Posts Tagged: Reviews

Sheraton’s Ramadhan Kampong Delight

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Year after year, Sheraton Utama Hotel doesn’t disappoint during the Ramadhan season, by offering a plethora of great breaking of fast items at a great price. The kampung styled offerings are sure to whet the appetite of the fasting patrons, with little tidbits of starters based on local dishes; from the salted fish, salted eggs, eggs covered in peanut sauce; to the local sweets and desserts, accompanied by the customary dates to break the fast, diners are greeted with a plenty of choice at the Tasek Brasserie this year.

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Dates and traditional sweets and desserts to start off the feast.

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The usual grilled whole lamb is present, along with the grilled food station. Other dishes of note were the Lamb Topiaza, and the Potatoes with Peanuts and Anchovies, which I loved despite the simple nature of the dish. I haven’t had the chance to try the Fish Filet dish and the Sup Tulang, but I only saw thumbs-ups from the other diners in our party last night, so it’s safe to say it’s good.

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Curry Laksa, heavenly.

The laksa finished out my ’rounds’ last night, and people who know me, knows that I’ve been looking for a good laksa dish in Brunei for the past few months. I’d say the curry laksa they had was one of the top 3 laksa dishes I have had here.

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To finish up, the dessert station was particularly inviting for the amount of cakes and desserts lined up, but had to go with the Mud Cake, as I’m a fiend for chocolate.

In all a great spread, a great atmosphere, and should have paced myself. By the end of the dinner, I was really, really full. Maybe I’ll come round again and have another go. Two family members conveniently have their birthdays in September. Maybe by then I’ve had more training.

Star Trek (2009) Movie Review

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Imagine a world where space travel is common place, where there are crafts travelling faster than light speed warping through space and time, where transporting humans across distances can be achieved with teleportation, where ingenuity, courage, determination and loyalty are character traits to be expected. Now imagine experiencing all that during your formative years watching Star Trek: The Original Series. While we’ve all become jaded over the years, and special effects have come a long way since the 70’s, sometimes we all need a movie to come along to bring back the fond memories of watching the possibilities of the human species advancing beyond our time.

While a new gloss of paint is slathered over this reboot of the franchise, the underlying Trekkiness is all there. The characters and their mannerisms, the epic space battles, the Trek universe science, the ingenious problem solving, the sense of duty to the Federation; it’s all there, hitting the right notes, echoing the spirit of The Original Series. While not an exact carbon copy of exacting standards, merely an artist sketch and rendering of a source material that is fondly loved by most, and alien to some. In other hands, I don’t think this reboot would work, but in the hands of master artist J.J. Abrams, the final artwork manages to rekindle memories of past for die hard Trekkies, I mean Trekkers, and introduce the average moviegoer to what is arguably the best representation of Star Trek: T.O.S. for this decade.

While the story is essentially a genesis story of how the legendary crew of U.S.S. Enterprise came together, the star of the show was definitely Chris Pine’s portrayal of James Tiberius Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock. Mind you, fitting in the shoes left by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy is a herculean task considering the intellectual property and the millions of die hard Trek fans out there; they’ve taken these beloved characters’ essence and made it their own. While Heroes fans might have a hard time to dissociate Quinto from Sylar, by the end of the movie, Quinto is unmistakably Spock, no nonsense, and logical antithesis to Kirk, brash, devil may care attitude with a wicked sense of gut instincts that proves to be useful to the Federation. The interplay between the duo’s distinctly different approaches are woefully brief however, as there needed to be screen time to develop the other characters as well, but it’s nothing a sequel can’t rectify.

