Saturday, 25 August 2012


B-ahhh-li. Bali. Land of 'Eat Pray Love', of rolling beaches, palm trees and of green rice terraces. Calm, relaxing Bali.

Or not. We both look at though we went to Bali to do a bit of cage fighting. I'm exaggerating. But we are both battered and bruised.

Three days before we left the DFP came up to me looking perky and pleased.
'You realise', he said, 'you realise that you've booked us in for a surfing holiday, ha ha.'
'No I haven't. We're going to have lovely relaxing massages and visit temples'.
'We're staying in a place renown for surfing. You chose a place for us to stay in that you go to specifically to surf. We're going to get up every morning and go surfing for a couple of hours.'

Darn. He's right. I did. Not so much B-ahhh-li as crash-bash-bang Bali.

Balian Beach where we stayed for the first three nights is a surfers paradise. The sand is volcanic black and sparkling. The waves are huge. It's a very experienced surfers paradise. Not a beginners surfers paradise.

I had researched carefully and found an exquisite resort designed by a French architect with it's own private beach. But that was too expensive so we stayed at the place next door, which though not so swish it was very nice.

We arrived late on Thursday night and woke up to this view the next morning.

Not bad eh? At the bottom of the garden was a cove with the enormous waves that characterize Balian crashing hard on the black rocks.

We walked along the cove and on the neighbouring beach could see what looked like black seal heads until the seals jumped up and surfed their way to shore.

At the beach the DFP went and enquired about hiring surf boards and having a lesson. I was feeling a bit nervous about the size of the gigantic waves. The man asked if we had surfed before then told us it was too dangerous for beginners and to come back later.

We did. The waves were still enormous. We decided to have a go anyway.

For those, like me, who have never been surfing before this is what happens. They give you an enormous board which you attach to one foot with a plastic cord and ankle strap. It feels like an floating ball and chain. You paddle out and then when a wave comes you try and jump up and stand on the board. Then you are immediately knocked off the board and have a washing machine experience of being churned around in the foam, swallowing mouthfuls of salty water and with only a vague idea of which way up is. Or you grip onto your board for dear life and are rocketed forwards towards the shore and the black rocks.

I didn't like it. It felt scary. I am usually, I hope, fairly game but after three attempts I told the DFP I hated it and went off to get a cup of tea. He was very nice about it and continued being tossed around himself but didn't make it to standing. Quite soon he joined me for a beer.

The sunset was amazing over the beach. We had a drink and something to eat but the whole of Balian, which is one street on the beach front dotted with guest houses and bars, closes down at about 10pm and goes to bed ready to be up surfing early the next morning.

We hired a scooter the first day but partly due to the long distances and partly due to my poor navigation skills didn't managed to get to the temple I wanted to reach. We also managed to fall off, adding to the surfing cuts and bruises. So the next day we hired a car and driver to take us around.

In touristy Ubud (see Eat, Pray, Love and Elizabeth Gilbert wittily finding herself) we visited the monkey temple and royal palace (which is about the size of our flat but with an impressively carved gate) and had babi guling (suckling pig with ginger, galangal, lemongrass and garlic fried up as a sauce) for lunch. Delicious.

Driving into Ubud you pass lots of carvers shops selling tantalizing wooden furniture, unfortunately too large for hand luggage. We stopped and the DFP asked one to make him four wooden blocks for doing handstands on, about brick size. When we came to collect them on the way back they had made them exactly to his specifications. Except in size. Tiny dolls sized blocks, perfect for Barbie to practise her handstands on. In the half hour it took to make a new set we wandered around and I bought a couple of Balinese masks.

When we moved to Asia I thought I would take the opportunity to learn about the famous forms of theatre - particularly Balinese mask. I haven't so far but had great fun in the shop checking whether the masks would play. The fat old lady in the shop even put one on and joined in.

A really good mask will change expression as the wearer changes head position and if, like these, it's a half mask and covers half the face, expression. It's amazing to watch an inanimate object come alive- one mask change expression from happy to sad to bashful to proud. I love mask work.

What I had been told about Balinese masks is that they are traditionally used for religious ceremony rather than theatrical performance.

While I was at Lecoq (physical theatre school in Paris) Julie Taymor (director of the musical 'The Lion King) who had studied there precociously at sixteen came and spoke to us. She talked about spending a month in Bali and living with the people in a small village there and eventually watching a mask ceremony. How they chanted and went into a trance like state where the masks inhabited them as they wore them. Later that day I had a chance to see Balinese masks at play worn by normal people rather than actors at Tanah Lot.

We reached our final stop of the day the temple, or pura, Tanah Lot for sunset. With all the other tourists. The guide book is extremely sniffy about the whole experience and while it wasn't particularly spiritual with all the sellers and tourists it was breathtakingly beautiful as the sun set over the water.

