Spacious Hotel in Milan

Hotel Poliziano Milan Agoda

ADI Hotel Poliziano Feria AgodaIf you will be attending a conference in Milan, consider booking outside of the city center.

We stayed at Hotel Poliziano Fiera when we attended the chef’s congress Identita Golose, which was held at the at the MiCo Milano Congressi, in via Gattamelata.

It’s on the traditional side, i.e. unlike a lot of boutique hotels on the Agoda list, it doesn’t have hipster designs or art. BUT, check out this old school piano with candelabras! Pretty cool.

Hotel PolizianoI can see my dad singing here with his lolo buds. LOL.

Hotel Poliziano Feria AgodaFor breakfast, you can also muni-muni at this terrace. It’s quite nice. Unfortunately it was so cold when we were there (February) that although I attempted to have my morning coffee here, I was forced to go back inside.poliziano 5 terraceThe lobby is also pretty spacious. So if you’re a big family on a trip or meeting up with friends, they won’t feel cramped at all while waiting for you at the lobby. (Off topic: Doesn’t that painting look like a Baldemor?) I say this because the hotel we stayed at in Paris had this itsy bitsy lobby that my friends were standing while waiting for me.

Milan Italy Hotel Poliziano AgodaAnother plus factor for this hotel is that the rooms are quite spacious. There’s space for that mat for your morning yoga.

poliziano 2Getting to the city may take around 20 minutes by train. Note that it’s not a subway that they have nearby (around 2 blocks away) but also an old-school kind of train (parang PNR/cable car). But by taxi – and we took a cab everywhere because it was so cold – it’s just around 10 minutes away from everywhere.

There are also nice neighborhood eateries around the area. Anyway, it’s Italy. Food is good everywhere!

You can book via agoda.com HERE.

Photo credits: Margaux Salcedo, agoda.com.

Motag Living Museum: Planting rice (near Boracay) is fun!

Motag Living Museum Malay Aklan

If you are looking for one more thing to do before leaving Boracay, do check out the Motag Living Museum in Malay, Aklan – just a half hour from Bora.

It was the brainchild of  Nenette Aguirre Graf, barangay captain of Motag in Malay, Aklan, but a lovely English lady named Louise has brought life to the project.

Louise will meet you and your party at the entrance with this greeting:

Then you start the tour. First, Louise will show a basic Aklanon home – their kitchen, their toilet & bath, how they get water (note how she pronounces ‘timba’ (pail) like Simba (the lion) haha) …

I love how their kitchenware are all made from coconut!! And how the stove is made of stone!

Motag Living Museum After a tour of the house, we were brought to the fields where you get to experience what it’s like to be a farmer. I gamely took off my Toms and plunged my feet into the mud. I was surprised to find that it wasn’t icky at all – the mud was soft and warm and it felt like my feet were getting a massage!

Motag Living Museum Aklan Philippines farming agriculture

The view of the rice fields is absolutely breathtaking – although it may be very hot!

Motag Living Museum Malay Aklan Living Museum 7After planting rice (like one plant haha), I got to ride a carabao sleigh. I felt bad that the carabao would have to carry such a heavy thing – me! But if you ever get there, do get on and watch out for the surprise that the carabao will give you midway through the ride!

Motag Living Museum Malay AklanAfterwards, you will be shown how the locals manually mill and grind rice grains. It’s a fun activity for kids and adults alike! Motag Living Museum, ChabeliWhen you are done making rounds, they offer the freshest buko juice you will taste. Sooo good! You can cool down with that and watch these kids at play with their toys made from coconut shells!

The tour is then concluded with this touching farewell song.

 

What an experience! So happy I got to participate in this. Thank you to Krip Yuson, Mike Marasigan, Binggoy, Nina and Chabeli Remedios and Louise! ❤

******

The Motag Living Museum is in Malay, Aklan. Details on tours, location, etc on their website: http://motaglivingmuseum.com/

 

 

 

How Dos Mestizos’ Binggoy Remedios Escapes from the Bustles of Boracay

Finca Verde Binggoy Remedios Nina Bustamante Resort Farm Boracay Aklan

Boracay is one of the most popular beaches in the world, ranked 7th best beach in the world by Trip Advisor. But it’s become quite the party place, compared by some to Ibiza, more than the laid back pristine beach that Boracay originals first fell in love with.

