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Posts from the ‘Travel’ Category

What to do in Tokyo when you’re not watching rugby

Me and my “chocolate sundae”


I’m standing at a kitchen sink in Tokyo shaping a sheet of submerged plastic into a “lettuce”. Fake food samples are a familiar sight in the windows of restaurants in Japan. They entice customers into the eateries and simplify menu ordering for foreigners. And I’m learning to make them – thanks to The Peninsula hotel’s Fun With Faux Food academy programme.

There are some 200 food sample factories in Japan but Yamato is one of the few making small batches by hand. Second generation owner, Mr Yuichi Ito, was born in Gujyo-Hachiman in the Gifu prefecture, birthplace of the food sample industry in the 1940s, and still known as “wax food town”.

The windows of his workshop are packed with incredibly realistic replicas of sushi, yakitori, grilled fish and Western dishes. Originally they were made from wax but now they are more durable PVC that won’t melt in restaurant windows.

I’m feeling intimidated but my teachers, Yuichi, his son Ryo and their assistant, Aomi Chino, couldn’t be more welcoming with beaming their smiles.

We start with tempura – or more precisely its side serving of lettuce. Ryo had made it look so easy: a scoop of white liquid lowered gently into the warm water then spread into an oblong with the spoon, three scoops of green liquid gently lined along three sides. The oblong I’ve made is not as uniformed as Ryo’s so I fear my lettuce is going to be a giant monstrosity unlike Ryo’s neat baby one.

Then the fun begins. I’m told to dip my hands into the water and pull the plastic downwards. Remarkably, a definite lettuce texture and colour emerges. Suddenly I’m directed to scoop the sides of the oblong together. It’s all quite frantic and I keep scooping away. Then something miraculous happens: a lettuce shape appears. “Cute!” says Ryo.

The experience reminds me of the retro British TV show, The Generation Game, where hapless contestants attempt to make something after a talented pro has demonstrated. They usually failed woefully much to the hilarity of the audience but with the Itos at hand there’s no chance of any disasters here.

On to the tempura. A plastic “shrimp” and “pumpkin” are waiting on the table, it’s my job to make the batter. Having watched Ryo’s demo I drip yellow liquid into the warm water in a zig zag to make a Jackson Pollock like pattern. Then I repeat in reverse, careful to get the height right: not too high or low. The resulting bubbled matter definitely resembles batter. I’m getting into this.

The Fun of Faux Food Hands-on Plastic and Wax Modelling (1)-2

Next is ramen. I could have made curry or pizza but have chosen Japanese dishes. Frankly I’m nervous about attempting this one, eying the realistic example next to me. But it’s more straightforward than I imagined.

I’m instructed to pick up a batch of “noodles” and place them, vertically, in a bowl of warm water then wrap them centrifugally. Easy peasy I think, but there’s more to come. I’m told to pick up three strands at a time, form a circle with them in the air, followed by a figure of eight then place them in another bowl. It’s fiddly and I’m painfully slow but I find it strangely relaxing.

Task eventually completed I pour a golden gelatin over the whole lot to form the broth. I’m pretty pleased with this but Ryo has spotted several air bubbles so patiently flicks a cigarette lighter over each one until they’re dispersed. Meanwhile, I soak some ready made, plastic spring onions, meat, spinach and bamboo shoots and, to use the technical term, knock-them-about-a-bit to look more realistic. Then I place them, artfully I think, on the top of broth. Et voila, ramen!

As a finale there’s an ice cream sundae to make but first my Peninsula guide, who’s driven me here in the hotel mini and is translating, proffers a packed lunch; great timing as I’m strangely ravenous due to the tempura and ramen making.

Sundaes are made with silicon so the tops – the “whipped cream” – are surprisingly bendy. I choose chocolate ice cream so Aomi adds a brown dye to the silicon in a piping bag. Home bakers will come into their own here for I’m to pipe the mixture, circular wise, into a glass to create a chocolate and vanilla swirl. Then for the tricky bit: piping the whipped cream topping. The results are impressive but I must admit to getting a lot of help from Ryo.

The chocolate in the chocolate sundae

The chocolate in the chocolate sundae

The “whipped cream” topping

Yuichi presents a tray jammed with hand made, plastic accoutrements: wafers, cookies, strawberries and cherries. It’s refreshingly fun to choose from, thinking about the different heights for the design and then placing them strategically. I must admit to being tempted to tuck into my creation. I go back to the Peninsula and order a real chocolate sundae at Peter.

Where to stay when you’re visiting Downton


The Old Swan

[UPDATE: IRL the village of Downton is actually filmed at Brampton, Oxfordshire. Our pick of where to stay if you want to visit is the Old Swan in nearby Minster Lovell. The hotel will arrange a guided tour of Brampton.]

