Walking With Dinosaurs: The Man Who Brings A Life-Sized Baby T-Rex To Life

Neal Holmes (left) in costume as Baby T-Rex at the Walking with Dinosaurs press conference in Singapore.

I still remember the goosebumps I had when I first saw the animated yet so realistic-looking dinosaurs in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 blockbuster hit, Jurassic Park. So when there was a chance to meet and interview the man behind the Baby T-Rex from Walking With DinosaursThe Live Experience (WWD), I didn’t hesitate to say yes!

Based on the 1999 acclaimed BBC TV documentary series of the same name, the US$20 million (S$27.7m) live arena spectacular originated in Australia in 2007 and went on to become “the biggest and best dinosaur show in the world”. Last here nine years ago, Walking With DinosaursThe Live Experience will run at the Singapore Indoor Stadium from August 29 to September 8, 2019.

Musings on the M49 was thus chuffed to be invited to the Walking With Dinosaurs media conference held at Capitol Theatre, where a life-sized Baby T-Rex, operated by British performer Neal Holmes, was the featured star.

ON THE FLOOR WITH A BABY DINOSAUR

Baby T-Rex mingling with the audience at the WWD press call!

The baby Tyrannosaurus Rex—to give its scientific name in full—is but one of the 18 life-sized dinosaurs, operated by skilled performers via animatronics and physical puppetry, featured in the highly successful Walking with Dinosaurs arena show. Using state-of-the-art technology, lighting effects and projection, the 100-minute show is presented as a theatrical story of the prehistoric creatures’ 200-million-year existence on Earth.

Nine species from the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods will be represented. You can expect Mama T-Rex to be super huge, but it will not be the biggest dinosaur on show — that honor goes to the Brachiosaurus which measures at 11 metres tall and 17 metres from nose to tail!

WWD resident director Ian Waller introducing the Baby T-Rex.

After introducing Baby-T—as it is affectionately called—WWD resident director Ian Waller filled us in with details of what the young critter is like, what went into the production of the show, and what we can expect from the live performance.

As he was talking, Baby T continued to strut around, doing its own thing as what you’d expect an inquisitive creature would do. Truth be told, puppeteer Neal Holmes’ movements were so realistic that at times you simply forgot that it is just a human being in a fancy costume!

One of the lucky kids who got to pose with the Baby T-Rex!

Highlight for everyone was without doubt the photo op with Baby T in all its glory. Many of the kids in attendance were thrilled; one even came clad in a green dinosaur head costume! “Generally, kids love dinosaurs,” Holmes would confirm later during the interview session. Most adults were thrilled to bits too (especially yours truly)!

TALKING WITH THE MAN IN THE DINOSAUR SUIT

The man who makes Baby T-Rex comes to life!

It was exactly 10 years ago when Briton Neal Holmes, then a fitness instructor, went for an audition in London, not knowing exactly what was required, and ended up with an agent plus a full-time job as a dinosaur puppeteer all within a week.

With the Baby T-Rex costume weighing about 35-40kg, the job is needless to say, physically demanding but the now 35-year-old, who has a background in acrobatics and parkour, takes it all in his stride. Not only does he have to walk and run like a dinosaur, Holmes also controls other movements of the “baby” creature from the eyes to the tail.

Revealing that he can’t really see much out of the suit, one key thing Holmes has learnt to be extra mindful of while performing is to “not bump into things, or run into other dinosaurs”. Depending on demand, performances could be as many as three shows a day, or nine shows during weekends.

Neal Holmes speaking to the media at the WWD press call.

When Musings on the M49 asked whether has anything gone wrong for him during performances, Holmes admitted that “the worst is falling over.”

He elaborated: “I’ve never been injured, but it could be due to a slippery stage or just an error. ‘Cos with big dinosaur feet, it could happen when you cross your legs. It’s quite difficult to get out of. That’s probably the silliest thing I’ve ever done.”