So what have the originals done? The guys who moved to Boracay decades ago before techno became a music genre?

Well I don’t know about the rest but Binggoy Remedios, owner of Dos Mestizos, has managed to leave the bustles of the new Boracay without actually leaving the island: he has created his own little paradise just half an hour away, in Malay, Aklan. So he’s near the sand and the restaurants that have grown with the Boracay’s development, but still able to maintain the lifestyle of serenity and oneness with nature that he moved to Aklan for to begin with.

He calls his home Finca Verde. It started out as just his home with Niña Bustamante and daughter Chabeli but now the 1.5 hectare property has four huts that are available to guests. We were privileged to stay in this one with this gorgeous bed:

Finca Verde Binggoy Remedios Nina Bustamante Resort Farm Boracay AklanFinca Verde Binggoy Remedios Nina Bustamante Resort Farm Boracay AklanI was amazed at what they had done with the property. Binggoy admits that he just “ouido’ed” building it and Niña proudly shares that the labyrinth was built by Binggoy and even the “tiles” in the toilet were rocks from the river attached to the property.

Finca Verde Binggoy Remedios Nina Bustamante Resort Farm Boracay Aklan
The labyrinth at Finca Verde using rocks from the property’s attached river

Daugther Chabeli’s playground is pretty huge! She literally crosses a river and says hi to the cow on the adjacent property!  Finca 12Mommy Niña, meanwhile, keeps busy with their little “farm”. They grow arugula, special greens and herbs.

Finca Verde Binggoy Remedios Nina Bustamante Resort Farm Boracay AklanThey literally just pick from here if you want a salad or just want to jazz up your dish with tarragon or cilantro. And when they want juice? Buko doesn’t get fresher than this!

Finca Verde Binggoy Remedios Nina Bustamante Resort Farm Boracay AklanThey also showed us this 100 year old tree just down the road.

Finca Verde Binggoy Remedios Nina Bustamante Resort Farm Boracay AklanAnd in the afternoon, Niña showed us these local berries, just below the hut.

Finca Verde Binggoy Remedios Nina Bustamante Resort Farm Boracay Aklan
My sister Goldee picking indigenous berries at Finca Verda

If you have time, visit the Motag Living Museum, where Englishwoman Louise personally gives a guided tour for a fresh perspective of our agricultural history, which we so awfully take for granted. She makes it all sound exotic and interesting – which it really is! We totally underappreciate our farms and our peoples. Louise lives right next door to Binggoy and Nina and we caught her by her hammock as we walked around the grounds.Finca Verde Binggoy Remedios Nina Bustamante Resort Farm Boracay AklanFinally, at night, you can make a bonfire right here and cook smores to match a bottle of whiskey. Then look up. The stars here are so bright you almost believe you can reach them.

Finca Verde Binggoy Remedios Nina Bustamante Resort Farm Boracay AklanAn unbelievable escape!

Finca Verde
By reservation only.
Brgy. Nabaoy, Malay, Aklan
+63 998 545 7279

beachadventurer@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

A Gem of a Hotel in Little India, Singapore

One Farrer Hotel, Little India, Singapore, Agoda

one farrer hotel singapore little india

For the past nine years, I’ve been going to Singapore at least once a year. Sometimes twice. I have never stayed at the same hotel twice though because it is just such fun exploring the different options in this very vibrant city.

Last year, I got to check out two really sexy hotels in hip happening Chinatown  and another hotel in Bugis. I must admit that I did not think that Little India would be as competitive but One Farrer was impressive beyond belief. Whaddaya know – Agoda is really full of delightful surprises.

On this last trip of mine for the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards,  I was lucky to find myself in a gem of a hotel in Little India. At first I was hesitant because Little India is not too well known an area for visitors but after seeing the 8.4 rating on Agoda.com plus the photos, I was convinced that One Farrer Hotel & Spa was a hotel I needed to check out.

And I’m happy I got acquainted with this hotel.

Super accessible. My first question every time I book a hotel is accessibility. How far is it from the train station? Even if a hotel is not in the city center or where most of my activities would be, as long the train station is a block away, I’m good. This one of Farrer was perfect because One Farrer is actually a stop! There is literally a Farrer stop and exit on the MRT line.

