Embark On A Gourmet Escape to Margaret River, Western Australia

Margaret River Gourmet Escape_Festival Tents

 [Credit: Margaret River Gourmet Escape]

Mention Margaret River and most people will say, “Great wines!” And they are right. Home to over 200 vineyards and 187 wineries, the Western Australian destination—about a 3-hour drive south of Perth—is one of the world’s most famous wine regions. Hence I was chuffed when Musings on the M49 was invited to attend the media event introducing the highlights of this year’s Margaret River Gourmet Escape (gourmetescape.com.au) that will take place from 16-18 November.

Now in its 7th year, the popular food and wine festival is a great way to savor Margaret River’s fine wines, quality local produce, and natural beauty all at one go. Featuring internationally celebrated chefs, food producers and winemakers, 45 food and wine events will be held in over 25 unique locations in the region including wine-tasting at award-winning wineries, BBQs at secluded white beaches and feasts in the scenic Karri forest.

Festival Headliner: Culinary Celebrity Nigella Lawson

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Nigella Lawson [Credit: Margaret River Gourmet Escape]

And new events are still being added it seems. As announced by Western Australia’s Tourism Minister Mr Paul Papalia at the wine and canapé reception held at the National Gallery of Singapore, renowned food celebrity and festival headliner Nigella Lawson will host Supper with Nigella at Xanadu Wines on Saturday 17 November. This is in addition to her other events including the Westpac Gourmet Beach BBQ (16 Nov, Lunch and Dinner), Nigella’s Tea Party at Howard Park Winery (18 Nov), as well as book signings at the Gourmet Village at Leeuwin Estate (17 and 18 Nov).

Margaret River: Great Wines & Food To Be Expected

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Red, red wine… [Credit: Margaret River Gourmet Escape]

Truth be told, you simply cannot not try the wines at a Margaret River event. (Deepest sympathies to those who drove or who can’t drink.) For reds, I started with a 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon by Vasse Felix, said to be first red wine produced in Margaret River and has been made every year since 1972. Deep maroon in color, it has flora notes with a medium-bodied taste. I liked it but I preferred my second more which was a 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot by Cullen Wines as it has a very strong flavor and intense finish.

My first white was a Chardonnay by Pedestal (above left) and it was light with much floral notes that tasted really nice on the palate. I would have missed my second if a fellow guest didn’t gesture to me saying, “Try that now, it’s the last bottle!” Glad he did as the 2017 Art Series Riesling from Leeuwin Estate (above right) is crisp and bubbly, with distinct flavors of lemon and lime. Small wonder it ran out so fast! Add to that, it has easily the most artistic and eye-catching label too.

There was also a special stand where a bartender was mixing Seedlip’s distilled non-alcoholic spirits—comprising spice, garden and grove components—with tonic water and garnishes ranging from pepper pods to peas. It’s not exactly a “gin and tonic without kick” as it was actually quite tasty and refreshing and welcomed by those who had to drive or not into alcohol.

Let’s not forget the canapés. The evening’s food fare comprised Western Australian inspired delights prepared by Chef Seth James from Margaret River’s Wills Domain and Jake Kellie from Singapore’s Burnt Ends, both of whom are part of the 45-strong culinary line up for Margaret River Gourmet Escape 2018. The delicious items this writer managed to get her hands on included Margaret River Wagyu with Manjimup Truffle (above right), Amelia Park Lamb Rib with Wheat Beer Glaze and Toasted Buckwheat, Mario’s Artichoke with Beef and Scampi, Parfait Tartlet with Fermented Blackberry, and Potato cooked in Wattle Seed, Lemon Myrtle, Salted Egg and Manjimup Truffle (cutely served in a bark-like wrap, see above left.)

Additional Tickets & Exclusive SQ Promo Available

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[Credit: Margaret River Gourmet Escape]

There’s no denying that there’s good wining and dining to be had at Margaret River. If you are a food and wine lover, and have time to spare in November, go and check out the programs for Margaret River Gourmet Escape 2018 which will highlight world-renowned wines as well as cuisines ranging from Italian to Chinese, Mexican to Japanese. Besides Nigella Lawson, other leading culinary talent appearing include Rick Stein, Skye Gyngell and Julien Royer, just to name but a few.