But there’s help when such mishaps occur. “Stage people will look out for you and rush out to pick you up. If you are okay and not injured, and the suit is okay, you just continue from where you left off.”

After a decade as a dinosaur puppeteer, Holmes also realizes that “less is more” when it comes to performing.

“It is easy to do too much in puppetry, so I’m careful in not going too crazy like a puppy dog (when portraying a baby T-Rex), but to allow for moments of stillness. The (dinosaur) suit itself looks amazing just standing still, so to just allow those moments to happen ‘cos there are so much other things going on,” he explained.

Walking With Dinosaurs – The Live Experience runs from Aug 29 to Sept 8, 2019 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium. Performances : Tue-Fri 7pm; Sat-Sun: 10.30am, 2:30pm and 6:30pm. Tickets: $78-$148 from www.sportshubtix.sg/WWD2019

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

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Casa del Mar @ Langkawi

Having been to Malacca and Penang for my last two short-haul breaks, I opted for Langkawi as my next Malaysian holiday destination as (1) friends who’d been there liked it, and (2) it was also where a few key scenes of the global hit, Crazy Rich Asians, were shot. That’s how I ended up at the lovely Mediterranean-style boutique hotel, Casa del Mar Langkawi.

All I wanted was a cosy beach resort with a nice pool, scenic beachfront views, and good grub and grog. A pal hence suggested Casa del Mar and what a good recommendation it was. It was strategically located in the popular Pantai Cenang beach town, right on the edge of the white sands of Cenang beach.

Cab from Langkawi airport to the hotel (MYR30/SGD10) took only 15 minutes and as I was a tad early for check-in, the front desk staff ensured that I was comfortable with a chilled welcome drink and towel. I even had the opportunity to see them celebrating the birthday of another guest who was also checking in that afternoon.

For a 4-star hotel, Casa del Mar projects all the traits expected of a 5-star establishment. Staff was chirpy and helpful, and I always love hotels that make the effort to remember your name. I was given a tour of the facilities close to the lobby before being taken to my room, and even there, Enlyn patiently went through practically every amenity in the room with me.

THE ROOM

My seaview room was on the second floor of the main building, which includes a balcony with deck chairs, beach umbrella and drying rack. Pleasantly decorated, the spacious room was fully-furnished with all the necessaries such as free Wi-Fi, safe, bathrobes, slippers, and TV (with movie DVDs available at front desk). Extra perks—which are very much appreciated—include a coffee machine, complimentary fruits/ biscuits/ peanuts, and even bath salts. The king-sized bed was super comfy with four pillows at your disposal.

THE POOL

There are actually tons of things one can do in Langkawi and the hotel actually provides guests upon arrival with an extensive list of payable activities available ranging from island hopping to jungle trekking, jet skiing to yacht dinner cruises. Alas, I was only there to chill and the Casa del Mar pool already had me at hello.

With beach towels readily available in your room, the captivating pool was where I spent most of my time and, more often than not, I had it all to myself including the jacuzzi. (Which is why it is always good to travel during off-peak periods and during weekdays!) Pool service was also quite exquisite – as long as you are on a sun lounger, staff will periodically serve you iced water or fruits. A really lovely touch.

THE BEACH AND OCEAN VIEWS

A big draw of Casa del Mar is the fact that it is located right on the popular Pantai Cenang beach, which is the longest and most popular beach in Langkawi. The beachfront views here are breathtaking – picturesque clean white sands, clear blue skies, and warm blue seas. It was also cool that the area facing the resort is considered private and hardly crowded with people though there are still some activities as the beach is a watersports haven.

The sandy stretch on the right of Casa del Mar’s beachfront is also considered private, so really, if you laze at the hotel’s sun lounges, what you get is beautifully unblocked scenic views with cool breezes keeping you cool even when under a blazing hot sun. If I was not at the pool, I would just park myself for a good long time on a sun lounger that faces the amazing beach expanse.