For our final night I had booked us into a posher beach front hotel in Legian or Kuta. Kuta is renown for drunken Australian tourists and it's amazing surf.

The guide book says the break is long and even. I don't actually know what that means except that the waves aren't enormous and frightening but small and friendly. We got a surfing lesson. 'You don't pay if we don't get you standing by the end of the lesson', they said. 'Are you sure? Are you sure you want to make that bet? Are you sure you can get me standing?' I said. I asked my teacher his name. 'Dude', he said.

I expect Dude is an extremely good surfer. His chest is toned. His tan glows. His hair is long and curly. Dude tried hard to teach me to surf. I tried hard to learn. As the lesson went on he became increasingly frustrated with me.
'Just stand up! I don't understand why you aren't doing what I'm telling you to. Just stand up!'
How to explain? Eventually I stood up long enough to ensure payment. His relief was visible. But his temper didn't improve.

We went out surfing again the final morning. So in the end perhaps I did, inadvertently, book a surfing holiday. Perhaps not what I had envisaged, but a beautiful, memorable and enjoyable holiday all the same.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Kilo and Pollen

(NB I started writing this on Thursday but have only just got around to finishing it now. I'm afraid I'm not going to re-write it all as though it's not Thursday, so please imagine that it is.)

It's National Day a day of marching and celebration for Singaporeans and a day off for everyone. I'm sitting on the balcony with my feet up enjoying the breeze feeling oh so comfortable and oh so relaxed. I've got that holiday feeling of heat and swimming and afternoon drinking.

Drinking in the afternoon? You shocking lush I hear you cry. Well, yes. But today there's quite a good reason.

Last Friday was the DFP's birthday. I wanted to take him to Pollen!/welcome a new Jason Atherton restaurant in the newly opened Gardens by the Bay. These are the same gardens I watched being constructed from the Marina Bay Sands which overlooks them last summer when we'd just moved here and everything was strange and unfamiliar.

So it seems very apt that a year on we spent our National Day holiday having lunch at Pollen in the now completed gardens.

The gardens are very Singapore. Concrete constructed walkways and weird 'Day of the Triffids' style artificial trees with plants sort of stuck onto them. And of course lots and lots of places to get something to eat. This is Singapore.

Pollen is the swankiest of them. We went for the $55 set lunch because I am a cheapskate/love a bargain and it really is a bargain. This is far and away the best meal I've had since coming to Singapore. I've eaten some very good food here but this is truly classy Michelin star stuff.

To start we had some delicious sourdough bread and butter. Good bread is almost impossible to find in Singapore even though there are lots of claiming to be artisan bakeries. Ditto the butter - just so much tastier than usual. To go with it were big, juicy green olives and a salted cod, cream and mashed potato sauce.

Then I had Slow-cooked egg, chorizo, patatas bravas and the DFP had Petuna ocean trout, beer pickled onions, oyster mayonnaise, smoked aubergine without the mayonnaise. Both were sublime.

Then, feebly, we both had Roasted pork belly, broad beans, slow-cooked squid, chorizo and for desert him crispy and burnt lemon meringue with cucumber sorbet and  and me beetroot sorbet, hibiscus compressed apple, salted milk chocolate. Oh yeah. This is what eating is all about.

Then just before coffee two little magnum style ice creams and petit four with the espresso. All little bites of heaven.

Everything was witty, delicious and so well balanced.

The reason my edges are so rounded is that we had a glass of wine with each course recommended by the sommelier. All were excellent suggestions. He came and chatted with us at the end and when he heard that we'd tried and failed to get a reservation before gave the DFP his card and told him to email him directly if he ever had a problem getting a table again. Sh-wing!

For his birthday I took the DFP to another great restaurant called Kilo. The food is not as good as at Pollen but the location is excellent. It's in an old HDB warehouse overlooking the river at Kallang. The night we were there it was stormy. All thunder and lightening over the darkened river. To get there you have to walk down a deserted road with industrial buildings on either side and wasteland. Food bloggers tend to use words like raw, concept and off-the-beaten-path when describing it.

It describes it's food as Japanese-Italian fusion. The best dish we had was salmon sushi with crispy chicken skin inside. You bite down on the soft sushi and then get a surprising crunch of chicken skin inside. Very good. Other dishes were good but not outstanding: pork belly with sweet potato mash -good but a little over sweet:  duck breast- slightly too dry: calamari - slightly too greasy: but what was outstanding was the atmosphere. I am being a bit mean. This was extremely good food as food goes. And the chocolate lava cake for desert with basil ice cream was as classy as the funky decor. Very, very good.

Food glorious food. Well, this is Singapore.


Gardens by the bay

I will never make a proper food blogger because I always forget to photograph the food before I start eating it. This was desert.

Forgot again and started eating...