Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Garden Slug, Bright Centre, Singapore

Rating:4/5 11110
Quiet, personal and secluded makes the Garden Slug the perfect place for secret lovers, long dinners and quiet musings.
When I got off the bus stop across the Bright Centre, I was hungry, the rain was pouring, the wind was strong, and my black leather shoes were soaked.

Since it was my first time in this area, I couldn't easily figure out where to go because there was no visible signage. I asked a bloke where the garden slug was and he pointed at the grass. Harharhar very funny sir (gago!).

The Vibe
I finally found it and as I stepped inside, it felt a bit Starbucksy because of the blackboard, dessert display, free wifi, couch and unobtrusive lounge music. You could tell that these guys have their priorities straight because on the far wall was a framed poster that said: "Decisions: don't wanna make any today. just wanna eat my cheesecake." (more photos here)

Instead of having just the odd newspaper or two, I was surprised that they've got a whole shelf of books you can actually take home and borrow! (Of course you have to come back to return it which makes it a great advertising gimmick!)

The food
But I didn't come all the way here to read so I grabbed a seat in their dining area, which had a tiled floor that reminded me of Filipino bathroom tiles, and ordered their rib eye steak with Yukon mashed potatoes (SGD$16.90), pasta with roasted pumpkin & plump juicy prawns (SGD$13.90) and a glass of their homebrewed lemongrass iced tea (SGD$3.50).

Their steak was surprisingly tender and it had a distinct flavour that I'm at a loss for words to describe. Was it smoky? pepper-y? I'm not sure but it was definitely tasty. The pasta was so-so and the shrimp was not as plump as I thought they would be. The lemongrass was refreshing but drink it fast because it's best served chilled.

For dessert, try the Pear William (SGD$5.50) which is stewed sweet pears sauteed in white wine and cinnamon topped with gelato. Yummy!

Scary bathroom
I'm tempted to give minus points for the tiny (but clean) bathroom located outside the resto, under a flight of stairs. It's so out of the way that one of the waiters would accompany the ladies to show them where it was. Then again, the scary bathroom could also be a bonus point because you and your special someone could *ehem* get creative here specially when it's raining hard, it's dark and you're both drunk.

Four pawikan points. Bonus points for the personal service that made me feel like I was eating in a friend's house. Heck the location is so isolated that I felt like I was eating in a far-away friend's house!

If restaurants were music, this one would definitely be indie. It reminded me of Manila's Sa Guijo minus the bands but this place definitely has the potential to become one. How about wednesday acoustic nights? On my way out, I also finally got why the resto has such an avant garde name. (hint: it's all in their motto: eat drink don't think!)

How to get there

The directions on their website are not helpful at all so use mine instead:
Take bus 155 from the Eunos MRT (it's the bus stop by the street and not in the bus terminal). Alight at the 4th stop from Eunos. Bright Centre's across the street and if you face it, The Garden Slug will be on the left side.
To get back to the MRT, take bus 15 to Eunos or 155 to Paya Lebar. Say hi to the slug staff for me and tell them reviewsbyp sent you.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Mel Gibson's Apocalypto

Rating: 11100
Apocalypto is what you get when you cross The Predator, Fugitive and Lost.

A good portion of it is a lot of men in g-strings running around in a forest trying to chase another man in a g-string. (If you like man-ass flesh, you're in for a treat.) As the movie nears the end, the hunters predictably become the hunted.

There's a lot of blood and gore-- freshly taken hearts (still beating!) raised into the air, skull smashing, blood squirting (ala Kill Bill), beheading, testicle eating (no joke!), bludgeoning, spearing... oh and this being Mel Gibson, it's in a foreign language (Yukatek Maya) so you've got to read the subtitles.

Three pawikan points. Go and watch with your guy friends because this is definitely not a make-out movie. It's supposed to be a "political allegory about civilizations in decline". Ummm whatever. I don't know about that but I know that this is exactly the type of film my dad would enjoy-- a simple plot, no need to think and lots of action.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Over the top service at Jumbo Seafood, East Coast Park, Singapore

Rating:4/5 11110
After our hearty Chili crab and oat-prawn meal, I asked the waiter Damien to explain to me why there was a Jumbo seafood staff holding an umbrella over this man who insisted on smoking in the drizzling rain.

Without missing a beat, Damien replies: "we want to give the customer the best service possible."

I don't care if it sounds scripted, I've got a photograph to prove it! Now that's where legends come from.

The fact that the portly gentleman was a bit thick-skinned to allow someone to hold an umbrella over his head is a different matter altogether but it doesn't detract from the fact that heck, here's some crazy, over the top customer service. (Based on my pretty fly experience, No Signboard seafood could learn a thing or two from the Jumbo guys.)

I had half a mind to test if the service only applied to portly, European gentlemen or if it also would work with a brown-skinned and very Asian looking me. But first of all I don't smoke, and secondly I can hold my own umbrella, thank you.