BREAKFAST

My friend told me that the food at Casa del Mar was good and she wasn’t wrong. Complimentary breakfast came with the room and though the buffet selection wasn’t extensive—understandably as the hotel only has 34 guestrooms—it has the usual suspects of breads, cereals, sandwiches, cheeses, and a local favorite that is nasi lemak (Malay fragrant rice dish). Add to that, each guest can choose an item from the a la carte menu such as omelette or pancakes and it will be served a la minute to you. Cool, that.

Breakfast and lunch, provided by the hotel’s La Sal Restaurant, are served outdoors albeit under shade. Luckily, the heat during my stay was bearable and it’s tad cooler if you chose a table along the wall-length water feature. The restaurant prides itself in producing “homemade” items including a variety of breads, pastries, and an incredible range of jams including pineapple, watermelon and chocolate hazel! And yes, I tried all the jams as you can see in the previous photo. 🙂

LUNCH

On arrival, I was in time for lunch but as I browsed the menu, an afternoon tea for two caught my eye. When I asked if I can have just a set for a single person, the waitress Adila said certainly and it was charged at half the price of the original set. Which was simply brilliant, as you can see above. Love it when establishments are willing to be flexible.

Dinner & Sunset Watch

If you are into sunsets, La Sal at Casa del Mar is actually one of the best places in Langkawi to catch one. For dinner, the restaurant set up their tables right up to the edge of the beach and guests will have a bird-eye’s view of the sun setting. Early reservations have to be made though, even for live-in guests, as tables are limited. (Walk-ins are welcome only if seating permits.)

So, even though one can find cheaper food fare elsewhere in Pantai Cenang—and there are loads of alternatives from burger joints to Chinese-style seafood restaurants throughout the town as well as along the beach—I opted to have dinner at La Sal on both the nights I was there as it provided me not only with a great view of the sun setting over the horizon, but also of people having fun either on the beach or paragliding in the air as dusk falls. And oh yes, the food was good too. As was the grog from the pool bar (especially the free beer courtesy of the management on Tuesday nights!)

The Spa

Almost forgot: If you are on a chill trip, not only the resort should have a good pool, it also should have a good spa. Housed on the second floor in a secluded wing of Casa del Mar (in the midst of guestrooms), Satkara Spa may be small, but it nonetheless offers a good range of treatments and therapies. I chose a massage-and-facial combo which they kindly allowed me to split into two one-hour sessions on separate days (as I rather spent most of daylight time at the pool). The treatment rooms were cosy and relaxing, and the therapists top-notch. Best to make reservations early if you plan to spend time here.

HOME BY THE SEA, GREAT PLACE TO CHILL

The unique “Clean My Room” door sign at Casa del Mar.
The eyes are closed for “Do Not Disturb”.

All in all, I had an absolute great time at Casa del Mar. Kinda regretted not staying longer. For its brilliant service, facilities and location, it was definitely worth the price. Would definitely patronise it again if finances permit!

Casa del Mar Langkawi is at Jalan Pantai Cenang, Mukim Kedawang, 07000 Langkawi, Kedah, Malaysia.

Langkawi: Sunset Over Pantai Cenang Beach

Photo by Marguerita Tan

When in Langkawi: Sunsets in the Malaysian 99-island archipelago are usually between 7.20pm and 7.45pm. In end July, it’s roughly 7.35-7.40pm and if you are on the western shoreline of the island district of Kedah, the best spot to catch one in full glory is to seat yourself anywhere along the 2km pristine white sands of Pantai Cenang beach.

I knew staying at the Casa del Mar Langkawi resort would plonk me right in the midst of the popular beach, but I didn’t realised that the hotel restaurant La Sal actually placed their al fresco dinner tables right by the edge of the sands so that guests—if they are seated at the right time⁠—will be able to enjoy the full course of the sun setting over one of Langkawi’s mini islands on the horizon.

So, as I sipped my chilled pre-dinner beer, it was blissfully joyful to watch the sun lighting the clear blue sky, from glaring whitish gold to a lovely golden-orange yellow hue, as it slowly disappeared behind the island on the horizon.

