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A Private Island Paradise for World Earth Day

Cempedak Island 1

What’s the story?
Cempedak is a new private island resort in the Indonesian archipelago, five years in the making. This just opened venture is from the same team behind nearby Nikoi Island, another Robinson Crusoe-esque set up.

How does it differ from Nikoi Island then?
It’s a few notches up on the design and cuisine front. What they can’t better is the service which is legendarily good on Nikoi – it’s as equally smiley and attentive on Cempedak. The main difference is that Nikoi is geared more towards families with young children whereas Cempedak is for adults only.

You’ve got my attention, how do I get there?
Catch a ferry from Singapore to Bintan (an hour’s crossing) where you’ll be picked up by private car and driven across the island (another hour) then it’s a 30 minute speedboat ride to Cempedak. Trust us, it’s worth it. Or you could arrive direct by yacht.

Cempedak Villa 4

What does the resort look like?
As your chosen vessel approaches the tiny, verdant island, a series of striking structures hone into view. These thatched roofed, curved bamboo buildings make up the villas and public areas of the resort.

So it’s designed to look like a pretty tropical paradise?
Well yes but Cempedak is not just a pretty face, the owners are committed to eco-friendly practices. Bamboo is sustainable and the open sided, high ceilinged designs cut down the need for air con. The resort has been built by local workers using locally sourced materials and employs only Indonesian staff. Added to that, the owners have set up The Island Foundation to help improve the income, health and education of surrounding communities.

Cempedak villa

Tell me more about the guest rooms
They’re all villas and they come in two types: beach fronted or set back and elevated with a view of the sea. Both have airy, open sitting areas, terraces and a plunge pool large enough to get a couple of strokes in. A spiral staircase leads up to a bedroom complete with sitting area to further soak in the view and en suite bathroom with semi open shower.

Cempedak Villa 2

What about the food?
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are all held in the main restaurant (though in-villa or on a nearby deserted island are also options) but with a choice of terraces and some hideaway nooks, you can move around for each meal and feel like you’re having a new dining experience every time. All meals are set menus and alternate between Indonesian and western cuisine, using local produce including seafood, fish, vegetables and fruit, and all of a high standard.

Is there a bar?
There are three: one part of the restaurant and one next to the pool plus the gloriously designed Dodo Bar perched on top of a huge rock and with a multi storey thatched roof. There’s a story behind its curious name. Ask the bartender to tell you when he’s fixing your drink from the impressive array of boutique spirits.

Walkway to Dodo Bar

What is there to do?
For active sorts there’s a whole heap of activities on offer including watersports, tennis and croquet. Or you could just loll about by the swimming pool, the beach bar within easy reach. And if you’re even too lazy to do that (mea culpa) you could loaf about on your own terrace next to your own plunge pool. After all, the in room magazine is The Idler.

Cempedak Main Swimming Pool 3

Is there a spa?
Spa treatment rooms are planned for later in the year but for now massages are available in the none too shabby environs of your villa.

Anything else I should know?
This is very much bare foot luxury. There’s no room key or air con, you’ll need to bring your own hairdryer and the walkways do not invite high heels. If you like your luxe resorts hermetically sealed and Disney sanitised this probably isn’t the place for you. If however you like the feel of a sea breeze and being lulled to sleep by the sound of lapping waves, you’ll love it.

I’m sold, what’s the damage?
From SG$450 per night (plus taxes) for a Sea View villa; SG$95 per person per day for full board. For more visit

Feeling Like Royalty at Raffles

One of the three imposing doormen at the entrance to Raffles

[UPDATE: In celebration of its 130th anniversary, Raffles Singapore is offering the Raffles Experience upgrade for S$130 plus taxes which includes a choice of Buffet Lunch, Afternoon Tea or Buffet Dinner at Tiffin Room for 2 persons, a 30 mins Back or Foot massage for 2 persons at Raffles Spa, a complimentary bottle of Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve and a late check-out at 3pm. Available until August 16th 2017.]

Checking into Raffles is an uplifting experience. When you pull up the gravel driveway outside the white wedding cake of a hotel in the heart of Singapore, you’re greeted by a toweringly tall sikh doorman, bearded and turbaned and wearing an imposing sashed uniform. He ushers you into the lobby, all cool marble flooring and fluted columns that reach up three lofty storeys. There is none of the hubbub of other hotels – only guests or “residents” are allowed inside – so the atmosphere is reassuringly calm and rarified. To borrow from Holly Golightly, you feel as though nothing bad could ever happen at Raffles.

Raffles’ lofty and serene lobby

We’re shown, not to the Presidential Suite, where William and Kate recently stayed, but to the Somerset Maugham suite, number 102, overlooking the Palm Court. There have been many additions and alterations since Raffles first opened 125 years ago in December but this wing is the most serene. The view invites you to sink into a rattan chair on the balustraded veranda and sip a welcome Singapore Sling brought to you by your butler. So we do.

All the suites (there’s nothing so hum drum as a room at Raffles) are vast compared to modern hotels. They come with a veranda and a sitting room to the front and a huge bathroom to the back. Don’t expect a zen wetroom but instead Victorian tiles, a liberal amount of marble and brass fittings.

Number 102 was Somerset Maugham’s favourite and is now the hotel’s most frequently requested suite. As well as the usual dark wooden floors, half tester bed, oriental rugs and antiques, our suite has framed pictures of and letters from W Somerset Maugham lining the walls, a writing desk and a smattering of the author’s novels. I suddenly feel under pressure.

The hotel’s Palm Court

Time for a cocktail. We cross the courtyard into the main building to the Writers Bar. Some people will encourage you to visit the famous Long Bar and throw peanut shells on the floor but the Writers Bar is lovelier; an exclusive little nook off the lobby. Billecart Salmon Ultra Brut champagne is on offer here – an exclusive in Singapore. Wine director Stephane Soret, winner of the prestigious Wine Spectator Excellence Award, cleverly chose it for its lightness in the searing Singapore heat.

After the resident pianist plays Noel Coward’s I’ll See You Again at 8pm on the dot, we move into the adjoining Raffles Grill for dinner. An engaging waitress talks us competently through the menu and to start I choose the steamed foie gras which has a delicious salty topping and served with a pear that’s been poached for two hours in red wine. Eric, the young and enthusiastic Chinese sommelier, matches it with a sweet wine. I usually steer clear of the foie gras-dessert wine combo but this has a tropical fruit tang that’s not at all cloying.

Raffles Grill

The halibut main course comes with a nice crust of butter on the skin with punchy tomatoes on the side and is paired with a wonderful minerally Pouilly Fume. To finish, there’s a chocolate souffle which is all that it should be. Eric appears with a gigantic bottle of ’88 Armagnac and it would be churlish to refuse but after that it really is time for bed.

The next morning we climb the Gone with the Wind staircase that leads up from the lobby and head to the swimming pool, tucked away on the third floor. Set in a walled roof terrace with trellises covered in climbing plants, terracotta urns, flowering trees and striped towels on sun loungers, it’s part Italian garden, part beach club. Wonderfully I have the pool to myself save for a dragonfly.

The outdoor swimming pool oasis at Raffles Singapore

The outdoor swimming pool oasis at Raffles Singapore

I’m just about hungry now so we go for breakfast in the Tiffin Room – an airy, colonial style restaurant with white pillars and ceiling fans on the opposite side of the lobby to Raffles Grill. There’s the usual five star buffet arrangement which is very well done but also an interesting a la carte menu. I order the Raffles Omelette – a spicy empire days inspired dish of eggs, peppers and chilli powder. Just the trick after a late night.

The Tiffin Room

We return to the Tiffin Room for lunch to try Raffles’ famous Indian buffet (while you’re staying here you should really eat inside the glorious main building as often as you can). The buffet is a spread of northern Indian hot and cold starters, chutnies, curries and vegetables with standouts such as cucumber masala salad and overnight-cooked black lentils. The highlight though is the chef’s specially prepared curry (on this occasion, a rum-soaked lamb dish) served as a generously proportioned amuse bouche, and mopped up with a freshly made naan breads.

The grandfather clock in the lobby is chiming, signalling that it’s time to leave. I do so reluctantly. So long Raffles, I’ll see you again.

Raffles Hotel, 1 Beach Road, Singapore. Tel: 65 6337 1886.

[UPDATE: Restoration of Raffles Singapore began in January 2017. The hotel’s Arcade, including the Long Bar, is closed for refurbishment and some of the guest rooms will close in the middle of August 2017. The hotel will close fully at the end of 2017 for a further revamp and expected to re open in mid 2018.]

Is there a need for Best Female Chef awards?

Lanshu Chen at the pass

Asia’s Best Female Chef 2014 Lanshu Chen at Le Mout, Taiwan

[UPDATE: The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017 have been announced amid the usual controversy. Not least because of the lack of female chefs at the helm of restaurants on the list. Highlighted by the fact that the restaurant run by The World’s Best Female Chef 2017, Ana Ros, doesn’t even make it onto the World’s 50 Best restaurants list. (Hisa Franko in Slovenia is number 69 on the “long list”).

Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants awards are no better. Lanshu Chen of Le Mout in Taiwan remains the only recipient of the Asia’s Best Female Chef accolade to be (sole) head chef of a restaurant that’s also recognised as one of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. While Bo.Lan in Bangkok which consistently makes the top 50 is helmed by another previous winner, Bo Songvisava, she does so with her husband Dylan Jones (the “Lan” in Bo.Lan).

