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9 Culinary Experiences Across Asia for Food Aficionados

With leisure travel picking up again across the globe, now is the best time to pack your suitcases and check in for a stay at these luxury hotels in Asia — where a relaxing vacation and the best gastronomic experiences the region has to offer, await.

Alma Resort Pays Tribute to Vietnam’s Sidewalk Culture

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In homage to the Vietnamese pastime of sipping-brews-on-pavement, Alma has launched Cam Ranh’s most happening venue, Chill’s Snack & Bar. Open 5pm-10pm daily, the street-style venue is anchored by two American-style food trucks near the resort’s vast amphitheater. The menu features popular street beverages such as Vietnamese coffee, fresh fruit juice, and milk tea. Signature coffees are coconut coffee and coffee with fresh milk and tapioca pearls.

Chill’s serves cocktails such as ‘Amphitheater Sunset’ with tequila, orange, grenadine, crème de cassis and lime. The likes of seafood pizza, fruit, shrimp salad, meat sandwiches, cheese sticks and lemongrass chicken feet are written up on the menu board daily. Entertainment includes nightly movies screened under the stars, live music, fire twirlers and flair bartenders.

Meliá Chiang Mai Offers an Array of Exciting Dining Offerings

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A Sunday brunch with fresh seafood on ice, buffet dinner replete with a paella cooking station, and mojito menu with a Spanish and Thai spin are among Meliá Chiang Mai’s new dining offerings from 1 July to 30 September. Staged on the first and last Sunday of the month, ‘Brunch del Domingo’ features Spanish, Mediterranean and Thai offerings including charcuterie, chilled prawns, Mediterranean salads and a live cooking station.

Highlights of “¡Es viernes!” international dinner buffet, held on the first and last Friday night of the month, include tapas and pinchos, and live cooking of gambas al ajillo and grilled river prawns. The mojito menu adds wild berries, passionfruit, pineapple, watermelon and lemongrass to the cocktail’s traditional ingredients. 

Immerse in the Local Culture at Azerai Resorts

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Azerai has launched a new experiences menu with a strong culinary focus to help immerse guests in the local culture at the brand’s three resorts in Vietnam: Azerai La Residence, Hue in the former imperial capital, Azerai Can Tho in the Mekong Delta, and the beachfront Azerai Ke Ga Bay.

At Azerai La Residence, Hue, the resort’s new Perfume River boat offers a “Private Dinner Cruise” featuring fine Vietnamese and Western cuisine. At Azerai Can Tho, “Romance Under the Banyan Tree” features a lantern-lit, five-course meal for two. And at Azerai Ke Ga Bay, the “Monastery and Iconic Fruit of Binh Thuan” includes stops at an exotic dragon fruit farm, Ta Cu Mountain, and local salt fields.

An Omakase Dining Experience at Tanah Gajah, a Resort By Hadiprana in Bali

With any meal the conversation can be just as important as the culinary offering – especially when Chef Dean’s involved. The seasoned Singaporean chef, who has been guiding Tanah Gajah’s culinary direction for over a decade, infuses his personality into all his delectable dishes. With his Omakase Dining Experience at The Tempayan, guests get to see more of the chef than just the magic he creates on each plate.

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Omakase, which translates as a meal of dishes selected by the chef, ensures that the five-course menu he offers uses only the freshest seasonal ingredients, while also giving guests the opportunity to learn about local produce and dishes. The experience also includes a guided tour of Chef Dean’s passion project, the resort’s expansive organic garden. The cost is IDR 750,000 ++ (USD50) per person. 

French Fine Dining at Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi

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Le Beaulieu, the award-winning modern French fine dining restaurant at Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, and its refined al fresco extension La Terrasse have celebrated their reopening following an extensive seven-month refurbishment. With an elegant and sophisticated new design, alongside renowned French gastronomy and a wide selection of wines, the signature restaurant at Metropole Hanoi ties together the hotel’s 120-year-old storied past with a contemporary new look that manages to meld the opulent, the classical and the modern in a single scheme that’s long on white, gold and heathery blue-grays. Operating in its current space since 1901, Le Beaulieu is believed to be the oldest continually operating restaurant in Vietnam. And now, after this renovation, the newest.

