Glory, glory, Kings of Convenience!

March 23, 2010

Also guest blogging at Backseat Radio: The story of two kings, conveniently.

—–

Event: Kings of Convenience live in concert
Date: March 21, 2010 (Sunday)
Venue: Bentley Music Auditorium, Wisma Bentley Music

Sunday afternoon’s torrents of rain slowly came to mere drizzles. All over the country, thousands of football fans flocked to their nearest mamak stalls to watch the live match, emanating bouts of cheers heard throughout the neighbourhood with every hit and miss.

Whereas, a minority of some 1,000 fans travelled from all over Klang Valley – perhaps even the country – to an unusual concert venue just to see two Kings who came all the way from Norway. People with bobbed haircuts and oversized horn-rimmed glasses and too short hems of jeans, speaking fluent Cantonese with their similarly styled friends, as they sauntered into the venue. Not to be stereotypical, but I did not realise Kings of Convenience would actually attract a sold out crowd, let alone those who would prefer not to converse in English.

Security was strict that night, especially when it comes to cameras. Later, we found out that it was the Kings’ special order to tone down on the photo-snapping, even though they were flash-less. Something to do with the tiny clicks the cameras make. Erlend Øye asked fans to not take pictures in the first 30 minutes, but thereafter, it was up to our fancies, with the double-edged undertone of “that is, if you don’t mind bothering the people next to you.”

But, being Malaysians, cameras were still sneaked into the venue right under the bulky security’s nose. Some were iffy at first, whether or not to lift up their cameras after Erlend’s request. But eventually, the snappers let loose, Blackberry units with red blinking lights recording song after song – like little assassins, as if waiting for the right moment to strike the Kings down.

As jesters of the evening to entertain the crowd before the Kings took the stage – Tenderfist, a local synth pop group, which I am quite happy to say, sounds pretty close to The Postal Service. Why the world said Owl City ripped The Postal Service off, was beyond me, especially seeing that it is doubtful Adam Young even know who they are. But after hearing Tenderfist for the night, I am glad that at least someone – not to mention, someone from Malaysia – is doing things the right way. Ben Gibbard would be proud.

They were unlike any Kings in the world. Humble and modest, so much so that they opened their show with My Ship Isn’t Pretty – nothing too upbeat, just something as simple as the plucking of the acoustics to ease us in.

Erlend Øye kept the crowd close to his heart, pleasing us quite easily whenever he struck a few dorky dance moves ala Napoleon Dynamite in Sing Softly to Me, or doing his amazing trumpet imitation in Second to Numb, or got us snapping our fingers away and singing in a choir in Little Kids.

Eirik Glambek Bøe was less mobile as he had his own words to pay attention to. But he kept the crowd on little laughing frenzies speaking in Bergensk (I think), then blaming the sound system for speaking in such a foreign language to us.

Small jokes aside, Eirik kept us close to his heart too, serenading us with songs mostly from Declaration of Dependence, such as Me in You, Mrs Cold, Rule My World, and Boat Behind – which got the crowd singing along: “Oh woah woah woah woah / I could never belong to you / Oh woah woah woah woah / I could never belong to you.”

Also, not forgetting beloved ones from their earlier albums – I Don’t Know What I Can Save You From, Homesick (which quickly became a favourite for me), Gold in the Air of Summer, and of course, I’d Rather Dance with You, which they had Tenderfist up on stage again during the encore to play with them.

And what is a song about dancing with someone without actually, well, dancing with someone? Handpicked by Erland himself, a lucky fan got to go on stage to struck some Napoleon moves with him, and share his microphone singing, “I’d rather dance, I’d rather dance than talk with you / I’d rather dance, I’d rather dance than talk with you.”

Here is a video of it:

Personally, I thought that other song Kings of Convenience did with Tenderfist was better. I loved it when they got the crowd clapping along to Tenderfist’s synth pop beats and Erland pulling it in with his trumpet imitation and the lights in a colourful array projecting off the ceiling.

I loved that moment.

We had close encounters with the Kings after their gig. While we were smoking outside, a security guard escorted a timid-looking Eirik past the awe-struck crowd towards the loo, and then after that, Erland.

They were merely a breath away from me.

I guess this is what it feels like to be with someone of ‘royalty’ status – you just get starstruck and stand frozen in place, not sure whether to quickly whip out your camera, or open your mouth to say something – anything – and risk sounding like an idiot. I suppose days of mobbing fans were over too; security had only to whisper a quiet ‘excuse me’ to get through the crowd. No holding people’s hands were necessary, either.

It was a pleasure to be in the same presence with such Kingly figures, especially in a venue like Bentley Music Auditorium – spacious enough to house a lot of fans, but not too much that it loses its intimacy of such fragile bands. Well done, Junk and Soundscape Records. And of course, Tenderfist and Kings of Convenience themselves.

* Thanks Reta for helping to smuggle in the camera and take photographs during the concert.

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Horace the Holga : Set #3

March 13, 2010

Horace the Holga: A Lomography Collection
Set #3 : No man’s land

January 8, 2010


“Dinnertime.”

“No man’s land.”

“Untitled #3.”

“Building Rome.”

“Lost.”

“The day the bike ran out of fuel.”

“Crash.”

“Peek-a-boo.”

Film
+ Fuji Pro 160S

+ More lomography sets HERE.

Florence hits the XX spot.

