Highlights of 2015

2015 came and went much quicker than I could ever imagine. Despite the year breezing by, I am grateful for having the opportunities to travel to six international destinations (while still being employed full time), meet interesting people while traveling and collaborating with several brands.

Wales, United Kingdom

View around Cardiff Bay
Looking down High Street

I started off traveling to Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom during late February/early March with Visit Wales. Landing at Heathrow Airport in London and take the leisure train ride over, seeing the rolling green hills that gave me a preview of the lushness of the landscape and the many adorable, fluffy sheep I’ve seen when my group left the city of Cardiff.

Millenium Centre
Entrance to Cardiff Castle
The main dining hall at the heart of Cardiff Castle
The Arab Room at Cardiff Castle

The spectacular Wales Millennium Centre serves as an arts center and public space that serves the community, not just for the elite (via operas and orchestra concerts). Part of me regret I don’t have spare time to watch an opera or a concert here.

I could never forget the majestic Cardiff Castle. The Bute family brought power and prosperity to Cardiff, which they turned from a sleepy backwater into one of the greatest coal exporting ports in the world. They transformed the Castle into the Gothic fantasy we see today, as well as revealing the Castle’s Roman past. In 1947, the Butes gave this castle to the people of Cardiff.

Cardiff Castle is visually stunning with the many ornate details in every room. I could easily spend an entire day and have a field trip photographing this architectural beauty.

View of Mumbles and Swansea Bay
Langland Bay beach huts
Langland Bay beach huts and homes by the coast

A few days later from Cardiff, we drove and stopped a few cities over and ended up to our final Welsh city, Swansea. There are beaches in Wales – and Langland Bay is one of the top places for locals to go on holiday here.

Anguilla

View of Festival del Mar's Harbor Bay from our boat
Looking out from Smokey's
Chicken and lobster combo

On April, I worked on my tan early by heading to Anguilla with Anguilla Tourist Board. Anguilla is a beautiful, small island in the Caribbean.

Things I loved about Anguilla: the kind, generous people who live there; laid back island lifestyle; mesmerizing clear blue ocean ranging from turquoise to sapphire blue. And I never encountered a lobster and crayfish as enormous as the ones I ate on this trip! They were easily five-pound (or 2.2 kg) beasts and its a meal in itself. Appetizers and dessert were not necessary. Just kick back with a cold beer or you go fancy with a cocktail or a killer rum punch.

A very walm welcome of fresh plate of chocolate dipped strawberries (on coconut) and bottle of Laurent-Perrier Champagne
Rooftop ocean view from the Moray Penthouse
Infinity pool adjacent to the Sunset Lounge just after sunset

I’ve stayed at two hotels during my Anguilla trip and I thoroughly enjoyed the luxurious Viceroy. I was welcomed with chocolate dipped strawberries and a bottle of Laurent Perrier Champagne set at my spacious hotel room (with a bathroom to die for and my personal outdoor plunge pool). I wish I could vacation there every winter (like now).

Montreal

Montreal Biosphère at sunset
Habitat 67 by Moshe Safdie
Montreal was my elusive city to travel ever since the fall of 2013. Montreal is just about an hour long flight from JFK and when I briefly stayed there for my wine gig in 2013, I knew I had to come back to this Canadian francophile city. I finally had the opportunity to spend several days when Montreal Tourism invited me to explore their fair city in mid-July.

Vietnamese Coffee Affogato

The Bahama Mama..flaming
Freshly baked bagels flicked over to the large plastic crate
Chef/Owner Patrice Demers
Banana, chocolate and caramel cream choux puff

Their food and bar scene is great. As everyone tell you, you should visit Jean Talon Market. It’s eye candy for farm fresh produce and local food. The amazing in-house roasted coffee, delicious brews and desserts from Dispatch. The dangerously good tiki inspired cocktails from Bar Le Mal Nécessaire. Watched how to make Montreal style bagels at Fairmount. Reconnected with one of Montreal’s best pastry chefs, Patrice Demers. We met many moons ago at StarChefs and I was a fan of his desserts then and visiting his restaurant/cafe/cooking school, it was a vivid reminder how amazing his pastries are. (Must get the filled to order pastry puff when you get there!)

Fireworks - L'International des Feux Loto-Québec at Parc Jean-Drapeau
Fireworks

Watching the fireworks at Parc Jean-Drapeau (officially called L’International des Feux Loto-Québec) is spectacular and worth standing in the crowds for a good viewing spot.

Hong Kong

Breathtaking views of Hong Kong from The Ritz-Carlton Suite from the dining area
Our tiers of afternoon tea bites
Baked whole abalone puff with diced chicken
Braised pork belly with supreme black vinegar (龍軒東坡肉)
Pléntitude Mooncake

Hong Kong is a familiar city since I do have relatives who reside here. Last time I’ve been to this city was 2009 and as expected, Hong Kong has changed quite a bit. Kowloon is slowly becoming the “it” place to hang out even though the Central district (think the prime 5th Avenue in NYC), is still the area where all the glitzy uptown shops and restaurants are situated.