The Old Swan, Minster Lovell

Imagine the ideal country inn and you’ll picture The Old Swan. Exposed beams and brick, flagstone floors, log fires, cosy nooks, inviting bar… this is a wonderful weekend retreat in the Cotswolds countryside.

When it comes to eating, choose between the more formal restaurant with vaulted ceiling and rich wool tapestries or the pub like but equally appealing dining room.

Old Swan & Minster Mill

Old Swan

Settle down by the fire for a nightcap (the snug is for residents only) before climbing the wooden stairs to one of the most comfortable beds you’ve ever slept in.

Bring your hiking boots as there are walks aplenty almost from the front door.

You can now stay in Rachel Chu and Nick Young’s suite at Raffles Singapore


Nick and Rachel in the presidential suite at Raffles Singapore

When the film Crazy Rich Asians was released last year the spotlight was as much on Singapore as the ensemble cast. Understandably there was a surge of interest in the locations featured (some of which were in Malaysia, masquerading as Singapore). One of the best was Raffles hotel the grandest hotel in town where of course Nick Young “the Prince Harry of Asia” took his girlfriend Rachel Chu to stay.

Their scenes were shot in the Drawing Room above the lobby and the Sarkies Suite, one of the hotel’s two presidential suites named after the original owners and where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge stayed.

At the time of the film release the hotel was part for a major refurbishment but has now reopened. The Presidential Suites, like the rest of the hotel, have been refreshed by interior designer Champalimaud.

Presidential Suite - Entrance.jpg

Redesigned entrance to presidential suite Raffles Singapore

Presidential Suite- Bedroom.jpg

Redesigned bedroom in presidential suite Raffles Singapore


Also in the film when Nick’s mother visits him at in presidential suite they stand on the private verandah overlooking the Palm Court.


Palm Court View.jpg

Palm Court at Raffles Singapore showing Sarkies Suite terrace

The suite costs upwards of £5,000 per night plus 17 per cent taxes. Opening rate packages are available until October 31st 2019.

Inspired by Beecham House? Check into this Jaipur palace to soothe your withdrawal symptoms

Entrance to Rajmahal Palace

Sujan Rajmahal Palace

[UPDATE: Beecham House the lavish costume drama set in Delhi was IRL filmed in Jaipur, Rajasthan. Here’s Chopstix top pick of where to stay in the Pink City.]

In the middle of negotiating the hectic roads of Jaipur our driver suddenly swings the car into a discreet driveway. We pass through a turreted “elephant gate” painted a pretty pale pink and follow the graveled route flanked by verdant gardens before pulling up outside a palace painted in the same sugary shade as the regal entranceway. Jaipur was painted pink for the visit of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, but while the Rajasthan capital is more terracotta toned, this is a delightful, millennial pink.

Entrance Gates.jpg Sujan Rajmahal Palace

Smiling and smartly dressed men each wearing a distinctive candy coloured turban wait to welcome us. We are greeted – rather fittingly for The Pink City – with a glass of rose sparkling wine. So far, so Jaipur perhaps but inside is a complete surprise. Sujan Rajmahal Palace, now a luxury boutique hotel, may be approaching 300 years old but it has been interior decorated in a refreshingly contemporary way. Each of the public spaces is adorned with fantastically striking, custom made wallpaper from bright pinks and turquoise blues to sultry Art Deco chinoiserie and Indian inspired designs. The chandeliers, antiques and paintings remind you however that you are staying in a royal residence.

Chinoiserie .jpg Sujan Rajmahal Palace

As palaces go Rajmahal is on the petite side rather than a mammoth mausoleum with just 14 guest rooms – it was commissioned by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II for his wife. Society interior designer Adil Ahmad, recently commissioned to spruce the place up, has achieved a sumptuous cosiness that feels like a private home albeit a very grand one.

Jaipur’s royal family still own Rajmahal (it is run by Sujan the renowned company behind luxury tented camps throughout Rajasthan), the queen mother’s Thunderbird takes pride of place in the entranceway and the princess has an office in the grounds though they reside in the far larger City Palace in old Jaipur (the hotel can arrange a private tour of this palace as well as secure you a set in the royal box at the polo).

While still a royal residence, Rajmahal played host to the likes of Queen Elizabeth the second, the Prince and Princess of Wales and Jackie Kennedy as the framed black and white photographs and the names of the suites attest. Beautiful carpets gifted by another distinguished visitor, the Shah of Iran, hang on the walls as the Maharini magnanimously wanted everyone to enjoy them. The family’s love of “the sport of kings” is also reflected in The Polo Bar, lined with trophies and photographs.