Most events are apparently sold out but additional tickets are now available for the following via gourmetescape.com.au:
* Westpac Gourmet Beach BBQ
* Feast in the Forest
* Cape on a Plate
* Chow’s Table Chinese Feast
* Caves Road Cantina at Black Brewing Co.
* Smith & Daughters 90s Trattoria Dinner
* Cape Mentelle International Cabernet Tasting and Long Lunch
* Cullen Chardonnay Tasting & Lunch

In addition, Singapore Airlines have an exclusive promotional offer just for Gourmet Escape subscribers – Return Economy Class fares to Perth around the Gourmet Escape weekend from SGD538 available now till 30 Sept 2018.

For more information on Margaret River Gourmet Escape, visit gourmetescape.com.au.

No text or photos from this post are to be reproduced without permission of the blog author.

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Cool Pubs In Belfast

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Sensible sign outside the Duke of York in Belfast [Photo by Marguerita Tan]

When in Belfast, experiencing the Irish pub culture is a must. There are pubs and bars aplenty where you can immerse yourself in and enjoy the best grog and grub that Northern Ireland has to offer. Here’s but three of the top watering holes in the city:

Kelly’s Cellars at 30 Bank Street

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Kelly’s Cellars – one of the oldest pubs in Belfast [Photo by Marguerita Tan]

I managed to find Kelly’s Cellars on my first day at Belfast as my city tour driver announced at the tour’s end that the pub – “which has the best Guinness in town” – was just round the corner behind Primark department store in the city centre. Truth be told, the pub was high on my must-visit list ‘cos major cast members of Game of Thrones the likes of Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington were once pictured in it having after-filming drinks. Well, even without famous faces, the pub–built in 1720 and one of the oldest in the city–was a lovely place with cosy interiors filled with fascinating bric-a-brac. The heartfelt Irish greeting, “Cead Mile Failte”–which means a “hundred thousand welcomes”–can be seen both inside and outside the premises.

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Kelly’s Cellars – an old-fashioned bar with nice interiors [Photo by Marguerita Tan]

Though it was early evening, the pub was already quite packed but I managed to find a nice corner spot on a high stool at the bar. A cheery waitress took my order and told me that it will take a few minutes for the Guinness pint to settle before she serves it to me. She then took the time to tell me that my £2 coins were outdated (bummer!) and patiently helped me check if my other coins were still legal tender!

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Great Pint of Guinness at Kelly’s Cellars [Photo by Marguerita Tan]

A drinking mate told me that the Guinness in Ireland is much better than the ones they served back here in Singapore and she was not wrong! Served well-chilled with a thick foam head, the pint was rich and creamy without much bitterness, and easily the best Guinness I’ve ever tasted. Just wished there was Irish stew to go with it but that was already sold out by 6pm. Still, it was nice to just enjoy a pint at the lovely bar before finding a small table where I could rest my back against the wall and people-watch. When my stomach started growling, I simply popped into the fish ‘n’ chips eatery two doors down…

Bittles Bar at 70 Upper Church Lane

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The “flat” bar that is Bittles Bar [Photo by Marguerita Tan]

Before visiting a new city, I usually follow the local tourism agency either on Twitter or Instagram to see what other interesting places I should look out for. Thanks to @VisitBelfast on Twitter, I learnt about the unique Bittles Bar that is housed in a Flatiron-like building which is, like, totally cool as I love the Flatiron Building in New York.

Located behind Victoria Square mall, the red-bricked bar was built in 1868 and once called the Shakespeare because of its theatrical clientele. Its interiors were just as quaint. Despite small and triangular in shape, it has much character thanks to rows and rows of well-lit beer and whiskey bottles adorning the walls behind the bar, and especially the colorful array of artwork adorning the rest of the room that celebrates Northern Ireland’s literary and sporting heroes, as well as politicians.

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When in Belfast, drink a Belfast Lager! [Photo by Marguerita Tan]

Bittles Bar is also renowned for having one of the widest range of local and international beers in Belfast, as well as for its extensive whiskey collection. As it was a surprising hot and sunny day whilst I was there, I went for a Belfast Lager which was served by the manageress in a well-chilled Franciscan Well (Brewery) mug. The bright golden ale has a nice foam head with crisp flavors of hops and much carbonation. Though it had a slight bitter aftertaste, the beer was nonetheless smooth and refreshing, just great to savor in an aircon environment on a rare hot day in end May.