Hyatt Regency Phnom Penh unveils its latest menus

Hyatt Regency Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital’s newest international branded hotel, is leading the charge as the city’s culinary scene picks up pace following the pandemic. Opened in 2021, the property has gained an exalted reputation for dining through its range of exciting outlets. Two of these — all-day-dining outlet The Market Cafe Restaurant and Lounge and signature venue FiveFive Rooftop — have recently unveiled new menus.

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FiveFive focuses on fresh, sustainable seafood and local produce. Highlights of its new menu include a delectable set dinner featuring dishes like Kampot crab on toast and seared Hokkaido scallops. The Market Cafe Restaurant and Lounge, meanwhile, is reupping courtesy of items such as sustainably sourced Dover sole with brown butter and capers and a selection of plant-based dishes.

Banyan Tree Samui Welcomes Aficionados of Thai Cuisine

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Banyan Tree’s signature restaurant, Saffron, has initiated a Thai Tasting Menu, ideal for those on the island who wish to introduce friends and family to Thai classic cuisine in a luxurious ambience. Overlooking the sapphire sea from an exquisite venue above the resort, Saffron’s newest menu features an array of favorites: from appetizers of por pai pho (crabmeat spring rolls in a mango salad) and mieng som-o (pomelo, cashews, coconut & ginger wrapped in betel leaves and topped with a tamarind sauce) to entreés of grilled salmon in galangal and lemongrass or a sizzling plate of roasted peppered pork spare ribs. Dessert is the ever-popular dish of mango in sticky rice and coconut. Price is 1,800 THB (USD50) nett per person. Open daily 6pm – 11pm. For reservations, call +66 077 915 333 or email: saffron-samui@banyantree.com

A New Chef and New Menu at SOL By Meliá Phu Quoc in Vietnam

SOL By Meliã Phu Quoc is embracing new beginnings with Spanish chef, Sergio Nieto Garces, joining as executive chef. Garces will bring more Spanish flair to the oceanfront resort elevating OLA Beach Club to the pinnacle of Spanish gastronomy on the island. In July OLA Beach Club will launch a new menu, inspired by Garces’ own fascinating culinary journey.

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The talented chef trained under some of Spain’s foremost culinary experts, including Martin Berasategui, who holds 12 Michelin stars – the most of any Spanish chef. In Madrid, he worked as executive chef of Jose Luis group, opening branches in Marrakech and Tokyo. At SOL’s OLA Beach Club Garces will serve up contemporary Spanish cuisine. Highlights from the new menu include Andalusian style marinated chicken paella and creative vegan fare like almond soup with smoked beetroot tartare. 

Palace Hotel Tokyo Blooms for Tenth Anniversary

To celebrate Palace Hotel Tokyo’s tenth anniversary this year the Forbes Five Star property is going back to its roots. For the summer the hotel’s popular bars will be serving up “Blooming,” a new cocktail inspired by its original Triple One (1-1-1) cocktail, which first debuted in the hotel’s opening year.

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The new blend mixes Palace Hotel Tokyo’s signature 1-1-1 sake by Hakkaisan, Yuzu liqueur, Lillet Blanc, and Sakura liqueur to deliver a clear, sharp taste with a flowery Japanese aroma. The limited-time cocktail will be on offer at Palace Hotel Tokyo’s Royal Bar, an old world-style cigar bar with the most comprehensive Japanese whiskey selection in the city, and the chic Lounge Bar Prive, where guests can take in views of the Imperial Palace gardens by day and the surrounding city skyline by night. 