February 9, 2010

Event: Florence and the Machine + The XX live in concert
Date: February 7, 2010 (Sunday)
Venue: Esplanade Theatre, Singapore

It has been a while since my last concert stint, let alone one that goes on in Singapore. Not counting MTV World Stage and the humiliating pukefest at Hennessy Artistry, the last full fledge concert for me was Coldplay‘s back in March. That is almost a year ago. Even when I heard the throngs of bands making their way down to Singapore in January – ie. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Green Day and supposedly, The Killers – I could not even find it in me to make myself go to any of it. Like a guy who couldn’t get it up after being abstinence for a year.

It was on New Year’s Day, after spending another lonely New Year’s Eve the night before, when I woke up in the morning and decided I would like to go to a concert. And since I have made The XX’s self-titled album one of my top 5 favourite albums of 2009, I thought it was only right to go to their concert last weekend. Besides, SGD73 for two bands – that is a fucking steal for me who just wants to reawaken my concert bug.

I knew I should have bought the floor seatings, even though the seats left were the ones way at the back. Because when The XX came on stage and Jamie Smith fired up the MPC with Intro that opened the album oh so well, as if it was part of their gimmick, the crowd from the floor seatings flooded to the front of the stage almost simultaneously. It was quite a sight, actually. But me, being way up on the second level, could only watch and brood, and remind myself never to buy balcony seats. Ever.

Seeing The XX live, was like being transported into the twilight zone. What with Smith’s captivating beats, and Romy Madley Croft’s guitar riffs, which could probably be an entirely new band member on its own. And the switching strobe lights of yellow, blue, red and green on the simple set of double X’s. It is easy to just close your eyes, and feel the melodic strums of Crystalised, Islands and Night Time seep into your veins. I did just all of that, but I think I fell asleep during the last song, Infinity. I don’t care what you say; it was a long day for me, alright?

It is not to say I do not enjoy seeing them live, but I suppose there is nothing to shout about. I was not expecting much anyway. They were pretty much the same as they are in their album. Croft (who sometimes sounded like Lisa Hannigan with a perpetual sore throat) and Oliver Sim were not the best singers out there, but they pretty much made up for everything with their instruments, which we already knew upon listening to XX. They played almost everything off the album, except – of all songs to leave out – Heart Skipped a Beat, which was my favourite, and Stars.

And just like that, the first half was over, and the next thing I knew, I was standing in line to go to the washroom with a quivering bladder. Heh.

Things sort of perked up when it was time for Florence and the Machine. I, for one, definitely was refreshed when Florence Welch strolled out to the stage with her flowing skirt and legs that go on for fucking miles.

All you lucky ones by the stage, I hope at least one of you grazed her legs for me – either purposely or accidentally – instead of just reaching for her hand, and taking pictures with her. Throughout the night, I was just waiting for her to throw back her skirt one more time just to have another glimpse of her lovely legs. Heh.

I thought they would have picked a better song to open their set than My Boy Makes Coffin. But the crowd did not mind. Right after that was the debut single that put Florence and the Machine on the map to stardom – Kiss with a Fist. Upbeat and contagious, everyone was dancing and banging their heads along to the beat.

But I especially love what she had done to Blinding, my favourite off the album Lungs. With Christopher Llyod Hadden’s profuse and prim thumps of the drums and Tom Monger’s staccato riffs on the harp, to go with the ten yellow lights beaming at us at the upper levels, and Welch’s perfectly toned voice for the chorus of “No more dreaming like a girl so in love, so in love / No more dreaming like a girl so in love with the wrong world”. I could feel every beat of the drum, and every pluck of the strings, and every syllable of her words. Like a tattoo etching a reminder on my skin – forever.

It could pretty much be the climax of the show.

Sexy legs aside, Welch is pretty much a chirpy character onstage. Although I found it rather amusing when she rambled on on how glad she was to be in Singapore and the fine city (no pun intended, or is there?), I thought it was cute of her when she started entertaining two fans at the front with their polaroids – snapping shots with them, and even took a couple of the crowd with the house lights on.

And it was a beautiful sight – but yet again, an envious one – when she got the entire crowd jumping in unison to her fun loving Dog Days Are Over. Ah, to be in the midst of the crowd then.

Florence and the Machine pretty much performed all the songs off Lungs – the screamus maximus Howl, Drumming Song that sounded too much like Beyonce’s Crazy in Love for comfort, a cover of Cold War Kids’ Hospital Beds, and for the finale, another beloved number – Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up) with the fans hitting her back with echoes of “Raise it up, Raise it up!” along with Hadden’s catchy rhythms.

It was nice to be able to include Florence and the Machine and The XX on my ‘have seen live in concert’ list, especially since they are quite new a band to even consider swinging by Singapore. With the crappy seats I have (and for that, I apologise for the crappy concert pictures again), and the fact that they are less than 5 years old as a band, and also that I am new to them as well (I actually only checked out Florence and the Machine for the sake of the concert, really), I do not really have any expectations for them to blow me away.

It was a good experience, nonetheless. Florence and the Machine over The XX, though. Lesson learned, of course: if I were to see them live again, I will definitely make sure to get floor seating tickets, even if it is only to be able to graze Welch’s lovelies. Heh.

Excuse me, does my room come with a rockstar?

January 26, 2010

Also guest blogging at Backseat Radio:
1. A review: ‘Alter the Ending’ by Dashboard Confessional
2. A new moon is rising
3. Editors who kick like a sleep twitch
4. Row, row, row that rocking boat
5. A Brand New sound to cure the broken soul

It has been a while since I last went back to Penang, and while I was away, a band of rock stars decided to wash up ashore and got the whole island in an uproar again with their latest edition of Hard Rock Hotel and Hard Rock Cafe.

