Food, life, and fun in my "kampung,"(village), KL (Kuala Lumpur). Did I mention "food?"

Sandias. Food Bloggers. Pressure.

By Allan Yap & Nigel A. Skelchy

FBB and 3meals.com
Blurred out all the faces as per our agreement except for those who don't mind

Jackson et moi ;-)
Gorgeous bread - freshly made from Sandias

The atmosphere was quite frenetic. It was one of those times when it felt like you had to squeeze toothpaste back into the tube. So many people to meet, so little time.

Poor Fredo. He must have felt some nerves.

After all, it's not every day that you have over 60 food bloggers in your establishment. Knowing that each one will write something about your place. And your food.

Mind you, he seemed to be handling the pressure well. I was really proud of him. We know Fredo and it's a measure of who he is and where he comes from that he doubled as a waiter that night. ;-)

Sandias' ambiance is carefully crafted to make it a comfortable, casual experience. And in that, it achieved it in spades.

Everyone - all the food bloggers - was in fine form. Bumping into old friends, introducing yourself as your blog name, then your real name. Some even asked to be referred to by their blog name and when they told you their real name, they had - half jokingly - hoped you would forget it after your 4th glass of martell in as many minutes. Isn't that true, Xiao Long Bao? ;-)

Somehow or other, I had managed to score myself a place in the light. Literally.

I was sitting under a spotlight and the reflection off the top of my head must have been blinding to those on my table. Sorry lah , Char Siew Bao, Jackson, Xiao Long Bao, Joe, Fatboybakes (he's not fat, only modest...well, somewhat! hehehe >;-) ), Vincent, and of course, the redoubtable boo_licious who organised this. Many thanks boo, and I didn't mean to spoil the surprise honest! ;-) I'm just a nosy parker who doesn't like to be kept in the dark. (Boo wouldn't tell me her name and I had to do quite a bit of poking around to find out. Eventually, someone blurted out her name not knowing I wasn't supposed to know. *rubs hands together in glee* bwahaha)

Our table had great service, the martell girl who was helping us, Julia, was very sweet, and of course, Fredo was taking care of us, like the good restaurateur he is. Thanks babe. I had heard of patchy service on the other tables, but being in the service industry, consistency is a tough thing to achieve. I hope the others who had a less than optimal experience would give Sandias another chance. It was an unusual night after all.

With regard to the food however, I've had Patrick's best. And this wasn't it. While I understand the problems associated with set menus to a particular price point, some of the items could have been better.

My food;

Taquitos Fritos (Tah-kee-toes Free-toes)

Deep fried Taquitos (corn tortillas) wrapped with chicken and served with sour cream and salsa

I enjoyed this dish the most. It was a touch greasy but I attribute this to the corn tortillas (tor-tee-yas) which are like sponges. I've also got a sneaky suspicion that the oil was a little cool and therefore they just slurped up the oil and held it.

The difference in textures, the crunch of the taquitos, the full bodied savoury chunks of chicken, the herby salsa and the piquant, cool sour cream all added up to one great little bite.

Pollo a la Castellana (Poh-yo a la Cast-te-yah-na)

LOVED the rice. I'm wondering if the rice was given a quick stir fry in a little oil before being cooked. It had that slightly sticky rice texture and consistency. Flavour from the cooking stock was good as well.

The chicken was good. A nice balance of flavours and the sauce went a way to ensuring that the breast meat wasn't too dry. There was also chicken leg which many western chefs are embracing for the simple reason that it does not dry out. About bloody time too.

The vegetable side dish was not to my liking. I felt it was Greasy, stringy, and some pieces were not identifiable and not in a good way either. Twice I had to remove bits from my mouth because it felt like I was chewing the string of celery. The tough bits.

Postre Helado de Limon

I've had Patrick's other desserts and this was not stellar either. The flavours were not well melded and the texture was not quite dry. The scoop of citrus ice cream on the side was good though.

Two dishes I tried on the side. Stole a bit of Jackson's actually. :-)

Sopa de Calabaza Con Salsa with pico de gallo (peeko de gah-yo)

Pumpkin squash soup with salsa. Jackson opted for this. Rather nice. But with the intensity of flavours that I'm used to, you would need a sweeter pumpkin or a stronger stock to make it fabulous. The texture was lovely. Coarse enough to be rustic but smooth enough to have some sophistication. The pico de gallo added interest.

Pescado a la Veracruzana

If you're not a fan of olives then you wouldn't have liked this one. The fish was fresh and delicate but I felt the olives combined with the tomatoes was too strong a flavour. Local tomatoes are extremely acidic and so this dish, in my opinion came out unbalanced. Too sour, and too strong on the olives.