All the other beloved characters are present and accounted for, with John Cho as Sulu and Anton Yelchin as Chekov, Karl Urban as the inimitable DeForest Kelley, I mean Dr. McCoy, Zoe Saldana as the love interest Uhura, and Simon Pegg as the beloved Scotty. While a sequel is still up in the air, there is room for the actors and actresses to grow into the characters and make it their own. While Karl Urban is undeniably DeForest Kelley reborn, Simon Pegg has redefined Scotty to be a very excitable Simon Pegg. Even the Enterprise has that certain T.O.S. retro charm to it, with the consoles and control panels looking like the updated versions of the T.O.S. ones, there is that feeling of adherence to the original cast, Enterprise included, while updating it for a fresher look to attract the new fans.

While the story’s plotlines are not what you’d expect from previous Star Trek movies, but in the world of J.J. Abrams, it fits right in. All the important plot points are plausible in the Star Trek universe, with a number of movies in the Star Trek saga having had established precedents. But if you somehow by now managed not to know the storyline, then you will be pleasantly surprised. While it might seem too complex to the average moviegoer at first, but during the viewing, the suspension of disbelief is carried forward ever so gently by the pacing and the avoidance of total sci-fi geekery by not bombarding technical jargon at the audience. By the time of the movie’s revelation scene, the audience will be so emotionally invested in the characters and their predicaments; they will be much more receptive of the ideas introduced in the movie.

Special mention has to go to the cinematography and the special effects. The sweeping angles, the dramatic, and poetic, slow motion sequences, the believable presence of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the most realistic CG sequences ever put on screen, even the controversial overuse of lens flare; it all adds up to a unique viewing experience not matched since Iron Man. Considering the movie was directed by the man who brought to us the unique Cloverfield, and the best sci-fi show since the X-Files, Fringe, there was no doubt from the start that Star Trek will be a unique movie experience. While die hard Trekkers would bemoan this very fact alone, but the net effect of boosting the popularity and accessibility of the Star Trek franchise cannot be ignored. This is the one movie to catch this summer blockbuster season. Bar none.

9 Red Shirt Ensigns out of 10.

Villa Mauri… Bellissimo…

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Me and the officemates went for Sungkai at the newest toast in town, Villa Mauri located along Jalan Sungai Tilong (click through for the map location, click on map link on the right hand side). Great Italian food all around. The main dish, the Sirloin Steak, was quite a favourite, as well as the Meatballs starter.

Pity the Bandung drinks was only given once. Otherwise flawless dining experience.

Sheraton’s Selera Kampong Kitani

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The ever popular lamb roast.

This was the first buffet style breaking of fast I’ve had this year, if you could believe that. Haven’t really gotten into the Ramadhan swing yet, and besides, I was trying to cut down on the food intake. But reminded about last year’s fabulous spread and the oh so scrumtulicious roast lamb on a spit, I won’t pass it up this year.

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This was at the Lok Lok station, basically like meat on sticks, chilled on ice.

This year, the local food theme is back, with a veritable feast of local favourites, like ‘Roti John’, an actual Kebab station, my always favourite noodle station with the different kinds of Laksa, a great acar, cakes and desserts spread, and the crowd favourite lamb roast/grilled. Again and again I extol the virtues of the lamb there, which is the best in Brunei, and several colleagues agree with me on this. It just melts in your mouth.

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The cordial station, next to the Teh Tarik fountain. ‘Manisan’ or Rose cordial is always a favourite back when I was a wee tyke.

Within this first few weeks I’ve usually broken the fast with finger foods, so it was a force of habit for me to go for the kebabs and Roti Johns. One or two servings of rice, satay and lamb, I was done. But not before going for a round of my new favourite there, the Noodle Station. I had the Laksa last year, and it was quite a surprise, and oh boy, it didn’t disappoint.

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Perennial favourite, satay, with gravy next to it. I could break my fast with just a handful of these…
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A thing of beauty.
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Roti John, Kebabs, and Pratas. ‘Fast food’ by our standards.
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Lovely ambience as usual.
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Finished our dinner with oh so sinfully lovely Chocolate Cake.
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Wide shot setting the scene…
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…and done.

Thank you Sheraton, Paula and Alex, for your wonderful hospitality.

