Sunday, 24 April 2016

HUNGARY: Babel Budapest


Fine regional dining from Hubert Hlatky-Schlichter at Babel Budapest


Babel Restaurant
In the heart of one of Budapest’s most charming districts, lies a highly sought after fine-dining restaurant, without the stuffiness. Owner and restaurateur Hubert Hlatky-Schlichter tells me its name, Babel, relates to the The Hanging Gardens of ancient Babylon. “People wanted to touch the perfection of God,” he explains. “We want to achieve something similar, but more accessible, in our kitchen.” 

The venue is an ode to the craftsmanship and bountiful produce found within Hungary’s borders. At least three quarters of ingredients are from the country’s own larder, and the sleek and sophisticated interiors and accessories are almost entirely Hungarian-made. From Ajka Crystal glasses, to the fully Hungarian wine list boasting no less than 170 bottles, Babel Budapest is a place that shows respect for the country’s traditions. 

Nowhere is that more prevalent than in the menu itself. “Our personal goal is to show the flavours and food of regional Hungarian cuisine, and that it’s not just paprika and pork,” explains Hlatky-Schlichter. It’s one that takes inspiration from the dishes of the former Austrian-Hungarian monarchy, paying homage to familiar classics, but interpreting them in the unique and contemporary Babel style. 

A favourite dish of home cooks across the country, hearty krumplis tészta (Hungarian potato pasta), manifests into an almost unrecognisable version finished with a delicate hand. At Babel, the traditionally crudely chunky Jókai bean soup is translated into a refined version fit for the most discerning diner.

Babel Restaurant
Whilst these perennial favourites might look exotic when on Babel’s plates, once a native Hungarian takes a bite, familiar memories are revived. And this is part of Babel’s ambition; for people to not only visit for the excellent food, but also for an emotive experience. 

An a la carte and tasting menus are available - some paired with wine, cheese, or both - along with a degustation option for vegans. Once you’re in, expect to stay a while; Babel rarely turns its tables and the level of service and kitchen competence means you’ll be in no hurry to leave.

This meal was hosted as part of a commission for the Budapest Finest Magazine, where this article also appears.

Friday, 15 April 2016

HUNGARY: The Brasserie and Atrium Restaurant at Corinthia Hotel Budapest


Destination dining at Corinthia's Brasserie and Atrium Restaurant


Executive Sous Chef Atilla Feith
Beautifully restored for a new generation of traveller, half of Corinthia Hotel Budapest's Brasserie and Atrium restaurant boasts soaring glass ceilings, nestled between two main sections of the property. A covered space drenched in light, the atrium is a venue that brings the outside in, allowing patrons to delight in the joys of al fresco dining, without being exposed to the elements.

An all-day restaurant catering to both in-house guests and those from outside, the kitchen squad of 38 to 55 (depending on the time of year) is responsible for buffet Sunday brunches and breakfasts, and an a la carte menu for lunch and dinner.

Dishes highlight classic French training with a hint of England, thanks to the several years spent in the royal city of Windsor, by Executive Sous Chef and second in command, Atilla Feith. You can expect a mini quail scotch egg with your asparagus, for example, along with sous vide egg yolk and a caramelised hollandaise. 

Feith is responsible for the weekly-changing set menu, available at both lunch and dinner. “That’s the most seasonal menu,” he explains. “It’s the one where we can be really creative, and the dishes are never repeated.” Such inventiveness includes a plate of expertly executed venison loin, venison bolognese, chocolate tortellini, salt-baked celeriac, and parsnip crisps. 

venison and chocolate plate
The a la carte skips across Europe, stopping off at Italy, showcasing French techniques, and has a smattering of classic Hungarian dishes lifted by contemporary twists. Think a crafted plate of veal fillet "Kedvessy style", with seared duck liver, bread dumplings, and paprika-dill sauce.

Claiming the crown of Best Hotel Restaurant as voted for by diners during Dining City - a week long gastronomic event where restaurants across Budapest entice patrons with discounted menus - Corinthia’s Brasserie and Atrium is in its own right, a destination dining venue.

This meal was hosted as part of a commission for the Budapest Finest Magazine, where this article also appears.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

RECIPE: 'The Elvis' sandwich peanut butter, banana and bacon mini cakes

A recipe for mini cakes based on 'The Elvis' sandwich


'The Elvis' sandwich peanut butter,
banana and bacon mini cakes
All hail America and their weird and wonderful flavour combinations. Bacon with maple syrup, chicken and waffles, peanut butter and jelly (or jam, as we in Blighty like to call it).

And from America, we have none other than The King himself to thank - Elvis Presley - for introducing the world to the awesome combination of peanut butter, banana and bacon. It's no secret most things are improved with bacon, and this particularly holds true when peanut butter is involved.

