Travel

Zen Paradise Found

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I’m rejoicing and laughing. Not only because I bowed in reverence at the original laughing Buddha sacred temple (founded 1600 years ago by an Indian monk) but also because I am immersed in stunningly beautiful nature in China’s most romantic city, Hanghzhou. And here’s the best part. I am feasting on my best Chinese meals in the award winning Jin Sha restaurant which is surrounded by 17 acres of landscaped lush gardens and lily ponds located on the magnificent Westlake. I am luxuriating in MasterChef Wangyong’s flavour and textural masterpieces ( fabulous vegetarian wows too ) and the world’s best crispy chicken with salt. The dapper Wayne Tan and Aileen Woo helpfully translate and also explain the intricacies of Hangzhou and Shanghainese cuisine. And to top this mind blowing experience, is the highly prized (and expensive) longjing tea.

Unmatched fine fragrance, beloved of emperors, superb for health and weight loss too. As though this is not enough, Masterchef Wangyong serves up the most sublime longjing tea crèmebrullee. I’m having my tea and eating it too. Zen paradise redefined!

Spicy Secrets

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I’m so excited…here in China, in the finest global capital of spice, I’m sniffing out the spicy secrets of the king of spicy cuisines…Sichuan ( also called Schezwan). In India, not only do we  love Chinese food but it’s the spicy Sichuan version that we all enjoy. This ancient cuisine is the cuisine of the South Western Sichuan province of China And here in Chengdu, the fast growing capital of Sichuan I am not only getting a taste of the authentic Sichuan but also learning it’s secrets. And Im doing so in the best of best places and from the greatest most knowledgable chefs.

 

SPICES…signature Sichuan dishes

Whoa! Big live woks sizzle and I actually take part in a cooking session by the brilliant chefs under the leadership of Master chef Frank Zhuang. All the ingredients are on display in Spices, this vibrant restaurant of the most luxurious landmark of Chengdu, The Ritz-Carlton. A truly seductive taste of Sichuan here is due to their global “scenography” (sense of place) reputation. Here too the local Sichuan flavors are vibrant and palpable and delicious. And the Kungfu tea show is mindblowing.

Here, in Spices, the fiery wok creations and local favorites like Kung Pao chicken, ma po tofu and twice-cooked pork complement delicate dim sum at the live Chinese stations. World cuisines are on offer here too but I am focussed on the Sichuan. Im happily surprised by the exquisite vegetarian masterpieces at the  renowned fine dining Chinese restaurant, where the dynamic Vito Romeo (who honed his skills under the likes of Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon) and Chef Michael impressed with their knowledge and flavors of sophisticated interpretations of classic Cantonese and Sichuanese dishes. Each time, it’s the unmatched standards of excellence, be it in service or food that dazzle.

In Spices, Vito and Chef Steffen Gube not only guided me through the daily creations inspired by Chengdu’s rich “Tea Culture” but also of course the step by step cooking of the two main signature Sichuan dishes… Mapotofu and Kung Pao chicken.

Ooh and I’m addicted to the signature Kung Pao chicken (named after Ding baozen, governor of Sichuan in the Qing dynasty. His title was Gongbao, literally “palace guardian”)

 

Chef Frank’s  KUNG PAO CHICKEN

Ingredient: Chicken breast, fried peanuts, vegetables, chilli peppers, Sichuan peppercorns, ginger, sugar, vinegar, Shaoxing wine

Method: Marinate the diced chicken in Shaoxing Wine and salt for 10 minutes. Rinse it. /  Boil the oil on low fire, drop peanuts into the wok then deep-fried until golden brown and take out for later use / Heat the oil over big fire, add in the chicken, flash-fry till chicken turns white and take out for later use/ Add the chilli peppers, Sichuan peppercorns, soy, sugar, vinegar and vegetables into the wok and stir to mix them all /  Put back the pre-cooked peanuts and chicken into the wok, mix everything up and dish up. Yum!

 

THE SOUL OF SICHUAN CUISINE

I’m excited to learn the basics of this bold spicy 4000 year old Sichuan cuisine in the Sichuan province itself. Guided by brilliant chefs Michael and Frank and also in the worlds first museum dedicated to a regional cuisine. If Sichuan pepper and chilli pepper are the heart of Sichuan cuisine, then doubanjiang Chilly Bean paste is the soul. Sichuan’s version is made with dried fava beans, also known as broad beans, mixed with fresh red er jin tiao chilli peppers and salt (and wheat flour) and fermented.Did you know that this chilly bean paste is as painstakingly made as champagne? ..almost.
They have different vintages for it…put it through “dewing” flipping” (like the champagne riddling) and “sunburning” I happily only take part in this “flipping” amid the stunning array of standing pots of fermenting chilli bean sauce (doubanjiang), which is churned twice daily for a year, with exposure to the sun and open air.

