The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Friday, 29 April 2016

Essence Palace Hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam

I don't usually do hotel reviews on my blog; usually my accommodation reviews are reserved for bed and breakfast types where accommodation and service are provided on a much more personal level. However the hotel hospitality and service at Essence Palace Hotel in Hanoi is one of the best we have experienced in our many years of travel around the world, that I feel it warrants some praise from a humble traveller. I chose this hotel because of its high rating and good reviews on tripadvisor, and the fact that I could book two connecting rooms (under Family Room plan) at a very affordableThe hotel itself was pleasant, but what stood out the most was the staff. Weeks before our arrival, Mike would promptly reply to my emails and requests, and I value good email communication very highly after years of travelling and expatriate living, because international phone calls are costly and impractical when different timezones are involved. The welcome drink (mango smoothie) offered to us upon our arrival to the hotel was delicious and a lovely refreshment after the long drive from the airport. We arrived at 12pm, and though check-in wasn't until 3pm, staff were kind enough to allow us to check in early since a set of connecting rooms were cleaned and ready for us, which we were grateful for because the toddler was overdue for her nap. I'd requested a quiet room, and traffic noise was not an issue as there were no windows facing outside the hotel. Our connecting rooms were located close to the lift, so noise from outside the door can be an issue from guests checking out early or coming in late from a night out (not the hotel's fault). The hubby and kids slept through the noise fine, but I am an unusually light sleeper so I noticed the noise. The rooms were clean, and the beds were comfortable.

The main room with a double bed:

The door that connects to the second room:

The adjoining room which is a twin bed room, with a crib:

Clean spacious bathroom:

Mike proved to also be a wealth of information on good street food to eat around the Old Quarter, like egg coffee, banh mi and pho. We enjoyed many different types of food I'd never even heard about, and all of Mike's recommendations were good! Food in the highly rated Gia Ngu Restaurant downstairs from the lobby was delicious, and the included breakfast everyday had a good variety of Vietnamese and western dishes. We could also each order a plate of eggs (any style), french toast or pancakes freshly cooked to order, or a bowl of beef or chicken pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) brought to the table. We ate lunch at the restaurant to try out the menu and really enjoyed our meal (review to be posted later). The restaurant staff were always so friendly and loved chatting to our kids.

Part of the spread provided at the free breakfast:

The variety and quality were good for a free breakfast:

Made to order pancake:

A bowl of chicken pho:

We had also booked an overnight cruise to Halong Bay through the hotel. However it rained everyday during our trip, and on the morning of our booked cruise, Jennifer (another lovely front desk staff) greeted us while we were having breakfast in the restaurant downstairs, and informed us that most cruises that day would be cancelled. She helped us cancel our cruise, arranged for full refund of our deposit, and then arranged for our accommodation for that night. She had gone above and beyond her duty, which saved us a lot of hassle. The doormen and hotel porters were all very friendly and polite, always offering an umbrella whenever we went out, and running down the stairs to greet us and take the umbrella from us when we came back to the hotel. Just little things like that made our stay more special. On our final night in Hanoi, hubby made use of the spa service offered at the nearby sister hotel, the Essence Hanoi Hotel and Spa. After carrying our 13kg toddler in the carrier on our outings for four days (the crowded pavements and terrible traffic and rainy conditions made it very challenging to use the stroller), his sore shoulders and back thoroughly enjoyed the massage.

If you are ever in Hanoi, I highly recommend staying at the Essence Palace Hotel. What a bargain to experience such top service at such affordable price! It really rates as one of the best hotels we have experienced

Essence Palace Hotel
27 - 29 Gia Ngu Street
Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem District
Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel. +84 4 3926 2135

Please note that I was not paid to write this review. Just a very happy customer sharing the love.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Revisit: Lunch @ Dondonya (Elements), Hong Kong

Although Dondonya is located in the mall downstairs, the last time we were there was before #2 was born. These days we avoid eating out with the kids because the toddler is a handful at the table, and these past few months she has taken to being a picky eater when dining out. Some people say it's good that she likes my cooking more than restaurant food, but it makes for a rather stressful eating environment with an energetic 2-year-old who refuses to eat or sit still. However there are days when I just don't want to cook or wash the dishes, and we turn to our favourites in the mall downstairs. I'm not sure why it had taken us two years to pay a revisit to this restaurant - perhaps its location on Level 2 makes it less visible - but revisiting Dondonya had us wanting more. The menu had completely changed since our previous visit, but the food quality was still good, and it's easy to see why Dondonya remains a popular choice.

Grilled Mini Purple Potatoes with Matcha Salt ($48) - simple but delicious, and hard to stop at just one or two:

Crispy Shrimps with Tofu ($58) - another moreish item for tofu fans:

The Egg Rolls with Eel ($78) is a specialty item at Dondonya, and it was tasty. It would be nicer with a higher eel to egg ratio, but that would drive up the price:

Deep-fried Layered Sangenton Pork Cutlet ($178). Hubby took the $25 upgrade to a set that included side dish (simmered soy beans), miso soup, and free refills of rice and cabbage. This was a nice choice to sample Sangenton pork, the cross-breed of three selected breeds for tenderness, juiciness, fattiness and marbling:

The Selected Seafood Rice Bowl ($208) had a few of my favourites in it - yellowtail, salmon, scallops, salmon roe, shrimps, squid and tuna. Happy to report all was fresh and the sushi rice bed was good too:

Thumbs up again for Dondonya.