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Film Review: Tarung Sarung (2020)

Gone are the days when local and regional films are thought to be inferior to Hollywood productions. Thanks to a burgeoning film industry, Southeast Asian movies are on the rise: and while they may lack the big budget their Hollywood counterparts have, some of these films more than make up for it through creative storytelling, beautifully choreographed scenes, and something Hollywood films might find hard to integrate – culture and heritage.

Tarung Sarung (literally ‘sarong fight’) is one of these movies, and it surprised me with how much heart it has, despite the simplistic plot. Directed by Archie Hekagery and starring young actor Panji Zoni in his movie debut, the film was supposed to be released in April last year, but was postponed due to the pandemic and subsequently released on Netflix on 31 December 2020.

Synopsis

Deni Ruso (Panji Zoni) is the spoiled and arrogant young scion of one of the richest families in Jakarta, who thinks that money makes the world go round. After a fight in a club which was caught on camera, Deni’s mother Dina sends him packing to Makassar, to manage a resort development project and learn some responsibility. There, he meets Tenri (Maizura), a local girl who is passionate about environmentalism, and is opposed to the resort project.

Deni hides his identity from Tenri in order to get closer to her, and sparks fly. Unfortunately, he gets on the wrong side of Sanrego (Cemal Faruk), a local thug who intends to marry Tenri. Sanrego challenges Deni to ‘tarung sarung‘ (literally, sarong fight) – a traditional martial arts practiced by the Bugis people of Makassar, whereby the participants take part in close one-on-one combat within a sarong. Naturally, Deni gets pummeled, and wanting revenge, seeks help from the village’s undefeated former champion Pak Khalid (Yayan Ruhian), who runs the local mosque, to train him in the ways of the sport. And while Deni starts off wanting to get back at Sanrego, he soon finds motivation and strength from other reasons: the love of Tenri, belief in himself, and ultimately, finding god.

Thoughts

Tarung Sarung is heavily inspired by The Karate Kid (I mean, Deni Ruso? Daniel LaRusso? lol) and follows the typical martial arts film formula, where we follow the journey of our naive and inexperienced hero undergoing training and tutelage under a master, emerging not only stronger physically but as a better person. And while the film doesn’t bring anything groundbreakingly new to the table, it still makes for a surprisingly entertaining drama about teenage love and discovering one’s self, with bits of action thrown in.

Now, I haven’t watched many Indonesian films so I don’t have a benchmark to compare it with, but I felt that the acting was pretty good, especially from Panji Zoni, who pulls off the role of rich, spoiled brat really well. (If I was 10 years younger I’d probably be fan girling coz he’s pretty cute).

Yayan Ruhian as Pak Khalid is also superb. He exudes a tranquil, Mr Miyagi vibe; friendly and wise, but not someone you’d want to piss off. Granted, I did feel that some of the other performances felt rather forced, like Deni’s two sidekicks Gogos and Tutu (who are there to provide comic relief), and the villain Sanrego whose one-sided personality seems to comprise of only over-the-top machismo and angry grunting…but overall I liked the characters and performances, as they feel relatable and believable. Tenri, for example, is a well written character who, despite wearing a hijab and being covered up, is a strong, independent girl with her own dreams and aspirations – a departure from the usual damsel-in-distress roles girls that look like her are supposed to play.

What I really enjoyed, however, is the film’s unique Indonesian perspective, which is refreshing to see in a sea of cookie-cutter action films themed around fighting and violence. Deni, who believes in nothing but the power of money and influence, is slowly guided to discover more about god and religion, which is obviously a big part of Indonesian life. Prior to watching the film, I had also never heard about tarung sarung (which is a real thing in Indonesia), so it piqued my interest in art. Back in the day, duels were fought to the death with badik (a traditional dagger) but this is no longer practiced today (in the movie, they fight bare fisted instead).

There are also interesting bits highlighting Indonesian culture, such as a scene where Deni takes part in pindah rumah, a practice where everyone in the village works together to help carry an entire house from one place to another (this can be done because the traditional homes in Makassar are usually made from wood and have stilts, so they don’t have piling in the ground unlike regular houses). Pindah rumah is also done in other Austronesian countries like Malaysia and the Philippines.