The history behind this infamous sandwich, now universally referred to simply as 'The Elvis', is that old snake hips himself was well acquainted with fanciful food cravings. There have been many articles written about his creative culinary tastes, and his love of peanut butter and banana sandwiches with crisp bacon is well reported, even by his mother, Gladys Presley.

So when Stork approached me to come up with a cake recipe that included bananas to coincide with the London Marathon (bananas for energy, see), and wanting to steer away from well worn banana breads, The Elvis came to mind.

In this recipe I've created a mash-up between The Elvis sandwich, and peanut butter jelly sandwiches, but in cake form. Which means there's also a slick of jam in between the two halves of each mini cake. You get a lovely and hearty end product, and they look pretty good too.

making 'The Elvis' sandwich peanut butter, banana and bacon mini cakes
ingredients to make 'The Elvis' sandwich peanut butter, banana and bacon mini cakes
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There are a few steps to this recipe, but it's nice and simple and will help you get acquainted with the baker within.

What I've done is used Stork with Butter to make these Elvis mini banana sandwich cakes - that link is the step-by-step recipe on the Stork website for you to follow at home. I've been a long time fan of using Stork when baking sponges, and I've realised Stork with Butter works very well in the peanut butter frosting in this recipe too - it's a versatile ingredient, and the fact it can be used straight from the fridge is always a bonus. 

Here's the link to my 'The Elvis' sandwich peanut butter, banana and bacon mini cakes recipe for you to try at home. If you do, the lovely folk over at Stork would love to see how it went. You can share your 'The Elvis Sandwich' cake bakes on Instagram tagging @bakewithstork, Twitter tagging @bakewithstork, or Facebook tagging the /bakewithstork page. And tag me as well please - I'd love to see too. And feel free to leave a comment below, letting us know how it went - I'd love to know what you think!

'The Elvis' sandwich peanut butter, banana and bacon mini cakes



This is a sponsored post, in partnership with Stork, as part of a campaign to help the occasional baker be creative in the kitchen, giving you the tools you need to make show-stopping, crowd-pleasing, tasty bakes in a simple way. I hope you get to try this one - it's a corker! With thanks to Elvis.


Related posts

RECIPE: Easter Chick Cupcakes with Stork

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

MALAYSIA: Review of Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort, Kota Kinabalu

orang-utan at Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Nature Reserve in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo

In a nutshell 


Set amidst a nature reserve and surrounded by 400 acres of tropical forest, rooms are perched on a verdant hill with stunning beachfront views, overlooking the exclusive 3km stretch of sand and the South China Sea. This it the place for both nature lovers and relaxation seekers.


Where is it?

Borneo is an island, the third-largest in the world and the largest in Asia. Half of it is Indonesia, the other half of it is Malaysia, and it's also home to that funny little nugget of sovereign state governed by a sultan that is Brunei, which I always thought was somewhere in the Middle East.


Kota Kinabalu is in an area of the island called Sabah, Malaysia's eastern most state. Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort is set on a secluded stretch of beach thirty minutes north of Kota Kinabalu city, called Pantai Dalit. It's a 45 minute drive from Kota Kinabalu International Airport.

Ocean Wing room at Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Nature Reserve in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo


Style and character


Huge Ocean Wing room balcony at Shangri-La's 
Rasa Ria Nature Reserve in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo
Rooms at Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort are either in the Garden Wing, or the Ocean Wing where we stayed. All 173 plush rooms of this wing face the sunny wind-swept seashore, and they are huge. 

Think 90 square metres and an enormous private balcony with its own oversized outdoor bathtub, plus a large daybed. Just in case you're short of places to relax.

The brand new grand lobby was designed as a functional space, punctuated with tropical and marine accents.


Special privileges of staying in this wing include an exclusive breakfast dining venue, and a swimming pool and jacuzzi dedicated solely to Ocean Wing guests.

Borneo felt like one extended highlight. I loved everything about it - the wildlife, the stunning scenery, the exoticness of it all. And a lot of that was down to staying at Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort, their unrivalled location, and the host of activities and trips they have available.

Here's a video of me tackling their climbing wall. This was so very difficult in the unrelenting heat and 100% humidity. On my first attempt I lost my grip just before the top. This was my second go - have a watch to see if I make it to the red buzzer..


If you can tear yourself away from the beach or pool, there are a load of things to participate in that make the most of the exquisite natural environment you're slap back in the middle of, such as canopy walks, bird watching, guided jungle trails, and nocturnal wildlife viewing.

There was a fantastic cruise along the Tambalang River and its narrow mangrove creeks at sunset, where we spotted long-tailed macaques, flying fish, a crocodile and an awesome view (see video below). We then took the firefly cruise straight after and visited the same waterways, this time in the pitch black. 


The skies were clear, with the dark shadows of the mangroves twinkling like hundreds of fairy lights, mimicking the constellations above. They were full of glowing fireflies, as if the stars had fallen from the sky and got caught in the trees.