This year’s Asia’s Best Female Chef May Chow’s eatery, Little Bao in Hong Kong, doesn’t feature in the top 50, neither did any of the restaurants overseen by last years’ winner Margarita Fores of the Philippines or the Tate Dining Room in Hong Kong run by Vicky Lau, Asia’s Best Female Chef 2015.

Which begs the question, is there any point in naming a Best Female Chef if their restaurants are not deemed good enough to be voted one of the Best 50 Restaurants? Or is it further proof that more spotlight on and awareness about female chefs is needed?]

Vicky Lau, Veuve Clicquot Asia's Best Female Chef 2015 Vicky Lau, Asia’s Best Female Chef 2015 sponsored by Veuve Clicquot

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Asia’s Best Female Chef 2015 is Vicky Lau of Tate Dining Room, Hong Kong. Lau becomes the third winner of the award and will be officially presented with it at the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants ceremony at the Capella Hotel in Singapore on March 9th.

“The aim is to promote and celebrate female talent in an industry that remains very male dominated,” says William Drew, spokesman for the award. “We would love to reach a position where this award becomes unnecessary but I think we are some way off that situation yet, unfortunately.”

“I do think it’s necessary to recognize female talents in the culinary industry which has traditionally been dominated by males,” Lau agrees. “There are only a few female chefs behind Hong Kong kitchens. This could be due to the fact that chefs aren’t valued for their craft or it could be because women are discouraged to pursue this career because of the physical conditions of working in a professional kitchen.”

“BONITO” - marinated katsuo / bonito dashi geleé / daikon roll / datterino tomato confit by Vicky Lau at Tate Dining Room, Hong Kong BONITO by Vicky Lau at Tate Dining Room, Hong Kong

The under representation of female chefs can be seen worldwide. Ten years ago when I joined the launch team of a food magazine in the UK, I was approached by a bright young woman who had trained with Jamie Oliver for the original brigade of his Fifteen restaurant in London. She wanted to write a feature on why there were so few female chefs.

My editor, female and a veteran of the food industry, told me the reason was that the hours were not conducive to having a family. There were also a few others: the young chef wrote of not just the anti social hours but the macho culture, lewd conversation, unflattering clothing and physical hard work resulting in varicose veins and scars.

This experience is echoed today by Peggy Chan, chef owner of Grassroots Pantry in Hong Kong. “Unfortunately, there’s only a very rare breed of women who are capable of making it through the hours, the screams, the heat and physical pain, the sexist comments, foul language and very often feeling belittled,” says Chan. “Not to mention the sacrifices involved especially when it comes to personal time for relationships: Friday night outings with girlfriends, starting a family etc.”

“AGED MANDARIN SEA BASS” - pan roasted suzuki sea bass / aged mandarin peel jam / lobster orange sauce/ fennel pollen / baby fennel by Vicky Lau at Tate Dining Room, Hong Kong AGED MANDARIN SEA BASS by Vicky Lau at Tate Dining Room, Hong Kong

It seems that in Asia, there are specific problems. “It’s tough enough in French kitchens, let alone working a wok over massive open flames in Asian kitchens,” says Chan. “Physically, it is much more demanding for an Asian woman much smaller in size to man and manage a male dominated brigade. And there are existing archetypes present in the psyches of Asian cultures (men as the head of the household).”

Vicky Lau also believes that traditional cooking techniques may play a part. “In Asia, perhaps more women choose to be in patisserie rather than cuisine due to the nature of the cuisine itself. For example, in a traditional Chinese kitchen the equipment can be quite weighty,” she says.

“There is no place for women in the professional Chinese Kitchen,” says Margaret Xu the owner of Yin Yang and one of the first female chefs in Hong Kong. “It’s a male dominated, chauvinistic crowd and there’s a lot of heavy duty labour – handling big woks and whole pigs. Some male kitchen kitchen staff tend to think physical strength means competence as a chef.”

In the West names like Alice Waters, Angela Hartnett, Elena Arzak and April Bloomfield may be well known But can you name an equally prominent Asian female chef? Perhaps Duongporn ‘Bo’ Songvisava of Bo.lan in Bangkok who was the inaugural Asia’s Best Female Chef winner or Lanshu Chen of Le Mout in Taiwan who won last year.

Le Mout Lanshu Chen

Dishes by Lanshu Chen at Le Mout, Taiwan

Ping Coombes, the Malaysian born winner of MasterChef UK 2014 says: “There weren’t really any well known female chefs when I was growing up as it really still is a very male dominated industry. In Asia, I feel women are still being viewed as the home cook. I always looked up to my mother when it came to cooking.” Similarly Chan says: “I grew up with a culinary certified mother who cooked massive feasts at home and always thought women were meant to cook at home, not in professional kitchens. The ratio of male to female at my culinary school was about 80:20.”

Both Vicky Lau and Lanshu Chen cite male mentors (Sebastien Lepinoy of Cepage in Hong Kong and Jean-Francois Piege at Hotel de Crillon in Paris respectively). Songvisava was a protégé of David Thompson at Nahm. Janice Wong, the two times Asia’s Best Pastry Chef, of 2am Dessert Bar in Singapore names Gunther Hubrechsen at Les Amis in Singapore who now has his own restaurant in the city state, Gunther’s.

And Lau and Chen cite European and US fellow female chefs they admire –  Dominique Crenn at Atelier Crenn, San Francisco and Anne-Sophie Pic from Maison Pic, France – rather than Asian ones. (Although Lau also mentions her successor Chen).

Female chefs are all too often found in the “ghetto” of the pastry section. Peggy Chan says numerous instructors at catering college tried to convince her to take this route: “rather than tough it out in the male dominated hot kitchens. There was always a clear distinction, almost as though it’s an expectation for girls my size to take the more feminine, meticulous and less ‘intense’ path in order to be considered ‘a chef’. Former Asia’s Best Female Chef Lanshu Chen made a conscientious decision to move out of patisserie. Angela Hartnett’s advice to young female chefs?: “Don’t take the option of the pastry section.”

“ZEN GARDEN” - mignardises by Vicky Lau at Tate Dining Room, Hong Kong ZEN GARDEN by Vicky Lau at Tate Dining Room, Hong Kong

And if women aren’t making it to head chef, they aren’t getting the media coverage either. Jason Black, chef and media consultant says: “We sadly live in a world where we only champion the people at the top (be they male or female). If I had to ask you the name of the sous chefs at 99% of the restaurants in HK, you wouldn’t be able to answer.”

Black’s cookbook calendar sold for charity and featuring notable Asia based chefs sparked a controversy earlier this month, one of the reasons being the lack of female chefs featured. But he says the reason is pragmatic. “This project was done at my own cost and I was very lucky to secure Ermenegildo Zegna as a fashion partner this year. They only make a men’s range. Given that it is not a “best of” [chefs] publication, having an all male line-up publication worked.”

That said, Black says about the female chef imbalance: “I really believe classifying by gender is wrong. Everyone should be given equal opportunity to succeed. I think Grassroots Pantry is one of the best restaurants around and Ta Pantry is one of the best Private kitchens too. They are such because of the skills of the chefs behind them. That they are run by female chefs for me is a complete non-issue.”

Margaret Xu agrees: “I think a best female chef award is condescending by nature. The best chef is the best chef full stop.” But Black adds: “If championing our chefs based on their gender or ethnicity is a way of encouraging people to get into the industry then I guess it is ok.”

When I asked David Thompson if he thought there were any female Thai chefs to watch out for he said: “There are many young, up-and-coming Thai cooks [male and female] which is just fantastic. But I have my eye on Chef Nan Bunyasaranand who runs Little Beast in Bangkok.”

“FOIE GRAS TERRINE” duck foie gras terrine / spices & curry tuile / pommery mustard ice cream / blueberry sauce by Vicky Lau at Tate Dining Room, Hong Kong  FOIE GRAS TERRINE by Vicky Lau at Tate Dining Room, Hong Kong

And both Margaret Xu and Vicky Lau think the situation is changing. “I have been noticing some changes over the years with more female chefs making an impact in Hong Kong and the world’s best kitchens, especially in traditional Chinese kitchens with advances in technology and materials,” says Lau. “At my own kitchen at Tate, the kitchen staff has a female to male ratio of 3:1 – a happy coincidence but also perhaps a sign of the times.”

[UPDATE Margarita Fores who runs various restaurants in the Philippines is Asia’s Best Female Chef 2016. Hong Kong has clocked up a second Asia’s Best Female Chef award with May Chow (pictured above), chef and owner of Little Bao in Hong Kong and Bangkok (home to the award’s inaugural winner, ‘Bo’ Songvisava of Bo.lan), being named Asia’s Best Female Chef 2017. Chow, who opened Little Bao as a pop up in Hong Kong in 2013 and has staged at Bo.lan says: “I hope I can serve as a role model for other Asian female chefs, providing hope and opportunities for those who want to pursue their passions.”]

This article was originally published in 2015

Is this the best restaurant in Hong Kong?


[UPDATE: Amber is now number 24 on The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list 2017 and remains the only restaurant in Hong Kong to be recognised on the list.]