Another thing the movie does right is the cinematography, which is gorgeous and highlights the beauty of rural Indonesia – it’s sandy beaches and blue seas, the charm of its small towns and villages, and the warmth of its people. Without spoiling too much, I’d also like to commend the clever ending, I think some audiences might not like it, but I felt like it was very different and subverted expectations.

That being said, Tarung Sarung does have a couple of flaws. For me, it’s the long and draggy run time – at nearly two hours, I feel that the film could have done without certain scenes that don’t add much to the story. The fight scenes are all well choreographed, as expected of a film starring Yayan Ruhian (he was in John Wick 3, by the way. remember that epic scene with the two Indonesian shinobis?), but they are few and far between, which may leave audiences wanting more, since this is supposed to be an action film after all.

Verdict

Tarung Sarung has a standard if somewhat cliche plot and characters, with a uniquely Indonesian flavour and a good mix of romance, coming-of-age, action and drama. And while it won’t be winning any Oscars anytime soon, I think it’s a nice and entertaining film nonetheless. Worth a watch.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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The Lost Kingdoms Exhibition @ Muzium Negara, Kuala Lumpur

Southeast Asia was once home to many Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms, such as Angkor in Cambodia, Kedah Tua in modern-day Malaysia, as well as the mighty Srivijaya, Sailendra and Majapahit empires in what is today Indonesia. Their legacies can be seen in the form of ancient temples, relics and artefacts that have survived through the ages. Good news for history buffs – you can see them for yourself at The Lost Kingdoms exhibition, currently running at Muzium Negara in Kuala Lumpur until the end of April 2020. The entrance fee to the main section of the museum is just RM2, and covers entry to this exhibition as well!

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Working with the National Museum of Indonesia and the National Museum of Cambodia, Lost Kingdoms maps out 12 ancient Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms of Southeast Asia, featuring 103 items that are a mix of real artefacts as well as replicas. Through these items, one can see that there are many similarities between the cultures of the region, from the techniques used to create beautifully carved statues of the gods, to the elaborate decorations found on the hilts of traditional weaponry.

Here are just some of the exhibits that visitors will get to see at the exhibition:

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A 9th century statue of the Hindu god Vishnu, from pre-Angkorian times (on loan from the National Museum of Cambodia).

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Angkorian/Banteay Srei style seated garuda from the late 10th century, carved from red sandstone. Half man and half bird, the garuda is an important mythical figure in Hindu folklore, being the bearer of the Hindu god Vishnu. The garuda features heavily in Javanese and Balinese culture, and is also featured on the Indonesian crest.

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Another statue of Vishnu, this one from the pre-Angkorian period in the Prei Khmeng Style. The statue is made from sandstone and dates back to the mid 7th century. The full, round forms of the face demonstrate the strong Indian influence in the region. Vishnu holds a conch in his raised left hand, a war discus (chakra) in his right, while his lowered left hand rests on the remains of a mace.

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If I’m not mistaken, this is the head of a Kala, a common sight at many Hindu/Buddhist temples in Central Java. The Kala is a mythical lion-like creature – its name in Sanskrit also symbolises ‘time’, which is why the kala is said to devour everything, just as time does.

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One of my favourite pieces from the exhibition is an elaborate relief of Vishnu riding the Garuda, dedicated to the king of Airlangga from the Kahuripan kingdom (9th to 10th century). The image of Vishnu was made in the king’s likeness, to honour his contribution to rescuing and rebuilding Java after the kingdom almost collapsed from war with a neighbouring empire. This is on loan from the National Museum of Indonesia.

 

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Statue of the Hindu elephant god Ganesha made from granite stone, from the Kedah Tua (Kataha) kingdom, 6th to 7th century. Unlike the Hindu Buddhist kingdoms in Java, Indonesia, or even Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, not much remains of the Kataha kingdom in Kedah, other than a couple of candis (shrines).