Definitely one of my favorite sunset watch in recent times…

Photo by Marguerita Tan

Grub And Grog Galore @ SFFA And RPB Asia 2019

If you love grub and grog as much as I do, joy is being in a hall filled with hundreds of fine food and drink booths offering samples for anyone who’s keen to have their taste buds tickled. I was hence delighted when Musings on the M49 was invited to the 3rd annual Speciality & Fine Food Asia (SFFA) and Restaurant, Pub & Bar Asia (RPB) 2019 where I could do exactly just that!

Held at Suntec Singapore from 17-19 July and featuring more than 200 artisanal food and drink producers, the trade show is primarily a platform for producers to network and forge business opportunities with people in the food service, retail and hospitality sectors. It was truly a global affair as there were exhibitors from Canada to Spain, Taiwan to Uzbekistan. It was also good to see much local representation with many Singapore producers showcasing their locally-crafted fare – from cheese to beer to mead.

Thanks to organiser Montgomery Asia, a specially curated media tour was arranged for us to check out a diverse range of products on display. Here’s a selection of the goodies that yours truly had the pleasure of sampling.

FINE GRUB @ SFFA2019 & RPB2019 (Selected)

Meats from Spain

Though this Provacuno (Spanish beef industry) booth says “Beef from Spain”, the professional chef doing live demonstrations prepared a few different meat dishes for visitors to try including beef kebab, roast lamb skirt and a veal item. We only had time for the first two but the wait was absolutely worth it – both meats were succulent and absolutely juicy and delicious. (www.provacuno.es)

Dried Fruits & Nuts from Uzbekistan

Truth be told, I noticed Uzbekistan only when they play in an Asian World Cup qualifying round. At their pavilion, we learnt that the Central Asian country is also known for being producers of high-quality dried fruits (grapes, apricots, melons, etc), nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts, etc), jams, as well as flour and sugary confectionery. The samples we tried were definitely good and tasty. (http://uzkand.uz)

Cashew Cheese Crafted in Singapore

We were also introduced to Kroodi cheese, the first plant-based artisanal cashew cheese in Singapore. Created by Claudia Cani, an Italian based here, her cheeses are “dairy-free, lactose- free, gluten-free, refined sugar-free and preservatives-free.” Now I love cheese and I love cashews, but the cashew-based cheese took a while to get used to. Still, I’m always game to try new types of cheese. Purchase is available at kroodi.com and RedMart.

Pastry, Baked Goods & Tea from Taichung, Taiwan

Taiwan food fare is very popular with Singaporeans and seven foods companies from Taichung, Taiwan’s second largest city, were out in full force to promote their products. Items include various Taiwanese pastries and handmade baked snacks such as tasty almond cookies and pure milk shortbread, as well as fragrant milk tea and coffee drinks. (www.taichung.gov.tw)

FINE GROG @ SFFA2019 & RPB2019 (Selected)

Gin & Natural Mineral Water from Sri Lanka

One of the first fine grog we tried was from Rockland Distillery. Colombo No. 7 (www.colombosevengin.com) is a Sri Lankan take on a London dry gin, flavored with seven spices and botanicals including juniper berries, curry leaves and cinnamon bark. With a ABV of 43.1%, the gin when taken neat is complex and vibrant. At the same booth, we also got to sample Olu Tropical Water (www.oluwater.com), a “natural mineral water sourced from the cloud forests of Sri Lanka”. One thing for sure, it definitely tasted better than your regular tap water!