So, once I have settled my leaves for my homecoming, calls were made and a room was set up for me at the hotel. I landed in Penang in the evening, and after seeing my parents at home for dinner, I loaded my bags into the car and headed halfway across the island towards my rockstar experience to see what the fuss was all about.

As the doors of the lift opened up, and I shuffled out with weary feet dragging my luggage, I was immersed immediately at the setting of the dimly lit hallway. Apparently, at each level of Hard Rock Hotel Penang, they have a different theme going on at the foyer, as well as different genres of music playing in the background.

Gazing down the wide corridor with striped wallpapers, I half expected some drunken rockstar to stumble out of his room with a groupie in each arm. I could so see the hallways filled with behind-the-music people – the band members, the fans and the journos, kicking back after an awesome concert in a venue nearby (but in Batu Ferringhi’s case, there is no such venue nearby), drinking expensive liquor and smoking up.

It was a nice image in my head.

Too bad all we have here are families with too noisy kids, and housekeepers with their large trolleys of dirty laundry and spare toiletries. Heh.

I fucking loved my room. The inviting bed – which itched me to go jump on it, which I did, heh. The 32” LCD television – can’t throw this TV out the balcony though. The Wi-Fi and broadband Internet – which was not a plus point in this hotel because I could not for the life of me stay connected for more than 15 minutes straight.

And this.

Call me ulu, but that was the first time I stayed in a hotel with an iPod docking stereo system. And I just loved the idea that someone put my beloved iPod into consideration. Almost immediately (after I got off from jumping on the bed), I plugged in my iPod, and blasted myself some Dashboard Confessional (OK, fine, not exactly a very hard rock music, but what can you do?).

The bathroom is lovely. Although a tad crammed, the decor was top for me. And I realised that Hard Rock Hotel Penang is a very narcissistic hotel, because wherever I turn to, there will be a reflection of me in the mirror staring back. I guess that is what rockstars love seeing – themselves. Heh.

From the bathroom, you can sort of see right through into the bedroom. If you are staying alone, it might not be much of a problem for you. But if you are not, it is OK. You can always slide open the mirrors.

But I would not advise that, because that would mean a very big Ray Charles staring at you while you are taking a shower or a dump. So what, he is blind; it is still creepy to have an old man in the bathroom with you.

With such a confined space, the Seaview Deluxe (approx. RM490++*) does not come with a bathtub. But it does come with a rain showerhead and one that looks like a microphone – for the bathroom singers. Heh.

Also, a digital weighing scale. Rockstars do need to keep check of their weight, you know. But if you cannot see the numbers past your jutting belly, it is suffice to say you need to cut down on the alcohol and free food.

Having a music-themed hotel is also a perfect reason to have memorable lyrics littered in any place you can find. Things like Signed, Sealed, Delivered… I’m Yours by Stevie Wonder on letterheads, or some welcoming quote at the hotel front entrance. But it is a good thing they did not get carried away with it. It would have been an overkill.

After a nice hot shower, I slid open the balcony doors and kicked back on the sofa with a book, while enjoying the languid laps of the ocean just outside of my door. Then, it was straight to the beckoning bed, in which I slept like a log within seconds.

Cheap thrill to-do #1: Ask the room service if they can send up a rockstar to your room, and see how they response.

My sleep was interrupted the next morning by some overexcitedly loud kids by the pool. Meh.

But it was still nice to see the view of the beach from my balcony.

Rockstar or not, you cannot dive straight into the pool from your balcony. Safety first.

You can, however, from these rooms. They are the Lagoon Deluxe (approx. RM600++*) rooms, one of the most hot selling rooms in Hard Rock Hotel Penang. You can rise and shine in the morning and jump straight into the swimming pool from your deck.

For the not-so-rockstar guests, other room types you can consider on include: Hillview Deluxe (approx. RM380++*) – something similar to the Seaview Deluxe, only with an unparalleled scenic view of the hills; and Family Room (approx. RM580++*) – for those travelling in family packs. A non-smoking room, with a kids’ playground to keep your little rock stars entertained.

If you are a rockstar with platinum/gold/diamond-selling albums, you might want to consider these options: Kings Club Seaview Deluxe (approx. RM625++*) – only 10 units of these at Level 6, where you can enjoy a vantage point view of the ocean from your balcony; Seaview Studio Suite (approx. RM680++*) – for those who are enthused by space and comfort; Rock Star Suite – one and only suite with a connecting private living space for you to entertain your VIP guests, and a one bedroom that gives you the first class retreat you deserve; and Kings Suite – the next Graceland or Neverland Ranch for the next Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson in you.

Doesn’t that make you want to moonwalk your way to Hard Rock Hotel Penang now?

Guests from the latter four rooms get to enjoy access to Hard Rock Hotel Penang’s Kings Club Lounge, located on Level 6. It is a private area, where you can retreat to for a little privacy away from the ‘commoners’.

The theme on this level is, of course, all about the King of Rock himself – Elvis Presley. From the foyer, to the collage collection on the wall, to his very own green coat with golden emblazons in the casing – which is one of the more expensive memorabilias available at Hard Rock Hotel Penang.

You can have your breakfast at their dining area, because trust me, you do not want to get caught in the breakfast crowd, especially during peak season.

After that, you can kick back at the living area donned with memorabilia of the Kings from all music genres, perhaps even try to channel one of them to get your groove on.

