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

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Hearst Castle, San Simeon (California)

Xin chào from Vietnam! We just arrived here for a quick summer trip away while our boy is still on summer holidays. I was hoping to have written a few more posts than I have been, but my hands have been rather full for the past month with both kids at home. It is kind of ironic that I only have time while on holiday to write up about a previous trip.

A few months ago when we were in California, we visited Hearst Castle in San Simeon during our northward road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Also known as "La Cuesta Encantada" in Spanish (The Enchanted Hill), this elaborate and beautiful estate was built by a wealthy American newspaper publisher, William Randolph Hearst. This magnificent complex sits prominently atop a high hill, visible for miles and miles around, and it is now a state park open for public viewing tours. Visiting the castle requires buying tickets for guided tours in certain time slots, and advanced booking on the official website is highly recommended because time slots do get quite full before the day of visit. After arriving at the Visitor Center and picking up our tickets, we went on a 15-minute bus ride to the top of the hill for our guided tour. The structure was under construction at the time of our visit, but we could still appreciate the grandeur and beauty of the architecture, which was furnished with about 25000 artifacts, antiques and artwork. Here are some of the things we saw in Casa Grande, the estate's main house, and the surrounding area outside:

Inside the massive dining hall where Hearst entertained famous and well-known guests including Hollywood stars:

An antique wrought iron piece over one of the doorways:

The Billiard Room where only gentlemen were allowed:

A small section of the garden area:

One of the three guesthouses on the estate:

The gorgeous view of the surrounding land and the Pacific Ocean:

A massive fountain (the boy was sulking about something):

The Neptune Pool, currently empty due to restoration work in progress:

One of the beautiful sculptures in the garden:

The beautiful Roman Pool, where we waited for our return bus ride to the Visitor Center:

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Fine Japanese food @ Sakagura Japanese Restaurant, Kota Kinabalu (Malaysia)

Last month we were in East Malaysia for a weekend trip to attend a cousin's wedding. That weekend went by in the blink of an eye, and then we were back in Hong Kong. The kids got a chance to spend time with their grandparents and great-grandmother, as well as all their aunties and uncles and cousins, yet I'm already wondering when the kids will have such opportunity again to spend time with their extended relatives. During that weekend, my siblings and I (minus two sisters and their families who couldn't make it to the wedding) also took the chance to celebrate our mum's birthday. I think it was already a treat for my mum to see three of her five children (and respective grandkids) who all live in different cities, and to make it more special, we took her out to eat her favourite cuisine: Japanese! My brother's friend who is resident of Kota Kinabalu recommended Sakagura in the Oceanus Waterfront Mall, which is conveniently located opposite the apartment we were staying at. That friend said that the restaurant is very popular, so reservations were highly recommended, and she helped us make the booking. Sakagura was small, but the atmosphere was jovial and lively. There was a central kitchen space where the sushi chef worked, and those seating around the bar can watch him make sushi and cut sashimi. The main dining room also contained booths for small groups, and there were at least two rooms partitioned off for larger groups like ours. The menu was quite extensive, offering a wide range of Japanese dishes from sushi to teppanyaki to sukiyaki to donburi (rice bowl) dishes. Restaurants that serve such a wide range of food is unusual in Japan itself, where food establishments are highly specialised - sushi-ya serving only sushi and sashimi, udon-ya offering only udon dishes, and so on. The Japanese people pride themselves in providing only the best quality, hence the highly specialised establishments. I am happy to report that Sakagura's quality was excellent, paired with great service by the friendly staff. Sakagura's pricing is considered expensive by local standards, but it is clearly reflected by the restaurant's high standards. Everyone was happy with the food!

The lively atmosphere of the main dining area:

We had this space all to ourselves:

Kids shared a big bowl of Oyakodon:

Hubby got the Unaju, a type of unadon featuring freshwater eel. The set included miso soup, salad, chawanmushi, some pickles and a teapot full of dashi to add to the rice bowl for a bit of variation in eating the dish:

I ordered the Salmon Don - fresh salmon sashimi with a smattering of ikura (salmon roe) over sushi rice was just what I wanted:

The birthday girl got the Premium Sushi Set. We could tell she wanted that, but she said she would get one of the cheaper dishes. My sister and I had to convince her to just get it! She loved it:

My younger sister ordered the Sukiyaki Set, a hotpot dish with thin slices of fatty beef. She got her very own cook top with a hotpot full of ingredients...

... as well as rice, miso soup, raw egg, salad, a braised fish dish and grated yam:

Hubby was still hungry after eating his Unaju, so he ordered this appetiser to share - a Tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette) and Kani (crab flesh). Good choice, the sweet omelette complemented the sweet juicy crab meat:

Hubby also ordered the Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake). The Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is slightly different to the more prevalent Osaka-style, in that there are noodles too:

Our group ordered three Green Tea Shaved Ice Desserts - so refreshing, with a heap of sweet anko (adzuki beans) and some chewy shiratama dango (rice dumplings):

And my brother got the Mango Shaved Ice Dessert:

I heartily recommend Sakagura for good Japanese food in downtown Kota Kinabalu area!