Crazy comfortable beds. Next most important thing to me is the bed. The quality of the sheets is important. I don’t know the threadcount of these here but I could sleep in these sheets all day.

Another plus for this hotel is that they have window shades that you can “pull down” by remote. You could sleep in a click! And yet another thing I noticed with One Farrer – you don’t need to insert your key for the lights to go on. You can keep your key in your purse!

Refreshing breakfast by the pool. I am not a breakfast person. I always skip hotel breakfasts too because they are all the same: eggs, cereal, sausages – boring, boring, boring. I’d rather dash out for a kaya toast. But how can you resist breakfast in this hotel when you get to greet the day with this gorgeous pool and view of the city?

#iwokeuplikethis

The Bar. I saw signs in the elevator teasing for happy hour. Wouldn’t mind get happy in this setting!

Room with a View. It’s almost as if you were staring at a postcard! I took this photo from my room. Just with an iphone.

Impeccable service. The staff are alert, quick to act, accommodating, helpful. I needed something printed, it was brought to our door. Restaurant reservations were easy. Directions were given properly. Taxis were called immediately. I couldn’t complain.

This apple marks an entrance. Another entrance has a red apple. They’re supposed to represent good and bad, with Greek mythology references (though I thought the apple first made a cameo in the bible with Adam and Eve?). … Well, whatever the source, this hotel was the apple of my eye!

PS A few floors of the One Farrer building is home to some doctors’ clinics. So if you need to get some liposuction after all those food festivals … grab and room and recover in utter luxury after! 😉

One Farrer Hotel & Spa
1 Farrer Park Station Road, Little India, Singapore 217562
Check it out at this link in agoda.com.

Why Restaurant Arzak is worth a plane ride, a train ride & a six-hour drive to San Sebastian

Juan Mari Arzak, Elena Arzak
Juan Mari Arzak, Elena Arzak
Arzak: the ultimate dining experience. Shown here: the father-daughter tandem of Modern Basque Cuisine pioneer Juan Mari Arzak & World’s Best Female Chef Elena Arzak.

There are many chefs the world over who now do “modern cuisine”.

A couple of years ago, I was blown away by the creations of Heston Blumenthal at Dinner by Heston at the Mandarin Hyde Park in London. As an appetizer he served something that looked like an orange but was in fact foie gras. It was a bewildering yet delightful illusion!

Here in Southeast Asia, Iggy’s in Singapore has become renowned for his “modern European cuisine”. It was here, around eight years ago, that I first experienced the incorporation of Pop Rocks on an elegantly plated dessert. The waitress even made us guess what it was and it was Chef Rolando Laudico, the chef in our party of four, who correctly guessed that it was that favorite childhood candy that was crackling in our mouths. Back when Andre Chiang was still at Jaan at the Swissotel, I had the privilege of tasting his “modern French” creations. And recently, Ivan Brehm, who had worked with Heston Blumenthal at the Fat Duck, has been making waves at Bacchanalia.

In the Philippines, Chef Jose Luis “Chele” Gonzalez takes the lead in offering modern Basque cuisine at Gallery Vask although you will also see modern techniques employed at the more casual Rambla in Rockwell and the uber fine dining Tasting Room at City of Dreams.

But nothing quite prepares you for Arzak, a home that has been around since 1897 and where modern gastronomy had its beginnings – in the mid ’70s!

There is – oddly – no train that goes direct from Lyon (where we were for the World Pastry Cup and the Bocuse d’Or) to San Sebastian. Instead, the trains go via Paris and Barcelona, which are actually longer routes! So we chose to see Barcelona instead of going back to Paris and then got a car to drive to San Sebastian.

It was an easy but very long six hour drive (mas malapit pa ang Baguio-Manila!). On top of that, the winds were very strong – we had to drive slower because our car was being blown by the wind! We did not realize until our concierge verified it that there was in fact a storm. All we knew was that from the B10 to A2 to AP7 highway, it felt like a never ending road.

But Arzak was absolutely worth the long drive. You understand, after dining here, why it is considered one of the world’s greatest dining destinations.

Pintxos

Restaurant ArzakYou are greeted with a can of beer. Andy Warhol would have fallen in love with this. “This is black pudding and beer,” the server explained. “Did you crush this can yourself?” I teased her. “Yes, we play football every morning,” she joked back.