While the food was alright, the star attraction of the evening was really meeting all the food bloggers. Unfortunately, with 60 people, it's tough to meet and chat with everyone on a more involved basis. So, it was a bit like speed dating. "Hello, how do you? What do you do? Oh, and hello, how do you do? What do you do?" Sort of thing.

Adly from friedchillies.com was very sweet. He distributed AND autographed his tome on food for anyone who asked. Am waiting for him to become famous and auction the book on Ebay. ;-)

In any case, after Sandias, we decided to adjourn to The Attic for the "after party." An intrepid few (11) made the gargantuan trek of 5 mins by car and sat down for another bout of jawing. To tempt people to come, I'd snagged a Choc & Cheese from the shop and from all reports people enjoyed it very much.

Thanks again boo and thanks all for a great time.

Lastly, I would like to encourage everyone to visit Sandias and give it a go. While our experience on THAT NIGHT was less than optimal, I've been there on other nights and I know that the food and service is there can be very very good.

Sandias Restaurant
44 Plaza Damansara
Jalan Medan Setia 2
Bukit Damansara
Kuala Lumpur 50490

Tel: +60 3 2095 8431
Fax: +60 3 2095 8502

Bakerzin Bangsar Village 1

By Allan Yap & Nigel A. Skelchy

Strawberry Cheesecake
The leng chai who propositioned me ;-)
Jackson propositioned me.

As I can never refuse a good proposition from a good looking guy we sat down to talk about cakes.

Yes, cakes.

What did you think it was?

He asked me about our cakes and what I thought constituted a good cake and how our cheesecakes compared to the one we had in Bakerzin.

As we sat down to our little tete a tete amid the frisson (my new fave word - ask LL of A Whiff of Lemongrass) of excitement over Friday's Flogger's gathering, we ordered a slice of Strawberry Cheesecake.

I had the warm vanilla milk and he had a mint tea.

Frankly, I'm biased. I like my cheesecake to taste of cheese. It should have the savouriness of the cheese shine through. It shouldn't be smothered under layers of other flavourings. Which in this case it was. There was too much sugar, too much strawberry jelfix, and it was reminiscent of a cake from one of those high street cake shops of yore. The ones which sold those brightly coloured, tasteless sponge/cream layers.

Balance. That's what it lacked.

However, I do feel that its' texture was very good. Creamy without leaving any residue on the tongue. And not too granular. A certain sign that it's overbaked. So easy to do to what is essentially a custard.

And I liked my vanilla. Whats not to like about sweetened milk with a hint of vanilla? Although I must admit that for perfection, a dash of cream should be added for mouthfeel.

Bakerzin has good stuff. I've had it before. But not the strawberry cheesecake.

Sungei Petani and an 80th Birthday Party

By Allan Yap & Nigel A. Skelchy

Kou Foo starting the BBQ fire
Allan and I both agree that family is perhaps the most important thing to us.
It was a difficult decision to make.

After running around to Redang and Singapore for more than a week, we had originally decided not to go to Sungei Petani with the rest of his family to celebrate his Sei Cheong Kong's (4th Grand Uncle) 80th birthday.

I was not quite up to driving again especially after driving the length and some of the breadth of our beautiful country. And I’m not being sarcastic. Once you get past the concrete monuments of Kuala Lumpur and the paeans to phallic worship, Malaysia is truly gorgeous. As opposed to California which is mostly desert. Just that the Americans are much better at hype and marketing than we are.

To all intents and purposes I had driven from Kuala Lumpur to Terengganu to KL again, then on down to Singapore and back and I was "driven" out. Don't get me wrong. I lurrrrvvveee driving and cars. It's relaxing for me to drive. And with Allan along I always have the option of handing it over to him if I'm falling asleep. Did I mention that Allan and I love travelling together? A blessing, truly, because not everyone can. Not even the most loving of married couples can always travel together harmoniously.

If I sound like I'm gloating about having found a partner I can enjoy travelling with, it is because I am! Snigger!

In any case, after much persuasion, Allan changed his mind and since I had left it up to him to decide whether or not to go, I prepared myself for the trip with nary a whimper. We had a party to attend the night before we travelled and by the time we got into bed it was 2 am. The plan was to leave at 730am on Saturday morning.

The bedside clock alarm was set for 600am with breakfast prepped for 630am. I don't like rushing.

The first sound I heard on Saturday morning was Allan exclaiming. "SHIT, it's 7 o'clock."

We managed a rushed breakfast, and with a change of clothes in the bag, as it were, we zipped off to Allan's Mum's place to pick some of the folks up.