“Available every day of the fasting month from 6pm to 7pm, take yourself to Tasek Brasserie for a boutique-style Sungkai, call 224 4272 extension 8871 to make your reservations early. Dine with us during the Selera Kampong Kitani sungkai buffet at Tasek Brasserie and stand a chance to win fabulous prizes such as dining vouchers and complimentary stays at various sister properties in Malaysia and Bali!”

The Dark Knight Movie Review

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In what was befitting of a finale performance by the late Heath Ledger, his portrayal of The Joker as a madman hellbent on bringing chaos to Gotham City truly deserves the rave reviews and accolades it has received. A deranged psychopathic lunatic with anarchy on his mind, sometimes you’d forget that underneath that make up, was once an actor that played teen heartthrob roles and confused cowboys.

A performance that even rivals, surpasses at times, Jack Nicholson’s screen presence and charisma, every screen time The Joker gets was used effectively in showing how crazy he is and his singular focus of bringing chaos to the established order, while bringing order to his chaos. Underneath the facade of craziness, lies a calculating, manipulative genius that, unless matched by Batman himself, would see Gotham crumble into the mess that it was before Batman’s arrival. Always staying a step or two in front of the authorities and Batman himself, pushing and pulling everyone to overstep their moral boundaries and nosediving Gotham into anarchy.

The title chosen for this iteration was not coincidental, as the whole movie involves the interplay of Batman, and Harvey Dent, the ‘White Knight’ of the story. Both recognize their own role in cleaning up Gotham, but ultimately realizing that the other would be better suited in doing what them themselves can’t, to the point that either one of the two is willing to risk themselves to protect the other’s ideals. This also serves as another dimension of the love triangle set up when Rachel Dawes, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, is romantically linked with Aaron Eckhart’s character.

As Batman cleans off the last few crime bosses that was left behind after Falcone’s arrest, they band together to rebuild anew. But try as they might, nothing could be done while Batman still roam the night, until The Joker steps in and shakes everything up, not just the renewed control of the cleaner Gotham streets, but as well the notion of what the perfect criminal truly is.

And that is one without any qualms about killing everyone regardless of affiliation, no qualms about doing the craziest thing you can or can’t think of, no qualms of even hitting where people hurt most, that is their loved ones. Because Christopher Nolan chose not to even flesh out the Joker backstory, preferring him to be “absolute”, an ‘unstoppable force’ pitted against Batman’s ‘immovable object’, you can sense that the two are even matches when it comes to their intelligence and tenacity, and the ingenious ways both employs, Joker in trying to pressure Batman, and Batman in trying to pursue Joker.

Then there’s his other ‘plans’, that made everyone go batdroppings insane. These really pushed Gotham to the brink of anarchy, and the resulting chaos would be a far greater magnitude than what Ra’s Al Ghul did in Batman Begins. And even if you think you know the story by now, it doesn’t mean there’s no twists at the end, by which point if you didn’t think Joker as the psychopath that he is, you will by then.

One of my most anticipated movie this Summer, I can gladly say the wait has not been for naught. Even if Ledger is robbed of an Oscar, I can say without uncertainty, he will be awarded a couple of Moonmen’s, one of which should be the Best Villain. Truly a performance that was worthy of a great actor, who locked himself up in a room to study the mannerisms of a Joker of the comics transposed into a real life, flesh and breathing deranged lunatic. 9/10.

There is No Charge for Awesomeness! Or Attractiveness!

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I was drinking water when a decidedly Jack Black-ian Po the Panda gestured as he had to climb up a seemingly finiteless number of steps towards the Jade Temple, that’s when I had the most terrible choking of my life. And the most rewarding!

This is one movie that everyone might enjoy. The parents who brought their wee lil demon spawns might enjoy a bit of respite watching this movie. I swear, the amount of sudden outburst of laughter might make the popcorn or water a dangerous weapon when propelled out of your nose.