You don’t eat the can of Kellerbier, of course, but can pop the entire pudding on the chard leaf in your mouth. Then boom! Umami with a little dot of spiciness in the end. “How?!” you ask. This is a question that you keep asking all throughout the meal.

At this restaurant, there is no one tiny amuse bouche as is the custom in other fine dining places. Instead, they introduce you to Basque culture by loading you up with at least five of these introductory pintxos that tell you what the restaurant is all about.

Arzak Arzak Following the black pudding and beer, we were served: 1) Kabraroka pudding wrapped in kataifi. This is a pudding made of scorpion fish, an otherwise overlooked fish because it is described as “ugly” but made famous by Restaurant Arzak (check out this site).  2) Sweet chilly pepper and sardine sphere. The sphere felt like a round Filipino barquillo so it was interesting to note that this was made out of potatoes. And then inside, a burst of the flavors of sardines. These fish appetizers immediately tell you about the philosophy of Arzak of finding local produce and making these come alive in their restaurant through their incredible techniques.

ArzakGyoza of prawns and moringa. Restaurant Arzak, San Sebastian. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.com. It did not end there. We were also served: gyoza of prawns and moringa. This was an astonishing creation. It takes the concept of the Japanese gyoza but instead of the steamed dough, the cover on this one is crackling. But inside, the meat is sweet. And finally, a lentil cookie with ssam-jang, a spicy Korean paste. These creations show you that Arzak is committed to discovering the unique ingredients each country has to offer, allowing guests flavors that they may never have experienced before.

“It felt like a trip around the world,” I said to the legendary Chef Juan Mari Arzak, who is, to this day, in spite of his lengthy list of accolades, still present every day in the Arzak kitchen. “Yes, we get ingredients from around the world,” he said (through a translator), “but the end product is from Kilometer 0. It is absolutely Basque.”

Cromlech, manioc and huitlacoche, Restaurant Arzak, San SebastianAfter eating all that, our tummies were good to go. But the menu said we were just getting started!!!

Coastal Creations

The official starter that we had was entitled “Cromlech” because it is made to look like a prehistoric megalithic structure. But in fact it was made of manioc (or what we call cassava!) and huitlacoche (which is disgustingly described on the internet as ‘corn smut’ but in Mexico is a prized kind of mushroom that is considered part of their culinary heritage, used in cooking since pre-Hispanic times). You are instructed to turn these cones upside down and eat it “like ice cream”. It looks odd but inside there are caramelized onions and my sister Goldee immediately detected foie gras. It is crazy good!

This was followed by three seafood dishes: lobster, scallops and red mullet. Remember that San Sebastian is a coastal city and therefore abundant in seafood.

Restaurant Arzak. Lobster Sea and Garden. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.comThe lobster was an example of gorgeous plating. For some reason it reminded me of impressionist art, with Van Gogh’s Starry Night coming to mind. Probably because of the green crispy crepe that looks like a starfish. But its purpose was to add not just color but dimension to not only to the texture but also to the flavors of the dish, as it had hints of turmeric. Meanwhile that lovely orange dash of color is a zucchini flower and they all lie on tomato water that totally compliments the juiciness of the lobster.

Arzak, Elena Arzak, Juan Mari Arzak

From impressionism they move on to realism with the scallops, which arrives on the table enclosed in two long bamboo leaves. Can you imagine that – we have so many bamboos in the Philippines yet we usually just use banana leaves in the presentation of our food. But the first thing that struck me here was the fragrant whiff of earthiness which I guess was from the leaves. “You don’t eat that,” the server said, laughing, as she opened the leaves to reveal the scallops.

And from realism they end the seafood series with pop art. This one was absolutely avante garde. I was startled when a kind of ipad/tablet was placed before me instead of a plate. It had a video of waves. And then the dish arrived on an elevated glass plate: the red mullet – so it appeared as if the mullet was still swimming in the sea! (Well, minus its head, haha!) Around it were “leaves” – they looked like leaves but they were actually not leaves but made with anis, pepper, beetroot and other spices. What was really fascinating was how the taste of the fish would change with each bite of a different “leaf”. It’s absolutely trippy! Yet in spite of all illusions, the dish was still centered on something very popular in Basque cuisine: the red mullet. It was also accented on the side with a Basque favorite, the “crispy tail” – piniritong buntot sa atin.

