Oct 27, 2012

Kota Kinabalu Travelogue : Tamparuli Noodles & Mesilau Nature Resort (Day 5-21 May 2012)

Bonjour, I am finally back to the long abandoned Kota Kinabalu Travelogue.

The white water rafting adventure at Padas river was indeed an eye opener. Deep inside me, I was half hoping it to be slightly wilder and rougher. Nonetheless, I had my own "wild" experience with the charred epidermis at the back of shoulder. Sun burn, it was. It was not getting any better despite the pats of soothing aloe vera gel and having to put on my bra and top was yet another great challenge.

On the way to Mesilau Nature Resort

Being an early waker, my tanner half woke me up from my deep sleep at 9.34am for a quick pork noodle breakie at Kedai Kopi Melanian 3, Jalan Gaya before we resumed to our packing routine. Around 12pm, ten of us gathered at the common area at City Park Lodge, busy checking out, depositing our luggages, and recounting the things to be brought up to Mount Kinabalu. After 15 minutes, all of us were on our way to our lunch destination, Tamparuli.

Tamparuli noodle

Originated from this humble restoran named Restoran Wun Chiap, the one thing we must try at the town of Tamparuli was none other than the Tamparuli noodle. There was no black soy sauce but sesame oil and perhaps, pork lard. Impressed by the fragrant aroma, the good prospect was then screwed up by the texture and side dishes. Clumpy and slightly dry, it was an indication of lack of oil on the noodle (for healthy eating perhaps?); the egg was overcooked and scrambled (not presentable); the char siew was dry and so bright the red that it was horrifying. All in all, likey? Not really.

Drizzly day

Lunch left me in slightly depressed mode, not forgetting the casual brush of the seat against my charred epidermis *winced*. Half way to Mesilau Nature Resort, it started to get drizzly and I could feel the temperature changed as we drove higher and higher. On and off I had to equalize my ears and ease myself to the changing altitude.

Construction workers paving their way through the rain

Looking outside the window, I saw construction workers walking in the drizzle and gave us a look as they moved on. I guessed they must be working on the roads and pavement. I simply couldn't imagine being out there in the coldness with the seemingly thin layer of clothes they donned on. I think they just got used to it. Slight drizzle wouldn't stop them from seeking their sole (perhaps) source of income.

The trail map of Mount Kinabalu at Kinabalu Park Headquarters

The whole journey from Kota Kinabalu to Kinabalu Park Headquarters took us an hour and a half, excluding our pit stop at Tamparuli. When we arrived at Kinabalu Park Headquarters, it was still drizzling and we had no choice but to run inside the Headquarters for shelter. While we were waiting for another van to pick us up to Mesilau Nature Resort, my tanner half managed to buy two headlights for our climbing use at the shop nearby. Invest in a good one and you would never regret buying!

Reception at Mesilau Nature Resort

After another 20-30 minutes drive from Kinabalu Park Headquarter, we had finally arrived at Mesilau Nature Resort, with overdosage of sleepiness after intermittent short napping. We picked up the room keys and boarded the shuttle van which was then shuffled us to the next stopping area before we were left to climb.

Common area at Mesilau Nature Resort's reception

Cold, gloomy and damp, it was much attributable to the high altitude we were at and the fact that electricity will be supplied from 6pm till the next morning. Moreover, it smelled of mould and less inviting than it was initially intended to be, notwithstanding the casual welcome by the nature habitants which I am generally afraid of.

The directory of Mesilau Nature Resort

Can you spot the "Reception and Restaurant" and "Bishop's Head 1 and 2"? It was quite a distance considering the scaled down version on the board. Now, spot the "Car Park" area. It was where the shuttle van dropped us with our luggages and we had to take a short walk before we saw our rooms.

Bishop's Head 1 and 2

The walk itself was not too tasking, even though with the extra luggages my tanner half and I were dragging along in the slight drizzle. Soon, our rooms came into view. Seemingly polished, this was where we spent one night resting and chilling before the hardship entailed.

