An Unforgettable Lunar New Year

Cassia's signature Lou Hei

Every Lunar New Year’s Eve, if I’m not abroad, you can expect me to be having dinner with my family.  By family, I mean all 23 of them from my 93-year-old grandmother to my 2-year-old niece.  It is something my grandmother insists on—she believes a person who forgets tradition, forgets family.

Like any cosmopolitan city, it’s nothing short of a miracle to get so many people to sit down to dinner together in Singapore.  It requires the expert management of multiple clashing schedules, packed with the million little demands modern life makes.

As you can imagine, arranging an unforgettable dinner for 24 is no simple affair.  So this year, I’ve decided to take a leaf from Executive Chinese Chef Lee Hui Ngai of Cassia, Capella Singapore.

During the 40 years of his culinary career, Chef Lee has charmed diners at top hotels in Beijing, Hong Kong and Singapore, and made Lunar New Year memorable for so many families.  He generously shares his ‘recipe’ for happiness this Lunar New Year.

Executive Chinese Chef Lee Hui Ngai from Cassia

Executive Chinese Chef Lee Hui Ngai from Cassia

What is the most unforgettable Lunar New Year meal you’d recommend?

Chef Lee: One of the top five fish I’ve tried over the past four decades of my culinary career is the Unforgettable Fish.  In Mandarin, it’s called 忘不了鱼, which actually translates to ‘unforgettable fish’.  Once you’ve tried it, you’ll see why.  The first time I savoured this fish was when a guest from China specially requested it.  I took my first bite, and was instantly enraptured.

The Unforgettable Fish

The Unforgettable Fish

Why is this fish so exceptional?

Chef Lee: I could tell you how sweet, succulent, silky and tender it is, but that barely begins to describe it.  The Unforgettable Fish swims against the current, and its scales are unusually crisp when steamed.  Unlike other fish, we tend to steam this fish with its scales intact.

At Capella Singapore, we import the Unforgettable Fish ‘live’ from Sabah, Malaysia when it’s fully-grown and at least 2kg in weight—any smaller, and it loses some of its unique flavour.  As with the best ingredients, there’s no need to do too much with it.  It is best enjoyed lightly steamed, with a glass of white wine or champagne.

Any other dining tips for an unforgettable Lunar New Year?

Chef Lee: Lunar New Year has special significance for Chinese around the world.  We believe it is auspicious to enjoy a beautiful and unforgettable meal to herald an amazing New Year.

Fortune and good luck aside, what really warms my heart is being with my family, and watching their sheer delight in enjoying a meal together.  As a chef, this naturally fills me with a deep sense of pride.  But as a father, husband and son, this gives me a glimpse of true happiness, in all its richness and simplicity.

Cassia's signature Lou Hei

Cassia‘s Signature Lou Hei

If you are planning your own Lunar New Year’s celebrations, be sure to check out Cassia’s Lunar New Year specials here.

#SG50 – Five Reasons To Visit Singapore in 2015

Party With Us In Singapore

I love travelling.  I am deeply convinced that travel is the only thing money can buy that will make you richer.  Most days, I’m just looking for any plausible excuse to hop onto a plane.  As I grow older, however, I tend to look less abroad, and closer towards home for inspiration.

Singapore is evolving.  Yes, we still retain our quirks and hybrid culture.  Most of us still call any elderly man, especially taxi drivers, “Uncle”.  And we still love durians enough to have durian buffets.  But as a country, we are also rapidly modernising and progressing.  And by “progress”, I mean we are developing a more vibrant art, culture and music scene, and a greater sense of national identity.

Recently, Singapore was listed by CNN as one of the 10 top destinations to visit in 2015, and Lonely Planet elected us as #1 on its Best in Travel 2015 list.

All this couldn’t have come at a better time.  As a born and bred Singaporean, let me share with you five reasons you should visit me at Capella Singapore this year.

2015 Is One Big Party

Party With Us In Singapore

Party With Us In Singapore

New Year’s Eve last month was just the beginning of a year long party.  If you were here, you’d remember how top DJs were flown in from the coolest cities in the world (including DJ Mr. Best for Capella Singapore).  Fireworks also lit the sky everywhere—not just at Sentosa where Capella Singapore is nestled, but even at suburban areas around the island.

This is but a taster of what to expect this year.  In a couple of week, Chinatown will celebrate a special light-up ceremony, with lion dancers prancing around our ‘Lion City’ to cue in Chinese New Year.  After this, you can look forward to holidays such as Vesak Day and Hari Raya Pusa before Singapore officially turns 50 on 9th August.  You can be sure we’ll pull out all the stops for that party.