This month the iconic 50 Best Restaurants in the World awards roll around again. Last year, a Dutch born, French trained chef working in Hong Kong achieved something no one else in China has managed for six years – an entry on the coveted list.

Richard Ekkebus joined Amber at The Landmark Oriental hotel as executive chef when it opened in 2005. Since then he has racked up the accolades earning two Michelin stars, four years in a row, and in 2011 placing Amber on the 50 Best list.

His fellow chefs – and loyal customers – have been magnanimous in their support. “I received 850 emails of congratulations and well wishes,’ says the personable Ekkebus. “I wanted to respond to them all so I tried to reply to 40 a day.”

Richard Ekkebus.JPG

And although thrilled about his achievement Ekkebus is quick to point out the wealth of culinary talent in his adopted city. “We have a lot of great chefs in Hong Kong. And there are a lot of French, Michelin starred restaurants: Gagniere, Robuchon, Ducasse… all the big names are here.”

He is equally keen to highlight the hard work of his colleagues at the restaurant and hotel. But his own talent is undisputed; creating exquisite dishes such as morels painstakingly stuffed with minced chicken and served with what looks like cannelloni but is on closer inspection tightly wound strands of spaghetti.

“I come from a fine dining background and the restaurant has all the traditions and attention to detail that go with that but it also has the spirit of Hong Kong,” says Ekkebus. The location is also reflected in the menu which uses not only the best of French but worldwide ingredients.”

miyazaki wagyu beef, strip loin, barbecued with dulse & red cabbage slaw, oxalis, horseradish & pepper berry emulsion.jpg

Miyazaki wagyu beef, strip loin, barbecued with dulse & red cabbage slaw, oxalis, horseradish & pepper berry emulsion.

“The advantage of being in Hong Kong is that it’s at the crossroads of everything – Europe to the west, Japan in the east, Australia and New Zealand in the south – all with exceptional ingredients.” That makes ingredients like guinea fowl from France, pork from Iberia, sea urchins from Japan and salmon from Tasmania possible. And conscious of carbon footprint Richard has forged relationships with several farmers in the New Territories of Hong Kong to grow vegetables for the restaurant.

hokkaido corn, ice-cream over a coconut mousse  with salted caramel & roasted peanuts.jpg

Hokkaido corn, ice-cream over a coconut mousse with salted caramel & roasted peanuts.

Amber’s clientele is mostly Chinese and as such the biggest challenge for Ekkebus was adapting to the local tastes. “They definitely have a different palate to westerners and I had to make a few adjustments to my cooking. For example they don’t like the taste of salt so I had to keep toning that down. It was quite frustrating at first.”

Off-duty, Ekkebus likes to eat Asian food but says his favourite restaurant is home. “My wife is a fantastic cook.” Does he feel under pressure now to achieve a third Michelin star? “Ambition yes, pressure no,” he says calmly. “It needs to organic. I am not like those chefs who think ‘I must have three Michelin stars!’ The awards are very nice, and all good for business, but ultimately it’s about happy guests. If people keep coming back to eat at your restaurant, you’re doing a good job. A restaurant is a work in progress, even if everyone says it’s wonderful, I’m thinking, ‘what’s next?'”

[This piece was originally published in 2012.]

5 Minutes with Guy Savoy

Guy Savoy

Restaurant Guy Savoy in Paris recently retained three Michelin stars for 15 years running. Chopstix caught up with Guy Savoy himself, one of the most personable chefs in the business, on a recent trip to Asia.

Who inspired you to become a chef?
My mother. Firstly, I liked to eat and my mother was a good cook. I didn’t imagine how much work went into it though then I watched my mother one day. I saw how she blended flour, butter, eggs, salt and sugar. The ingredients were not interesting separately but then they became a cake. For me, it was like magic.

What is your food heaven and hell?
I love ice cream; it is an addiction. I don’t like capsicum. When they’re cooked they’re ok but I can’t eat raw ones.

What do you like to cook for yourself?
For a snack: toasted rustic bread with a thick layer of cold bread and some sardines and ground pepper on top. The most important thing is to have cold butter.

What would you be if you couldn’t be a chef?
Nothing. I can’t imagine being anything else.

Who would you most like to cook for?

What would you prepare as a last meal?
I am too too young to think about that!

What’s the strangest food you’ve eaten?
Crocodile finger at Justin Quek’s restaurant in Singapore [Sky on 57 at Marina Bay Sands] and then a month ago, ants in The Amazon. In France we eat frog’s legs and snails, that’s part of our culture. Eating ants is not normal for us.

What’s the best restaurant you’ve never heard of?
My mother’s. I’ve never found better.

The Bling Ring arrives in Hong Kong

The Pink Star_mounted

Feast your eyes upon The Pink Star, a 59.60-carat oval mixed-cut pink diamond that’s the largest Internally Flawless Fancy Vivid Pink diamond that the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has ever graded.

It’s up for auction at Sotheby’s Hong Kong on 4 April 2017 with estimated sales price in excess of US$60 million / HK$468 million.

Paddles at the ready…

Magical Mallorca


La Residencia-POOL-19.jpg

Chopstix makes a special European foray this month in homage to the annual reopening of the Belmond La Residencia hotel.

The hillside village of Deia, on the north west coast of Mallorca, embodies “the other side” of the largest of the Balaeriac islands. One that’s altogether more sophisticated and relaxed. Distinctive honey stone buildings with their terracotta roofs and green shutters are staggered in tiered terraces down the hill, punctuated by verdant trees and reached by tiny winding streets. Added to all this is the appealing weather: warm in spring and autumn and balmy in high summer. It’s little wonder that this enchanting enclave with its special energy has become a refuge for artists and the internationally famous. At its heart sits Belmond La Residencia.

The sprawling property is made up of several historic buildings including two 16th century manor houses now conjoined and making up the two main hotel buildings. There’s an olive press room originally belonging to the manor, now a fine dining restaurant, and a watchtower, thought to have been built by Cistercian monks in the 14th century to guard against pirate invasion. This clutch of stone structures was originally turned into a hotel in the mid 1980s and has been owned by the now Belmond group since 2002.



There are just 67 guest rooms and suites at this boutique property and while no two are the same, each has been kept in a traditional Mallorcan style with a nod to rustic chic: all white walls, beamed ceilings and terracotta tiled floors with an abundance of rugs, antiques and artworks. For families and groups of friends or simply for those seeking more privacy, there’s a villa a short walk from the hotel with three bedrooms, a kitchen, dining area and private pool.

La Residencia’s generously sized grounds encompass citrus and olive groves, tiered terraces, traditional dry stone walls and even a sculpture garden. Dotted around the gardens are superb facilities including two outdoor swimming pools, four restaurants, an art gallery, spa and tennis courts. While some guests are keen to hike the surrounding Tramuntana Mountains others are happy never to leave the property.


Artist and art teacher Cecilie Sheridan runs the hotel’s acclaimed art gallery, Sa Tafona, and organises regular exhibitions in the space focusing on Deia based artists. Cecilie lives just in front of the hotel and has lived in Deia for more than 40 years, she has been with the hotel since the beginning. Along with her late husband, George Sheriden, Cecilie has amassed a large collection of paintings from artists based in Deia, many of which hang on the walls of La Residencia. Her own artwork, and those of her husband’s, are among them. Cecilie also leads a weekly art tour of Deia for La Residencia guests. The complimentary Walk and Talk tour starts from the hotel, visiting artists in their studios around Deia. Guests have a chance to speak with the artists such as Arturo Rhodes and David Templeton and view their work, while Cecilie gives an insight into the Deia art scene along the way.

There is a strong link with the art world in Deia and it started not with painters but writers. Robert Graves, the charismatic novelist and poet, was the first to move to the area and his presence drew other artists. Graves is buried in the church yard in Deia, in the shadow of a cypress tree, and his former home Ca N’Alluny is now a museum. Another interesting place to visit in the village is a museum of archeology set up by American anthropologist Jackie Waldren who also lives in Deia.

La Residencia has embraced the art scene of Deia not least with its own art gallery and the original artworks by local artists that adorn the walls throughout the property. The hotel has one of the biggest collections of modern art of any hotel in Europe with some 750 paintings. The collection was started by George Sheriden who was the founder of the art movement in Deia.

On the lawn in front of the hotel is one of Spain’s largest outdoor sculpture gardens, curated by Juan Waelder who is also one of the hotel’s resident artists. Guests also have a chance to interact with the artists through regular master classes held at Belmond La Residencia. There are three resident artists – a painter, sculpter and potter.


The hotel is also home to five donkeys including Alba, who is mascot of the Kid’s Club, Pancho and Luna and Gitanillo and Fosca who were born at the property. The Donkey Trail is a very popular activity with guests. Once a week, guests have the opportunity to take a stroll with three of the donkeys through the olive grove in the grounds of the hotel up to a hillside peak. At the summit there’s the refuge of a stone shepherd’s hut with a wonderful view of the property and the village. General Manager Ulisses Marreiros says it’s his favourite view on the property. A typical Mallorcan lunch is laid out here for guests with food and wine from the island such as local breads, olive oil, tomatoes, cheeses and meats.

The hotel’s two Vespas are also in high demand for touring the surrounding scenic area, designated a Unesco World Heritage site since 2011. Guests ride along the winding roads to the pretty villages of Fornalutx, Soller and Valldemossa – where Chopin lived for many years – and Port de Soller with its attractive marina.

