Discovery Shores, Boracay, Philippines Part 2: The Room

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What’s a blog about a hotel without pictures of the room? Obviously the room is of great interest!

The room of Discovery Shores was tastefully done, yet not plush or overly luxurious. The bed was wonderful though. Firm, with beautiful sheets (I’m no expert, but it felt like high thread count) and fluffy down-filled pillows. So wonderful to crawl in after a tiring day on the beach.

Discovery Shores treated us to a complimentary foot spa when we arrived. That’s DH’s hairy leg, not mine, BTW.

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The requisite light reading on the beach. We asked to change rooms (our original room was too far from the beach), and I noticed a stack of books in the first room as well. Thankfully they were different titles. I actually picked one up (LA Times). Definitely light reading.IMG_2492

An ipod/iphone dock, to play your own music. However, with the new iPhone 5 using the new charger (and I assume, the next generation of iWhatevers will folllow suit), I suppose they’ll be changing this soon.

IMG_2491Discovery Shores gave us fruits or a native sweet every day. It was a nice way of sharing some local culture with the guests. I didn’t take a picture of the food though).
IMG_2490 And 3 jars of goodies greeted us on our first day, and were refilled every day. The empty one was filled with yummy oatmeal cookies, which I demolished.IMG_2489

Of course, the BATHROOM was very important to me, and here I must admit i was a little disappointed. It was a weird set-up: the toilet and shower inside the bathroom, while the sink was outside in the bedroom. Not something I expected from a world-class hotel. Plus the bathroom was quite spartan (no picture again…..all you’d see would be a tiled wall). The fixtures were nice though.

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And they do make cute towel animals (I mentioned their towel swan in the previous post).

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Here’s a picture of the rest of the room, though the day bed isn’t seen.IMG_2483

Discovery Shores, Boracay, Philippines Part 1

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For our 5th anniversary, DH planned a beach getaway to Boracay, a beautiful island less than an hour away from Manila. As I mentioned in a previous post, there are all levels of hotels in Boracay. We wanted one that was on the quiet side of the island, and one that would pamper us a bit. Discovery Shores was our choice.

Discovery Shores, Boracay, Philippines, was rated #1 Hotel Spa in Asia by Travel and Leisure (see here), one of the Top 5 in Travel and Leisure’s List of 500 Best Hotels in the World and ranked #6 in tripadvisor. And a lot of our friends have stayed there before, so we knew that it would be a great anniversary.

Discovery Shores took care us of the minute we landed in the airport. We were met by gracious and pleasant uniformed employees of the resort, who promptly helped us with our bags, and led us to an air-conditioned van to bring us to the waiting area of the boat (approximately 10 minute ride).

At the waiting area we were given bands to identify us as Discovery Shores guests, though it wasn’t really needed at this time as there weren’t too many people.

IMG_2311But retail is in the detail, so it was a nice branding touch.

We made our way to the boat. Now, 20 years ago the boat that took me to the island was a shaky, dinky, open outrigger. It felt adventurous and exciting, being exposed to the elements, chugging along the waters. 7 years ago it was a little more civilized, with a roof, large enough for more passengers, and LIFE VESTS. Today, Discovery Shores reassures their guests with safety and technology. 
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We were greeted by an attendant who passed out cool, wet towels, a bottle of cold water, and a pack of granola bars. All for a 7 minute ride to Boracay Island. This boat had a crew of about 4 people. Passengers totalled around 10.IMG_2315

Discovery Shores sits on a prime spot on White Beach, the best beach on Boracay. Actually, with such a great address, Discovery Shores can just offer mediocre facilities and services, and they will still be fully booked. Happily, the owners decided to put a world-class hotel and train their people with a “never-say-no” attitude.IMG_2412

The hotel was decorated for Christmas!
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The view from the cafe. This is where breakfast is served. Imagine having your omelet while gazing at this! BTW, there’s a full buffet breakfast every day. It’ll be hard to keep your bathing suit figure here.IMG_2323

It was great to see Discovery Shores take care of their beachfront. A crew of sweepers clean up the beach of any trash every morning, and comb through the sand to make sure no sharp objects (like broken glass or cigarette butts) remain as a potential hazard to bare-footed beach bunnies.
IMG_2322Our favorite spot every day. Gorgeous, isn’t it?IMG_2391

As I mentioned, pampering is Discovery Shores’ strong suit. Without us asking or even lifting a finger, attendants came over to our lounging beds and brought us a carafe of iced water. Ok, so MAYBE that might be a little expected. Serving water in a beach. Ho hum.