We Are Committed Foodies

Your taste buds will love Singapore.  Our running list of celebrity chefs includes Joel Robuchon, Tetsuya Wakuda, Jamie Oliver, Wolfgang Puck and Daniel Boulud, to name a few.  And this year, Gordon Ramsay joins the fold.

Our food culture, however, extends way beyond these international culinary stars.  New dining concepts are sprouting out by the minute—including NOX where you dine completely in the dark, and secret bars such as Operation Dagger and The Library with no signage and password requirements for entry.

We are also one of the few countries in the world that truly believes in supper.  If you happen to be hungry at 1am, you won’t have to satiate yourself with cold bites.  You can find piping hot Singaporean food anywhere, including Bak Kut Teh (peppery pork rib soup), Indian food, noodles, oyster omelette…  Here is a list of places.  Supper in Singapore is a unique and bustling experience, and one of the best ways to get a true taste of local culture.

The Art Scene Is Booming

Let’s not talk about the iconic ArtScience Museum, which of course, is a must-visit.  We’ve also got the Gillman Barracks, a colonial army base-turned-contemporary art cluster, and the upcoming National Gallery Singapore, which will house an extensive collection of Southeast Asian and Singaporean art when it opens in mid-2015.

Music is also thriving in Singapore.  If you love seminal music, St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival is just a few days away, and if you prefer jazz, Singapore Jazz Festival is scheduled for early March!

Green Is The New Black

Gardens By The Bay

Gardens By The Bay

Granted, our ‘garden city’ moniker is a bit of a tired cliché for locals.  We are however, embracing the global green movement.  Whether you prefer real food or raw food, you can probably find a quaint café nearby.  You could even saunter into an organic farm such as Bollywood Veggies, and ask for farm-fresh Indian fare.

On cool evenings, we also love to spend time in our little pockets of green.  And being city folks with famously short attention spans, we need to be entertained.  Gardens by the Bay and Singapore Botanic Gardens regularly organise music performances, artists’ workshops, writers’ workshops and seasonal exhibitions.  So pack a picnic basket and some wine, and enjoy round-the-year summer.

Superlative Creature Comforts

From the minute you step into Changi Airport, you’ll sense how obsessed we are with shopping.  In space scarce Singapore, we’ve somehow managed to cramp an incredible number of big name designers into our airport.  In fact, many of us head there for our shopping and dining fix, even when we are not travelling.

That said, I’m sure you’re not in Singapore just to shop at Prada.  We’ve got amazing local designers such as Hansel and Ong Shunmugam as well.  Check out this list.  Other local brands I love include Carrie K, founded by advertising managing director turned artisan jeweller, and Merci Encore, an aromatherapy atelier founded by the former senior beauty editor of Harper’s Bazaar Singapore.

Of course, to end your trip with the ultimate indulgence, you should definitely make Capella Singapore your final pit stop.  As part of SG50, we are launching a decadent 50 fingers massage from mid-2015.  In just 60 minutes, our five dedicated spa therapists will knead out tension and aches you didn’t even know you had.  You’ll emerge feeling utterly renewed and as light as a cloud.

 

Hey Mr DJ – Get To Know DJ Mr. Best

DJ Mr. Best rounds up 2014 at Capella Singapore's New Year's Eve Countdown Party
DJ Mr. Best rounds up 2014 at Capella Singapore's New Year's Eve Countdown Party

DJ Mr. Best rounds up 2014 at Capella Singapore’s New Year’s Eve Countdown Party

I personally believe that there can be no party without good music.  Music is the heartbeat of any party—it breathes life into it, injects new emotions, and brings dissimilar people and diverse worlds together.

Few people understand this better than DJs.  The best DJs jet between cities and style epicentres, bringing the party to people.  Their music is always rich, hypnotic and refreshing.

This week, I had the honour of speaking to Los Angeles-born DJ Mr. Best (Ryan), who has performed at some of the world’s most prestigious parties, including The Academy Awards, The Golden Globes and The Emmys.

Ryan has kept crowds riveted at movie and television premiere events such as Seven Pounds, Salt, Black Swan and Lost, and graced private A-lister parties for Paris Hilton and Lauren Conrad.