Though I had many good meals, I remembered specific dishes (like the abalone puff) at Lung King Heen at Four Seasons Hong Kong. The other memorable time was when I entered Cafe 103 at
Ritz Carlton Hong Kong and saw the breathtaking view (you can literally see the clouds when you look out the windows) of the city and have afternoon tea. The luscious braised pork belly with supreme black vinegar from Tin Lung Heen at Ritz Carlton Hong Kong. Going to Pierre Hermé Hong Kong and had their first collection of chocolate mooncakes – and it’s sold only in Hong Kong. It did not suck and it truly mimicked the Chinese pastry.

Lobby
Plate of sweets - Opera cake, blueberry cheesecake, passion fruit eclair, strawberry mousse cake & poppy seed cake
Bedroom at Lichfield Suite

The OG Mandarin Oriental hotel is Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong. When you enter through the glass doors, you can certainly see and feel the history especially with the beautiful original artworks at the lobby. When you ever get the chance to stay at the Lichfield Suite, it’s a bit different in regards to its norm decor but it does have the luxe touches that is Mandarin Oriental. Afternoon tea here is also a big draw for all of the locals and tourists alike come here to be seen.

Macau

Fountain in Senado Square, Macau
Entrance to Table 8 Restaurant
Goldfish shaped har gow (蝦餃) or shrimp dumpling
Steamed then pan-fried Chinese barbecue pork buns, shaped in hedgehog

The trip to Macau (from Hong Kong) was definitely food filled and squeezing in some shopping and sight seeing. The best meal (and dim sum) I ever had was 8 at Grand Lisboa Hotel. 8 is a 3* Michelin restaurant and it easily beats all the other dim sum experiences I’ve had – even in Hong Kong! Sure, their steamed (and pan fried) barbecue pork buns and har gaw are adorably shaped like porcupines and goldfish but it tastes amazing. All of the other dishes I’ve had were consistently excellent. (You may read my post here.) I wouldn’t hesitate to take the ferry over and have dim sum there again.

Tokyo

Night views of Tokyo from Bunkyo Civic Center

Tokyo is one of the bucket list places I wanted to visit and I can finally cross it off (though I want to come back again). The modern super metropolis is also deeply tied to tradition. It’s busy and moves in a frenetic pace like New York but it feels organized amongst the chaos. Food is simply delicious and they are made with care. Even the junk and street foods are carefully cooked.

The moss and grass shaped namagashi with iced matcha tea
Pouring condensed milk on to the matcha kakigori (かき氷) topped with mochi and adzuki red bean

Tokyo Mise is a little over two centuries old wagashi brand that is both a cafe and a take-out retail spot. If you do have the time, it’s worth sticking around and linger over their sublime matcha kakigori topped with mochi and adzuki red bean or head to the chef’s bar to order selected made-to-order wagashi and matcha tea (iced or hot).

Fried rice, lobster, King crab meat and dried scallops

Sense at Mandarin Oriental Tokyo is a 1* Michelin restaurant for fine Cantonese cuisine. Sense deserves that 1* as service was attentive but not overbearing. The food was spot on. (I never had better fried rice than this place.) And the views of Tokyo is amazing.

Ispahan & 2000 Feuille pastries and Thé Jardin de Pierre to sip at Bar Chocolat
Plate of Fetish Ispahan
Initiation de Gouts, de Textures, et de Temperatures autour du Chocolat Azur
Sensation Infiniment Chocolat

The other major highlight in Tokyo was the visit to Pierre Hermé Aoyama. Hermé’s luxurious, mind blowing pastries and chocolates were absolutely delicious – and I never ate so many sweets in one sitting but it’s worth the calories and sugar rush.

Long sprawling lines to wait for Daiwa Sushi
Deluxe seafood chirashi (ちらし寿司)

Visiting Tsukiji Market on a late morning (for this place, 9 AM is probably afternoon for them), it’s still bustling with a ton of tourists lining up at Daiwa. The many chefs, wholesalers and fishermen shuffling through the crowded, narrow streets with their motor scooters and forklifts. Despite all of the crazy activity, I was happy with the super fresh chirashi bowl at one of the small shacks that’s simply set up and specialize in chirashi.

Our afternoon tea spread
Sweets platter for afternoon tea
Crémet d'Anjou

Afternoon tea at Four Seasons Tokyo was fantastic and they were innovative in regards to break away slightly from the traditional (English style) afternoon tea. Their savory course consisted of miniature savory items that are not tea sandwiches and their sweets are very tasty. The most memorable thing I ate was the deceptively airy but decadent Crémet d’Anjou.

I feel fortunate to be able to explore to these places and many were my firsts. I thank the tourism boards to invite me to your wonderful countries and cities. I hope 2016 will be a year with more amazing cities and countries to explore for the first time and many things on my to-do list that will be accomplished. Happy New Year everyone!