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Then a gracious lady attendant comes over with a bowl of cold Evian spray (or something similar), and offers to spritz our faces. Whoa!! Of course we accept! It was pretty hot by this time, and we were already quite greasy from all the suntan lotion. It felt great!
IMG_2423 Then to top it all off, there’s this guy that goes around offering to clean our sunglasses from all the greasy marks and sand. He’s equipped with a felt cloth and a glass cleaner. Amazing!

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Not pictured: there was another attendant who was going around with slices of chilled cucumbers and oranges for our eyes and cheeks. I felt like a salad. And another attendant that passed around various finger food like frozen grapes, chicken quesadillas, mini pizzas, corn dogs……

Talk about service beyond the call of duty. I even read in the papers that there was an incident where a lady lost her engagement ring on the beach. Urban legend has it that the staff combed through the sand, looking for it AND FOUND IT!!! Bravo, bravo Discovery Shores.

Of course, our own UNBELIEVABLE experience in Discovery Shores is how they move the sunbrella around the lounging beds, just so that we didn’t have to move as the sun moved. We never got burned, and was comfortably under the shade all the time, even as the sun went from east to west.

Discovery Shores also tries to personalize their services. For example, they found out that it was our anniversary, and decorated our room with a banner, rose petals, and towels formed into swans, and a chocolate cake! And we weren’t even honeymooners. My friends’ experience is that the staff actually put in their room framed PHOTOS of their family taken in previous stays in Discovery Shores. Wow.

Definitely a rave.

Island Getaway: Boracay, Philippines

IMG_2331I’ve been to countless of beaches, both local and abroad, famous and unknown, and Boracay has always been my benchmark. I love its dazzling, fine sand, so light that it never gets hot. This is no myth. You can go around barefoot without feeling any discomfort. The sea is so calm and clear: it’s like a giant swimming pool. Nature at its most beautiful, with creature comforts within reach. Bali, the French Riviera, Honolulu…all are more famous, but to me, they can’t hold a candle to Boracay.

To get to Boracay, you must take a domestic flight to either Katiklan or Kalibo. From there you take a local boat or a bangka for 30 minutes to Boracay. My advice to tourists is to land in Katiklan, as landing in Kalibo entails a 1 hour bus ride to get to the Katiklan.

I’ve been going to Boracay for about 20 years already, and was happy to see a modern airport! 20 years ago the Katiklan airport was a shed. Now look at it! IMG_2301With conveyor belts and everything! This was around December, which explains the Christmas tree.

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From the airport we were whisked to another comfortable waiting lounge to wait for the boat to take us to the island. This waiting lounge however, isn’t for everyone. It would depend on what hotel you’re staying. We were going to stay in Discovery Shores (next post).
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It was a gorgeous day!! This was the path to the beach of Katiklan, where we would board our boat.
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Sorry, no pictures of the dock in Boracay, but again, a big improvement from 7 years ago (when I last came here). 

As I said, Boracay’s sand is very fine and light-colored. It’s nice to see that the local government and the resorts take care to keep it that way by combing it every day to remove trash and debris.

IMG_2318White Beach is the famous part of Boracay. It’s a long stretch of this fine, light sand. Hotels are located on the beach, so make sure you ask for a room with a beach view. White Beach is divided into 3 stations (they are called stations because these were the stations where the boats used to dock. Now they all dock in 1 place, far from White Beach).

