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Ever since HKFoodie and I started this blog, I have become the designated person to decide on venue whenever there is a group gathering. Recently, a friend came back from London and a few of us decided to gather round in Happy Valley for dinner. Was flipping through a local mag which raved about Le Coquillage and its Araignees crab soup and its seafood in general - so I promptly made a reservation.

We walked into a relatively busy restaurant and happily settled down at our table next to the bar. Since it was rather late already at eight thirty, we quickly placed our orders for the set menu, which included a seafood platter, the signature asparagus crab soup, and main courses. At HK$238 per set, we agreed that it sounded like good value for money. Of the mains, two were meat dishes and one a fish. Was told they ran out of the daily special fish so opted for the alternative (salmon) instead. Was mildy annoyed (first of many) when they came back and told me they ran out of salmon as well (there were a few tables occupied but it not that busy a night) and that only the meat dishes were left. When I mentioned I would very much prefer a fish, the waiter was indfferent, and hence I was forced to choose the lamb unwillingly.

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I always look forward to my foodie friend's birthday in mid-July~ he always try to organise a themed celebration dinner, and this year, the star of the show is yellow-oil crab. Yellow-oil crab is only in season in the summer, between the lunar months of May to August. These are deformed crabs, which had been exposed to the sun and heat so much in the summer that their fat (roe) turns into a liquid form, which rolls throughout their whole body.

There are three grades of yellow-oil crab, so classified depending on the amount of fat within their body. In general I prefer hairy crab over yellow-oil crab, as the chef's skills very much determine how tasty your yellow-oil crab is. Last time I tried one in Lei Yu Mun, it was first chilled in ice water and then steamed, which is one of the most popular method, but resulted in all the yellow-oil turned into a boring hard solid form, that's not different from your normal mud crab. This time, my friend hosted his dinner at Fu Sing in Wan Chai, which has fast emerged as one of the top tier restaurants in HK. I walked in with low expectations in spite of its good name, as I said, yellow-oil crab is normally not my cup of tea.

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Apart from Mister Donut, a Japanese sandwich shop is driving another queuing craze in Taipei - Romankan Yokohama, loosely translated as The Romantic House of Yokohama, specialises in pork sandwiches. Being the investigative journalists as we are, we decided to check it out on our recent visit. Romankan Yokohama, opened in March 2005, is situated in the corner of the food court for Breeze Shopping Center, and is hard to miss with the super long queues close to the escalator. Unfortunately we cannot show you this incredible sight, as the shop does not allow photography in its vicinity, for reasons totally beyond us.

The shop offers four different types of sandwiches - Porkloin, Chicken, Hamburger, and Vegetable patty. Prices ain't cheap at NT$75 a piece (breakfast for three at Yung Ho was only NT$80), so expectations were set high. Since it was early and we had all the time in the world before the shops opened, we stood there observing every single step involved in producing a sandwich in front of the open kitchen. In true Japanes tradition, division of labor was practised to meticulous perfection, with someone in charge of deep frying the meat, another in toasting the bread, someone else preparing the ingredients, and the final touch of assembling everything together being done by a fourth person. At the till, two young femal attendents were busy sticking the item labels to the small plastic wrap. 

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C’est bon! is located in Tsing Yi, one of the satellite developments in the New Territories of HK. Before your mind goes completely blank and dismiss this area, recall your Airport Express journey from the airport, and you'd remember that first station it stops at is called Tsing Yi, yup, that's where we went..

Must admit that I rarely venture out to the dark side, let along the New Territories… so imagine my surprise when my friend told me that you have to book at least three weeks in advance for a weekday booking for C’est bon!, a newly opened fine dining French restaurant in Tsing Yi. Knowing little about the place, except that it is a branch of the extremely popular original C'est bon! in Bangkok, we held our Octopus cards in hand and made an outing all the way to NT.

We were very impressed with the light, French bistro style decor of the place, with full-length glass windows on the far side of the restaurant overlooking a calm sea. We felt transformed to one of those sidewalk bistros in Europe, and were only brought back to earth by the tacky saying plastered on the plates in front of us... =)

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While I prefer The Ritz for its luxurious comfort, my colleague prefers staying at Raffles The Plaza. Located close to the Chijmes and War Memorial Park, Raffles The Plaza is affiliated with the renowned Raffles Hotel, which is where Singapore Sling was first invented. I think one of Raffles The Plaza's strongest selling point is its interconnecting shopping mall with its sister hotel, Swisshotel The Stamford. One has very easy access to a wide variety of shops within the complex, not to mention restaurants. If you get bored of the selection, you could always venture out using the MRT station located within the complex.

Make sure you get a room in the revamped wing when checking in - while the rooms in the old wing are of a similar size, the decor is tired and unattractive. The thing I like about Raffles The Plaza is that one can control all the lights and curtains in the room, plus the temperature, via the bedside panel, saving the need to get out of bed to do it late at night (total lazy bum, I agree).

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Whenever I stayed with my relatives on my infrequent Taipei visits when young, I always eagerly looked forward to the break of dawn, when my cousins would bring me to the local street stalls to devour a bowl of piping hot sweet soy milk, a Taiwanese traditional breakfast choice.

Sweet soy milk (tian dou jiang/ 甜豆漿)

Nowadays, it has been so commercialised that there seems to be a branch of the famous  Yung Ho Soymilk (永和豆漿) just about any corner one turns, with some even operating on a 24-hour basis and have introduced new products like turnip cakes to complement their selection.

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Was deliberating whether to recommend Fullerton for a while simply because it is such a gem for tourists. Decided in the end that sharing is better~ ha. Fullerton has two branches within Taipei, located in close proximity to one another. We chose the Fullerton 315 for our recent trip as the Fullerton 41 branch was fully booked. The latter is not only newer, but also more suited for weekend tourists, as it is within walking distance to the shopping district around the massive Sogo dept store, while 315 is closer to the business district.

Recently there has been a flood of boutique hotels in Taipei, and one that has been frequently recommended is Les Suite Taipei. I have not stayed there personally, but have visited a friend at the hotel and found it below my expectations. While the minimalistic, chic decor was very refreshing and unique for Taipei, I was let down by the service level - or the lack of service. You rarely see more than one attendant in the entire lobby, and it takes ages for room service to answer calls. In short, the hardware is all there, but it is in dire need of better software. At Fullerton, I had a much warmer welcome and the service was definitely on par. Not only did everyone speak extremely fluent English, serivce was also prompt and satisfactory.

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Was reflecting on my bad luck in the month of July on my flight to Taipei over the weekend, and realised that I was probably jinxed...

- Another scary horse riding incident involving a thunderstorm, an irritating classmate that provoked my horse, an agitated and out of control horse, and almost toppling over on cement grounds. 

- The absolute WORST flight ever when returning from Singapore - this deserves a proper entry another time.

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