Blueberry Wine from Michigan, USA

Hailing from Michigan, USA, Vintas Sapphire Blueberry Wine carries much fruity aromas and is sweet on the palate, though not as sweet as a dessert wine. With an ABV of 11%, it’s easy to drink and goes well with the generous cheese and dried fruit platter provided. It would certainly pairs well with meat and dessert items as well. (www.vintas.com.sg)

Mead Made In Singapore

“It’s not beer”, screamed a banner at the Lion City Meadery booth. Well, beer it’s definitely not but mead is still an alcoholic beverage that is basically made from fermented honey, yeast and water. Two local mead-loving lads decided to start their own craft mead brewery and now has three flavors available – Classic, Spiced and Hibiscus Blueberry. Visit www.lioncitymeadery.com for the outlets where you can find their mead.

Gin & Sour Beer from Norway

A Norwegian gin that really took our breathe away was the Harahorn Pink Gin which looks more orangey than pink. At 38% ABV, it has robust citrus aromas and floral undernotes. Its taste is wonderfully smooth with a slightly bitter aftertaste. We also got to try a fascinating Norwegian sour beer-which I forgot to ask how to pronounce its name-that is yet to be in the market. And oh, the booth used really lovely glasses for tasting. www.detnorskebrenneri.no/www.nordicbev.com)

Luxury Chocolate Wine from England

Made in England, Rubis Chocolate Wine (www.rubiswine.com) is exactly what you expect it would taste like – a rich tasting fine red wine blended with premium chocolate. Good enough to drink on its own or over ice, you can also make cocktails with it (just add Schweppes tonic water, for example). It can also be used for tiramisu, or added to ice cream and coffee. Currently available at The Rubis Kiosk @ Raffles City Shopping Centre B1.

Ending the Day with Coffee & Ice-Cream

My media session ended at two live demonstrations. First, it was to be served a yummy cappuccino by a robotic barista from homegrown company Crown Coffee Robotics (www.crowncoffee.co). Think of it as a sophisticated coffee vending machine where you can actually see the coffee being made. Then it was off to the live demo of the artisanal made-in-Singapore vegan, plant-based ice cream by Smoocht (www.smoocht.com). I tried their durian flavor which was served on the smallest wafer cone I’ve ever seen. And yes, it was good and flavorful. Just wished the sample was bigger…

The event was certainly interesting and Musings on the M49 was glad to have some spare time to check out other booths (especially those hawking local and foreign beers.) Here’s to the next SFFA and RPB Asia!

The next Speciality & Fine Food Asia and Restaurant, Pub & Bar Asia trade show will take place from 29 Sept – 1 Oct 2020. To register as a participant or visitor, visit www.speciality-asia.com and www.rpb-asia.com.

Beauty In The Pot @ VivoCity

Another hotpot alternative close to the ‘hood.

To celebrate her name day, my hitting-a-milestone pal opted for a hotpot dinner. As Beauty in the Pot has a new outlet at VivoCity, we decided to give that a try, having enjoyed their first outlet at Centrepoint. Knowing how popular hotpot is in Singapore, I made the table reservation two weeks ahead via phone and was relatively amused when asked what occasion were we celebrating. “Birthday,” I replied without hesitation and didn’t give it much thought thereafter (more on that below).

As the table will only be held for 10 minutes, we arrived rather early for our weekend booking only to be told that we still have to wait till our reserved time. Which was fine as there were seats and free water available. (If you have kids, there’s a playpen for them.) Not to mention that the overly-pink restaurant is also located directly opposite the largest public library in a mall, library@harbourfront.

Beauty in the Pot’s key attractions are of course its signature Beauty Collagen Broth, and that you can have up to four (out of six) soup bases at one go. We decided two soup bases will do and went for the rich, flavorful collagen broth ($15/twin pot) and the Herbal Drunken Chicken Broth ($12/twin pot).

Then it was off to prepare our sauces whilst waiting for our food items to arrive. For my usual red chilli, garlic and spring onion combo, I added a creamy peanut sauce plus a dash of soy sauce which was a really good mix. Another nut-based combo with Thai red chilli and chilli oil wasn’t half bad but didn’t have much kick.