Restaurant Arzak. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.comRestaurant Arzak. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.com Utopia

The chefs are kind enough to welcome guests into the kitchen after their meals. We saw several groups come in. While speaking to the legendary Juan Mari Arzak, he said that even in cooking, they strive for utopia – that imagined place where everything is perfect. Well, that’s what I felt when they brought out this truffle dish.

You see, truffles are a tricky thing. Unless you get the entire block, you hardly really smell that distinct truffle aroma. A chef once told me he cheated by adding the synthetic truffle oil to the real thing (que horror!). Chef William Mahi (who, by the way, is Basque) over at Tasting Room at the City of Dreams Manila, does an excellent job with shaved Perigord winter truffles with his 52-degree egg starter but the egg is the star of that show. Here, the truffles rightfully play the lead role, with the potatoes and the egg singing glorious back up. Like Destiny’s Child and the truffles here are Beyonce, hehe – and she will make you sing!

Restaurant ArzakFor the final dish, we had deer. This comes wrapped in lettuce leaves and the use of lemongrass brought me to Southeast Asia. It shows you how well-traveled their chefs are.

Arzak 10Finally, dessert. And they continued their A-game. “It’s a giant truffle,” the waitress joked as she presented a block of chocolate. But it’s not chocolate, explains Elena Arzak, who runs the restaurant in tandem with her father. “This is carob,” she explained. “It is like chocolate but it is not chocolate. During the war, it was used as a substitute for chocolate but now people are also exploring its health benefits.”

Restaurant Arzak. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.com  Restaurant Arzak. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.comI had heard many times in the past about Restaurant Arzak. You can’t avoid hearing about it as it has consistently been at the top of the list of the San Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurant awards and has been a three-starred Michelin restaurant since we were in diapers. You also hear about Arzak from chefs like Chele Gonzalez of Vask, who had worked at Arzak, and has brought the Arzak philosophy of modern Basque cuisine to the Philippines. So you feel like you have an idea of what Arzak is all about.

But you don’t. Not until you have dined there.

Arzak is like love. You may have an idea of it from what has been written but it is something you must experience to fully grasp and understand.

And it is, truly, a one-of-a-kind experience. Absolutely magical and definitely worth the trip. Even in the middle of a storm!

Margaux Salcedo, Goldee Salcedo, Elena Arzak, Juan Mari Arzak
Chef’s Table at Arzak

PS. GOOD NEWS:

Chef Elena Arzak is coming to Madrid Fusion Manila this April! Come back to the Madrid Fusion section of this blog for updates on Madrid Fusion Manila! I will keep you posted 🙂

 

Robuchon Saint Germain, Paris

It was summer when I visited Paris so most restaurants were closed. But not Robuchon Saint Germain. Open at 10:45 p.m. Jackpot!!

It was comforting to find a familiar hall, similar to the Robuchon Atelier in Hong Kong. The black hall, the red hues.

robuchon collage 1The bar also allowed me to simply enjoy my meal even as I sat by my lonesome.

robuchon 1And the slider … that slider that has been copied the world over … that familiar bite of a damn good burger and foie gras.

robuchon 3robuchon 2Since I was in Paris, I had to order quail. For some reason, quail reminds me of that French chef in the movie Babette’s Feast. It was exquisitely rolled in cabbage, topped with bacon for an extra touch of savory …

robuchon 4 quail… but inside: foie gras!

Hope to come back with a bigger group and make use of this space …  robuchon 7Also to thank this Maitre D who made what would have otherwise a terrible last night in Paris at least a pleasant one.  robuchon 8 robuchon 10 I love the concept of the Atelier because:
1. It’s set up like a bar so you can go by your lonesome without feeling too lonely, with the food – or the great food-tenders – as your company.
2. It’s beautifully crafted food without the stiffness of being in a ‘haute’ environment. The guys in the kitchen really treat their work like art. And very seriously.
3. You can come in jeans. And even with your luggage.
4. It is budget-friendly. It’s no McDonalds but you won’t be busting P15K (350USD) either.
5. Service is always excellent: friendly, attentive, not condescending, willing to assist, not in-your-face.