Four pawikan points for Jumbo Seafood, bonus points for the service. I specially like their black pepper crab and barbecued tilapia. My companions enjoyed the chili crab and prawns with oats. Make sure you make reservations or come early because the place is always packed.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A fly in my meal at No Signboard Seafood: Conclusion

Rating: 110.500
This is the conclusion. Read how I almost drank a fly in part one of this two-part series.
Incredulous looks all around, i think they were going through their own versions of Kubler-Ross when finally finally they decided to take some action--The staff shrugged it off and offered me another beer.

Errr... I wasn't that drunk yet! That fly could have come from anywhere! From the tap dispensing the beer or the kitchen that washed the mug. Heck, if it got into the beer, it could also be in my food! Who knows what deep-fried houseflies could taste like-- would they be crunchy , too? Maybe they could taste like spicy baby squid.

Up to this point, I had heard no apologies yet. Best I got was the explanation that the fly must have fallen from the sky and that they'd replace the beer free of charge. (duh.)

Exasperated, I told the staff (yes, all of them because there was no single point of contact, no one in charge) that I had lost my appetite and that I would not be eating there tonight. I took my bag and walked out into the cool night.

Then I was approached by a waitress and she told me that I still hadn't paid for the appetizer I ordered. I looked at her, did my best dood-are-you-serious look (complete with eyebrow raise) and flat out told her that I'm sorry but I would do no such thing.

At a loss, she turned to the greeter, Ivy, and she told me that I had ordered and that I should pay. I smiled a perplexed and almost tortured smile and told her that if she insisted, I would pay but I would do so under protest.

She gave me this grouchy look, a forced never mind and waved me away.

This would have been the perfect time to demonstrate some great customer service. The staff could have turned this setback into their advantage and showed me what world-class Singaporean service is all about. Here's how I wanted it to play out:

  • First of all, instead of acting like headless chicken, there would have been someone in charge.
  • This person would have acted embarassed and apologized profusely for this pornographic lapse in food safety.
  • I would be given reassurances that this won't happen again; my meal that night would have been free and I would have been given a $500 voucher to come and eat there again.
  • And on the next day, they'd send me a 'sorry' card and a bottle of wine just to say thank you for remaining a customer.
Alas, none of that sort happened. Not even an offer for a free dessert. Ivy even wanted me to pay for the $10 appetizer.

Two and a half pawikan points. I was tempted to give them a zero but I think I would eat here again because this is Agent A's favorite chili crab and they serve the best deep-fried baby squid. I'll just make sure to check my mug before I sip.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

A fly in my meal at No Signboard Seafood and they still wanted me to pay! (part 1 of 2)

Rating:2.5/5 110.500
There was a fly in my mug of Tiger beer at East Coast Park's branch of No Signboard Seafood. While accidents such as these happen once in a bluemoon (i hope!), the staff's handling of the situation left much to be desired.
While waiting for my companions to arrive at No Signboard Seafood's East Coast Park branch, I ordered my favorite spicy and crunchy deep fried baby squid and a mug of ice-cold Tiger beer.

Barely through a quarter of my appetizer, I lifted the chilled mug, brought it to my lips and almost gagged when I saw a very plump and very drunk housefly (musca domestica) floating lazily in the froth.

In a flash, I went through most stages of the Kubler-Ross' model of grief:
1. Denial - Teka, teka... this can't be a fly!
2. Anger - nakanamp.... WTF is a housefly doing in my f#ckn beer!?
Depression - i don't want to eat anymore.
and finally...
4. Acceptance - okay there's a fly in my beer. its not the end of the world. deal with it.

(Incidentally, this last time this happened to me was when I discovered a fly in my bulalo soup at the Apollo karinderia, a two-bit road side eatery in some obscure corner of Manila where you sort of expect these things to happen. You definitely don't expect this in a world-class, developed country like Singapore and specially not in tourist-friendly No Signboard with their uniformed servers and fancy walkie-talkies. )

I went up to the lady at the bar and asked if the manager was around. She said that he was away on holiday. I asked if I could speak to a supervisor, she said there was none. She asked me what the problem was and by this time, my friendly waitress had arrived to see what the fuss was all about. I pointed at the mug and asked her to explain why that creature was there.

She just looked at it.
And looked some more.

Then she brought it to the bar counter and had the other waiters look at it, too. Ooohs and aaahs, hushed and rapid Mandarin going all around. Wow perfect timing for a show and tell session. Come friends and look at the floater in the Filipino's foam! (In hindsight maybe I should have charged them a dollar.)

Read the conclusion, what the staff did and what I think they should have done in the last part of this series...

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Cebu Pacific Air: Singapore to Manila and back

Dec 11 2007 Update:
I've flown with Cebu Pacific from Manila to Singapore just last November and here's a short update:

  • Those extra pawikan points I gave in my original review because of their chic uniforms? Well it's gone now. Those hip, 60's inspired frocks have been replaced by gaudy yellow Bench-sponsored baby t-shirts and slacks. Ugh.
  • No more free iced tea on board.
  • No in-flight bring-me game
  • Check-in was surprisingly quick and the flight left as scheduled and arrived on time. Yay!
  • Getting my refund for a flight that I canceled took four months! And even then, I had to send countless of emails (that went un-replied). Although I didn't want to do it, I had a cousin of mine who works for Cebu Pacific go on and "follow it up". I got the refund a week after he looked at it. Plus points for my cousin, minus points for the lousy system.
On to my original review...