Bishop's Head 1 and 2 signboard and the hill

Well you heard me right, it was a climb but on a hill. Some whined but moved on. Nevertheless, we had to stay here for a night. I took it as an early exercise for what may awaited the next day. Six guys shared a dorm, while four girls shared another. Bunk beds, built in wardrobe, and a small table was all we had in the room. Towels, slippers and toiletries were provided. It was a humble accommodation with a price tag of RM600ish.

Ten of us at Bishop's Head 1 (Picture courtesy of Sue Lynn)

After we laid down our luggages and grunted our dismay on the availability of electricity, we decided to seek alternative entertainment, not to mention some crazy self shoot shots and music blasting from the tiny speakers from one of the guys. Eventually our boredom started to creep in and we decided to unstuck ourselves from the Bishop's Head 1 despite the drizzle.

Dewali Pinnacles of Mount Kinabalu (I guess?)

Walking down the tiny hill brought us down to the Car Park area, where we could see peaks of Mount Kinabalu. Amazed I was that I was here, so close to conquering Mount Kinabalu. The more I looked at it, the more motivated I've got. I could literally feel the adrenaline pumping in me.

Exploring Mesilau Nature Resort

Mesilau Renanthera Restaurant

We explored for what seemed to be near an hour to the different rooms and restaurants, only to find that a bar of Oreo here costed us 3-4 times more in the town. Some of them bought chips but I shall conserve my cash for more important thing tomorrow. About 6pm, we retreated to our rooms and started to warm up the heater for 10-15 minutes before it was fully functional. 

Apart from the random surge of heat, heater was quite noisy. Nevertheless, it was a blessing, especially in the cold weather at 1900 metres above sea level. I had to wrap myself in two layers of clothes for fear that I would fall sick before the climb. That aside, the sink pipe did not link to the heater, hence either you brushed your teeth and washed your face with icy cold water or not at all.

Mixed broth steamboat for dinner

Thoughtful enough, our dinner was piping hot steamboat, albeit the dishes and soup weren't as spectacular back in Kuala Lumpur. It was heat that we all needed. I still remembered how yummy the garlic rice was, together with the tongue scorching hot soup. We spent few hours enjoying our hot dinner until we were all bloated. 

Back in the Bishop's Head 1, my tanner half wasn't feeling well, hence he slept earlier while the rest of us were busy packing for tomorrow and charging our gadgets, cameras etc. I must say the plug points were pretty handful but just that they were all placed at the common area. Mineral water was provided but it did not last me long enough. Luckily electric kettle and glasses were provided.

While waiting for my handphone to be fully charged, I studied my CFA Level II. Soon, the rest joined me, so was my boyfriend who was awaken by our laughter. It was a good night of sharing and we all had fun knowing some little things about one another before we mutually agreed to hit the sack for the day ahead.

Back in my bunk bed, I could still feel the icy coldness surrounding me despite wrapping myself in two layers, and another layer of blanket. I found myself hard to fall asleep due to the temperature and uneasiness in sleeping in a new place. Somehow I dozed off.

Signing off,

Oct 10, 2012

Grill 582 : MIGF 2012 Classical Yet Twisted Menu

What? 12 successive years? Are you kidding me?
Hell yes! Malaysia International Gourmet Festival ("MIGF") made its debut in Malaysia back in 2001!
*fainted and fell from the chair*
I guess it is just me, the Kampung Girl, hasn't heard about MIGF. Well, you can't blame me, I was raised to accept the mediocracy and be contented with whatever I have. Fine dining? You have gotta be kidding me. To begin with, being a blogger does help a little, being with my foodie tanner half does help a million tonnes. It was Him who brought me to many first fine dining dinners in my life. He saved me from the deep well that I was stuck for 22 years and showed me the higher end of food-tionary.

The theme revolving around MIGF this year is "Classical Chefs – A Symphony of Great Cuisines” – chosen to symbolise and celebrate the roots and traditions of basic good cooking and the recollection of mama's cooking on the good old days. Being one of the participants in MIGF 2012, Grill 582 has presented their own interpretation of classic food, which I found intriguing, not only the creative use of ingredients but the odd name it has.