Duke of York at 7-11 Commercial Court

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Cobbled alleyway along Commercial Court [Photo by Marguerita Tan]

I came across this cool cobbled alleyway in the Cathedral Quarter while hunting for a mural of Jon Snow, the King in the North in Game of Thrones along North Street but which unfortunately I discovered too late that it has since been painted over (sob!) Still, this enchanting laneway was a nice place to discover with its eye-watching wall ornaments, street signage and red benches. The Duke of York, one of the most popular pubs in the city, is along this lane and it’s a huge long bar bedecked with loads of old-time memorabilia both inside and outside its premises. Word has it the bar is truly happening on most nights.

Read also:
Northern Ireland: ‘Game of Thrones’ Locations To Visit North Of Belfast
Northern Ireland: ‘Games Of Thrones’ Locations To Visit South Of Belfast
Belfast: Stunning Street Art

All photos by Marguerita Tan. No text or images from this post are to be used without the blog author’s permission.

 

 

Northern Ireland: ‘Game of Thrones’ Locations To Visit North Of Belfast

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The Dark Hedges a.k.a. The Kingsroad [Credit: Marguerita Tan]

As 2018 marks the final year of filming for Game of Thrones, I reckoned it was a good time as any to check out the HBO megahit’s picturesque filming locations in Northern Ireland (NI) before its eighth and final season rolls out in 2019. In my previous Travel post, I highlighted the GOT filming sites located south of Belfast that one can easily get to via a coach tour. In this post, it will be the locations north of Belfast.

As Northern Ireland’s most famous natural attraction – the Giant’s Causeway – is in proximity to many GOT film locations up north, most tours include this attraction. So I booked the Game of Thrones and Giant’s Causeway Full-Day Tour via Viator as at £36, it was cheaper than most. Managed by McComb’s Coach Travel (mccombscoaches.com), its claim to GOT fame is that they were a longtime transport provider for the show and its GOT Location Tour along the Causeway Coastal Route also received a 5-star rating from Tourism Ireland.

From Belfast city centre, the tour first took us along the scenic Antrim Coastal Road flanked by the robust Irish Sea on the right and the charming Glens of Antrim on the left. Our driver-guide Derek is a chatty chap who gave us much GOT and NI information, as well as some of the lamest dad jokes ever.

1. Carnlough Harbour

About an hour in, we arrived at the small coastal village of Carnlough where the GOT attraction is the cobblestone harbour steps featured in Season 6 Episode 7 when Arya Stark resurfaces from the Braavos canal after being attacked by the Waif. Not sure how clean the waters are but much respect for Maisie Williams considering how immersed in the waters she was while shooting the scene!

2. Cushendun Caves

A half-hour drive further north is the quaint village of Cushendun where, next to the mesmerizing sight of big waves crushing onto gigantic rocks along the coastline, you will find the 400 million-years-old caves depicting a cove in the Stormlands in which a horrified Ser Davos Seaworth witnesses Melisandre giving birth to a shadow assassin that eventually kills Renly Baratheon in Season 2 Episode 4.

SPOILER ALERT: Weeks after our visit here, the area was closed off for what Irish GOT location watchers suspected to be filming for Season 8. Will there be action in Storm’s End or the Stormlands in the final season? Your guess is as good as mine.

3. The Dark Hedges

This beautiful 18th Century avenue with about 100 beech trees leading up to Gracehill House has become arguably the most iconic Game of Thrones location ever since it appeared as the Kingsroad that Arya and Gendry travel on to escape King’s Landing in Season 2 Episode 2. Located further inland away from the eastern coastline, Derek brought us here during “lunchtime” in order to avoid the crowds from other tours, yet many people still there were. To see the “most recognisable” part of the trees with the distinctive arching branches, you have to walk at least halfway down the avenue. I’d have loved to walk down the entire avenue but on a coach tour with a packed schedule, we don’t have that luxury.

4. The Fullerton Arms, Ballintoy

Lunch was at the Fullerton Arms in Ballintoy after a jaunt to the Giant’s Causeway. Besides great food and beer, what’s cool about the pub/restaurant is that it has a replica of the Iron Throne, complete with cloak and sword for you to pose with, PLUS Door 6 of the Door of Thrones series depicting Season 6 events. The ten pubs with the doors indicate that there are GOT film locations nearby. This one highlights House Targaryen, namely Daenerys Stormborn’s dragon Drogon and the Dothraki horses finally crossing the Narrow Sea towards Westeros. The doors were specially crafted from fallen branches from the Dark Hedges after a storm hit them in 2016. Ingenious marketing, really.