The very first things you would notice upon stepping into Hard Rock Hotel Penang are none other than their memorabilia littered all over the place – from the glass display spread at the lobby, to the many hallways leading to your rooms, to the restaurants, and even as you exit out of the washrooms. So much so that everyone is snapping pictures everywhere they go – from posing with the Beatles’ head statues by the entrance, to posing with the guitar-shaped door knobs of the washrooms. Meh.

And most definitely, you would notice the 18-foot tall guitar placed right smack outside of Hard Rock Hotel Penang, which, by the way, is a replica of Chuck Berry’s guitar, also stored as a memorabilia in the hotel itself.

There are more than 500 pieces of unparalleled rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia collection from both local and international artists in the hotel. Spot for Madonna’s famous Vogue corset, or Richie Sambora’s tailor-made 12-string guitar, or Tom Petersson’s (of Cheap Trick) silk suit in the premise.

Memorabilia tours are available at 11AM and 3PM daily.

Other than that, there are many facilities at your disposal during your stay at the hotel.

Think your little one is the next Miley Cyrus or Jonas Brothers? You might want to kick things off early for them by ‘enrolling’ them to the Lil’ Rock Kids Club and Teens Club.

There are babysitters to look after them at Lil’ Rock – instilling rock music in them while they are at it, who knows? At the Teens Club, a pool table, foosball table and PlayStation to keep them entertained. There is even a drum kit in case inspiration hits and they need to bang out a tune.

Body Rock. Hard Rock’s very own gym with state-of-the art equipments for you to work those guns, especially for guitarists who are required to do those guitar goreng solos.

Rock Spa. Hard Rock Hotel’s spa outlet for you to retreat to for a relaxing massage to loosen up the muscles.

And of course the swimming pool, currently the largest swimming pool available in Penang, measuring at a magnificent 26,000 sq ft – that’s 3 Olympic-sized swimming pools, thank you very much.

Not forgetting the Rock Shop, where you go to get the ever-popular Hard Rock T-shirts. There are three Rock Shops available at Hard Rock Hotel Penang: the main one in a building on its own, another in Hard Rock Hotel Penang and the third in Hard Rock Cafe. But no, you cannot purchase any of the displaying memorabilia here.

I did wanted to get one for myself, but seeing that they did not have my size – and also the fact that everyone and their grandmas are wearing the T-shirts around the hotel, I decided to get this charity bracelet instead.

The Imagine There’s No Hunger campaign is a Hard Rock International initiative to help WHY, a non-profit organisation striving to fight against hunger and poverty around the world. The name, of course, stems from John Lennon’s legendary song Imagine.

So far, Hard Rock Hotel Penang only carries the charity bracelets (for RM5, whereby all proceeds go to WHY), and the pins will be arriving pretty soon. No sign of the merchandising Serve4 CDs though.

Hard Rock Hotel Penang has five F&B outlets where you can go fill your hungry tummies.

The sure hit is the Hard Rock Cafe Penang, with live bands rocking it out at the Cafe every night. Penang own’s rock band, Ocean of Fire, launched their latest album, Destination, to a full house here last year .

Try naming all the stars on the mural there.

Here, you can also find the Mapex drum set used by Matt Sorum of Guns ‘N’ Roses, which was torn apart to be plastered on the ceiling wall. I thought that was kind of a waste.

Also, the authentic American cuisine food made famous by Hard Rock Cafes across the globe.

The juicy and succulent Black pepper steak.

And the Chocolate brownie. They were yum.

Also the al-fresco Pizzeria, the perfect location for a lazy holiday meal with a great choice of pizzas and pasta dishes as you watch the sun set in the horizon.

Some Carbonara fettucini.

And the recommended Tandoori chicken pizza.

Other outlets include Starz Diner, an all-day dining restaurant featuring Asian and International cuisine; The Shack, a pool bar, where you can sub-emerged from your laps around the pool to a nice cooling glass of cocktail; and the Lobby Lounge, where drinks are served to you from the bar as you enjoy – surprise, surprise – more live music from performing bands.

Cheap thrill to-do #2: Ring up their hotline and note how they would greet you with a chirpy “how may I rock your world today?”

Truthfully, I am wary as to how long Hard Rock Hotel Penang will survive on the island. Granted, it is a wonderful to have something as renowned as Hard Rock Hotel here. It is cool (I think) to be in the same room with Vince Neil’s (of Motley Crue) and Phil Collin’s suits. (Yeah, they once sweated in them but whatever).

Currently, it is still a fairly new establishment, so everyone would still want to book a room there, and take pictures with the memorabilia. Not to jinx things or anything, but a few years down the road, when the room pricing suddenly becomes a problem to everyone, and the memorabilias are still the same as they were since day one, Penangites might just pull up their pants and go shit in some new toilets elsewhere on the island if nothing new swings by.

So, we will just have to wait and see how the hotel turns out in five years’ time.

Till then. Whether you like hard rock or soft rock, or even blues, pop or R&B, there is definitely a room for you here at Hard Rock Hotel Penang. Just make sure to arrive in a rockin’ style, and blow everyone away.

* Prices stated are correct during the point of reference.

++
Hard Rock Hotel Penang
Batu Ferringhi Beach
11100 Penang
Malaysia
T: +6 04 881 1711
F: +6 04 881 2155
E: reservations.penang@hardrockhotels.net
W: http://penang.hardrockhotels.net

Horace the Holga : Set #2

December 29, 2009

Horace the Holga : A Lomography Collection
Set #2 : Ray Cheong Trio

December 5, 2009


Films
+ Fuji ACROS 100

+ More lomography sets HERE.