Best of all, they are consistent hte world over. No wonder Robuchon has 28 Michelin stars he can be proud of.

Robuchon Saint Germain.
5, rue Montalembert, Paris
+33(0)1 42 22 5656
atelier-robuchon.com

Nobu Hotel Manila: Zen in the City

Nobu Hotel, City of Dreams Manila. Design. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.

It’s true, what Paulo Coehlo said in The Alchemeist: “When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream.” I had just posted this rant on my Facebook page  …

Margaux Salcedo Facebook Post December 2014… a few days later I’m experiencing a fantastic staycation, checking out Nobu Hotel at the City of Dreams Manila.

Margaux Salcedo margauxlicious nobu manila view
View from the 8th floor of Nobu Manila

The City of Dreams will have its grand launch early next year yet but Nobu Hotel has opened and I was surprised to see quite a number of guests checking in already. The Philippine economy must be doing well, somehow!

5 Things About Nobu Hotel that left an impression on me:

1. The very zen yet hip designs at the lobby

The interiors are apparently by the Rockwell Group. No, not the Rockwell in Makati but the Rockwell Group that designed various Nobus around the world. Check out their designs of Nobu Caesars Palace here: http://www.rockwellgroup.com/projects/nobu-hotel-caesars-palace.

This tall girl  – actually they are all tall and become even taller with their four-inch heels – will greet you at the lobby.

margaux salcedo photo nobu manila lobbyBut what really caught my eye were these zen and spartan yet colorful and very hip lobby seats!

Margaux Salcedo Nobu Manila lobby 2. The very zen rooms

This bed is so soft I could sleep in all day. Although the effect may also be that I rested so well, I needed less sleep. I konked out at 11:00 pm after several glasses of wine but – I guess my body said I was already full batt and ready to face the day again – I was up by 6:00 am the next day!

Nobu Hotel Manila City of Dreams
I could marry this bed.

All the elements of the room reek of zen. Check out the spartan toilet. How about some yoga in the shower?

Nobu Hotel City of Dreams Manila Photo by Margaux Salcedo3. The fact that you can have breakfast at Nobu Restaurant

Rooms are now being offered at an introductory rate of P9,888 nett for two adults and one child in a deluxe room. This includes the breakfast buffet.

Of course they won’t be serving the Nobu a la carte menu but the breakfast buffet is a stunner in itself plus look at how pretty your breakfast surroundings will be:

Margaux Salcedo Nobu Manila interior designAnd you can order creations by Nobu Manila Executive Chef Zachary Hillberry like this green tea muffin or the smoked salmon on a rice cake.

margauxlicious nobu manila breakfast

Margaux Salcedo Nobu breakfast salmon4. Room Service

I confess: I had two breakfasts. My excuse is that I woke up so early. But the early bird truly gets the worm. As I got to order in and have an amazing Nobu-fied Tapsilog. Nobu got the fave Pinoy breakfast tapsilog and used instead Wagyu beef and quail eggs and added some seaweed. It’s sooo expensive but also really good.

Margaux Salcedo Nobu Manila Tapsilog5. The Spa

They have the most gorgeous spa.

Margaux Salcedo Nobu Manila Spa Margaux Salcedo Nobu Spa bedEverything has been well thought out. Down to what you would be staring at when you are facing down.

Margaux Salcedo Nobu Manila Spa 3If you just want to escape from the hustle and bustle of Manila for a day without actually getting away, this is the solution for you.

Nobu Hotel at the City of Dreams
Asean Avenue corner Roxas Boulevard
(go to Macapagal Avenue and turn left at City of Dreams)
Telephone:+632 800 8080
Fax:+632 890 8080
http://www.nobuhotelmanila.com/

BIG Hotel, Singapore: Functional chic in a great location

BIG Hotel, Singapore. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.

IMG_9543Soon after the Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards, I was invited back to Singapore for one of the dinners for World Gourmet Summit. Easy me (haha), I flew back in a heartbeat.

I was planning to stay in Chinatown as I fell in love with that area the last time I was there (more on that later). Singapore’s Chinatown has become a hip venue. It does not feel like Chinatown at all. Feels like Malate back in the ’90s.