The menu has an extensive meat selection comprising chicken, pork, beef, lamb, and seafood (fish, crab, octopus, etc). On this occasion, we decided to stick to just Sliced U.S. Beef ($19.80/full portion) and Live Drunken Tiger Prawns ($13/half). And have to say, the premium quality of Beauty in the Pot’s food items are still as good as before.

Veggie wise we went with the usual suspects except with a different variety. Instead of plain lettuce, we had Baby Romaine Lettuce ($3.70/half); instead of “big” spinach, we had Baby Chinese Spinach ($3.70/half). Sliced Lotus Shoot ($3.40/half) was as it is…

We also had White and Hon Shimeji ($4.50/half), which on hindsight was unnecessary as there was actually a good helping of these mushrooms, and tofu slices too, in the collagen broth. The crispy and tasty Fried Fish Skin ($5.90/half) though is always good as a snack or appetizer.

A good choice was the Teochew Style Fish Balls ($4.90/half), which were really yummy. The Prawn Dumpling ($7.50/half) though wasn’t as great; the wrapping was very sticky and the taste not as scrumptious as we hoped it would be. No faulting the Silken Tofu ($2/half) though but as mentioned, the collagen broth also contained tofu slices.

Oh, one item that is a must-have is the Fried Beancurd Skin ($5/half), which tastes especially good when dipped into the collagen broth. It can be very filling though, so best to eat it early in the meal rather at the tail end.

We were getting really stuffed when a staff asked if we would like more dishes. It was then we realised we’d forgotten about our drunken prawns which were hidden away in the side trolley. Fret not, said the nice chap, who simply proceeded to peel for us the prawns which was fresh and sweet.

It was when we were having fruits for dessert, that the fun bit came. Just like at Hard Rock Cafe, Beauty in the Pot diners celebrating birthdays get cool perks. Not only you get a cake and balloon, the staff—like these two sweet suds here— would sing “Happy Birthday” to you three times – in English, Mandarin and Cantonese!!

That my very shy friend—seen here heavily filtered with her complimentary cake and balloon—was utterly surprised was an understatement. That it was one of the most funniest moments I’ve ever observed is of no doubt, hahaha!

Lastly, the complimentary Yuzu drink was served at the end and that went really well with our cake [as they have already stopped re-filling our Luo Han Guo / Sour Plum Juice ($3.80/glass) once they cleared the table].

Well, our Beauty in the Pot experience at VivoCity was certainly better than our first one at Centrepoint. Service was certainly better – we were led to our table at the appointed time, items came fast, refilling of the soups and drinks was done without our asking, and every staff member was courteous and attentive. Only one or two still bow at almost 90 degrees but though admirable, it is seriously not required.

I didn’t even have to prompt about the birthday bit – it was noted via the phone reservation and they delivered without the need to double check. Kudos indeed. Also, though it is stated in the reservation that small groups have a 90-minute time limit, at no time were we asked to finish up though we stayed about two hours. (Guess it also depend on how busy the place is.)

The bill was about $140, i.e $70 per person, which was decent considering what we ordered and the quality of the ingredients. Except for the far walk to the restrooms (down the escalator and to the right, due to the structure of the mall – it’s the same for the rooftop Haidilao), it’s definitely good to know there’s another reputable hotpot restaurant near our ‘hood to consider whenever we have steamboat cravings. In fact, Beauty in the Pot has just opened another outlet at The Star Vista, even closer still. Have to check that one out soon!

Beauty in the Pot is at 1 Harbourfront Walk, VivoCity #03-08A, Singapore 098585. Tel: +65 6255 0758. Opening Hours: Daily 11.30am to 3.00am (Last order at 2.15am).

Ash & Elm @ InterContinental SG

Scrumptious European dining at Ash & Elm.

For our latest quarterly dinner date, my church mate who shares the name of an evergreen climbing woody plant and I decided to go for European flair this time. That’s how we ended with Ash & Elm at InterContinental Singapore, which now occupies the space where the former (and rather good) Olive Tree restaurant used to be.