Horace the Holga : Set #1

November 18, 2009

Horace the Holga: A Lomography Collection
Set #1 : The virgin shots

September 13, 2009

 

“A warning sign.”

“Caged bird.”

“Island.”

“Alice’s key.”

“Stairway to…”

“Untitled #1.”

“This place is a prison.”

“Jaywalking #1.”

“Untitled #2.”

“Slumber party.”

“Poser.”

“Jaywalking #2.”

“Room for squares.”

“Earthquake.”

“Inside out.”

“Kungfu.”

Films
+ Fuji Pro 400 H
+ Fuji ACROS 100

+ More lomography sets HERE.

Horace the Holga: A Lomography Collection

November 12, 2009

Because all the uncool kids who can’t afford a DSLR are doing it.

+ 13/9/09 – Set #1: The virgin shots
+ 5/12/09 – Set #2: Ray Cheong Trio
+ 8/1/10 – Set #3: No man’s land
+ 3/4/10 – Set #4: The phail shots
+ 26/6/10 – Set #5: I _ KL / I _ Singapore Pt 1
+ 20/8/10 – Set #6: I _ KL / I _ Singapore Pt 2

Xensually Xenri.

November 4, 2009

I am saving the best for last in my little MIGF adventure. Out of the few restaurants I have visited for the 2009 Malaysia International Gourmet Festival last month, Xenri D’Garden Terrace would have to be my favourite. Partly because I love Japanese cuisine, so don’t mind me if I seem a little bias.

A name synonymous with ‘a thousand miles’, Xenri begins their journey in 2004 with Xenri D’RiverView in a reserved location along Old Klang Road. Since then, they have spread their kimonos to Hong Kong with Xenri No Tsuki at Causeway Bay, and in September 2008, Xenri D’Garden Terrace in Menara Hap Seng.

Xenri is famous for their all-you-can-eat buffet spreads during the weekends to larger parties. And this year, for the first time, Xenri D’Garden Terrace participates alongside 23 other restaurants for MIGF 2009 to appease fine diners’ thirst for something Japanese.

What Xenri has planned for the MIGF menu works from mild to strong for the taste palettes. And throughout the menu, if you care to notice, a lot of the ingredients are seasonal and available only during the Fall season, which made the menu a tad special like that.

For an appetiser they started off with the novel and refreshing Homemade chilled silk bean curd with hotaru squid ink sauce. Now, before you get turned off by the prejudicing black sauce, wipe that grimace off your face because you’d definitely like to take a chance on this.

It’s a perfect composition that moulds the smooth bean curd into tiny pots with a cap on, bellying the squid ink sauce that spills out when you break the bean curd. There is a mild saltiness for the sauce that brings taste to the bland bean curd, which I thought started the menu on a very appropriate note.

Complementing the dish is the equally mild Chitose Tsuru Hunmai Tachoizuru Sake, a famous Japanese alcohol with an aftertaste that hits your senses, but yet at the same time, not too overwhelming that it shoots straight into the nostrils.

Let it be known here and now that I am a fan of sashimi. So, it is only right that I anticipate with bated breath for the Sashimi Platter to come next. When it did, it literally blew me away with its adorable igloo sculpture, an extra step taken to preserve the freshness of the raw seafood.

I was enthralled and as I made my way through the jewel pieces, I shut the world out as if I were an Eskimo hiding in my own igloo in the middle of nowhere. And I was genuinely sad when the platter was all cleared out, regardless of how slow I took my own sweet time with them.

Starting things off light is the Hokkaido wild catch scampi, the lightest for the taste buds and the softest with a texture that seems to melt in the mouth; the Japanese green sea urchin with a heightened saltiness harmonised with the scallop; and lastly, the Premium tuna belly that is slightly thawed in its own oiliness to capture the exact taste of the high quality fish.

This platter also comes with a perilla leaf (known in Japan as ‘aojiso’), which is often paired with sashimi, and a stem of its flower buds that are mixed in the soy sauce to provide a fragrant and herbal kick.

Next up is the simmered dish, featuring the Slow poached salmon skin roll with Tsubame ginger broth. Again, another lovable and cute presentation that serves the broth still bubbling in a small pot over a slow fire of a tiny stove. It keeps the soup warm as you take your own sweet time savouring on the supple cod fish and salmon and the firm radish slices. It also contains green slimy but sweet substance made from blended lady’s fingers together with the herbal elements of the soup. Definitely the perfect dish to relish on as you watch the auburn leaves fall in your Japanese garden.

Moving on to something heavier is the featured grilled dish – Kobe Wagyu housyou yaki. Xenri uses Grade A5 wagyu beef, the highest grade available in Japan, wrapped in a layer of fresh soy yuba skin parcel before hitting the grill. This method of cooking is called housyou, and it is tried since the olden Japanese days, which keeps the beef from overcooking and traps the oil and flavours in the meat.

Because of the the skin parcel, the beef is served a tad bit raw and garbed in its own extracted oil. By itself, you cannot really taste the meat, but when paired with Xenri’s homemade sauce, it seems to magically accentuates the wagyu beef.

For the main dish is Xenri’s beloved Chirimen jyako okowa hoba meshi, attributing Japanese rice with bits of baby sardines wrapped in magnolia leaf, plucked from the autumn trees in Japan and flown straight to the Xenri kitchen.

This is not exactly an outstanding dish for me, compared to the others on the menu. The presentation is as exquisite, but it seems to me to be another Japanese rice dish, as sweet and grainy. The baby sardines stood out, however, in every bite with its peppered saltiness, making the dish somewhat unique.