Station 1 is the best part of White Beach, in my opinion. It has the widest span of beach, and is the quietest part. Station 2 is where all the bars and restaurants (and yes, a STRIP MALL!!), so if you’re the type who wants to be on top of the action, stay here. Station 3 also has some bars and restaurants and is generally noisier than Station 1, but not as frenetic as Station 2.

Here are some shots of the beach in Station 1.This was around mid-morning, so there weren’t too many people walking around yet.
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This is an example of establishments around Station 2. Smaller, and very close together. You can imagine how noisy it gets when they’re fully occupied. Thankfully the local government put a height restriction on the buildings on White Beach, so we won’t be seeing the gargantuan hotels…..IMG_2346

7 years ago the beach was crawling with people selling local shell necklaces and sunglasses, while masseuses would go around offering to give massages for P150 (4USD at today’s rate). Today I didn’t see any of these. Instead I saw many hat vendors, such as the one below.

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Another difference is the presence of all these booths on the beach offering all sorts of water sports. They weren’t on the beach before, but a little at the back. They kind of ruin the beach for me.IMG_2339

Since it was December, some people took the holiday spirit to the beach!IMG_2345Boracay has really evolved. The first time I came here (around the 1990s) there weren’t too many choices of hotels or activities. It was really “just” an impossibly beautiful beach, and I just lazed away the day. Today it has really been developed to attract all kinds of tourists, with hotels of every level, and so many activities (and non-activities). IMG_2358

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Mario Batali’s Lupa in Hong Kong

With the many great dining places in Hong Kong and only 2 days to spend, we had a hard time shortlisting our picks. Mario Batali’s Lupa, however, was a no-brainer. With fantastic anecdotes about their New York branch, we were excited to try famous Mario’s trattoria food.

Lupa boasts of a long, open kitchen, where chefs send out their creations to frenetic servers. It looked orderly, clean, and organized…..a credit to the kitchen brigade working in it.

The in-door dining area was spacious, cozily lit, and done elegantly with starched, white tablecloths and fine cutlery. But the ambiance remained casual and relaxed, which I appreciated. Lupa also had outdoor seating for the smokers and their wood-fired pizza (apparently, not available indoors). I didn’t bother checking it out so can’t comment.

I loved the tall pepper mills! Definitely a showpiece!

The name Lupa comes from the Italian word for she-wolf, and as per the menu, the restaurant is named after the she-wolf that nursed Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome. So the picture of a gigantic wolf with 2 babes nursing at her teats was emblazoned on the menu. Not your average cover, and well, rather strange for me.

The menu was very extensive! So large that we all had a hard time choosing, since there were just too many choices that sounded good. Though we pride ourselves in our appetites, I don’t think any of us could tackle both a primi and secondi course, with an appetizer and dessert to boot.

While choosing our dishes, we started off with this excellent wine.

Since we were a large table (10 hungry women!), we were able to order a lot of different dishes, much like our experience in Bistronomique (see my entry about Bistronomique here). Of course we all made each other promise to share.

For starters: sardines, golden raisins, and pine nuts on a bed of bulgher wheat. The sardines were cured in citrus (as per the menu). This was quite interesting, because the flavors were delicately balanced: the sweetness of the raisins, the tartness of the sardines, and then the crunch and nuttiness of the pine nuts. The portion was small enough to just whet my appetite (and I had to share it with the others!).

Truffled Crema Fritta: fried, breaded cream laced with truffle “essence”. I think this lacked truffles. I know its supposed to be just a whisper, but this wasn’t even audible. And as fried cream is already quite bland, this was more just texture for me: crunch.

Arugula and shaved Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) was a light salad. The peppery arugula was tossed in a light vinaigrette. Not much play with the flavors, since the arugula was the dominant taste.

This was the winner of appetizers: creamy cow’s cheese with smoked prosciutto.

For mains, my order was the black spaghetti with spicy pork sausage. I was attracted to the squid ink pasta, and what’s not to love about spicy pork sausage? The server warned me repeatedly that it was VERY spicy, but I waved her away, confident in my tolerance for spice.

Unfortunately, the server was right. This dish just had ONE taste: heat. I couldn’t taste anything else, so the squid ink pasta, mint and anything else  was just wasted. Such a shame. And yes, I LOVE spicy food, but this was just a one-note dish.