[Prices above do not include the 10% service charge]

Dondonya (Elements)
Shop 2103-04
Level 2, Elements,
1 Austin Road West
Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon
Hong Kong
Tel. +85 2 2196 8589

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Tasty Malaysian @ Alice's Makan, Sydney (Australia)

During my pregnancy with #3, I experienced terrible sickness and food aversions, and I lost 4kg by the time I reached my third month. There was little I could eat or cook that wouldn't make me feel ill or throw up, but I would get strong cravings for a particular food. These were often for unhealthy food that I don't eat (like McDonald's burgers, which I haven't had for over 15 years!), and I just could not bring myself to satisfy some of these unhealthy cravings. I remember seeing a photo of a delicious-looking plate of chai tau kueh pop up on my Facebook feed, posted up by a friend during his trip to Singapore, and it spurred on an immense craving for them greasy, salty and oh-so-delicious fried radish cakes. Unfortunately, I had no idea where to get such a dish in Hong Kong that was a good enough version of this Malaysian/Singapore street food, and I also didn't have the energy to venture far from home. So this craving went unsatisfied for a month, until our trip to Sydney, and my younger sister had promised to take me to a place that did dished out yummy chai tau kueh. I know I can get good Malaysian food easily in Australia, and that is one of the many things I look forward to whenever we visit Australia. Alice's Makan is located inside a busy food court, and I was pleased to note that it was a popular choice at lunch time amongst the office workers and casual lunchers like us. Malaysian cuisine is delicious but the appearance and description of many dishes may prove too different, "too exotic", for unadventurous non-Malaysians, so I am always happy to see people outside of Malaysia enjoying my birth country's cuisine. There were quite a few items on the menu board, a nice variety for a food court shop. Indeed, there was chai tau kueh on the menu - labelled as 'Fried Radish Cake' on the menu board - and I could finally satisfy my month-long craving!

The food court in Pavilion On George:

The ordering counter at Alice's Makan:

Sister ordered Wonton Mee (AU$11), with an iced Teh Tarik. The noodles were delicious - springy and nicely seasoned with a black sauce:

Hainanese Chicken Rice (AU$10.50) for the kids - the soft fragrant rice with silky poached chicken is always a favourite for the little ones:

Char Hor Fun, also known as Wat Tan Hor (AU$13) as labelled on the menu - one of hubby's favourite Malaysian food. Grilled flat rice noodles with seafood and vegetables, topped with egg sauce. This version was nice, but it lacked a certain depth of flavour that comes from wok hei. The menu described this as grilled, not fried, so perhaps therein lies the difference:

And my beloved Chai Tau Kueh, aka Fried Radish Cake (AU$11). Eggy and spicy, this was a good version of chai tau kueh:

There were very good-looking Nonya kuih for sale, and my sister bought Ang Koo Kuih (red tortoise cake, made with glutinous rice flour and sweet mung bean paste)and Kuih Dadar (pandan crepe with sweet coconut filling). Both were excellent:

I was happy with our experience at Alice's Makan, and would love to try all the other items on the menu another time.

Alice's Makan
Food Court, Pavilion On George
580 George Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Tel. +61 2 9262 7771

Alice's Makan Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Revisit: Brunch @ Bread Street Kitchen & Bar, Hong Kong

Gordon Ramsay's Bread Street Kitchen is one of our favourite brunch eats in town, so much so that we don't even mind climbing up the stairs with the stroller to get to the restaurant. We like the comfortable setting, the great friendly service and the delicious food. The kids were given a small colouring book with crayons, giving the adults a short moment of peace to decide what to order. Kids get to eat free - a three-course meal from the kids menu - for every main dish ordered, which is pretty good value for families.

First course on kids menu was a choice between salad or the soup-of-the-day. The 7-year-old declared he wanted neither, so I chose soup for the 2-year-old. The Carrot Soup was yummy:

There were two or three choices for main course on the kids menu, and of course the boy chose Fish and Chips (which came with crushed peas, but he had none of that). Very good for fish and chips: crunchy batter, fresh fish fillet, crispy chips:

Hubby ordered his usual Full English Breakfast, with scrambled eggs. Choice of tea, coffee or orange juice is included (hubby chose his usual cappuccino), and everything was good as usual:

Traditional shepherd's pie with braised lamb, potato puree, brioche garlic crumbs - hearty, homey and rustic, and a delicious way for a pregnant mother to get haem iron:

Ice Cream was dessert on the kids menu, and the boy chose his two favourite flavours - chocolate and vanilla:

Our visit was just after the new year, so the festive Christmas pudding was on offer on the dessert menu. This was a boozy one with brandy custard, so the kids had none, and the adults enjoyed it all:

Once again, Bread Street Kitchen didn't disappoint, and we will be back again.

Bread Street Kitchen & Bar
Mezzanine Level, LKF Hotel
33 Wyndham Street
Central, Hong Kong
Tel. +852 2230 1800