I was a little iffy when Xenri stated their dessert as the Xenri special homemade sunny side up. I mean, are they going to serve us eggs as a finale, or is it a kind of Japanese sweetie of the same name I do not know of? It was neither.

Xenri went out of the box and presented a culinary masterpiece that although appears like the breakfast favourite, is actually a sweetie in disguise. What looks like an over-fertile egg holds dear the many elements that make a dessert a, well, dessert.

The ‘egg white’ is made from panna cotta, a famous Italian pudding prepared from simmering cream, milk and sugar and the slightest tinge of Brandy flavouring; the peach puree as the ‘egg yolk’; grounded sesame seeds as the sprinkled ‘black pepper’; and the dribble of black honey sauce as the ‘soy sauce’.

It is definitely a sweet delicacy that is out of the ordinary and one that ends Xenri’s MIGF Menu for this year with a spectacular finish.

The wine selections recommended for Xenri’s MIGF Menu were the La Motte Pierneef Sauvignon Blanc 2008 from Cape town, South Africa for the Sashimi platter and Simmered dish, and the Haute Cabriere Pinot Noir 2005, also from South Africa for the Grilled and Main dishes.

The former is made from organically grown grapes, which contains a rich flavouring of tropical fruits, such as passion fruit, melon, apples and litchi that awakens the taste palettes with its slight tinge of sweetness. It displays a firm structure that is both tempered and well-balanced, with refreshing acidity in the foreground and a steadfast minerality in the background. An apt wine that washes down the saltiness of the dishes. And I like it that it is not acidic and jams up my nose.

As for the Pinot Noir, it is served best to diners chilled and under 11ºC to preserve its fragrant and not turn sour. This red wine displays whiffs of pungent raspberries, cherries and ground black pepper, and dark berries with perfectly integrated tannins on the palettes.

Alright, so I may be a little bias towards Xenri because I love Japanese food. But I have had my fair share of less than perfect Japanese food, and I am all for a restaurant that makes things perfect for the cuisine. I suppose it is safe to say that Xenri is one of them, and I would have to say they have done a pretty good job for their debut into MIGF.

Not only are the chefs and kitchen crew dedicated to what they are cooking, even the waitresses are knowledgeable on what they are serving too. The waitress that served us was patient in introducing each dish to us – the ingredients, the cooking method, why this white wine is chosen, why specifically the red wine is chilled… she knows it all. And I am quite impressed by that.

From the lush green grass padding, to the perfectly symmetrical stepping stones, to the quiet fall of water from one level down the next in the mini fountain, to a restaurant that serves a blend of authentic Japanese recipes with contemporary ingredients and tastes… everything that’s pure and true from the Land of the Rising Sun. Why would you not feel like you are in Kyoto?

Festival Menu
RM230++ per person with sake/wine
RM180++ per person without sake/wine

Light Festival Menu
RM160++ per person with sake/wine
RM120++ per person without sake/wine

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Xenri D’Garden Terrace
Podium Block
Menara Hap Seng
Lot No. 2-04, 2nd Floor
Jalan P Ramlee
50250 Kuala Lumpur
Opens daily 12PM-3PM for lunch; 6PM-11PM for dinner
Tel.: +6 03 2078 6688

Bunga Emas, for the Majesty in you.

October 30, 2009

From the golden curtains hanging off the ceiling to the golden carpeting beneath your feet, from the golden cushions you sit on to the golden table settings displaying your royal dishes. Bunga Emas Restaurant is the newest restaurant in town that provides an ambience and delectable fine Malay dishes that is fit for a king.

Bunga emas plays an important role in traditional Malay customs during special occasions and wedding ceremonies. With that, Bunga Emas Restaurant would like to highlight this beloved Malaysian trademark via the interior designs, as well as the food served on the table.

Headed by Chef de Cuisine Khairul Ghazali, this is his latest culinary concerto in The Royale Chulan Kuala Lumpur, after Sutera Harbour Resort in Sabah, and Langkawi Four Seasons in Kedah, where he became good friends with Executive Sous Chef Sabri Soid, who is just a door away at L’Heritage. (As you follow through, you will see similar usage of ingredients in the menu).

And this is Chef Khairul’s second time participating in the 2009 Malaysia International Gourmet Festival (MIGF), first time when he was in the Langkawi Four Seasons, in which he had also won the Most Creative Food category.

As the appetiser is the Udang kara kerdil limau Bali, a baby rock lobster salad topped with a tangy variety of fruits, such as pomelo and orange slices, pandan fronth, and are’nkha caviar pomegranate compote.

This is a weird combo for me. It consists of all four flavours that hit you at one go: sweet from the orange, bitter from the pomelo, salty from the caviar, and spicy from the tomato sauce. We were definitely off to quite an interesting start at Bunga Emas.

The starter is another novel composition of both land and sea – Darat dan lautan. Representing the sea is a ball of grilled salmon with a surprise pineapple and sambal filling, and the land, roulade of quail dressed in peppercorn seasoning that pops like little firecrackers in your mouth, and a dollop of – get this – purple mashed potatoes.

Again, quite an unusual piece. I was a little distracted trying to get used to something so uncalled for. I am not used to eating purple coloured food, and it did not really taste like those golden yellow mashed potatoes. But I like the effort put into the grilled salmon. The stuffing definitely put me off-guard, and it was a just flavour to go with the fish.

For the soup course is Sup ketam labu kundur, made from little spoonfuls of flower crab broths sailing on winter melon rafts on the feather light tomato consume.