Here’s the soul of this addictive “chillybean paste”. Sichuan peppercorns were used over 2500 years ago. Garlic  was brought in when the trade route was opened in the Han dynasty 2000 years ago, Chillies were introduced during the Ming dynasty 400 years ago. And so was born the Chilly bean paste.

P.S. Thank you Vito Romeo, Sue Fan and Chefs  for  this authentic taste of Sichuan…and it’s seven basic tastes…Salty, sweet, bitter, sour, heat (from chillies) numbness ( from Sichuan peppercorns) and spiciness.

Best of the Best … Shanghai

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At the iconic Peace on the Bund, Chinese masterchef Ma, George Wee and Jessica Zhang

Here, in the high-octane “Paris of the East”, Shanghai I’m thinking of Mumbai’s very own Sassoon docks and Sassoon library. Would you believe that Shanghai’s most exquisite and legendary  landmark (1929) The clàssic  grand art deco històric  Fairmont Peace on the Bund has an Indian connection? It’s founder Victor Sassoon and family made a lot of their wealth in Mumbai. Old world elegance and modern luxury here… It has a beautiful Indian suite  which Charlie Chaplin stayed in.

Here, I lunch at the city’s oldest Shanghainese cuisine restaurant. Chinese Masterchef Ma coaxes the most vibrant flavors and textures The dynamic George Wee — who helms this landmark and the everhelpful Jessica Zhang translate  his explanations. I dine at the worlds only multi-sensory, ten seater Ultraviolet to the hole in the wall, Jia Jia Tang Bao. Trip out on the most fabulous pure vegetarian Fu hu wei, Wujei. Godly …but thats a long story.

P.S Thanks for hundreds of your superb  vegetarian restaurant recommendations for Shanghai (on Instagram and email).…am off to Hangzhou, Chengdou and Beijing…please send more…xeixei!

The Diverse Flavors of Shanghai

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Today I serve up a taste of the glamorous, vibrant “Paris of the East” I write from shiny Shanghai. Its the most modern, cosmopolitan city of China and it seems to be on steroids. Yet there is a core of history and the grace and elegance of it’s heyday in the thirties that still lives on. So I serve up a flavor  of two of the most icònic landmarks… the històric grand Fairmont Peace on the Bund (it’s founder Victor Sassoon and family made a lot of their wealth in Mumbai and India)  and the very modern Urban resort, The Puli.

LEGENDARY LANDMARK

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AT THE OLDEST SHANGHAINESE RESTAURANT IN THE PEACE ON THE BUND. CHEF MA, GEORGE WEE, JESSICA ZHANG

I not only soak in the luxury of this exquisite classical masterpiece but also lunch at the oldest Shanghainese cuisine restaurant of Shanghai here. The clàssic grand art deco històric Peace on the Bund (it s the only hotel in the world which has it’s own museum was the toast of the Far East in the 30s. It is located on the Bund (overlooking the HuangPo river) which is a centennial epitome of Shanghai itself. This classical architectural masterpiece started off as Sassoon House in 1929 and rich history tangos with modern luxury here. And whoa! Chinese Masterchef Ma coaxes the most vibrant flavors and textures using the traditional caramelised sweetness with soy sauce and more. Sweet and sour, the typical Shanghai taste  shines through and yet the original flavors of the raw ingredients are also preserved. Interestingly while he serves the most classical Shanghainese dishes he also adds contemporary interpretations and plates them artfully. The dynamic George Wee — who helms this landmark along with the ever helpful Jessica Zhang translate Chef Ma’s explanations. I revel in the most amazing bamboo shoots lacquered with soy, the crazily addictive, crunchy skinned Peace Duck , the creamy sago mango dessert to the crunchy marinated cucumbers (Masterchef ma generously shares the rècipe). All the while soaking in the històric rich red and gold details of the restaurant and the serene river view from the large Windows.

MARINATED CUCUMBER

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Cucumber:  500 g /Soya sauce: 80g

Sugar: 160g /Vinegar: 60g

Salt: 5g /Garlic (sliced): 10g

Ginger: 10g /Chili: 10g

Slice the cucumber and marinate with the above sauces for 24 hours and plate it.