The saltimbocca was the winner of the evening, though unfortunately, terribly unphotogenic. But trust me, it tastes much better than it looks. Underneath this pink, unappetizing mass is a bed of wilted spinach, which paired beautifully with the saltimbocca.

The crispy duck looked impressive and mouth-watering, and we loved the idea of HALF A DUCK! Skin was crispy (as advertised), and we enjoyed this dish.

I forgot what this dish was. Maybe squid? Well, whatever it was, it didn’t make much of an impression.

The dessert menu:

The Espresso Bonet. Not memorable. It doesn’t even look familiar.

The Flourless Chocolate Cake: again, not memorable.

The Date Torta: again, not memorable.

Our feedback card.

So, in short: Lupa fell short from my expectations, but perhaps my expectations were because of the superstar celebrity chef Mario Batali. Some dishes were good, the ambiance was cozy, and the service competent. Personally, this wasn’t worth the price, but it’s a nice date place, including with bragging rights.

Lupa
3/F, LHT Tower, 31 Queen’s Road, Central
2796 6500

Bistronomique in Hong Kong

Chef David Lai, who trained in Alain Ducasse’s restaurants in Monaco and Hong Kong, has opened his second restaurant, Bistronomique. A casual French bistro, Bistronomique offers classic French bistro fare such as Salade Lyonnaise and Creme Brulee, but with a little edge.

The restaurant itself is a little out of the way. We had to take a cab, and walk a bit, and the street was a bit deserted….not the usual hustle and bustle in the busy streets of Hong Kong.

Interiors are quite bright and well-lit, with no frills. The restaurant is simple: a long narrow room, with banquette seating. This was on a Saturday, lunchtime, and it was full. Good thing we had reservations for our table for 10 ladies.

Bistronomique is not cheap, but they do offer a very affordable Set Lunch Menu. Several of us had this, and were quite satisfied with portions and quality.

For those of you who are curious about their ala carte menu, here are some snapshots. As you can see, their menu is quite extensive.

Always a nice way to start a lunch: chilled white wine!

For starters, I had the herb-crusted bone marrow, on a bed of salt. This, of course, came with some thinly sliced toasted bread. Grab a toast, spread some marrow, and sprinkle just a teeny bit of salt. Swig white wine. Deeelicious!!!! The herb crust was the  WOW factor with this dish. It added a whole different layer of flavor.

Since we were a lot, we got to order a lot of different things, and we were not shy to share with each other. This is the foie gras ‘torchon’, which is a tower made of chunks of foie gras, accompanied with a side of mushrooms (which paired excellently with the foie gras). Note the sprinkle of (probably sea) salt on top.

This was the daily soup. If I remember correctly, it was a creamy leek soup. Quite frothy and light, though full of leek flavor.  A great starter, since it didn’t fill you up too much.

Loved the lardons in their Salad Lyonnaise, but then, who doesn’t like bacon?

Their Caesar Salad came a little deconstructed, but tasted good as well.

Pan-fried pork chop. I love eating pork, but this just tasted all right. Impressive size though!

Duck breast. How French can you get?

This looked beautiful and tasted wonderful. Lobster cassoulet!

This was the “daily fish” on the Set Lunch Menu, and to me, this was the best tasting dish all around. The play of flavors between the roasted red peppers and the grilled fish (I forgot exactly what it was, but it was a firm white-fleshed fish) was perfect!

This was my order. Black pork belly. The famed uber-tender black pork, belly cut. What’s not to like? Unfortunately, this was a little under-seasoned for me. Or maybe I just expect my pork to taste more than just fatty (don’t get me wrong…I have no problem with fatty cuts!).

Mushroom Risotto. Always unphotogenic, but such comfort food.

Desserts in French restaurants are always anticipated. A very, VERY, dense chocolate pot de creme…..

A mille feuille (though to me, the wafers were a little burnt….)….

…and the best thing EVER…..creme brulee with truffle oil. SO good.