This is a very overwhelmingly pepperish dish for me. So much so that it drowned out the taste of the winter melon cubes, as well as the freshness of the tomatoes. It did accentuate the crab meat, but overall, it was too much for me to enjoy.

For half-time, I thought perhaps I can take a breather from the Dadih mempelam, a silky smooth mango custard. Stated as a sorbet course, it is not exactly sorbet since it is a kind of pudding.

I did not think it is a right choice for a half-time sweetie, because the custard is a little heavy on the palettes. Thus, it did not really reset the taste buds properly, especially after the peppered soup. Although it is sweet nonetheless, a good thing after the two spicy dishes prior, but I would still like an icy cool sorbet to refresh things.

But when it comes to the main course, one would feel like they are having another serving of Hari Raya.

On the Festival Menu as mains are the Kerapu merah pais kelapa, baked grouper fish rolled up with a good touch of chilli coconut paste stuffing on the insides, and Chef Khairul’s signature dish, Sendi kambing briyani, lamb shank in briyani gravy. Accommodating the dishes is Nasi pandan gajus, savoury screw pine rice with a tinge of sweetness, and chopped cashew nuts revealed in every bite.

The fish was ecstatically spicy. I thought the chilli coconut paste filling was a good touch – I have not really tasted spicy coconut paste before, so don’t mind me. This dish is guaranteed to awaken your senses with an explosion that is oh so pleasurable.

No Malay meal is complete without a curry dish, and the lamb shank definitely filled in the blanks for the menu. Chef Khairul’s famous is not made famous for no apparent reason. Cooked in briyani gravy with the smooth and tender meat that seems to fall off the bone as you run the knife gently down in between, and the curry gravy that is not too spicy as to overwhelm diners after fighting through the grouper fish.

Concluding this year’s MIGF dining experience in Bunga Emas is their dessert platter – Manisan Bunga Emas, with a plethora of delicacies to bring it home in a sweet note.

The Warm chocolate hazelnut pudding, which was not really warm when it was served to us, was a tad bitter, but the generous drench of strawberry syrup balanced things up and all is well again. As for the Anise tea cream and young coconut ice cream, it is a touch of innovation with coconut slices hidden at the bottom of the refreshing scoop, turning every-day used ingredients in traditional Malay cuisine into a dessert. Not bad at all.

Wine selections recommended for Bunga Emas’ Festival Menu are one of Australia’s best, Kangaroo Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, displaying hints of blackberry and well integrated oak and soft tannins, and Kangaroo Ridge Chardonnay, flaunting aromas of the vivacious melon and succulent white peaches.

It is quite evident that Chef Khairul has put in much effort in originality when it comes to his food composition. He pinpoints the traditional dishes in Malay cuisine, tweaks it with some fusion styles and presents it in a way that would bring Malay food a fresh breath of air. One that might even appease the foreign crowd.

It may get a little too heavy for the taste palettes – i.e. the appetiser, the starter, the soup – but I suppose that is how the Malays like their food, strong flavouring and all, no?

I guess I am more towards traditional Malay food; that would explain why I am trying so hard to get used to the appetiser and starter. Although, it would definitely have been good if beef rendang is on the menu. Heh.

Festival Menu
RM239++ per person with wine
RM159++ per person without wine

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Bunga Emas Restaurant
The Royale Chulan Kuala Lumpur
6 Jalan Conlay
50450 Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia
Opens daily 12PM-10.30PM
T: +6 03 2688 9688
W: http://www.royalechulan.com.my

French lessons with L’Heritage.

October 23, 2009
Kick start your MIGF experience this year at L’Heritage with the appetiser – Salmon trout tartare, made from finely chopped raw salmon, smoked salmon and cucumber, set off with a crispy piece of parmesan tuille, topped with a spoonful of caviar, rucola (arugula) and sorc-l’tranche juice.
Next up is the starter of Quail leg confit with beetroot, prepared in one of France’s oldest ways of food preservation. The quail legs are cooked in a very slow fire of 60ºC for three hours to preserve the seasoning alongside the rendered fat in the softened meat. Served with the dish is Languedoc gratin and avocado volute, a traditional food preparation for French cuisine, where sliced eggplants, tomatoes and zucchinis are topped with a layer of melted and browned grated cheese.
For soup, L’Heritage takes things lightly with the Herbs tomato consume with moref seafood dumpling, one that does not weigh down the senses with its fluffy water-based form and bits of moref dumplings. Simple in preparation and without any hanky panky.
Before delving into your main course, L’Heritage provides you a moment to lighten up your palettes with Lemon sorbet with a tinge of the bitter basil and a dash of Calvados, an apple brandy. It provides a quick way to reset the taste buds with a minty sourness that almost makes your eyes water.
For the main course, diners have two choices at L’Heritage.
There is the Stone-grilled wagyu beef, with petit romaine (cos lettuce) drenched in old pot green peppercorn juice. Slice your way through the layer of meat and relish on the juicy saltiness that tingle the senses.
Alternatively, try the Oven-baked red mullet with a crispy outer layer followed by tender soft insides. The dish is also harmonised with a crunchy sweetbread paillaid, capers relish and showered with duck foie gras emulsion.
For dessert, sample on the French’s well known sweetie Mille fuille, made of several layers of crispy pastry alternating with a variety of berries such as strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, and sabayon, a very light custard made with sugar, egg yolks and sweet wine. The dessert is also complemented with a scoop of fragrant mint ice cream to give the taste palette a refreshing finale.
Recommended wine for the L’Heritage Festival Menu are France’s Albert Bichot Cotes du Rhone and Albert Bichot Cotes du Rhone Blanc.