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Prajnaparamita Statue from the Singhasari Kingdom, 13th century. Prajnaparamita is the goddess of transcendental wisdom in Buddhist tradition, and this particular statue is said to have been modeled after the beauty of Ken Dedes, an ancient Javanese princess who was the consort of Ken Arok, the first king of the Singhasari Kingdom. It is said that the kings that ruled from the Srivijayan to Majapahit eras were direct descendants of Ken Dedes, making her the literal mother of kings.

The Lost Kingdoms Exhibition is running until April 30 at Muzium Negara’s Gallery 2.  Entrance is RM2 for Malaysians (included with the ticket to the main museum).

Museum opening hours are from 9AM – 6PM.

Food Review: Balinese Food @ Bumbu Bali, Bandar Puteri Puchong

Bumbu Bali has been around for many years, and is well known among Puchong-ites for its Balinese and Western fusion dishes served in a relaxing atmosphere. Despite having lived in Puchong for almost all my life, I’ve only been here a couple of times because of its higher-than-average price.  But since it was the Bruh’s birthday, we decided to splurge on a nice meal. 🙂

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Dim lighting makes for an intimate setting, with cosy wooden chairs and tables, and one side of the restaurant adorned with various Balinese decorations like paintings and statues (some of these are for sale).

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The birthday boy had the Siap Mepaggang (RM31); BBQ chicken with spicy coconut sauce.

When it came we were taken aback by the humongous portion – they essentially served half a chicken on the plate. The dish also came with Nasi Kuning (rice with turmeric), various sambal sauces, Rempeyek (anchovy cracker), Lawar Kacang (beans salad) and sauteed kangkong. If you’re a small eater, I suggest sharing this.

Tried a bite and felt the chicken was a little dry, but this is quite common in Indonesian and Malay cooking (think dry rendang) and they seem to like the meat to be on the tough side rather than moist and juicy.

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Pops had the Nasi Campur (RM37), consisting of Balinese grilled lemongrass prawns, squid, fish, chicken rendang and sate lilit, as well as the same condiments as the Bruh’s set. Again, the portion was humongous, and even my dad who is a big eater had trouble finishing it.

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N and I shared the Seafood Platter (RM39), which had grilled fish fillet, squid and prawns. It came served with fries, fruit and a salad. The seafood was pretty good, with a nice smokiness.

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For snacks, we shared the fried chicken strips (RM17), served with garlic pepper sauce. This was mostly chicken skin but oh-so-addictive. The sauce was strong and garlicky.

I have to say that everything was salty though. Or maybe it’s just because my fam and I are used to milder flavours, because N said the seasoning was just right lol. It wasn’t that the food wasn’t tasty, it was just a bit on the salty side.

Service was excellent, although there seem to be wayyy too many servers – I think there must have been more than 10 of them to service 5 or 6 tables for dinner!

Owing to the big portions, its best to come in a group if you’re planning a visit. 🙂

BUMBU BALI 

18 & 18-1, Persiaran Puteri 1, Bandar Puteri, 47100 Puchong, Selangor

Open daily: 11AM – 11PM

 

Review: Breakfast / Lunch +Yogyakarta Kitchen @ Marriott Yogyakarta

Yogyakarta Kitchen is Marriott Yogyakarta‘s all-day dining restaurant, serving both international and local cuisine. Bright, well lit and cheerful, the place is spacious and inviting, with plenty of natural sunlight filtering in through the glass windows.

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The Moo and I got to dine here for breakfast, lunch and dinner throughout our stay at the hotel. Here are some highlights 🙂

BREAKFAST BUFFET 

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Yogyakarta Kitchen serves the typical five-star hotel breakfast buffet fare. For a ‘Western’ breakfast, opt for fluffy pancakes with syrup, waffles, beef or chicken sausages and bacon strips, eggs, as well as various cakes and pastries.

