium Lounge, since my Citibank Premiermiles card gave me complimentary access. The normal entry fee to the lounge was a shocking RM118 for the 2 hour package, which is highway robbery since the lounge isn't particulary good. They only served a few dishes like Mee Goreng, Hard Boiled Egg and Butter Cake, all of which were pretty terrible. Luckily I didn't have to pay for it.

Plaza Premium Lounge @ LCCT

I grabbed a couple of apples from the lounge's fruits basket and smuggled them into the plane, since AirAsia doesn't allow outside food. Thinking to myself that I was such a smart Cat, I promptly regretted it when we took out the apples to eat, as they were the worst apples I've ever eaten.
After 6 hours on the plane, we were very happy to finally arrive in Japan. Bear was starting to lose her mind from boredom - I could see the glazed look in her eyes and the impending signs of serial killing.

After passing through imigration, we headed to the JR ticket counter. The standard fare for the Limited Express Haruka train from KIX to Kyoto Station is around 3000 Yen. However, tourists can purchase a special JR  West Kansai Pass for 2000 Yen, which is a pretty good deal. You do need to show your return trip plane ticket and fill up a form though.

JR West Kansai Pass

Incidentally, you can check train timetables online at www.hyperdia.com, a great site that makes planning your Japan trip a lot easier.

When we reached Kyoto, we started looking for the Kyoto 1 Day Bus Pass. You can find it in most convenience stores (we found ours at a Family Mart), and you can buy as many as you need in advance. It costs 500 Yen which is a really good deal since a single bus ride already costs 220 Yen! In Japanese, it's called a "Ichi Nichi Jou Sha Ken"

Kyoto 1 Day Bus Pass (Ichi Nichi Jou Sha Ken)

We also manged to buy pocket warmers from a 100 Yen shop. These are simply amazing. Without them, we would start feeling cold within 30 mins of walking around outside. With them, even after 2 hours of walking we were still feeling fine. A must have!

For dinner, we dropped by Yayoi Ken. Yayoi Ken is a pretty decent chain of cheap eateries. You decide your order, insert your money into the vending machine, which spits out your receipt. The waitress will collect it and bring your food within 5 minutes.

I had the Katsu Don, and it's easily better than any Katsu Don you can find in Malaysia. Price for this dish was a very reasonable 630 Yen. The best thing about Yayoi Ken is that you get unlimited rice and tea refills when you order a set meal.

BEAR: Bear has always heard about the vending machines but this was her first time. Bear was very impressed. The entire menu was unfortunately in Japanese and considering the fact that Bear can't even write her name in Chinese, Bear had no chance.

Fortunately Bear has pretty good eyesight, quickly spotting her favourite food of all time. Mackerel. One of the cheapest sets there is at 590 Yen.

Within 5 minutes the food was in front of Bear. Hot steaming rice and miso soup, cold weird tasteless toufu and Le Mackerel.

No desserts but we're allowed endless supply of rice and hot tea. Not a bad trade off since the mackerel was huge and halfway thru the fish, you can happily get yourself another bowl of rice.

Eating the mackerel here made me appreciate the ones in Isaribi Tei's better. The fish here is not de-boned like the one in Isaribi Tei. Thank you, grumpy old man for always de-boning my fish!

But it taste almost as good, not bad for the price you are paying in Japan.

P.S: The fish looks over grilled and bad but it still tastes better than most places in Penang with the exception of Isaribi Tei.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Japan Trip - KL and El Cerdo

CAT: Before we could fly to Japan, we needed to travel down to KL since we're living in Penang and AirAsia X flies from KL LCCT. We decided to fly by Firefly since it's A.) Cheap at RM130 return per person, and B.) flies to Subang instead of LCCT which gave us an opportunity to have dinner with my older brother before heading off to the airport.

Big Bro took us to El Cerdo for dinner, having heard about it before but he's never actually been there until recently, since he was sceptical as to how good it could be. Turns out it's REALLY good.
El Cerdo means "The Pig" in Spanish, and every dish here contains pork in one way or another, so it's definitely not a place for Muslims and Jews.

Right off the bat, El Cerdo impresses with excellent service and free flow of delicious bread served with pork liver pate. Particularly impressive was the fact that my 2 year old niece got her own little menu which also served as a colouring project, complete with a brand new set of colouring pencils. The dishes on the kid's menu are all free of charge, which is rather nice.

On the other hand, the prices in the adult menu are also quite impressive, as you can see from the picture below.

 The first dish to arrive was the Pork Shoulder Steak, which was incredibly tender. It's so tender that you won't believe that it's pork, and it's delicious to boot, with a very aromatic, smoky flavour.

Second dish was the Smoked Whiskey Ribs, which should be picked up and eaten with fingers for the full experience. Again, it was incredibly tender and juicy and smothered with a tasty Whiskey sauce.

Last dish was the Suckling Pig. The Spanish have a tradition of cutting the pig with a plate, which shows off the crispyness of the skin and the tenderness of the meat.. Also, any bad luck will be transferred to the plate, which is why after we cut the pig, the plate is dropped into a basket, so that it shatters and releases the bad luck. Unfortunately, I must have dropped the plate wrongly because only a small piece chipped off. Hope that's not a bad omen.... *fingers crossed*

As for the taste, the skin is really crispy and the meat is really tender, but somehow I feel that the Cantonese way of doing Suckling Pig is still the best, as we've grown up eating Chinese-style Suckling Pig. On the other hand, the gravy that was served with the Suckling Pig is way better than the Hoisin sauce you get served in typical Chinese restaurants.

By this time our bellies were already bursting with pork so we regretfully skipped dessert. Total bill came to around RM80 per person, so it's pretty expensive.