Decor was chic and elegant, and though the tables for two were small, the space however was comfy. After the waitress presented us with the menus, a waiter popped over to run us through the very extensive wine list comprising reds, whites, sparkling, champagnes and ports. Ash & Elm boasts three culinary theatres including a charcuterie and cheese room, wood-fired oven and an open charcoal-grill kitchen. The dinner menu thus comprises sections for charcuterie and cheese ($24-$60), wood-fired flatbreads ($22-$28), charcoal grill items ($39-$188) and a host of other meat and seafood items “from the pan” ($22-$69), plus good selections of hors d’oeuvres, salads, soups, sides and desserts.

Thought the restaurant was trying to match the water with the nice cosy chairs!

The first thing we were attracted to was the “non mineral nor sparkling” water they served us – whether warm and cold, it was a lovely blue! When asked, our server told us that the color comes from the butterfly pea flower which is said to have loads of antioxidants and health benefits for the body. Apparently the hotel was taking part in Singapore International Water Week 2019 and offering a healthy alternative for serving water was one of their contributions. Well, that’s rather ingenious I must say!

Super cool bread basket.

We thought of trying one of their hand-crafted, sourdough-based flatbreads but was quickly told that for every table, a bread basket will be provided. And what a great basket it was, there were five different types of yummy bread—the chewy mini-baguette was my fave—with portions enough for two, served with salted and seaweed butter. (So good I actually contemplate coming on my own next time and maybe just have a small charcuterie and cheese platter along with this bread basket!)

A carnivore’s delight: the Ash & Elm Platter.

Except that even a regular charcuterie and cheese platter is way too much for one person (unless you really, really enjoy chewing lots and lots of meat!) We had a regular sized Ash & Elm Platter ($28/$48 for large) which comprises house-cured beef pastrami, house-smoked pork loin, air-dried pork belly, cold-roasted beef and pressé de foie gras with smoked duck. Every item was delicious in its own way but the platter was seriously big enough for a party of four. Went very well with the wonderful bread though and I kinda regretted not ordering a red wine to go with all these great red meat.

Love it when chefs put effort to make a dish look pretty.

Knowing the platter will have a lot of beef and pork—plus the fact that most of really nice sounding meat items (especially the steaks) were a tad expensive—we went for chicken for our second dish. The French free-range yellow chicken breast a la basquaise ($34) was alright — tasty but nothing out of the extraordinary. Top marks though go to its presentation and the delicious Basmati pilaf rice and sweet cherry tomatoes.

Seasonal Vegetables Persillade

For our “healthy” bit, we opted for a side of Seasonal Vegetables Persillade ($10) which is really “side dish” sized (read: not meant for a vegetarian meal). Still, it had a good mix of veggies including sweet corn, carrot, broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower, and long bean. Other choices for sides include homemade ratatouille ($10) and sauteed mushrooms ($10).

All in all, we really had an enjoyable time at Ash & Elm, definitely one of our most satisfying dinners. As we decided we needed a walk and will have coffee and dessert elsewhere, the total came up to about $85 which is decent for what we ordered. Will definitely come back again to try other items, especially the other charcuterie and cheese platters — and to enjoy that bread basket again!

Ash & Elm is at Level 1, InterContinental Singapore, 80 Middle Road, S(188966). Breakfast: 6-10.30am daily; Lunch: 12pm-3pm (Mon to Sat); Sunday Champagne Brunch 12pm-3pm (Sundays); Dinner: 6-10.30pm daily.

Japan Cool: Unique Products From Japanese Prefectures

Sagabiyori rice from Takeo City, Saga Prefecture

If you can’t go to Japan, let Japan come to you.

In the past few years, I’ve been trying to arrange a cherry blossom holiday (March-April) to Japan but each time something or other would crop up and I end up going somewhere else.

Hence I was pleased when Musings on the M49 was invited by Media Japan and the Japan Local Government Alliance to a special preview session to sample unique products from three Japanese prefectures. At least I get to see some things uniquely Japan right here in Singapore!