The drive up North is, to my mind, one of the most scenic routes Malaysia has to offer, especially in certain kinds of light. The warm yellow light of early morning makes everything particularly dreamy. Along the way you see the far off mist shrouded mountains of the Tahan range, a tall waterfall just before Ipoh and the limestone formations of Ipoh city. Further north, and you come accross hectares of padi fields which at this time are just being replanted and some have green seedlings growing in them. Water buffalos wallowing in the water, scarecrows standing to attention, It's all gorgeously pastoral.
Prepping the smoked salmon
It was as if God knew what we were about and had blessed us with this gorgeous, crystalline day. Even the sunset over the house looked like He was watching from above and enveloping us in his all enfolding and loving embrace.
Sunset over the house
We arrived in Sungei Petani at around 12 noon and immediately the "big family" syndrome began. It was like we brought the decibels with us. Now, I have a small nuclear family but a very large extended family. Allan, on the other hand, has a large nuclear family. His Mum has 5 sisters and 1 brother. And with the exception of 1 sister who was still on the way up to SP, they were all there!Matthew on the grill
Everyone talks at once. There is a cacophony of opinions, a plethora of instructions but somehow there is harmony. Things get done in the blink of an eye and before you know it we had sat down to lunch which had been prepared before hand by Aunty Cheng Har who lives in Sungei Petani.

Lunch was a Sitiawan/Kampung Koh special. "Hong Chew" Chicken. In essence, it's an almost Crimson Red Chicken Broth that is made with the leftover mash of the glutinous rice wine. Its a little yeasty in flavour and it is redolent of ginger, garlic, and the sweet and sour notes of the rice wine. You then toss in some "meen seen" and you have a bowl of heaven on earth. You WILL be begging for seconds. Unfortunately I did not take a pic of this concoction. Next time.

Cousins, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, all chipped in to make dinner.

Smoked Salmon with pickled onions and capers, Grilled Tamarind Prawns, Grilled Live Crabs, Marinated Sirloin Steaks, Veal sausages, Lamb Chops, Potato salad, and a green salad.
The prawns being prepped for the tamarind marinade
All washed down with a serendipitous drink. Since we couldn't find 7up or Sprite, we picked up some Ice Cream Soda and used that as a mixer for Drambuie. Finished with a squeeze of lime, it was refreshing, sweet, cool, grassily herbaceous and perfect for that warm evening.
Drambuie, Ice Cream Soda, and a wedge of lime squeezed in on the rocks
The Smoked Salmon was 3 S; “Something So Simple.” The phrase "flavours dancing on your tongue" was perfectly coined for this. The onions were sliced thinly and brined in a pickling solution of vinegar, sugar, and salt. Left for about an hour or two then drained and rinsed in fresh water so it wouldn't be too strong. The perfect bite was a strip of smoked salmon, a caper, and a generous helping of pickled onions. The unctuous heady smokiness of the fish was complemented by a sweet sour crunch of pickled onion and finished with a salty bitter pop of caper.The smoked salmon, and the various grilled meats

Picture me, walking around the bbq fire with the cold drambuie mixer in my hand popping these rolled up morsels of smoked salmon in my mouth. All the while, we’re having a good giggle about anything and everything with young and old and surrounded by love and affection. It was a dream evening.
The "drinks"
After the aperitif and the hors d’ouerve/starter/tapas/pupus, people started piling their plates with the food proper. And filling their glasses with the real stuff. Neat Royal Salute and Johnnie Walker Blue Label. Try a bite of steak and a sip of Royal Salute together. Forget the wine. Sometimes wine is too effete. Sometimes. *Grin*
Sei Cheong Kong's Bottle of Black Label in Chocolate Cake & Fondant
Succulent steaks. This is where Allan and some of his aunties part company with me. They all insist on medium. Yuk! In my opinion, the poor cow died in vain for a medium steak. It’s all dry and stringy and leathery by the time the blood dries up and it turns an ignominous grey brown. There is a certain Liver-yness about it as well.

I like my steaks Medium rare. They should be bleeding. Not gushing like a freshly sliced artery but they should be exuding juiciness. Make sure you salt generously just before you throw them on the grill. And it should only be a passing aquantaince. Like speed dating. Then move over. Don’t leave them there and go off for a cigarette or take a phone call while you’re doing this. The fire should be as hot as it can get up to and you should have grill marks on the steak.

Let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes and then enjoy.

Needless to say I had to ensure that I got one to those specifications. And yes, I ate with my hands so they got rather juicy. HAHA God I felt feral! ;-)
Crabs on the grill
The crabs were… well, you couldn’t get fresher. They were still crawling around before we chucked them on the grill. Don’t worry. For those with slightly more delicate constitutions, we did them the kindness of making sure they were “finished” before we chucked them on the fire. Spearing with a knife does the trick and it’s fast.