BEAR: To be truthful, I'm more of a cow person than a pig person. I do love bacon of course but a nice juicy steak beats everything else.

In El Cerdo, our first dish the Pork Shoulder Steak was so amazingly tender it was hard to believe it was pork. Grilled to perfection and every mouthful was an amazing experience by it self.

The Smokey Whisky Ribs was again, amazingly tender. To be truthful, it wasn't my favourite, I still can't get over the beef ribs we had on our first trip to Singapore together on November 2009. I had forgotten then name of the place but it was within walking distance from our boutique hotel, The Scarlet.

It came with a small bowl of shredded french fries which was delicious and best of all a bowl to wash your hands with before tearing into the ribs like the hungry carnivours that we are. Rawr!

The Suckling Pig came with mashed Sweet Potato with Bacon Bits and a small plate of salad. Since Big Brother Cat ordered half a pig, I sat there wondering if we were going to get the top half or the bottom half. There was a debate going on in my head whether getting the head and having to stare into its eyes were better or having to eat the 'butt'.

The piglet came cleaved in half. So you still get one eye and one side of the butt. *D'oh, stupid bear*
This has nothing to do with the food but the server asked Cat to make a wish and to choose between 'Money or Love', without hesitation Cat replied 'Love' which took me by suprise.

Shamefully, I would have chosen 'Money'. When Cat smashed the plate, a small splinter ricocheted off the floor and hit me on the eyelid. It was lucky I had my eyes closed at that split second. Phew, Bear nearly became Pirate Bear with an eye patch but it was okay, no one was injured and this Bear is happy with Cat.
Lesson Learnt : Cat and plates = dangerous. Cat deserves only plastic plates from now on.

Warning: Disturbing Insight

I was a little grossed out when the server, after telling us the tradition and all, took a plate and chopped  off the poor piggy's head in one clean chop. It was almost enough to make me not want to eat it. I don't have a problems with those Suckling Pigs in chinese restaurants cause there is never any beheadings happening right in front of me.


All in all, it was a good experience, the servers are heplful, fast and efficient, the restaurant filled with the sound of plate smashing and 'Happy Birthday to you, Oink Oink' s. Not somewhere Cat would take me since the price would have outright scared Cat away, so Bear is thankful for the treat.
Thank you Big Brother and Big Sister Cat!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Japan Trip - Planning

CAT: Firstly, Cat must apologise for the lack of updates. With the busy new year and Chinese new year holidays, we haven't had much time to try out new restaurants. The exception was Sushi Zentou at the newly opened Precinct 10, which will be posted soon hopefully, but basically boils down to "Never again".

So what have Cat and Bear been doing? Cat's been busy planning for our trip to Japan! We've managed to scrounge up enough money to pay a snakehead to smuggle us aboard an Airasia plane to Osaka International Airport, and I've been busy with making reservations at pet hotels and planning the itinerary.

A lot of our friends and family are surprised when we say that we are flying to Japan, as the perception is that Japan is a very very expensive place. The purpose of this post is to breakdown our costs so other would-be travellers can get an idea on how to travel to Japan without selling a kidney.

BEAR: I have a sneaky feeling it'll most probably be bear's bile rather than Cat's kidneys...

1.) Airfare:

- KL (LCCT) to Kansai International Airport (KIX) return
- reserved Seats (not Hot Seats)
- 25kg luggage allowance going, 50kg coming back
- travel insurance
- no meals (we'll smuggle in some KFC or McDonalds)
- all taxes included

RM1,518.00 for the 2 of us (RM759.00 per person)

You could save some money by not reserving seats, but Bear would probably kill me if we ended up separated and she had to sit next to a fat smelly stranger for 7 hours.

2.) Accomodation:

- 4 nights in Kyoto Royal Hotel & Spa (RM200 a night, booked via Hotelclub.com, accessible only with Citibank PremierMiles Visa. Agoda.com and Hotels.com give similar, but slightly more expensive prices)
- 1 night in Nara Komachi Guesthouse (RM265) via Agoda.com
- 2 nights in Osaka Chisun Hotel Shinsaibashi (RM175 a night) via Agoda.com
- 1 night in Mt. Koya Shojoshinin (RM900 a night for 2 people. This one is expensive, but you could safely cut it out of your itinerary if you're on a budget. The price does include dinner and breakfast though)

RM2,496.00 for 8 nights. You could reduce this to approx RM1,800.00 if you spend an extra day in Kyoto / Osaka instead of going to Mt. Koya.

3.) Food

- A typical meal in a cheap restaurant will cost 600-1000 JPY per person (RM24 - RM40). We are budgeting RM80 per person per day, so that ends up at:

RM1,440.00 for 2 persons for 9 days.

4.) Travel

- Train from KIX to Kyoto with JR West Kansai Pass 2000JPY (RM80) per person
- Kyoto Bus Pass 500JPY (RM20) per person per day
- Train from Kyoto to Nara on JR, 690JPY (RM28) per person
- Train from Nara to Osaka, 540JPY (RM22) per person
- Osaka One Day Pass 800JPY (RM32) per person per day
- Mt. Koya Heritage pass, 2780JPY (RM111) per person
- Train from Osaka to KIX, 890JPY (RM36) per person

RM802.00 for all travel expenses.

5.) Grand Total:
Airfare : 1518
Accomodation : 2496
Food : 1440
Travel : 802
Total : RM6,256.00

And there you go. Add in an additional couple hundred ringgit for admission tickets to the various shrines and castles, and the total cost would be around 6.5k. Pretty good considering that it includes all transport, spending 8N/9D in Kyoto, Nara and Osaka. We're hoping to keep a running diary of our holiday in Japan, so keep a lookout for that.