LRS spa pool.jpg

Housed in its own building, the award winning La Residencia Spa is very much in keeping with the hotel with the same rustic chic feel. Top brands including Aromatherapy Associates, Carole Joy and Natura Bisse from Spain are used and signature treatments incorporate popular ingredients grown in the area. The Almond Delight Facial involves a face massage with warmed almond oil followed by a sweet almond mask; the Olive Activator uses La Residencia’s own olive oil for a lymphatic body massage and the Citrus Siesta includes an olive oil body exfoliation followed by an almond, lemon and orange oil massage.

On top of the many treatments – available inside or on al fresco terraces – there’s also an indoor pool and outdoor hot tub based at the Spa and complimentary yoga and Tai Chi classes are offered once a week. Alternative therapist Anja Burkhard visits the Spa once a month for a week-long stay. Anja’s intriguing speciality is Body Talk. Through hands-on healing, carried out fully-clothed, Anja can diagnose problems in the body and help the body heal itself.

As well as hands-on healing, Anja may use Timewave – a computer programme with its roots in quantum physics. While in her home country of Germany Anja worked in a lab alongside specialists who were researching the effects of space on human body and from there the Timewave programme was born. Even the most cynical of clients have been won over by Anja’s approach and many book their trips to coincide with her stays. In some cases she has cured ailments in just one session.

LRS-Kids Club.jpg


The children’s club, Smile, was introduced three years ago for four to 12 year olds. Until recently the hotel only allowed children to stay over July and August and the Easter holiday but due to demand that has been lifted and many of the master classes offered to adults are now available for children. These include pottery workshops, cooking classes and tennis coaching. Child-sized bathrobes and slippers are also provided in the guest rooms. Because of the size of its grounds, the hotel is able to have two outdoor swimming pools (as well as an indoor pool) one of which is for adults only and the other designated for families.


Gastronomy is very important for Belmond La Residencia, Chef Guillermo Mendez has been with the hotel for 27 years. Guillermo, a native of nearby Soller, started working in a professional kitchen on Mallorca at the age of 12. He went on to train with Raymond Blanc at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons among other big culinary names in Europe.

Chef Guillermo overseas all the hotel’s restaurants including the romantic, fine dining El Olivio, housed in a former olive press room, the more casual Café Miro which specialises in tapas served on a pretty terrace and Son Fony, where breakfast is served overlooking the swimming pool and out to the mountains.


The cuisine is Mediterranean focused with several Mallorcan influenced signature dishes. Two very popular dishes from the area are a roasted suckling pig cooked for 32 hours at 65 degrees so the skin is crisp and the meat tender; and Gambas de Soller made with prawns from from the Bay of Soller and salt from the south of the island. The dish is served in a pretty box made by one of the hotel’s resident artists.

As well as top international wines, Belmond La Residencia offers a choice from the burgeoning local wine scene. The quality of Mallorcan wineries has improved hugely in recent years led by wineries such as DO Binissalem which uses local grape varieties including the reds Manto negro, callet and gargollasa and the white grapes moll, prensal and perellada. There are now some 80 wineries across the island producing wines from local or, like Pla de Llevant DO, a blend of local and international grapes such as chardonnay with giro blanc or moscatel. La Residencia carries 25 of the best Mallorcan wines across white, red and rose.

The hotel grounds include a 30 acre olive grove of 1,500 olive trees, some more than 500 years old, that is undergoing constant restoration. From the grove, La Residencia produces its own olive oil, pressed by a co-operative in nearby Soller and available in the hotel’s restaurants and shop. The label is designed by local artist Jaime Colorao who won a competition held by the hotel and open to local artists.


There are several other connections La Residencia has forged between its guests and the local residents. One of the hotel’s turn down gifts is salt from Es Trenc in the southeast of the island, another turn down gift is a ‘lucky starfish’ made by Joanna Kuhne, a ceramics artist who lives in the village. Joanna also makes the charger plates used in El Olivo restaurant. Another local lady designs the beautiful glass plates in the restaurants while the popular Gambas de Soller dish is served in a wooden box designed by one of the resident artists.

Most recently the hotel has started to carry artisan knives made by a fourth generation local craftsman. The knives are traditionally used for spreading sobrassada (a soft sausage served at breakfast in Mallorca)onto bread. Of course Belmond can arrange to take guests to see where the knives have been forged on the island for 120 years.




Ode to Odette

Odette -  Interiors 7

Odette restaurant, Singapore

[UPDATE: Odette has entered Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant 2017 list at number 9 making it the highest new entry and the highest new entry since the list was created.]

Julien Royer, formerly head chef of the acclaimed Jaan, now has his own restaurant in the form of Odette, a bread roll’s throw away from his alma mater, within Singapore’s stunning new National Gallery.

Odette is named in homage to Royer’s grandmother. And the family theme continues as the dreamy design is down to artist Dawn Ng – wife of the restaurant’s co owner, Wee Teng Wen of the Lo and Behold group – in conjunction with Universal Design Studio.

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The specially designed open kitchen at Odette

With its romantic, cream interiors, Odette is the White Swan to Lo and Behold stablemate, Black Swan nearby in the CBD. But back to the food.

Royer is continuing to mix classical French with modern techniques in his new home. Some of his greatest hits from Jaan are on the menu: Mushroom “tea”; 55 mins Onsen Egg; Heirloom Beetroot Variation; and Hay Smoked Pigeon.

In it’s new incarnation though the Pigeon is served two ways: the breast cooked sous vide then grilled and the leg cooked for six hours. And the Onsen Eggs are smoked on a bed of pines – foraged by the chef’s father and sent over from France (another family link).

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Julien Royer Chef de Cuisine Odette

Royer has also added some new creations such as the standouts Hokkaido Uni with Apple, Mussel and Caviar and Trout with Miso Glazed Kurobuta Pork.

The welcome champagne trolley includes Chartogne-Taillet rose, Henri Giraud for Odette and Krug – said to be Royer’s favourite.

Desserts, by pastry chef Nicolas Vergnole, are also impressive including Confit Victoria Pineapple (below): toasted coconut ice cream, banana cake, passionfruit coulis, tapioca and Kaffir lime.

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Royer and his team are clearly shooting for a few Michelin stars when the Singapore Guide launches later this year.

[UPDATE: Odette was awarded two stars in the inaugural Michelin Guide Singapore on July 21st 2016].

Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants Rolls Around Again


A dish at Narisawa – Asia’s inaugural Best Restaurant

With the fifth incarnation of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants being held on February 21st, Chopstix looks back at the launch of the list in 2013:

On Monday evening [February 25th 2013] the best restaurant in Asia will be announced. Whatever your viewpoint on awards and rankings, the winner is certain to be thrust to international fame and a year of being officially referred to as “Asia’s best restaurant” across the media. At least, such is the precedent of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, the creators of which are behind this launch.

Back in 2002, journalists at the UK industry magazine, Restaurant, came up with the idea of running The World’s 50 Best Restaurants as a feature which they knew would ruffle a few feathers and create publicity in the process. They couldn’t have predicted quite how huge their creation would become though.


A dish at Narisawa – Asia’s Best Restaurant 2013

By 2007 San Pellegrino was onboard as a sponsor and the list evolved into an awards ceremony in London garnering worldwide publicity as the likes of The French Laundry in the US, El Bulli in Spain, The Fat Duck in the UK and Noma in Denmark topped the list. Proclaiming one restaurant as the best in the world was controversial enough, even more so was which restaurants (and their chefs) were included and excluded in the next 49 places.

For several years the list endured some criticism not least because a disproportionate amount of placings were UK-centric. Mainly because that’s where the judges were based – we were all industry acquaintances of the Restaurant magazine staff. You knew then that if you voted for a restaurant in say, Hong Kong, the chances of it appearing on the list were very slim since no one else would be voting for it.

So an effort was made to turn the whole affair more international. Now, there are 27 food expert “academy chairs” based around the world, and each has a panel of around 30 judges in their region.


Bo Songvisava of Bo Lan, Bangkok – Asia’s Best Female Chef 2013

For the inaugural Asian list to be announced at a ceremony in Singapore on Monday, the academy panels covering Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, South East Asia, China, Korea, India and Japan, will be voting. So why the launch of a dedicated Asian list? “We felt that Asia’s restaurant scene was under represented on a global stage,” says Restaurant magazine editor William Drew. “We knew the quality of restaurants in Asia and we believed that many of them ranked amongst the best in the world.”

Grant Thatcher academy chair of Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan adds: “These awards are all set to place Asia’s amazing culinary scene firmly under the spotlight where it belongs.” Indeed, there’s a scanty showing of Asian ventures on the 2012 World’s 50 Best Restaurants: one restaurant in Hong Kong (Amber), one in Thailand (Nahm), two in Singapore (Iggy’s and Waku Ghin) and two in Japan (Nihonryori RyuGin and Narisawa). All of them appear in the second 25 of the list.

No wonder then restauranteurs on this continent welcome the launch. “I think it’s great for Asia,” says Alvin Leung, chef proprietor at Bo Innovation, Hong Kong. “It will allow recognition for Asian restaurants that otherwise would not have made the international 100 list let alone the top 50.”