After a year of fabulous performances, he will be rounding up 2014 at Capella Singapore’s New Year’s Eve Countdown Party.  I managed to catch him just before his big performance to find out what sort of music gives closure to one amazing year, and launches the next fabulous one.

If you are planning your own year-end parties, this might inspire you as well.

What are your all-time favourite end-of-year songs?

For the most part, these consist of holiday music, along with the biggest tracks of the year. The holiday music I love playing the most is Christmas In Hollis by Run D,M.C., Last Christmas by Wham!, All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey, and Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses.

What is currently on your playlist?

The artist Banks is on my playlist. Her music makes me feel that ‘something’.

Which are three of the best musical festivals to look out for in 2015?

I’m looking forward to Coachella (an annual Californian music and art festival in April) and Lollapalooza (an annual music festival in Chicago from end-July). At some point, I’d also want to experience Burning Man (an annual event that takes place in the Nevada desert every August).

What is it like spending New Year’s Eve in Singapore?

The word that describes New Year’s Eve in Singapore is ‘magic’. It’s a magical place that leaves me feeling inspired from its culture and architecture.

What’s in your music line-up for Capella’s New Year’s Eve party?

I’ll be including all the big hits from 2014 and years past. It will be a fun-filled night, and my mission is to make guests smile and dance through to the New Year.

What is your 2015 New Year resolution?

It is to stay hungry.

 

For more information on Capella’s New Year’s Eve Countdown Party, click here.

Gastronomic Journeys with Reine Sammut

Queen of Hearts Reine Sammut whipping up love

I have always believed that it is impossible to fully enjoy a chocolate éclair without ever being in love, being to Paris, or being in love in Paris.  Food, to me, has always offered the most immediate path to emotions and experiences – whether it conjures up a crisp Spring morning in France, riotous family dinners at home, or warm fuzzy feelings of love.

The best chefs maintain this ongoing ‘conversation’ with you at the dining table.  Like master storytellers, their food tells you about themselves; their personal journeys, joys and heartbreaks; and also trigger your most private memories and intimate experiences.

So it was a rare treat to speak with one-star Michelin chef Reine Sammut before relishing her creations at The Knolls, Capella Singapore, from 13-16 November.  In this short tête-à-tête, the reigning Queen of Hearts talks about meeting her husband, her greatest source of inspiration, and what true love tastes like.

Queen of Hearts Reine Sammut whipping up love

Queen of Hearts Reine Sammut whipping up love

Reine Sammut on Food and Love…

If I weren’t a chef, I would have been a doctor.  I fell in love with cooking when I fell in love with my husband Guy.  I was studying medicine then, but I decided to leave school for him and learn cooking from my mother-in-law Claudette.

My greatest source of inspiration comes from travel and books.  They are my portals to new worlds and perspectives. These experiences help me create food that evokes genuine emotions and create a sense of place.

My favourite comfort food is pasta.  It’s like how some people would dig into a tub of ice cream when they are having a bad day…  I think it’s impossible to have a bad day when you have freshly made pasta.

My favourite ‘cheap thrill’ food is sardine.  They are chockfull of omega-3 fatty acids, and are sustainable and delicious. Even when prepared simply with olive oil and salt, they will win you over with their rich flavour.

An unusual and delicious food I’d recommend is Melokhia.  This popular Middle Eastern soup or stew contains a namesake vegetable, which has a thick, viscous consistency somewhat similar to okra.

One of my favourite French restaurants is La Chassagnette in Arles.  Set in the middle of an organic vegetable garden, this restaurant’s décor and food are irresistibly charming.

If I had to prepare one last meal, it would be bouillabaisse.  This traditional Provencal fish stew contains many kinds of fish, seafood, olive oil, vegetables and herbs. You can taste the freshness of the sea and the garden in every single bite.  We usually make this in a large pot and share it with family and friends, so this dish always makes me feel warm and think of the people I love.

"Calissons” is a Provencal-style iced cream made with almonds

“Calissons” is a Provencal-style iced cream made with almonds

Reine Sammut will be conjuring up culinary magic at CapellaSingapore’s The Knolls from 13-16 November. View her stellar menu HERE.

A Visit to the Singapore Art Museum

The Singapore Art Museum is housed in the former St Joseph's Institution, originally built in 1867.

Located in the heart of the arts and culture district of Bras Basah, the Singapore Art Museum is the perfect stop for art lovers. Featuring one of the world’s largest collection of contemporary Southeast Asian art, it is easy to get lost inside just admiring and appreciating the art.