MODERN MAJESTY

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MICHELIN STARRED PHENIX, AT THE PULI…Chef MICHAEL WILSON and KELLY KUO

What a super surprising contrast. Glimmering, shiny hoardings of the globe’s leading cosmopolitan brands festoon the gleaming buildings. And in the midst of this crazy cacophonic area in the throbbing heart of Shanghai is located a relaxed, zen like zone of Peace.  Handcrafted textures, the finest of natural materials weave a charming relaxed ambiance in the most modern icon The Puli.  Its been justifiably hailed as a “modern urban luxurious  resort”,  “a seductive sanctuary that guarantees a relaxing escape from the heart Racing city”. And in keeping with it’s sophisticated cosmpolitian essence, it’s French restaurant Phenix is not only hugely popular but has also been awarded a Michelin star. And further in keeping with it’s cosmopolitan essence, the Australian chef Michael Wilson creates light and delightful French masterpieces, which I enjoy with Kelly Kuo in the modren elegant restaurant overlooking the lush green park. Be it the Cod, the yoghurt compressed strawberry desert, violet ice cream.. Even the humble potato is elevated to luxurious creaminess. Its  a very simple rècipe, but its the ratio of the butter to the potato that is important as is the addition of the hot milk. The nutmeg gives it that special festive touch.

Pomme puree

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1kg  potatoes /Good quality butter

Nutmeg /Salt /Fresh truffles (optional)

Peel and cut potatoes into equal size pieces

Boil in salted water till tender

Strain and leave for 3 mins for residual water to evaporate

Mash potato by pushing through a fine sieve. For every 500g of potato add 200g butter.Mix the butter into the potato and add some hot milk to thin the mix

Season with salt and nutmeg

When availaible shave fresh truffles on top just before serving

Luxurious Vegetarian

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Superstylish Palazzo Versace’s Jasmine Webb and Chef Dayan Hartell_Law.

My mission to sniff out the finest vegetarian food around the world continues. And even here, in “the worlds most stylish restaurant” in Palazzo Versace, (the worlds first fashion branded hotel,)  I’m dazzled by the parade of  sophisticated and delicious vegetarian dishes. I love the transcendence of Italian design which shines through the marbles and mosaics, vaulted ceilings hand-detailed in gold. And equally amazing is chef Dayan hartell-Law’s mastery over flavors and textures.  Including that over  our very own Madras Onion and curry powder which is elevated to stratospheric heights Finedining gets redefined. Juicy watermelon, crunchy radish and fingerlime morph in the most refreshing ceviche. The humble potato is elevated to a gourmet status as it is paired with kombu, the fleshy  portobello  and the flavorpacked porcini. As does the vivacious and beautiful Jasmine Webb. We raise a toast to Versace serving up style as well as substance…and we do it with  a sorbet, in a Versace cup of course!

P.S Should you want Palazzo versace’s  Madras onion dish recipe please email rashmiudaysingh2016@gmail.com  

Divinely Delicious Dive

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Island owner and pilot Peter Gash with Chef Mitch on Lady Elliot island.

It’s a deliciously life changing experience. Above and below the waters too. I’m in this tiny (one mile long,) remote Lady Elliot Island which shimmers in the turquoise blue waters of Australia’s Great Barrier reef. Peter Gash  the gallant owner of the island, flies me in his tiny plane and the  colourful, naked beauty of nature seduces. He has been dedicatedly reforesting  this island  and preserving the pristine marine life (I snorkel and dive for the first time)and running this amazing 41 room eco resort. In the midst of  this raw nature the brilliant Chef Mitch conjures a gourmet meal from Moreton Bay Bugs in a coconut Asian sauce to handmade Salted Caramel Macarons.

We feast on the beach and right there in the azure sunset flecked waters the sea turtles, whales, dolphins dance to a divine rhythm.

P.S. I love the India connection…this remote island is named after  the Lady Elliot ship built in Calcutta. Named after the governor of India’s wife it was the ship in which the island was  discovered. Jai hind!

Paradise Found

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Gourmet dining and diving: Emilio Fortini and Chef mark Jensen in The Great Barrier Reef’s Lizard island.

I write from an exquisite sun drenched, remote island  (flying in on a private plane is the only way to get here.) Been feasting on a gourmet picnic on a private secluded beach, a seven course Modern Australian degustation menu under the stars  to learning to snorkel and dive. Emilio Fortini, the sun bronzed Italian who helms this very exclusive Lizard island resort had just come in from his deep sea dive when the brilliant Chef Mark Jenson conjured his fabulous coral trout dish and I shot this photo. This sensationally beautiful  Lizard island shimmers  in the turquoise blue seas in Australia’s great barrier reef. Its awesome to be connected to nature  yet coddled in luxury and pampered with the finest of food and wine. If this is not paradise what is?