My personal favourite (which I had for two mornings in a row) was the Steak and Eggs.

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This came highly recommended by the hotel’s marcomm manager – and it was DA BOMB. The sunny side up eggs were perfect, with crisp edges and golden runny centres, drizzled over with a dash of soy sauce. On top, a sizable chunk of grilled steak coated in a savoury sauce, and a crunchy, slightly charred piece of toast. The combination of flavours and textures was pure heaven.

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Cold fruit juices to quench your thirst.

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Freshly baked pastries such as croissants, rolls and other goodies. Best eaten with a thick pat of butter and jam, or assorted cheese.

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Have I mentioned that I friggin’ love Brie cheese?

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For those with a sweet tooth, try the traditional Indonesian cakes, or kuih muih.

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Or go for more conventional favourites like muffins, tarts and puddings.

LUNCH 

One can opt for the buffet lunch, but Moo and I had the ala-carte options on our first day in Jogja.

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Moo had chicken noodles, which came served with a thick savoury sweet sauce with a generous amount of chicken meat, egg and veggies. Curiously, the clear soup was served separately, and you add as much or as little as you like. The clear soup mixes with the sauce, creating a flavourful broth.

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I had the rice set, which came served with a local specialty – gudeg – a traditional Javanese dish of unripe jackfruit stew. The texture surprised me, as it had a similar consistency to meat strips ala pulled pork. Also in the set was stewed cow skin, egg, and a crunchy side of emping (cracker).

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Buffet options: traditional Indonesian salads that you can customise to your liking.

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DINNER 

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Desserts making a reappearance – but with a greater variety than the lunch /breakfast spread. Instead of plates, they were displayed on a cold marble table with chocolate swirls. I liked the chocolate mousse, which was sweet but light, as well as the lemon meringue tarts and tiramisu.

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Too pretty to make the first cut. :/

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Noodle bar where you can pick from a selection of fresh veggies and ingredients to go with your noodle soup.

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Local dishes that can be eaten with rice.

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Do try the penne carbonara, which is cooked to order and served piping hot. I like how generous they are with the bacon bits, and the carbonara sauce was creamy without being cloying, clinging beautifully to each strand of pasta.

Prices for breakfast start from IDR180,000.

YOGYAKARTA KITCHEN 

Yogyakarta Marriott Hotel Lobby Floor, Jl. Ringroad Utara, Kaliwaru, Condongcatur, Kec. Depok, Kabupaten Sleman, Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta 55281, Indonesia

Opening hours: 6AM – 10PM

For reservations – Phone: +62 0274 6000888; ext= 1308

Review: Taman Sari Bar & Grill, Marriott Yogyakarta

If you’re looking to indulge in some excellent grilled fare while in Yogyakarta,Indonesia, look no further than Taman Sari Bar & Grill, located within Marriott Yogyakarta Hotel. Named after a royal garden, the establishment is located just next to the pool, with an open layout that exudes chill vibes – great for intimate gatherings, small birthday parties with friends, and romantic candlelit dinners.

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In the day time, you can lounge with a cooler or two after coming up from the pool, and grab a couple of snacks while you’re at it. Come night, the ambient lighting and wooden skylight gives the impression of dining under the stars.

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During a recent stay, I had dinner at the resto and was suitably impressed. For starters, we had the Taman Sari Flatbread (IDR45,000 / RM12) – handcrafted flat bread straight from the wood-fired oven. There were three flavours, namely plain, garlic rub and fire spiced, served with Taman Sari’s sambal. The warm and toasty slices were fluffy and light – I especially liked the fragrant garlic rub, although the other two were equally tasty.