Iggy’s Singapore

“It is one of the best things that can happen to the restaurant industry in Asia,” affirms Ignatius Chan, owner of Iggy’s in Singapore which has been a long standing inclusion on the World’s 50 Best list and is currently the highest Asian entry at number 26. “Asia has a very diverse culture and heritage, it has a long history of civilisation and food culture. The list will propel the best restaurants in Asia to the world and it will better profile all the great cuisine we have.”

Tetsuya Wakuda the Japanese chef behind Waku Ghin in Singapore which appears at the number 39 on the international list agrees: “It is great to see further recognition of an area which has given and continues to give so much culinary inspiration to the rest of the world.”

Chef Tetsuya Wakuda_(Hi-Res) copy

Chef Tetsuya Wakuda, Waku Ghin

It will be interesting to see though whether the new list will be dominated by Asian cuisine restaurants or Western, namely classical French, restaurants based in Asia. The Miele Guide Asia’s Finest Restaurants 2013 launched last month , featured six French restaurants and one Italian (Hong Kong’s 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana) in its top ten. [UPDATE: Chef Umberto Bombana of 8 1/2 will be awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants event on Feb 21st 2017.]

“Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants is designed as a showcase for the best restaurants, chefs and cooking in Asia, regardless of their style or origin,” says William Drew. “It is a showcase for the best food in Asia, rather than Asian food.”

Alvin Leung agrees: “I think the list will be based on the merits of the restaurant irrespective of which cuisine it serves. I have been told you get better Italian in Tokyo than in Italy so I don’t think that Asian food will have priority on the list.”

Richard Ekkebus

Richard Ekkebus of Amber

However others are hoping and expecting to see more of an Asian cuisine showing. Notably Richard Ekkbus at French restaurant Amber who says: “I am certain there are many Asian restaurants cooking Asian food that could be part of this list. I’m very excited about this and the fact that David Thompson’s Nahm entered the World’s 50 last year is a great sign.”

David Thompson himself says: “There are some great restaurants throughout Asia, many of which do not have the recognition they so deserve. Hopefully Asian cuisine will be more represented, I would be surprised if it isn’t. Certainly on my part there is an expectation that an Asian cuisine restaurant will be number one.”

David Thompson in the kitchen

David Thompson of Nahm

All the chefs I spoke to for this article cited Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan as the countries they expect to see heavily represented at the awards. With Iggy’s currently the top Asian restaurant in the World list, there are expectations of it gaining top billing. But Chan says: “I don’t really know how everyone sees this but I certainly do not see that as automatically making us number one on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list. There is an ever rising number of new and exciting restaurants sprouting and many talented professionals have chosen Asia as their base.”

Instead, Chan’s money is on a Japanese restaurant: “Japan is a great agricultural nation filled with passionate food lovers. Its major cities such as Toyo, Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto have the highest concentration of exceptional restaurants in the world.” Ekkbus agrees: “I am not very good at making predictions but I wouldn’t be surprised if one of Japan’s restaurants leads the list.”

Clearly there’s an advantage, not just of being deemed number one but being on the list at all, with restauranteurs reporting increased bookings by inclusion on the worldwide list. As Thompson says: “I did notice that bookings did not slip as most Bangkok restaurants tend to do as the weather heats up and then begins to rain.”


Yoshihiro Narisawa, Narisawa

Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa of Narisawa, the highest placed Japan based restaurant on the worldwide list, raises other concerns: “We were glad to have guests from all over the world via our inclusion on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants,” he says. “A dedicated Asian list will become a great resource for the Asian market however it may end up that Asian restaurants are left out in the cold from the world’s markets.”

One thing is certain, not everyone will agree with the awards. Stand by for the fireworks on Monday night. [UPDATE: Narisawa was named Asia’s Best Restaurant in the inaugural 2013 list.]

This piece was originally published in 2013.

The Rise of Bangkok’s Hotel Residences

ICONSIAM-MO_living.jpg The Residences by Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok

This week sees the opening of 137 Pillars Residences, a hotel residence concept at the top of an exclusive Bangkok tower block from the owners of the luxury boutique 137 House in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand.

The furnished residences are available to rent and come with access to hotel-like facilities including fitness, wellness and all day dining.

“The market for serviced residences with inclusive services and convenience is expanding in Bangkok,” says Christopher Stafford, COO of 137 Pillars Hotels and Resorts.

“The trend in residential rentals is changing from long term stays to shorter term visits. We will also provide temporary storage of personal effects for this highly mobile group of business & leisure travellers.”

Stafford cites a growth in “medical tourism” where families stay with relatives for pre and post op periods as well as interest in customers from Middle eastern countries  and Asian countries, particularly Japan.

“Our strong Japanese business market has led us to offer more services specific to their needs including 6 Japanese TV channels, in house Japanese barber and two golf simulators as well as pitch and putt practice area,” he says.

Residence - Bedroom Double copy.jpg

137 Pillars is the first of three new exclusive hotel residences slated for Bangkok. The appeal is understandable: customers are getting the ethos of their favourite hotel brand with added benefits such as 24 hour concierge services and in some cases increased privacy.

Both the Four Seasons and the Mandarin Oriental are opening residences to buy in the city. The upcoming Four Seasons Private Residence Bangkok, adjacent to a new Four Seasons hotel on the Chao Praya river, is due to open in 2018. The all corner apartments are being designed by renowned architect Jean-Michel Gathy of Denniston.

four-seasons-bangkok-residence-corner-unit-view-992x672.jpg A rendering of The Four Seasons Residences, Bangkok

Due to open around the same time, on the same stretch of the river are The Residences at Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, the first MO residences in Southeast Asia. Situated diagonally opposite the Mandarin Oriental hotel, each unit – ranging in size from 130 to 230 sq m and penthouses from 380 to 710 sq m – will have a river view.

Buyers will have the option of a full interior design service by renowned designer Joyce Wang who recently revamped the guest rooms at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong.

MOBKK_RES_2Bed_MasterBedroom.jpg A rendering of the Mandarin Oriental Residences, Bangkok

“Hotel residences are often second or third homes so owners have a “plug and play” expectation,” says Wang. “The design has to function intuitively so they don’t have to learn new ways of operating a household, from light switches to bathroom and kitchen fittings. A hotel residence should make one feel pampered and looked after.”

First Look at the Aman Shanghai

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Aman Resorts new hotel just outside Shanghai, its fourth in China, has been named Amanyangyun after the ancient Chinese phrase Yang Yun meaning “the nurturing of clouds” and will open in autumn this year.

This “renovation like no other” has been a ten year project to save and transplant endangered ancient trees and historic buildings from the flood planes of Jiangxi.

Some 50 Ming and Qing Dynasty houses have been preserved and reconstructed by master craftsman in their new home just outside Shanghai. And traditional Chinese architects have added new buildings to blend with the historic structures.

Antique Villa

10,000 camphor trees have also made the 800 kilometre journey, overseen by expert botanists. They’ve been replanted in native soil and face the same direction as they had previously. Three years later they are said to be flourishing.

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As well as the historic houses which are now four bedroomed villas with pools, there are newly built one bedroom club suites designed by Kerry Hill Associates the architect behind Aman Tokyo.

Club Suite

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Amanyangung also features several dining options, a Club Lounge, banqueting hall and of course a spa.

Dining Terrace

Dining Terrace

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Love is all you need (especially when it’s a Tiffany diamond pendant)


Rose gold – tick, diamonds – tick, LOVE.

Raffles Rings in the Changes for the Singapore Sling

Raffles 1915 gin by Sipsmith Raffles 1915 gin by Sipsmith

[UPDATE: The Long Bar at Raffles Singapore is closed from today for refurbishment until 2018 but Singapore Slings will be continue to be served at the hotel’s Bar and Billiard Room during 2017.]

Take equal measures of quality and tradition, add a dash of modernity and a splash of serendipity, and you have the perfect recipe to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Raffles Hotel’s Singapore Sling.

The gin-based cocktail is said to have been invented at Raffles, Singapore by barman Ngiam Tong Boon in 1915. By chance Sam Galsworthy, the co-founder of Sipsmith artisan gin, visited the iconic hotel and requested a meeting with the F&B director the year before the landmark anniversary. And Galsworthy happens to be a descendant of Sir Stamford Raffles – the British statesman who founded Singapore and after whom the hotel was named.

“I’ve always felt an emotional connection with Raffles because Sir Stamford Raffles was my great, great, great, great, great grandfather,” says Galsworthy, whose first name is officially Stamford. “When I mentioned this to Nigel [Moore], I saw his face light up as I hoped it would. But I was blissfully unaware that 2015 would be the centenary of the Singapore Sling.”

Raffles Hotel Singapore, home of the Singapore Sling Raffles Hotel Singapore, home of the Singapore Sling

The timing of Galsworthy’s visit was serendipitous as Diana Banks, Raffles vice president of brand and luxury sales explains. “We had started thinking about what we could do to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Singapore Sling. It had to have elements of both the old and the new and we thought that a bespoke gin would be an excellent way to do this but had not thought of a partner we could work with,” she says. “I had heard about Sipsmith and their growing reputation for catalyzing the revival of gin culture in London. They share so much of the attributes that Raffles has.”