Garlic Bread (Perhaps) - The Complimentary

Garlic is a basic yet interesting character on its own. Nutrition aside, garlic is one of the many flavors which I relate to mama's cooking. I would believe that serving garlic bread was intentional; a teaser for what may come next. Dense in the inside, the crust was less crispier than it should be, which I believed I was the culprit for it. As much as I would like to believe it was butter that was served, the fluffy texture of the "butter" spread resembled to cheese to me.

'Vichyssoise', Leek Ash, Croutons and Micro Herbs - The Appertisers

Garlic and potato, potato and garlic, I was right about the tease element. The origin of Vichyssoise is a subject of debate among culinary historians; some say it is originated from France, some say it is originated from United States. Vichyssoise, the thick soup made of puréed leek, onions, potatoes, cream and chicken stock, was mashy, powdery, yet not boring, which I believe it was the play of contrast in texture (croutons and leek ash) and flavor (micro herbs). Perhaps most wouldn't realise but leek ash kept me wanting more of the Vichyssoise.

Duck Confit, Poached Granny Smith and Fresh Vanilla - The Starter

Judging by the menu itself, the highlight of the dish was supposedly belonged to the duck confit but what stole the limelight was the poached Granny Smith. To begin with, apple and duck confit is not an usual match for the not so adventurous one. However it was combination that made me fell in love with this duck confit.

On its own, this duck confit was not the best I have had, especially when it was intensely salted. However its moistened texture antagonized against the slightly muted crunchiness of Granny Smith ring, so was its antagonizing saltiness against the artificially sweet (sugarified and cinnamon-ed) and natural sour flavor. Both complemented one another so well that I found myself running out of Granny Smith while I had a quarter of my duck confit lying on my plate.

Ocean Trout, Tomato 'Ketchup' Dressing and Fennel Salad - The Entrée

Enticed by the exciting blast of flavor by the starter, I was anticipating more surprise to come. Subtlety was what coming my way instead. Resembling the color and taste of salmon, this ocean trout had almost convinced the whole table that it was salmon; the thin crispy "salmon" skin, the orangish color and flaky flesh, the distinctive smell of "salmon". What sold it off would be the slightly buttery acquaintance on my tongue and comparatively subtle smell of "salmon". We were half suspicious throughout the dinner until the chef, Jaffery Othman, had to try his best to persuade us to believe that it was actually Tasmanian ocean trout.

Having ocean trout on its own was not the best idea for me. Seared to medium well, I could taste the familar game of raw salmon sashimi, which was not one of the things I enjoyed. In between the gaminess, my tongue recognised some liquid which I believed it was the natural protein or fat. How could I possibly appreciate this ocean trout?

Thanks to Chef Jaffery, it was made possible by the thoughtful side dish and dressing, i.e. fennel salad and ketchup dressing. The unmistaken fresh onion slices tossed in fennel dressing shrouded the gaminess of soft and flaky flesh of ocean trout and allowed the slightly sourish ketchup dressing to shine through the complexity. Appetizing it was!

Mixed Berry Shooter - Palate Cleanser

It was quite a waste to wash off the lingering flavors of duck confit with poached pear and ocean trout and fennel salad. Despite the reluctance, I accepted the shooter with a sense of anticipation for what would come next. Namely the mixed berry shooter, I was expecting something more sourish and perhaps with some alcohol and the sight of the rough sugar crystal around the rim of the shot glass was somewhat an affirmation. I was then proven wrong by the plain sweetness of the shooter. Good but nothing exciting.

Grilled Lamb Rump, Dukkah Spice, Spinach, Honey and Black Olive Vinaigrette

We had duck confit; we had ocean trout; what were we having next? Chicken? Beef? Good guesses but the answer was lamb. Instead of shank or loin, what served right in front of us was this grilled lamb rump. Odd choice of lamb perhaps but it was intentional. Grilled to tenderness, it presented the slightest resistance against my eating tools. I must say I was delighted that lamb rump could nearly be as tender as the beef rump I had in Prime, Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur.