MADHO NIWAS CORRIDOOR.jpg Sujan Rajmahal Palace

Our Palace Room is reached via a stunning marble staircase and curved corridor and like all the guest rooms and suites lies discreetly behind mirrored doors which adds to the feeling of a private home. Inside our host tells me “A Maharini does not make her own coffee,” before explaining that there are no facilities for hot beverages in the room: “You ring and we will bring you coffee.”

Another special touch is that afternoon tea is served to hotel guests every day between 4pm and 6pm. You may have it wherever you wish but an especially charming spot is on the manicured lawn under a series of charming open sided tents (pink hued of course).

51 Shades of Pink 2.jpg Sujan Rajmahal Palace

A pleasant surprise for the (relatively) diminutive size of the hotel is that there are three dining rooms, each more strikingly designed than the other: the grand Orient Occident is open for dinner while the cool mint Colonnade and 51 Shades of Pink (decorated as the name suggests) restaurants both serve breakfast and lunch. All offer the same menu of Indian and Western dishes, we stuck resolutely to the former which is excellent.

6O1A3653.jpg Sujan Rajmahal Palace

We also tried one of the Sujan Rajmahal Palace’s private dining experiences one evening, dining in one of the aforementioned tents on the lawn. At night the scene is enticingly lit by lanterns and makes for a very pretty venue.Once you’ve ticked off sightseeing inside the old walled city and the Amber Fort; and shopped ‘til you’ve dropped in the bazaars and boutiques, Rajmahal Palace provides a whimsical oasis. We spend our days exploring in the early mornings, after breakfasting on fresh juice and stuffed parathas, and retreating to Rajmahal in the heat of the afternoon.


The hotel has the bonus of a large, glamorous looking swimming pool surrounded by inviting sun loungers.  The designer has had fun here too with a shady terrace complete with mirrors and modern chandeliers which looks spectacular at dusk.

And a note for shopping fans: there’s a branch of the revered New Delhi based Kashmir Loom at Rajmahal so you can stock up on the best cashmere shawls without leaving the grounds.

[This post was originally posted in September 2016]

What it’s like to Sleep in the World’s Most Luxurious Bed



The bed at The Savoy’s Royal Suite

[UPDATE: Savoir Beds is opening a store at the refurbished Raffles hotel in Singapore in August 2019.]

When it comes to sleeping I’m definitely in the Princess and the Pea camp, I tend to toss and turn throughout the night rarely getting a restful 8 hours. So I was intrigued to check into the Royal Suite at The Savoy, London where an exclusive handcrafted bed has been installed promising a superlative sleep.

Befitting the vast suite (it takes up the entire river side of the fifth floor) decorated in an elegant Edwardian style, the bed itself looks straight out of a fairytale. And the ornate four poster king with draped canopy has added advantages in a handmade box spring base, mattress and topper valued around SG$150,000.

The Savoy Royal Suite Sitting Room .jpg

Sitting room in The Savoy’s Royal Suite

As with all the best mattresses The Savoy’s are made with horse tail between pocket springs. The one in the Royal Suite also features a hand tufted topper made by yarn specialist Tengri from rare fur – hand combed once a year from yaks roaming the Khangai mountains of Mongolia. Their hair is softer than cashmere with exceptional temperature regulating properties so perfect for aiding sleep.

It’s the creation of prestigious British brand Savoir which has been hand making beds for the hotel for over 100 years. When Richard D’Oyly Carte opened The Savoy in 1889 he set new standards for luxury hotels in London. He couldn’t find a bed maker that met his exacting criteria so Savoir was formed to create beds for The Savoy.

The Savoy entrance.jpg

The Savoy hotel London

My first impression is that the mattress is surprisingly firm. But it also has just enough flexibility and I don’t feel any points of undue pressure – it’s just right, as Goldilocks would say. I close my eyes with the intention of a 20 minute afternoon nap and I wake up over an hour later.

The true test though comes after supper in the suite’s dining room overlooking the Thames (the view that Claude Monet painted) and impeccably served by morning coated butlers. While I still wake up several times in the night as is my wont I immediately fall back to sleep each time. Even more remarkably the back pain I’d been feeling the day before had disappeared.


Dining Room in the Royal Suite at The Savoy 

Usually (and frustratingly) I’m not able to lie in, restless to get up by 7am, but here I found the opposite. The only thing that eventually tempts me out of bed is the thought of Omelette Arnold Bennett for breakfast: made with smoked haddock, hollandaise sauce and cheese, perfected for the writer while he stayed at The Savoy in 1920s. After a call to the butler I’m tucking into this moreish dish and taking in the marvellous London view. Did I feel I’d slept in a bed fit for a king or queen? A resounding yes.

Savoir Beds Raffles Hotel Arcade #02-08, 328 North Bridge Road, Singapore 188719

Tel : +65 6261 2788

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