5. Ballintoy Harbour

Just a few minutes away from the lunch venue, at the end of a long and winding downhill road, is the quaint Ballintoy Harbour that stands in for Pkye and the Iron Islands. Theon Greyjoy is baptised here in Season 2, and is also the venue for Euron’s drowning and rebirth in Season 6.

SPOILER ALERT: According to Derek, this location was much used for Season 8 filming. Maybe we will get to see Theon completing his redemption arc, like saving sister Yara from uncle Euron maybe?

6. Larrybane

Another popular NI attraction located nearby is the Carrick A Rede Rope Bridge which, after crossing it, leads to Larrybane Quarry which not only offers breathtaking panoramic views of islands and headlands in the Atlantic Ocean, it’s also the site for Renly’s camp in the Stormlands in Season 2 and where Brienne of Tarth was named to Renly’s Kingsguard. In Season 6, it was used as the Kingsmoot setting. From here, it was about a two-hour scenic drive down south back to Belfast.

All in all, there are about 18 GOT locations north of Belfast but not every one is easily accessible. One example is Fair Head – located further east of Larrybane – which provides the spectacular cliffs of Dragonstone in Season 7 on which Danerys, Jon Snow and Drogon share a special moment, among other significant scenes.

For a GOT fan, this McCombs tour is adequate with sufficient information and videos played in the bus before we set off on foot for most locations. Don’t get me wrong – our driver-guide was great but for a “total” GOT immersive experience, you might want to consider tours that have a separate guide who could accompany the tour group to every site and explain in detail how each sequence was filmed at the spot. Also, during long distances, past episodes of Game of Thrones episodes will be shown instead. Some even have costumes and props thrown in.

Still, for £35 (not including lunch and rope bridge fee), this tour is still a good alternative. If you are keen to cover every location, customized tours are available with various GOT tour groups. Or download the GOT Filming Locations Northern Ireland app which provide directions to the locations and you can adventure on your own (just read the instructions carefully as many are inaccessible or are private land).

Things to Note for the Tour:
1. There’s a lot of walking (uphill, downhill) so dress right with proper outdoor shoes and clothes befitting the Northern Irish weather
2. You need to have moderate fitness; not recommended for anyone with limited mobility
3.  Bring water, although there are locations where you can buy drinks

(All Game of Thrones images – Credit: HBO)

Read also:

* ‘Game of Thrones’: Who’s Likely to Die in Season 8?
‘Game Of Thrones’: 5 Heroic Deeds Jaime Lannister May Achieve in Season 8
* ‘Games Of Thrones’: 10 Essential Reunions At Winterfell We’d Like To See In Season 8
‘Game of Thrones’: Why Jon Snow May Use Greatsword Dawn to Slay the Night King in Season 8

Northern Ireland: ‘Games Of Thrones’ Locations To Visit South Of Belfast

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Tollymore Forest Park, which provided much of the backdrops for GOT Season 1

The eighth and final season of Game of Thrones won’t arrive till 2019, so what is a fan to do till then? Well, other than re-reading the book series of A Song of Ice And Fire and watching countless GOT fan theories on YouTube, one could go visit the filming locations where the HBO hit fantasy series is primarily shot in – Northern Ireland.

Although Games of Thrones is also filmed in countries such as Croatia, Iceland, Malta, Morocco and Spain, Northern Ireland (a.k.a #GOTTerritory) alone boasts over 25 filming locations that one can get to easily via a group or personalized tour.

On the same week that I caught the spectacular Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience featuring GOT composer Ramin Djawadi in Belfast, I embarked on the Game of Thrones Winterfell Locations Trek (gameofthronestours.com), a full-day tour which took us south of Belfast to locations featured prominently in the ground-breaking Season 1.

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House Stark in Winterfell – ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 1 Episode 1 [Credit: HBO]

A. Castle Ward, near Strangford
An hour-and-half drive down south from the city centre through the scenic Ards peninsula brought us to Strangford (via a ferry ride at Portaferry). Nearby, the 820-acre Castle Ward Estate hosts at least nine GOT film locations, sited relatively close together.