Sakagura Japanese Restaurant
Shop G-23 & G-25
Ground Floor, Oceanus Waterfront Mall
Jalan Tun Fuad Stephen
88000, Kota Kinabalu
Sabah, Malaysia
+60 88-273 604

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Brunching and lunching @ Brick Lane [Admiralty], Hong Kong

Not long ago, hubby and I tried out Brick Lane for a brunch date. We met up as usual on Saturday morning, after hubby had dropped off the 6-year-old at his two back-to-back classes (leaving the 18-month-old at home with the nanny). We only had about an hour before having to pick up the boy, and we rocked up to Brick Lane at 10:30am, only to discover that it opened at 11am. It was not the most leisurely brunch date we've had, but the food was good, and hubby made it back to our kid before he came out of his class. We went to Brick Lane again with the kids a few weekends later for a more leisurely lunch, and the place was hopping at the peak of lunch service. It is located next to the harbour front, and the spacious al fresco area has a nice cityscape view. The decor is quirky and there is the iconic Brick Lane's "ghost" bicycle mounted on the wall! Brick Lane is named after the hip and trendy area in East London, founded by three bankers who also opened the first Brick Lane in Tsim Sha Tsui. According to their website, "BRICK LANE is a restaurant in Hong Kong specialising in all day breakfasts, egg benedicts and British gastronomy".

Our view for half an hour while waiting for Brick Lane to open - small cakes were on display:

Urban chic interior, bringing to us the artistic vibe of Brick Lane in East London:

My mocha and hubby's cappuccino - I love the latte art of the bicycle on the cappucino!

Hubby was feeling hungry and ordered the Brick Lane Combo (HK$159), which included his preferred style of three eggs (scrambled), bacon, ham, Portobello mushrooms, sausage, cheese, black pudding, Yorkshire pudding, hash brown, toast, corned beef, smoked salmon, roasted vine tomatoes, green salad and baked beans. Hubby's only issue was that the scrambled eggs were done too wet for his liking (perfectly done for my taste though):

I ordered the Three Choice (HK$88), which came with my style of two eggs (poached), three choices of sides (baked beans, roasted vine tomatoes, and Portobello mushrooms), green salad and toast. Thumbs up from me!

On our second visit, hubby got the Everything (HK$118) - his preferred style of two eggs (scrambled), sausage, bacon, Portobello mushroom, cheese, roasted vine tomatoes, green salad, baked beans, smoked salmon, hash brown and toast. Quality was consistent with our previous visit, but hubby had forgotten that he was not that keen on how the scrambled eggs were done last time:

I wasn't feeling that hungry, but the Royal Scones (HK$78) with clotted cream and berry jam took my fancy. The scones were a little bit undercooked, but I was just happy to order scones without being limited to afternoon tea sets:

A little bit of after-meal indulgence with Affogato (HK$55):

And Pancakes (HK$78), just perfect with fresh fruits, butter, cream and golden syrup:

Brick Lane is a nice place for brunch, and I am sure it is also a great venue for drinks.

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

BRICK LANE [Admiralty]
Shop 404
4th Floor, Citic Tower
1 Tim Mei Ave
Tel. +85 2 2363 2500

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Driving from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo (California)

School's out for the summer, which means even less free time! I had so much hope for having more time to blog but alas it looks like I have to settle for one post a week. Working on the photos from our California trip brings back such fond memories. After an overnight stay in gorgeous Santa Barbara, we continued on our journey north to our next destination, San Luis Obispo. We made a quick stop at the Old Mission Santa Barbara as it is considered the chief cultural and historic landmark in Santa Barbara. Beautiful 18th century architecture on gorgeous landscapes.

Old Mission Santa Barbara:

An old fountain at the Mission:

We then drove on to Avila Valley Barn, and enjoyed the lovely countryside scenery under the Californian sunshine.

We got to enjoy this view:

Beautiful Californian countryside scenery:

The Fruit & Vegetable Stand at the Avila Valley Barn, which was more than just a stand:

We could even buy whole fruit pies:

We were hoping for lunch at the barn, but the Deli section was only open from Thursday to Monday and we visited on a Tuesday. We went to the Corn Roaster and got a couple of roasted corn, which were sweet and juicy:

Hubby couldn't resist getting an ollalieberry pie and ice cream, and these were good:

There was also Pony Rides at the barn, but only on weekends:

Cute pony:

Saw a cow too:

The kids had a ball feeding the goats some hay:

The Avila Valley Barn was well worth a visit for the kids. Check the website for opening hours.

Avila Valley Barn
560 Avila Beach Drive
San Luis Obispo
CA 93405
United States
Tel. +1 805 595 2816