When it launched in 2009, Sipsmith was the first new copper gin distillery in London for 200 years. Like Raffles, they pride themselves on heritage and high standards, producing London dry gin in the authentic way with no short cuts. As well as producing their spirits in copper stills (they have three – nicknamed Prudence, Constance and Patience), they use the “one shot” process where no extra alcohol is added to stretch and dilute the gin.

Originally the Raffles team suggested creating a gin in a style similar to one around in 1915. But the idea was quickly over-ruled by Sipsmith’s master distiller. “He said we certainly will not,” said Galsworthy. Apparently 1915 was not a great year for gin quality.

Raffles 1915 gin by Sipsmith has an overlay of local spices Raffles 1915 gin by Sipsmith has an overlay of local spices

Instead, for the Raffles 1915 gin, Sipsmith incorporated spices and ingredients of Southeast Asia. The spirit is inspired by the hotel’s location but is also a nod to Sir Stamford, who developed Singapore as a port for the spice trade and had a keen interest in botany. He had even cultivated spices on Government Hill, now Fort Canning in Singapore.

Six botanicals that would have gone into an original London gin, and go into every Sipsmith bottle, form the base of Raffles 1915: juniper, coriander, orris root, angelica, cinnamon and lemon peel. On top of that Sipsmith has added pomelo, lemongrass, jasmine, nutmeg, mace and clove.

After some 40 variations, the Sipsmith team got down to a long-list of nine formulas that were whittled down to two. These were sent to Turkey, where the Raffles top brass were attending a conference, for the final sampling. “It was the best part of the three days,” laughs Simon Hirst, general manager of Raffles Singapore. “There was one clear winner that had a unique freshness and brightness.”

Raffles 1915 is designed for all gin cocktails Raffles 1915 is designed for all gin cocktails

From this month Raffles 1915 is available across F&B outlets in Raffles Singapore and Paris. And the exclusive gin is not limited to making Singapore Sling cocktails which also include cherry brandy, Cointreau, DOM Benedictine, Angostura bitters, grenadine and pineapple and lime juice. “It will be used in Singapore Slings but it’s not anchored to one specific drink,” says Galsworthy. “Gin is so versatile and Raffles 1915 has an incredible mouth feel and warmth so I love it on the rocks or in a martini.” Galsworthy also suggests a garnish of one of the overlaying Southeast Asian ingredients such as lemongrass or pomelo. “I love crushed jasmine flowers in it. Whichever you choose will really bring that ingredient to the fore.”

By the end of the year the gin will go into Raffles hotels in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Beijing and Hainan. All remaining Raffles properties will take delivery in 2016, as Raffles 1915 is not solely being produced for the Sling’s centennial year. “It’s definitely a long haul product,” says Hirst. “I think we have our own copper still?” he asks Galsworthy who confirms that Patience is exclusively dedicated to crafting Raffles 1915.

“It’s one of those great opportunities where everything fell into place at the right time,” Hirst continues. “This is a hotel that’s built on stories and this is the latest one. It’s a match made in Singapore.”

This piece was originally published in November 2015.

Longines Masters Lands in Hong Kong


The Longines Masters show jumping event is in town until Feb 12th. We absolutely adore their artwork by Italian artist Riccardo Guasco who currently lives in Wales.

The Romance of the Railway: On Board the Venice Simplon Orient Express



Now synonymous with luxury train travel, Agatha Christie and that infamous journey, the original Euro Night train number 469, monikered the more romantic sounding “Express d’Orient”, completed its inaugural journey from Paris bound for Constantinople (Istanbul) in October 1883. The train which Christie caught, and placed her fictional sleuth Hercule Poirot onboard, however was the Simplon Orient-Express – one of several luxury sleeper trains that cropped up as an offshoot linking the port town of Calais in northern France with Istanbul and ran through the golden age of travel in the 1920s and 30s.

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Strut Your Stuff in the Year of the Rooster


These red frill sandals by Gianvito Rossi are perfect for wearing throughout the Chinese new Year of the Rooster.

Available at Saks Fifth Avenue, currently with free shipping to the UK and Hong Kong on this link:

Enjoy Free Express Shipping on orders of $100 or more to the United Kingdom.

Or for US residence receive a complimentary gift card:

Earn a Gift Card up to $700*. Use code FEB2017. Valid 1/31 – 2/2. Online Only 1/31 – 2/1. Online & In Stores 2/2. Shop Now!

The Allure of Chanel Couture

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Lily Rose Depp wearing Chanel Haute Couture Spring 2017 Pic: Lucile Perron

“A wedding is very special at Chanel,” says Madame Marie-Louise de Clermont-Tonnerre, the gloriously named and exquisitely dressed international spokeswoman who oversees the house’s couture division. The House of Chanel shares the same superstitions as other bridal establishments: garters are encouraged, the presence of anyone other than the bride’s mother and bridesmaids at the fittings is discouraged, and the groom is not allowed to see the dress beforehand to guard against bad luck – but there the similarities end.

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Looking for a London Bolthole for Valentine’s?

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Look no further: 45 Park Lane is the Best Boutique Hotel in Europe (according to the European Hospitality Awards 2016.)

[UDPATE: Couples staying at 45 Park Lane can dine on a three-course Valentine’s Dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s CUT restaurant in Europe (£115 per person on February 14). 45 Park Lane’s Valentine’s package includes one night accommodation for two with a complimentary upgrade subject to availability, a bottle of Lanson Champagne and English breakfast for two. From £610 in a Superior King, £955 in a Park View Studio Suite; valid February 10-19, subject to availability.]

What’s the story behind it?
Not just a glitzy address, 45 Park Lane is the newly opened younger, cooler sibling of The Dorchester hotel. Based next door to the grande dame, it’s more of a boutique affair with just 45 rooms and one restaurant (headed by a celebrity chef) packaged in a more modern design than The Dorch.

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First look at Aman’s new Spa Houses

Spa House

Spa House, Amanoi

Aman has unveiled a new Spa House concept, a first for the exclusive resort group and part of its recently launched Wellness programme, at Amanoi, Vietnam.

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Best hotel restaurants in Hong Kong for Chinese New Year Fireworks Dinners

If you’re in Hong Kong on January 29th make sure you have a room with a view – of Victoria Harbour for the Chinese New Year fireworks. Here’s our lucky number eight for firework dinners:

Kowloon side:

The Intercontinental


View of the fireworks in the harbour from the Intercontinental hotel

The Interconti is perched right on the harbour’s edge so many of the guest rooms have fantastic views as well as the Harbourside restaurant and Nobu if you can bag a window table. Both restaurants are offering a Chinese New Year Fireworks Dinner Menu.

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Asia’s New Luxury Travel Club for Chinese New Year and Beyond.


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If you haven’t yet booked a Chinese New Year break you may want to sign up to Afini, a new luxury travel club, pronto.

Asia based Afini promises the privacy and home comforts of a luxury residence combined with the consistent quality and top service of an exclusive hotel which sounds like a dream come true to Chopstix. As such they are particularly appealing for groups of friends or extended families – and perfect for a CNY reunion dinner.

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Best Feet Forward for 2017


[UPDATE: The Pedi:Mani:Cure Studio at The Oriental Spa, Hong Kong is the first to feature BGA InSoles, tailor made to slot inside your shoes. Studio manager Albin Brion will custom make the insoles to fit your feet and address your specific needs after assessing  your posture and weight distribution. Turns out the ballerinas by a very famous designer that Chopstix has been wearing religiously have been terrible for our feet as they provide no support whatsoever.

The insoles are designed for flats rather than heels and we suggest taking a pair that are one size bigger than your usual shoe size – luckily we had pair of Common Projects leather sneakers in our usual size but which tend to fit a size too large. Following the 30 mins consultation your unique insoles will be made in an hour. Wearing them, Bastien says, will result in improved comfort and stability. We certainly found them immediately comfortable and after a month a chronic foot pain has improved.]

The Oriental Spa at the Landmark Mandarin hotel is Chopstix’s favourite spa in Hong Kong. As well as the spacious, gorgeously designed heat and water rooms there’s another reason to love it: Bastien Gonzalez who tends to the talons of celebrities and supermodels has a mani pedi studio here.

The Oriental Spa at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Hong Kong

The Oriental Spa at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Hong Kong

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Foodie Cruises


Seabourn Encore

[UPDATE: Thomas Keller oversees The Grill onboard the luxurious Seabourn cruises including the Seabourn Encore which departs from Singapore tomorrow for her inaugural voyage around Indonesia. The Grill by Thomas Keller, designed by Adam Tihany, is inspired by traditional American chophouses and features updated classics such as steaks with creamed spinach and Lobster Thermidor. Caesar Salads and ice cream sundaes will be prepared table side.]

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – Best and Worst Hotels of the Year


Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur, Rajasthan, India

The Good

Good is an understatement: exceptional would be more apt when describing the best hotel Chopstix checked into this year: the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, India.

There are some hotels that have such a stellar reputation that staying at them can be a disappointment. Not so the Lake Palace which actually exceeded  our expectations.

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Early Alert for Smythson Sale

Attention luxury lovers: the Smythson sale will begin on Sunday December 25th at 7am. For 40 per cent off select Smythson products click on the link below.