Dukkah spice was the newly learned item for me on the night itself. It is an Egyptian spice mixture used in most Middle Eastern cuisine. Made of mixed nut, sesame seed and cumin, it gave a very earthy and nutty taste to the lamb. Both Dukkah spice and lamb were equally pungent and somehow it worked. With a faint sourish to it, the dressing, alongside with the earthy Dukkah packaged into the complexity of flavor which I could only wish for more dressing.

Vanilla and Smoked Idiazabal Chilled Soufflé

A good meal would always come to an end, which is usually a sweet one. Being a sweet tooth, this chilled Soufflé did catch most of my attention. I almost shouted "Oolala" when the chilled souffleé was served. Shaped to a half moon, this chilled souffleé rested on a thin layer of crumbs, daintily decorated with a small pile of berries, and crowned with few precious slices of smoked Idiazabal cheese and a slice of mint leave.

The fluffiness of chilled souffleé was exhilirating; it was as fluffy as fresh whipped cream, but better. Its firmness held it together despite my relentless landing scoops into it. The crumbs was very eggy and crunchily lovely which I could whack it on its own. The pile of berries was almost too pitiful; half way into my soufflé, I found myself wanting for more to go with the rest of my dessert. The contrasting texture of soufflé and crumbs with the sweet, sour and salty flavor from soufflé, berries and Idiazabal made this dessert more enjoyable and complete as opposed to just soufflé soufflé.

Petit Fours

As expected of fine dining, Petit Fours was served last; it was none other than four small bites which I must say it was quite a waste to be downed in one bite. I took a small bite into it, revealing fruity and sweet ganache in the shade of dark pink. It did lure my curiosity but not enough to find out what was in it. Mediocre but done intricately; flavor wise, I was seeking for more element of surprise. Say liquor?

If I have to rate this MIGF menu crafted by Chef Jaffery for Grill 582, I would probably give 4/5 for the unusual combination of ingredients and flavor. The complete menu can be found at http://www.migf.com/2012/festival-menu/grill-582-menu and perhaps you should give it a thought when you feel like having an unusual fine dining.

Oct 3, 2012

Best Of Malaysia Awards 2012: Of Luxury, Of Indulgence

"Bom sama dia!" was playing vividly in my head when I first heard of BOM in the event. No doubt, I have too much of Nandonism but rest assured, it was not purely of the funky tagline. What could BOM probably mean? Being the event by Expatriate Lifestyle magazine, it is a petty guess that it must be something to do with luxury and indulgence. After all, it is expatriate's lifestyle we are talking about.

Namely the Best of Malaysia Awards 2012 ("BOM 2012"), it is priceless recognition and almost costless public relations for 250 top names in the Travel and Hospitality Industry. After 10 weeks of voting in 16 categories, with a total of more than 70,000 votes cast, the expatriate community of Malaysia have chosen their best of the best in each category for BOM 2012. Nope I am not part of the community, not in the least.

The air of joy wafted in every corner in Stage, Avenue K. Suited and dressed up for the big night, all the big names in Travel and Hospitality Industry were certain that they would be bringing back some of these awards and personally, I have no doubt about it. In fact, I shared the most joy when I heard the names of familiar hotels which I visited.

The biggest winner for the night was none other than Shangri-La, bagging Best City Hotel (KL), Best Family Stay (Golden Sands Resort, Penang), Best Beach Resort (Tanjung Aru), Excellent Business Hotel (KL), Excellent Beach Resort (Rasa Sayang, Penang), Excellent Romantic Stay (Rasa Sayang, Penang) Excellent Hotel Bar (KL) and Excellent Hotel Restaurant (KL).

The familiarity of name has a long story back then when I was young. I was told about this high class hotel with the name of Shangri-La. Naive I was, any hotel back then was beyond decent to me. As I grew older, never have I had any chance to be associated with Shangri-La. Boyfriend used to hype about trying out this French restaurant with the name of Lafite in Shangri-La Kuala Lumpur but it did not materialise. At least Lafite managed to grab an excellent award for hotel restaurant category this year, so we shall consider to pay a visit as soon as we find ourselves comfortable and able to enjoy French fine dining.