Rating: 2.5/5110.500
Cebu Pacific's new Airbus A319 aircraft and free iced tea do not make up for the fact that it takes more than an hour to check-in and the flights are rarely on-time. Its only saving grace are its evening (8:30pm from MNL) and red eye (00:40am from SIN) time slot.

Online Booking

Compared to Jetstar's (read my review of Jetstar here), Cebu Pacific's website leaves much to be desired:
  • First of all, they did not accept my Mastercard because they were implementing this fancy schmancy extra security "feature" which prompted me to key-in a PIN before my payment is authenticated. But... I don't have a PIN! I called up my bank and they said it's the merchant's problem and they can't help me. I did not encounter any problems using this credit card on other online banking sites so something funny's going on with Cebu Pacific.
  • Secondly-- you can't change your booking online. To do this, you must dial their call center in the Philippines. Eek!
  • Thirdly-- the website lacks those "nice touches" that Jetstar has: like showing flights a day before and a day after your target departure date so that you've got more choices or by showing a running total of your fare, etc...
  • Finally-- their E-ticket looks like crap. It's hard to quickly find the information you need because all the information (departure, duration, arrival, etc...) are listed in a table with no gridlines or visual clues to help your eyes quickly find what you're looking for.
How much is it?
If you book early (a month or two in advance), i've seen it go as low as SGD$79 (excluding the usual taxes and fees). This is at par with Tiger's prices (read my review of Tiger here) and is cheaper than Jetstar's usual SGD$128. During peak seasons like my upcoming flight on Chinese New Year, a round trip can cost about SGD$500-- a couple of bucks cheaper than PAL.

Moral of the story? Book early.

Long check-in times at Singapore's Budget Terminal

Checking in is a pain. It took me a little over an hour to get my bags checked in. (And yes, I was at the airport two hours before departure.) Maybe two counters just aren't enough for 124 passengers. Oh and BTW, there's no skybridge to the plane so you have to walk up a flight of stairs. The elderly or pregnant could have a little trouble specially if they're carrying heavy bags and if it's raining.

Even LONGER check-in times at Manila's NAIA!
Oooh what a nightmare! There were four counters shared by all Cebu Pacific flights serving Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore but before you could get to them, everyone had to go through a pre-line so that the bags could be weighed on a separate mobile weighing scale! (According to the ground staff at the counter, the weighing scales at the check-in counters were not accurate enough. WTF!) This pre-line resulted in the following:
  • Since everyone had to line up to use this mobile weighing scale, the queue got really loooong and snaked around the terminal. It was messy and people had to keep asking what the line was for because they couldn't believe it was so freaking long.
  • It moved very sloooow. By the time I got to the end, my freshly shaven chin had a slight stubble. How could it not move slow when they guy manning the weighing scale was giving away Cebu Pacific stickers, answering queries and doing a million other things!
  • Since passengers to different destinations were sharing the same weighing-scale queue, those flying to Hong Kong whose flights depart earlier had to queue behind us passengers flying to Singapore and Malaysia whose flights left later! These passengers were very, very nervous.
  • To appease their nervousness, there was a Cebu Pacific staffer going around the queues calling out "Hong Kong! Hong Kong! Anybody going to Hong Kong?". A passenger would meekly raise his hand and would be escorted to the front of the queue so he wouldn't be late.
Seriously, I've seen wet markets that were more orderly than this.

"Our Time is The New Filipino Time"
Three out of my three flights with Cebu Pacific were delayed. Two by more than an hour. One time it was late because the aircraft arrived late. Another time, we were late because passengers who checked-in didn't show up and their luggage had to be removed. Another time it was late because... *yawn*.

Who cares. If they boast to be on time, there's just simply no excuse to be late. They're giving Filipino Time a bad rep.

In-flight Service
Finally this is where Cebu Pacific redeems itself. The aircraft looks new, smells new and is spacious enough for me (TIP: ask for aisle seats up front!). The flight was safe and uneventful but I hope that in the future they'd figure out a way to seat families with young children up front (like how Tiger does it) so that they can have an easier time boarding/departing. Bonus pawikan points because:
  • They're the only airline i've ever flown that has an in-flight "bring-me" game. (Try playing the game at 2:00am when the flight has been delayed for about an hour.)
  • They're also the only budget airline I've flown that provides a free iced-tea beverage!
  • Plus, the female flight attendants' 60s inspired uniforms are very chic.
Two and a half pawikan points. The whole check-in and being tardy thing is a big bummer for me.

But would I fly with them again?

I definitely would. My only reason is that their convenient evening schedule lets me travel without losing a day of work. They've got a lot of potential to be my preferred airline if they sort out their issues. But for now i'll just have to grit my teeth, bring a good book and get to the airport a little earlier.

If you liked this review, you might also want to read my review of Jetstar Asia and my review of Tiger Airways.
You might also want to check out whatsikat.com which is updated twice an hour with reviews from other Pinoy bloggers, celebrity bloggers, chismis and news.