This included a 16th century castle and stableyard (pictured above) that were used for the iconic Winterfell, ancestral home of House Stark, in Season 1. The area where Jon Snow, Robb and Bran Stark practised archery is to the right of the bikes pictured above. The spot where the roofs meet is where young Bran climbed up the castle wall before being reprimanded by his mother. The rest of the castle walls we see in the show are generated by CGI.

A 3km walk through the estate’s sprawling gardens and woodlands took us to other prominent GOT locations. First up was a 15th century Tower House sitting majestically on a small hill which served as one of Walder Frey’s Twins (above left).

Right in front of the mini castle is Audley’s Field, a rolling grassland that was the location for Robb Stark’s camp in the Riverlands and where he meets the love of his life, Talisa Maegyr, after the Battle of Oxcross in Season 2 Episode 4.

Just a stone’s throw away, as we continued along the shores of Strangford Lough, we came to the spot where Brienne of Tarth and Jamie Lannister had a coastal spat in Season 2.

L1170637 (640x480)One of the fascinating things we learnt on the tour is how the show’s production team has a knack of looking for “sexy” trees – trees with unusual shapes and forms – as  landmarks to locate key sites that can be reused again. The tree above, for example, does indeed looked sexy but its purpose wasn’t – it was where Brienne and Jamie found three tavern girls hung on the branches. Further down this trail is the spot where Tyrion Lannister and Bronn were ambushed by the Stone Crows of the Vale in Season 1.

B. The Cuan, Strangford

Okay, The Cuan is not a GOT film location but the pub where we had lunch. However, it also houses Door #1 of the Doors of Thrones series which comprises 10 specially crafted doors made from wood from fallen beech branches from the Dark Hedges, more famously known to GOT fans as The Kingsroad. Each door depicts a GOT Season 6 event with Door 1 featuring the geography of Westeros from the show’s opening title sequence.

After lunch, it was so cool to meet the canines that played direwolves Summer and Grey Wind (real names Thor and Odin) in the show, along with their well-coiffed owner, his brother and their father who were also extras in the series. Gorgeous beasts!

C. Inch Abbey

After lunch, we traveled westwards to the remains of the 12th century Cistercian Abbey sited in a picturesque location beside the River Quoile. This is where Catelyn Stark (above right) informs Robb that Ned has been executed, and later the young Stark’s bannermen declare him as King in the North. This was also where the tour provided us with Stark cloaks, shields and swords for a fun round of cosplay and selfie-time!

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GOT Winterfell Tour dd 23 May 2018 [Credit: gameofthronestours.com]

D. Tollymore Forest
The last stop which hosts many iconic scenes from the landmark Season 1 premiere is Tollymore Forest, a 630-hectare park filled with beautiful fauna and breathtaking woods located at the foothills of Mourne Mountains. This part of the tour required yet another 3km walk through undulating terrain (steep slopes, rocky paths, stone across streams, etc) right into the heart of the park. (I thank God I had just enough strength and energy to keep up with the rest!)

L1170738 (640x480)Before I forget, our wonderful guide Adrian is not only an extra on Games of Thrones since Season 6 (as a Stark/Greyjoy/Lannister soldier), he’s also the stand-in for Liam Cunningham’s Ser Davos Seaworth. (From the picture above, you can understand why!) Throughout the trip, with videos and photo stills, Adrian demonstrated how scenes at each location was shot. It made the tour that much more informative and interesting.

At the wooded “North of the Wall” side of Tollymore Forest, he was telling us how much fake snow the GOT creators had to bring to the park in order to shoot Season 1 Episode 1’s first sequence (pictured above) where the Night Watch members discover the dead Wildings before encountering the White Walkers beyond the Wall. We even got to see the tree stump that Kit Harington as Jon Snow sat on (!) while he spoke to Tyrion Lannister around the campfire prior to reaching the Wall.

As we trekked back towards the more leafy part of the park, we are shown the stone bridge where Ned Stark and the Starks lads first found the dead stag…

… and as we climbed down the slope beside the bridge, we came to a bank that is directly opposite the memorable scene where the Stark clan found the direwolf pups.