I've never seen anything like it, like something out of a film. Magical is definitely the word.

We also took part in more physical stuff, all available within the (huge) grounds of the property and its shore front, such as wall climbing, horse riding along the beach, archery and parasailing. It was truly a splendid couple of days.

lots of activities at Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Nature Reserve in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo



What's unique?


In a word, orang-utans. 

Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort have secured part of the Borneo rainforest as a 64 acre nature reserve, established in collaboration with the State Wildlife Department, which backs onto the hotel. Its mission is to facilitate rehabilitation programmes for endangered species of faunas endemic to Sabah. 

In it, there is a huge array of wildlife, including a load of long-tailed macaques, and four juvenile orphaned orang-utans. These orang-utans live freely but are protected and looked after by the reserve, which includes feeding.


We stood in the 100% humidity of the jungle absolutely drenched in sweat, the keeper calling out into the trees for a while, armed with a bin full of fresh fruit. After a few minutes, the high-up branches in the far distance started to rustle and sway, and from the tangle of dense treetop vegetation, this little guy emerged. 

 

He was swinging through the trees, from one arm to the other, like something out of The Jungle Book, then came right up close to check us out. One of his mates wasn't far behind. 

Sitting cross-legged on the floor as a kid watching David Attenborough documentaries, I would dream of witnessing orang-utans living freely in their natural habitat. Living out that dream was a special thing for me.


Now here are a couple more pictures of these cuties. Because there can never be too many snaps of baby orang-utans.

orang-utan at Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Nature Reserve in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo
orang-utan at Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Nature Reserve in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo

Who goes?


The main groups of clientèle at Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort are from Austalia, UK and Korea. Expect families with kids, but the place is so huge you barely notice them. Plus, there's plenty to keep the younger ones occupied, including a kids club and activities called 'I'm a teenager, get me out of here'.

The Ocean Wing facilities are a little more relaxed and subdued than the Garden Wing, without being snooty towards children.

Breakfast


Recognising their diverse client base, breakfast at Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort is an international offering. Much of the food is presented in the cast iron pots they're cooked in, making it feel more like someone's kitchen, and it's a lively atmosphere.

Expect the usual spread of hot and cold goods, as well as exotic touches like coconut jam. And there's an egg station, crepe station, and noodle station making them to order.

breakfast and day time dining at Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Nature Reserve in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo



Dining 


Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort has six restaurants and two bars to cater for the guests in the 499 rooms. Tepi Laut is a great shout for when you feel you might need a break from the pool or beach - hard work. It's an al fresco space made up of different stalls, intending to capture the nostalgia of the country's street food heritage. 

During the day expect both Asian and western snacks and things to pick at in general, and on some evenings, the staff perform a traditional Sabah dance while you enjoy your dinner.

The Italian fare at Oceano is an exceedingly welcome relief when you've been in Asia for three months. Olive oil! Expect well-executed dishes like beef tortellini with crispy bresaola, milky burrata, carpaccio, and tiramisu.

Teppanyaki restaurant Kozan delivers on both fine food and fun theatre. We had scallops from Hokkaido, roe, a gorgeous bit of Australian wagyu striploin, hibachi king prawns and vegetables, and plenty of sake. 

The chefs clearly revel in the showmanship of their craft - expect them to throw around their tools and write words on the grill in egg white after flipping one from the surface, onto the edge of a metal spatula. They invited my parter to give it a go too, great fun.

dinner at Oceano and Kozan at Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Nature Reserve in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo


Service


Every night, the staff come and fill up that enormous balcony tub, adding various fragrant potions and flower petals. You can even choose a fragrance for the whole room, selecting from an aromatherapy menu.


On the beach you're given sandfly cream (we didn't need it), brought iced water, and the beds are gloriously very far apart.

The staff here are the kind that get to know your names after a few days, and by the end of your stay it feels like you're leaving a small family-run hotel. We saw a group of restaurant staff pulling out all the stops for a happy birthday sing-song complete with guitar, and the staff hold their hand to their heart every time they walk past you and say hello.


Liked lots / liked less


Liked lots - I absolutely loved this hotel; it might have been my favourite during my whole eight months travelling. It's where genuine hospitality, fantastic amenities and activities, and what was key for me - Borneo's sensational wildlife - all meet. 

If you're a fan of nature, there's some sort of critter around every corner. From the resident hornbill that calls the grounds home, to the petting zoo with free-roaming roosters, deer and goats, to the bats that fly around in the evenings, to the owls that roost in the open-plan lobby. I mean, how freaking cool is that - owls in the lobby. There was even a sparrow's nest directly outside our room. I was really in my element.

Also, the wifi reaches the beach. Big brownie points.

Liked less - No brown sauce at breakfast. I got over that pretty quickly. 

Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Nature Reserve in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo


Price point


Prices from £150 for a deluxe double to £230 for a premier double, including breakfast.

Contact


Pantai Dalit, Tuaran, 89208 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
+60 88 797 888
Website

Note: I stayed as a guest of this hotel as part of a media package. All views remain my own.

Related links
Week 20: MALAYSIA - Penang → Borneo
MALAYSIA: Review of the Shangri-La's Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa, Penang
MALAYSIA: Review of the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, Penang

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

MALAYSIA: Review of the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, Penang

the infinity pool with a view of the Andaman Sea at The Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Penang, Malaysia
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In a nutshell 


For well over a century, this hotel has been regarded as one of the Far East’s most prestigious and historic, known simply as `The E&O' to generations of travellers, standing as a testament to the grand elegance of the British colonial era.


Where is it?


You'll find it in George Town in Penang - declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 - at the intersection of Farquhar Street and Penang Road. The Eastern & Oriental Hotel is 20km from Penang International Airport, and a leisurely saunter from all the eateries and entertainment outlets of downtown George Town.

Studio Suite in the Victory Annexe at The Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Penang, Malaysia

grounds at The Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Penang, Malaysia
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Style and character


The Eastern & Oriental Hotel is split into two main sections. Making up its historical heart is The Heritage Wing, built in 1885. It's heavy with storied old-world charm, Moorish minarets and a soaring echo-dome lobby. Doormen are clad in khaki and pith-helmeted bellhops, ready to welcome guests to its 100 plush suites. 

Then in 2013, the Victory Annexe opened its doors to patrons, playing host to the other, modern-classic half of the hotel. The addition boasts 119 Studio Suites (pictured, and what I stayed in) and ten Corner Suites. The sophisticated and graceful elegance of the interiors very cleverly manage to retain the essence of the hotel's rich heritage and identity, whilst offering the state-of-the-art conveniences a business traveller would expect. The Studio Suites have balconies with cornered sliding doors that when fully open, bring the whole of the outside, in. It feels like a villa on the beach.

I visited the hotel's infinity pool as the sun was calling it a day, the light playing with the surface of the water so well, it was difficult to determine where the pool ended and where the Andaman Sea began. Such a pleasure to photograph.

What's unique?


In its long and colourful history, the Eastern & Oriental Hotel has seen two World Wars, the wane of the British Empire, as well as the birth of Malaysia. And there aren't many properties that can claim that.

grounds at The Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Penang, Malaysia

Who goes?


The Eastern & Oriental Hotel has welcomed the glitterati of the literary and entertainment worlds, including Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Noel Coward, Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham and Hermann Hesse. 

Rudyard Kipling would always request the same room in the hotel on his frequent visits, and that room has since been named the Rudyard Kipling room. You can request to stay in it if you want; and how cool would that be. I wonder if he did any writing there..

I also recall watching esteemed British chef Rick Stein stay during his TV series Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey (excellent, by the way), particularly revelling at the local dishes on offer at breakfast. Watching that episode made me realise I had to stay in this hotel.

In terms of guests without fame, most of the clientèle are from Australia, America, the UK, Japan, and a quickly growing Korean market. I was told the Japanese like to stay in The Heritage Wing as they prefer the smell of old wood to new, apparently.

Breakfast


Served in the bright and airy all-day dining restaurant Sarkies - one of the six drink and dining options available within the property - and recognising their diverse client base, breakfast at The Eastern & Oriental Hotel is an international offering.

Expect the likes of sushi, pastrami, sliced turkey ham, cereals, French cheeses and crackers, salad, breads and pastries. There's bread and butter pudding, oats, miso, baked beans, hash browns, chicken sausage, tomatoes.

There's also roti canai, dhal curry, an egg station making them to order, noodles, congee with all the toppings including century egg. There was a fantastic coconut Indian crepe with crisp edges and a soft spongy middle, and a whole lot more.

The atmosphere was very relaxed - not at all hectic as is so often the case at breakfast in hotels - with the space being about half full at 9.30am.

breakfast at The Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Penang, Malaysia


Service


All the staff members were wonderful, and service was of the highest order, as you would expect from such an esteemed hotel name.


Liked lots / liked less


Liked lots - The balcony of our Studio Suite did it for me. It's not easy to make a room in Asia feel cool and airy with the doors open to the outside, and the AC turned off. But this place manages it. Also, the roll top bath and all that marble was glorious.

Liked less - Struggling to think of something to be honest.

grounds at The Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Penang, Malaysia


Price point


Prices from £115 for a Studio Suite to £210 for the Writer's Suite, including breakfast.

Contact


10 Farquhar Street, Georgetown, 10200 George Town, Malaysia
+60 4 888 8888
www.eohotels.com

Note: I stayed as a guest of this hotel as part of a media package. All views remain my own.

Related links

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