[UPDATE: Sale is now up to 50 per cent off]


New JW Marriott opens in Singapore

JW Marriott Facade.jpg

[UPDATE: South Beach hotel has reopened at the JW Marriott Singapore South Beach. While retaining the design features of the original, the hotel includes five new F&B concepts including the Court Martial bar (below). More additions, including an Alan Yau restaurant and a spa are expected in March 2017.]

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Two Fat Ducklings in the Lion City – part three

Harvest Salad at Bacchanalia, Singapore Harvest Salad at Bacchanalia, Singapore

[UPDATE: We bid a fond farewell to chef Ivan Brehm who completed his last service at the Kitchen at Bacchanalia last night. Sous chef Mark Ebbels also left the restaurant earlier this month. Chopstix thanks them for bringing great food, integrity and passion to the Singapore dining scene and can’t wait to see what they do next.]

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Is a Woman’s Place in the Professional Kitchen?


[UPDATE: Hong Kong has clocked up a second Asia’s Best Female Chef award with May Chow (pictured above), chef and owner of Little Bao in Hong Kong and Bangkok (home to the award’s inaugural winner, ‘Bo’ Songvisava of Bo.lan), being named Asia’s Best Female Chef 2017. Chow, who opened Little Bao as a pop up in Hong Kong in 2013 and has staged at Bo.lan says: “I hope I can serve as a role model for other Asian female chefs, providing hope and opportunities for those who want to pursue their passions.”]

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Come on in – to Six Storeys on Soho


Six Storeys on Soho

If you’re in London this month, do yourself a favour and book a spot at the new Six Storeys on Soho, a townhouse turned events space on Soho Square.

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A Trip to Remember

Four Seasons Tented Camp, Golden Triangle

Four Seasons Tented Camp, Golden Triangle

[UDATE: There has been a lot of discussion recently about whether elephants and tourists in Thailand can ever be a good mix. Here’s John Roberts, the founder of the Elephant Foundation (which works with the Four Seasons Gold Triangle) on the subject: “Certainly elephants should all be wild, where they’re free to make their own decisions and perform ecosystem services. This is the reason a large amount of the Foundation’s money and effort is spent keeping wild elephants wild.

“Thailand, however, has around 3,500 non-wild elephants and we also need to find ways to look after them. There isn’t enough wild to put them back into, so a well-planned tourism activity such as ours is a great way to do that – they get to walk around as a group, meet new people and lead a rich and varied elephant life. The elephants enjoy it: there seems to be a modern misconception that captive elephants live entirely in misery and fear no matter how you look after them. I have to say that in 16 years of living among elephants I have seen no evidence of this – I have seen elephants looked after badly and I would never seek to bring a wild elephant into captivity but I’m entirely comfortable with this as a way to keep those already in captivity fed, watered and amused.”]

Sitting on top of an elephant, I look down over Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meeting at the Mekong river as the sun begins to rise. I’d ridden the gentle giant, called Thong Kam, up the mountain to watch dawn breaking over the Golden Triangle and now she’s taking a well deserved break and snacking on banana trees. Her foot effortless crushes the tree trunk into smithereens and she eats enthusiastically – it’s time for me to dismount and breakfast myself on fresh fruit and coffee the guide has set up for me.

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A Knack for Design

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Eyewear artisan Naoki “Nacky” Nakagawa’s path to success reads like a real life fairytale. As a seventeen year old sales assistant in a spectacles store in Japan he realised there were no styles on offer that he liked so despite not having any design training decided to design them himself.

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Happy Birthday Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels


Today is the 150th anniversary of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotel group, owner of The Peninsula hotels around the world. The group’s first hotel was the legendary Peninsula Hong Kong opened in 1928. Like most grande dame’s who look fabulous for their age, she’s had a bit of work having been recently refreshed with HK$450 million worth of minimalist luxe decor and impressive technical wizardry.

Each guest room now features sophisticated but reassuringly foolproof technology. Anyone who’s ever been defeated by how to close the blinds/adjust the temperature/turn out that last light in over complicated hotel rooms will rejoice. LED touch screen control panels placed on the wall (in every room if you’re in a suite) allow you to dictate all the aforementioned functions, plus flick on the privacy alert or valet call, as easy as child’s play.


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The best champagne for a sparkling Christmas


Some 30 metres beneath the streets of Reims lies a labyrinth of chalk cellars housing millions of bottles of champagne. These ‘crayeres’ – limestone mines originally dug in the 4th century purely for materials – form a natural habitat for storing the French fizz. The caves’ temperature, humidity and tranquility are perfect for holding the bottles while the wine undergoes the secondary fermentation that will turn it into champagne.

Piper-Heidsieck, the champagne house that landed on the map when founder Florens-Louis Heidsieck presented his wine to Queen Marie-Antoinette, owns 47 of these chalk pits. Unlike some of the neighbouring champagne houses that own chalk cellars, Heidsieck is not open to the public, so the crayeres have a gentle, ethereal quality, enhanced by the ‘cathedral’ style in which the caves have been dug out.

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Return to Splendour

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The Strand hotel in Yangon, Myanmar has now reopened after a six month refurb to return it to its colonial splendour as well as adding modern in room technology.

As part of the revamp the hotel’s bar, formerly a gathering place for the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Noël Coward and Orsen Welles, has been renamed The Sarkies Bar in honour of The strand’s founders, the Sarkies brothers who also created Raffles hotel in Singapore.

To celebrate its reopening, The Strand Yangon is offering a special ‘New Era’ package, offering guests booking a Superior Suite for two nights or more for stays from 15th November 2016 to 30th April 2017 a complimentary upgrade to a Deluxe Suite (subject to availability) along with return airport transfers, High Tea for two, a bottle of wine in room on arrival and a Myanmar degustation menu for two at The Strand Café.

Castle in the air

Alila Fort Bishangarh

Alila Fort Bishangarh, Rajasthan

UPDATE: Alila Fort Bishangarh in the Aravalli hills, Rajasthan, will open in February 2017.

Looking for a London Bolthole?

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Look no further: 45 Park Lane has won Best Boutique Hotel at the European Hospitality Awards 2016.

What’s the story behind it?
Not just a glitzy address, 45 Park Lane is the newly opened younger, cooler sibling of The Dorchester hotel. Based next door to the grande dame, it’s more of a boutique affair with just 45 rooms and one restaurant (headed by a celebrity chef) packaged in a more modern design than The Dorch.

What is the design concept?
A homage to Art Deco glamour. Right from the eye-catching entrance, clad in curved metal, and the lobby dominated by a striking, over sized light fitting. A theatrically illuminated staircase leads enticingly to a mezzanine level bar. The furniture throughout is all rounded, glossy black lacquer and gleaming chrome. You’ll feel as though you’ve walked on to a lavish Hollywood set.

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Thanksgiving To Go

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Mandarin Oriental’s Thanksgiving Top Hat Takeouts

If you’re new to Hong Kong you may not know that every year the Mandarin Oriental offers a Thanksgiving feast take out so you can celebrate at home with minimum hassle.

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A Spooktacular Hamper for Halloween

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How spooktacular is this Fortnum & Mason Wicked Wicker hamper? Fortnum’s have reworked their classic picnic hamper in Halloween inspired black and orange and filled it with spooky treats. Chopstix is not usually a fan of All Hallow’s Eve but we’ll make an exception for this.

The Cream of Chinese Couture

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Guo Pei – Singapore Fashion Week 2016

As Guo Pei opened Singapore Fashion Week last night Chopstix looks back at meeting the couturier at Haute Couture Week in Singapore:

Beijing born Guo Pei has been called “the Chanel of China” and credited with inventing Chinese haute couture but the 45 year old, now in her 15th year of designing*, is philosophical about the monikers.

“In China, we sometimes believe in destiny,” she says matter of factly. “Haute couture was right there in my way of working at the beginning but I didn’t know it. I was merely trying to get the best out of my designs. It was not until a year or two later that I was told that what I was doing was called ‘haute couture’ in global fashion.”

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Bringing Bar Snacks Deluxe to HK


In one of the more surprising moves of the year, chef Uwe Opocensky left his decade long role as executive chef at the Mandarin Oriental to join burger joint Beef & Liberty. The switch has been cheekily described as swapping fine dining for flipping burgers but chef Uwe very definitely won’t be asking you if you want fries with that (even sweet potato ones). Instead he has been busy refining the concept of bar snacks at Beef & Liberty’s recently opened California Tower outlet (itself a new departure for the group with an industrial design by Autoban).

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China in your hands

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Hot and Sour Soup. Pic: DL Acken

China: The Cookbook is an  impressive tome by husband and wife Kei Lum Chan and Diora Fong Chan. Kei is the son of a former renowned Hong Kong food writer who together with his wife Diora has come up with over 650 recipes from 30 areas of China.

Drawing on their experience of writing Chinese cuisine cookbooks, the Chans have covered famous crowd pleasers to lesser known gems, all doable by the home cook. The recipes are backed up with a cultural history of this vast nation and a handy glossary of ingredients. Here’s what the couple have to say about their magnus opus:

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Best Hong Kong Hotels (and their restaurants) for National Day

If you’re in Hong Kong for October 1st make sure you have a room with a view – of Victoria Harbour for the National Day fireworks.