SkyBar, Traders Hotel Kuala Lumpur

As I was compiling photos for Shangri-La, I found out that Traders Hotels are actually related to Shangri-La. It would be a lie if I said "I am not surprised!". Amusing. The recognition of Traders Hotel Kuala Lumpur in Best Hotel Bar and Excellent Business Hotel categories reaffirmed my belief that Traders Hotels are in good hands.

Personally, I probably wouldn't pay to stay in a 5-star hotel for holiday. Reason being, I am not an expatriate :p (It is a joke, no offence!) However, if you were to ask me, "Have I stayed in a 5-star hotel?", I would gladly reply you a "Yes" with a big grin and the joy of mine is wholly attributable to brilliance of my boyfriend whom has a Starwood Privilege Guest membership where he gets to dine with awesome discounts and stay with extra discounts apart from the usual promotion rate offered to public.

Prego, The Westin Kuala Lumpur 

Westins, Sheratons, and Le Meridiens are all under the big umbrella of Starwood Group where boyfriend and I get to splurge on a little at times. I believe it is quite a luck to begin with that the Italian restaurant we frequent, namely Prego, is voted as the Best Hotel Restaurant by the expatriate community.

To be fair, every restaurant has its merits and demerits. What I liked about Prego was their Goat’s Cheese Pasta with thyme, raisins and pine-nuts; what I disliked about Prego were the badly done saffron risotto with braised lamb shank and calzone. At times, service was quite slow and we had to wait for the salsa dressing for the bread until the bread turned cold. Perhaps it was just me but I am sure there are always rooms for improvement.

Splash Pool Bar, The Westin Langkawi Resort and Spa

Food aside, The Westin Kuala Lumpur and The Westin Langkawi Resort and Spa both bagged two awards each, namely Excellent City Hotel and Excellent Business Hotel, and, Best Weekend Hotel and Excellent Spa Resort, respectively. So much of Westin-Langkawiness and now I am itching for some, I think boyfriend does have some vouchers for that :D *rub hands*

Judging by the aura of Westin, I trusted that Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur and Sheraton Imperial Kuala Lumpur woudn't leave the award empty handed. As predicted, Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur bagged itself an Excellent Business Hotel award, while Sheraton Imperial Kuala Lumpur was voted as the Best Service with a Smile. I am sure they can do better next year!

2 days after Best of Awards 2012 marked the starting of the month of October. It reminds me of the happening season of Oktoberfest; it also reminds me of my company trip to Pangkor Island Beach Resort, ex-college mates trip to Genting Highlands, and diving trip at the end of November. Yes, beach, highland, beach, I am so excited right now!

Oops, back to the Best of Malaysia Awards, Four Seasons Resort Langkawi pride itself with the Best Romantic Stay Resort, Excellent Beach Resort, and Excellent Spa Resort awards. For some reasons, I am always confused between Four Points and Four Seasons. My curiosity was bubbling as I heard the name of Four Seasons again and again from the emcee of the event. The next thing I knew, my fingers were busy tapping away to locate the room rate for Four Seasons Langkawi. Oh gosh, RM2000 for a night at Lower Melaleuca Pavillion with partial sea view! *faint and regain consciousness and faint again*

Pangkor Laut Resort

I guess I would never get tired with beaches. Now that I am an Open Water Diver, I would hit the beach and sea at least once a year. *big grin* As much as I believe holiday should be a getaway, it shouldn't be a taxing thing at all. So I shall say "No" to Four Seasons Langkawi for many years to come, and perhaps say "KIV" to Pangkor Laut Resort, the winner of Excellent Weekend Break Resort and Excellent Spa Resort, as the room rate starts from less than a thousand.

One thing about me is I wouldn't stop planning holidays after holidays but to afford any, I have to work hard to earn my fair share of income before I can indulge in any of these. Perhaps exceptions to Starwood Hotels :p *hint hint to my boyfriend*

For more information on the winning hotels, you can hit this link : http://www.expatriatelifestyle.com/fromthemagazine/article/Announcements/Best-of-Malaysia-2012-Award-Winners-in-full 

I shall sign my night off and embrace any holiday that comes my way.

Hitomi Ng

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