So, as I said, expect simple French bistro food in Bistronomique. Nothing fancy really, but wonderful, high-quality ingredients, with just enough of a chic twist to elevate it to fancy fare.

Bistronomique
Shop B, G/F, 1 Davis Street, Kennedy Town, Western District
Tel: 2818 8266

The Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong

Think of the words “Four Seasons Hotel” and immediately images of luxury, pampering, plush, and posh come to mind. At least to my mind they do. So you can imagine my excitement when I heard that our girls’ indulgent weekend in HK was going to be spent at the Four Seasons. Indulgent indeed.

We checked in around 8am in the morning (rather groggily after a 5am flight), and the hotel lobby was rather quiet. The front desk was also free from any other guests checking-in or out, so getting our rooms was a breeze. The front desk clerks efficiently checked us in, gave us our keys, and took care of our bags, all with a smile.

The rooms looked like your average deluxe hotel room. I was a tad let-down, since, as I said, I was really expecting a lot from the Four Season. But well, you can’t REALLY complain when your room comes with fully loaded with these goodies:

But as I said, I’ve seen these amenities before in other hotels, so they weren’t such WOW factors. We DID abuse the Nespresso though.

Forgive the mess: I forgot to take pictures before we made ourselves at home.

So, all in all, so far my impression of the legendary Four Seasons Hotel is….well, it didn’t stand out. It was a nice hotel, yes. But as nice as the Four Seasons of my imagination? Far from it. Maybe I should have managed my expections.

On our last day, we discovered the spa of the Four Seasons.

It was a hidden sanctuary, tucked away behind a forbidding door, that opened into a shangrila (oops, sorry, wrong hotel!).

Well-stocked with (more) amenities, we made ourselves at home while waiting for our ride to the airport. I couldn’t take any pictures of the jacuzzi or massage rooms, as there were several women there pampering themselves.

As a bonus, there was a cute boutique that had swimming suits and other pool-lounging wear, just in case you forgot yours.

Lest I forget to mention, the service at the Four Seasons Hotel was superb: immediate, unobtrusive, courteous, and always with a smile. But then again, you’d expect that from a Four Seasons.

HK Art Fair 2012

A trip to Hong Kong’s much anticipated Art Fair was a convenient excuse for 7 women to get away for an indulgent weekend. Indulgent because not only did we stay in the Four Seasons, but we also lined up a series of serious eats. While the Art Fair was (supposedly) the primary reason why we were going, it was looking more and more like a foodie trip.

My confession: I am an art imbecile. Unfortunately I am one of those that cannot appreciate anything I can’t recognize, and my knowledge of art borders on nothing. I even took a summer class in art appreciation in Fordham many, MANY years ago just to  improve my (lack of) knowledge, but it didn’t do much good. But I do have an open mind, and a love for learning, so I was looking forward to my weekend of art and culture. And food. Yes, mustn’t forget that.

We were lucky enough to snag a couple of VIP passes, which essentially let us in a few days before the general public, as well as allow us access to the VIP lounge. So registering and getting in wasn’t a bother at all.

So here are a few pictures I snapped of random pieces and installations. There were huge halls of art works, so don’t think that these pictures are even remotely representative of what was shown.

This was one of my favorite pieces.

Up close, you can see that the faces were actually made from puzzle pieces. Cool, huh?

This ship is from the same artist (my apologies….I didn’t get the name).

Being a Beatles fan, this one of course caught my eye.

And up close……the lyrics of certain songs!

Same method for Darth Vader.

Now I had to take a picture of this……

I don’t want to sound flippant, but I have a lot of these in my apartment building. 🙂

This piece, made of pink sweaters, caught a lot of attention. I won’t get too detailed in the description though. But if you’re curious what these are supposed to represent, feel free to make a comment, with your email, and I can elaborate. 🙂

And there were a lot of them too!!

There were pieces from the great masters, such as Picasso. I wonder how much they were going for.

Definitely this Art Fair is for the serious collectors and not duffers like me. But I would definitely go again next year!

For those who want to read more about the Art Fair, click here.