Kowloon side:

The Intercontinental

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View of the fireworks in the harbour from the Intercontinental hotel

The Interconti is perched right on the harbour’s edge giving it some fantastic views from many of its guests rooms where you feel you’re right on the water and the rooftop Presidential Suite as well as the Lobby Lounge and Harbourside restaurant plus Alain Ducasse’s Spoon and Nobu if you can bag a window table.

All the restaurants have special menus planned for October 1st including a six course tasting menu at Alain Ducasse and an eight course omakase menu at Nobu.

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A Smattering of Michelin Stars for The Peninsula Shanghai

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Sir Elly’s

Given the mystifying exclusion of The Peninsula hotel’s restaurants in the Michelin Guide Hong Kong, it’s good to see The Pen’s Shanghai counterpart recognised.

Yi Long Court and Sir Elly’s at The Peninsula Shanghai have been awarded two and one Michelin star respectively in the inaugural Michelin Guide Shanghai, announced today.

Chopstix dined at both restaurants earlier this year and can wholeheartedly give them the thumbs up.

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Model Cooks

World's Best Female Chef Helena Rizzo

Helena Rizzo former World’s Best Female Chef

Food and models are not an obvious pairing. Rather than going together like crispy duck and plum sauce, the modelling industry is more likely to make you think of faddy diets or eating disorders. Yet these rarefied sylphs are moving from the catwalk to the kitchen.

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Best Restaurants for Singapore F1

Singapore skyline at Sky on 57, Marina Bay Sands

Singapore skyline at Sky on 57, Marina Bay Sands

In Singapore for the F1? In between watching the Night Race and Kylie here’s Chopstix’s pick of the best restaurants near the race track.

Saint Pierre


Scallop at Saint Pierre

A long time darling of Singa’s fine dining scene, Saint Pierre has recently moved to a new location in one of the Fullerton heritage buildings overlooking the Marina in the CBD.

Chef Emmanuel Stroobant’s fancy fare sits better in this table clothed, chandeliered setting though the vibe is modern rather than stuffy. Stroobant combines French techniques with tip top Japanese ingredients with wonderful results. The service is top notch too.

Tasting menu only for dinner ( choose between six or ten courses, meat or vegetarian) plus a spectacular French cheese cart and a petit fours trolley.

Around 7pm you’ll catch the jaw dropping sunset reflected in the Marina Bay Sands spectacular across the bay.

1 Fullerton Road


Gunther Hubrechsen doesn’t get as much glory as the showier chefs in Singapore which is a travesty because his food (mod European) is superb and his eponymous resto makes a refreshing change from all the shopping mall and hotel set ups in the Lion City.

Instead, Gunther’s is based in a converted shop-house on an historic side-street. A tiny but cute belle époque-esqe bar leads to a surprisingly modern dining area.

Star attraction is the vast tray of impressive raw ingredients, including live seafood, shown to each diner at the start of the meal and testament that produce is king here. Signature dish is cold angel hair pasta with caviar.

That the customers are overwhelmingly regulars is proof of Gunther’s appeal.

36 Purvis Street

Beetroot Collection at Jaan, Singapore

Beetroot Collection at Jaan, Singapore

Restaurants with a knock out view usually don’t bode well on the food front but that’s not the case with Jaan. Although the 70th floor vista of central Singapore will impress even the most spoilt and/or jaded traveller, the cuisine – and the service, also match it.

All tables at this compact restaurant are cleverly set up to enjoy the outlook overlooking the river, marina and beyond to the Straits sea.

The kitchen is in good hands with Kirk Westaway the long time sous promoted to head chef whose notched up a Michelin star. Food-wise we’re talking tasting menu only at dinner. Expect high end French with contemporary twists and trickery that elicit lots of smiles and admiring “aahs”.

First comes a plinth of amuse bouches that looks like a work of art. Then a 55 degree cooked egg is cracked and poured into a dish before you in a cute nod to Singaporean coffee shops way of serving soft boiled eggs.

Level 70, Swissotel The Stamford, 2 Stamford Road

Shinji by Kanesaka

This menu-less, omakase (“I’ll leave the choice up to you”) restaurant has caused quite a stir in Singapore and has been awarded a Michelin star in the city state’s inaugural Michelin Guide. It’s the brainchild of renowned Tokyo chef Shinji Kanesaka, as the name suggests.
In Singapore, a team of Japanese chefs work under the watchful eye of master chef Koichiro Oshino who has been with Shinji for over 20 years.

They work behind a wooden counter carved in a single piece from a 220 year old hinoki or Japanese Cypress tree which is as stunning as the food they prepare.

Only fish and seafood is served but not just sushi and sashimi there’s plenty of grilled dishes too including 5-hour steamed Hokkaido abalone.

Raffles Hotel, 1 Beach Road

[UPDATE: Shinji at Raffles is now closed while Raffles Arcade undergoes refurbishment.]

Marinated shrimp with sea urchin and caviar at Waku Ghin, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Marinated shrimp with sea urchin and caviar at Waku Ghin, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Waku Ghin

Exclusive has become an over used word but it’s a fitting description for Waku Ghin. There are just 25 covers, dotted among four private rooms each with a chef preparing a 10 course tasting menu on a teppanyaki grill.

This is Sydney-based chef Tetsuya Wakuda’s first foray outside of Australia and is an extremely hot ticket in Singapore – especially since it zoomed into the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2012. The restaurant has since earned a Michelin star.

To start is raw seafood, maybe sea urchin and abalone, followed by “salads” such as scallops with daikon and oyster. Standout dish is the marinated shrimp with sea urchin and caviar.

The the real magic begins as your private chef cooks a succession of fish and meat dishes such as crab legs steamed on a salt bed and wagyu beef with grated wasabi. It’s part theatre, part cooking lesson.

All dishes can be expertly paired with wines or saki from biodynamic Sancerre to an Australian chardonnay produced especially for the chef.

Casino level 2, Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Avenue

Waku Ghin, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Waku Ghin, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Sky on 57
Local enfant terrible Justin Quek trained with some of the best chefs in France and now mixes Singaporean Chinese flavours with classical French techniques and vice versa.

His impressive menu includes foie gras braised in soy sauce in the same style as Teochew braised duck and xiao long bao filled with foie gras and truffle consomee.

A particular triumph is JQ’s Beef Broth with Braised Tendon, Ribs & Slices of Wagyu. The chef says it’s inspired by Singaporeans eating Beef Noodles at hawker stalls at the end of a night out to avoid a hangover the next day. His version comes with a shot of Jack Daniel’s added.

Level 57, Sands Skypark Tower 1

Goat's cheese ravioli at Osteria Mozza, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Goat’s cheese ravioli at Osteria Mozza, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Osteria Mozza

There’s always a gathering outside Osteria Mozza of those without the foresight to book ahead at this popular Mario Batali outpost.

Inside, the dark wood, white table cloths and sizeable bar transports diners from Marina Bay Sands mall to New York. Batali’s trademark rock soundtrack adds a convivial atmosphere but never detracts from the attentive, friendly service.

Under the helm of executive chef, David Almany, the menu is Italian American boasting half a page of mozzarella and a full page of pasta as well as exemplary antipasti, meat, fish and of course, dolce. There’s also a great selection of Italian wines, thanks to co owner Joe Bastianich.

If you can’t get a seat here, Batali’s other joint next door does the best pizza in Singapore.

Galleria Level 42-46, Marina Bay Sands, 2 Bayfront Avenue

Osteria Mozza, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Osteria Mozza, Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

When Hong Kong met Spain – El Celler de Can Roca comes to the Fragrant Harbour

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Suckling Pig by El Celler de Can Roca for Amex at The Peninsula Hong Kong. Copyright David Loftus.

High above Hong Kong inside Felix restaurant at the top of The Peninsula hotel Joan Roca the head chef and eldest of three brothers behind one of the world’s most famous restaurants, El Celler de Can Roca, is assembling two dishes.

The first, a sous vide fish, Joan explains is inspired by his home of Girona in Spain and can be found on the menu at the Rocas’ three Michelin starred establishment there which has twice been crowned the World’s Best Restaurant.

The second, crispy pork, is a new creation that’s an homage to Hong Kong his host city today. The demonstration, and the reason Joan is so far from home, is part of an exclusive dining experience the Rocas are holding at The Peninsula organised by American Express Invites for Centurion cardholders.

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Dear Smythson Diary

Smythson 2017 diaries

Smythson 2017 diaries

It’s that time of year when my Smythson diary prompts me with a little note that I should be ordering my new agenda for next year. Smythson’s 2017 diaries have just been launched and if you order online between today (August 22nd) and next Monday (August 29th) there’s free shipping on the new Panama Diaries. Click on the link below for happy shopping:


Is A Woman’s Place in the Professional Kitchen?



Vicky Lau, Veuve Clicquot Asia's Best Female Chef 2015

Vicky Lau, Veuve Clicquot Asia’s Best Female Chef 2015

Asia’s Best Female Chef 2015 is Vicky Lau of Tate Dining Room, Hong Kong. Lau becomes the third winner of the award and will be officially presented with it at the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants ceremony at the Capella Hotel in Singapore on March 9th.

“The aim is to promote and celebrate female talent in an industry that remains very male dominated,” says William Drew, spokesman for the award, sponsored by Veuve Clicquot – a drinks brand associated with a strong, woman boss. “We would love to reach a position where this award becomes unnecessary but I think we are some way off that situation yet, unfortunately.”

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