In a decidedly refreshing move, Kung Fu Panda was made with a more mature audience in mind, with Jack Black as the main character Po, and a stellar cast of voice actors that includes Angelina Jolie and Jackie Chan of all people, this was not a movie specifically made just for kids. The jokes and comic timing were a bit more clever, and if you loved Jack Blacks other works in the musical and theatrical arena, you might recognize his signature all over the animation.

But let me talk about the 3D animation for a bit. I really liked the stylized animation style, and the gorgeous scenery that the characters interact in. Unlike the cold and plastic looking characters in Shrek, it has The Incredibles feel to it, as in the animation fits the subject matter.

The peach tree scene was really lovely, as the leaves floated among Master Oogway.

At the outset of this post I didn’t wanna ruin any of the big laughs for you, but I figured one out of many is good enough. Watch it with good natured people, and not frumpy ones, and I promise you guys will have a good time. 8/10.

Iron Man Movie Review

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This movie was quite a surprise in that it avoided the cheesy lameness of Marvel comics movie adaptations as of late, and it manages to attract stars such as Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Terence Howard and Jeff Bridges! This line up of stellar stars gave character to these, uh… characters in that they have that underlying mannerism that doesn’t really boil to the surface, but it’s tangible and it’s there. No doubt the stars drew these traits from their own personalities, so you can see parts of Robert Downey Jr. shining through Tony Stark, or even the lovely Pepper Potts has a little Gwyneth in her.

I don’t know who Jeff Bridges channeled his asshole demeanor from, but man, did he play that part perfectly.

In keeping with the original storyline of the comic books, Tony Stark is a genius play boy industrialist that inherited Stark Industries from his parents. After a brief stint under Obadiah Stane’s mentoring, Stark emerged from beyond the shadows and became one of the most charismatic, yet naive, merchant of death. Only after his convoy was ambushed, and he fell into enemy hands, only then he realized all the weapons he produced found creative ways reaching to the people he rather not want using his weapons.

During his captivity, his captors wanted him to replicate a weapon he designed capable of unleashing hell fire from just a single missile. Considering the state of the prison was in, you would think it absurd to recreate a sophisticated weapons system; but he managed to create a chest implanted device necessary to keep him alive from all the missiles and weapons made available to him. Knowing the tremendous available power from the chest implant device, he set out to create the first of the prototype of his infamous suit of armor.

As he made his escape, you can see the change of heart he underwent, adamant in preventing his captors from using the weapons he produced, correcting his wrongs by destroying the stockpiles of weapons bearing the mark “Stark Industries”.

What’s amazing is that they chose to keep the look of the suit realistic, insofar creating metal and rubber suits to be interspersed with CG sequences. The team that previously worked on Zathura under Favreau came and did the suits for this movie as well. And as that movie showed us, the final product really blurs the line between what is real and what is CG.

I’m not saying that the CG version of the suit isn’t impressive, far from it. Every detail of the final Mk III suit has a specific purpose to control his flight and his life support system. Every surface animated, every flap opening and closing, controlling his flight trajectory, every function is grounded in movie based science, where it has the plausability factor of a far greater magnitude than being bitten by a spider and getting superpowers.

The technology and the science they use to explain and use to depict the gadgetry of the Iron Man suit and Tony Stark’s house is based on real life, albeit a few more years in the future. The home automation, the 3D projection, the interconnectibility of the devices, even the Iron Man suit can theoretically be achieved given a few more years and a few more billions of dollars. No wonder the officemates I went to watch the movie with were swooning at all the gadgets.

That’s about it though, that’s as much as I’m willing to disclose so as to let you fine readers to go watch this action packed, well written, and well directed movie. Director Jon Favreau, which also is in this movie as one of Stark’s body guard who got to race around in a Rolls Royce, hit a jackpot on this one. Combining CG effects that blends well with live action sequences, focusing on the major storyline points while letting the actors improvise their lines made for a great experience. The character of each actor shows through their silver screen counterpart, and it only made the movie that much more likeable. No wonder it’s shaping up to be the most well received movie of 2008, and stands to become the highest rated superhero movie of all time.