Advice on Melbourne Please

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Your favorite small eateries in Melbourne please. Im on my way for “The Worlds 50 best restaurant awards” (as regional jury chairperson) I will be dining in the Biggies. It’s the small, local ones that are my passion. Please do mail me on rashmiudaysingh2016@gmail.com waitingly yours.

The Worlds Best High Tea

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MY CUP OF TEA…AMANDA HYNDMAN, CHEF AURELIEN POIROT AT THE HISTORIC AUTHOR’S LOUNGE.

Over the years, I’ve been sipping and tasting my way through many a high-teas across UK and Europe. From  London’s grand historic hotels, The Ritz, The Dorchester, The Lanesbrough to The Ritz in Madrid and The Ritz in Paris. And strangely enough, the very finest of this very British tradition is the best in the cacophonic, exuberant but exasperating, 200-year-old, over-populated, traffic-choked Bangkok.

Right here in this tumultuous city, there is a space which is not just  stunningly beautiful and gracious but also a cocoon of comfort. Since over 140 years, this gorgeous Mandarin Oriental hotel has retained it’s essentially, stylishly Oriental soul and still manages to preserve its British colonial spirit.

SIPPING LITERARY HISTORY

It breathes timelessness. It is here in it’s  elegant and historic “Authors Lounge” that I sip (literally too) over a century of legendary literary history. Two of my passions come together in a sacred union…High tea and English literature.  I enjoy the classic British High tea, served in the Author’s Lounge.

I have been going back regularly past three decades. Each time fall even more in love with it. Helmed by the dynamic Amanda Hyndman, the Mandarin Oriental continues to breathe colonial charm and high end luxury. The brilliant and charming dynamo Amanda takes me through the colourful and amazing history of the Authors lounge through all the photographs, paintings, books  and many an interesting anecdote. The Oriental has welcomed world renowned authors, celebrities and heads of state over 140 years and has long been famous for its service, style and elegance. The whopping USD18 million restoration last year has recreated the magic of the past

The la grande dame has been immortalised by globally renowned authors who lived and wrote here. “The Oriental is the worlds most glamorous hotel in the world” said the prolific British Romantic novelist  Barbara Cartland, who lived here regularly and her suite bears her name.

In 1923 Somerset Maugham contracted malaria and almost got evicted from The Oriental. But he loved it so much that he came back and wrote “The gentleman in the Parlour” here.

Through it all we nibble on superlative finger sandwiches (cucumber,chicken, ham). Outstanding pastries, tarts, madelienes and a meltingly, rich, chocolate cake. And the most delightful scones with clotted cream and  rose petal and pomelo jams.

The well known Noel  Coward wrote “Lord Jim” and “The heart of darkness” here. Amanda explains that it was originally an open roofed garden featuring a pond signposted ‘please don’t feed the tortoise’, the Authors’ Lounge has since 1976, featured a glass roof and is the place to enjoy afternoon tea. In keeping with the great literary heritage of the hotel, it has been recently restored  and the ‘Heritage Authors, are now immortalised in four new private lounges.

HIGH TEA CEREMONIES

I salute Duchess Anna of Bedford for having  sent out the invite for “tea and a walk in the fields” over a hundred and fifty years ago. The lovely lady set in motion High tea, the most dainty of all culinary traditions.   Now, Tea Council Inspectors check standards and coveted annual awards are given  for the Top London Afternoon Tea. Which Tea ceremony do I get most high one? The Chinese tea ceremony “Yumcha” server fills the cup just over half way, because the Chinese believe the rest of the cup is filled with friendship. The Japanese tea ceremonies of the Chanoyu, the Sencha are performed sitting on the floor around a low table. But it’s the fabulous historical elegance and daintyness, the graciousness of Amanda Hyndman and the charm of the Authors Lounge that sets part this high tea in Bangkok as the worlds best, It sure is my cup of tea.

Scone

The brilliant French maestro, Executive chef Aurelien Poirot infuses  French gourmet excellence into food here. He keeps to the traditional British Scone recipe and very generously shares it with us.

500 g Butter /1,900 g Flour /500 g Icing sugar /100 g Baking powder /800 ml Milk /200 g Raisins

Method

Mix dry ingredient together/  Add butter little by little  until it become crumbly / Add milk  and beat until dough combined / Take the dough out & knead by hand until the surface is smooth / Roll out & cut /Turn each scones upside down onto tray / Brush with egg wash / Bake at 180ºc for about 15 mins (Rotate tray after 7 mins)