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For mains, I had the Striploin Angus (300gm), from stockyard Black Angus Beef 70+ days grained (IDR 355,000 /RM100), served with a side of corn cob, jacket potato and mushroom sauce. The slab of beef was humongous. I ordered mine medium rare. It’s notoriously difficult to get steaks done to the right level, but they nailed it here. Still slightly bloody on the inside with juices flowing, but not charred on the outside. The knife slid through the meat like butter. With each slice dipped into the sauce, it elevated the flavour of meat to another level. Pure. Bliss.

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To wash it down, a refreshing glass of Yogya Sunrise Mocktail (IDR45000), a sweet concoction of orange, strawberry, lychee, pear and grenadine.

For such a classy establishment, I’m quite surprised at how relatively affordable the prices are at Taman Sari. If ever I return to Yogyakarta, i can definitely see myself returning to have that steak again. It’s hard to find good steak anywhere, really.

TAMAN SARI BAR & GRILL MARRIOTT YOGYAKARTA 

Jl. Raya Ringrad Utara | Yogyakarta Marriott Hotel, Sleman 55283, Indonesia

Phone: +62 274 6000888

Travelogue Yogyakarta: Taman Sari Water Castle

Most visitors to Yogyakarta in Indonesia will no doubt make a beeline for the ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples of Borobudur and Prambanan – but there is a lesser known attraction within the city that is well worth a visit. Located just a stone’s throw away from the Kraton (palace), Taman Sari (literally, beautiful garden) is an 18th century royal garden – once the leisure grounds for the old Sultanate of Yogyakarta.

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Spread across a large area, Taman Sari was also called the Water Castle, as its main complex featured a man-made lake – complete with artificial islands and buildings, which the royal family could reach via boat. The water has since been drained, and replaced with clusters of homes.

The East entrance (where you pay a fee for entry) might not seem very impressive, but venture in and you’ll discover meandering pathways, secret underground chambers, defensive structures and a well-preserved central bathing complex called Umbul Pasiraman, which is very popular with tourists.

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… and for good reason.

The story goes that the complex was used by the palace concubines and serving women, where they would bathe and frolic in the pools.  The Sultan would be up in the tower, observing, and if one caught his fancy, he would pick her as a companion for the night.

It’s easy to imagine how the scene would have looked like back in the day – the turqoise pools, the calming stone and greenery, the blue sky reflected in the water, the beautiful maidens.

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Moving on, we ventured past the West gate, which is more intricate than the east, decorated with floral motifs, foliage and birds.

**From this point on, it is highly recommended you get a guide from the village (which is within the chateau grounds), as the layout is extremely confusing. You might just end up wandering into dead ends, on a roof, or someone’s backyard lol. The guides are ‘volunteers’, and you’ll find many of them loitering around the area. They have a minimum fee (can’t remember how much exactly but I think it was like RM20-30) but you can pay more if you’re satisfied with your guide.

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Your guide will most probably take you through Kampung Taman, which are settlements within the royal gardens. There are about 2,700 residents living within the grounds. The narrow alleyways often feature colourful graffiti with a local flavour, like these Javanese characters.

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Some of the structures are already in ruins. Our guide led us up to a vantage point where we could see over the roofs of the settlements, which stretched out a fair distance.

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Traversing the labyrinthian complex through underground passages, we search for another photogenic area – the Sumur Gumuling underground mosque. Natural sunlight filtered in through strategic gaps, illuminating the otherwise dark tunnels.

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The mosque is, imo, one of the most unique areas of Taman Sari. A circular one-storeyed structure, it used to sit on an artificial island (before the lake was drained), and could only be reached via an underwater tunnel. The building was open in the middle, similar to a well (hence the name ‘Sumur’ (well in the Javanese language) and featured an elevated platform with four staircases, as well as various ‘windows’ surrounding it. The imam (religious leader) would stand in the center to give sermons. There is also a pool on the ground floor which was used for ritual ablution.

 

It is entirely possible to explore Taman Sari without a guide, if you like wandering and discovering things on your own – but the mosque area is notoriously difficult to find. We certainly would have missed it if not for our guide.