There are arguably one or two other GOT film locations south of Belfast that we did not cover but as you can see, there was already so much to see in just one day. Even if you are not a fan, the tour offers a good way of seeing Northern Ireland’s spectacular landscapes and coastlines, parks and private estates. For £50 (about US$65, not including lunch), this tour is for sure totally worth every penny for a GOT enthusiast. If you are keen to cover every location, customized tours are available with various GOT tour groups. Or download the GOT Filming Locations Northern Ireland app which provide directions to the locations and you can adventure on your own.

Things to Note for the Tour:
1. There’s a lot of walking so dress right with proper outdoor shoes and clothes befitting the Northern Irish weather
2. You need to be relatively fit; not recommended for anyone with limited mobility (although you can choose to skip the long trek bits)
3.  Bring water, although there are locations where you can buy drinks
4. If you are travelling with kids: As Game of Thrones is rated 18+, this tour doesn’t allow children under 12, while those aged 12-18 require a parent or guardian’s written note. However, some tours (like my next one) do allow children.

(All Game of Thrones images – Credit: HBO)

Read also:
* ‘Game of Thrones’: Who’s Likely to Die in Season 8?
‘Game Of Thrones’: 5 Heroic Deeds Jaime Lannister May Achieve in Season 8
* ‘Games Of Thrones’: 10 Essential Reunions At Winterfell We’d Like To See In Season 8
‘Game of Thrones’: Why Jon Snow May Use Greatsword Dawn to Slay the Night King in Season 8

Next up: Game of Thrones Locations to Visit North of Belfast

Belfast: Stunning Street Art

I can’t recall the first time I fell in love with street art but visiting cities renowned for outstanding murals such as Penang in Malaysia and Brisbane in Australia only grew my fascination for them. And although my primary reason for visiting Belfast recently was for Game of Thrones related interests, the fact that the Northern Ireland capital is also filled with stunning street art certainly made my trip much more memorable.

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Building-high mural located opposite the Albert Memorial Clock in Belfast Cathedral Quarter [Photo: Marguerita Tan]

Everywhere you turn in Belfast, you are likely to spot a mural or two on a building close to you. There is actually a black taxi tour that brings you (I think) to every notable mural in the city but if you are not that fussy, a thorough walk around the city centre or Cathedral Quarter will offer you a good number of outstanding paintings on the walls.

2018-05-21 19.10.21 (640x640)This lively mural, for instance, is located close to Kelly’s Cellars in Bank Street – where you can find “the best Guinness in the city”, according to my Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus guide. There are many other eye-catching murals in this area on and around the popular pub’s outdoor premises too.

2018-05-24 12.37.45 (620x640)Located in an empty parking lot close to the Belfast Cathedral (a.k.a St Anne’s Church) is this amazing larger-than-life caricature of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, one of my favorites found on this trip. Various murals can also be found on other buildings around  the magnificent church.

2018-05-26 10.32.58 (640x640)There are also tons of colorful murals to be found all along the nearby North Street. Whilst trying to find a reported mural of Game of Thrones‘ King in the North, Jon Snow, I walked all the way to the northern most end of the street, which although also showcased lots of intriguing murals and graffiti, the buildings were also rather isolated and creepy even in broad daylight, so I quickly walked back towards the city centre.  Only after a Google search later did I learnt that the Jon Snow mural has been painted over as the building it was on is undergoing renovation. Sob. Oh well, luckily there were other fun murals to see.

2018-05-25 11.12.07 (640x640)Like this cool Dali-inspired mural I found in a covered alleyway close to another famous pub, Duke of York, reportedly the oldest pub in Belfast. The mural, which features many Belfast landmarks and of cos the famous Guinness, is very long – covering the entire alleyway which was too narrow for me to photograph the whole painting in one shot. Just glad I stumbled onto it while taking a shortcut.

2018-05-22 16.39.09 (640x597)Most of the murals in Belfast are also very political. One of the city’s main attractions is the main Belfast Peace Wall located at Cupar Way and which you can get to easily via a Hop-On, Hop Off Bus (which is also a good way to give you an idea of where the notable murals are across the city).