9 out of 10. It is that good!

Image copied from ComingSoon.net

I Am Legend Review

This remake of The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston sees Will Smith (Robert Neville) as the last man on earth, tasking himself with finding the cure for a virus that turns its victims into mindless killers, placing this movie along the likes of other zombie fests 28 Days Later or Dawn of the Dead, with the twist that these zombies, nay, more like shedding, super, gymnastic humans that can transfer their virus via touch or air, lending credence to statistical impossibility of the virus wiping out the rest of the world.

Neville is an army doctor that discovered that a retrovirus that was engineered to cure cancer turned rogue, turning all its recipients into mindless killers that ultimately loses their even basic human instinct, with the hunger for blood driving them. When he discovered that the virus has evolved the ability to jump from host to host airborne, he made all efforts to get his family off of the island of Manhattan, where this movie is based in. This airborne transfer of the virus echoes our real life fears of the human bird flu virus jumping via the same means, which will make you start to think the possibility of all the events on screen happening in real life.

Our attempts at correlating events happening in these kinds of movies usually draw us into the story far more effectively. How many times have you wondered what would you do in a zombie outbreak? What weapon would you grab first? Where would you fortify and barricade yourself in? No doubt, this is the kinds of thought provoking questions that the script is posing to the audience. What would you do if you thought that you are indeed the last man on earth? How would you keep yourself sane?

The answer is that he has the family dog that keep him company while going around doing routines to that fills out his days. Either hunting for food, or collecting supplies, or a trip to the video store, his dog is his trusty companion, giving him something to talk to. It’s also a link to his past, where he tries to get his family off of the island of Manhattan. But isn’t this a zombie-like movie you ask? Aren’t the streets filled with screeching creatures that breaks into a run whenever they see a human?

If there were afflicted humans running around running amok all the time, it’d make a darn boring movie, what with the main protagonist huddling in his bath tub for three years. The plot of these creatures not being able to tolerate UV rays gives off a vibe of vampire movies, and has them being labeled as Darkseekers at one point later on in the movie, as these things usually seek the darkness in abandoned buildings to keep themselves out of the sun’s rays during the day. This plot device allows Neville to go out during the day, while trying to occupy his time documenting his efforts of finding a cure for the virus that he himself is immune to.

His immunity leads him to believe that the burden of finding the cure at the source of the outbreak is his alone to bear, concocting various mutations of his immune blood and injecting them into various virus carriers. This means that he has to catch these things whenever he has the chance, displeasure even, of running into a pack of them. He sets elaborate traps to capture these creatures; and at one point, which was unclear if it was due to his sanity finally slipping or somehow the plot reverses unto itself and the creatures manage to think all of a sudden; he gets caught by the same kind of trap that he used to capture the creatures. And at that point, the proverbial shit hits the proverbial fan.

I think I shall refrain from typing any more, as there would be huge spoilers that will ruin the movie for you. For me, I didn’t even catch a single full, official trailer before coming into the cinema, only knowing the existence of the movie from watching HBO’s special on it, and as previous movies have shown, I’d rather not know even a single tidbit of information so I can reserve my judgment in the theatre.

What’s my take on it? Good movie and it makes you think as well. The repercussions of genetic engineering or the possibility of a virus wiping out all humans might weigh in during your viewing. The emotional struggle to keep one’s sanity during the whole ordeal is one thing that’s rarely touched upon in most zombie apocalyptic movies. This is an 8/10 for me, only slightly marred by the obviously CG creatures. And what would be the first thing I’d grab in the event of a zombie apocalypse? My lawnmower, a la Dead Alive, or probably a hand attached chainsaw.

Sheraton Utama Hotel’s Tamu Sungkai Buffet by the Poolside

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Lamb Roasted on a Spit.