Just yesterday, I spent the whole afternoon walking through the halls of the art museum. While visiting the museum, I learned that the building was a former Catholic boys’ school, St Joseph’s Institution. Originally built in 1867 by a Catholic Father and a group of La Salle Brothers, the St Joseph’s Institution in Brash Basah was the educational home to boys here in Singapore for more than 120 years. Wanting to preserve the beautiful 19th century French architecture, the building was gazetted in 1992 as a national monument and after a S$30 million restoration project, was opened in 1996 as the now Singapore Art Museum.

The Singapore Art Museum is housed in the former St Joseph's Institution, originally built in 1867.

The Singapore Art Museum is housed in the former St Joseph’s Institution, originally built in 1867. Photo credit: Lay Leng Low (via Pinterest)

It was wonderful just walking through the hallowed halls learning all about contemporary Southeast Asian art. The art took on various forms, many were interactive mixed-medium art pieces and some were very experimental. I especially enjoyed the very interactive exhibition entitled Sensorium 360 which explores the way we use our senses to interact and understand the world. The exhibition will be on until 22 October 2014 and is worth visiting. I especially enjoyed walking through a completely darkened room surrounding by laser lights, not unlike the laser lights seen in movies like Mission Impossible. That particular installation challenged my perception of space and reality.

While walking through the museum, I imagined myself travelling back in time to the 19th century. As if I was one of the St Joseph Institution students running to class through the beautiful hallways. When restoring the museum, the architects tried to be as faithful as possible to the original architecture as possible. They even tried to replicate the old school hall to its original glory by following blueprints they found. The architects even managed to commission new tiles that matched the old original tiles exactly. No detail was too little to be left out. The courtyard, which were the old school quadrangles where the boys used to have their morning assembly and play basketball, are now spacious courtyards where guests can enjoy coffee or just the peace and tranquility the museum affords.

Two very important additions they had to include are the glass windows to ensure that all 18 galleries have climate controlled temperatures to preserve the artwork and also the reinforced concrete floors necessary to support the heavy art installations.

The Singapore Art Museum is an easy 20-minute drive from Capella Singapore. Entry is free for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents and S$10 for visitors. Our Personal Assistants would be delighted to organise a tour of the Singapore Art Museum for you. They can be reached at +65 6591 5034/35 and pa.singapore@capellahotels.com.

All About Rum at Bob’s Bar

Cuban Fever at Bob's Bar - experience three different rums

I recently learned that Bob’s Bar at Capella Singapore features some of the region’s most rare and unique rums. Wanting to learn more about Bob’s Bar’s exclusive collection of rums, I sat down with Bob’s Bar’s lead bartender Brendon Khoo who shared more about rum.

Brendon Khoo at work creating a delicious cocktail

Brendon Khoo at work creating a delicious cocktail

Can you tell me how rum is produced?

Rum is a spirit that is made from molasses, the by-product of making sugar from sugarcane.

Can you share with me about one of the more exclusive rums that we offer?

One of the rarest rums we offer is the Diplomatico Single Vintage 2000. In the year 2000, the weather conditions were just perfect in Venezuela (high temperatures during the day, cool at night, high humidity and lower than average rainfall) that created the best and sweetest sugarcane harvest in the country’s history. It was during this season that Diplomatico created this single vintage rum which is a limited edition. The harvest was so good that the rum was created from fresh sugarcane “honey” and molasses together and pot-stilled in very old copper pot stills, which produce a rum with distinctive character. After which the rum was aged as a mixture of single malt and bourbon casks, before being finished in Spanish Oloroso Sherry casks. There are not many bottles of this rum available in South East Asia but Bob’s Bar has it!

That’s amazing. What are some of the cocktails you serve that feature rum?

As a Cuban bar we try to serve cocktails that are predominantly rum-based such as Daiquiris and Mojitos which are created using white rum and Rum Old Fashioned made using dark rum.

I would love to learn more about rums. How can I do so?

We recently launched an exciting rum-tasting experience called Cuban Fever where you will be able to try three unique rums – a classic, a distilled and a premium reserve rum.

Taking place daily from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm, the team and I will share the stories and tasting notes for each rum – allowing you to fully appreciate and enjoy each rum for all its glory.

Cuban Fever at Bob's Bar - experience three different rums

Cuban Fever at Bob’s Bar – experience three different rums

If you would like to make a reservation at Bob’s Bar you can contact them at +65 6591 5047 / bobsbar.singapore@capellahotels.com or book online at here.