Dessert was simple. Cake (the Johnnie Walker Black Label Chocolate Fondant) and Watermelon. Classic.
After dinner entertainment
Allan’s Ee Chai had prepared a script for a skit which was performed to screams of laughter and Sei Cheong Kong, being the sport he is, allowed himself to be “transformed.”
The Elixir of Youth which transformed Sei Cheong Kong...
Happy Birthday Sei Cheong Kong. Hope you had fun! I know I did.
...into this!

Redang and Redang Kalong Part 3

By Allan Yap & Nigel A. Skelchy

Speeding over the water to our first dive with the sun breaking through the clouds
Got so lucky with this shot. Could not have wished or staged a better position. The two divers descending with the sunburst in between them and the bubbles from other divers at the lower right corner of the pic. I just whipped around on my back as I was descending , saw the shot and snapped it.An anemonefish guarding it's eggs. The little red dots at the bottom by the side of the anemone are it's eggs. They fan it periodically to run fresh water and oxygen over them
A curious batfish. And trust me, they're REALLY KPC. They follow you everywhere but when you look at them with some interest they FEIGN disinterest and pretend to swim away. But the minute you turn away back they come following you.
Bunch of divers
Yellow boxfish
Another type of anemonefish - yup, you guessed right, they're related to Nemo
Blue spotted Ray related to Unkaleong's Manta - these are quite common and the largest one I saw was around 32cm
Gorgeous little flatworm - these f'lers are only about 3 to 4 cm long
A Blue Marble Ray (I think) - he was around 1 to 1.3 m accross

A comet fish - notice the big fake eye which is at one end of the fish while his real eye is at the other end - fakes predators out
Starry Puffer - big bugger - about 0.8m in length
Nudibranch with it's eggs
Here's the pics. :-)

We're all thinking of going up again end June. Any takers?

Redang and Redang Kalong Part 2

By Allan Yap & Nigel A. Skelchy

As we determinedly - "determinedly" because my body was still struggling to roll out of bed while I was at the dive centre - pulled on our wetsuits and prepared for the pre-dive briefing, I was fumbling to regain the rhythm of the dive again.
Wetsuit on-booties on-mask, check- weight belt with weights, check-fins, check-pointer, check-underwater casing, check and checked in a tub of water for superficial leaks-BCD, check-regulator attached in the correct orientation, check, buddy, check. Definitely quite a checklist to go through before even stepping on the boat.

At Redang Kalong they're very helpful. I would even venture to say that they spoil us. The tanks are lugged to the boat for you. All you have to do is carry your own BCD, Regulator, Weight belt, Mask, Fins, and Snorkel onto the dive boat. As an extra precaution, the empty underwater casing for our camera came with me. Rather than risk the camera wholesale, I was advised to take the empty case down to test it first.

Obviously, that first dive without a camera meant that we'd see all the big pelagics. After all, that's Murphy's Law. First a Black tip reef about 5 to 6ft long, then a white tip reef shark, a little smaller.

In a way, it all worked out well. After 8 to 9 months of not diving my buoyancy was not up to par yet and with 4 weights I was sinking like the proverbial rock. Making a mental note to remove a weight from the weight belt - and being very pleased about it - we surfaced with ample air and an anticipation for what tomorrows' dives would bring!

Redang and Redang Kalong Part 1

By Allan Yap & Nigel A. Skelchy

The sun was peeping over the horizon as we pulled into the ramshackle jetty hamlet of Merang.
Along the way, the CRV's small fuel tank conjured up images of having to traipse up and down pitch black highways lugging canisters of fuel. So, it was with much relief that we found a petrol station servicing late night lorries. Other than that little bit of excitement to prop the eyes open during our 130am to 7am drive, my other source of entertainment was listening to Allan, Adeline, and Godson, Jeremy snore!Travelling up with Lenard in his Volvo T5 was a blast. Trying to keep up in our CRV wasn't. You can barely see his tail lights in the pic above. I need a Golf GTI. Anyone wanna donate towards a worthy cause? ;-)

By the time we pulled in to Merang Jetty we were totally ready for a feast of carbs and that's exactly what happened. Found the nearest Nasi Lemak shop and dug in to hot rice and sambal with chicken curry. Nothing like something spicy and suspect (hygiene wise) to stir the soul and the flagging body.

Riding the waves was a bit of an experience for our city slicker Godson though. He's got something like 5% body fat and he works out. As such, his arse bore the brunt of the speedboat pounding the waves as we sped toward the resort. Poor boy! That's what you get for low body fat. ;-)
As we disembarked onto a smaller sampan to take us in, I could feel the adrenalin rush of the entire journey begin to fade. My eyes felt like someone had attached weights to them. And I was looking forward to a long nap before a dive in the afternoon.

Allan napping...he's so adorable when he sleeps