A group of bloggers were invited for a session of breaking of fast with the staff of Sheraton and the new General Manager, Mr. Alex Riva. We were greeted at the lobby by… Ok, I have to confess I somehow misplaced all the Business Cards that was handed to me, even though I remembered to put it in my memory card wallet. And I’m rather terrible with names. But they did greet us at the lobby and ushered us all to our tables.

Rano invited me, Jim747 and Airbiscuit the night before for this, and we all gladly came. We met Reeda and Yeeman there. Though there was supposed to be a few more from the blogosphere, but it was in all six of us having a delightful night of great company and great food.

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The Pickles and Acar spread.
0009_DSC_0012Rano at the Noodles Station.

I got some photography stuff out of the way first before heading to the food stations, but that lamb roast on a spit was enticing me to say the least. After some photos and some long exposure shots, I was ready for the food. On my first ’round’, I had some rice, veggies with prawns, some satay, and my main target for the night, the roast lamb. Let me tell ya, the nice and tender meat was a delight. Most of the grilled lamb chops I had all this time was quite the opposite. Even the roast at Rizqun I had a hard time to bite with my old man chompers, but last night’s at Sheraton was really, really, delectable. It was so enticing that I digged in without even taking a picture. It was that good.

We chatted for a bit with our two hosts that sat with us on a separate table, and found out that they have done the breaking of fast sessions with other traditional media outlets, such as Radio DJs and Newspaper reporters and editors.

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Reeda from Anakbrunei.org having a chat with the staff of Sheraton.
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Jim747 and Rano with Alex Riva (c.) the new General Manager of Sheraton.

I had to remind myself that I needed to take a picture of the food items for Yeeman so I got up to get a second serving, thoughtfully, but futilely arranging the items so it’d look great on a photo. Fried noodles with satay and pratas and some more roast lamb.

Playing with wireless CLS again with my food, flashing the white tent to give a nice, even, soft lighting to light up the food.

My third serving was some noodles with all the condiments dipped in what I thought was Laksa curry, but turns out it was a thick Tom Yam soup. Thank goodness I tried it, as it was the best Tom Yam I had in months.

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My second serving.
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My third.

There’s no better way to end a good dinner than with a dessert. After Reeda exclaimed it was dessert time, we found our way inside for the dessert table, and I proceeded to snap up some pictures. But once I found the Chocolate Ice Cream Pit, and the accompanying Chocolate Rice Sprinkles beside it, off the camera went, and back to my seat I go, with Ice Cream bowl in hand.

Teh Tarik and Chocolate Ice Cream goes great hand as I’ve found out.

It was a great night, with great company, and not to mention to two lovely ladies with us at our table. And I find the poolside setting only manages to calm my nerves and help me relax some more. And it was not too rushed anyway, and the crowd was not all that much. Great place to have your dinner, Sungkai or not. I totally recommend it.

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I totally missed this on the way in.
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Dessert time.
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Top of the night with a bit of ice cream and teh tarik.

The full set of pictures is here.

25 to Sungkai

25 to Sungkai
Man, that VR system sure is awesome. Taken with the 70-200mm f/2.8G. Without VR this woulda been blur city.

Went to this Thai restaurant on the same block as HSBC in Jerudong. Aqil Shafiee Restaurant I believe the name was. It wasn’t a buffet, more like ala carte. Certainly there were a few dishes that was quite popular, meaning there were a couple of dishes that other tables had that was the same as the dishes on our table. Cashew Nut Chicken, Tempura Prawn? Or was it just deep fried prawns. Tom Yam Prawns. Pineapple Fried Rice. Mango Fish (this deep fried fish cooked Thai style with Mango bits. My favourite of the bunch) with Kailan as the vegetable dish. Tanghoon Salad, which I gave a miss because they said it was too hot. That basically rounds off everything we had on the table. The food was great, and the atmosphere was relaxed, as there were no rush to the buffet table.

You know what? I’d rather like that format. I might try to go ala carte for all my Ramadhan dining pleasures next year. Might have to compile a list though.