This time, though, we ended up in Bugis. I was not a fan of Bugis until this stay. Apparently it’s their arts area. The design center was around the corner from our hotel.

We stayed at a hotel called BIG.

BIG 15 front deskThe first thing that struck me was the hotel’s attention to detail. This is the front desk, with this striking painting. But note the weighing scale on the side to help you make sure your luggage is not overweight when you check out (brilliant! at other hotels you have to ask). And how cute is this hat stand?

BIG Hotel, Singapore. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for margauxlicious.com
Lobby waiting area.

After being led to our room, we were briefed on how to operate the switches: you have the option of doing it the regular way (light switch on the wall) OR you can use a tablet! There is a photo of the room on the tablet with indicators of where to push to switch on the lights.

BIG 6BIG 8 tabletThe room reminded me of a hotel I stayed at in New York years ago called the Hudson. Designed by Philippe Starck, the breakfast area is like a mess hall and the rooms are supposed to look like dorm rooms – but with far greater style, of course.

At BIG, the rooms are bigger (rooms at the Hudson are puny!), possibly because of their amazing use of space. In our deluxe room, instead of a cabinet, you can hang your clothes on hooks and a wall metal shelf. Instead of compromising with a single sized bed, a queen sized bed keeps its post but is shoved sideways to the wall.

It’s makes sense. Who really uses a cabinet anyway for a quick weekend trip? Plus, you get the benefit of a large bed even on a tight budget. And, might I add, the beds here are perfect. Sooooo soft. Felt like 500,000 thread count sheets. Ok, a few extra zeroes but you know what I mean!

I also really liked the way the designer used very relaxing shades and textures. The colors and wallpapers really help you calm down after a tiring day of walking, walking and more walking. One wall resembles cement bricks while another was like teak. It’s supposed to be a Scandivian-inspired design but to me it felt like upscale Muji!

Below the bed is the safety deposit box and a LOT of room for your bags or shoes. Really brilliant maximization of space.

BIG 20 roomsThe breakfast place called the Nook I surmise is supposed to resemble a school cafeteria. It gets really full around 8 am, a  testament to how booked the hotel is!

BIG 21 nook collageI liked this touch of using footprints instead of arrows to direct you.

IMG_9458 confess though that I did not eat at the Nook because we went out to discover more restaurants. But the brewed coffee was a necessity after a wine pairing dinner at The White Rabbit for the World Gourmet Summit the night before! It’s from a dispenser so you can chug down as much coffee as necessary to wake you up! (Make sure you bring the coupon they give you upon check in.)

If you find yourself checking in here, you’ll be relieved to know that the hotel is also near a couple of MRT stations. My sister and I found the Bugis station most convenient as it was also like a Glorietta mall with all these shops you can pass through before riding on the train.

After your day of fun, just before you hit the sheets, you can grab a drink at their Wine Bar. Check it out – my dream closet:

BIG 4BIG 5And just like in college, there’s a dart board and scotch!

IMG_9507My kind of place!

Traveler’s tip:  If you book via Agoda (which I have been doing for several years now), you may be able to get a room here for less than P5,000 a night! I used Agoda to book myself at various stops in Italy, London, Paris, Hong Kong, Saigon, even Tagaytay, and I can honestly say that they give really good deals. In fact at some hotels, I was surprised to find it cheaper to book via Agoda than to book directly with the hotel!

Oh, this hotel also has cute references to “BIG”. To clean your room, the door sign says “I’ve made a BIG mess.” The hotel pen says “Living it Big”. And check out where they keep the blow dryer:

BIG 2BIG deal 😉

BIG Hotel 
200 Middle Road, Bugis, Singapore 188980
http://www.agoda.com/big-hotel/hotel/singapore-sg.html 

 

 

Raffles Opens in the Philippines

Margaux Salcedo Photo Raffles Lobby
Margaux Salcedo Photo Raffles Lobby
The Writer’s Bar of the Raffles Hotel Philippines

One of the highlights of 2012 for me was staying at this chichi hotel in London called The Savoy:

“To stay at The Savoy is to follow in the footsteps of Sir Winston Churchill, Frank Sinatra, Maria Callas, Claude Monet and Katharine Hepburn.  An iconic hotel brilliantly reinvented for the 21st century where an unashamedly old fashioned glamour sparkles with a new lustre.  Perfectly positioned on the banks of the Thames, the excitement of London is waiting just beyond the world famous entrance.”