There are reportedly about 100 “peace walls” throughout the city – majority which are six metres high with barbed wire on top and with colourful artwork painted on the side, most of which do not necessarily contain messages of peace however. The walls are still up – with gates at certain junctions that are locked at night – to divide communities (mainly Catholics and Protestants) that were responsible for a very troubled warring period in Belfast’s history infamously known as “The Troubles” where thousands were killed and many more injured. The walls run for kilometres so if you want to cover it all, best to ask for a detailed map which alas I was unable to find for myself.

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Murals with political overtones are also aplenty along the Falls Road and Shankill Road areas. Thanks to the city tour bus, I was able to catch most of them ‘cos I don’t think I could or would possibly see them all on foot. (There’s a lot of ground to cover.)

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You need to be extremely flexible, agile and seated on the top of an open-top bus if you want to capture them all on camera cos the guide will rattle like a machine gun with instructions such as “over your left shoulder, and over your right shoulder, and back to your left, and now right!” while the driver sped on as if he’s late for an urgent family matter. Still, a very good (and cheap) way to see and learn about the history and significance of some of the murals in the city.

If you love murals as much as I do, Belfast is a great city for it. Just wished I could have found at least one Game of Thrones mural though…

All photos by Marguerita Tan. No text or images from this post are to be used without the blog author’s permission.

The Green Oven @ Alley on 25, Andaz SG

2018-02-22-14-11-34-640x624.jpgHad a Chinese New Year lunch with the office people at The Green Oven @ Alley on 25 last week and it was a fun experience. Well, it didn’t begin that way. I didn’t read the address clearly and just following Google Maps, I assume the restaurant was somewhere on ground level in the U-shaped alley (Fraser Street) around Parkview Square (or Gotham City, as we Singaporeans affectionately called it). FYI, it’s not.

Part of a dining hub termed Alley on 25 which comprises five restaurants and two bars, The Green Oven is located on the 25th floor of the relatively new Andaz Singapore hotel. To get to it, you have to find an escalator in the huge shopping complex (Duo Galleria, if I’m not mistaken) located directly behind Parkview, which will bring you to the second floor where you will see the Duo Tower and Residences. Entrance to Andaz Hotel is on the far left and in there, hotel staff will show you where to take the lift to the 25th floor.
2018-02-22 12.53.41 (640x631)Serving classic international fare, The Green Oven is an all-day diner with a menu comprising breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert items, including a decent selection of non-alcoholic beverages, beer, wine and champagne. The place is cheery looking with good city views although the first thing that catches your eye is the huge green Beech oven (hence the name I guess) behind the kitchen counter where all the baked dishes are cooked in. The waitresses, majority of whom are Korean, are chirpy and orders were quickly and easily made. Quite a feat considering there was a dozen of us.

The plan at first was to order their set lunches (@$25++) but after a quick vote, everyone agreed it would be more fun (and economical) to share dishes. As it was Chinese New Year, the first dish we had was Abalone Yusheng. Quite cool for a “western” place to serve a CNY item, complete with giant chopsticks, and allowing us to shout blessings at the top of our voices. (Whether the other guests minded, we didn’t really check, heehee.)
2018-02-22 13.05.54 (640x640)We didn’t have to wait long for the main courses we ordered but we did have lovely Sourdough Bread by Tiong Bahru Bakery with Butter ($5) to pass the time. The first dish that I attacked was the Braised Lamb Shank ($35) which would have my set lunch choice. Served steaming hot with Jerusalem artichoke, fennel, semi dried tomato, rosemary, and tzatziki, the tender meat came smoothly off the bone and was absolutely succulent. A lovely dish indeed.
2018-02-22 13.09.58 (640x640)The Lobster Mac & Cheese ($35) was a fascinating item. It did have a very fragrant “marina” smell – as one of us described it – that you have to get used to. The lobster was meaty, macaroni yummy and I do love the burnt cheesy crust. But a normal Mac & Cheese without the half lobster could be better.
2018-02-22 13.09.02 (640x640)The Half Spring Chicken ($25), stewed with lardons, chat potatoes, pommery mustard, and thyme, was a popular item among the team. Meat was tender and the gravy was delicious, as was every piece of vegetable (especially the potatoes).
2018-02-22 13.18.43 (640x640)This fish main course was so good, I was only left with this small piece to take a picture of. It’s the Barramundi Fillet en Papillote ($28) cooked with Pernod anise, globe artichoke, capers, olives, and Tuscan olive oil. The meat was fresh and tasty, making every mouthful a delight. Just wished there were more mouthfuls to savor.
2018-02-22 13.10.07 (640x640)Oxtail soup yes, but I don’t think I ever had Oxtail Pie ($25) in my life, so I was eager to try it. Baked with red wine, the garlic mash was lovely but the flavor of the meat was a tad strong, even for a carnivore like me. I thought it was beefy but a few others felt it was more mutton. (It was probably a mix of meats). Pity as I was hoping to like it.
2018-02-22 13.08.33 (640x640)Finally, we had the token “vegetable” dish. The Violet Eggplant ($20) is baked with
plum tomato, Boursin cheese, and basil. It’s flavorful but one big piece was enough for me. A dish that definitely need to be shared unless you are totally into eggplants.
2018-02-22 13.52.36 (640x640)There are only two desserts on The Green Oven’s menu –  Tropical Fruit Trifle ($16) and
Brownie ($16) which must have been very good ‘cos both plates didn’t make it to my end of the table. Luckily, some kind soul bought these colorful mini sponge cakes with different sweet coverings from a bakery downstairs and they went very well with the nice Fair-Trade Java Mountain coffee  (various, $6) we had to end the meal.