Entrance to Taman Sari is a cheap IDR 15,000 (USD 1.50 – RM6).

Address: Wisata Taman Sari, Jl. Tamanan, Patehan, Kraton, Kota Yogyakarta, Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta 55133, Indonesia

Opening hours: (Daily) 9AM – 6PM

Hotel Review: Modern Luxury at Marriott Yogyakarta, Indonesia

During my recent stay in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, the Moomikins and I were privileged to stay at Marriott Yogyakarta, the latest five-star hotel to join the city’s burgeoning tourism scene.

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Modern and contemporary, the 347-room hotel is Marriott’s first foray into Indonesia, and impresses with its top notch facilities and delectable dining options. Its close location to the Adi Sutjipto Airport and various attractions also make it the perfect base for both business and leisure travelers.

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Marriott hotels are one of my favourite places to stay at because they have this cosy, warm and welcoming ambience, as opposed to some five-star places which may feel luxurious but ‘detached’, somehow.  The spacious lobby boasts unique local touches, such as decorative kawung batik motifs and Javanese elements.

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Official photo vs my photo in 3…2…1….

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This is why people hire professional photographers. :’D 

We stayed in the spacious Deluxe Pool room, which had twin beds and a view of the pool. There was an additional sofa bed in the corner, as well as a work table. Instead of a conventional walled-off bathroom, the design featured sliding walls – so you can open them up for more space.

As mentioned, I like the cosy, warm ambience you get from the dark wood, clean lines and calming colour scheme. Cleanliness was top notch, there were a lot of channels on the widescreen TV to choose from, and the beds were soft but supportive.

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Welcome towels in cute shapes! 🙂

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Refreshing herbal drinks upon checking in to the room.

DINING

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There are plenty of dining options within the hotel. During our stay, we got to dine at the all-day dining Yogyakarta Kitchen. Bright and welcoming, the restaurant serves international-style buffet, which includes several firm Indonesian favourites.

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Dinner is best spent at the Taman Sari Bar & Grill by the poolside. Specialising in Mediterranean cuisine, the charming outdoor patio dishes out a selection of steaks, seafood and grilled items as you dine under the stars.

*PS: Will be posting an in-depth review of both resto in separate posts. 🙂

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No five star hotel would be complete without a spot of pampering and relaxation. Marriott Yogyakarta is home to Quan, the brand’s signature spa. The spa menu includes various treatments, from traditional massages to body wraps and foot baths. At the recommendation of the friendly therapist, I went for the Swedish massage, which focuses on soothing muscles and releasing tension.

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Besides tourism, Yogyakarta is also a hub for business and MICE, so its not surprising that Marriott has the facilities to match, including meeting rooms equipped with state-of-the-art AV equipment, as well as the 1,870-square-meter pillarless ballroom – the largest in Yogyakarta – making it the grandest venue in town for special occasions.

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The hotel even has its own atelier for weddings, where the bride and groom-to-be can select outfits from local designers, and discuss with the hotel team on table setting, decorations, etc.

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Marriott Yogyakarta is located directly next to Hartono Mall, a modern shopping centre with retail outlets, departmental store, cinema, entertainment centre and restaurants. It was extremely convenient for me and Moo, because she could just pop over for food or shopping when I was busy with work.

We didn’t have time to check out some of the other facilities such as the pool and the gym, but all in all, I enjoyed my time thoroughly at Marriott Yogyakarta, and would definitely consider it as a place for accommodation if I’m ever in the city again. Beautiful rooms and convenient facilities aside, it is also strategically located, with excellent food and even better hospitality.

Rooms start from USD80 (about RM320+) onwards.

MARRIOTT YOGYAKARTA

Jl. Ringroad Utara, Kaliwaru, Condongcatur, Kec. Depok, Kabupaten Sleman, Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta 55283, Indonesia

Reservations: +62 274 6000888

*I was invited for a review in the capacity of work, which has been published in a magazine. The views here are entirely my own.