Margaux Salcedo Photography Savoy Hotel London
The gorgeous Savoy Hotel in London

So what joy when Fairmont Raffles Hotels International opened the adjoining Fairmont and Raffles Hotels in Makati! And happily, their version of the hotel in this neck of the woods world does not disappoint.

I haven’t seen the rooms of the Fairmont, which is supposedly more for the business traveler than for the leisurely tourist. But check out this room at Raffles:

Margaux Salcedo Photography Raffles Hotel Makati PhilippinesNice and cozy. Perfect for the independent traveler.

But if you need bigger space – to entertain business guests, for the kids, or whatever other reason, there’s this suite:

Margaux Salcedo Raffles Hotel Philippines SuitesBigger than your apartment?

But it wasn’t the space that captured me. It was this:

Margaux Salcedo margauxlicious Raffles Suite bar

Only losers drink from itsy bitsy hotel room bottles, Raffles declares.

But seriously, the attention to detail at this hotel is impeccable. From the beddings to the mother of pearl detailing on the cabinets to the art on every floor. The chair below, for example, greets you as you land on your floor. This is no ordinary chair. And I wish I knew who the artist was. Same with the birdcage-like structures that are just resting by the elevator. Meanwhile the room’s mini-bar has these mother-of-pearl accents. And while SM’s Kultura may have imitations, you know this is the kind that is defined by quality.

margauxlicious raffles collage 3 roomsThe lobby is also blessed with amazing art. Whoever the curator of Raffles is, hats off to you.

At the Writer’s Bar, they have biographical art showing musician Levi Celerio.

margauxlicious Raffles 1But the commitment to fine Filipino finds is not confined to the walls. The tribute extends to their menu!

margauxlicious Raffles 3Didier Derouet, Raffles’ Executive Pastry Chef, is French. He was born and raised just off Paris although he worked for 20 years in the United States, serving no less than former President Bill Clinton at the St. Regis in Washington DC. But he married a Filipina, a Waray at that, and moved to the Philippines, where he has fallen in love as well with our produce! He fondly recalls, “I went to my wife’s province and looking around I saw mango, bananas, passion fruit, guava. ‘You live in a fruit basket!’ I told her.” He especially loves panocha, even more than muscovado. “I brought it once to the US and made banana bread with it and it was incredible!” Thankfully, Raffles allows him to play around with these flavors. So at Cafe Macaron, the hotel’s patisserie, they serve ube macaron, calamansi guanaja, and buco pandan pralines. And the all day buffet Spectrum takes the hotel’s commitment to local produce a step further: in its center is a live beehive, with bees from Baguio a-buzzing as you pick up your glass of honey mascarpone!

Beyond dessert, instead of California maki, Spectrum also offers lechon kawali sushi and bangus belly sushi. The lechon kawali sushi will make you smile at its cleverness: as you bite into it, while in your head you are expecting something Japanese, when you start to chew, there’s no mistaking that lechon taste – it’s all Pinoy!

Margaux Salcedo Photography margauxlicious raffles hotel philippines sushi
Lechon Kawali Sushi!!!

Meanwhile, at the other end of the hotel, there is Long Bar, a cult bar in Singapore most known for the Singapore Sling but also for the tradition of throwing peanut shelves on the floor in rebellion (rebellion na yun sa kanila) against the strict government policy prohibiting littering. In utter respect for the city they now also live in, Raffles Makati has created the Makati Luxury Sling, a sweeter, richer take on the Singapore Sling that boasts of 24K gold atop its foam (warning to purists: this is a very sweet drink!). There is also the Makati Manhattan, which uses the proudly Pinoy Don Papa Rum.

margauxlicious RAFFLES 27 makati slingOf course luxury comes with a price. The Makati Sling is over P500 – it must be the 24K gold! But the fact that it’s available and that the hotel is even encouraging “staycations” probably means that either the rich are getting richer or maybe the economy is looking up after all!

Can’t wait for their French restaurant to open this 2013!

Raffles Makati

+632 555 9777
1 Raffles Drive, Makati Avenue
Makati City 1224 Philippines