All in all, food at The Green Oven is good, service is commendable, and ambience is pleasant. Prices may be a bit on the high side on the whole but not uncommon in other restaurants of the same vein. It’s definitely a nice place for meeting up with friends or acquaintances, or if you want to pamper yourself with a nice meal in a classy restaurant. Dinner have more appetizer choices and seafood main courses. Damage per person will probably be about $50-$80 per person. Worth checking out.

The Green Oven is @ Alley on 25, 5 Fraser Street, Andaz Singapore Hotel, Level 25.

Malacca: Chicken Rice Balls

2017-09-15 12.56.20 (640x640)When in Malacca: If you love Hainanese chicken rice, you are in for a treat as the Malaysian world heritage city has some of the best chicken rice in Asia. And the thing which makes their chicken rice unique for a good many decades is the fact that, thanks to one genius of a chicken rice stall owner, the fragrant chicken rice is served in the shape of balls. In the heyday, the balls were bigger – like the size of ice balls. These days they are the size of fishballs and you can tell they went through an assembly line rather than hand-made.

Still, the rice balls are a novelty but it’s the deliciously tender “kampong” chicken meat that marks the quality of a good chicken rice stall here. One of the best – and you can tell by the queues they have almost everyday – is Hoe Kee Chicken Rice, easily found right at the start of Jalan Hang Jebat or, as it’s popularly known, Jonker Walk.

It’s best to go early as the stall closes like by 4pm. When you are in the queue, prepare your orders so that a server can take them, enabling you to get your table faster and the food will arrive as soon as you are seated. The restaurant has a large dining area, with quaint marble tables and wooden chairs, which reminds one of a big hall of a clan association.

But we are here for the food and it didn’t let us down. The steamed chicken was tender and succulent, slightly drenched in a light soy sauce gravy. They were generous with their cucumber and even throw in a free chicken liver for us though we didn’t ask for one (we prefer gizzard). Unlike other places, Hoe Kee only has one choice of vegetables so we went with the cabbage which thankfully was decent. As for the rice, we ordered a plate of loose rice just in case the rice balls weren’t up to standard – it was rather flat and dry at another restaurant we dined at – but Hoe Kee rice balls are flavorful and has the chicken rice taste. Even so, novelty or otherwise, I think chicken meat is best eaten with loose rice (and with dark soy sauce sprinkled on it).

2017-09-14 15.31.16 (640x640)
There are many other chicken rice balls stalls in the city but Hoe Kee seem to be the top favorite (and they been around since 1962). Some like the Famosa chain has a few outlets and most remain open till the evening. Their chicken is not half bad and they have a wider variety in terms of roast meats and vegetables. Their chicken rice chili, for one, is really good – spicy hot with dashes of garlic and lime, as well as their char siew (Honeyed BBQ pork).

So if you are into Hainanese chicken rice, do check it out if you happened to be in the historic Malaysian city of Malacca. You won’t regret it.

Hoe Kee Chicken Rice is at 4, 6 & 8 Jalan Hang Jebat, Malacca, Malaysia.
Famosa Chicken Rice is at 21,  Jalan Hang Jebat, Malacca, Malaysia.