Held at Tomi Sushi @ Millenia Walk, the preview showcased three Japanese product and food items namely Sagabiyori rice from Takeo City in Saga Prefecture, Senshu cotton towels from Izumisano City in Osaka Prefecture, and Tsuiki aluminium spoons from TsubameSanjo City in Niigata Prefecture.

Sagabiyori Rice from Saga Prefecture

First item for us to sample was Sagabiyori Japanese rice. The short-grain rice is primarily planted and harvested in Saga Prefecture, located north of Kyushu Island in the south of Japan. Rice farming is the main industry in Saga’s fertile plains, while fishing thrives in the coastal areas.

Thanks to venue host Tomi Sushi, we got to try the Sagabiyori Japanese rice in the form of onigiri rice balls, wrapped in toasted seaweed. If you love Japanese cuisine, you will know that the Japanese rice used is often light, fluffy and sightly sticky. Sagabiyori Japanese rice is rather different – the rice grains are bigger, a tad sweeter and not that sticky.

Often eaten as a snack or a quick breakfast/lunch item in Japan, the onigiri stuffed with tuna mayo and spicy ikura (large red Japanese caviar, pictured left) were really tasty and delicious. Even without stuffing, plain onigiri made of Sagabiyori Japanese rice was very filling on its own.

The premium rice brand—granted the top ‘Special A’ ranking by the Japan Grain Inspection Association—is available in 5kg packs from $60 in Isetan and Meidi-ya.

Senshu Cotton Towels from Osaka Prefecture

Next, we were introduced to the soft-to-the-touch Senshu cotton towels, known for their high water absorbency. Truth be told, I never knew towel production was a thing in Japan! The industry started as far back as 1887 when Japanese native Enjiro Satoi, impressed by quality imported towels, decided to produce his own towels in the Senshu region in Osaka Prefecture (an hour’s train ride from Kansai International Airport).

As lots of Senshu towels were provided at the event for us to touch and feel, their softness and gentleness cannot be doubted. We were also informed that the towels do not contain any wax, glue and dyes due to Atozarashi, a process unique to the Izumisano towel-producing region. This process involves thoroughly rinsing off waste and by-products from the delicate towel fabrics with fresh underground water.

We were also encouraged to soak the Senshu towels with water to test its high water absorbency. Well, when drenched, the towel certainly absorbed well with hardly any water droplets rolling off the material’s surface (like very cheap towels do). Along with its soft texture—a key feature for me when it comes to buying face towels—the Senshu towel is a product worth considering.

Available in various colors and sizes, Senshu face towels priced from $6-$8 can be found in Takashimaya and Isetan.

Tsuiki Aluminium Spoons from Niigata Prefecture

One thing I love about Japan is that they seem to have an invention for everything in life – from the world’s first rice cooker to, er, square watermelons. Well, at this preview, we were introduced to these cool looking, aluminium “thermal conduction” ice cream spoons from TsubameSanjo City in Niigata Prefecture, a 70-minute train ride north of Tokyo.

Produced by Tsuiki in TsubameSanjo, an area renowned for the production of quality metal wares, each spoon is made from 100% aluminium. The way it works is that if you hold it for at least 10 seconds, it will conduct your body heat down to its squared-shape bowl tip, warming it up enough to slice through ice-cold desserts such as ice creams and puddings easily!

Have to confess it didn’t really worked for me at the preview as the tips of my fingers were rather cold then and I felt the ice cream given to us were kinda soft in the first place. Even if the heat bit need a bit of work to work, I love the spoon’s shiny look and its design which makes it very comfortable to hold. I did try it again at home when my hand was warmer and the spoon did slice through my hard butter easily. Also, the Tsuiki spoon definitely heats up when I used it to stir hot coffee!

Tsuiki ice cream spoons, priced from $10-$15 in various colors, are currently available exclusively at Tomi Sushi @ Millenia Walk.