Also guest blogging at Backseat Radio: NME, not a music enemy.

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Recently inducted to the fine dining scene in Kuala Lumpur is the new French guy, L’Heritage Restaurant, at the equally brand new hotel in town, The Royale Chulan. This French restaurant opened its doors on the very day of the 2009 Malaysia International Gourmet Festival 2009 launch on October 1, 2009.

Although the restaurant may be new, the walls still stank of paint and the surrounding still eerily deserted, the people behind the scene is not, especially Executive Sous Chef Sabri Soid. (Why yes, it is not a Frenchman running the kitchen, but a local Malay). He has seen glory days when he was cooking up a storm in the Langkawi Four Seasons, with guest lists as famous as Mel Gibson, Tony Blair and Michael Schumacher themselves.

Although he has never been to France himself, or pick up a ‘French for Dummies’ as he stirs his pot of soup, Chef Sabri seems genuinely knowledgeable in what he knows about the French cuisine. So, it was quite an interesting feat for me too, to learn about the kinds of traditional food preparation in France.

L’Heritage’s Festival Menu starts with the appetiser of Salmon trout tartare, parmesan tuille, rucola and sorc-l’tranche. The tartare is made from finely chopped raw salmon, smoked salmon and cucumber dices, which is paired with the crispy piece of parmesan tuille, topped with a spoonful of caviar, rucola (arugula) and sorc-l’tranche juice.

I am a fan of raw salmon so naturally, this appetiser works for me, especially when there are bits of refreshing cucumber dices hidden in the tartare. I thought the parmesan tuille was a good touch. Although it has this heavy saltiness going on, I still like it.

For starter, the Quail leg confit with beetroot, languedoc gratin and avocado volute. Confit is France’s oldest and most common way in food preservation, and it is now quite luxurious since it preserves meat without actually refrigerating it.

For this dish, the quail legs are cooked in a very slow fire of 60ºC for three hours to preserve the seasoning alongside the rendered fat in the softened meat. Served with the dish is Languedoc gratin and avocado volute, another traditional food preparation for the French, whereby sliced eggplants, tomatoes and zucchinis are topped with a layer of melted and browned grated cheese.

The quail legs are ecstatically soft and they just fall off the teeny bones when you run your knife through it gently. Too bad quails are not bigger, eh? Heh. As for the volute, in my opinion, anything with melted cheese on it is a good thing. Enough said.

L’Heritage takes things lightly for the soup course with Herbs tomato consume with moref seafood dumpling. Fluffy and water-based with floating bits of mushrooms and sliced moref dumplings, it does not weigh down the senses. It is simple in preparation and without any hanky panky.

Nothing really out of the ordinary for this one compared to the previous two dishes, save for the moref seafood dumpling, which has a texture that is quite similar to a – fishball.

At this point, my taste palettes are getting a little tired out with the constant saltiness from the tuille and the confit and the consume and the cheese. I have lost count of the times I grasp for my glass of water.

So, to take a break from it all, there is the Lemon basil sorbet with calvados. Served in a cylinder shotglass, it is – for a change – sour, with a tinge of the bitter basil and a dash of Calvados, an apple brandy. It provides a quick way to reset the taste buds with a minty sourness that almost makes your eyes water, literally.

For the main course, diners have two choices at L’Heritage. First one being the Stone-grilled wagyu beef, petit romaine old pot green peppercorn juice. I did not really like this because it was really, really salty, so much so that I could not taste anything else on the dish but that lingering taste. And juicy as it was, it sort of bothered me that the beef was oozing blood still. Meh.

Alternatively, there is the Oven-baked red mullet, sweetbread paillaid, capers relish, duck foie gras emulsion. It has a crispy outer layer blanketing the tender soft insides, it is harmonised with the sweetbread that reminds me a lot of hashbrowns. Once again, salty is the main flavour.

Right about now, I was longing for something sweet, and I can definitely count on that for dessert: Mille fuille of berries sabayon with fragrant mint ice cream. Here, we got to sample the Frenchmen’s well known sweetie, mille fuille, a kind of layered pastry alternating with a sweet filling that is usually cream or jam.

Chef Sabri did a bit of self-composition here, changing the pastry to a kind crispy cereal Middle Easterners have for breakfast (which I did not quite catch the name), and having a variety of berries such as strawberries, raspberries and blueberries together with sabayon, a very light custard made with sugar, egg yolks and sweet wine. I thought it was quite a job well done.

However, the complementing mint ice cream seems a little out of place for me. It did not quite give the refreshing finale it was aimed for. And I felt like I need another shot of their lemon sorbet to do the palette reset properly.

It is my first time trying out French cuisine, so I am not sure if it is common for the meals to be taken with extremely heavy flavours. It was a little too much for me to bear palette-wise, to be honest.

The one thing that really did it for me was the dessert; it was original, blending French cuisine’s traditional sweet delicacy with the chef’s own imagination. Other than that, they might need to tone down on the saltiness for me to really enjoy the menu.

Recommended wines for the L’Heritage Festival Menu are France’s Albert Bichot Cotes du Rhone and Albert Bichot Cotes du Rhone Blanc.

Festival Menu
RM239++ per person with wine
RM159++ per person without wine

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L’Heritage Restaurant
The Royale Chulan Kuala Lumpur
6 Jalan Conlay
50450 Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia
Opens daily 12PM-10.30PM
T: +6 03 2688 9688
W: http://www.royalechulan.com.my